Kalenic Pijaca – Belgrade’s Green Market

During my first week in Belgrade, I set out to find Kalenic Pijaca, which is Belgrade’s largest green market, located only a few minutes walk from our home.  Unfortunately, I got there too late, and it was closed.  So I snapped this picture, just to confirm that it was even the right place.

All of the vendors and their colourful produce had gone.  Sweepers were just finishing up for the day.  It all looked very utilitarian and grey.  Now when I hear from Belgrade that COVID-19 has closed all their green markets, so the above image is what I see in my mind’s eye. Such a sad thing, as the Kalenic Pijaca was such a big part of the local community. But this pandemic too will pass and it will eventually be back to its colorful self.

Kalenic Pijaca

Kalenic Pijaca – fully loaded!

After years of putrefying vegetables in Manila, fresh, but dodgy vegetables from Kathmandu that needed to be sterilized before eating, and overpriced, baggy vegetables from Jamaica, the supply in Belgrade was cheap, fresh, local, seasonal and very varied.  It was a cook’s dream.  Every visit, your favourite retailers would be there but, there were always new ones to discover, especially on weekends.  I found fresh blueberry juice, homemade jams and avjar,  fresh and dried flowers,  imported olives, different Serbian and Greek cheeses, fat free bakery products and wild greens of every type.  Upstairs there was an old fashioned cheese, ham, bacon and meats section, which was like stepping back in time to 1952.  At the back of the market, there was a pasta alley, a fishmonger area, and along the far edge, a gypsy market selling used clothing and all kinds of very battered bits and bobs.  We even had a French Serbian guy selling imported French cheeses.  I wonder if he is still there?  At the entrance, if was common to see older Serbians crouched on the ground, selling small items they had handmade or brought from their gardens: knitted hats or gloves, olives, capers, vine leaves, dried lavender or rosebuds..  Gypsies sold random things from “the back of a lorry,” and old guys played chess or backgammon on upturned vegetable crates.

Small bricks and mortar stores formed the perimeter of the market. There, one store that sold mainly eggs, always had a long queue out the door and down the street.  I never did figure out the attraction.  The world’s best eggs?  Or simply the cheapest prices?  I asked a Serbian friend and she said that long lines attract people.  It didn’t really matter what they were selling, if the line was long, people would join it.  I’m not sure that was really the case, but she may have a window into the Serbian mentality that I never gained?

Shopping was tough going at first as I knew not one word of Serbian.  Fortunately, the prices were mostly marked and the exchange rate was easy.  So we communicated with fingers, the occasional German –I at least know German numbers– or simply a pen and paper.  Vendors were nearly always patient, friendly and honest when I held out my wad of small notes and let them pull the correct amount.

The market was our destination nearly every weekend, and the third in the trifactor of reasons that the city really grew on me.  I miss Kalenic Pijaca, but unfortunately I am not alone.  I’m sure the local miss the centrepoint of their community more, and look forward to their market reopening sooner rather than later.

Here are a few random videos that I took a while back.  Hopefully it will give you the feel of the place;



A Sense of Neighbourhood

Our favourite corner cafe for a coffee after shopping at the green market.

OK. I think what is happening here is a list of my favourite things about Belgrade. Walkability was definitely in the top 3, as was the sense of neighbourhood that we developed in a fairly short time.  When I look back at my time there, it is one of the things I miss the most.

Our street was a small, quiet one, just off the main boulevard in the city.  Close to the big Tasmajdan Park, it was only a 15 minute walk to the Serbian parliament, and a half an hour walk from the Danube river and the city’s main tourist attractions.  We were in the heart of the city; Yet, when I stepped outside it was relatively quiet.  A few steps around the corner, the roar of the traffic on Alexander Boulevard was deafening, but we were far enough back that the lights and noise never bothered us.  Sometimes in the early morning, you could hear the squeak of tram brakes or dogs barking but, although we were all piled on to of each other in a sea of apartment buildings, I rarely heard yelling or blaring TVs. 

The view from our back porch. Not particularly appealing at first glance, but I actually grew to see it as a community over time. And the apartments are much fancier inside than they look.  Clearly no one pays condo fees, as the exterior and grounds were crumbling.  But when you looked hard, you could see who did maintenance and who didn’t.

