Belgrade

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?

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

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/ 

 

 

 

Marshall Tito, the Yugoslav Museum & Art in Belgrade

Ali & Marshall Tito

Ali & Marshall Tito

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I have moved from England to Belgrade for 8 months. Here is week eight of our stay.

Paintings by Svetlana Pavlović Džindo

Paintings by Svetlana Pavlović Džindo

On the Tuesday, I discovered a small art gallery called ‘Kuća Đure Jakšića’ (House of Đura Jakšić) [1] in ‘Skadarlija’, the Bohemian district of Belgrade. Đura Jakšić was a 19th century Serbian Romantic poet and painter who lived a Bohemian life in Skadarlija and his house is now an art gallery, which has an extensive programme of events. The interior of the building is charming, with dark wooden features and I just happened upon a wonderful exhibition of figure and landscape paintings by Svetlana Pavlović Džindo.

Kuća Đure Jakšića, with Svetlana Pavlović Džindo's paintings

Kuća Đure Jakšića, with Svetlana Pavlović Džindo's paintings

Later on that evening I decided to pop into a Print Workshop opposite Kalemegdan [2]. The workshop was buzzing with printmaking activity and there was a contemporary exhibition of abstract paintings in the gallery. I have visited before and received a warm welcome. I hope to print at the workshop in January!

On Friday, (bearing in mind I write this in December) I decided to go Christmas shopping. We’re heading back to England soon and I needed presents to celebrate Western Christmas (25th December). Božić, Serbian Christmas, is celebrated on the 7th January. So, I have to say, it was the most relaxed Christmas shopping experience I have ever had. There were very few people shopping and the Christmas decorations etc… were pretty low key. Not many gifts are exchanged at Božić and any way that’s next month!

On Saturday we visited ‘Muzej Jugoslavije’ (Museum of Yugoslavia) [3]. First stop a photo with a commanding, larger than life sculpture of Marshall Josip Broz Tito. After passing through the sculpture garden we entered the old museum, which is full of fascinating documents, posters, art and treasures from Yugoslavia from the last 100 years or so. I particularly liked the gifts to Tito from world leaders and royals from around the world. Haile Selassie and Prince Charles both gave signed photos as did Richard Nixon amongst others.

From left to right, Yugoslav national costume, One billion dinar notes, Nixon's gift of a photo and an artist's portrait made in the Nazi concentration camp in Belgrade.

There is an interesting link between the University of Exeter (in my home town) and Muzej Jugoslavije. Academics from both institutions have curated an exhibition of photos of Tito’s visits to Africa. It is currently on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England until the 8th April 2018. [4]

Aleks was taken with the beautiful ceremonial batons that were given as gifts to Tito during his birthday celebrations. Relays were run by different youth groups who passed the batons on. The batons eventually ended up at a stadium where thousands gathered for Tito’s birthday parade and he was presented with each baton. It was apparently, a huge honour for the participants.

Tito's batons

Tito's batons

I was excited to see some beautiful original prints, drawings and posters displayed. Many of them were created by artists in various prisons and Nazi concentration camps during and leading up to WW2. Here is a small selection.

We then visited the ‘Kuća Cveća’ (House of Flowers), Tito’s Mausoleum [5], which is on the same site. Tito died in 1980 and his wife, Jovanka, who died later, is also buried here.

Tito's grave.jpg

Preparations are beginning for our ‘Slava’, St Nikolas, [6] on the 19th & 20th of December. Dragan and our Kum and Kuma keep appearing with interesting ingredients to make various dishes for the big event. Daniela has popped in with a bread making machine, some homemade chocolate sweets and all manner of things. Dragan is in charge and is happy to cook the bread, pies, beans and desserts. More about that in my next blog.

[1] http://www.kucadjurejaksica.rs/?lang=en (apologies this link is only in Serbian)

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

[3] https://www.muzej-jugoslavije.org/

[4] https://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/exhibitions-and-case-displays 

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Flowers_(mausoleum) 

[6] http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/serbia/

Visiting A Spa Town & Monastery in Serbia.

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I are spending 8 months in Belgrade, having moved from England. This is day 45, 46 & 47.

