Zemun, New Belgrade, and the Gypsy Slums

It’s getting down to the wire here, I leave on Subota from Belgrade, and I am SO SAD!! I do not want to leave this place!!! So I’ve entered the frantic zone, rushing around to see as much as I can see, meet as many people as I can, and of course, learn as much Serbian as humanly possible before I leave here. So last weekend I saw Novi Beograd, Zemun, Avala, and a collection of great graffiti art.

Novi Beograd and Zemun really each deserve their own post, but for sake of brevity, I will combine them.

If you go to Novi Beograd, take a taxi. I stubbornly refused to take the easy way out and cab my way all day, and I ended up getting a really nice long confusing string of bus tours all over who knows where before I finally found my way back that night. But so what? I made in on public transportation speaking 80% Serbian to do it, so it was worth the hours I spent confused and lost on the busses. I bussed from old town Belgrade to Novi Beograd, then from there to Zemun and back to Stari Grad.

Novi Beograd means New Belgrade, but don’t let the name deceive you, it’s not new. It seems to have been built after WWII, and its mostly filled with shopping malls and tall apartment buildings. There are some great pedestrian zones along the river which include clubs, bars, and restaurants, and lots of people out walking dogs, rollerblading (yes, it’s still practiced here), and strolling along the river.

Floating Cafe/Bar in New Belgrade

While finding my way there, I passed the Gypsy slums. I had heard about this area, but it was nothing like I expected. To educate a few ignorant foreigners (I myself belonged to this category regarding this subject not too long ago), the Gypsies are an actual ethnic group of people who live in this area, and also in other countries nearby in the Balkans. Their actual name is the Roma people, and they tend to be great musicians, very artistic, but also extremely poor. It’s clear here that they basically are seen as a lower class of society. When I passed the Gypsy Slums I actually thought we were passing a landfill at first. But instead, it was landfill, with shacks sloppily put together amidst the trash. There was literally hills of trash, a huge field full of litter, and a few handfuls of dirty shacks pitched atop the layer of junk. Gypsy kids were walking back and forth among the shacks carrying things and generally moseying about. It’s one of the most unusual things I’ve seen while here, and all this exists just down the street from a very large, very modern, American style shopping mall called Delta City.

Gypsy Slum

In addition to seeing Novi Beograd and the gypsy slums, I also found my way to Zemun, using my broken, but improving, Serbian.
Zemun used to be a separate city from Belgrade, and more under the Austro-Hungarian influence rather than Turkish. This difference is obvious in the architectural style. It is clearly more colorful, more beautiful, more ancient looking than Belgrade. Along the riverfront you can find a handful of fish restaurants and floating cafes, and if you follow the curving, cobblestone streets up to the top of the hill, you can take in a fantastic view of the city. Terracotta colored roofs make for an exquisite view of the neighborhood beneath you, and a few church steeples break up the unity with breathtakingly beautiful towers.
In the heart of Zemun, I noticed less English, and in fact, practically no street signs, bus stop maps, or even the use of the latin alphabet. It was pretty much all in Cyrillic, and no one spoke a word of English.
Overall, a beautiful day exploring and seeing the surrounding districts outside the heart of Belgrade.

View from Atop Zemun

That night I found myself befriending a few girls at a wine bar, one from Montenegro, one from a small town in Serbia, and they were more than happy to help me practice my Serbian with them. In fact, they taught me my most useful phrase yet! Reci Polako, meaning, speak slowly!! That one has already gotten tons of mileage 🙂

Not bad, for my last Sunday in Belgrade.

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3 thoughts on “Zemun, New Belgrade, and the Gypsy Slums

  1. So sad you’re leaving!!!! But I can’t wait to see ya again! Glad your Serbian is as good as it is. 🙂

    BTW – I have a similar shot (I unfortunately did not take it though) of Beograd from Zemun featuring the church steeple! One of my favorite backgrounds for my computer, actually!!

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