Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A wonderful way to celebrate 25 years

New Palace

Royal Palace (Old) in Belgrade, now the Presidential Palace

I expect (and sincerely hope) that Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine are relaxing somewhere in the sun with their feet up, and enjoying a well-deserved rest.
Well-deserved, indeed. This past weekend in Belgrade, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with their family and their closest friends. Me, too.
This was my second trip to Belgrade. I first visited the city in July 2005, when I was invited to attend the Crown Prince's 60th birthday celebrations. Suffice to say, I was anxious to see how the city had changed. Serbia has not had an easy path toward democracy and becoming a western nation. The bombed out buildings from the NATO attacks have yet to be torn down, but there are also brand new buildings and two shopping centers in New Belgrade, which is across the river from Old Belgrade.
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, sits at the confluence of the Sava and Danuble rivers.

I arrived in London on September 14th, delighted to be able to spend a day in my favorite city. Checked into the Hilton, and then met up with my friend Paul. I did a little shopping, and then treated Paul to lunch at Fortnum's before heading to the V&A for the Princess Grace exhibit. Paul was a good sport because this was really a chick exhibit for women of a certain age. Then it was a cab ride to Kensington Palace. Paul headed for the tea shop, and I bought a ticket for the Enchanted Palace tour. I was able to figure out the seven enchanted princesses rather quickly.
Then it was off to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace for the Victoria & Albert exhibit, where we met up with another friend of mine, Katrina. The exhibit was superb. I could have stayed in the first room for hours and hours, just staring at the fabulous portraits of Victoria and Albert and their family. Oooh. (Incidentally, the Princess Grace exhibit was also superb.)
Paul left for his home in Harlow after we left the exhibit, and Katrina and I headed for Hatchards to browse, and then the stroll, taking the usual route -- hitting all the souvenir kiosks looking for new postcards -- toward Leicester Square to meet Coryne and Colin Hall at Bella Italia ... my favorite restaurant in London.

I managed to stay awake until about 11 p.m, and then headed to bed. The alarm was set for 5:15, which was preceded by a wake-up call from the hotel. I was out of the hotel by 5:35 and on the Tube for the one stop to Paddington. Slight problem. I needed to buy a ticket, but no one was in the ticket window. I looked around, called for someone, but nothing. The self-service ticketing machine said "Closed."
It was time to be brazen and walk through the gate and get on the train and be a .... FARE EVADER!!!!!!!
Edgeware road to Paddington. Walk to the turnstile to confess my sin ... and no one is there ... so I walk through the gate to the ticket window, which was open. I said I was sorry, but I had not paid because no one was available at Edgeware Road. I was willing to pay, ready to pay, but the ticket agent waved me off. He told me he was utterly astounded that a person would actually admit to not paying a fare.

The flight to Belgrade took three hours. I was picked up by the Hyatt shuttle. The driver was ssweet, and delighted to point out sites en route into the city. He pointed out the new basketball stadium, and I added, with a smile" and who won the world basketball championship! Basketball is very big in Serbia ... Serbian men are very tall -- but the world championship was won by the USA.

The Hyatt is a very beautiful hotel located in New Belgrade in what has become the financial district with sparkling new buildings housing international banks. To get into the city proper, one must take a cab ... or hoof it as I did on Friday.
Thursday was a rest day and a time to get one's bearings. I walked to a new pet store, Pet Centar, a chain headquartered in Croatia. The symbol for the store is a Dalmatian, and for those readers who know me will understand why I had to see this store. Yes, I did buy pressies for the kitties.

Note to visitors: nearly everyone smokes in Belgrade, and there is no such thing as a smoke-free restaurant. On Thursday night, I had dinner at Victoria Station. Part of the restaurant was originally a railroad car! As it was a lovely night, I chose to eat outside.

Day 2 in Belgrade was warm and sunny. After eating a hearty breakfast, I decided to take a stroll into town. I got a map from the concierge, and he was stunned that I planned to walk ... and so did I walk. I walked across the Branko Bridge, heading toward Kamenicke street to find the building where Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand, helped to plan the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The assassination took place in Bosnia, but the planning took place in Serbia. I found a nice young man who spoke English, and asked him how to get to the street. He took me to the street. The building is now a betting parlor!
So I walked ... and walked ... all the way to the Cathedral of St Sava, and back toward the Knez Milhailova (Prince Michael street), a pedestrian walk way filled with historic buldings, cafes and boutiques. It was time to rest, and I found a comfy chair at one of the cafes, ordered an ice coffee, and when I was finished, it was time to continue to my walk toward the Kalmegdan, the fortress, where you can see the confluence of the two rivers. I started my walk at 9:30, and when I was ready to head back to the hotel, I noticed it was just after 4 p.m. No time to walk back, so I hailed a cab to go back to the Hyatt.
I enjoyed a quick swim in the pool before getting ready for the first event at the palace.

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