DAY 45

Our friends planned a weekend away for us all and we set off from Belgrade in lovely sunshine to a small 'banja' (spa) town, called Vrdnik [1]. Banja Vrdnik has natural hot springs and is in a beautiful region of Serbia called Fruška Gora, [2] about 1 hour from Belgrade. Fruška Gora is actually a small mountain rising out of the flat plains of Vojvodina and has been a National Park since the 1960s. Fruška Gora has gentle slopes, forests, farms, vineyards and many monasteries.

Vrdnik, Serbia

Vrdnik, Serbia

We arrived in Vrdnik and after we had settled in to Hotel Termal, [3] which is in the typical 1970s mountain style, we went for a walk past farms, orchards and chatted with a local shepherd who was tending his sheep.

On the way back we passed by a local shop, which seems to be run by some dodgy geezers from Peckham! 'Only Fools and Horses' is really popular in Serbia.

Would you hand your cash over in this establishment?

Would you hand your cash over in this establishment?

Bathing in the hot mineral water is the main draw of this town. Next stop the huge indoor 'bazen' (pool) for us. The natural hot spring water was 30 degrees with a cocktail of healing minerals. People in Serbia will often spend time at a 'banja' (spa) for therapy. Some of the guests have their stay as therapy prescribed by the doctor on Serbia's national health. It's definitely not a party hotel!

Most people seemed to walk in the water or gather in small groups and chat, they're not here to swim. There were other kids as well as Aleks, but it was all very peaceful and calm. After two hours in the pool we had dinner, which was very typical, tasty and basic. There is always soup to start, and the waiters are friendly, efficient and serve the food from a trolley. Dessert was only an healthy apple, so we decided to get in the car and head to the posh new Ethno Hotel to have cakes. I had the most delicious 'orasnice' (walnut cookies).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vrdnik 

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fru%C5%A1ka_Gora

[3] http://www.termal-vrdnik.com/banja/

DAY 46

A must see in Fruška Gora are the many orthodox monasteries that sprung up here when the Turks invaded Serbia. The monks fled to Fruška Gora to preserve the holy relics and manuscripts and were accepted by the Austro- Hungarians who occupied this part of Serbia at that time.

Vrdnik Monastery

Vrdnik Monastery

We walked to Vrdnik Monastery [1]. The church has a cool exterior, with white render and is classical in style. The interior is exquisite and houses a few small relics of Sveti Tsar Lazar (Saint Lazar), [2] an important medieval Serbian ruler/saint. As an aside, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Birmingham is dedicated to Sveti Tsar Lazar. 

A nun from the monastery opened up the church for us and we bought a few trinkets in the little shop. We lit candles and headed back to the hotel.

It was snowing on the way back, so we warmed up with 'topli nes' (frothy milky instant coffee) before heading to the pool. It's very healthy in the pool, but I noticed there were no lifeguards, only one attendant! We swam in the indoor pool but there is an outdoor pool too, also with hot spring water, but it is only open in summer. In the cold weather the steam was rising from the water!

The outdoor pool with hot spring water is only open in summer.

The outdoor pool with hot spring water is only open in summer.

After lunch, Aleks and I had a snowball fight outside the hotel, as it had been snowing all day and had settled well. Dragan crept up on Aleks and made a stealthy attack. We all got a bit chilly, so It was about time for another swim. I decided 'when in Rome...', so I walked around in the pool and hardly swam at all!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vrdnik-Ravanica_Monastery 

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

DAY 47

We woke up to clear bright sunshine and a snowy landscape, so after checking out of the hotel we walked up to a hamlet with little mining cottages. Coal was mined here in the 20th century. Aleks was sad to leave Vrdnik, especially the pool. I think it did us all the power of good. 

Near the disused coal mine in Vrdnik

Near the disused coal mine in Vrdnik

Vrdnik

Vrdnik

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade - Day 29 & 30

My husband who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I have moved from England to Belgrade for 8 months. This is day 29 & 30 of our stay.

