Things to do before you leave Belgrade

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my diary.

Heading Home

Our 8 months is now up and we are heading home. We are sad to leave family and friends, but we have had the most extraordinary time in Serbia. Some of our English friends visited this amazing country during our stay and were fascinated and delighted by the food, daily life and interesting sights to see.

Royal Palaces, Belgrade

We crammed in a few things to do in Belgrade before we left, including a visit with a friend to the Royal Palaces in an affluent area of Belgrade, Dedinje. [1]

 The White Palace in Belgrade

The White Palace in Belgrade

The White Palace has some very interesting artworks, including an arresting portrait of King Aleksandar 1st, who actually commissioned the building of the palaces. Tragically he was assassinated in Marseille before the buildings were complete. Other works in the palace include a Rembrandt hanging in the salon.

The King's Palace, of Serbian Byzantine design, has the most extraordinary basement, with crypt-like vaulting and highly decorative, (some say gaudy), painting on the walls. When Marshall Tito used the palace as an office during his time as premier, he watched Westerns in the private cinema and even invited John Wayne to visit!

 The King's Palace in Belgrade

The King's Palace in Belgrade

The current Crown Prince who now lives in the palaces, also named Aleksandar, is King Aleksandar 1st's grandson. King Peter, the Crown Prince's father, left Yugoslavia during WW2 and placed himself in exile in England. He married Princess Alexandra of Greece & Denmark in 1944. Crown Prince Aleksandar 2nd was born in Suite 212 of Claridge's Hotel, London in 1945! [2]

 The colonnade of the King's Palace

The colonnade of the King's Palace

A Serbian Wedding in Topola

We were lucky enough to be invited to a friend's wedding in the lovely country town of Topola. A Serbian band was booked to play outside the church and the groom set about gathering guests to dance the 'Kolo' - Serbia's excellent circle dance!

Wedding Band Topola.jpg

Topola is famous for it's beautiful church/mausoleum, 'Oplenac', [3] replete with mosaics and an opulent crypt where deceased members of the Serbian Royal Family have been laid to rest.

Summer Slava

The village of Darosava was celebrating its village Slava [4] and we were kindly invited by a relative. Even cities like Belgrade have their own Slava, so it's not just families that celebrate this important spiritual event.

So off we went to the village of Darosava to check out Summer Slava on Dragan's cousin's farm. As expected there was loads of delicious food including home-made yogurt and smoked meats. We also witnessed an intriguing tradition called 'Litije', which is probably as old as the hills and has possible pagan roots, but was certainly new to me. The different oak trees in the village are blessed by a priest, the local farmers have a drink and then move on to the next tree in a procession of tractors. A bit like 'Wassailing' [5] in Devon!

 Tractor decked out to process around the village

Tractor decked out to process around the village

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait!

We have driven over the Danube and Sava rivers in Belgrade many times over the last 8 months and often talked about a boat trip, but never seemed to get it organised. Luckily, Dragan recently met up with his high school friends and they kindly offered to take us in their boat for the day. As one of the highlights of our stay, the cruise along the Sava, Danube and around the 'Veliko Ratno Ostrvo' (Great War Island) [6], included a swim in the Danube from the boat. The water was shallow because we anchored just off the island, but the current was strong. Aleks and I loved it, especially squelching our toes in the muddy sand. I was saddened to hear that plans are afoot to develop the island, a real shame, as it is a stunning nature reserve!

 Ali swimming in the Danube

Ali swimming in the Danube

 Dragan

Dragan

Dragan went up a Hill and Came Down Avala Mountian

Avala is a beautiful cone-shaped mountain (511 metres!) [7] covered in trees, with a stylish telecommunications tower perched on top. Dragan made us giggle as he was very insistent that Avala is a mountain not a hill! It's those all important 11 metres above 500. It was the coolest day for weeks when we visited Avala, which made it very pleasant indeed. We bought tickets in the shop and zoomed up in the lift to the viewing platform of the tower. It was well worth it, as we enjoyed a 360 view of Belgrade in the distance and the surrounding countryside. The wooden church at the base of the tower is perfectly sweet with traditional hand-woven ćilim carpets. Unfortunately we didn't have time to see the Monument to the Unknown Hero nearby [8] (a good excuse to come again)!

Avala Telecommunications Tower & the wooden church below

 The wooden church at the base of Avala tower

The wooden church at the base of Avala tower

Holding up the London Plane!

This amazing tree, being propped up by metal supports is an old London Plane Tree in Topčider Park in Belgrade. Like the boat trip, I had wanted to visit Topčider for a while and finally managed to drag Dragan, Aleks and even Aleks' friend there one afternoon. Topčider was once a Royal Park and has some interesting things to see, a museum (at present being refurbished), the plane tree, a beautiful church and a few eateries. We just had time for an ice-cream before torrential rain unfortunately spoilt our little trip. We sheltered under a tree for a while, but eventually gave up and went home to dry off!

 The London Plane Tree in Topčider Park, Belgrade

The London Plane Tree in Topčider Park, Belgrade

Some Random Things I Felt I Must Include

Serbs love salty, crispy snacks, from nuts and crisps to stapići (skinny salty breadsticks) and also pumpkin seeds. They also seem to love 'kokice' (popcorn) and there are stalls with popcorn machines dotted all over Belgrade.

