Expat diary

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

A Myriad of Delicious Reasons to go to Serbian Slava (Saint Day Celebration)

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I have moved from England to Belgrade for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

Patron Saint Day Offerings

Slavski Kolač (Slava Bread), ours is the tall one at the back! The 'Žito' has a candle in it.

Slavski Kolač (Slava Bread), ours is the tall one at the back! The 'Žito' has a candle in it.

In preparation for our ‘Slava’ (saint day celebration), we all went to the ‘Crkva’ (church) to have our ‘Slavski Kolač’ (Slava bread) and ’Žito’ (wheat dessert) blessed by the priest. Several families were present with their bread etc.. and Dragan noted that our bread was the tallest! The priest cut a cross in the bottom of the bread with a knife and poured some red wine into the cross. The bread is then kissed by the family and turned three times.

Aleks & Daniela Making the ‘Slavski Kolač’ (Slava bread)

Click on the images below to see the finished bread.

It turns out I am a ‘Snajka’… read on….

It should be said here that Dragan, Aleks and Daniela made the ’Slavski Kolač’, complete with braided dough, a little bird and an Orthodox Christian stamp. I wasn’t helping much as I was in the middle of a ‘Snajka’ crisis! I am a ‘Snajka’ (pronounced sniker), because I am the daughter-in-law and it is accepted that the ‘Snajka’ will be the perfect hostess. For some, ‘Snajka’ appears to be a sweet and pleasant term, for others it is less comfortable. I still haven’t got to the bottom of this! Anyway my crisis was pre Slava as an ‘Engleskinja’ (English woman). Luckily my husband loves cooking Serbian food from scratch and all the cooking was left up to him.

More Serbian Fayre cooked by Dragan

Dragan made ‘prebranac’ (Serbian baked beans), ‘pita’ (pie) with cabbage and mushrooms and we ordered some (dimljeni šaran) smoked carp. I insisted that we have lemon with the fish, but Dragan wasn’t convinced people would want it. So, having sent Dragan out to get some, I carefully sliced some lemon and arranged it daintily on the fish. Not one person took the lemon and it was neatly pushed to the side of the serving dish. Not to be thwarted, I rearranged the fish and placed the lemon engagingly on top of the fish. Didn’t work. I had to admit defeat, lemon was not required!! I think I was trying to exert my power as ‘snajka’! Ha ha!

Dragan making mushroom pie

Dragan making mushroom pie

Chocolate covered plums filled with walnuts!

Chocolate covered plums filled with walnuts!

'Prebranac' (pronounced prebrarnats), Serbian baked beans being laid in layers

'Prebranac' (pronounced prebrarnats), Serbian baked beans being laid in layers

Slava isn’t Slava without Home-Distilled Rakija! (plum brandy)

The family joined us on the Tuesday, bringing a whole host of goodies, including artisan cheese from a relative’s farm and home-distilled 'rakija' (plum brandy). By the way, distilling brandy at home is still legal in Serbia [2]. Wednesday was lovely too, with friends who all seemed to really enjoy the food.

This is the first time Dragan and I have hosted Slava in Serbia, although we do it regularly in Exeter. Our English friends love prebranac!

We bought the Slava candle from Vrdnik Monastery

We bought the Slava candle from Vrdnik Monastery

Folk Dancing is Mainstream in Serbia & I can see why…

A friend is a coach of a ‘Folklore’ (National Folk Dance) group called ‘Despot Stefan’ [1] and this week we were invited to a concert at a local cultural centre. The dancers were from about the age of 8 to 20 and the groups wore different costumes depending on where the dance was from, e.g. Eastern Serbia, Southern Serbia, etc… It was a real pleasure to watch, with high jinks and complicated footwork. 'Folklore'comes well recommended. (The link is from a previous concert in 2015)

Me & Vesna Goldsworthy — a Professor at the University of Exeter & a Serbian Writer who Publishes in Serbian & English

All was back to normal on Thursday and after my Serbian lesson, I met a friend, who had found a non-smoking restaurant for us to have a meal. (She guessed that the place was full of foreigners like me trying to avoid cigarette smoke!). Next stop, the Cultural Centre of Belgrade [3], for a book launch of ‘Gospodin Ka’ (Monsieur Ka) by the author Vesna Goldsworthy. She is a Serbian writer and poet [4], who has recently been appointed Professor at the University of Exeter. I really enjoyed her book ‘Gorski’, but will have to wait until ‘Monsieur Ka’ is published in English, unless I learn Serbian really quickly over the next few months!

