My last day alone on this trip has finally arrived. It’s Thursday, and Peder will be flying in tomorrow from Norway. Should I kill just one more rainy day, taking it easy until our first big weekend out in Belgrade?
Because Manga Hostel was so devoid of guests, after a bit of deliberation I concluded it’d be best to checkout one day early and try my luck elsewhere. I shot off emails to a few of the other highly-rated hostels to gauge which might be the busiest.
I ended up going with Sun Hostel. They had eight guests; apparently they’d been completely booked out, but more than half of the reservations had been canceled over the last week because of the rain. Still, eight had to be better than three.
I was right.
It took no more than 20 minutes before I connected with a group of British travelers who promptly invited me to join them for a night out on the town. They didn’t have any specific plans, just that they wanted to taste Belgrade’s famous nightlife as best as they could on their one and only evening in the city.
Hang on – I should pause here for a moment to sufficiently emphasize just how pervasive Belgrade’s reputation is throughout Europe. Virtually everyone I’ve met on this trip who’s ever paid a visit to the Serbian capital has agreed: for nightlife, there’s just nowhere else like it. It’s a city that never sleeps, where the clubs never close and downtown can feel busier at midnight than most cities ever feel. Just try giving it a Google – I can almost guarantee that searches like “Belgrade Reputation” will turn up something related to their party atmosphere.
The Belgrade chapter in my Lonely Planet begins,
‘Does anyone work here?’ you wonder, as you roam streets full of people. Every day seems to be Saturday; and if every day is Saturday, then every night is Friday night, with plenty happening. Belgrade’s ultimate appeal is its nightlife. There’s always another place to go to: underground clubs, apartment bars, and floating bars and clubs on the rivers. Everyone is ready to party at any time, dance the night away and go straight to work the next day.
Here’s an article where The Sunday Times, one of the UK’s biggest newspapers, votes Belgrade as having Europe’s best nightlife. TheAge, an Australian newspaper, rates it first in the entire world. As the list goes on and on, the trend becomes abundantly clear: when it comes to nightlife, Belgrade is legendary.
Anyway, back to the story. Thanks to input from Igor (from Hostel Manga) and Jeca (from our afternoon coffee), I already had a map fully populated with options for the evening – but since the Brits were continuing to Greece the following morning, there were two things we simply had to include, lest they depart without getting the true Belgrade Experience.
The first was a stroll down Strahinjića Bana – or as it’s more commonly known, Silicon Valley.
Remember how a couple posts ago I said I should probably stop mentioning how stunning the Eastern European women have been? Well, all I’ll say about this particular area is that I’m not the one who nicknamed it “Silicon Valley.” And that as you might assume, its nickname doesn’t come from its production of silicon microprocessors. That should give you just some idea of the type of scenery you can expect on a visit to the Serbian capital.
Our second stop of the evening – and our ultimate destination – would be one of the dozens of splavs that populate the banks of the Sava and Danube rivers. Belgrade’s selection of nightlife options maybe extensive, but if there’s one thing that it’s most famous for, it’s the splavs: floating nightclubs built atop barges parked all along the riverbanks. Splavs can range from posh megaclubs attracting international names like Tiesto and Deadmau5 to outright shabby, pieced together from oil drums and scrap metal requisitioned from nearby shipyards. Yet on an average evening, none of them – even the poshest – charge admission, so it’s easy to jump from place to place and sample all of the river’s offerings.
If there’s one thing you do on your visit to Belgrade…make it an all-night party on a splav.
Excited to kickstart our evening, my new friends and I made our way towards the river somewhere around 10pm – when Silicon Valley’s “classier” establishments start simmering down. Yet we were shocked to find each and every splav utterly abandoned: not a single neon light or laser hinted at their notoriously wild nature. We couldn’t be in the right place…could we? Wasn’t this the area known for being packed with people every night of the week?
It was. We were just way too early. Belgrade’s splav parties don’t even open until midnight, and usually don’t get pumping until closer to 1.
Since we had so much time to kill, we decided to walk to the nearest supermarket and grab some beers to sip while we waited – but since we hadn’t noticed any on our way over, I approached the first group I saw to ask for directions. It consisted of one guy carrying some sound equipment and two or three of his friends dragging kegs of Lav, the local beer.
The guy turned out to be the evening’s headliner DJ at Plastic, one of the top splavs on my list. He was on his way to start setting up his equipment.
Good guy to know?
Because five minutes of chatting later we had an official invitation to change directions. “Forget about the supermarket; if you want to start drinking just come with us to Plastic. We don’t open for another hour or two, but if you want to hang out until then you’re welcome to grab a table in the VIP area. Hell, you’ve traveled halfway across the world to be here – better enjoy your first night out in Belgrade!”
Minutes after taking our seats a waitress came over. “Would you guys like to start with a bottle or two of wine? Whatever you drink is on the house. Friends of the DJ.”
The Brits couldn’t believe what had happened; for them it was a first – and on their first ever international trip no less. “What the hell did you say to the guy?” they asked.
I honestly can’t remember. Autopilot. But whatever it was that prompted him to invite us into his own private circle, providing us with all the wine we could drink and introducing us to many of his personal friends, it felt great. Because after more than a year spent cooped up at home reprogramming GPR equipment and teaching myself kanji – I finally felt like I was getting back into my element.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from partying in other countries it’s that the quality of a night out really boils down to who you know – and you just never know who maybe walking around the next corner. So be social with everyone. From Club Volume in Seoul to Club Pure in Osaka, each and every time I’ve found myself upstairs in a top-notch nightclub it was the result of randomly befriending someone I didn’t know just a few hours earlier.
Man, I can’t wait for Peder to arrive. With the traveling duo back together…Belgrade doesn’t stand a chance 😉