Thursday, October 22, 2009

Belgrade International Book Fair

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Belgrade International Book Fair is my most favorite cultural event of all times. You could guess that I love books and that I'm probably a member of readers' clubs with book discounts, so for me visiting the Book Fair is more than just an opportunity to buy cheap books - it's my annual ritual, when I enjoy browsing through thousands of books, feeling the smell of newly printed books, meeting authors... I don't enjoy the crowds, though, but it's the price I have to pay - no pain, no gain, right?

Belgrade International Book Fair is the third largest fair in Europe and the second oldest in Europe. In 2007 the number of visitors has reached 200.000, while each year the number of visitors is never under 145-150.000. 531 national and 314 international publishers participated at the 53rd Book Fair in 2008. It is an annual event scheduled for the third Monday in October, the week long event takes place at Belgrade Fair, but this year's Fair starts on 26th October, ending on 1st November.

Every year The Book Fair has special topics (e.g. "Two Centuries of the High School") and the Guest of Honor Country, and the writer/s from that country come to the Fair. Last year's Country Guest of Honor was Japan, and natsuki Ikezawa was the writer guest of honor. This year's Guest of Honor Country is Greece. Canada is now already traditionally (7 consecutive years) presenting its authors, illustrators, publishers, and new Canadian titles translated into Serbian. This year's international guests will be also from Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Germany, Great Britain and Croatia. The Book Fair organizes numerous themed programs and events, conferences, annual meetings and exhibitions, as well as award ceremonies for established prize categories, such as Publisher of the Year, Publishing Project of the Year, The Best Edition etc. From this year the Book Fair will have the Comic Strip Workshop, with numerous famous guests from that field.

If you are in Belgrade in this period, I warmly recommend you to visit the Book Fair - you won't regret it. Avoid 29th October, since it's School Day, if you don't want to spend your time surrounded by zillion children running around. Also, have in mind that busiest days are during weekend, especially the last day of the fair. Entrance fee is around 3 € (250 Dinars), working hours 10 A.M.- 8 P.M.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Belgrade Hotels - 4 Stars Hotels, Part 2

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Neutral description: Balkan is one of the Belgrade hotels with the longest tradition - the original hotel building was built in 1860, but teared down in 1935 because it was decrepit, and the present building was built. 

The hotel was completely renovated 2005 and since then rooms are furnished in modern style, while the restaurants and cafe interiors have modernized classic look. Rooms are air conditioned, and guests have everything needed to make coffee or tea, wireless internet, safe ... In the conference room, completely separate from other contents, decorated with contemporary artists' paintings, it is possible to have business meetings, seminars, banquets and other events. 

Balkan is located on the corner of the Prizrenska Street and Terazije, so it is close to the pedestrian zone near the Republic Square (with the National Museum and National Theater) in Knez Mihailova Street, which reaches up to Kalemegdan and many other Belgrade  attractions. 

The hotel has only 12 parking spaces next to the hotel, but nearby there is a public, 24 hrs guarded parking.

My opinion: Immediately after the renovation of Balkan hotel, I had an opportunity to see the presentation of several rooms, suites, and a dining room. Hotel was completely renovated 2005 when all the furniture, woodworks (windows and doors) were replaced , as well as complete installation, so practically almost  everything in hotel is new. All rooms are luxuriously furnished and very spacious, have TV with cable programs, mini bar, air conditioning, phone, electric kettle, safe, and particularly nice touch is a bathrobe with matching slippers for each guest. The apartments have large TVs with DVD player and shower with a massager, and espresso machine instead of kettle. All furniture is of modern design, rooms are tastefully decorated, and prevailing colors are in pastel shades.

The entrance to the reception is from Prizrenska Street, where is hotel's parking lot. Reception lobby is spacious and has a lot of seats, with a small separated part, which is very suitable for short business meetings. The hotel has a lift. 

Breakfast hall is light and spacious, and all rooms have a beautiful view - a view towards the park and the river Sava, and some are facing Terazije. Restaurant and coffee bar have very pleasant design, chairs are comfortable, but the most important thing is that staff is incredibly friendly and service is perfect, no matter if you came to have a dinner or just one coffee. With modern equipped conference room, this hotel really proves all four stars. 

Location of the hotel is ideal, because it is in the very city center, Terazije, a few steps from the beginning of Knez Mihailova Street, Belgrade's popular pedestrian zone, which is fifteen minutes walk away from Kalemegdan. Bohemian Skadarlija is away at only ten minutes walk, and on the other side is the National Assembly, Old and New Palace. Across the street is a stop of several public transport lines, which can take you very quickly to the Temple of Saint Sava. Hotel guests who come with their own car have the privilege of free parking in the city center, at the hotel parking lot. In the vicinity of the hotel is a shopping zone, several museums and National Theater.

