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.



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