Belgrade will always be in a Beogradjanka’s heart, but this gift will make sure it’s on the heart, too:
This pendant is sold on Etsy for $9.00 here. As much as I like this, I wish the map was in Cyrillic, or offered people the street they lived on. Svetogorska represent!
If you’re loved one isn’t from Belgrade, never fear. You can find kits online for a one inch magnifying glass pendant and make the necklace with any map you have on hand for a thoughtful homemade gift for someone missing home or travel.
But if you’re not the do-it-yourself type, I’ll bet you can ask the Etsy seller for a custom map to keep your favorite places nearby.
Merry Christmas Eve to my non-orthodox readers!
So, you want to send your favorite Beogradjanka a gift, but they already have the amazing books I recommended yesterday? Look no further, because I’m featuring Serbian gifts all week, and I have this gem for your favorite Tesla fan.
What’s this? Why, only a signed limited edition print of Tesla attacking Edison with an x-ray gun on a mad cat while the Wardenclyffe transmits in the background, courtesy of http://www.theoatmeal.com.
One thing’s for sure: it’s not something they already have.
Get it here.
Can you guess what it is?
Hint: its favorite fruit is a neck-tarine. Its favorite dog is a bloodhound. Its favorite game is bat-miton.
It’s a…vampire. (Technically, vampir)
That’s right, Serbia is the home of the vampire legend! Transylvania gets all the credit, but the legend may be traced to Northern Serbia, when people like Petar Blagojevic and Arnold Paole died in the mid-18th Century, only to haunt local neighbors who died mysteriously a short time after. Suspicious villagers dug both men up (in different towns) to find their corpses looking untouched. They were declared vampires, staked through the heart, and burned for good measure. Austrian officials who controlled parts of Serbia at the time reported this phenomenon to Vienna, and the vampire story was born.
Now there’s word that a famous Serbian bloodsucker may still be on the loose. According to the Austrian Times, known (and more importantly, unslain) vampire Sava Savanovic has lost the mill that was his home. Now that the mill has collapsed, it’s believed that Savanovic is wandering around his hometown of Bajina Basta, just waiting to find Winona Ryder, I mean, victims.
The article claims that the Bajina Basta town council advised all villagers to put garlic on their doors and windows, which seems like an…unusual way for town officials to spend their time and energy. To be honest, I doubt these villagers are more concerned about vampires than they are concerned about the tourists who may stop coming to tour the old mill. Besides, Serbians are always buying lots of garlic. Try cooking a traditional meal without it.
Read more about the story here, if you dare. I’m pretty skeptic–though I might consider driving past Bajina Basta at night. I’m not worried about the vampires as much as I am worried about the garlic breath I’ll have after eating there.
I’ve been compiling a “You know you’re in Belgrade when…” list for a while, but it never seemed finished. Now I realize it will probably never be finished; there are too many observations and too many missed opportunities for one person to do it in one year.
I also realize that many of these things aren’t unique to Belgrade, but hey, that’s where I live. Enlighten me if you’d like and add your own thoughts in the comments!
(P.S. This photo is a bit misleading…it was taken in Subotica, not Belgrade.)
Top 10 Signs You May Live in Belgrade
1. You park on the sidewalk and walk in the street.
2. You know 8 Pedjas, 6 Dragans/Draganas, and 3 Zorans/Zoranas. Let’s not even talk about the Milicas, Anjas and Minas.
3. Your favorite bar has no food, but an extensive cigarette menu.
4. You’ve bought 15 “orphanage” cards from strangers on the street…who never give you envelopes.
5. Grocery shopping involves a pijaca, at least one Mini Maxi, and a stop at Stampa for smokes.
6. Elderly women are far stronger than you are. (That’s what happens when you carry 30 pounds of vegetables around every other day.)
7. If you’re a woman, your closet is full of galoshes and stilettos. If you’re a man, you have five pairs of pristine sneakers.
8. You’re more loyal to your bakery than your church.
9. The pharmacies are full of medicine, but none are as strong as rakija.
10. Everyone laughs at superstitions…and then follows them.
One more item was crossed off the “Belgrade bucket list” this week when I was invited to watch grape rakija (lozovaca) being made in a village outside of Fruska Gora. Fruska Gora is national parkland about an hour outside of Belgrade. It’s known for its fresh air, gorgeous scenery and wineries. Yet we weren’t there for that. We were there for the rakija.
My friend Lisa, a professional photographer working in Serbia, invited me to join her to document the experience. I don’t have her photography skills, so I can only guess I was chosen for my drinking skills. Whatever it takes, people. We arrived just as the grapes were being poured into the distiller.