Neutral description: Hotel Moskva (Moscow) is one of the oldest hotels in Belgrade, and the building of the hotel represents one of the most recognizable attractions of Belgrade, which was declared a monument of culture more than half a century ago. The hotel was built in 1906 in Russian Art Nouveau style with elements of Greek antiquity, and was designed by the architect from St Petersburg. All the decorations on the facade and the r hotel  roof were made in Zsolnaj factory in Pécs. During its long history, this hotel has hosted many world celebrities from Albert Einstein, statesmen such as Indira Gandhi and Leonid Brezhnev, to the stars as Robert De Niro and Ray Charles, and many others. 

The hotel is situated in the very center of town, on the Terazije Plateau, beside the famous fountain of Terazije. Besides restaurants, the hotel has a coffee pastry shop, with a summer garden at Terazije, as well as several bars. In addition, Moscow has a banquet hall, and parking spaces for hotel guests. All rooms are furnished with period furniture that fits the ambience of the hotel.

My opinion: Mansion of Hotel Moskva represents one of the symbols of Belgrade, which dominates Terazije by its impressive appearance - as the perfect harmony of contrast between the yellow building and highlights of the green roof and decorations on the facade, made in the famous Zsolnaj factory in Pécs, where they still keep molds for each peace. From the beginning, 1906, this hotel was famous for its coffee-pastry shop, a favorite place for Belgraders. 

If a hotel is settled in such an exclusive location in the beautiful building, and also has four stars, one can expect a fairly high price of accommodation, which is the case, but in return, one would expect adequately high level of service. However, despite more than a century of tradition, the perfect location, and numerous famous guests who stayed at this hotel (only mention Albert Einstein, A. Hitchcock, Robert De Niro and Ray Charles), Moskva hotel no longer offers the service that would be expected from such a hotel. I had the opportunity to view "the inside" when one of my acquaintances recently stayed at this hotel.

Failures are numerous, and list them one by one, starting from the reception, which is the first thing hotel guests encounter with. Reception is cramped, with outdated and worn furniture, with only 2 sets of furniture, of which one is at the reception area, and the other is in the small hallway next to the elevator and stairs. Receptionists are very unkind, and the first day one of them allowed himself to make unpleasant comment: "Is she sure that she was in this hotel?" because my guest said wrong  room number when she asked for the key, and on top of that they did not listen to her when she told them her name, so they  could not find her in the guest list. In the end, when they've finally found her name on the guest list (and that process lasted for 10 minutes), one of three receptionist, made scolding remark: "She should have told us her name in the first place!", although it was just the first thing she said. Their great kindness was proven once again when they did not bother to assist her in any way, by providing electric kettle, but instead told her to call room service when she needs hot water for tea. I think that such things must not happen in four stars hotel  and that service has to be much better. 

As for the hotel room, which I saw thanks to my guest, I can say that the situation is not much better. I do not know if one part of hotel has been renovated, but the floor where my guest had a room, certainly was not restored for 20, maybe more, years. Hallways and rooms (although elevator and reception area are no better) smell of moist that simply pinches the nose and made me feel discomfort. I must admit that I was ashamed, though I have not recommended the hotel, that this one of the things that will build someone's picture of Belgrade. The room is medium size, have furniture and a small TV, but I was terrified by beds . Two beds (style furniture) with upholstered head and covers made of the same dark-green velvet, would not look scary if there weren't obvious dirt and stains, which could have been seen even on that very dark-green color! I wonder for how long it hasn't not cleaned, when all that can seen in such a dark color? Bathroom was clean but old and if you wash your hands with warm water, the whole bathroom fills with water vapor, that doesn't go anywhere, except in the room (maybe that's where that ugly moisture smell comes from?). I will not even mention how awkward is the water tap on the sink - I was all wet when I tried to wash my hands! Rooms have air-conditioning, radiators concealed by decorative "cage" for which I wondered if it was there since the construction of the hotel, as it had scratched boards, and behind (the original) bars there were tons of dust collected for who knows how long. This room had the wonderful arched windows, for which I have always imagined, while watching the hotel exterior, that they belong to luxurious apartments. Not only that they don't belong to luxurious apartments, but my friend also showed me how it is impossible to draw curtains over them completely, because of these arches. She told me that she could not sleep the whole night because of uncovered parts of windows on both sides, exactly opposite to those numerous neon signs.  

