Travel writing

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

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade Day 34 & 35

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I have moved to Belgrade from England for 8 months. We have been here for over a month now.

Marshall Tito's Cadillac in Belgrade's Car Museum

Marshall Tito's Cadillac in Belgrade's Car Museum

 DAY 34

Blimey these early school starts (8am) are a killer, but Aleks is actually getting used to it. Well, finally winter is kicking in and hats were essential today. I popped to a lovely little corner shop this morning, which would be described as a deli in England. It specialises in cheese, dairy products and smoked meats and also a few everyday items. I asked for ‘dve lepinje, molim vas’ and the lady serving was very impressed with my Serbian; I got my endings right and I knew the word for 'lepinje'. Lepinje are round flattish bread rolls.

Aleks had a folk tune to practise on his violin today and it is very pretty ‘Ah, kad tebe ljubit ne smem’  (Ah, when I'm not allowed to love you). Of course Dragan knows all the words and gave us a rendition! Aleks was inspired and had a go at recording himself playing the violin and uploading it to YouTube.

Dragan returned from the University and we all walked to the ‘Muzej Automobila Beograd’, Belgrade Car Museum [1] near the city centre. Definitely comes recommended, housed in Belgrade’s first garage building, there are some cracking cars here, including my favourite, Tito’s Cadillac. I asked Dragan if he had seen the Cadillac in his youth in Yugoslavia and he remembers having to wave to Tito as the cavalcade passed by, probably in the same Cadillac!

'Moj Kiosk' (My Kiosk), Belgrade

'Moj Kiosk' (My Kiosk), Belgrade

On the walk home we passed a 'Kiosk', these are little newsagents that are dotted all around Belgrade. You can top up your phone, top up your bus pass and buy papers, sweets ect.... It was time to head home. Dragan and I got a bit cold on the way back – I had an ice-cream headache which lasted for the rest of the evening. The winter is definitely coming.

DAY 35

Today is the first day of the Orthodox Christian fast before 'Božić' (Christmas), which in Serbia is celebrated on 7th January. If you observe the fast then you are required to cut out all meat, dairy and eggs, but you can eat fish. In a country where meat is eaten so often and in such huge quantities, it is interesting that there are lots of vegan foods available. Known as ‘posna hrana’ (fasting food), it is completely vegan and very tasty. This would be the time for vegans to visit the country!

I have a routine now and stop to buy a takeaway coffee on my way to my Serbian class. We are working on our first ‘case’ – Locative. When you ask a question about where (Gde?) something is located then the nouns will need a particular ending. In this case 'u'.

Gde je Dragan?’ ‘Dragan je na fakultetu’ (Where is Dragan? He is at the University).

This evening we went to an amateur Serbian Folk Dance practise, with a view to joining as beginners. Known as ‘Folklore,’ [2 - this is a professional troupe] it is practised all over the country and every region has its own style, songs and subtle differences in traditional dress. We watched as the dancers whirled around with delicate footwork, often forming lines and circles. Much to Aleks’ embarrassment, Dragan and I had a go. Some steps were familiar, I’ve tried to dance the lovely circle dance called the ‘Kolo’ at Serbian weddings. Other steps got us in a muddle, but it was fun and we were made to feel very welcome. We will be back!

[1] http://www.automuseumbgd.com/en/ 

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WLxMsnQv-g&list=RD2LDCUxgrHwI&index=5

 

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 

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