Serbia

Things to do before you leave 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.

Heading Home

Our 8 months is now up and we are heading home. We are sad to leave family and friends, but we have had the most extraordinary time in Serbia. Some of our English friends visited this amazing country during our stay and were fascinated and delighted by the food, daily life and interesting sights to see.

Royal Palaces, Belgrade

We crammed in a few things to do in Belgrade before we left, including a visit with a friend to the Royal Palaces in an affluent area of Belgrade, Dedinje. [1]

The White Palace in Belgrade

The White Palace in Belgrade

The White Palace has some very interesting artworks, including an arresting portrait of King Aleksandar 1st, who actually commissioned the building of the palaces. Tragically he was assassinated in Marseille before the buildings were complete. Other works in the palace include a Rembrandt hanging in the salon.

The King's Palace, of Serbian Byzantine design, has the most extraordinary basement, with crypt-like vaulting and highly decorative, (some say gaudy), painting on the walls. When Marshall Tito used the palace as an office during his time as premier, he watched Westerns in the private cinema and even invited John Wayne to visit!

The King's Palace in Belgrade

The King's Palace in Belgrade

The current Crown Prince who now lives in the palaces, also named Aleksandar, is King Aleksandar 1st's grandson. King Peter, the Crown Prince's father, left Yugoslavia during WW2 and placed himself in exile in England. He married Princess Alexandra of Greece & Denmark in 1944. Crown Prince Aleksandar 2nd was born in Suite 212 of Claridge's Hotel, London in 1945! [2]

The colonnade of the King's Palace

The colonnade of the King's Palace

A Serbian Wedding in Topola

We were lucky enough to be invited to a friend's wedding in the lovely country town of Topola. A Serbian band was booked to play outside the church and the groom set about gathering guests to dance the 'Kolo' - Serbia's excellent circle dance!

Wedding Band Topola.jpg

Topola is famous for it's beautiful church/mausoleum, 'Oplenac', [3] replete with mosaics and an opulent crypt where deceased members of the Serbian Royal Family have been laid to rest.

Summer Slava

The village of Darosava was celebrating its village Slava [4] and we were kindly invited by a relative. Even cities like Belgrade have their own Slava, so it's not just families that celebrate this important spiritual event.

So off we went to the village of Darosava to check out Summer Slava on Dragan's cousin's farm. As expected there was loads of delicious food including home-made yogurt and smoked meats. We also witnessed an intriguing tradition called 'Litije', which is probably as old as the hills and has possible pagan roots, but was certainly new to me. The different oak trees in the village are blessed by a priest, the local farmers have a drink and then move on to the next tree in a procession of tractors. A bit like 'Wassailing' [5] in Devon!

Tractor decked out to process around the village

Tractor decked out to process around the village

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait!

We have driven over the Danube and Sava rivers in Belgrade many times over the last 8 months and often talked about a boat trip, but never seemed to get it organised. Luckily, Dragan recently met up with his high school friends and they kindly offered to take us in their boat for the day. As one of the highlights of our stay, the cruise along the Sava, Danube and around the 'Veliko Ratno Ostrvo' (Great War Island) [6], included a swim in the Danube from the boat. The water was shallow because we anchored just off the island, but the current was strong. Aleks and I loved it, especially squelching our toes in the muddy sand. I was saddened to hear that plans are afoot to develop the island, a real shame, as it is a stunning nature reserve!

Ali swimming in the Danube

Ali swimming in the Danube

Dragan

Dragan

Dragan went up a Hill and Came Down Avala Mountian

Avala is a beautiful cone-shaped mountain (511 metres!) [7] covered in trees, with a stylish telecommunications tower perched on top. Dragan made us giggle as he was very insistent that Avala is a mountain not a hill! It's those all important 11 metres above 500. It was the coolest day for weeks when we visited Avala, which made it very pleasant indeed. We bought tickets in the shop and zoomed up in the lift to the viewing platform of the tower. It was well worth it, as we enjoyed a 360 view of Belgrade in the distance and the surrounding countryside. The wooden church at the base of the tower is perfectly sweet with traditional hand-woven ćilim carpets. Unfortunately we didn't have time to see the Monument to the Unknown Hero nearby [8] (a good excuse to come again)!

Avala Telecommunications Tower & the wooden church below

The wooden church at the base of Avala tower

The wooden church at the base of Avala tower

Holding up the London Plane!

This amazing tree, being propped up by metal supports is an old London Plane Tree in Topčider Park in Belgrade. Like the boat trip, I had wanted to visit Topčider for a while and finally managed to drag Dragan, Aleks and even Aleks' friend there one afternoon. Topčider was once a Royal Park and has some interesting things to see, a museum (at present being refurbished), the plane tree, a beautiful church and a few eateries. We just had time for an ice-cream before torrential rain unfortunately spoilt our little trip. We sheltered under a tree for a while, but eventually gave up and went home to dry off!

