Our next race took us to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Belgrade is one of the oldest cities; it produced 17 Roman emperors and was fought over in 115 wars. My impression of Belgrade before visiting was that of a war-torn city; indeed it was bombed in the two world wars and also by NATO in 1999. Check out more interesting facts on the website ibikebelgrade.com.
The Belgrade that we saw on our visit was thriving. Building construction is booming, especially along the Danube river. The city also ranks as one of the safest cities in the world. The people were very nice and friendly, food was cheap, and the weather just perfect for running.
Richard and I took the train after work from Jurbise to Brussels International Airport on Friday, April 12, 2019. Our Air Baltic flight was at 20:20 at the B gates which meant we had to go through passport control. We took our time at the lounge; the Diamond lounge on this side of the airport had better food choices. We had had chicken teriyaki and chicken curry for dinner.
We boarded 10 minutes behind schedule but then we sat on the tarmac for an hour before we finally took off. The flight was uneventful and the plane landed at Nikola Tesla International Airport in the Serbian capital. Passengers have a choice of taking the cab for a fixed price of 1,800 Serbian dinar (or approximately US$18) or the A1 airport bus for 300 SB (US$3) per person. We opted for the bus option and disembarked at the main bus station.
We walked about 10 minutes uphill to get to Hotel Moskva. Hotel Moscow in English, it is a protected building by the city government due to its historical status. Leonid Breshnev, Brad Pitt, Luciano Pavarotti have all stayed here and their rooms especially marked.
Our hotel was strategically located right in the middle of the action. The Belgrade Youth Center was only two blocks away, the start line was a block away, and the finish line was right in front of the hotel.
It felt decadent to sleep in in a new city, but sleep in we did. We woke up leisurely, had coffee in the room, and got dressed. We skipped breakfast and opted to go to the Belgrade Youth Center to pick up my bib.
I pre-registered a few months ago and paid 3,000 SB (about US$30) for the race. The goody bag included the bib, a big can of Heineken, and the race shirt.
We walked around a little bit after getting the bib and had breakfast at one of the nearby restaurants. We both had the Serbian traditional chicken and creme brûlée for dessert.
We meandered along the main street, posing for a photo in front of the Republic square and took a photo of the National Theater.
My friend Kathi arrived from Brussels via Paris in the afternoon. We walked with her to get her bib and had an early dinner at the hotel.
The race started on Sunday morning at the junction of Bulevar Karihja Aleksandra and Resavska Street, a few meters away from the hotel.
We toed the line together with the marathon relay runners and the half marathoners and took off en masse at 10:00 AM.
The first two kilometers of the route was downhill. We crossed some bridges and made several U-turns and got to see a lot of the city. We were inspired by some of the placards held up by spectators.
We stayed with the half marathoners and separated at the 18K mark. They turned right to finish the race and we went left to continue on. The time limit was six hours from the gun time. They also warned marathoners to cross the halfway point no later than 2:45. Whew! I passed the 20K mark at 2:29:49. I was doing well running with my friend Kathi beforehand. We passed the 10K mark together at 1:11 but I slowly faded out when we separated at the 18K. I cruised to the finish line in 5:41:56.
There was plenty of entertainment along the way. Richard took videos of three of the performing groups.
The aid stations offered plenty of water, isotonic drink, lemons, bananas, and sugar. The weather hovered at 15 degrees Celsius.
Richard met me at the finish line and we walked back to the hotel. I also received a goody bag after completing the race. It had a banana, two apples, the isotonic drink, and water.
I booked us for a couples massage at 17:00, finishing after an hour. We were so relaxed and sleepy that we just ordered room service for dinner.
Our flight home was early in the morning the following day. I set our alarm for 2:30 AM and was checking us out of the hotel an hour later. We took a cab back to the airport, stopping at the Temple of St. Sava for a quick souvenir shot before leaving.