Let me tell you about my Summer holiday - Carspotting in Belgrade
This is personal
On July 31st, twenty days before my birthday, I decided I wanted to travel East and take it easy for a while. I spent a couple of days looking at different options until *my Serbian friend named after a flower* called and asked me to go to Belgrade. And so I went. I'd been to Belgrade before.
Where the Sava meets the Danube
Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and, more importantly, the former capital of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia split up gradually over the years, the first country to officially break free was Slovenia, in 1991, whereas Serbia lived on, with Montenegro, until 2006 when Montenegro became independent and Serbia was left to its own devices.
Few cities in Europe have suffered the same way that Belgrade has. It has been bombarded umpteenth times, including from NATO which must be a record, and even when the tourist wave began catching up in the Balkans, Serbia was widely ignored, until very recently, because people usually preferred the beaches in Croatia or Slovenia or even the medieval cobblestone towns in Bosnia.
This beautiful Royal Enfield was parked near "Republic Square"
The automotive history of Yugoslavia is closely related to that of Italy because for many, many years Italy has been governed by left-wing parties. If you look back on the history of Fiat and Zastava, the only significant manufacturer to come out of Yugoslavia, you'll find that they share several models. The list is a saga and it includes the 750, which is basically a Fiat 600, the Skala, which is Fiat 128 underneath, and of course the mythological Zastava "Bentley" Yugo which was featured on old Top Gear, and that's basically a Fiat 127.
The streets of Belgrade are full of cars that you might call "vintage" around here. And not just Zastavas, either. Wandering the streets, with a "no-place-to-go" attitude, you stumble upon old classics which, if this were Italy, would've been scrapped, or traded for a newer model or sold off ages ago. On the other hand, if this were Los Angeles, said Mercedes classic would probably sell for a couple hundred grand at auction.
Stereotypes aside, Belgrade is an international capital city. It's got an international airport named after Nikola Tesla, arguably the only famous Serb that's not a war criminal, and international fast food chains. This means that modern cars are here as well. I was walking to my favourite coffee place, called Molotov (yeah), near St. Sava Cathedral when I found this, a Lamborghini Urus. I'd never seen it in this colour and I have to say it looks gorgeous.
I've often thought about moving to Belgrade, and not just because my *friend named after a flower* lives here. Logistics and cars are indeed my main concern.
I live in Florence and my nearest international airport is Pisa (Florence airport is useless), it has low-cost connections to just about anywhere in Europe and both Rome and Milan, with their international hubs, are a 90-minute train ride away. I said Nikola Tesla airport is international, and it is, but I'm not even gonna pretend for a second that it would be the same thing.
As for cars, well, it took me nearly 10 years to develop some semi-decent contacts with local and national dealerships and car companies here and I'd have to start from scratch if I moved to Belgrade.
My friend Ivan has a solution. I met him in Florence a couple of years ago and he's now waiting for me at a table inside the restaurant of the Saint Ten Hotel. He's designed the hotel himself. But then again his company has designed just about anything in Belgrade. He's tall, most Serbs are, and he moves with a nonchalant, "who-cares" smile stamped on his face that comes natural to tall men who run successful companies. He's wearing a blue polo shirt, Hawaiian short trunks and flip-flops. I'm wearing a black shirt and blue trousers with white sneakers. Partly because I'm Italian and I am pathologically programmed to look good at all times, but chiefly because I'm going to meet *my friend named after a flower* later on Ada Ciganlija, a river island that's been artificially converted into a peninsula on the Sava river.
I tell him about my idea and Ivan says it's "no problem", he sounds like Ibrahimovic, he says he knows all the dealerships and car groups in Belgrade and he can help me with that. I don't know, it still sounds like a bit of a stretch.
The view from the restaurant where I celebrated my birthday was ok
I've now realized this piece has become even more personal than I intended it to be but hey, what can I tell you. Some cities can be defined by their cars. Certain parts of Paris are still awash with french-made cars. Rome is packed with Smart cars, because anything else simply doesn't fit, and Milan is full of cars of posers and supercars, because the city is going through some sort of modern Renaissance.
The cars of Belgrade are like the people of Belgrade. They look like they've had to survive and live through everything and anything but they still look good, still solid, still in good condition. Still looked after.