DAY 29

Skadarlija, the Bohemian Quarter of Belgrade

Skadarlija, the Bohemian Quarter of Belgrade

This morning was surprisingly busy with Aleks’ homework (he has some everyday) and violin practise. Dragan was in charge of making ‘pita sa pečurkama’ (mushroom pie with filo pastry) ready to take to our Kum and Kuma’s second day of ‘Slava’ (family patron saint day celebration) later on.

When Aleks was at school, Dragan and I went for a run. He showed me the quick route to my Serbian lesson, so that I can go that way tomorrow. It’s about 3 miles there and back. We went through the Bohemian district called Skadarlija [1], which has cobbled streets and quirky restaurants. It was so mild for November that people were even sitting outside. We passed by a really rickety book binding shop, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Diagon Alley.

Bookbinding Shop in Skadarlija

Bookbinding Shop in Skadarlija

Sculpture of the Serbian poet, Djura Jakšić, by sculptor Jovan Soldatović, Skadarlija

Sculpture of the Serbian poet, Djura Jakšić, by sculptor Jovan Soldatović, Skadarlija

Our Kum’s patron saint is Archangel Michael and we spent the evening chatting to Ljuba’s relatives and friends to celebrate ‘Slava’. The pies were good and the ‘domači kolači’ (small homemade cakes, a bit like petit fours) were delicate and lovely.

DAY 30

For lunch we had ‘pola kila ćevapa’ (half a kilo of ćevapa – pork & beef meat patties) from the ‘mesara’ (butcher) which they cooked on the grill there and then!

To get some exercise, Dragan walked with me to my Serbian lesson and this week we were learning the locative case. ‘I go to the park’ etc… Sounds easy doesn’t it?

After the lesson I stopped at ‘Hleb i Kifle’ (a bakery/café) for a salad. Aha! Finally a place to sit and eat where smoking is not allowed! The salad was good, loads of chicken, not so much salad!

I had time to potter around the city centre because I was meeting the boys later for a concert. I wondered down to Belgrade’s ‘Saborna Crkva’ (Cathedral) [2]. I’ve been calling St Sava the cathedral, turns out that’s a temple and this is the cathedral. It has a distinctive verdigris and gold decorative spire and the frescoes were painted in the 19th century which are stylistically very much of the period. Prince Miloš Obrenović and his son, Prince Milhailo are buried here, as well as Vuk Karadžić, the reformer of the Serbian language. Apparently he simplified the language, not that I've noticed!

'Saborna Crkva', Cathedral Church of St Michael the Archangel

'Saborna Crkva', Cathedral Church of St Michael the Archangel

The boys came into town by car and we walked to the 1930s Kolarac Concert Hall [3], with gorgeous leather seats, a wooden interior and frosted glass features. As we entered the building I was surprised to see the official photographer taking photos of the arriving concert goers, including us. I regretted wearing jeans and big boots! We were also being filmed.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was followed by Tchaikowsky’s Serenade for Strings in C. The soloist, Quan Yuan, directed the Serbian ‘International Prodigy Orchestra’, with Jovana Topalov playing the harpsichord. Very beautiful and afterwards Aleks said, ‘I shall never forget this’.

But most importantly after that we had to go to the ice-cream parlour called ‘Icebox’ for ice-cream with toppings.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skadarlija 

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Michael%27s_Cathedral,_Belgrade 

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

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AliSavicPRINTS

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade Day 11 & 12

DAY 11

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and me have all moved to Belgrade, Serbia’s lively capital for 8 months. This is day 11 of our big adventure.

Belgrade Waterfront with Brankov Most in the distance

Belgrade Waterfront with Brankov Most in the distance

In the morning we went to visit friends, who live in the city centre, near Zeleni Venac, which is surprise, surprise yet another pijac (green market). However, you’ll be relieved to know that I am not going to write more about the pijac today. After a chat and a coffee, we strolled down to Belgrade’s new waterfront area on the Sava River. On the way there we passed by the old bus station, half of it was demolished. It looked like a bomb site! Dodging the cars and buses we managed to get to Belgrade Waterfront [2]. Two enormous luxury apartment blocks are being built and are quite controversial, because very little is known about them and who is funding the project. But, the path by the river is lovely. There are small cafes and kids play areas dotted along the way.