 Popcorn seller in Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade

Popcorn seller in Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade

And... not to forget 'Plazma' biscuits! (A strange and somewhat off-putting name for English speakers.) A firm favourite for all generations of Serbs, which includes the 'mlevena' (powdered) form of Plazma biscuits, which can be added to pancakes, cakes and shakes! [9]

Watch This Space

I'll be jotting down a few notes about our next destination, so if you've enjoyed my Serbian Blog, please watch this space!

[1] http://www.royalfamily.org/palaces/the-royal-palace/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander,_Crown_Prince_of_Yugoslavia

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oplenac

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slava

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassailing

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_War_Island

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avala

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_the_Unknown_Hero

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_biscuit

Things to do in Belgrade in Summer

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my diary.

Our time in Belgrade is nearly coming to an end, but my blog will continue when we travel to Sicily, the USA and Canada in a few weeks time. And of course we plan to return to Belgrade to stay with family as often as we can after that.

Kalemegdan Park & Belgrade Fortress

A must see at any time of the year are Kalemegdan Park and Belgrade's Fortress, which offer stunning views of the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Quickly retreat from the hustle and bustle of Belgrade's city centre to formal gardens, restaurants, souvenir stalls, sculptures and stacks of history. 

One evening, as the sun was setting over New Belgrade, I visited Kalemegdan Park and was pleased to discover some sculptures and activities that I was not aware of before then.

 Sculpture of Despot Stefan, Belgrade's Fortress (can you spot someone scaling the wall in the background?)

Sculpture of Despot Stefan, Belgrade's Fortress (can you spot someone scaling the wall in the background?)

 The fortress is not so impenetrable these days!

The fortress is not so impenetrable these days!

 Art Gallery at Kalemegdan

Art Gallery at Kalemegdan

 Archery Lessons with 'Belgrade Archery' from 11am to 11pm, Kalemegdan

Archery Lessons with 'Belgrade Archery' from 11am to 11pm, Kalemegdan

Ružica & St. Petka, Two Little Churches in Kalemegdan

Cascading down the side of the Fortress are two gorgeous churches, one above the other amongst pretty gardens with roses and greenery. A lovely place to watch the sunset.

 View of the Sava River from the gardens of Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

View of the Sava River from the gardens of Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

Ružica Church (little rose church), Kalemegdan

 Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

 Interior of Ružica Church

Interior of Ružica Church

 Fresco, Ružica Church

Fresco, Ružica Church

St Petka's Church, Kalemegdan

 Mosaics adorn the interior of St Petka's Church

Mosaics adorn the interior of St Petka's Church

 Enjoy some holy water as you admire the mosaics in St Petka's Church

Enjoy some holy water as you admire the mosaics in St Petka's Church

 The mosaics are full of life in St Petka's Church

The mosaics are full of life in St Petka's Church

Visiting one of Belgrade's many Fruit & Vegetable Market

Recently I made a Serbian conserve called 'Slatko' for the first time. Actually that was not the intention. I planned to make good old fashioned strawberry jam, because strawberries are abundant in May and June in Serbia. But my plan was thwarted, as the jam wouldn't set. Dragan, however was really chuffed with the result and said 'no worries, it's Slatko!' (a Serbian fruit conserve that doesn't set and preserves the integrity of the fruit)

Woman selling fruit & vegetables at the open air market.

Swimming in the lake at Ada Ciganlija

It's been pretty hot for weeks now and I guessed the water at Belgrade's 'Beach' may be warm enough to swim in. I caught the bus to Ada Ciganlija and went for a dip. The water was cool, but so refreshing. The lake has plenty of great restaurants, cafes, food outlets and more along its shores and I sat under a parasol and enjoyed an iced coffee close to the water's edge. It's possible to hire bikes, go water skiing and travel around the lake on a small train. There are many other activities to enjoy at Ada. It comes well recommended.

 Belgradians swimming in Ada lake

Belgradians swimming in Ada lake

 One of the many cafes and restaurants lining the shores of Belgrade's 'Beach'

One of the many cafes and restaurants lining the shores of Belgrade's 'Beach'

There's one more blog from Serbia to come, as there are still a whole lot of things we need to see before we leave! See you soon!

 

 

 

 

Spring has sprung in Belgrade

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my diary.

 Spring flowers in Belgrade's Botanical Garden

Spring flowers in Belgrade's Botanical Garden

Celebrating Two Easters

Spring has definitely sprung in Serbia. It's difficult to imagine that only a few weeks ago we were skiing on Kopaonik Mountain. There was also plenty of snow and ice this winter in Belgrade too.

This week the temperature rose to 27 degrees C in Belgrade. I believe that's hot for many Brits, but some Serbs were still wearing coats and jumpers! Having spent a week in England for western Easter, we came back to a green and balmy Belgrade. It was Orthodox Easter when we returned and our Kuma (Serbian Godmother) had kindly made some beautiful painted hard boiled eggs for us. The first egg to be dyed is known as čuvarkuća (the keeper of the house) and we have set ours aside to be kept as a kind of amulet for the whole year. (in the fridge!) [1]

 Eggs dyed with red onion skins, red cabbage (blue colour) and regular onion skins (brown)

Eggs dyed with red onion skins, red cabbage (blue colour) and regular onion skins (brown)

How to dye Serbian Easter Eggs

To dye the eggs, boil them in a saucepan filled with water, red onion skins and a little vinegar. After about 15 minutes turn off the heat and leave them in the water for a few hours. The eggs will become a deep maroon in colour. Skins from about three onions will be enough to dye at least 10 eggs. The eggs are dyed on 'Veliki Petak' (Good Friday) and then cracked and eaten on Easter Sunday. 

