This week finds us traversing Eastern Europe in our silver station wagon, keeping our eyes peeled for scenic potty stops, street food and playgrounds. On Monday we drove through southern Romania and crossed over the Danube River into Serbia. On the Michelin map, this route is highlighted in green, which signifies a scenic route. The winding, narrow road that breached hill and vale along the mighty river offered scenes worthy of the Viking River Cruise commercial. As any fan of Downtown Abbey who has religiously watched the show on PBS will know, the cruise commercials are pretty alluring. So, when we pulled into our first Serbia stop in the small dock town of Donji Milanovac (pop. ~3,000), we stumbled upon vendors packing up the market after servicing the throng of visitors from none other than a Viking Cruise boat docked on the calm waters. While we dined on hamburgers and hotdogs from a street stand and worked up a sweat at the playground, the boat got underway.
The shadows lengthened from the cliffs along the Danube in Iron Gates National Park when we crested a hill hundreds of feet above the water and caught up with the long boat. I looked down at the ship from a bird’s eye view, pushing through the flat waters in the canyon, leaving a small V wake right down the center of the river. No other boats were in view. I felt like I was watching the commercial again. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we were driving in and out numerous tunnels, winding along the river, through some of the most incredible scenery in Europe, just like the commercial. It was really happening, except we weren’t on the boat and were without the wine, amenities and all-inclusive meal package. (Oh, and a car full of junk, three kids in car seats across the back seat and piles of snacks at my feet.) It was still incredible.
Our first morning in Belgrade we did what we do best, wander around looking for coffee and a playground. Belgrade quickly obliged. We loved Belgrade. Lil’ P (age 6), got it right the second day when she said “too bad we’re leaving tomorrow.” For the kids, highlights of Belgrade were the playgrounds – we found excellent playgrounds throughout the area we walked; riding the trolleys – for our 2-year-old son, we might as well have been at Disneyland, only this was a ton cheaper; eating gelato – always a good idea, but particularly good in Belgrade if you stop in at Crna Ocva, with its 40+ varieties of artisanal gelato flavors and free samples, the kind of place mentioned in guide books and reviews, which we found totally by chance; watching electricity experiments at the small Tesla Museum – this was dad the engineer’s first choice of notable places to visit, which was enjoyed by the whole family, but particularly by Lil’ P because of the live demonstrations; riding the little train through the Kalemegdan Park and its imposing fortress and ruins that rise above the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers – the train definitely beat walking the entire grounds of the Belgrade landmark and gave us more time to spend at. . .; the playgrounds – did I mention those already?