Katarina Ivanović

A visit to the National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade turned out to be something of a disappointment, as there were extensive renovation works taking place at the time and much of the museum was closed to the public. There was, however, some compensation to be found as one of the few parts of the museum that remained open was dedicated to an exhibition of work by Katarina Ivanović.

Ivanović was born in 1811 in Veszprém, now in Hungary but then part of the Austrian Empire. Her family were ethnic Serbs and she grew up in the city of Székesfehérvár. A talented artist from her youth, she studied in Budapest, but – remarkably for a woman of that era – also studied at the famous Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. She was fortunate enough to find a wealthy patron, one Baroness Czacki, who funded her move to Vienna in 1835.

800px-Katarina_Ivanovic,_Autoportret_v

Katarina Ivanović – self portrait

In 1840, Ivanović left Vienna to study at the Munich Academy, possibly funded by her patron. It was here that she read about Serbian history and was inspired to paint The Conquest of Belgrade, an oil painting depicting the city’s capture by Serbian revolutionaries in 1806. While she travelled extensively and in fact spent little time in Serbia, she worked in Belgrade for two years during the 1840s and it was here that she painted the work.

The Conquest of Belgrade

The Conquest of Belgrade

She was, though, best known as a portrait painter and her best-known work, a self portrait, resides permanently at the National Museum of Serbia along with The Conquest of Belgrade. She painted a number of portraits of notable Serbian characters including the Princess Consort Persida Nenadović and Simeon “Sima” Milutinović (aka Sarajlija, “The Sarajevan”), a Serb poet, historian, diplomat and adventurer.

Sima Milutinovic

Sima Milutinovic

Persida Nenadović

Persida Nenadović

By the 1870s, she was producing few works and although there are suggestions that she was a largely forgotten figure by this time, she must have retained some influential admirers as she was elected an honorary member of the Serbian Learned Society, later to become the Serbian Royal Academy and ultimately the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Katarina Ivanović returned to Székesfehérvár in later life and died in that city in 1882. Her remains were moved to Belgrade in 1967.

The Danube

Not surprisingly, Duck Holiday loves a river and the Danube is truly magnificent. It is the second-longest river in Europe (after the Volga) and flows through ten countries (for those wishing to name all of them and not wanting a ‘spoiler’, these are listed below this article).

The Danube begins its winding way across Central and Eastern Europe in the Black Forest, at Donauschigen (Donau is the German name for the river). The trek takes it all the way to the Black Sea, its terminus being the town of Sulina in Romania. During its journey, it passes through four capital cities, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.

Vienna is, of course, synonymous with the Danube because of the Blue Danube Waltz (1876) of Johann Strauss. Do not, however, be fooled into thinking that the river that runs around the edge of the city centre is the Danube itself. This is, in fact, the Danube Canal (Donaukanal), one of many tentacles of the main river, which runs to the eastern side of the city, but is reached easily by tram or U-bahn.

The canal, not the river

The canal, not the river

From Vienna, it is a short hop to Bratislava. Indeed, the two cities are the closest neighbouring capitals in Europe. The Danube divides the city, with the historic Old Town on the northern side and the newer housing districts to the south.

Heavy traffic at Bratislava

Heavy traffic at Bratislava

Six bridges cross the river, with the most prominent being the ‘UFO Bridge’, with its alien spaceship appearance and café perched at the top. The much older railway bridge once carried trams that chugged all the way to Vienna.

UFO sighting

UFO sighting

There are plenty of boat trips to be had and you can even stay – as did Duck Holiday – in a ‘botel’. Small bars dot the riverbank and many of these little pubs sell very cheap beer, not the worst way to spend a warm summer evening.

River, sunshine, bar - what's not to like?

River, sunshine, bar – what’s not to like?

The river wends its way down to Hungary and forms the divide between the Buda and Pest parts of the capital. On the Buda side, the Royal Palace overlooks the river and the gloriously Gothic Parliament building can be seen far below on the opposite bank.

The view of Parliament

The view of Parliament

To the north of Budapest is the famous Danube Bend, where Rome built garrisons and where the historic towns of Esztergom and Visegrád were constructed in later years. The former was the home of Christianity in Hungary and is still the seat of the country’s archbishop. Visegrád, on the narrowest part of the Danube, was the home of Hungarian royalty and the largely-reconstructed Royal Palace sits on a hill above the river.

Duck Holiday and friends take a break

Duck Holiday and friends take a break

Onwards to Serbia, where the Danube meets another imposing river, the Sava, in Belgrade. Fortresses and rivers form a natural partnership, and here the imposing Kalemegdan Fortress stands above the point where the two great rivers collide and the Danube presses on eastwards.

Duck Holiday scales the fortress

Duck Holiday scales the fortress

Danube at Belgrade

Danube at Belgrade

The Danube reaches a suitably spectacular conclusion in the shape of the Danube Delta. Most of this area is located in Romania, with its more northerly parts in Ukraine. The area is a designated World Heritage Site and it is not difficult to see why. More than 300 species of birds have been identified, making it one of the most important wildlife habitats in Europe.