Vesna Goldsworthy is a great representative of Serbian culture in British society (like Novak Djoković in sport). Although I am not a native Serb, I like creating artworks that show the unique architecture and landscape of Serbia.

St Sava Orthodox Church in Belgrade, Linocut by Ali Savic [5]

St Sava Orthodox Church in Belgrade, Linocut by Ali Savic [5]

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade - DAY 25 & 26

My Serbian husband, our 10 year old son and I are spending 8 months in Belgrade. Our home is in England and this is the next instalment of our trip.

DAY 25

Domača kafa (Serbian coffee)

Domača kafa (Serbian coffee)

Life has picked up a pace and so we all had a much needed lie in today. We visited Baka Dana (Grandma Dana) for a coffee and popped some food in her fridge. I tried to practise my possessive pronouns again and said to her in Serbian, ‘is that your glass?’ and she jokingly replied ‘well of course it’s my glass, it’s in my house isn’t it?’ Lol, she quite understandably didn’t feel like practising Serbian with me.

Years ago, when Grandpa Aca* (Dragan’s Dad) was alive I thought I would try and ask Grandpa Aca if he would like a drink. My question was ‘hoćeš li da piš?’ Aca’s jaw dropped and Dragan looked as though he was going to explode with laughter. A slight mispronunciation meant that this batty 'Engleskinja' (English woman) had asked her elderly father-in-law if he would like a pee, not a drink! (I should have said ‘piješ’ not ‘piš’.)

* Aca is a nickname for Aleksandar and is pronounced 'Artsa'

At home later on, Dragan made ‘pita sa pečurkama’ (mushroom pie) with filo pastry. Fry onions & mushrooms in oil and roll the filling in layers of filo. Bake for about 25 mins. Very good. To help our Kum with his 'Slava' (Saint day celebration) next week, Dragan is in charge of the mushroom and cabbage filo pastry pies!

'Pita sa pečurkama', mushroom pie

'Pita sa pečurkama', mushroom pie

DAY 26

It was a chilly but bright Sunday morning and we all attended the liturgy at ‘Crkva Svetog Nikole’ (St Nicholas’ Church) [1] in ‘Novo groblje’ (New Cemetery). The interior of the church is covered in beautiful frescoes of saints and biblical scenes. The icons are Serbian in style and some parts of the church are being repainted by artists, I spied the paint brushes and scaffolding behind the iconostasis. A crown of lights hang from the central dome and to my amusement have rather ugly eco light bulbs. The congregation stand throughout the whole service, but there are a few chairs at the back. The liturgy is sung by the priests at times alone and sometimes with the choir and congregation. To my amazement it is sung in 4 part harmony and as far as I can tell the congregation choose a part to sing as they go along? A group of school children arrived with their teachers, they must have chosen religious studies, not civil studies at school. (School on Sunday - imagine this in England!) The acoustics are great and our Kum and Kuma were in good voice singing the liturgy in old Slavonic, whilst the priest swung the ‘kadionica’ (censer) with burning incense. All three of us had a good dose of incense and we smelt sweet all day!

Beautiful interior of 'Crvka Svetog Nikole' (St Nicholas' Church)

Beautiful interior of 'Crvka Svetog Nikole' (St Nicholas' Church)

After coffee with our Kuma, we set off for ‘Kafana kod Neša’ (Neša’s Restaurant), to celebrate our sister-in-law’s birthday. We met with Dragan’s brother & family for ‘ručak’ (lunch). It was typically Serbian, with lots of polished wooden items decorating the walls, a bit like a hunting lodge. Copious amounts of food as always.

Kafana Kod Neša (Nesha's Restaurant)

Kafana Kod Neša (Nesha's Restaurant)

A quick visit to Grandma followed, who was on form. When we got home Dragan and our Kum, Ljuba (pronounced Lyoo-bah) made some little chocolates for Ljuba’s 'Slava', called ‘suve šljive u čokoladi’ (dried plums stuffed with walnuts & dipped in chocolate) [2]. Nice work if you can get it!