The eggs can also be dyed using plants as a resist which create beautiful shapes and patterns. To do this, take an egg, place a rosemary sprig on the egg and wrap it tightly in old stocking fabric. To keep the rosemary close to the egg, use string to bind the stocking at each end of the egg. The wrapped eggs can then be boiled in the natural dyes, red onion skin (maroon), red cabbage (blue) or regular onion skin (brown). Remove the eggs from the water. When cool, wipe a small amount of vegetable oil on the shells to give them a sheen.

On Easter Sunday, there is a cute game to play with painted eggs. Cup your chosen egg in your hand and let your opponent tap your egg with hers. Then swap and tap your egg on theirs. The winner is the person who's eggshell remains intact! They taste good too!

Check out Pinterest for a host of ideas for dying and painting Easter Eggs.

 

Vrdnik Thermal Spring in Springtime!

Our last trip to Vrdnik [2], a thermal spa town in the gentle hills of Fruska Gora, was in the dead of winter. We swam in the thermal spring water in the 'Termal Hotel', as snow was falling outside. So, another trip to Vrdnik in Springtime was a must. Our friends from England were spending a week with us and we all piled into a 7-seater and stayed the night in Vrdnik. The kids loved the pool and we all enjoyed the beautiful wild flowers and blossom.

 An Orchard in Vrdnik

An Orchard in Vrdnik

Distilling Brandy in Vrdnik

On our way to visit Vrdnik's Monastery, we were surprised to see a family distilling quince brandy in their garden! It is perfectly legal to distil your own liquor in Serbia and this family was making brandy for their restaurant which is called 'Vila Green Day' [3]. Dragan asked if we could take a few photos and they kindly agreed.

 Home-distilled Quince Brandy

Home-distilled Quince Brandy

 Vdrnik Monastery with beautiful Easter flowers and dyed eggs as a centre piece, below the arch.

Vdrnik Monastery with beautiful Easter flowers and dyed eggs as a centre piece, below the arch.

Pobusani Ponedeljak (Grave Tending Monday)

When Dragan and Aleks were at work and school, I decided to take a walk in the local woods. Spring flowers were emerging on the forest floor and a black squirrel scampered up a tree trunk. I was lucky to see a cuckoo swoop from tree to tree and unfortunately got bitten by a very large mosquito!

On the way back I walked through Novo Groblje (yes, the cemetery again!) and I guessed that it was a special day, because the flower sellers were out in force. I wondered if it was 'The Day of Dead Souls' and decided to visit one of our relative's grave. Many people were placing flowers and candles on their loved one's final resting place and I noticed several people gently cracking a painted egg on the marble and laying it on the grave.

I asked my Kuma (my Serbian Godmother), Daniela about this ritual and she explained that it was 'Pobusani Ponedeljak', the second Monday after Easter Sunday. Extra eggs are dyed/painted after Easter, especially to be placed on the graves. It was tragi-comic to see that some eggs had rolled off and had been nibbled by the crows who roost in the cemetery.

 

Belgrade's Botanical Garden

On my way back from my Serbian lesson I stopped at Belgrade's Botanical Garden [4]. It is a delightful haven near the city centre and boasts a beautiful hot-house with tropical plants including, huge banana trees and fascinating cacti. The Japanese Garden is the pearl of this charming but relatively small hideaway. I would definitely recommend a visit.

 The Japanese Garden in Belgrade

The Japanese Garden in Belgrade

Coffee Drinking in Belgrade

To finish, I think a new Serbian phrase is needed. This is the phrase I hear everyday from friends, relatives and people I pass in the street chatting to each other, 'Hoćemo da pijemo kafu?' - meaning, 'shall we have a coffee?' Now that spring has sprung, there is a million places to sit outside and do just that in Belgrade!

  Hoćemo da pijemo kafu? - Shall we have a Coffee?

 Hoćemo da pijemo kafu? - Shall we have a Coffee?

Skiing on Kopaonik Mountain, Serbia

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

 Aleks and Ali just before ski school outside the Rtanj Hotel, Kopaonik, Serbia

Aleks and Ali just before ski school outside the Rtanj Hotel, Kopaonik, Serbia

Our Journey to the Mountain from Belgrade

Kopaonik Mountain [1] along with Stara Planina [2], Zlatibor Mountain & Divčibare Mountain [4] are the main ski resorts in Serbia. With it's continental climate, Serbian winter's are cold enough to have an excellent ski season. 

We travelled by coach from Belgrade, a very comfortable 5 hour journey, with one pit stop for coffee. Most of the journey was on the 'autoput' (motorway) and then the coach wound it's way through the foothills, before ascending Kopaonik mountain for the last 45 minutes or so of the trip. Farmers were tending their fruit bushes and fruit trees in the villages and we enjoyed spying more and more snow as the coach slowly climbed the last 500 metres. 

Kopaonik was designated a National Park in 1981

Kopaonik mountain range is a National Park and is spectacularly beautiful. There was a lot of snow, to our surprise, as Belgrade was fairly mild when we left. Wildlife is plentiful here, but sadly many species, for example bears, have now disappeared from this area. Fallow deer, eagle-owls, wildcats and many other birds and mammals can still be found here and it 'is one of Serbia's most important bio-diversity hotspots for endemic flora' [5]. In fact, we spotted some Kopaonik violets peeping through the snow.

 You can ski to the door of the Rtanj Hotel! (Photo taken from the chairlift).

You can ski to the door of the Rtanj Hotel! (Photo taken from the chairlift).

