Firstly, a note to any of my old work mates who may read this – no, I’m most definitely NOT missing the office! [For those who don’t know, I worked for an electricity retailer before my travels began.]
There are plenty of museums in Beograd, and a few of them caught my eye. The first was one I was walking past every day on my way from the hostel to pretty much anywhere, and was on the list purely because it was an ethnographic museum – creatively called The Ethnographic Museum of Beograd. Kind of gives away what you’re going to find in there!
I found the museum to be quite well put together, with great English information and enticing exhibits. It had a fantastic exhibition on weaving and traditional textiles on the ground floor, documenting the process from start to the variety of end products, with some truly beautiful examples of weaving, carpets and embroidery. The ground floor also held a large collection of traditional folk costumes from Serbia and neighbouring countries. I love looking at folk clothing – something about it seems like it’s from another world. Perhaps it’s the colours and the intricate patterns, or the inclusion of metal objects such as coins, or the unbelievable head dresses that women wore for different occasions. Whatever it is, it makes me smile. I’m glad that there are museums preserving these items, as so much cultural history is lost as the world moves endlessly forward. Upstairs was a collection of children’s clothing, most of which looked to be miniature versions of the adult’s costumes.
The second museum that I’d wanted to visit was the Nikola Tesla museum. Many people have probably never heard of Nikola Tesla, but just about everything was use today is the result of his incredible inventions, many of which relate to electricity. While I’d heard about him and was vaguely aware of his contribution to science and the world, I’ll admit that it also reminded me of something pretty unrelated – I was terribly behind in a science fiction show I like to watch. [The link there is that Tesla is a character in the show. There’s a bit of nerd in me.] Nikola Tesla was a Serbian inventor, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer, and he was involved in a ‘war of currents’ with Thomas Edison, with Tesla inventing and backing the alternating current while Edison was all about the direct current. Guess which one the world uses today? He also basically invented radio and demonstrated the transfer of electricity wirelessly. And they LOVE him in Serbia – and indeed elsewhere in the former Yugoslav states. Everything from roads to airports bear his name. His picture is on every 100 dinar bill in Serbia.
So, I knew the museum would be about electricity and one would imagine that after four years of spending every working hour thinking about electricity, this would be the one museum I’d be running away from at one hundred miles an hour…or more realistically about three miles an hour. Not so – I’d been worded up by a friend in Bulgaria that this museum was not to be missed. I was excited.
It’s best to arrive at the museum just before the hour, as tours are run on the hour. It’s a very small museum, so you could certainly see it all yourself in about ten minutes, but the tour is definitely the best option and it’s included in the ticket price. So, why do the tour? Because it’s interactive, it’s fun, and you get to play with a lightsabre…kind of.
It all began with a brief spiel about Tesla’s incredible contributions to the world, with demonstrations of some of the machines he invented such as the induction motor and the Egg of Columbus. Next they demonstrated the wireless transfer of electricity using a generator and fluorescent tubes filled with neon gas. They asked for volunteers to hold the tubes, and the other people were all a bit nervous so I volunteered. A couple of guys followed. The guide switched on the generator, and as little sparks of lightning shot out the top, the fluoro tubes – which we were holding a metre from the generator – all lit up like lightsabers. Mine was blue. Unfortunately, duelling was strictly forbidden and I’ll admit that was a little disappointing. Still, it was pretty nifty.
A second demonstration showed how electricity could be conducted through the air between a rod and a metal plate by creating a spark. Enough electricity was transmitted to light the neon sign behind it. [Now, I know that these are probably all things that kids can go to see at Scienceworks, but it’s been twenty years since I’ve been to Scienceworks and sometimes these simple things can be fun, even for an adult!] We were shown a remote control boat that Tesla had made – the world’s first remote control – although this wasn’t operational.
The last thing they demonstrated was the ability of the human body to act as an electrical conductor. Now, everyone knows that living organisms can conduct electricity. However, when the guide asked for volunteers, all the big macho looking guys in the group were conspicuously looking at their feet or searching in their pockets, so I figured it was once more up to me. It started with me holding another fluoro tube and touching a copper ball on top of a metal rod, and the electrical charge going through my body to light up the tube. After that, they demonstrated [again with me] how electricity can leap from the generator to the conductor by having me point my finger at the ball about three inches away, and of course when the guide switched the power on I was viciously attacked by a monstrous bolt of lightning and horribly electrocuted. Translated as a little spark gave me a mild shock and my finger was tingling. After the fifth shock my arm was tingling a bit too, but it was fun. After seeing me NOT die, those previously tough men thought they’d better have a go as their girlfriends were starting to think they were wimps.
The last museum I visited was the National Bank Museum. This doesn’t really sound like an interesting museum and to be honest there was only one reason I was going there: to get my face printed on a Serbian banknote. The National Bank Museum is free to enter, and you have to give them photo ID and wear a visitor’s tag. You’re not allowed to wander freely and rob the bank in the process of visiting either, so it wasn’t going to fund my travels. However, the small exhibition is quite interesting, with a whole bunch of ancient coins and ingots, as well as a fascinating section on counterfeiting with plenty of examples. I got my wallet out to find some notes to have a closer look at under the magnifying glass and blue light, and was pleased to find that my cash was all legit – or a much better fake than the examples at the bank!
Before I left I asked the bored looking guy at the desk if I could get my face on a note. It doesn’t cost anything, and I wonder if anyone actually visits the museum without this being their primary purpose. I sat down in front of the webcam, he took my picture and a moment later the printer spewed out a lovely fake banknote to the value of one dinar [basically less than nothing] with my mug on it. So I can now pretend that I’m so famous in Serbia that they’ve put my face on their currency…I’m that awesome…
Probably the thing that really made my stay in Beograd so much fun was the hostel – Hedonist Hostel – and in particular, the hostel staff. They were fantastic – Micha and Sonja, the owners and Marina and Marjon, who worked there most of the time. They were all so friendly and helpful and a lot of fun, and Sonja made everyone crepes one night and popcorn another few nights. The hostel itself was in a brilliant location; it was clean and comfortable; it had a kitchen; and it was full of character. From the moment I walked in I felt at home – so much at home, in fact, that I broke the bed twice. Now I KNOW that I’d been eating a lot cake, but really? It was a little embarrassing when I tried to climb up to my bunk and my foot went through the ladder. It was even more embarrassing the second time! But they were great about it – the first time they screwed the bit back in as it had been loose, however the second time I totally mangled it and there was no fixing it. They put a new rung in for me, and I had no more problems after that aside from missing a little dignity! My plans of staying three days in Beograd swiftly turned into four, which became five and then six…and then I forced myself to book accommodation in another town so that I’d have to move on, or I’d probably never have left. I can’t recommend it enough if you are ever in Beograd!
I spent a fair bit of time in Beograd just wandering around as I like to do [walking is free] and sitting in cafes or parks and reading. The main street is lined with shops, cafes, restaurants – you name it, it’s there. It was quite pretty too, and there was always buskers playing guitars or trumpets or accordions and the music warmed up the atmosphere, cutting out some of the chill as if by magic. One day I went there and there was a pile of old TVs from the 70s and 80s. I still don’t know what they were there for, but they were gone the next day. There’s also the old bohemian street, paved with cobblestones and with plenty of little galleries and restaurants, which was a lovely little street to wander through. I went to buy a book to read and the guy in the bookshop asked me to go out with him to some club…after telling me about how he’s currently fighting with his girlfriend. That was an offer I turned down. [I still bought a book though.]
Here’s a few more photos of Beograd…