The grapes had been sitting in barrels for about a week. Normally they might ferment a bit longer, but Serbia’s late summer moved the natural process along quickly. This weather has also been great for wineries—the drought forced grapes to produce more sugar than usual. Look for 2011 vintage wines over the next couple of years. We couldn’t wait that long, so we tasted some of the young wine that our gracious host provided.
I normally don’t like young wine, but this tasted more like fresh grape juice with slight carbonation. The best part is that there’s nothing but fermented, pressed grapes in this pitcher. It doesn’t get any more natural than that. After a toast to the harvest, we turned our attention to the giant, slightly scary distiller. The machine looks crazy, but it’s actually pretty simple. Fermented grapes are poured into a container heated by a wood stove underneath. (Grapes go into the container closest to the camera.)
The stove must be kept very hot, and the grapes must be stirred via crank to prevent burning or sticking. A flour paste is pressed along the seams of the distiller to prevent steam escaping.
After two hours or so, the mixture becomes hot enough that it begins to boil. Steam then rises from the first container, travels along the long pipe and moves the second container, which is filled with cold water to help condense the steam and cool the liquid, which is—almost—rakija.
I say “almost rakija” because the first liter of liquid isn’t rakija at all. It’s methyl alcohol, a substance that is highly flammable and poisonous if consumed. One must wait until the methyl alcohol has been passed (the prvenac, or first batch) to start collecting the drinkable ethanol/grain alcohol. You should know when the methyl alcohol has passed because the smell (like rubbing alcohol) will make you recoil.
After the prvenac, you can start collecting the rakija in glass jars. Our host first stores rakija in glass for about three months, then decides if he wants to age the rakija in barrels or glass. If rakija is golden, it’s likely because it was stored in wood, and not necessarily because of how long it aged. Or it’s because coloring has been added–a big no-no in the homemade rakija world.
We tasted the first drinkable batch of rakija, but it was pretty harsh. It takes several months for rakija to be smooth enough to drink comfortably, and years for it to taste like the rakija I’ve come to enjoy. Good things come to those who wait, I suppose.
It was a special day of Serbian sights, tastes and sounds, but my favorite part of the day was waiting for the grapes to boil. I was happy to sit around the distiller eating fresh goat cheese and bread, sample grapes and apples from our hosts’ orchard, and smell the wood burn. It was a surprisingly meditative process that resulted in a feeling of accomplishment: making one of the oldest beverages known to man. Serbians may not practice zen, but the art of making rakija comes pretty close.
If you’d like to see Lisa’s photos that day, you’ll have to wait–but you can see other amazing shots of Serbia on her website http://lisaquinones.photoshelter.com/
Many months ago, Muz had a conference in Niš. Naturally, I demanded to tag along to Serbia’s third-largest city (or second-largest, depending on who you’re talking to). Niš has all the “typical” makings of a Serbian city: a riverbank, fortress, pedestrian avenue and bohemian quarter. It also has a most atypical monument: the Tower of Skulls.
The tower, also known as Ćele Kula, was built after an 1809 battle between Serbians and Ottomans. At the time, revolutionary Serbs from the North sought to liberate Niš from Ottoman rule. Serbian Commander Stevan Sinđelić was losing a battle against the larger, more powerful Ottoman forces when he carried out his sacrificial plan to blow up the gunpowder depot. The explosion killed 3,000 Serbs and 6,000 Ottomans. Enraged at his losses, the Ottoman commander ordered the heads of Serbian soldiers to be removed. Some were sent to the Sultan, and 952 others were used to adorn a tower. Surviving Serbians were forced to build the tower as a warning for anyone who defied the Ottoman Empire.
Creepy AND historic? I was hooked. I arranged to go there with Muz’s Serbian colleague, who I’ll call Vodič (guide). The tower is now housed in a building for its protection, which makes it look almost quaint. I had no idea what to expect. Vodič said I’d have to see it for myself.
As we bought tickets, I wondered if it would look like something out of an Indiana Jones move or an old Bones episode. But this was no movie prop.
Frankly, it was upsetting. I consider myself to be somewhat hardened against gruesome things, but I had not expected this. I know what you’re thinking: RHOB, it’s literally called the Tower of Skulls. What did you expect? Yet hearing the words and seeing the tower are two different things. I kept thinking about the horror these men had endured, and the terror of the Serbians who had to build the tower. Maybe I couldn’t hack it on Bones after all. Well, that and the fact that I have zero science background.