Hotel Rtanj, Kopaonik, Serbia

We stayed at the Rtanj Hotel, which is comfortable and clean, with a very friendly atmosphere. One hour ski school a day is included; ski passes can be purchased at the hotel and ski/boot hire is also available on site! We chose half-board. A hot and cold buffet with delicious Serbian favourites was offered for breakfast and dinner. Rtanj (difficult to pronounce!) is famous for it's wonderful 'Krofne' (doughnuts). Since you can ski to the door of this hotel, many skiers from around the resort stop for a drink, pljeskavica (burger) and doughnut for lunch.

 The Restaurant at the Rtanj Hotel

The Restaurant at the Rtanj Hotel

Keeping up with your kids!

This was Aleks' second time skiing and he seems to like zooming down the mountain - poor Mum, with her slow, neat turns, found it quite difficult to keep up, especially when it was foggy! One day when I finally caught up with Aleks at the bottom of the ski slope, he said, 'Mum, did you stop for a cup of tea on the way? You took ages!' 

We experienced all the weather you can think of, rain, snow, fog, wind, blizzard, sun & even lightning, so catching this photo of the peak was quite a challenge. Dragan decided not to ski, but walked to the summit whilst we were skiing and took some lovely photos.

 Kopaonik, a skier's paradise

Kopaonik, a skier's paradise

Skiing with Serbian Friends

Our friends from Belgrade were on holiday at the same time and we skied with them. They are good skiers and know Kopaonik really well, so we were able to ski all over the resort with them. The resort is extremely well run with an excellent rescue service, apparently. The lift attendants are very polite and helpful and the resort is great for kids and adults alike. The car thing isn't so great. The car-parks are chaos and walking along the road isn't much fun, there are no pavements and the cars drive a bit too fast for my liking! 

Skiing on Gorgeous Divčibare mountain in 2007

I last skied in Serbia 10 years ago, when Aleks was 11 months old! A group of us from the Savić family planned a trip to Divčibare in winter. I knew there would be snow, but I didn't realise you could ski until we got there. No-one seemed to mention that to me, or maybe they did but it was in Serbian and I didn't understand. Anyway, we arrived on the pretty mountain of Divčibare and I spied a little ski slope & skiers. I was dumbfounded and wailed, 'Dragan you never said we could ski here!' So here I was with no ski gear, no ski pass or sallapettes and loads of snow. I thought it would be impossible, but he said we can sort it out if you like. This is so different from my experience of skiing. If you want to ski in the European Alps from Britain, you need to book flights and hotels at least 6 months in advance, including ski pass, ski hire etc etc.... 

We just popped to a little caravan at the bottom of the slope and I was immediately sorted with boots and skis for about 10 euros and a ski pass for the button lift for about 5 euros! So off I went skiing in my civvies and had a wonderful time.

When I was skiing, I noticed, to my surprise, another British woman speaking in English. You have to realise meeting Brits in Serbia, especially in Divčibare, was extremely rare in 2007. I just had to talk to her. She was married to a Serb and was on holiday with her family. Like me, she was so excited to 'discover' Divčibare and she was having the most wonderful time. We both agreed to not tell anyone in England about our amazing discovery!! Oops the cat's out the bag now!

I have to say, skiing in Serbia comes highly recommended. 

 Dragan pulling Aleks in his car seat attached to a sled in Divčibare, Serbia, 2007

Dragan pulling Aleks in his car seat attached to a sled in Divčibare, Serbia, 2007

 Belgrade in Winter, photo-etching by Ali Savic

Belgrade in Winter, photo-etching by Ali Savic

Pinterest Blog Skiing finished.jpg

Traditions in Belgrade's fascinating Cemetery & snowy Landscapes

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

Overlooking the Cemetery

Our flat in Belgrade overlooks one of the most important cemeteries in Belgrade, 'Novo Groblje' (the New Cemetery) [1], where many famous people from Serbia are buried. Not actually that new, the cemetery dates back to the 1860s. Over the last few months, some well-known people have been buried there, including Oliver Ivanović, the Serbian politician who was assassinated in Kosovo. A famous actor, who died relatively young, had his funeral there recently too. I said to my 'Kuma' (my Serbian godmother) [2], that I have never spent so much time in a graveyard as I do in Serbia. She laughed. But it is such a beautiful place.

London's Highgate Cemetery

Last summer, the three of us visited Highgate Cemetery [3] in London, England, and were amazed to see so many interesting gravestones and epitaphs. At Highgate Cemetery, Aleks was fascinated to hear our guide tell us about tombs with giant spiders, to see Karl Marx's monument and to also see Douglas Adams' gravestone, with a pot of pens beside it. Novo Groblje (the New Cemetery) is also very important and is a member of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe [4]. If you get a chance to travel to Belgrade, I would recommend a visit here.

'Zadušnice' (the day of prayers for the souls)

'Zadušnice' (the day of prayers for the souls) occurs four times a year in Serbia. It is customary for Serbs to visit their loved ones’ graves, light a candle and say a prayer. One of our relatives is buried in Novo Groblje, so we decided to pay our respects. Dragan gave me the heads up about an unusual custom before we walked through Novo Groblje to visit the grave. So, I wasn’t surprised to see a couple sitting on the marble slab of their relative’s grave having a light meal. This is not that common these days, but the wake for the funeral also used to happen at the grave of the deceased. A table cloth was placed on the gravestone and ručak (lunch) was laid out! Our daughter, Mila, told me later that this was also quite common in Victorian Britain. I was brought up to not walk on a grave, never mind have my lunch on one! Joking apart, this tradition is actually very respectful to the deceased.