Passing by, I saw two dining rooms, that seem somewhat neglected and dusty, with heavy curtains on the windows - an environment that kills the appetite by any means. But I'll write here about coffee-pastry shop that has a summer garden Terazije. This summer, while I was shopping with my friend, we were surprised by a strong rain, which forced us to hide in the first cafe we run into - accidentally it was Hotel Moskva. The first thing I've noticed was that the furniture was warn, and then I saw a truly horrible sight: in all that marble there was a terrible metal bar, remaining from the time of socialism. Waiters were wearing outdated ugly uniforms, quite in the style of already mentioned spirit of the socialists' seventies. Although our waiter was young, he was dragging as if he were 60 years old, so between our entry (rain was so strong, that after us and no one could enter, because it was impossible to go down the street) and his arrival to our table to take the order, about 10 minutes passed. The worst is yet to follow: even though we ordered cakes (and what else in the famous pastry shop?) that are displayed in the showcases in the next room, some thirty steps away, we were waiting for our order for more than 45 minutes. No matter how hard we tried to catch his attention, in order to find out the reason for such delay and why we haven't even got our drinks, we couldn't succeed, and at the end we were so furious that we were ready to come out to the street go to the hotel and the Balkans, although the storm was raging outside. When we finally got our cakes, we have found that our drinks were poured in dirty glasses - yes, dirty! This time I did not have the intention to spend hours waiting for him, so I went looking for our waiter and caught him in front of some door through which he tried to disappear. And I got a typical astonished reaction, with obvious disapproval, but I got a replacement relatively soon. The most unpleasant thing was that ventilation wasn't working properly, and despite the wide open sliding doors and a very high ceiling, the air was terribly stuffy, so we both ended up feeling sick, especially because cakes that we ordered were too sweet and too strong - however, they really look the same like in the picture, and I've realized why they're so small as soon as I've tasted the first bite. We should have ordered their famous Moskva šnit. Toilets are in the basement, so one has to go down the stairs, but the appearance is one special story. I cannot say that they're very dirty, but such obsolete space, which hasn't been restored for at least 30 years, is really difficult to keep clean. All this is "spiced" with typical scene from the past (when toilettes were last renovated): a woman that sits behind small table in front of the toilet, and to whom, I presume, people should be paying the use of toilette. 

Unfortunately, although hotel Moskva one of the Belgrade symbols, I would not recommend it to anyone, especially not by the current room rates. I think that this hotel has enormous potential, but it needs a large investment to take back the old glory, although it's not an impossible task. And one more thing: it is necessary to work on complete staff politeness - urgently!

Neutral description: Hotel Le Petit Piaf is located in the heart of Skadarlija, surrounded by many restaurants, but isolated from the noise, because its building is in the courtyard, above the gallery in the house Đure Jaksic. Hotel is in one story building which fit in perfectly with ambiance of Bohemian quarter. Hotel has a restaurant and two bars, and summer garden. It is possible to organize seminars and banquets. Restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine and has a nice wine list.

The hotel is especially suitable for business people, and those who travel alone, because most of the 13 rooms have single bed, with a maximum capacity for 2 people, and that also goes for 5 suites. Rooms are furnished in modern style, with TV, safe and telephone. Internet connection is available in all parts of the hotel. 

Because the hotel is located in downtown of the city, most of Belgrade's main attractions can be reached by foot, and hotel provides a transfer from/to the airport.

My opinion: Searching for a suitable accommodation for my acquaintances who have announced their arrival in Belgrade, I went to Le Petit Piaf hotel. The hotel is located in the heart Skadarlija, next to Đura Jakšić's home, surrounded by famous restaurants, but protected from the outside noise with a narrow passage, that leads to a spacious courtyard. One story building of the hotel perfectly fits the environment of Bohemian quarter.

The first impression that comes from the first glance is that the hotel is clean, new, neat. Indeed, the prevailing color is white, combined with dark wood - in all areas and rooms. The hotel has 13 rooms, most of which are single bedded, with a maximum capacity for 2 persons, and 5 apartments are also double bedded, so it is most suitable for businessmen, and those who travel alone. The rooms are quite small, but room interior accents on modern minimalism, emphasizing room functionality and equipment, which includes TV, safe and telephone, while the WiFi is available in all areas of the hotel.

The staff is very friendly, and apart from English, majority speaks French as well, which is not so common. Inside the hotel are restaurant and bar, while the second bar in a separate building next to the hotel. All of them have a summer garden, located in the aforementioned courtyard, which is paved in stone. The restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine specialties, accompanied by a very solid wine list.

