srbija

Christmas in January? It's all about calendars!

We burned our 'Badnjak' (Yule Log) outside the Church of St Sava on Christmas Eve (6th January)

We burned our 'Badnjak' (Yule Log) outside the Church of St Sava on Christmas Eve (6th January)

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 10 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.

Srećan Božić (Happy Christmas)

If you thought Christmas was all wrapped up until next year, then read on! We are lucky enough to have two Christmases in our family, one of the benefits of coming from two different cultures, English and Serbian.

When we returned to Exeter for two weeks in December, Aleks had the whole Western Christmas thing on the 25th December, with a stocking full of presents, more presents under the Christmas tree, roast turkey and then yet more presents. But Serbs rarely exchange presents on 'Božić' (Christmas) [1], although children sometimes receive a small gift. Presents are more likely to be exchanged on New Year's Eve. Božić is celebrated on the 7th January in Serbia, because the Serbian Orthodox Church follows the old Julian calendar for its religious festivals. In the West, the Gregorian calendar is used. 

Burning of the 'Badnjak' (Yule Tide Log)

So, we are back in Serbia, where Aleks has now experienced a whole new set of Christmas traditions, starting on the 6th January (Orthodox Christmas Eve), with the burning of the ‘badnjaks’ (pronounced badnyaks) [2]! Christmas Eve is known as 'Badnji Dan' and after sunset, 'Badnje Veče'.

We attended the local Church service on Christmas Eve, where a large pile of ready prepared 'badnjaks' were blessed with holy water by the priest. The rush to grab a 'badnjak' by the congregation at the end of the service was a bit of a squish, but Aleks ducked down and rescued a fine sprig! 

Instead of a log, the city 'badnjak' is a bundle of oak sprigs, replete with dried oak leaves, often arranged in a flat fan shape and is a symbol of renewal. Wheat, straw and a small packet of corn and nuts in a hessian bag are attached with ribbon. 

'Badnjak' seller. The green shoots in decorated pots are wheat, symbolising new growth.

'Badnjak' seller. The green shoots in decorated pots are wheat, symbolising new growth.

Sharing 'Česnica' (Christmas Loaf)

There was a jolly and playful atmosphere, especially after the service, when the priest broke the 'česnica' (Christmas bread) with the congregation and the children grabbed a piece. He said 'watch your teeth', because one lucky person would find a coin in their chunk of bread. (Just like a sixpence in Christmas pudding!). In the old times, this used to be a gold coin, but that night the priest exchanged a simple coin for a 20 Euro note!

Later on we walked to St Sava Church, where 'badnjaks' are burned on a bonfire outside the church. Aleks enjoyed throwing his into the flames.

Our very own Special Person

After church on 'Božić' (Christmas Day), we visited our Kum and Kuma. Aleks entered their flat first and thus became the special person for the day. He was prepped to say 'Hristos se Rodi!' (Christ is born!) and our Kum replied with the traditional response, 'Vaistinu se Rodi!' (Born Indeed!). Aleks received a gift, then we had a coffee and chatted with our Kum's parents. Dragan's brother had arranged a delicious Christmas lunch of spit-roasted pork which was provided by a relative. This was served with soup, pickles and salads.

When we sat at the table I noticed something crunchy underfoot? A 'badnjak' was laid neatly under the table, I haven't worked out yet if this is a tradition or it had ended up there by accident!? I must ask my brother-in-law.

'Belgrade in Winter', photo-etching by Ali Savic [4]

'Belgrade in Winter', photo-etching by Ali Savic [4]

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 42 & 44

Detail of Cityscape IV, Belgrade, monoprint by Ali Savic [1]

Detail of Cityscape IV, Belgrade, monoprint by Ali Savic [1]

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 42 and 44. Not much happened on Day 43!

DAY 42

We made the most of the melting snow and had a snowball fight in the park. Snow is a real novelty for us living in the SW of England.

Snowball Fight Park.jpg

My Serbian lesson was fairly straightforward and on the way back I stopped at the lovely little ‘kore’ (filo pastry) shop. It is only really a little hatch – you can’t enter the shop, but the shop assistant was making fresh pasta, so I took a few photos. They also make fresh noodles to be cooked in soup, as well as cakes and other goodies. I bought some fresh pasta and it was cut into strips to the size of my choice. Later on I cooked the pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Absolutely delish.

Soup is very often served as a starter in Serbia and there are two main types of ‘soup’ [1]. ‘Supa’ is a usually a clear soup with a few vegetables and possibly meat and often fine noodles. ‘Čorba’ is usually thicker and has more veg, fish or meat. It is unusual in Serbia to use a blender to thicken the soup, ‘čorba’ is usually thickened with 'zaprška' (like a roux). Serbian people love soup and feel it is very healthy.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_cuisine#Soups 

DAY 44

On my way to my next Serbian language lesson, I stopped off at a ‘Kineska Prodavnica’ (Chinese Shop) that sells hats, clothes and just about everything else. Since my sister had suggested I get a ‘Julie Christie’ hat (Dr Zhivago style) to combat the cold, I thought I would try a few Chinese versions on. Hilarious, not quite Julie Christie, more like Davy Crocket!

We learnt the genitive case today in the Serbian lesson, along with telling the time and we struggled through some quick fire questions. The work is piling on now.

