The following text is an excerpt from the BelGuest Magazine's article on Belgrade Hostels.
That Belgrade has become a leader of the region’s tourism is evidenced by the large number of major projects in the HoReCa industry, event organisation, the congress industry... the shiny little gems in the mosaic that represents the picture of a city as a tourist destination are the hostels. At the moment there are more than eighty of them, which is a dizzying figure and a phenomenon worthy of attention.
Boys and girls need to get out into nature, that’s a necessity for them as a counterbalance to sitting at a school desk, - wrote teacher Richard Schirrmann in the Cologne newspapers in 1903. Schirrmann initiated the idea of student travels and thereby became the founding father of youth hostels. Three years after the publication of the article, he opened the first hostel in the world in Altena castle, near Iserlohn, Germany.
Hostels soon began springing up all over Europe. The Scouts Association of Yugoslavia was established in Sarajevo in 1920. It ceased functioning during World War II, but resumed its work in 1952. in Belgrade. In February this year, the Scouts & Youth Hostels Association of Serbia, the country’s only national association of hostels, became a full member of Hostelling International, the International Youth Hostel Federation.
Wikipedia continues to state that Belgrade has about ten hostels. However, that number is now actually eight times higher. Low real estate prices and misconceptions of foreigners with thick wallets led to high competition on the market. Travellers who opt for hostel accommodation are mostly adventurers who have set out on their route to conquer Europe and the Balkans. No matter if they are even distinguished professors or scientists, having opted for several months or sometimes even years of journey, they gave up wasting their money in advance.
“The hostel is the type of accommodation most commonly used by backpackers – people who travel where they want and when they want, trying to restrict using the sum of money at their disposal so that their journey can last as long as possible.” says Nikola Vacić of the Youth Hostels Association of Serbia, who is also owner of the Sun hostel.
There are no boundaries of age, profession or culture limiting hostel guests. They come from all over the world, driven by the same spark of curiosity. They don’t follow the tour guides because they are not classic tourists. They are nomadic souls who seek to synchronise their step and breathing with the city they have arrived in. They opt for hostels because hostels are the places where they can get the directions they need from the hostel receptionists.
Žarko Gvero, secretary general of the Youth Hostels Association, describes hostels as a great place for socialising and exchanging experiences, saying that “the hostel staff members are expected not only to be professional, but also to be friendly”. And, indeed, reading the books of guests’ impressions from various hostels there is a veritable chorus of praise for hostel staff repeated.
An average tourist’s stay in Belgrade is quite short, about 2.2 days. However, it often happens that they extend their planned stay. They get seduced by the charm of Belgrade, the warmth of Belgraders and the ease of communicating with them – in any language! They get thrilled by the fortress that is alive at night too, the lake in the middle of the city, the bohemian end of Skadarlija, the promenade alongside the river and life on the river.
And while the map of Belgrade’s hostels is constantly expanding, the owners must ensure they remain on that map, by finding a way to become recognisable and give their little place for overnight lodgings a unique charm. The Sun hostel is located in the Vračar neighbourhood and so, lacking an exotic strictly downtown location, Nikola Vacić decided to fill his garden with exotic African details. “The details mostly arrived directly from Botswana and represent unique local pieces of art. The paintings were done by naive artists, their art trend being called Tinga Tinga.”
A BOOK AS A REASON FOR PILGRIMAGE
“Hostel anecdotes are wonderful. In that way our job gains its full meaning” says Nikola Vacić from Sun hostel. He recalls a variety of interesting guests – the Germans who came to Belgrade by kayak, the Tunisians who have returned to the hostel for the past three years in a row, a train driver from Los Angeles lost his job and embarked on a two-year journey and the route brought him to Belgrade... And perhaps the most interesting story is the one about a Mexican whose grandfather gave him a book on the history of Yugoslavia. He wished to get to know the country that his grandfather told him about, so he came to Serbia.
Written by: DRAGANA BARJAKTAREVIĆ