Army Gun Salute

On the way to the cemetery (I was due to meet Dragan and Aleks there), I was waiting to cross the road behind a small troupe of soldiers in camouflage gear carrying rifles. They were also waiting to cross the road. I could have reached out and touched one of the guns. It’s not common in Exeter to be waiting at a pedestrian crossing with a group of armed soldiers. Half the company were women, and a rather brave middle-aged man decided to try and have a chat with the female soldiers. They ignored him of course. I only wish I could have understood what he was saying! Later when we were lighting the candle at our relative's grave, we heard the shots of the gun salute, as an important person from the army was being buried that day.

Ali's Print of the Cemetery

 'Falling Snow, Pada Sneg', metal plate lithograph by Ali Savić

'Falling Snow, Pada Sneg', metal plate lithograph by Ali Savić

'Falling Snow, Pada Sneg'* was editioned by one of the Master Printmakers at the 'Centar za Grafiku' (Printmaking Centre) [5] in Belgrade. It is a drawing I made from a photograph taken in November. Two people pass each other outside the walls of 'Novo Groblje' in Belgrade. Shovelled snow is piled up in the foreground and some gravestones can be seen behind the wall.

 'Novo Groblje', New Cemetery, Belgrade

'Novo Groblje', New Cemetery, Belgrade

More Prints of Belgrade, Made in Belgrade

'Belgrade Impressions' is a trio of linocuts I printed depicting some Serbian folk dancers with the Saborna Church's spire and the dome of the Orthodox patriarch's palace behind. The river Sava flows below. 'Most na Adi', the new bridge, spans the left and middle prints and Avala Communications Tower sits in the middle. To the right, is a depiction of Tašmajdan Park, with a tram, St Mark's Church and a woman wrapped up for the cold. The abstract geometric shapes hint at the 1960s Yugoslav concrete high-rise and mosaics, typical of Belgrade. I completed these prints at the 'Centar za Grafiku' in Belgrade.

 'Belgrade Impressions' linocut triptych by Ali Savic

'Belgrade Impressions' linocut triptych by Ali Savic

Interesting Ancestors & a trip to the city of Novi Sad

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

 Central Novi Sad

Central Novi Sad

Our daughter Mila is visiting from London and we have some must see places to visit whilst she’s here! Born in Belgrade, she loves spending time in Serbia and seeing her extended family.

We were invited for Sunday lunch by some relatives and our hostess made the most delicious food, including ‘Ruska Salata’ (Russian Salad), ‘Sarma’ (pickled cabbage rolls) and Pečenje (roast meat). Aleks ate at a separate table with his twin cousins who are also 11 and they both speak excellent English – their Dad blames Youtube for their language skills!

A Whole Host of Architects in the Family!

This side of the family is replete with female architects, including a fascinating woman called Natalija Matić-Zrnić, born in 1880. Our host that day, Mirko, is her Grandson and some years ago, he typed up her diaries, letters and memoirs, which were later published as a book. The book, 'Natalija: Life in the Balkan Powder Keg,' [1] has just been translated from Serbian and published in English - I plan to read it soon! The blurb at the back of the book says - "Natalija's diary is impressive in its scope; it covers more than half a century, five wars (including two world wars), four ideologies and numerous governments all told from the perspective of a remarkable, well educated middle class woman, mother of six, twice widowed, but never cowed." 

When I visited the Church of Aleksandar Nevski in Belgrade a few weeks ago, I was impressed to discover that the architect, Jelisaveta Načić (b.1878) was the first woman in Serbia to graduate as an architect. I asked Mirko if he thinks Natalija knew Jelisaveta Načić and he was pretty sure that she did.

Natalija Book Cover.jpg

Natalija

 

Life in the Balkan Powder Keg,
1880 - 1956

 

Edited by Jill A. Irvine & Carol S. Lilly

CEU PRESS

 

A Trip to Novi Sad

At the weekend Dragan, Mila, Aleks and I all piled in the car and set off for a two-night stay in the city of Novi Sad [2]. Novi Sad is in Northern Serbia, in an area called Vojvodina and is about 60 miles from Belgrade. Vojvodina is flat, really flat – it was a sea millions of years ago, known as the Pannonian Sea. So, the soil here is dark and rich and the area has become the bread basket of Serbia.

We met some friends from Novi Sad when we arrived and enjoyed a classic Serbian meal in a typical Serbian restaurant. You know the drill, gingham tablecloths, an acoustic Serbian band, top class waiting staff and traditional wine bottles and pickles in jars on display. Vojvodina was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century and influences can be seen in many areas of life including the architecture and in the food. One of our party ordered a Vojvodina dessert, 'rezanci sa orasima' made from cooked pasta, sprinkled with walnuts and sugar. As Mila said, ‘it's just dough, nuts and sugar’ –  very tasty!

Aleks and our friend’s son get on well and Aleks was invited for an impromptu sleepover. Both boys were chuffed. Mila, Dragan & I stayed at an Air B&B apartment, which was lovely, extremely modern and minimal – with a fabulous view of a park, some apartment blocks and Fruška Gora mountain topped with snow in the distance. (Fruška Gora mountain was an island in the Pannonian Sea.)

 The Danube with the Petrovaradin Fortress on the opposite bank.

The Danube with the Petrovaradin Fortress on the opposite bank.

