Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The White City Is Falling Apart

These streets hide many parties
A neglected city can be both depressing and exciting.  When I look at Central American capitol cities like San Jose, Managua and San Salvador they leave me feeling empty and sad.  The unchecked grim and litter, poor city planning, poverty and high crime in these places makes me want to lock my door and stay inside.

Belgrade has the opposite effect.  Despite its dirt, crumbling buildings, disorderly streets and Mafia presence the city beckons me to play and drink and dance outside in the dark.  Perhaps its because the winding, random streets often yield surprises: secret bars, discos and 'kafanas' that stay packed all night.  Perhaps it's because the crime isn't so random; as long as you don't cross the wrong people or places you're pretty safe.  Perhaps its because the poverty doesn't scream in your face; people with very little invite you to drink and dine with them without expecting a handout.

Tijuana: unmarked Mexican-owned bar. Ask around.
Perhaps I'm wrong about all of this and I've just meet the right people.  Either way it came as no surprise to me that the year I first visited Belgrade (2010), it was selected as Lonely Planet's 'Best Party City in The World.'  As much as I hate Lonely Planet, they were right this time.  In Belgrade, the word 'weekend' is irrelevant, and any night of the week is fair game.

A 'Party City' is not determined by the number of bars or discos present, but by the desire of the people to party.  Serbians have a party spirit whether it be with Moet champagne in a posh, high-fashion disco on Kneza Mihalova Street, or with homemade rakia on a park bench in Kalemegdan.  It may not seem that way on the first visit, but look harder.  Even if the city streets look quiet, just ask enough people and they can direct you to one of a dozen secret bars hidden in the floors of the large buildings. 

Danguba Rock Club: Live music every night
So of course I partied.  I had timed my trip to Belgrade so that I could go to the Belgrade Beer Festival.  The festival doesn't have the best beer in the world, but with around 3 million people attending over 3 days it probably has the most people of any beer festival and some of the most music.  Did I mention the whole damn thing is free??

That party will have to wait until tomorrow.  Tonight I'm not going out since I have to catch up with some friends I haven't seen in a while.  I don't remember exactly how we caught up, but it involved lots of alcohol, coffee, dancing and funny hats.  Indeed a country's party spirit is determined by its people, not by its places.


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