We then walked inland towards the city and crossed a railway line near ‘Brankov Most’ (a bridge that connects old Belgrade with New Belgrade) [3]. I was shocked that there were no warning signs, no barriers on the railway. It made me nervous, but our friends reassured us that the trains are very infrequent and slow. I took a photo of Dragan standing on the tracks, but felt very uneasy about that!

Dragan on the railway line!

Dragan on the railway line!

This part of town is fairly derelict, but is in the process of being developed. We passed by a hostel for refugees; lots of Syrians came to Belgrade, as Serbia didn’t close its borders to them. Many refugees used to sleep in the park opposite the bus station before they could be accommodated or they moved on. We also passed a centre where refugees could get a meal and medical attention.

We stopped for lunch at a typical Serbian restaurant – very rustic in design, with red & white gingham tablecloths and terracotta dishes. The walls were decorated with 19th century style paintings of the countryside and the food was, as always, delicious and plentiful. I had ‘teleća čorba’ (veal soup) and a ’mala pljeskavica’ (small burger). It was however enormous, but good. To my surprise Aleks ordered ‘kupus salata’ (cabbage salad) with his chicken kebab. He is becoming naturalised. He never eats cabbage in England!

Waiters and waitresses in Serbia have a career, not a job. They are extremely professional, discreet and nothing is too difficult. They are able to carry a heavy tray full of drinks whilst opening, pouring and serving the drinks with one hand, usually with a flourish and with style. The service in Serbian restaurants is excellent. Dragan tells me in the time when he was young, the waiters were earning more from tips than from their salary. In fact some of them would gladly work for free, relying completely on tips. Tipping is still expected for good service in Serbia at a rate of about 10%.

Here’s a new word for you. ‘Ručak’, pronounced ‘roo-tchak’, meaning lunch. Lunch is normally eaten later than in England, often between 2pm and 4pm.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgrade_Waterfront

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branko%27s_Bridge

DAY 12

Today we visited Dragan’s mum and bought her loads of ready cooked ‘sarma’ at the supermarket. Lots of places now produce delicious hot homemade food. ‘Sarma’ [1] is pickled cabbage rolls stuffed with mincemeat, rice and spices including paprika. It’s good. Dragan’s mum seems to be partial to it at the moment! We had lunch at Grandma’s including my absolute favourite, ‘boranija’ (yellow string bean stew).

National Assembly, Belgrade

National Assembly, Belgrade

On the way back to our flat it was twilight and the Christmas Decorations throughout the centre were lit up. ‘Skupština’ (Parliament or The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia), building looked beautiful [2].

Christmas Decorations in Kneza Miloša

Christmas Decorations in Kneza Miloša

In the other direction on the same road, a police car was escorting a protest march of about 100 people. The protesters were carrying banners, Christian crosses and religious images. Aleks said it looks like they are protesting about a Church being demolished. Dragan said you are not far off, that protest is something to do with me and my engineering colleagues! Many years ago a dam was constructed near the city of Valjevo [3]. Dragan worked on the design as a young engineer about 30 years ago, but the construction started in the late 1990s. The Dam is now complete and being filled. The protesters object to the flooding of a Church although a new one has been built above the flood-line and the Serbian Orthodox Church actually agreed to it being submerged. To my surprise the protest was on a busy road at dusk and even though it had a police escort the vehicles were still passing very close to the protesters walking on the road!

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Diary of a British woman in Belgrade DAY 5 & 6

DAY 5

'čvarci' pork scratchings and 'sir' cheese

'čvarci' pork scratchings and 'sir' cheese

So, more shopping today. We went to Tempo, the big supermarket near Ada Ciganlija, Belgrade’s Lake, and did a big shop! On the way to Dragan’s mum’s place, we stopped at her local ‘pijac’ (open air market) called Vidikovac and bought yet more delicious food.

Baka Dana (Grandma Dana), Dragan’s mum, loves ‘čvarci’ (homemade pork scratchings) so we bought a huge bag for her. Dragan loves them too, but they’re not my cup of tea. He was relieved, there’s more for the two of them. We also bought some ‘pita sa višnjama’ (sour cherry pie with filo pastry), which was cooked in a round metal pan on hot coals. I took a photo of the pies cooking on the coals, which surprised the people working there.