Along the Banks of the Danube

Our friends were happy to have Aleks all day the next day, so Mila, Dragan and I walked along the banks of the Danube River towards the famous Petrovaradin Fortress [3]. It’s a beautiful path with cycle tracks, cafes and a small beach to enjoy in summer. I asked about swimming in the Danube and unfortunately it’s too polluted, bit chilly in February anyway! Before crossing the bridge to the fortress, we stopped at a Holocaust memorial on the river bank. Fresh flowers were laid in remembrance of the Jews and Serbs who were killed by the Nazis at the site during WW2.

 Holocaust Memorial, Novi Sad

Holocaust Memorial, Novi Sad

Petrovaradin Fortress - Exit Music Festival Venue

We crossed the bridge and walked up to the Fortress, the location of the famous Exit Music Festival [4], held here every summer. Notable musicians include Franz Ferdinand, Robert Plant & Lauryn Hill and it is now one of the biggest music festivals in Europe. The site of the fortress has seen some sort of settlement for over 20,000 years, evidenced by Palaeolithic archaeological finds, plus Roman, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish settlement. It’s an impressive structure built atop a natural rock. There is a maze of tunnels beneath the fortress where groups of soldiers would take cover. You can enter the tunnels, but I wasn’t too keen when I heard that some kids got lost (and found!) in the tunnels last summer!

 The Clock Tower at Petrovaradin Fortress

The Clock Tower at Petrovaradin Fortress

Telling the Time isn't Easy Here!

The Clock Tower was a great photo opportunity and is unique in that the large hand of the clock represents the hours not minutes, so that fishermen on the Danube could see the time more easily. Serbs do the whole café/restaurant thing brilliantly and there were at least two places to eat or have coffee. We settled for coffee and then trundled back down the hill to Novi Sad city centre.

Having had a meat feast the previous night we chose squid and octopus for lunch at a lovely restaurant, called ‘Gondola' [5]. They even serve cake in a flower pot! Ultra modern with very high ceilings, a copper clad bar and industrial style light fittings.

 Novi Sad's Catholic Cathedral

Novi Sad's Catholic Cathedral

Architecture in Novi Sad & Belgrade

We walked through the park to the city centre, passing the pastel-coloured buildings from the 19th century and Novi Sad’s Catholic Cathedral towards the Synagogue. The Jews were decimated in Vojvodina in WW2 and many Jewish people that survived left for Israel after the war. The Synagogue [6] no longer functions as a religious building but is now a cultural centre and concert hall.

 Novi Sad's Synagogue, which is now a concert hall.

Novi Sad's Synagogue, which is now a concert hall.

We briefly met another friend from Novi Sad, Joviša, who used to work with Dragan at the University in our home city of Exeter, in the UK. He showed us around commenting on Novi Sad and the architecture. We made the typical comparisons between Belgrade and Novi Sad - there seems to be a bit of friendly rivalry between the two cities. Joviša, said to me, 'Can you guess which is my favourite building in Belgrade?' 'Glavna Pošta' (main post office) [7]. I was so surprised, because this is my favourite building too. Joviša pointed out that it is designed in the shape of a eagle spreading its wings. It's an unusual choice, as it is not exactly pretty!

Glavna Pošta (main post office), Belgrade

After the three of us had nearly completed a half marathon walking around Novi Sad we felt it was time to head back to the Air B&B for a rest.

That evening, with the promise of 'ćevapčići za poneti' (take away meat patties), the three of us walked to our friends' house to enjoy a meal and collect Aleks.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3382615-natalija 

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novi_Sad 

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrovaradin_Fortress 

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit_(festival) 

[5] http://www.gondola-restoran.rs/ 

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novi_Sad_Synagogue 

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Post_Office,_Belgrade

A British woman's Printmaking + Wanderings & Eating Out in Belgrade

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

Metal Plate Lithography Printing at the Centar za Grafiku, Belgrade

Jelena, one of the Master Printmakers, printing my edition.

I have been lucky enough to use the facilities at the 'Centar za Grafiku' [1] (Printmaking Centre) in Belgrade for the last couple of months. I am a printmaker and need to use a printing press to create my prints. As well as offering the use of the intaglio presses, the Centre has two Master Printmakers who print sets of prints, known as editions, for artists. One of the processes they use is metal plate lithography [2]. Only the Master Printmakers are allowed to operate the lithography press and they are kept busy producing editions for a fee. I thought I would give it a go and have an edition printed for me - which is a first. I opted for a small edition of ten prints. Jelena, the Master Printmaker, prepared the metal plate for me and I was let loose with a black oily crayon to draw directly onto the plate. Once the drawing was complete, Jelena used some chemicals, including oil and bitumen, to prepare the plate to take the ink. To print, Jelena kept the plate moist with a damp sponge and then she rolled the ink with a leather roller onto the plate. The drawn areas accepted the ink and the paper was placed on top. After running the plate and paper through the press, the print was complete.

An Urban Stroll

Dragan and I had some free time, so we wandered around and took a few photos of the 'Železnička Stanica' (railway station) [3] by the Sava river in Belgrade. This used to be the main railway station but since 2016 the main station has gradually been relocated, so only a few trains depart from here now. Looking at the front of the building, you can see that the two different alphabets in Serbian are represented on this building, spelling 'Beograd' (which is Serbian for Belgrade). 

Cyrillic БЕОГРАД (on the left) & Latin BEOGRAD (on the right).

 Železnićka Stanica, Railway Station, Belgrade.

Železnićka Stanica, Railway Station, Belgrade.

