(The featured image is of a statue found in the Garden of Flowers representing women from every region of the Yugoslav Republic together holding up the shared weight)
Ofcourse no trip to Belgrade could be complete without a visit to the National Museum of Yugoslavia where the socialist strongman of the former Yugoslav Republic Marshall Tito is entombed in the Garden of Flowers.
On our last morning there, Shoba and I dashed off in an Uber to the museum, and discovered a delightful restaurant-cafe at the entrance called Hyde Park, where we decided to have our breakfast. ”Twas a charming place! Obviously the owner’s dream space, a confectionary delight of riotous colors and patterns covering the walls and chairs and tables, a piano in an adjoining side room, old fashioned paneled windows looking into a garden of pinkredyellowwhite flowers and boughs and overgrown grass and weeds, and the most delicious tiramisu and cappucino ever-with a charming waiter attending on us. Yes I had pastry for breakfast…. I was on holiday, folks! Shobs had her veggie omelette which I realized is an important staple in her morning Daily diet. She gets unhappy without her eggs!
Fortified with sugar n caffeine (and at least one of us with some protein in her!)- we stopped in at the Garden of Flowers where the General is buried. It was interesting to learn about the ways he devised to keep the various ethnic populations of the Balkans United, including youth relays that traveled through the various major towns of the republic starting out from his birth town and ending in Belgrade. This annual race (Relay of Youth) was ostensibly meant to celebrate his birthday and in so doing bring everyone together but ofcourse it became part of his personality cult and by the end of the 80s ( it was still being celebrated after his death)- devolved into posters w Nazi symbols etc — a far cry from the anti Stase stance of Tito’s communist Partisan army that liberated the region from Axis powers chiefly Germany, at the end of World War II
It was fascinating to see how almost everyone we met in our travels, old and young, from Serbia and Croatia- -expressed a certain nostalgia for Tito’s socialism despite ( or maybe because of?) his strongman rule. As our cabbie to the museum told us, during Tito’s time, all Yugoslavs enjoyed a decent life, with guaranteed housing, health care and paid vacations for entire families lasting up to 21 days per year.
Plus- there was peace.
The Blue Train he commissioned was another stroke of genius on his part–he spent a great deal of time living on the train as it traveled all over the country, giving speeches from it at different locations, meeting the people, and inviting other heads of state to travel on the train with him. Those who did included Haile Selassie, Yasser Arafat, JawahaL Nehru, Sukarno of Indonesia and even Queen Elizabeth!
So ofcourse Shoba n I had to replicate the journey on the Belgrade-Bar line which was the route of Tito’s Blue Train! We got off at Podgorica after a night spent squealing like schoolgirls in a tiny cabin with uncomfortable bunk beds but an adorable conductor who let me charge my phone in his cabin and helped us with our luggage when we got off at Podgorica the next morning, bleary-eyed but excited for the next leg of our travels down the spectacular coast of Montenegro and in to Dubrovnik- the jewel of the Dalmatian coast.
Our driver Tomislav was waiting for us as we rolled our bags out of the station, and we hit it off instantly. He was funny and charming and showed us some lovely spots along the way, including the picturesque seaside town of Kotor and ofcourse San Stefan where Shoba n I jumped in for our first swim in the Adriatic