Due to its location in the center, most of Belgrade's main attractions can be visited on foot, but for the same reason, the hotel has no parking. Notwithstanding the lack of parking, to all who travel alone, or in couple, I would recommend this small, charming, cozy hotel.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Belgrade Hotels - 4 Stars Hotels, Part 1

Monday, October 12, 2009

Neutral description: Hyatt Regency Hotel is one of the first Belgrade hotels from world known hotel chains. The hotel is located on the New Belgrade side of the river, near the Branko's Bridge and a few kilometers from the city center, so many public transportation lines intersect in the vicinity of the hotel. At the distance of a few minutes walk from the hotel is one of the largest shopping malls in the Balkans, as well as the Ušće promenade next to the confluence of the Sava and Danube, with a number of  "splavovi" (rafts) with cafes and restaurants. 

Hyatt Regency Hotel has 302 rooms and suites. Standard rooms are approximately 38 sq m and offer, among other things, TV with cable and satellite programs, 24-hour concierge services and room service. Besides regular price of accommodation Hyatt Regency has special offers, packages and special services. Hotel's public space and halls are also available for organizing different types of events, whether it comes to business meetings, conferences or private celebrations, and for businessmen there is a business center. 

Hotel has several bars, a restaurant, swimming pool, shops, wellness center, and several rooms for various purposes, and their own space for parking. The entire hotel has wireless internet connection enabled.

My opinion: When the hotel was built  in the late eighties, its elegant and modern look with a modern way of business and variety of services, began to fade the glory of all other Belgrade hotels. Marble staircase that leads to the hall, located above the fountain that looks like natural stream, once inhabited by live ducks, is real attraction for visitors. Besides its appearance and luxury, the hotel won the Hyatt and a rich and wide range of food, which has always enticed many guests. Hyatt often organized and some days the world's national cuisine, and the heads are usually the heads of Hyatt's kitchen at the hotel in that country. Besides splendid cuisine and good wellness programs, the Hyatt has several rooms for conferences and meetings, which can be adjusted for purpose, if necessary, so that eg. the Crystal Hall can suite formal banquets and weddings, as well as Christmas sales, conferences or fashion shows. A top quality hotel catering meets the requirements of each type of event.

I was lucky to win a quiz prize - one night in Hyatt, so I had the opportunity to see the hotel from "the inside". Room was very spacious (standard rooms are approximately 38 sq m), so that besides huge marital bed, which is more than comfortable, there is plenty of room for medium-sized launge and writing desk. The room is light and the view from windows depends on the side its facing (because it was free, of course I had a disgusting view to some of the ugliest parts of the building). Bathroom is very big, very luxurious, and it was the first time in my life that i saw telephone next to the toilet in reality LOL! The rooms are well sound isolated, so external sounds don't reach the room, and the resting is guaranteed. The staff was so discreet, that you could hardly even notice them, yet all that is needed to be done is perfectly done.

Although it's located on the New Belgrade side of the river, the hotel is very close to the city center, and an additional benefit is that one of the largest shopping malls in the Balkans was built recently near the hotel, next to the great promenade at the confluence of rivers Sava and Danube, with numerous rafts (with cafes, restaurants and night clubs), for which Belgrade is famous.

Neutral description: Built in late seventies, at the same time as the Sava Center, Hotel Continental was the first large modern hotel in Belgrade, and also the first big luxury hotel located on the New Belgrade side of the river. The hotel is connected to the Sava Convention Center and was built in similar style. For many years the hotel has carried the name "Intercontinental" as a part of the famous hotel chain. 

In addition to facilities for seminars and other business meetings, international cuisine, several restaurants and bars, this is one of the first hotels in Belgrade, which offered a wellness and fitness services, including indoor pool, and it was the first to had its own tennis courts. Rooms were equipped to give comfort in accordance with the category of hotels, like fast internet, 24-hrs room service, free cosmetics. Business center with all its facilities is available at any time. 

Continental is located next to the highway, and turned towards the old part of Belgrade, which gives a panoramic view of some of the major Belgrade attractions, as well as the river. The hotel is located in vicinity of Belgrade Arena, shopping mall Ušćethe promenade at the confluence of rivers Sava and Danube, with numerous rafts, and the city center is only a few kilometers away. 