 Belgrade's Railway Station.

Belgrade's Railway Station.

On our way home the view of the huge hulk of St Sava Church kept appearing and disappearing between the 19th century edifices, 20th century high-rise and 21st century glass-clad structures.

 View of St Sava Church from Slavija Roundabout

View of St Sava Church from Slavija Roundabout

 19th Century edifices meet 20th Century skyscrapers

19th Century edifices meet 20th Century skyscrapers

A Serbian Serenade!

Dragan and I decided to eat out at 'Orašac', [4] a traditional Serbian restaurant. I was happy to see that the smoking section is completely separate and was surprised to be serenaded by Serbian folk musicians. Dragan remembers eating there with one of his professors from the nearby 'Gradjevinski Fakultet' (civil engineering faculty) back in the 80s and said it has hardly changed. We noted that quite a few foreigners were eating there that night too. Needless to say the food was excellent and the acoustic music was superb.

 Traditional Serbian music in 'Orašac' restaurant, Belgrade

Traditional Serbian music in 'Orašac' restaurant, Belgrade

20th century Arts + Traditional Crafts in Belgrade

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade

Museum Contemp Art exterior.jpg

A visit to Belgrade's recently renovated Museum of Contemporary Art [1] was an astonishing experience. The building, built in 1965 (the same age as me!) is the perfect space to show-off art from the last 100 years or so of former Yugoslavia, Serbia and internationally. Dragan was delighted to see a painting by one of his classmates from the 70s, he recognised the artist's name from his nickname, 'Đile,' on the label. The artist is now an art critic.

 Detail of 'Crowd' by Srđan Marković Đile, painted in 1991

Detail of 'Crowd' by Srđan Marković Đile, painted in 1991

The museum is a very photogenic and thought provoking space, here are some of the fascinating artworks, including some wonderful woodcut prints by Sergije Glumac. 

 'Hippy Top', painted wood sculpture by Tomislav Kauzlarič, made in 1967

'Hippy Top', painted wood sculpture by Tomislav Kauzlarič, made in 1967

Silver Sculpture & Dragan.jpg
Coloured acrylic sculpture.jpg

'Subway' woodcuts by Sergije Glumac, made c. 1928

Belgrade's Ethnographic Museum

It was a weekend of museums, and Belgrade's Ethnographic Museum [2] gives a charming insight into traditional life in Serbia and the Balkans. (Aleks was on a school ski trip to Kopaonik mountain - art museums are not high on his list of exciting things to do!) Dragan particularly loved the recreated farm house interiors filled with chunky wooden furniture, hand embroidered textiles and 'ćilim' (hand woven carpets) [3]. He has fond memories of living with his grandparents in a village in Serbia when he was young. His other Grandma, Baba Simana, who lived in Montenegro, used to carry a 'burilo', a rectangular shaped barrel filled with water from the local spring up the hill to the farm every day. She lived to the age of 99.

 Cottage interior with hand embroidered textiles

Cottage interior with hand embroidered textiles

 Beautiful ćilim (woven carpet) in a 19th century interior

Beautiful ćilim (woven carpet) in a 19th century interior

In the past a Serbian woman's headscarf had meaning! 

Traditional dress was worn daily well into the 20th century in some areas of the Balkans. Different styles and designs represented different places and the way a woman tied her head scarf would identify the village she came from. Dragan's grandmother from Serbia, Grandma Tomka wore a scarf every day. The bridal dresses in the museum were particularly lovely and were often embellished with silver coins as part of the bride's dowry.

Serbian folk dancing, known as 'Folklore', is very much alive today and the dancers wear traditional dress, depending on which part of Serbia the dance is from. The costumes are made of wool and with many layers, so the dancers must get pretty hot!

 Serbian National Costume at Belgrade's Ethnographic Museum

Serbian National Costume at Belgrade's Ethnographic Museum

 Bridal Head-dress with silver coins as part of the bride's dowry

Bridal Head-dress with silver coins as part of the bride's dowry

A Serbian phrase for you!

It's snowing as I write, so here's a new Serbian phrase for you, 'pada sneg', meaning 'it's snowing!'

[1] http://eng.msub.org.rs/o-muzeju 

[2] http://etnografskimuzej.rs/en/zbirke/

[3] http://www.serbia.com/about-serbia/culture/intangible-cultural-heritage-of-serbia/following-the-footsteps-of-intangible-cultural-heritage/pirot-kilim/ 

 

 

 

Bach & Japanese Bark! Music, Art (& Food) in Belgrade

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

'New Trinity Baroque' Ensemble play Bach in Belgrade

This was our third trip to 'Kolarac' Concert Hall [1] in Belgrade and once again the three of us had a wonderful time. 'New Trinity Baroque,' [2] an ensemble, who play on Baroque instruments [3], gave a beautiful performance of JS Bach's works, including the A minor violin concerto, which is coming up in Aleks' violin tutor book soon!

During the 'pausa' (interval), I was pontificating to Aleks about baroque violins and how the violin strings were made from cat gut. Aleks looked horrified and asked me if the guts are taken out when the cat is still alive! I must admit I wasn't really expecting that reaction. (in fact 'cat gut' is usually sheep or goat intestine taken from dead animals!).