There is also a tiled indoor section of the pijac, which has stalls selling cheese, ’kajmak’ (fermented milk butter), smoked meat and pastry. Filo pastry is a speciality here and still made by hand by some people. We bought fresh filo pastry and plan to make ’pita sa jabukama’ (apple pie). The lady selling the filo had a large photo of Putin on the wall and said we can only buy from her if we like Russia! Her son is living and working in Siberia.

Dragan has a relative who has a farm 40 miles away in a village where his father was born, who brings cheese and kajmak to sell at the pijac every Sunday. I have fond memories of a visit to that village when Aleks was a baby and Dragan’s parents used to spend summers on a small plot of land there. That particular summer was hot and I wandered off and started picking peppers from the veg patch on the plot. I only knew the toungue twister but had never picked a ’peck of peppers’ in my life. The peppers were big, deep red and lush. When I snapped them from their stalks it was a great feeling. I couldn’t stop! Dragan found me and said ’um darling, they’re not our peppers! A cousin is growing them here.’ For a split second I thought I could try and stick them all back on again, I didn’t want to upset my new parents-in-law! It all turned out fine and we ate some with BBQd meat later on.

Going back to Dragan’s relative, she sells cheese at the pijac at weekends (she’s 72). She kissed all 3 of us on the cheek 3 times and said ’oh lutko’ (which means ’doll’) to Aleks and gave him a cuddle. The cheese is all artisan, known as mladi (literally young - meaning mild) or stari (literally old – meaning mature). She tried to give Dragan some cheese to take home and for his mother, but he managed to evade her – this time. Dragan is very fond of her and promised to go and visit the family in the village. No more pepper picking though!

We bought a mountain of smoked beef and pork, which is deeply smokey, salty and dark. Wonderful for breakfast with ’paradajz’ (tomato) and olive oil from the Dalmatian Coast.

It’s very refreshing being the only tourist in Vidikovac Pijac. But to keep the prices down, I keep stum when we are buying goods from the stalls, because my English accent would invite higher prices.

DAY 6

A big day in Aleks’s life – today he went to school for the first time in Serbia. It was an early start 7.50am and his teacher met all 3 of us at the main entrance. She is very sweet and phoned us at 7.30am to say that she had been thinking about Aleks all weekend and how best to help him settle in. Dragan and I were very impressed with this. She only speaks a little bit of English and used Google translate to prepare some maths questions for Aleks.

In the foyer there is a large painting of Sveti Sava, the patron saint of education, by the stairs watching over the children. Children were arriving with their coats and backpacks, but they don’t have to wear uniform, which Aleks definitely approves of.

The school has an unusual name by British standards – ‘The School of the Defenders of Belgrade’. OK so we need to go carefully here, this does not mean that the school kids are the defenders of Belgrade! The school is right next to a park, which commemorates the fallen Serbian and Russian soldiers who liberated Belgrade toward the end of WW2. It is merely its location next to the park and cemetery of fallen liberators, which gives the school its name. With the propaganda that we were fed about Eastern Bloc countries by the West, this School’s name sounds strange to the Western ear.

Aleks had 4 lessons; PE, Maths, Serbian and ‘čuvari prirode’ (nature studies). Each class is 45 minutes long and there is a 5 minute break between classes. Halfway through the morning, there is a 25 minute break when Aleks had a sandwich and played football with his new friends.

Dragan and I picked him up at 12.30 and the class were with their teacher in the playground, playing a version of ‘stuck in the mud’ called ‘Jurke’. Aleks really enjoyed his first day at school and coped really well. He was chuffed to make some friends too.

Whilst Aleks was at school, Dragan and I stole some time together and went for a walk through the city. It was cold, windy and sunny. The air is dry, unlike Exeter, which is usually murky and grey.

So, Dragan and I walked to Palilulska Pijaca (permanent farmer’s market, one of many in the city) near our flat, had a little mosey and then wondered past St Marks Church and its small neighbour, the Russian Church. I was chatting to Dragan in English as a tall young man in jeans and a leather jacket turned to talk to me. He said, ‘where are you from?’ with a Serbian accent and I said ‘England’. He said ‘this is the Russian Church’ and I said ‘oh yes I know my husband is from Belgrade’. He instantly dropped into Serbian and apologised. Dragan reassured him and then said to him, ‘I know you from somewhere, are you an actor?’

