Belgrade 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.
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.
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.