Travel Report: Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade.
Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade.
I would like to think that, for the most part, I’m a positive travel blogger. You know, someone who takes a half glass full approach to writing up my adventures across the globe. That’s not to say that I ignore the negatives or try to paint a whitewashed picture. Rather, I simply try to stay balanced and mindful when presenting the stuff I didn’t enjoy about a country.
Unfortunately, once in a blue moon, I find myself looking back on a real stinker. Today’s piece, as you’ve almost certainly figured, documents one of them. It’s such a pity that my worst encounter in Belgrade came at one of the places I had been most looking forward to visiting: The Nikola Tesla Museum.
What a brilliant and fascinating man Nikola Tesla was. A fiercely intelligent and single-minded inventor who designed and patented the world’s first alternating-current (AC) electric system. A man who invented the Tesla Coil, an electrical resonant transformer circuit. The dude who dreamed up the first hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls and who some mischievous historians suggest laid down the early research work that led to the invention of the neon sign.
Moreover, Nikola overcame great adversity in life. As a teenager he survived cholera, an illness that kept him bedridden for over nine months. Later, as a young man working on various inventions, he lived in a state of extreme poverty before landing a job as a ditch digger for $2 a day. In the little free time he had, Tesla brushed up on the eight languages he spoke. That’s Serbian, English, Czech, German, French, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin, in case you were wondering.
Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade.
Naturally, I was super excited by the prospect of visiting a museum dedicated to the man and his work. Thus Sladja and I made plans to go and check it out. As one of Belgrade’s most popular attractions, we thought we’d try to book our tickets online. However, this was not possible. Nor could you go to the museum in advance to pick up your ticket.
In fact, the only way to get in was to show up directly before each guided tour and pay as you entered. Oh, and they don’t accept bank cards, it’s strictly cash only. Boy, we should have already known this place was going to be a whole other experience.
It was a boiling hot afternoon when we set off for the museum on foot. Nevertheless, we figured there could still be a crowd, so we got there ahead of time. But the situation we found on arrival was utterly bizarre.
First, we found the entrance doors locked and a line of sweaty, irritated people running along the balcony and down the staircase to the compound gate. And that wasn’t all. It was so damn hot and without an inch of shade outside the museum, most folk were waiting on the other side of the road under some trees.
Exploring the Serbian Capital.
Unsure as to where we should wait, we thought what the heck and joined the queue outside the building. There was a lot of confusion in that line. Was the next tour in Serbian or was it in English? Why were the doors locked? Couldn’t we go in and at least use the toilet? A few minutes before the tour was due to start the doors swung open and a young Serbian man appeared barking orders at us.
“Get away from the doors!”
“There are no toilets here!”
He was the rudest, most aggressive person I have ever seen at a tourist attraction. Aleksander, said his name tag, which I vowed not to forget. Tall, slim, perfectly bald and with his face creased into a permanent scowl, I immediately pictured him in a certain type of World War II uniform.
Now the others across the road were streaming over to join the main line. This seemed to piss Aleksander off even more. “Ten people at a time!” he growled. He then shouted again for visitors to move back. The way he was going on, you would have thought the museum was in danger of a stampede. But of course there was absolutely nothing of the sort unfolding.
Finally, Sergeant Aleksander began drip feeding the line inside, ten by ten. When it came to us, Sladja was number ten of the stream and of course Aleksander angrily stopped me from joining her. I told him that we were together and that we’d be paying for two. With an impatient snarl he shooed me inside like I was a piece of shit on the bottom of his boot. Then he went back outside to shout at some more people. I was absolutely furious.
Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade.
In the tiny lobby we paid the charmless woman (in cash) for our tickets. Next, we followed the crowds into a small airless room that served as a theatre. People were really fed up. There was a crying baby and a man telling his wife that he urgently needed to leave and head down the street in search of a toilet.
By the time everyone had been packed inside, the room was at bursting point. There weren’t enough chairs of course, hence many made do with standing at the back and around the sides of the room. And then the movie began, a 10 minute bog standard potted history of Tesla’s life. The kind of cheesy, badly voice-overed thing you could find on YouTube. Ok…
With a subdued atmosphere, our guide introduced himself and led us into another small room. There, we gathered around a collection of replica Tesla inventions. Happily, the guide was friendly, though with a thick accent that made his presentation a little confusing. At this point however I was just happy not being shouted at.
It was fun following the guide’s demos of a couple of Tesla’s inventions. Particularly the coil and its flying blue sparks that had everyone oohing and aahing in appreciation. At long last the mood had lifted.
