Beginning its flow in Germany, the Danube runs through ten countries before reaching the Black Sea. Around the halfway point is the former Yugoslavian territory of Serbia, with the river providing the centrepiece for the capital city, Belgrade.
With this in mind, I thought it’d be fun to stay in a boatel, floating on the banks of the Danube. It was very cheap and breakfast was included, so what wasn’t there to love?
Turns out it’s actually quite a long list.
Firstly, the room smelled. Apparently all the rooms smell. They smelled like what I imagine a corpse would smell like after floating in the Danube for a couple of days. And if you opened the window to at least attempt to disperse the smell (yeah, it didn’t do anything to help), the room would quickly become around the same temperature as the Arctic Circle.
The view was also less than desirable. In addition to the occasional passing seagull which was pretty okay, plastic bags floated by, as well as near-naked middle-aged men paddleboarding.
Perhaps ironically for a hotel that floated on one of Europe’s largest bodies of water, the shower was but a faint trickle, complete with a terrifying curtain that would violate you if you even dared to step into the bathroom.
And that was when you were able to get into the bathroom. Twice the door wouldn’t open, and an affable chap with a wrench had to be dispatched. “Happens all the time” he said. And it’s true. It did.
But dodgy accommodation aside, the Danube serves as an excellent focal point for Belgrade. It’s also home to a collection of floating restaurants and (surprisingly expensive) nightclubs, which look pretty cool when they’re lit up at night even if they might look a little less impressive in the daylight.
The views from the riverside Belgrade Fortress cannot be beaten though. Whilst the imposing Fortress with its sprawling grounds is now Belgrade’s most prominent tourist attraction, it also serves as a reminder of the war-torn past of the city, which as recently as 1999 was being bombed by NATO.
A display of artillery and armour shows that this is a city all too aware of its recent past, with the fear that there could be similar conflict in the future stitched in Belgrade’s public conscious.
Now the Fortress is a vibrant meeting point for many of the locals, with markets, festivals and the occasional open-air concert. So much so that the brief moments of peace and tranquillity is almost eerie, especially as the grand structures bear down upon you.
At dusk, as the sun sets, the view of the city that sits over the Danube is spectacularly dramatic yet completely relaxing. Whilst this is a city with a rampant drinking culture, there is something intoxicating about this view. There’s a saying that the best things in life are free – and I’ve never believed this more than when I was drinking up this sight.