One Short Day
I don't think anyone would call Belgrade the Emerald City, but I did just spend one short day there, and the city will never be the same. Okay, it will, but my life is better.
I hopped on a plane to visit my best friend who moved to Serbia a few months ago. Someday we might live in the same city again, but for now, we've got to coordinate visits in other countries or simultaneous home assignments. Ryan met Givorgy during the year Givorgy lived in Germany, so he agreed to come with me on this trip because traveling alone is almost impossible. Traveling to new cities - where they speak a different language - is even more difficult for me with my disability. I'm constantly confirming they are going to help me through security and gate check my wheelchair properly. Fortunately, the Basel to Belgrade flight was smooth (although delayed a couple hours). Saturday night, I got to hug my best friend and spend a couple hours catching up with him late into the night.
Not gonna lie, I felt a little badly when I realised how late I made Givorgy stay up because he notoriously gets up before the sun. Anyways, he managed to get sufficient sleep, and once I was awake too, the three of us headed out into the city to see some of the best stuff. Since we only had one full day, Givorgy prioritised the Orthodox church and the park that has ruins of an old fortress and a Roman city. We also had a bathroom break at a mall that was built over a stretch of the Roman road.
But back to this church. After getting caffeinated at a good coffee shop, we went to the Saint Sava Temple. You all know how much I love Rublev's Trinity icon? This church has a massive Trinity icon with angels in the same style but Abraham and Sarah included. It's right when you walk in on the right. I stopped and stared and made Givorgy translate his rusty Slavonic to confirm what I was seeing. It was stunning. I could have spent hours in that sanctuary looking at the mosaics depicting scenes in Scripture. Ryan ducked down into the crypt which I couldn't do, but I was content to make my way around the accessible main floor. Honestly, I could have happily spent my whole day there.
We did, however, need to eat. After a failed attempt at local cuisine (too many nuts to be safe for me), we went to a Mexican restaurant that served us a delicious meal late by our standards but early to the Serbian schedule. Since Givorgy wanted us to enjoy the sunset at the fortress, we wandered around for a while (walked over the glass covered section of Roman road at the mall) before making our way to the massive park. Belgrade is loaded with history, and I barely had time to reflect on the modern life treading over centuries of memory in this single space. As we made our way along the meandering paths to the edge of the park with the best waterfront view, the sun turned pink in the sky behind the haze and clouds. We found a perch for Ryan and Givorgy, and they framed a beautiful view for me as we all watched the sun sink below the horizon before making our way home.
Ryan and I have hung out a lot, but this was his first time traveling with me. He'd asked before the trip if there were any disability things he needed to know in advance, and we had a conversation in the car on the way out about some of the things I've learned about myself and God and others through my disability. He was able to witness firsthand some of the dependence things as he and others helped me with basic mobility needs and how difficult it was to find accessible bathrooms anywhere. One of the things I mentioned in that conversation was that I actually do a lot more post disability than I did before. I never flew to Serbia before my accident. I never lived in New Zealand before my accident. The majority of my travel has been in a wheelchair, and the disability part sucks, but the fact that I can visit all these places with just a little bit of help is so incredible to me. Ryan didn't actually need any training - I just had to show him how to fold my chair and ask him for assistance here and there.
I'm incredibly grateful for the days that I get adventuring in new places because I can see the beauty of God's creation in the sunsets and the rivers and in the life giving conversations with friends who love me and help me grow closer to Jesus.
Oh, and it'd be nice if I could walk again too.