The London Plane Tree in Topčider Park, Belgrade

The London Plane Tree in Topčider Park, Belgrade

Some Random Things I Felt I Must Include

Serbs love salty, crispy snacks, from nuts and crisps to stapići (skinny salty breadsticks) and also pumpkin seeds. They also seem to love 'kokice' (popcorn) and there are stalls with popcorn machines dotted all over Belgrade.

Popcorn seller in Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade

Popcorn seller in Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade

And... not to forget 'Plazma' biscuits! (A strange and somewhat off-putting name for English speakers.) A firm favourite for all generations of Serbs, which includes the 'mlevena' (powdered) form of Plazma biscuits, which can be added to pancakes, cakes and shakes! [9]

Watch This Space

I'll be jotting down a few notes about our next destination, so if you've enjoyed my Serbian Blog, please watch this space!

[1] http://www.royalfamily.org/palaces/the-royal-palace/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander,_Crown_Prince_of_Yugoslavia

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

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slava

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassailing

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_War_Island

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avala

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_the_Unknown_Hero

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_biscuit

Things to do in Belgrade in Summer

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.

Our time in Belgrade is nearly coming to an end, but my blog will continue when we travel to Sicily, the USA and Canada in a few weeks time. And of course we plan to return to Belgrade to stay with family as often as we can after that.

Kalemegdan Park & Belgrade Fortress

A must see at any time of the year are Kalemegdan Park and Belgrade's Fortress, which offer stunning views of the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Quickly retreat from the hustle and bustle of Belgrade's city centre to formal gardens, restaurants, souvenir stalls, sculptures and stacks of history. 

One evening, as the sun was setting over New Belgrade, I visited Kalemegdan Park and was pleased to discover some sculptures and activities that I was not aware of before then.

Sculpture of Despot Stefan, Belgrade's Fortress (can you spot someone scaling the wall in the background?)

Sculpture of Despot Stefan, Belgrade's Fortress (can you spot someone scaling the wall in the background?)

The fortress is not so impenetrable these days!

The fortress is not so impenetrable these days!

Art Gallery at Kalemegdan

Art Gallery at Kalemegdan

Archery Lessons with 'Belgrade Archery' from 11am to 11pm, Kalemegdan

Archery Lessons with 'Belgrade Archery' from 11am to 11pm, Kalemegdan

Ružica & St. Petka, Two Little Churches in Kalemegdan

Cascading down the side of the Fortress are two gorgeous churches, one above the other amongst pretty gardens with roses and greenery. A lovely place to watch the sunset.

View of the Sava River from the gardens of Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

View of the Sava River from the gardens of Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

Ružica Church (little rose church), Kalemegdan

Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

Ružica Church, Kalemegdan

Interior of Ružica Church

Interior of Ružica Church

Fresco, Ružica Church

Fresco, Ružica Church

St Petka's Church, Kalemegdan

Mosaics adorn the interior of St Petka's Church

Mosaics adorn the interior of St Petka's Church

Enjoy some holy water as you admire the mosaics in St Petka's Church

Enjoy some holy water as you admire the mosaics in St Petka's Church

The mosaics are full of life in St Petka's Church

The mosaics are full of life in St Petka's Church

Visiting one of Belgrade's many Fruit & Vegetable Market

Recently I made a Serbian conserve called 'Slatko' for the first time. Actually that was not the intention. I planned to make good old fashioned strawberry jam, because strawberries are abundant in May and June in Serbia. But my plan was thwarted, as the jam wouldn't set. Dragan, however was really chuffed with the result and said 'no worries, it's Slatko!' (a Serbian fruit conserve that doesn't set and preserves the integrity of the fruit)

Woman selling fruit & vegetables at the open air market.

Swimming in the lake at Ada Ciganlija

It's been pretty hot for weeks now and I guessed the water at Belgrade's 'Beach' may be warm enough to swim in. I caught the bus to Ada Ciganlija and went for a dip. The water was cool, but so refreshing. The lake has plenty of great restaurants, cafes, food outlets and more along its shores and I sat under a parasol and enjoyed an iced coffee close to the water's edge. It's possible to hire bikes, go water skiing and travel around the lake on a small train. There are many other activities to enjoy at Ada. It comes well recommended.

Belgradians swimming in Ada lake

Belgradians swimming in Ada lake

One of the many cafes and restaurants lining the shores of Belgrade's 'Beach'

One of the many cafes and restaurants lining the shores of Belgrade's 'Beach'

There's one more blog from Serbia to come, as there are still a whole lot of things we need to see before we leave! See you soon!

 

 

 

 

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?

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