It was a bright morning as I carried my pack up one of the steep, winding streets that led away from the bus depot and followed signs pointing toward the Old Bohemian Quarter. Construction workers of various-looking nationalities were shouting over a racket of jackhammers. Old-fashioned bakeries and shops overflowed with customers. At the top of the hill, elegantly dressed patrons sat at cafe tables on the sidewalk of a gritty boulevard, opposite a McDonald's, which seemed to confirm I had landed someplace between a classical, enlightened Europe and a post-Soviet consumer blitz. Belgrade has always been engaged in a volatile tug-of-war between East and West. Built on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, the "White City" stood as an enduring, strategic crossroads separating Europe from what lay beyond it. Thracians from the southeast Balkan peninsula, Celts from Northern and Central Europe and Romans settled here. -- Michael Levitin Read more: A capital city springs to life in Serbia Pictured: A hilltop in Zemun, a slow-paced neighborhood in Belgrade.