My opinion: When this hotel was built in the late seventies, at the same time as the Sava Center, a miracle of modern age was represented to the citizens of Belgrade, both by design and services. Connected with the Convention Center (Sava Center) this was the first large modern hotel of its kind in Belgrade, and also the first large luxury hotel located on the other side Sava River. Hotel and the Convention Center were built in similar architectural style. Its career began as a part Intercontinental hotel chain, but years of not changing anything important for doing hotel business, like interior, service etc. caused the loss of hotel's former status. It's interesting that the hotel management obviously think that there is no need to make new neon sign for the hotel, and that it was  enough to remove the letters saying "INTER", so ever since, between the words "HOTEL" and "CONTINENTAL" there is disproportional gap - and no one seems to be bothered...

Various seminars, lectures and similar events are often held in Continental and Sava Center, so many of us have had the opportunity to see the restaurants, meeting rooms and congress halls of this hotel. The fact is that when you enter the main hall, where the reception is, one could see the distinct spirit of seventies fashion, which hasn't been changed even slightly: brass pillars, massive rounded seatings, strangely shaped chandeliers, bar with brass parts...

Receptionists are painfully slow and give away the impression of complete indifference. To check in our guest, for whom we had booked a room several days in advance, we had to wait for about 45 minutes. At the end they almost lost his passport!

The less common opportunity for us is to see the rooms - it is usually when you have guests (mostly business). Our colleague from abroad complained about the room, and she showed me the condition of it. It was really scary, especially when you know prices of b&b. Except for the fact that the carpet had disgusting op-art pattern, it was stained in several places, room was very small and narrow, bathroom was very old. After that episode, my company changed the hotel for our colleagues from abroad.

Hotel Continental needs urgent renovation, and if something is not to be done soon to its modernization, increasing competition will quickly run over it. It is a great pity that such large and ambitious investment fails after only thirty years ...

Neutral description: Holiday Inn is one of the newest hotels in Belgrade, located in New Belgrade, 500 m from the Belgrade Arena, between the two largest shopping malls, Delta City and Ušće, less than 5 km from the Belgrade Fair, same as from Knez Mihailova Street, while the airport is 10 km away. The hotel is connected to the multi functional Expo Center XXI. 

This is one of the few hotels in Belgrade where pets are welcome, and with more than half of non-smoking rooms. All windows are double glazed and can be opened. In addition to the fitness center, the hotel offers spa services, andthe reception offers, among other things,  tickets reservation and tourist services. Hotel has a business center, and in addition it offers concierge services. The hotel has a kiosk with magazines and ATM. 

Hotel's restaurant is oriented towards the Balkan cuisine and has an open kitchen connected to the dining hall, while snack bar is located in the lobby. Holiday Inn has 14 fully equipped meeting rooms of different capacities.

My opinion: Holiday Inn Hotel was built recently in Belgrade, it was strange that haven't noticed it, although I knew roughly where it is, and knowing that it was a pretty big building, the whole situation was even stranger. Only recently I found out why it is so, when our friends came to Belgrade by business for a few days. Since we agreed to pick them up in the hotel, I checked hotel  location on the internet, so we headed there very confident and - almost missed the hotel! The building is large, but looks like a lot of other new buildings in New Belgrade, and worst of all is that the sign is totally unnoticeable. I must admit that I have noticed the sign only because of Holiday Inn's distinctive logo, not because it's observable - it is too small, and it's placed just above the entrance. Luckily that it was already dark, so the sign was glowing, otherwise I don't believe that I would notice it on a daylight.

I haven't seen rooms, but my friends said that they were very satisfied and that rooms meet the level of expectancy. What shocked me was a roar that we heard all the time while we waited for one more member to join us. In the beginning I could not realize what it was, but I soon recognized the rhythm of techno music that came from somewhere. In fact, it was coming from the Expo Center XXI, which it is connected to Holiday Inn. I was shocked to find that such loud noise could be heard in the hotel. Soon the last person we waited joined us, and she complained that she could not sleep, thanks to such rave parties because they are shaking the entire room. Really big, big mistake ... All in all, the hotel is great, but when there are no rave parties in the Expo Center. 

The external parking is very tight and it's hard to find space. Reception looks like it came from science fiction films: a lot of open space, glass stairs that lead somewhere, lights in the floor ... Part of the bar looks less SF, but it also looks like it came out of the interior design magazine. Toilets are perfectly clean, with sensor faucets and pot pourri. Front Desk, with its massive pillars, dominates the huge hall. 

Location of the hotel is good for business people who are business-related to Novi Beograd, because it is associated with the Expo Center, Sava Center is only a few minutes drive, and Arena is very close. It is relatively close to the airport, and nearby a large shopping mall, Delta City. 

Note: I wrote all the descriptions and opinions in this post, and they were published on All photographs are my property.