Wherein Anna Grace learns about the urban sport of “Apple Picking.”  Yep, her iPhone was pickpocketed.

Our day began with a grand breakfast in the hotel; Serbian savory pastries, meats, cheeses, yogurts, fruits, and so many other choices to keep us happy.  Breakfast was walked off through the pedestrian area, enjoying the cool morning air and the quiet of a grand capital city waking up on our way to the Belgrade Fortress. The fortress sits atop Belgrade, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers; a pretty park and the Belgrade Zoo, our intended destination, surround the fortress.

The Fortress and the Serbian Monument to France from WWI.

A Serbian Medieval Festival on the fortress grounds. Could you even imagine this scene in the US? Children throwing hatchets at a target without full body gear and a parental waiver, with even younger children just standing on the sidelines.  We busted out in laughter.

In good order we reached the Zoo. The Belgrade Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in Europe (Vienna’s Schönbrunn Tiergarten is the oldest in Europe.) Yet again, I had read mixed reviews on the zoo; those who are fans of the glitzy, hands-on experience, and prefer to view the animals from behind fourteen layers of security fencing and plexiglass were critical, reporting that the zoo wasn’t worth one’s time.

Our impression?  The zoo is a delightful, old-school place to spend time with your family, and definitely not a place to turn the children loose to play with the latest and greatest gadgets and whatsits about eco-conservation and global warming (There are no gadgets.  The zoo hand paints “Caution” signs, its resources are that sparse. The Happy Times weren’t friendly to the zoo.)  Most of the animal habitats have been thoughtfully renovated, though, although there a few remaining in need of a bit of work.

The best part was that we could see the animals without binoculars!  Sir Kangaroo waves “hello” to us!

The camel and the impressive white tiger were also in close sight.  So awesome!

The only English language sign we saw in the zoo.  Guess what animals we were being warned about?

Nope, not the lions.

These guys and gals. Hahahaha.

Vultures, turtles, and a peacock trying to hook up with some Guinea hens.

The seal couple is named Olive Oyl and Popeye, and their enduring romance is a star attraction. So much for Belgrade eschewing all things American.

Goats, chickens, hens, and peacocks roam freely, adding to our lovely, lovely morning at the Zoo.

We paused at a cafe for refreshments, and then left the zoo to investigate the small vintage amusement park just outside the grounds. Anna Grace and I took a spin on bumper cars for a mere $0.70USD equivalent ticket, enjoying the beautifully maintained park and old-fashioned fun.

A few minutes later we were at the fortress walls overlooking the Sava and Danube.

It was then that Anna Grace realized her iPhone was missing. Lickety-split we ran back first to the zoo cafe and then to the bumper cars. The cafe owner and bumper car operator were terribly kind and helpful, but it was soon apparent that she had not accidentally dropped her phone.  I called her number with no response, and as a last ditch effort, I sent a Google-translated Serbian text to her phone, telling the thief that the phone was being tracked, and to please return the phone to the hotel. Then I remotely locked her phone account, but, ever hopeful, did not erase her phone data.

Anna Grace was of course devastated. We had read that Sarajevo had pickpocket issues, especially with iPhones, and had been traveling mindfully throughout our trip, but to pickpocket an iPhone from a young girl at the zoo is just plain mean.  Spirits down, we returned to the hotel a little early for our Mittagspause, trying to regroup in order to make the most of our short time in Belgrade.

In the mid-afternoon we set out for St. Sava, a beautiful Serbian Orthodox church and Belgrade landmark.  The gray skies matched our mood but helpfully created a dramatic backdrop for our photos.

While pausing to review our map my mobile phone rang. Anna Grace’s phone was calling me! I answered to hear a woman saying, “Hello? I am calling from Belgrade. I have your telephone.” A family out enjoying the park at the Fortress had found her phone a short distance away from where we had been!  (I’d like to think the thief dropped it after reading the text.)  The woman agreed to bring it to the hotel later in the afternoon, and we were ecstatic!

Spirits buoyant, we continued around Belgrade taking in the sights and the culture. (You’ll note the gray skies had passed, literally and figuratively.) We stopped at St. Mark’s, another Serbian Orthodox Church that was striking against the afternoon sky and very different in character than St. Sava.

Outside the church we met a gentleman who took great delight in talking to anyone about the church, why the floor of the church was covered with straw (with which many people were weaving small wreaths–it was an Orthodox holy day), how we are all one big family, and practically everything else that came to his mind.  We felt bad bidding him farewell, but the afternoon was waning and we needed to return to the hotel.

The kind woman and her son who found the phone met us at the hotel, and I practically had to force them to accept even the smallest token of gratitude. I finally won the boy over when I suggested he use some of the reward money for ice cream. The mom was happy that we were happy, apologized (!) for not returning the phone earlier because she had been busy, and shared a few gentle words of admonishment with Anna Grace about keeping her phone safe before she left.

So…we may not have checked off everything on our Belgrade to-do list, but our fond memories of the city and its wonderful people top the list of our shortened holiday.