The parking situation on our narrow street was a mess. There was rarely a parking spot available, so people invented spaces by parking on the pavement or on corners, blocking the sidewalk for pedestrians.  The traffic wardens never seemed to be around at the right time.  Many a time, I cursed out parked vehicles, as I could barely navigated between them.

Our little street

The neighbourhood had lots of tiny, mom and pop type businesses.  Some were traditional and had been around for years, but many of the smaller units came and went in a very short period of time.  On our tiny street alone–in just two years–we gained and lost a delicatessen, a fresh pasta shop, a greengrocer, two hairdressers and a coffee shop that was a favourite stop for us.  Andrew, the owner, turned a tiny 10 square meter space into a welcoming, friendly local stop.  He doubled his seating capacity by renting the parking spot outside his shop and constructing a very pleasant seating platform outside.  It added charm to our street and helped keep him in business.  But a year later, the new mayor ran on a promise to increase parking spaces in the city and ceased renting them out to businesses.  So our street gained one parking space and lost our only coffee shop.  A poor trade in my opinion. I missed Andrew’s stories and how he would introduce local residents to me.  Through him and my wonderful hairdresser, Jelena, I got to know my neighbours and they seemed to like chatting and practicing their English with me.  In return, I practiced my basic Serbian on older shopkeepers, who knew only Russian as a second language.  It was the first time I was out of an expat bubble and in a safe place where I could felt part of the community.  I really miss that.



Out and About in the City

Belgrade ParksBelgrade is essentially a very walkable city, and that’s probably the thing I was most excited about when we moved there.  Sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks, parks, underpasses and pedestrianized shopping areas, all helped make Belgrade a city that doesn’t place the car before the humble walker.  Its sometimes not the most beautiful of cities, but the city planners always seem to make a place for people to walk, talk and meet with nature.

Our prior home cities were terrible for pedestrians: crazy drivers, unsafe lights, snatch and grab opportunists on motorbikes,  wild dogs, professional pickpockets, giant potholes, missing or unsafe paving…we’ve had it all! Belgrade offered the opportunity to aimlessly wander around and just blend in.  Aside from using general commonsense and situational awareness, it didn’t take constant vigilance like other places I have lived, and I could look around me, not always just over my shoulder.

But, it took a while to find an exercise routine here.  I tried several gyms and dance classes and didn’t like any of them.  Too much techno-beat “music” and yelling!  The gyms were full of sweaty, muscled males and the yoga classes were all in Serbian.  Then I discovered a pilates reformer studio, where the ladies tolerated my terrible Serbian and I grew stronger limbs and core over about a year using their torture chamber-like devices.  I always dreaded going (a bit) but always came away glad I did.

Tasmajdan Park

To broaden my exercise mix, I added walking routines to get the cardio, alternating with my trips to the pilates studio during the week.  Tasmajdan Park was a close-to-home favourite and, as the second largest park in the city, I learnt to weave a path along the many small trails so I could manage a 5k loop.   In the summer months, sometimes it was a bit too crowded with small kids, tricycles, dogs and ice-cream waddlers, but I usually managed my way around them and enjoyed the freedom of being in a kid-friendly space.  As a regular, I spotted the routines of others: the guy who played his synthesizer for tips at the bottom of the fountain stairs, the various honey and cold drink vendors, the Russian weightlifter types who hung out on the outside gym bars….  Occasionally, a special event would take over the park and there would be a concert, a food festival or a beekeepers fair where I could stop and explore.  Rarely were the crowds so big that they drove me away.

Tasmajdan Park

Beekeepers Festival in Tasmajdan Park. Not just honey!

In the winter when the sun went down early and it was too dark to go walking in the park, I walked home from work instead.  It took about an hour on foot.  Belgrade’s pedestrian bridges and underpasses made the traffic safe, and after work there were always enough people around to not fear the dark.  Halfway home, I’d sometimes stop at St Sava, Belgrade’s iconic Orthodox church and people watch for a little while, especially in the long Christmas season, which spans from November to January, and the church sparkled with Christmas lights.  St.  Sava is probably the city’s most important icon, and I loved that I could walk there from home.

St Sava church, Belgrade

Early evening at St Sava, snapped on my walk home from work