Exploring the Serbian Capital.
And that was pretty much it for the so-called “guided tour”. As for the exhibit itself, I was expecting some kind of detailed overview on the various stages of his life. You know, Tesla, the Younger Years. Perhaps a section covering his unhappy time working for Thomas Edison. Something about his poverty and a display about his emergence as one of the world’s most gifted engineers. But there was nothing of the sort. Rather, we worked our way through a somewhat random collection of personal items and oddities.
Some of the pieces were fascinating. Take, for example, this original Austrian Military Cross of Merit, given to Nikola’s father, Milutin Tesla. There was no accompanying information about the piece, I had to do my own digging.
What a shame they didn’t tell us more about the man. That he was a soldier who became a priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church. That he was a brilliant mathematician who spoke 18 languages (so they say). And how it was his dedicated service to the army and church that saw him receive one of Austro-Hungary’s finest honours.
Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade.
Elsewhere, I came across one of Nikola’s old suits, along with a hat and a walking cane. The sign on this one read: “Original items of clothing worn by Nikola Tesla”. And that’s it. Weirdly, they do provide more information on the website. Not that there was anything to tell me to go there, I just found it later on by chance.
There, I learned that Tesla had most of his suits tailored at the famed NYC workshop James W. Bell & Sons. And that while he treasured his hats and had them embroidered with his initials, Tesla nearly always insisted on removing them for photographs.
I also came across this Niagara Falls Power Company memorial plaque. The plant Tesla designed was considered his decisive victory against old foe Thomas Edison, who had come up with a competing Direct Current electrical system. There were other players too in what became known as the War of the Currents.
One of my favourite pieces was this letter from Tesla sent to the American Art Nouveau artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. Typed up on April the 11th 1914, Tesla shows his disappointment at the lack of progress regarding a project between the two men. What exactly they were doing together remains a mystery and yeah, the museum doesn’t attempt to shed any light on it.
Exploring the Serbian Capital.
Next, I stopped to admire this copy of a painting by the brilliantly named Princess Elisabeth Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy. The Hungarian portrait specialist captured Tesla in New York City in 1916, the only time he sat for such a painting. Created under a low blue lighting, her work soon got the nickname The Blue Portrait.
The last item on display is the most impressive by far, especially as I’d had no idea that the museum houses Nikola Tesla’s ashes. They sit in a spherical golden urn given to the museum in 1952 by Nikola’s nephew and heir, Sava Kosanović.
The location of Nikola Tesla’s remains has long been a controversial subject in Serbia. So much so that in 2017 there was the threat of legal action from The Serbian Orthodox Church. According to them, it is a disgrace that his ashes are in a museum and not laid to rest among numerous other national heroes in St Sava Church. A touchy subject, but it seems the museum has managed to keep hold of its priceless treasure.
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943).
Sladja and I were on our way out back into the sunshine when I spotted Aleksander, the tour guide and a managerial looking woman chatting quietly in the corridor. Unable to stop myself, I approached and told them exactly what I thought of the way they’d treated their guests that day.
However, the lady had zero interest in hearing or indeed even acknowledging my complaints. “Aleksander is a good boy” she told me, shaking her head. As for their so-called ticketing system, she simply shrugged her shoulders, saying: “With this location, we cannot do better”.
I don’t often do TripAdvisor reviews. But on this occasion I felt moved to really go to town. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t alone in my opinion as I waded through lots of angry people who’d been subjected to a similarly crappy visit. This was easily the worst customer service experience I had in Serbia, quite possibly throughout my entire 22 years as a world traveller. As for the museum itself? Meh. Poor old Tesla, he deserves so much more.
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Oof what an awful experience!! I definitely would’ve bolted before going into the museum. Seems a bad place for Aleksander to work…
Hey Lyssy, he was a massive asshole and the whole system seemed design to show as much disdain as possible towards visitors. To this day I still don’t understand why.
Thanks for this. Have to admit I was unaware of Tesla aside from the connection to Elon Musk and his car. Despite your poor experience at the museum I learned something today.
Thank you for reading and for leaving a comment. I think Tesla is someone a lot of people don’t know that much about, despite his huge impact on science. Had I not gone to visit Belgrade, I’d also probably still be in the dark.
What a terrible experience! It’s unbelievable even with all the bad reviews that nothing has been done to make any changes.