For human travellers, there are plenty of boat excursions and scenic walks to be had all along the river’s trail. For the more energetic, there is the Danube Bike Trail, taking in a mind-boggling 2,875 kilometres. This is recommended only to the fittest of the fit, those with steel hawsers for legs. The rest of us can find plenty of enjoyment from boat trips, gentle strolls and refreshments at the plethora of restaurants and bars that line the river.

* Countries through which the Danube flows: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.

Belgrade – Where Two Rivers Meet

It’s amazing how much rubbish is spouted by people you meet while travelling. On the bus from Skopje to Sofia, an English fellow solemnly informed us that we would not be allowed into Serbia as we had Kosovo stamps in our passports. ‘You won’t get past immigration’ he announced confidently. We just nodded. We had another two or three hours on the bus and there are better ways to pass the time than arguing with idiots.

Predictably, nobody at the airport in Belgrade was bothered in the least and the only disturbance to the peace and quiet was from the large rookery outside the terminal building. Rooks, like all corvids, are garrulous birds.

The heart of the city is Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan Park. It looks out over the confluence of two great rivers, the Sava and the Danube. There are some thoroughly enjoyable walks to be had both in the hills of the park and down by the water.

A climb to the top of the hill takes you past two unusual churches. The Church of the Holy Mother of God, known as Ružica Church, is a delightful, ivy-covered little building. Nearby is another, even smaller, church, St Petka’s Chapel, which has some superb mosaics in its intimate interior. As ever with Orthodox churches, there’s gold and glitz aplenty.

Ružica Church and the fortress

Ružica Church and the fortress

At the opposite end of the scale is the gigantic Cathedral of St Sava, the world’s biggest Orthodox church. The construction began in 1935, around 40 years after the plan to build the church. Remarkably, work continues to this day, as although the building is largely complete, there is still much to do by way of external decoration.

If Belgrade is loaded with churches, it does not go short of parks, either. Topčider Park is a large park extending into forest on the south side of the city and is just one of around 20 or so significant green spaces in and around Belgrade. There is also a substantial Botanical Garden, where you can have a drink at the bizarrely-named Idiot Bar. Assuming you want to drink in an Idiot Bar, of course.

For walkers, though, there is always somewhere to sit down and have a rest. A walk by the riverside allows plenty of opportunities to stop and look around. The rivers provide a haven for waterfowl and migrating birds and you shouldn’t be surprised to see visitors like little egrets or European bee-eaters. Both white and black storks breed in the area. With the abundance of fresh water, plains and forests in the Belgrade area, there are ample opportunities to see plenty of different birds without trying too hard.

Ducks can get hungry, even on holiday

Ducks can get hungry, even on holiday

Belgrade has a complete mix of architectural styles, often in the same building. The National Theatre is a good example, originally built in Renaissance style, but rebuilt and reconstructed several times since. It still has a Renaissance look, but with hints of Baroque and neo-Gothic.

The National Museum is also a bit of a mixture, with neo-Classical and Baroque elements to it. There is a substantial collection of European and Japanese art, though at the time of this visit, most of the museum was closed for renovation. A small part was open, though this was very interesting, an exhibition featuring the work of the 19th-century painter Katarina Ivanovic. She was a Hungarian-born Serb who studied art in Pest and Vienna and also travelled extensively in Europe. Unfortunately, the prevalent attitudes towards women artists at the time meant that her work did not get the recognition it deserved. Although this was the only gallery open during this visit, the experience was most informative and thanks are due to the helpful young woman who provided much explanation and detail of both paintings and artist.

A building of a slightly fading grandeur is the main railway station, though this may not be true for long, as a new station is under construction. The present station serves many European cities and was once on the route of the Orient Express. Although I would not necessarily recommend it for an evening out, it can be a useful place to take shelter from a sudden downpour and you can keep out of the rain with a very cheap beer and watch the assorted travellers making their way hither and thither.

The Baroque railway station

The Baroque railway station

There are, of course, better places to have a drink or two. One is Biblioteka, which is a comfortable bar with – as you’d expect – books everywhere and a good collection of old photos. It’s a pleasant place for something to eat or just for a few glasses of beer. Even more civilized is the fact that there are both light and dark beers. Some of us need the infusion of a good dark beer to satisfy the demands of our Irish blood.

Unfortunately, independent brewers are difficult to find in Serbia. The larger breweries are owned by multi-nationals and the best hope of finding something a little different is a brew pub. These tend to come and go, but the Black Turtle chain now runs to five pubs in Belgrade and produces quite a wide range of beers.

Mmm, dark beer

Mmm, dark beer

Belgrade has more than enough to keep a visitor occupied and there are regular festivals and fairs of different kinds throughout the year. Food and drink is inexpensive and accommodation should not cost a fortune, either. The centre is very negotiable for walkers, with the exception of a few climbs around the fortress. Public transport is pretty good and isn’t costly – a bus to and from the airport costs less than a pound and you should be able to have a decent amount to eat and drink for the price of a tenner. That just has to be a good thing.