There is nothing fun about night trains. When you are one very tall girl there is ESPECIALLY nothing fun about night trains (why don’t my legs fit anywhere). But sometimes you’ve gotta do, what you’ve gotta do, and taking the night train was the best way to make our Serbia trip happen.
Back story: My Icelandic roommate came back from winter break raving about her genius plan to attend the European Handball Championships in Serbia and cheer on the Icelandic team. Our friend Svenja is also an avid handball fan and as her German team would also be competing, she was pretty easy to convince. I thought it through for a while. I am American. I don’t know what handball is. But screw it, sometimes you’ve just gotta throw caution to the wind and travel to a different country to watch a sport you know nothing about. Why not, it sounded like a party.
Which brings us to Thursday night, where we find ourselves drinking beers at midnight on the train from Budapest to Belgrade. After a mostly uneventful trip (we got woken up a few times by border control, and saw some interesting characters but nothing too special) we arrived in Belgrade at 6am in the rain. We were extremely pleased when we went to check into the hostel and they let us go straight up to our room because they weren’t too full so we could get a few hours of real sleep before travelling again.The friday games were being held in Vrsag, a couple of hours by bus from Belgrade. We bought tickets at the bus station, then grabbed some pastries because we hadn’t eaten all day.
After a couple of hours we reached Vrsag. Svenja started speaking to one of the other passengers in German and he pointed us in the direction of the stadium. We passed a drugstore and bought red and blue makeup pencils to paint Icelandic flags on our faces, but they got taken away in security along with: any other toiletries/makeup we were carrying, our bus snacks, my water bottle, umbrellas, and writing instruments. Seriously, the most extreme security check point I have ever seen. What in the world did they think we would do with pens and eyeliner that would be a safety hazard? Iceland was playing Slovenia, and there fans were crazy. They were possibly the loudest craziest fans we saw all weekend, and there were only like 12 other Iceland fans because they had much farther to travel. We cheered loudly, but Iceland lost, but Norway lost worse (in the next game) so Iceland advanced anyway. We left the match quickly and caught a cab to the bus stop because the last bus to Belgrade was scheduled to leave in like 15 minutes. We were really boring Friday night and decided to just grab a late dinner and head to bed.
Saturday we got up at a reasonable hour to be touristy before the 8pm Germany Serbia game. What a long day. So much walking. We started walking toward Kalemegdan, the large fortress at the intersection of the Sava and Danube rivers. We got a bit sidetracked on the way and stopped to buy ourselves some new makeup pencils and to grab some brunch. We walked around the fort for quite a while and took a lot of stupid photos which are shown in the slideshow above. Afterward we intended to walk most of the way across the city to where the large St. Sava church is, but we kept getting sidetracked. First it was a vendor with lovely jewelry, then a cake cafe. We clearly had to replace our facepaint, and by the time we decided we needed to grab a beer before the game we were still pretty far from the church. We gave up on making it there and suited up for the Germany game before taking a tram to the arena.
The Belgrade arena was much larger and our seats were pretty far back, but Gitta made friends with some people Danish people who had free seats near them. We ended up much much closer to the court and because the tickets covered all three games for the day we weren’t taking anyones seats. The Serbian fans did not like us, and were even more unhappy when Germany secured a tie in the last minute by playing a 7th player in place of the goal keeper. After the game we went back to the hotel to regroup, and we managed to overcome our exhaustion to head out for the night. We walked to a bar we had seen the night before called “Cafe Sofia” and were pleasantly surprised to find that they had live folk music. It seemed like the bulk of the people were Serbian because they were all singing along and we regretted not knowing the words (or any Serbian). It was a really tiny bar, so every time the bartender brought someone a drink, the band had to make room. We ended up chatting with a couple of Danish guys who were also in town to watch their handball team and convinced them to go to another club with us. One of the receptionists at the hostel had given us three tickets to some club that left them as a promotion so we took a cab to what seemed like a completely random abandoned building. According to the guy at the hostel this set up was some kind of fad in Belgrade, where many musicians were buying up old buildings and using them as recording studios/nightclubs/all kinds of things, and this particular party was on the 6th floor. The music was great and I really enjoyed how unique the set up was to the city.
We slept in the next morning before heading to Novi Sad for our last match of the weekend. We bought some snacks on the way to the bus station and made it to Novi Sad just in time to check our backpacks and take a cab to the stadium. We once again painted our faces and were decked out in icelandic colors. The game was Iceland v. Hungary which was an interesting match. We were literally the ONLY people there cheering on Iceland and managed to grab seats close to the court. We spent the entire game cheering in icelandic and yelling at the team and dancing and everything. Instead of hating us, the hungarian fans really seemed to like us and gave us some support. Iceland actually won the match by several points, we were on the teleprompter like 5 or 6 times and now we are pretty much handball celebrities. Several of the hungarian fans came over to ask if they could take their picture with us, and the icelandic team gave us some applause after shaking the other teams hand.
The bag check closed at 7 so we took the bus back to the train station and met a very nice Serbian girl who helped us figure out where we were going. She even asked around to the cops to find us a nice restaurant before catching her bus. We spent the rest of the evening there and sat for over three hours eating delicious salads, and bread with this cream, and spicy stew and wine and coffee and finally caught the train back to Budapest where we arrived at 6am. We were so exhausted that none of us spoke on the 10minute walk from the train station. Definitely worth the trip though. Gitta returned to about 50million facebook notifications because we were on TV in Iceland. Like I said, celebrities. And I am a permanent handball convert.
For all of my lovely Serbia photos you can check out this link: https://picasaweb.google.com/111339694551427046923/20120123121718?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCNvM-MGamLXsjgE&feat=directlink