The woman who took our tickets accompanied us to the tower and gave us a short history lesson in Serbian. She didn’t speak any English, but Vodič translated what I couldn’t understand. She then showed us the case that (supposedly) holds the skull of Commander Sinđelić. His skull was rumored to be at the top of the tower, but I read that it was given to the Sultan.
A long back-and-forth began between Vodič and our tour guide. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but watched in complete fascination as he leaned his head to the bottom of the glass case and took a long sniff. After that he hurried us out of there. I think he knew I was going to ask a lot of questions. And I did. “What was that? Why were you smelling it? What was she talking about?”
Apparently, there is a belief that Commander Sinđelić is due for sainthood. There’s also a belief that the remains of a saint give off a particularly sweet odor. The tour guide insisted my friend smell the skull, and he hustled me out of there before she made me do the same.
“Did it smell like anything?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just wanted to get you out of there,” he said. Sigh. Serbian men can be very chivalrous, but obviously he didn’t know that American women are straight-up nosy. “I would have smelled it!” I said. He gave me a look I’ve come to learn very well: the seriously, American women are weirdos look.
I guess I had adjusted to being around all those skulls fairly quickly. I wonder if Bones producers want create a new show starring a Serbian housewife…
When I was researching Belgrade in preparation for our move here, guidebooks and blogs all seemed to agree on one thing: no one comes to Serbia for the pizza. I thought this was fine. I mean, we weren’t coming to Serbia for Mexican food, either. Who cares if the pizza is bad? As I read more on the subject I discovered why Serbian pizza horrifies the casual traveler. It’s not because the crust is too thick or thin. It’s not because the ingredients aren’t fresh. It’s because if you’re not careful, your pizza slice could be covered in ketchup. Specifically, pizza ketchup.
Oh yes, this is real. Pizza menus will describe their pizzas as having cheese, tomato, pepperoni…and ketchup. But RHOB, this isn’t really ketchup, right? It’s something else. Nope, this is ketchup. Actually, it’s a little sweeter than American ketchup, so in some ways it’s worse than Heinz 57 or something similar.
But not to despair, non-Serbian pizza lovers! Many places offer pizza without the ketchup. And there are several Italian restaurants in Belgrade that serve Naples-style pizza sans red stuff. There’s even a Pizza Hut on Makedonska. I’ve never been there though so I can’t comment on their ketchup policy.
Truthfully, it’s not the ketchup that tourists should be concerned about: it’s the marinara sauce. This is the most confusing part of ordering pizza here. Sometimes, the marinara sauce is good. Really good. I’ve drizzled it on white pizza or dipped my pizza crust in it. Other times, it’s awful: a processed, sweet goop with chunks of canned tomato in it. STAY AWAY. When you get the side dish of sauce, it’s hard to tell whether you’ve got the good stuff or not–so you’ve got to ask yourself…do you feel lucky? Well, do you?
Overall, I think Serbian pizza isn’t great, but I have a few places that satisfy the craving in Belgrade. The best pizza I’ve had here was in Novi Sad at Kuca Mala, pictured above. Excellent cheese-to-toppings ratio, a nice crust (not too doughy) and decent marinara sauce. Muz’s pizza was just ok. He made the odd choice of getting the Mexican pizza, which featured corn and…carrots. People may not come to Serbia for the Mexican food or the pizza, but they certainly won’t stay for a Mexican pizza.
My kuma brought about 10 weeks’ worth of gossip magazines, so I could catch up on all the “important” news back home. America has a serious addition to reality shows/contests about dating. It all started with “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” and moved on to “Temptation Island,” “The Bachelor,” and my favorite, “Flavor of Love.” But little did my kuma know that Serbia has its own dating contest, right in the southeast municipality of Jagodina.
According to a Tanjug article that muz forwarded (and I can’t find online), Mayor of Jagodina Dragan Markovic “Palma” is recruiting 600 local women over 38 years old to go to an unnamed seaside resort to mingle with some of Jagodina’s 700 bachelors until September. If a couple with one partner over 38 years old gets married, they will receive 3,000 Euros.
Mayor Palma is noted for his efforts to increase the local birth rate. According to the article, this is “part of [his] action of fighting the white plague carried out by Jagodina.” I have no idea what the white plague is, but it doesn’t sound very good.
I don’t know much about Jagodina except that their flag is pretty adorable,
and that the name stems from the word strawberry. (It seems I can’t escape strawberries these days.) So if you’re over 38, Serbian, and looking for that special someone (or just a beach vacation), take a trip to Jagodina. And bring a camera: Hello! Serbia needs new material too…
I recently read an article about old currency circulating in Serbia. * Some of the coins and bills from the hyper-inflated 1990s are still being used in stores, so watch out. A grocery store might hand you a worthless 20-dinar coin, but they certainly won’t accept it.