It out turned he was Miloš Biković, one of the main actors in the Serbian film Montevideo. Naturally I ended up having my photo taken with him!

Milos Biković & Ali

Milos Biković & Ali

On a tragic note, in that area, are the remains of the Serbian TV station that was bombed in 1999 by Nato. I took a few photos, the whole of one side of the building was blown off and a sink is still attached forlornly to the wall. 16 people were killed when the building was bombed.

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Diary of a British Woman in Belgrade - Day 1

My husband, Dragan, our 10 year old son and I have set off from England, to spend 8 months in Dragan’s home city, Belgrade.

Early start, our flight was at 6.30am from Bristol. Three suit cases, two violins, three rucksacks full of tech and devices, a handbag and three big warm coats. Oh, and me, Dragan and Aleks! The first leg was from Bristol to Munich in a lovely little Embraer jet. It flew quite low and being an uneasy flyer, I felt happy in a small plane — it was more like sailing. The descent into the airport is over a flat plain with villages dotted over a network of black soil fields and copses of trees. We spied the Alps cutting the horizon like a set of jagged teeth. Munich airport is very clean with little cabins to sleep in, but we just munched our way through loads of Pringles, whilst we spotted other Serbs arriving at the gate. We then boarded our flight to Belgrade. Bigger plane, so I was less happy, but to make up for it we were nearly rubbing shoulders with the Partisan basketball team on the flight. The Partisan team is one of the best teams in Serbia. Can’t be fun flying, when you’re a basketball player — tall folk! They had played a match against Bilbao the previous night.

We hired a car at Belgrade airport — so simple, quick and cheap. Dragan drove to our new flat in the centre of the city. Dragan says switching from the left to the right is easy and his driving style switches with amazing ease too! (More about that soon). He naturally doesn’t agree with that.

The flat is spacious, with parquet flooring and an open plan kitchen/living room. The ceilings are high, which is very relaxing and the walls are at least a foot thick. We have a wonderful view of a beautiful park called Spomen Park Oslobodiocima Beograda (Remembrance Park of the Liberators of Belgrade), which is next to the graveyard where the WW2 Serbian and Russian soldiers who liberated Belgrade are buried. Aleks has chatted to his friends on WhatsApp and they think it’s very cool that he lives next to a graveyard!

We met our ‘Kum’ and ‘Kuma’. Kum means godfather and much more[3] in Serbian, and Kuma means godmother. Our Kum is Ljuba and our Kuma is Daniela, his wife. They helped us settle in, something they would happily see as their duty as Kum & Kuma.

In the evening we went to visit some friends. They’re a lovely family with three children, so Aleks had some playmates. Our Kum, Ljuba, is also Kum to our host, the dad. It was a birthday party for the middle child. Kids often have two birthday parties in Serbia, one for the kids and one for the adults. No party food here as it was the adult party, it was good old fashioned delicious Serbian fayre. Prazan Burek (layered pastry pie), potato salad with onion and French dressing, Sarmica od zelja (meat pie layered with spinach, no pastry) and pickles and cold meats. Some of the food was vegan or fasting food (‘posna hrana’), as the birthday fell on a Wednesday (which is one of the two fasting days in a normal week, Friday being the other) [4]. The house is in the typical Serbian design, with a courtyard sheltered by a grapevine. The front room had a long table set for all the guests and relatives, with a huge wooden mirror propped against the wall and a cabinet full of Serbian china and ornaments. Our host is often involved in projects as an architect and structural engineer for local churches and his house has many interesting drawings and paintings adorning the walls. It might be described as ‘shabby chic’, but that would do it a disservice.

The kids played Monopoly, the Belgrade version! All in Cyrillic.

That night we all slept well!

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[1] https://alisavicprints.com

[2] www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AliSavicPRINTS

[3] https://www.slavorum.org/the-godfather-probably-the-most-respected-person-in-slavic-culture/

[4] https://www.crkvenikalendar.com/post/post-rules.php

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