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

[2] https://translate.google.rs/translate?hl=en&sl=sr&u=http://www.kuvamo.com/recept/suve-sljive-u-cokoladi-1003&prev=search

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade - DAY 23 & 24

DAY 23

'Crkva Svetog Marka' (St Mark's Church) & the Russian Church (right)

'Crkva Svetog Marka' (St Mark's Church) & the Russian Church (right)

I knew this would happen, things are getting busy now and time is flying by. School finished at 12.25, then Aleks had a violin lesson via Skype. He’s nearly cracked the Vivaldi piece he is practising. Dragan went to the 'fakultet' (university), so Aleks needed some company whilst I went to my Serbian language lesson. Luckily my Kuma (godmother) could babysit.

I decided to walk, having had a few practises with the boys to find my way. My route took me past 'Crkva Svetog Marka' (St Mark's Church) and the Russian Church. I was the only person who wasn't wearing a coat, because I was roasting; I tend to walk quite fast. Serbian people always wrap up warm, as there is danger in the wind, known as 'promaja' (draught). It’s a killer you know! With this knowledge, I felt almost guilty and didn’t last long without my coat. Maybe the cold air is as dangerous as they say.

The lessons are entertaining, with several people from all around the world. We’re learning possessive pronouns and did you know there are about 42 in Serbian and I think only 8 in English! Phew no wonder I am confused, but Dragan and I practise as we jog around the park.

Dragan: 'Da li je ovo tvoja kapa?' (Is that your hat?)

Ali: 'Da, to je moja kapa.' (Yes, this is my hat) and so on….

‘J’ is pronounced ‘Y’ in Serbian (as in the English word 'yellow'). All the other letters in the above Serbian sentences are pronounced more or less the same as English, except all vowels are short. Have a go yourself!

The boys met me after the lesson and we booked tickets for a concert, Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the Kolarac Cultural Centre [1].

Aleks has an instinct for the latest gimmick. He led his befuddled parents to an ice cream parlour called ‘Icebox’ [2], where you add your own toppings, sauce, sweets, fruit and nuts to a little takeaway box of icecream. I had the obligatory pizza slice to go and we headed back home on foot.

Adding toppings to IceBox icecream.

Adding toppings to IceBox icecream.

DAY 24

It’s tradition that Dragan goes to the ‘pekara’ (bakery) most mornings to buy ‘doručak’ (breakfast), but to break with tradition I decided to go and I ordered everything in Serbian. I am determined to crack this pesky language!

A run round the park for 4 miles, whilst we practised more personal pronouns in Serbian. A puzzled passer-by turned his head as Dragan waved his arms and asked me (in Serbian), ‘are these your arms?’ I replied ‘no, those are not my arms, those are your arms!’

After the school pick-up, we set off to pick up Baka Dana (Grandma Dana). All four of us went to our relatives’ place in ‘Arandjelovac’[3] to their ‘Slava’ (saint day celebration) [4]. ‘Slava’, which is listed by UNESCO as, ‘a representative of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity’, is celebrated all over Serbia on Saint days. On the menu this evening was ‘Ruska Salata’ (Russian Salad, much nicer than Heinz) [5], ‘kiseli kupus’ (sauerkraut) [6] and roast meat. Our hostess cooked the cabbage on a lovely old stove in a huge pot. She stoked the stove with wood in between making salads and coffee for the guests. Our niece and nephew’s wife served the steady stream of friends and relatives food and drinks.

Roast meat and 'kiseli kupus' (sour cabbage) cooking on the stove

Roast meat and 'kiseli kupus' (sour cabbage) cooking on the stove

Aleks played with his cousin and had a lovely time. We chatted with our relatives, but my Serbian just couldn’t hack it and I gave up after an hour or so. The banter was just too quick for me! We arrived back in Belgrade at midnight.

[1] http://www.kolarac.rs/?lang=en 

[2] http://www.icebox.rs/en/ 

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aran%C4%91elovac

[4] https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/slava-celebration-of-family-saint-patrons-day-01010

[5] http://www.serbiancookbook.com/food-recipes/salads/russian-salad-ruska-salata-recipe/

[6] https://www.google.rs/search?q=kisela+kupus&oq=kisela+kupus&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.7117j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8