The New Years Eve celebration this year was an interesting one. I will briefly explain the excursion from my point of view. Later on, an official account will be released, one that attempts to compile all 5 versions of the 3 days in Belgrade, Serbia.
That's right, we decided to go to Belgrade, Serbia to welcome 2010. That is the same Belgrade that was bombed by the United States and NATO a little over a decade ago. Though there were a few Serbians that, when they found out we were Americans, couldn't help but mention the bombing, there were also very many Serbians that we met who were extremely friendly to us.
I would say that the trip officially began early in the morning of the 30th when all 5 brave volunteers came together in the "cold man bar." By the time that the last of the 5 showed up, the others had moved into the warm room and were playing the card game dubbed "Cizme" because the original name of the game, "Claim" was too hard to remember. After a short 5am run-in with a deliquent adolescent and a prostitute the group decided to move to the tracks to wait for their train. The train was on time but one of the 5 felt the need to rush to the wagon. In his hurry the volunteer stepped in one of the many potholes that pepper the common Romanian train-station asphalt spraining his ankle. This was the first casualty of the trip and it would haunt the volunteer the following day during his 3 hour repetitive hike around New Belgrade.
The Timisoara-Belgrade train ride was rather uneventful comprising of some naptime and some angry Serbian customs officials at the border. After getting off the train the 5 went on a search for the "too good to be true" hostel that they had previously booked for the busy New Year weekend. After 3 hours of walking, a creepy Serbian asking them to stay in his apartment, one bus stop, and a couple wine breaks, they learned that the hostel was in fact "too good to be true." At that point they went where any PC volunteer would go for a place to stay, the 5-star Continental Hotel.
Now that the group had a roof over their heads they all laid down and took a nice long nap. Later on that night they ate at a very nice, but not overly priced Italian restaurant where all but one ordered a 4 cheese pasta. After dinner they played some cards and got some much needed rest for the New Years Eve events the following day.
The day of New Years Eve was a busy one for the group. It was their day to see as much of Belgrade that they could before preparing for the night's events. Much time was spent at the large citadel that overlooked both the Sava and the Danube rivers. At the citadel the guys got their gun fix, climbing over the old tanks and anti-aircraft cannons that were on display. Next the group headed toward the center of town passing through the Bohemian district, eating a quick lunch, and getting rained on. They stopped at an impressively large McDonalds to get a coffee and wait out the rain. As darkness fell, the group passed by St. Sava's Cathedral and found the Tesla museum to complete their walk through Belgrade. A 400 dinar cab ride followed so they could quickly get back to the hotel and start preparing for the nights events.
Fastforward through preparation.
The group was back in the center of town in their finest dress and well on their way to a semi-blurry New Year's Eve celebration. Unfortunately they were separated because they had to take separate cabs. Luckily one of the girls set out in a search for the others to reunite the group, she succeeded. After getting a couple of drinks the group worked their way closer to the stage were they found a premium pocket of spectators to ring in the new year with. They watched a wicked cool concert in a language that they didn't understand surrounded by American loving university students who were gladly sharing their rum and rakia with their new American friends. The PCRo volunteers did their own special Romanian New Year countdown followed by a "La Multi Ani," and another countdown an hour later with the rest of the crowd. The second countdown celebrated the Serbian New Year and was followed by an impressive fireworks display. A small series of events following the Serbian New Year separated the group. In the hours that followed one couple went to a pizza place where they were presented with free scotch, free pizza, and a couple free slaps to the face. The other couple refused to get screwed over by a cab driver and one of them paid with a punch in the face. They eventually all rejoined at the hotel to chat a little and pass out after a long night. All but one. The missing one arrived with perfect timing early the next morning after an even longer night with some Serbian friends that he made.
On the first day of 2010 the group slowly packed up and checked out of the Continental. The nearby mall was closed so they made their way to the train-station and prepared themselves to leave Belgrade. Unfortunately for them their departure was much further away than planned. Their train left the station an hour and a half late and slowly crawled toward Romania. Three hours after the scheduled departure Belgrade was still visible. At one point the group spotted smoke billowing out of the engine of the train and in a bit of a panic slipped their shoes on expecting to soon be evacuated. Eventually the smoke stopped and the next problem was a group of rowdy drunk Serbians harassing them. One of the 5 volunteers referred to their group as "monkeys in a cage." Despite the annoyances the volunteers were in good spirits, passing the spiked cola bottle and laughing about their adventures. Finally the border was reached and a sigh of relief came over the group. "We've finally made it home," one of the 5 uttered. At least one of the newer volunteers thought of Romania as their "home" for the first time after arriving less than a year earlier.
New Year's Eve 2010 was certainly a memorable one. I can now add Serbia to my short list of countries that I've visited. With all that happened, a sprained ankle, punches in the face, getting poured on, fake hostel, the spirits remained high throughout the adventure and upon arrival in Romania the group consensus was that we had a great time.