When we docked in Belgrade, Serbia, my body was aching from all the walking and climbing I had done the day before so I asked the social director if it was possible to get a massage on board or in town. We did have a free afternoon and she offered to call someone she knew in the city and mission accomplished. But it was an adventure.
A passenger I met on board was game to go too so we left the ship together, giving each other courage. With a map squeezed tightly in my hand, the phone number and address of the spa spelled out for us we ventured across train tracks and up 200 steps to reach the center of town. As soon as we saw someone we showed them the map and address and asked which way to go.
Since the two people we stopped spoke no English, pointing replaced language. In fact the building was just across a major thoroughfare with walk signs like ours at home and with a long light we hurried across holding hands. When we got to the building we had to be buzzed in, but we weren’t sure which apartment held the spa so I pressed all the buttons and someone buzzed back.
We had been told it was on the second floor, but we ventured up the wide stone staircase in the dark because the lights were off. At one landing, finally the light in the stairwell did go on, perhaps there was a motion detector activating the lights, but it felt less spooky to walk in an unknown place with light! We kept walking up what turned out to be more like the sixth floor and there in the corner was a door with a Spa sign.
We were greeted by a friendly woman who appeared to be expecting us but who spoke no English. We were offered tea or water or coffee but all we wanted to do was sit down and catch our breath and celebrate that we had found the place.
Within 10 minutes an attractive woman speaking English came out to greet us. Asking us a few questions about our needs and wants we were led to a room with massage tables with clean linen. We enjoyed an hour and half of professional treatment.
When we relaxed on the sofa after the services in the waiting room, I asked our masseuse how she fared through the 90s war. Were there tanks in the streets? Was there gunfire? With sadness in her voice she shared with us that they had been bombed from the sky. There were never troops in the street. I naively asked her who was doing the bombing and I nearly fell over when she matter of factly said, “NATO and the United States!” It hurt my heart and shock filled my face! She shared that it has been a slow progress rebuilding her business. Loans she explained are hard to get and at high interest rates. There are very rich people and few in the middle-class. Most, she admitted are poor and struggling.
“I lost my youth,” she calmly shared.
My friend and I gave her triple the usual tip, filled with sadness over what she had suffered and made it back safely to the security of our cruise ship.
Ironically, we visited many historic sites at each of our stops along the Danube but had the best understanding of the people of Eastern Europe with our “Massage Visit.”