I think they don’t care. They probably feel that regardless they will get enough foot traffic to stay profitable. Somebody should try to open a rival museum and do it properly. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Another extremely interesting post. It’s unfortunate that a museum with so much potential turned out to be so bad 🙁 Your writing and photo are fabulous, as always!
Cheers guys. All those awful reviews and from what I can tell they haven’t changed much. The place must be a cash cow I guess and as long as the money keeps rolling in… Appreciate your continued support of the series.
Good on you Leighton. This operation looks like a real S—storm and if they could read, they might take some tips from Tripadvisor to improve. People who hate [people or who hate their jobs, should not be public facing. The man who is the theme of this museum as well as those who pay to enter deserve better. Cheers. Allan
Thanks Allan, we always laugh about it looking back. But man was I pissed off that day and I really let that Aleksander have it at the end in front of his boss. He looked pretty sheepish, she couldn’t have cared less. Appreciate you dropping your two cents in!
There is so much they could do with this museum and yet to provide such an off putting experience is really a shame. Tesla is a fascinating historical icon and deserves a much better tribute to his life and work. I wouldn’t be surprised if this museum doesn’t make it and they have to fold up shop until someone with a better idea of museum management can start it up again.
Right Meg, I kinda hope they do fail but I reckon they’ll soldier on with enough foot traffic to make it worthwhile. I appreciate you reading, he’s a fascinating figure who was a key part of the fabric of those times.
It’s a real mystery that, with all the negative feedback, they wouldn’t use it to make some changes. It shouldn’t be that difficult to make the museum a proper tribute and source of information about the man. Is the government involved in this? Sounds like a typical bureaucratic foul up. Tesla’s adversarial relationship with Edison would make for a fascinating wing all by itself. Great post about a bad experience. You really did your job today.
Hey Memo, a government run thing sounds about right. Looking at their most recent reviews, I haven’t seen anything about aggressive staff, so maybe they have at least improved in this regard.
Not the best place then. But you know, these places and experiences give us yardsticks by which to measure others and, above all, they give us a story to tell, as you’ve proved here. As we both well know, you can’t go everywhere and do everything without having a bad experience or two. Hence I really enjoyed reading this! (Except the bit about neon signs which I take issue with – a Frenchman named Claude may argue with any claim about Tesla, but I’ll leave that one there!)
Yeah, you have to take the rough with the smooth when you travel and this place was the roughest of my Belgrade experiences. As for neon and Tesla vs Claude, I recognise that Claude is the guy credited with inventing and producing the world’s first neon sign. As for who “came up with the idea”, it depends on what you believe went down with Tesla at the 1893 World Fair. Ach, who knows.
We always believed it was Claude (by “we”, I should let on that the last 36 years of my working life was in the ….ahem….sign trade!)
That’s great! 🙂
What an obnoxious person Leighton, not how you would expect to be greeted at a museum or anywhere for that matter. Interesting though to learn about Tesla as I knew little about him. Not a great experience in the scorching heat though was it!
Somebody somewhere could put together a fabulous museum about Nikola Tesla. Hopefully that’ll happen one day. Until then all we’ve got is this place. Thanks for reading Marion!
Wow, this museum sounds like a complete dumpster fire. I don’t know which was worse, the attitude of the people that worked there or the lack of information to tell a more comprehensive story about Tesla.
The museum was definitely a failure on both counts. But it was the staff that really ruined the experience. I had never before and indeed have never again seen visitors treated at a tourist attraction treated like that. Thanks for reading!
I don’t need people to be extremely nice at me, or to be all smiles and nods. But what I cannot stand – especially at touristic attractions, where staff knows their job will involve working with people – is being treated with disrespect and rudeness out of nowhere, feeling that I’m just seen as an annoying tourist. I experienced really bad treatment in Florence, Italy, overall. I understand they are tired of tourists, but the city does rely on them. Every time I had a question, they wouldn’t even look at me, would be dismissive and, quite frankly, total idiots. It can really shed a dark cloud in any trip!
It is indeed a shame Tesla ashes are being guarded like this, and the tour doesn’t live to the expectations… but it seems like they simply don’t care that much! I do admire your courage on calling out Aleksander!
I was just so angry I felt like there was no other course of action. Sorry to hear you had your own shitty experience in Florence. I think you’re right in that it really doesn’t take much to be courteous and respectful. Thanks for reading and contributing Nic!
You have turned this bad experience into something interesting. Now, I’d be curious to find out if any progress has been made since then. But places that receive the public and don’t accept credit cards or photos won’t survive the technological tide much longer.
