Travel Diary

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 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.

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

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade - Day 2

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.

So today we went shopping with our Kuma, Daniela. We loved the ‘Prodavnica Zdrave Hrane’ (health food shop), with lots of nuts, dried fruit and goodies in square glass compartments, which is sold by weight. Aleks had some red, blue & purple jelly sweets (not very healthy!).

Prodavnica Zdrave Hrane

Prodavnica Zdrave Hrane

The most important event was a visit to Aleks’ Serbian school. We were all pretty nervous, maybe the parents more than the pupil, but were very impressed in the end. Aleks’ teacher (učiteljica) is very sweet and gentle. We liked her very much. We also met the School secretary, who was friendly and said to Dragan that Serbian school is so different now from when he was a schoolboy in Yugoslavia, much more child centred and gentle. Dragan said that he certainly hoped so, because his schooling in the 1960s & 70s was pretty strict. He also says that living with a former teacher (me) brings back traumatic memories! The school has a resident psychologist who is responsible for the children’s well-being. We also met the English teacher and the headteacher, both of whom were very welcoming. In fact the room was packed with people chatting to us. Dragan and I were offered ‘domaća kafa’[1] (Serbian coffee), which was served with a glass of water by one of the house keeping staff. The coffee has coffee grounds at the bottom, is generally drunk without milk and always comes with a glass of water, so you don’t have to order it separately. I really like Serbian coffee, but only in the morning! The school building was boiling hot; interiors in Serbia in winter-time are always very toastie.

The school itself is very typical for Serbia, with stone floors and wooden desks. The outside area is pretty big with some trees, grass and playground areas for football and basketball. Aleks was very impressed with the small kiosk on the ground floor of the school, where the kids can buy pastries, drinks and hot chocolate!

We watched a PE lesson in the gym where the kids were playing dodgeball and chatted to some of the kids who were keen to speak English with us.

Aleks is looking forward with trepidation to next Monday morning when he starts his new school at 8am sharp. As am I.

As a finisher I thought I would give you a new Serbian word 'Prodavnica' (pronounced Prodavnitsa) meaning 'Shop'.

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

[1] http://www.serbiatouristguide.com/live/Food_and_drink/Drinks/Coffee

[2] https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/221956799/belgrade-in-winter-fine-art-photo?ref=ss_listing

Belgrade in Winter, Photo etching by Ali Savic [2]

Belgrade in Winter, Photo etching by Ali Savic [2]

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!

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

[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

Belgrade Skyline Mixed media image.jpg