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Celebrating Tesla in Belgrade

When your GPS craps out (by showing only one street in a capital city) and all the street signs are in Cyrillic, it’s really hard to find your way in Belgrade. Getting lost in Belgrade isn’t really a problem, though, as I couldn’t get enough of the streets lined with orange blossom trees all over the city. Unfortunately, as I was sniffing myself into an olfactory nirvana, my friend’s allergies were acting up, so getting ourselves found became more urgent.

Once I downloaded the google map for the city onto my phone with wifi, we were able to wander the city without getting too lost. Of course, since we set our for our first evening with only an idea of where we wanted to eat (you know the “we’ll know it when we see it” mindset) it did take us a few hours to find a place serving more than just drinks and toast. People in Belgrade just don’t eat out as much. It’s a lively city, though, and they drink plenty!

Along the way, we learned about an entirely new, at least to us, form of architecture: brutalism. This is what I formally thought of as the “communist era slap together some concrete blocks and get all these villagers into a factory” style, but at least according to some street signs in Belgrade, it’s all actually intentional and meant to go along with the Austrian and Ottoman styles that line the city’s blocks.

Austrian, Ottoman and brutalist all in a row

Austrian, Ottoman and brutalist all in a row

We also passed by some of Belgrade’s bombed-out buildings. Now that that’s all settled, at least for Serbia, there are just the bombed buildings and some graffiti for tourists like us to ponder. We saw the old defense and foreign affairs ministries with trees growing out of their ruins. Now the new, modern buildings are right across the street. I wander what it’s like for the diplomats and war planners to look out their windows every day and see the remains of “NATO aggression.”

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We walked from one side of the city to the other, and then back to Kalemegdan, the fortress at the junction of the Danube and Sava Rivers. The name is actually from Ottoman Turkish times (kale=castle and meydan=square) so it was nice to see for a Turkey-lover like myself. Since Roman times, the park estimates that over 7 million people lost their lives defending that fortress. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I’d say that more than 70% of the city’s population occupies the park. It’s a beautiful area with tons of walking paths, pleasant places to sit and chill, musicians playing everything and hawkers selling anything you could possibly want. We found some nice sculptured benches near the Ottoman house to relax, read, and nap off our earlier post-Tesla Museum day-drinking.

Even though Nikola Tesla was only ever in Belgrade for a few hours in the 50s, he self-identified as a Serb and so, after much haggling following his death, all of his possessions were sent to Belgrade. The museum now dedicated to him is worth an hour’s visit. If you get there right on the hour, you can immediately start the tour where a docent explains and energizes all of the electric models. Most impressive was the Tesla coil, where we all held light bulbs that illuminated while we were standing in the coil’s electric field. Other models were energized, like an induction motor that was way better that what was available to me in the nuclear power pipeline, and a small mockup of hydroelectric power. After you see and play with electricity at the museum, you can wander the exhibits about Tesla’s life. I would say he’s the god of the modern world – all of our wireless gadgets that we love so much are rooted in this guy’s work. It’s worth a quick trip to pay homage!

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