Right, you would think they are destined for doom. I also wonder if all this time they’ve had a little toilet somewhere hidden away for the staff.
I have heard about Tesla ..so many years ago. Looks like a bad experience at the museum.
I was amazed by how many people just quietly accepted the situation. Being treated like that… thanks for reading Anita!
It’s unfortunate that poor customer service can really make or break your impression of a place. Doesn’t help that the museum exhibits fell a little flat in representing Tesla’s long and rich life (very impressed that he was a true polyglot!). You had every right to write a negative review of the museum, to spare future tourists the time, money, and psychological trauma of waiting in the heat and being yelled at by a very bitter man (*ahem Aleksander). At the very least, you got a bit of something out of the Nikola Tesla Museum!
Yeah, some of the exhibits were interesting and it was fun seeing the Tesla Coil do its thing. His urn was also a curious sight, so it wasn’t a total disaster. But eh, those staff…
Wow! As you succinctly say: “Poor old Tesla, he deserves so much more.” I don’t know who or what agency is responsible for such a poor tribute but I’d think Tesla’s heirs would be very disappointed. Thanks for the tip because I would have put this museum on the “must see” list if I ever visited Belgrade.
I think most people would put the Tesla Museum on their list when visiting Belgrade. When in Rome and all that. But it was just shameful that day, thanks for stopping by John.
I don’t know that I will ever make it to Belgrade, but if so, your review is all I want to know about the Tesla Museum. I appreciate the sense of humor although I don’t imagine you found anything amusing at the time!
You’re quite right Ruth, I was spitting venom. It was all so baffling, I just couldn’t understand why and how these people were so awful. Thanks for ploughing through the first batch of my Belgrade series. A few more more pieces in the works…
What a bad experience at this museum – such a shame. A couple of years ago I’ve read that not much credit is given to Nikola Tesla – but reading your intro (wow, eight languages) – I really felt sorry for him! Thank you for paying tribute to him … and for speaking your mind when you left the museum 👍🏻.
Thanks for reading this (mostly) unpleasant article Corna. Travel can’t always be butterflies and ice cream, so here it is, warts and all. Happily I haven’t had to write many of these over the years.
If “Aleksander is a good boy” I would certainly be extra cautious about crossing paths with someone she thought was a bad boy! What a bizarre and disappointing experience.
Ha ha you made me laugh but you’re right. I wonder if he did join the army in the end, seems like a more suitable form of employment.
Oh wow – this museum has so much potential and just threw it all away! Like you say, Tesla deserved more.
Thanks for stopping by Hannah!
Whoa! So sorry to read about this awful experience 😒 and at the end to actually have Aleksandr awarded for this behavior by the management is simply infuriating. Thanks for sharing all this information about Tesla. I knew next to nothing about him.
Hey, glad you got a rough picture of Tesla and his life’s work. Infuriating is the right word for the manager, thanks for reading!
It’s always such a bummer to have an experience like this, especially at a place that had the potential to be so much better. It’s unfortunate that they weren’t interested in making any improvements to the way they do things. I’m glad you did your own research and put some more information about Tesla into this post so I could learn about him without having to experience what you did.
Appreciate that Diana, I don’t think I’ve ever had to write a travel report quite like this one. And hopefully never again! Fascinating man, rubbish museum.
Aleksander is definitely in the wrong job – he needs to learn some customer care skills. But these things start with the management and I would blame them more than him. After a start like that the museum was always going to have to work hard to live up to your expectations and clearly it didn’t, despite having some interesting exhibits. It seems no one really cares about it, they’re all just going through the motions. How I’d love to give it a good shake up (I should mention that I worked for some years as a consultant in the cultural services sector, initiating and supporting service improvements 😀 ) Still, as you’ve proved, these travel disappointments often make for good stories in retrospect!
Somehow Sarah, despite having never met you, I feel certain that you could give this place the overhaul it desperately needs 😉 As much as I hated the experience that day you’re right, it was actually a fun one to write up nearly three years later.
I absolutely could! Starting from this low base it wouldn’t be too difficult to get better!!
Oh No! Good to know this bad experience as well as the good ones, I’ll remember to keep Tesla Museum off my list Maggie
Thanks for the catch up Maggie!
Ah no, so much potential but poor delivery! No wonder the museum has kept the ashes, they sound like a bunch not to be taken on! Have you seen the film The Current War? I’ve had it on my watch list for a while, must get to watching it!