Sometimes you meet hostel owners who really deserve all the success in the world. Mladen and his wife at The Three Black Catz in Belgrade are two such people. Battling never-ending Serb government bureaucracy and making their visitors feel as welcome as possible.
After waiting at the wrong bus stop in Belgrade airport for about 40 minutes we did eventually find our way into the city centre. Just a short walk from Zeleni Venac bus stops, the location is superb. The hostel is located on a pretty quiet pedestrian street beside the National Museum, in the heart of the Stari Grad. The main shopping/promenading street is parallel and Kalemegdan Fortress is a ten minute stroll west.
First impressions often make a hostel. Mladen is a really cool guy and makes you feel extremely welcome from the minute you arrive. Offers of tea, then rakija, then beers are often repeated each day and all the staff are knowledgeable. Even the lunatic helpers from other hostels, who chip in to cover shifts and blurt almost amphetamine-fuelled conversation at bemused backpacking Koreans, do still know their stuff and are happy to help. The camaraderie between establishments seems to be strong and warm in Belgrade. There is free internet and a small common area to socialise with people staying in the dorms should you so wish. That’s hardly difficult when the booze flows so easily.
We wanted to start the trip with some space to ourselves so we took a large apartment separate from the dorm rooms. Located on the second floor of the building there is an issue for people with an aversion to or medical problem with stairs (the reception is on the fourth floor). The room was far larger than we expected and could easily have slept 4 or 5 people. There were two single beds pushed together and then a bunk bed, if there were children staying there as well. There is a small kitchenette with an oven, hob, sink and fridge, beside the small bathroom with a shower.
The décor is dated and in line with much of Serbia the plumbing is a bit rickety but it’s all clean and tidy. There is air conditioning in the sleeping area which works very well. Sleep was pretty trouble-free except for one night when a dog decided to bark for hours in the street below, but remember to plug in the supplied mosquito gizmo because when you don’t, trust me, they find you…
I would recommend this apartment to anybody on a budget because it’s excellent value and the people you meet there are a wonderful introduction to Serbs and Serbia. The perfect way to shed all those prejudices and pre-conceptions before you have to head out into the countryside and deal with that universal breed of obese, aged, deaf, toothless, sun-baked bus station ‘officials’ whose jobs are the most important known to mankind – namely taking ticket stubs and refusing to provide information on which bus is correct. As that kind of person can be found everywhere from Cardiff to Singapore I think I’d rather take the staff of the Three Black Catz to be the more representative model of Serb I found throughout my trip there.