After dropping Aleks at school at 8am we walked past the big graveyard, Novo Groblje (literally New Graveyard, although it isn’t that new, the first burials took place here in 1886) towards Vuk Karadžić’s imposing Monument. Vuk Karadžić  was the major reformer of the Serbian language in the first half of the 19th century. After a few little side streets we came to a famous pijac (green market) in Belgrade, Kalenić pijac. It’s the season for grapes, plums, pumpkin, pears and apples. Very fresh, very nice.
This is the season for cabbage in particular, which is pickled by almost every family in Serbia, known as ’kiseli kupus’ . These days, this is usually done by stacking big heads of cabbage in a plastic barrel (at least 50 litre) with lots of salt and water. The contents of which is pressed down by a large stone and the barrel is then sealed. As the majority of Belgrade inhabitants live in multi-storey apartment blocks, most balconies now contain one or more of these barrels, with fermenting cabbage. The reason why it is sealed, is because it can be quite pongy. But don’t be deceived, it is a very tasty delicacy in Serbia. Dragan loves it and managed to find it in a Polish shop in Exeter and promptly made ’Sarma’ (sour cabbage meat rolls) .
We came back from the green market, past the graveyard and the road is under reconstruction. There were JCBs and all sorts of machinery and construction workers busy at work. The area is not blocked off to pedestrians and so it is the strangest sight, with people picking their way through the rubble and construction, avoiding large holes and keeping clear of reversing machinery. There is little regard for health and safety, but Serbian people are used to it and know how to keep safe.
After another large lunch and a relax, we all set off again on a long march to the City Centre. It was clear, dark and cold with a half moon shining between the domes of St Marks Church (Crkva Svetog Marka). Aleks had delicious fresh popcorn from a little stall and I had a quarter pizza slice to go. We passed one of my favourite landmarks, the Hotel Moskva (Hotel Moscow) and set off back through Tašmajdan Park, which was recently renovated with funding from the leader of Azerbajan (a rather stiff sculpture of him stands overlooking the park). Tašmajdan means ’stone quarry’ in Turkish. Serbia was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, but that’s another story!
Aleks had his first English lesson at school today and he said it was pretty easy! The other kids in his class offered him 100 dinars to do their English homework for them. Aleks quickly worked out that he could make 2700 dinars if he obliged. 100 dinars is about 75p.
Another cold, bright day. We dropped Aleks at school and went for a run in the Park of the Defenders of Belgrade. It’s a small but beautiful place and each circuit is about ¼ mile. There were a few dog walkers, a park attendant and a very serious guy, speed walking. There were also two women, one quite elderly, collecting fallen branches and twigs for their fire at home. Dragan got chatting to another runner, a tall gaunt lawyer who is about to do the New York Marathon in November. He said to Dragan look up Lawyer + Marathon (advokat + maraton) and he appears to be a bit of a local celebrity.
Later that morning, we took a stroll through Novo Groblje (The New Cemetery) . Quite a few important and famous people are buried here, including many Partisan fighters from WW2, Tito’s communist fighters. One of the grave monuments that stood out was a sculpture of a man and woman dressed in Partisan uniform and the woman is holding a machine gun. Their headstone reads ‘Sasha & Tamara’. I’m not sure if they’re famous, but the sculpture caught my attention.
St Nicolas’ Church in the cemetery is very beautiful and Dragan attends the liturgy there.
There is a beautiful Chapel built in the cemetery in memory of Field Marshall Radomir Putnik who led the ‘Long March’ , which was a huge retreat of the Serbian army and civilians from Serbia to Greece in WW1. This was one of the most devastating events for the nation, but the soldiers returned to liberate the country in 1918. Serbia lost between 1.1 and 1.3 million people (almost one third of the whole population and 60% of the male population).
The Monument and Memorial Ossuary to the Defenders of Belgrade 1914 -1918, with a fallen eagle at its base, is absolutely stunning. Over 4,000 soldiers, identified and unidentified, are buried in the ossuary beneath.
The cemetery is very well kempt and Dragan and I came across a group of maintenance workers in grey boiler suits with large leaf blowers. They worked in a team and at a pace. Dragan asked if he could take their photo, and they were happy to pose. I also made of short film of them at work! Very funny and they thought so too. Belgrade’s Ghostbusters!!
Having had a superb guided tour of Highgate Cemetery in London, I think The New Cemetery in Belgrade could benefit from guided tours. There are so many interesting headstones, characters and stories to tell.
That’s just for starters – I’m sure we’ll visit again.