 Kolarac Concert Hall, Belgrade City Centre

Kolarac Concert Hall, Belgrade City Centre

Roasted Pies on Hot Coals

After the concert, Aleks was 'starving,' but luckily we had some 'pita sa višnjama' (sour cherry pie) [4] in the boot of the car. Earlier that day we had been to the hand-made pie shop in Vidikovac Pijac (green market). I love watching the pies being roasted on hot coals. To make the pies, sour cherries are placed in a strip on a sheet of filo pastry and then rolled into a long sausage shape. The pastry roll is then coiled into the round metal pan and placed on the hot coals to bake. The filo is deliciously crunchy and the sour cherry filling oozes out. Icing sugar is often sprinkled onto the hot pie before serving.

 Lifting the lid on how to roast 'pita sa višnjama' (sour cherry pie) on hot coals!

Lifting the lid on how to roast 'pita sa višnjama' (sour cherry pie) on hot coals!

Japanese Printing Paper made from Mulberry Tree Bark

Since living in Serbia, I have been printmaking at the 'Centar za Grafiku' (printmaking centre) in Belgrade to make linocut prints. One of the printmakers at the centre recently showed me how to print on Japanese paper with just a dessert spoon. I inked up my lino plate, placed the Japanese paper on the plate and started burnishing the paper with the back of the spoon. To reduce the static electricity created by the burnishing and prevent the paper from lifting, I had to touch my hair with the spoon every now and again!

Japanese Printmaking Paper is made from tree bark. The long fibres make the paper strong.

Linocut print (left) based on a drawing made in 'Spomen Park Oslobodiocima', Belgrade, by Ali Savic

City Slickers need some Fresh Air from Time to Time!

Some fresh air was needed, so we all walked up to the 'vidikovac' (viewpoint) in 'Zvezdarska Šuma (Zvezdara Forest). We had a pit-stop for a game of 'Fliper' (pin-ball, a first for Aleks) and a coffee in the rough & ready forester's bar. Very photogenic and atmospheric, plus quite a lot of lunchtime rakija going down! You'll notice the tinsel on the window, it seems, most establishments still have Christmas decorations in February!

Aleks and Ali looking out over the Dunav (Danube) river from the 'vidikovac' (viewpoint) and having a coffee in the forester's bar! 

A Useful Word, if you Plan to Visit Serbia!

To finish off, here's a useful Serbian word that is often heard in shops and restaurants, 'izvolite' (pronounced 'izvolitay'), meaning, 'can I help you?' or 'come in'.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilija_M._Kolarac_Endowment 

[2] https://www.facebook.com/newtrinitybaroque/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baroque_violin 

[4] https://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/sour-cherry-filo-pie-pita-sa-visnjama 

 

 

 

Print, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.... in Belgrade

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

Printmaking in Belgrade

Linocut prints & inking up the lino by Ali Savic at the 'Centar za Grafiku' (Printmaking Centre) in Belgrade.

As a friend put it, 'now begins the printmaking [1] part of my journey in Serbia'. I've been printmaking for about seven years now at the Double Elephant Print Workshop [2] in England, and am really excited to have started printing at the 'Centar za Grafiku' [3] (Printmaking Centre) at the The Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. The Academy, which overlooks Kalemegdan Park, also has two galleries and a framing shop.

How did I make the Prints?

The prints above are linocut relief prints, printed on gorgeous Fabriano paper. I made some simple sketches of my impressions of Belgrade, a tram, a woman wrapped up for the cold, some folk dancers and the wonderful 20th century concrete high-rise. The sketches were just a guide and I enjoyed adding elements when I was cutting out the design from the lino. After an initial proof and a bit more cutting I started reeling them off! There were lots of tricky issues, as I was using an intaglio press (rolling) instead of a relief press (stamping), but one of the master printmakers at the centre set me straight. (There are a lot of facilities at the centre, but no relief presses.)

Visiting a family Farm

This weekend was 'Sveti Jovan' (Saint John's saint day) in Serbia, so yup, you guessed it, another 'Slava'! (saint day celebration) [4]. In fact we went to FOUR family 'Slavas' over the two days. 'Sveti Jovan' Slava is one of the three most celebrated Slavas in Serbia, along with 'Sveti Arandjel Mihailo' and 'Sveti Nikola'. One of Dragan's cousins has a small farm in a village near the capital and so the obligatory pig was roasted on the spit in situ for 'Sveti Jovan'. Here's some pictures of the farm, the hut where meat is smoked and a tray of lovely little homemade cakes called 'Kolači' served at 'Slava'. (If you'd like to read more about 'Slava', then scroll down to my earlier blogposts). Needless to say our car struggled back to Belgrade, with us three, full to the brim with delicious food and bags of roast meat, 'kolači' and farm eggs in the boot.

 The hay barn on Dragan's cousin's farm

The hay barn on Dragan's cousin's farm

 'Dimljeno meso' (smoked meat) on the farm

'Dimljeno meso' (smoked meat) on the farm

 'Domaći Kolači'! (little homemade cakes, a bit like petit fours) 

'Domaći Kolači'! (little homemade cakes, a bit like petit fours) 

Fabulous Frescoes

Back in Belgrade, I visited the must-see, 'Crkva Cvetog Aleksandra Nevskog' [5] (Church of St. Alexander Nevsky). The architect, Jelisaveta Načić, [6] was the first woman to graduate as an architect in Belgrade and in the whole of Serbia. The Church, completed in 1929, has the most exquisite frescoes, but appears to be unfinished, I noticed scaffolding, possibly for the fresco painters. It is a gorgeous haven in a busy part of town.

Aleksandar Nevski Church belgrade blog.jpg
Aleksandar Nevski Church 1 belgrade blog.jpg
 The marble iconostasis

The marble iconostasis