Over several years of blogging, I’ve talked a lot about adoption. As every adoptee knows, you wake up in the morning and you’re still adopted. However, with self-examination, relentless honesty, and unconditional self-acceptance, one can move on. After years of grappling with “adoption issues,” I’m allowing myself to move on in another way. Travel, destination Europe.
Along with my friend Lauren, I went in April to Eastern Europe, sailing on the Danube
with Viking River Cruises. Of all the cities I visited in the tour “From Budapest to Bucharest,” Belgrade is one of my favorites. The former capital of the state of Yugoslavia, Belgrade is now the capital of Serbia. Our guide told us that it’s been destroyed and rebuilt 20 times. Resilience exemplified. Our land tour explored the Old Town, nestled along the Sava River. (The Sava and Danube Rivers converge.) Steeped in Byzantine, Turkish and Austrian/Hungarian influences, Belgrade is a city at the crossroads. It’s been through a lot.
The Belgrade Fortress, an ancient stone behemoth of a fortification was most recently reconstructed during the Ottoman period in the 18th century. It is surrounded by the Kalmegdan Park, a grassland haven, full of flowering trees. The city, our guide tells us, has 32 hills. We climb to the summit of one such hill, and views are spectacular. Led by “Sejean,” a local man in his thirties, we make our way toward the massive gates. To our left, in a former moat, is a tennis court. Two men playing avidly. The thwack of tennis balls reverberates through the spring air.
Leaving the thwacks behind, we continue through another moat area. On both sides we see cannons and tanks from the World Wars. An outdoor military museum! The fortress is mammoth, and we ramble on through the stonework. Our guide continues to fill us with lore.
to 1868. The building is an architectural masterpiece in stone. Inside it’s all hallways, stairwells and byzantine passageways. Our guide, a lovely college student named Tanya, takes us into the opera theater itself. Breathtaking! Gilded trim, red velvet seats, several balconies and a vast stage. The performers are so dedicated, we learn, that during WWII, they performed daily even during air raids. Today, the National Theater houses three artistic ensembles—opera, drama and ballet. All together these ensembles present more than 600 performances a year.
We are ushered into the opera’s salon, a combination museum/small opera hall. As we sip sparkling wine, two young singers serenade us with arias from The Elixir of Love, Rigoletto, and Il Trovatore. An enchanting interlude. Next, a tour of the costume shop, and a breath of air on the balcony overlooking
Belgrade’s Republic Square. We make our way back to the Viking Longship docked on the Danube. The roar of late afternoon city traffic surrounds us, but the memory of Verdi and Donizetti plays even louder. The best part of travel, I’m finding, is adopting another country’s culture.