Today an interview with Maja Simov Spotter for our Belgrade cityblog. We look forward to meeting Maja again in Belgrade next week!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and have spent all my life in Belgrade, so living here is obviously a mix of destiny and choices. I enrolled in the University to study IT but graduated in environmental management. Together with my friend I’m running a small environmental consultancy in the country where it’s still considered a “business of future” (so I wait for the future to come). I believe in small business and fresh ideas.
I train hard to become a serious recreational tennis player but still not sure whether I’d like to play for audience pleasure or for result. If I only had budget and time, I would follow Radiohead and The National to every corner of the Earth where they play.
How do you like being a Spotter?
I really like it, it’s not related to any other activity I usually do, so is refreshing. The nicest Spotters-story so far occurred when I realized that some of my Belgrade friends checked the spots I wrote about, to get the idea about some new, fresh places to go out. So, it was not only “Spotted by locals” but “Spotted for locals”, as well.
Why Belgrade? Because it’s too interesting to be ignored! It’s the largest city in this part of the Balkans and if you skip it, be sure that the region will remain a black box to you. A must do is strolling through the streets of Dorcol, walking across the Branko’s bridge (from New Belgrade towards the Old town) and watching the sunset from Kalemegdan. A must not do is to blindly follow your mainstream tourist guide book.
Which prejudices about Belgrade are true? Which ones are not?
A famous architect once said that “Belgrade is the ugliest city in the world in the most beautiful place in world” and this probably describes the major prejudice which is true. Yes, the facades are not shiny, the city is an architectural mess, the traffic noise is high and stray cats and dogs can be seen sometimes. So, if your plan is to admire buildings and views – maybe you should go some place else?
Prejudice (or image) of Belgrade as a “party city” has become a hype. Yes, the city is really vibrant, people love to go out and there are a lot of choices every day and night. But don’t be fooled that partying on floating barges (“splavs”) is a synonym for Belgrade. It’s just one of the city’s sub-cultures popularized by tourist guides desperately searching for a new destination to write about. Fortunately, Belgrade is much more than cheap alcohol and dancing on tabletops to questionable music. And if you’d like, I can whisper you at least 2 other European cities deserving the “party city” attribute more than Belgrade. So, this prejudice is not so true.
What do you know about Belgrade what no tourist will know?
“Iz kog si kraja?” meaning “What neighborhood are you from?” is a common question. The city has more than 20 neighborhoods and each has its local urban specifics. It’s funny when people not raised in Belgrade cannot understand what difference does it make, if someone is a native of “Blokovi”, or “Paviljoni” or “Dorcol” or “Cubura” or “Jerkovic” or “Konjarnik”… isn’t it all the same? No, it’s not, each neighborhood is different and the beauty is in all those tiny differences.
What is the most popular neighborhood to live in Belgrade at this moment?
I guess that neighborhoods of Dorcol, Vracar and New Belgrade have always been popular due to their closeness to the city center (where majority of things happen) and opportunities they provide in respect to daily-life (kindergartens, schools, groceries, transport infrastructure). It’s not so easy to tell as real estate prices are quite high for average people and compromises have to be made. Gentrification is mainly done by Serbian “nouveaux riche” and, unfortunately, no sub-culture colonies exist in the city.
Can you describe a perfect day in your city?
It would be early autumn, non-working day and as football commentators love to say “weather ideal for play”. Morning espresso and breakfast in “Smokvica”, reading the newspapers.
About noon – walk downhill, towards the Sava River and renting the bike there. Short ride along the bank and then across the Branko’s bridge towards Zemun via New Belgrade bike path.
At 16:00, “Kafe Galerija” in Zemun – sitting in the terrace having a herbal liqueur.
17:00: time for lunch and it takes just a short walk to the Italian restaurant “Campo de Fiori”. After lunch, slow ride back to the city to return the bike. At 20:00, “Dvoristance” to have a few beers and enjoy the music in the backyard.
About 22:00 it’s time to remove some 200 m north to “KC Grad” and see if there’s something interesting happening there.
Is there something else you want to share?
It happens to me often that visitors who come to Belgrade are a bit hesitant to ask anything about our “dark past from the nineties”. We can even spend the first few days ignoring “a big pink elephant in the middle of the room” just because they thought it’s too hard for us to speak about it. No, it’s not. You can ask freely almost everyone, if you’re interested, for their opinion and experience. People’s opinions may differ but it’s not something we pretend it didn’t happen.
Check out all Maja Simov’s articles and the other interviews with our Spotters.