After the lesson I walked to the big bookshop in ‘Trg Republike’ (Republic Square) near the statue of Prince Michael and bought Aleks a couple of Agatha Christie books (in English). Good man, Aleks likes her writing and she comes from our neck of the woods in Devon, England.

A friend had recommended a super gallery that is right in the centre called ‘Galerija Grafički Kolektiv’ (Print Collective Gallery) [1]. I popped in to have a look. Interesting digital print exhibition.

Galerija Grafički Kolektiv (Print Collective Gallery)

Galerija Grafički Kolektiv (Print Collective Gallery)

Next stop the Christmas Market with very pretty little chalets; mostly selling, ‘pljeskavice’ (Serbian burgers) [2], Serbian traditional woollen items and sweets. I have to say Serbian hand-knitted woollen socks are extremely toastie. They are known as 'nazuvice čarape'. [3]

Christmas Market Belgrade

Christmas Market Belgrade

A bunch of football fans were in good voice in a café near the market and some young men were drinking beer from cans on the street (I guessed that they weren’t Serbs, it’s not usually their style). It turns out there was a football match between ‘Crvena Zvezda’ (Red Star, Belgrade) and Cologne. There were about 15 riot police waiting near the cafe for any possible clashes, but all was calm. I caught the bus home, it’s cheap and convenient.

A little tangent. I first came to Serbia in 2006, with my Serbian husband, Dragan and our son Aleks, who was 7 months old at the time. All our Serbian relatives fussed and cuddled Aleks. I was puzzled though, they all kept saying ‘gde su čarape’. Eventually I asked Dragan, “what on earth are charapey??” (čarape). He roared with laughter, “they’re socks, everybody is asking why Aleks isn’t wearing any socks”. It was 25 degrees!

[1] https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AliSavicPRINTS?ref=seller-platform-mcnav 

[2] http://www.grafickikolektiv.org/html/en/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pljeskavica

[4] http://www.wool-art.com/en/accessories/wool-socks/3/-

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade - Day 27 & 28

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 27 & 28 of our stay.

DAY 27

Don Quixote by Jovan Soldatović in Tašmajdan Park

Don Quixote by Jovan Soldatović in Tašmajdan Park

When Aleks was at school, Dragan and I went for a run around Tašmajdan Park [1]. The trams have a turning circle here and St Mark’s Church overlooks the whole park. There are some wonderful sculptures, including an eerie headless horseman, Soldatović's [2] 'Don Quixote'. This park is steeped in history.

Crkva Svetog Marka (St Mark's Church), Tašmajdan Park

Crkva Svetog Marka (St Mark's Church), Tašmajdan Park

Aleks had yet another school trip. His class walked to the Children’s Cultural Centre and watched some children singing and playing instruments. He’s only been at school for 3 weeks and has been on three school outings already!

Poor Dragan went on a bit of a wild goose chase today. We have to provide materials for school, so Dragan went to buy paint, but couldn’t remember which colours Aleks needed. Mine and Aleks’ phones were switched off and the landline was off the hook by mistake, so he couldn’t ask us. Very frustrating. Aleks didn’t even need any paint today, he was too busy going on a school trip.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta%C5%A1majdan_Park 

[2] https://translate.google.rs/translate?hl=en&sl=sr&u=http://www.skulpture-srbija.com/soldatovic-jovan-272/&prev=search 

DAY 28

It’s a special day, our Kum & Kuma are celebrating their ‘slava’ (family saint day celebration) of Archangel Michael and Dragan joined them at the ‘crkva’ (church) to be present when the priest blesses the ‘slavski kolač’ (slava bread) [1] and the ‘žito’ [2] (sweet paste that you eat in remembrance of the dead). Families take their own bread and ’žito’ to be blessed.

Aleks and I went to the ‘pijac’ (green market) in the morning, but we made sure we only bought food from the stalls that had the prices displayed. My English accent will send the prices up! We made a good team. I was in charge of asking for the veggies etc… and Aleks (because he understands Serbian numbers quicker than me) was in charge of the dinars! I was glad that I knew enough Serbian to order what I wanted and also that Dragan had filled me in on a few unusual Serbian expressions! Ok, so ‘sine’* means son in Serbian. I know this and luckily I also know that when somebody calls you ‘sine’ (son) when you are a woman it is not rude, but it’s a term of endearment! One of the older women who served me called me ‘sine’. The only other time in my life I have been called ‘sonny’ was when I was about 9 and had very short hair!

It’s hilarious but true, that some Serbian people may call all their children ‘sine’ (son), including their daughters! Equally, some of them can call a son by using another term of endearment, 'ćero' (meaning daughter). Go figure!

It was lovely to visit our Kum and Kuma for their ‘slava’, not least because Dragan made the ‘kisela kupus pita’ (pickled cabbage pie). The evening was a very gentle and civilised affair, with a few relatives, ‘komširi’ (neighbours) and friends.

* Apologies to my dear Serbian readers, I think it is easier for my dear English readers if I just use one word for ‘son’, in the vocative case, ‘sine’.

[1] https://www.thespruce.com/slava-bread-recipe-slavski-kolac-1136570

[2] http://wonderfulserbia.com/destination/food/desserts/zito/