After nearly two and a half years of not being able to travel overseas due to the pandemic, my wife & I finally spent three weeks abroad (in Belgrade & Copenhagen) with both kids.
Because Denmark has such a high vaccination rate, they don’t require getting tested to enter the country if you’ve been vaccinated, nor does anybody there wear a mask. It felt quite liberating to go mask free indoors amongst strangers for the five days we spent in Copenhagen. People in Belgrade also do not wear masks but for a different reason: they seem casually indifferent to getting Covid!
We were quite surprised to discover that both cities are home to far more smokers than we’re used to in Manhattan. Belgrade, in particular, is a smoker’s paradise by current standards! Unlike Copenhagen where people limited their smoking to the outdoors, in Belgrade people even smoked indoors! No surprise that Serbia has the world’s second-highest rate of lung cancer.
On a more pleasant note, we easily found excellent free indoor play spaces for the kids in both cities. Belgrade has a multi-storey cafe whose top floor is a dedicated play space for kids. Amusingly, the staff barely ever even show up there to take orders so sometimes we’d spend an hour there & not even end up buying so much as a tea! Copenhagen has what they call a community center but it’s really a giant indoor playground that also happens to contain a public library. In Manhattan a place like this would cost a pretty penny but this one was totally free!
Our kids hadn’t spent much time at amusement parks before this trip: the six-year-old had only been twice & the three-year-old had never even been on a roller coaster before. Since we were in Copenhagen, however, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit Tivoli Gardens, the inspiration for DisneyLand. I spent three hours there with the 6 YO, who had a blast. But in Belgrade we discovered an amusement park whose rides were dirt cheap: just 70 cents apiece! Naturally, we hit it up multiple times. That’s where the 3 YO rode on his first roller coaster.
Copenhagen is famously bike-friendly so we did rent a cargo bike at once point so I could haul the kids around in it. Those things have quite the turn radius! Fortunately, both cities were pretty amenable to walking around — at least the parts we frequented. The Copenhagen metro system is impressive: it’s the only other one I’ve ever encountered that runs 24/7! Moreover, it runs at no more than six minute intervals all night long, which is better than the MTA can manage even on Sunday afternoons. Belgrade only has buses but they’re pretty decent & nobody seems to pay for them!
Serbian food is pretty good if you like meat & cheese but my vegan wife found the food in Copenhagen much more amenable to her needs. Both cities did have a decent selection of foreign cuisine available though & we were rather impressed by the food at a few of them in Belgrade, even comparing favourable to NYC! In Copenhagen we ended up eating the majority of our meals at a large indoor food market that was conveniently located between our hotel & the nearest metro station.
While I did use some cash to pay for various things in Belgrade, I never hit an ATM once in Copenhagen because literally every single place we visited happily let me pay by tapping my phone! The only other place I’ve been able to get away with not using cash at all was Iceland, although perhaps this is more a function of time than place.
Copenhagen delighted us with its liberal supply of public toilets. They’re typically located below ground & accessible only via stairs but this was still far better than the utter lack of such facilities we’re used to in the US. Belgrade did have a few fully automatic public toilets too but they’re very new & not all of them were actually functional yet. Still, it’s a move in the right direction.
We expected flying to be more of a hassle due to all the Covid constraints but were pleasantly surprised to encounter no issues until the very end, when it was time to leave Belgrade for NYC. I knew that I’d need to get a Covid test before checking into the flight but the airport had signs advertising antigen tests with results available within an hour so we arrived at the airport three hours before our flight. I’d been expecting to pay for the test right before they conducted it but for some reason they use the post office for payment, which meant I had to stand in two separate queues. They took my email address & phone number to send me the results but, more than an hour later, I still had not received them.
I was starting to despair when my wife suggested checking my spam folder. Lo & behold, the results had been sitting in there for nearly an hour! Turns out that the email is entirely in Serbian using the Cyrillic script so Gmail just assumed it was spam. We were not the very last people to board the flight but it was close.