I’ve heard that old currency is sold in the Fortress or along the northern part of Knez Mihailova. Five hundred billion dinar bills (no, that is not a typo; see above) are available for a Euro or two. It’s the perfect souvenir for a morbid economist: Serbia experienced one of the longest hyperinflation episodes in history.
I checked my wallet and, sure enough, found a coin that may be worthless. But at least it’s a one-dinar coin. I’ll consider it a nice souvenir.
It’s probably fine, but I’ve never seen a silver one-dinar coin before.
I haven’t just noticed the date of my change. I’ve also noticed that giving and getting change is a bit of an issue here. Taxi drivers and famers always want exact change, but that’s an international phenomenon. When large grocery stores balk at me using a 500-dinar bill for a 300-dinar purchase, it seems quirky, to say the least. How can I give exact change when I can’t receive exact change? Help a housewife out, retailers.
If I don’t have exact change, I’m prepared to see grocery stores round my total up or down. Usually it’s a small amount, and I figure it all works out in the end. But a Serbian friend has a darker perspective; she thinks retailers purposely round up because Serbians don’t insist on exact change.
I was skeptical about this until I recently bought tickets to the EXIT festival (!!!) at a bank. Yes, you can buy concert tickets at a bank. I’m not sure why. The teller took my money, gave me the tickets, and then fiddled around with her papers as if we were done. The problem? I was owed change. Not a lot of change (20 dinars) but still, it’s money. My money. And I was at a bank. If there was a place to expect accurate accounting and small bills, it’s a bank. I waited a few more seconds and asked for my change.
She laughed, touched her head as if to say she was sorry, and handed me my note.
We both smiled and I walked out the door. It was probably an oversight; maybe I’m getting paranoid. But I’m happy I asked for my 20 dinar note. I used it to buy a gorgeous bunch of radishes at the market yesterday. With exact change, of course.
* I think the article was in Belgrade insight, but I can’t find it online. If anyone knows the article I referenced, please let me know so I can give the author credit. Thanks.
In an earlier post, I mentioned we bought rakija from a monastery. What I didn’t mention was that it was one of the most important monasteries in Serbia-and one of our best experiences here yet.
We decided to take the long way home from Zlatibor and see the historic and beautiful Studenica Monastery. The monastery was built by Stefan Nemanja, the first leader of medieval Serbia. Long after Nemanja fought for Serbian independence from Byzantine rule, he abdicated his throne to become a monk at Studenica. Two of his sons became Serbian leaders, and another, Saint Sava, founded the Serbian Orthodox Church.
(To think I was proud of getting the laundry done today.)
We were excited to see it, and plugged “Studenica” in our GPS. We promptly followed the directions- to Studenica, Kosovo. Oops. We figured this out before we got to the border, but it made the trip significantly longer. Studenica’s gates were closed when we arrived.
We were devastated. A passing monk explained that the doors had closed five minutes ago, and asked us about our Belgrade license plates. After we explained our roundabout way home, he said he could show us around a little. We couldn’t believe our luck.
There were once 14 churches in the complex, but now only two remain: Church of the Virgin, and the Church of the King.
Photos of the interior are not permitted, but I’ve pulled some off the net. Trust me, they look much better in person. The frescoes below, from the Church of the Virgin, date from the 1200s. Time and Ottoman forces have damaged the images, but the colors remain vibrant. The image on the right is Stefan Nemajna, from answers.com.
The King’s Church is smaller. It’s not as awe-inspiring as the Virgin’s church, but its frescoes are in better condition. Some of the frescoes featuring the king’s life were even used to teach people about hygiene. I’d love to show a photo, but I couldn’t find one I thought I could use freely.
We admired the marble carvings on the Virgin’s Church exterior. As our host pointed out a sundial carved into a wall, he offered us coffee. He treated us like guests, rather than the gate-crashers we were.
We sipped and watched the sun set on the countryside. The Bishop wandered over to say hello. We talked about our families, our travels, and the monastery. It was a memorable example of the Serbian spirit and hospitality. It was also memorable for another reason; we were able to have this conversation almost entirely in Serbian. At last, we could participate in the Serbian community, not just observe it.
We bid farewell to our hosts and went back to our car. We had a long drive to an apartment, and a city, that felt like home.
As I walk past chic stores in Dorcol, Vracar, or the shopping malls in Novi Belgrade, it’s easy for me, a foreigner, to overlook how rapidly Serbia has transitioned from socialism to capitalism. Josef Broz Tito died 31 years ago; only 20 years ago, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, starting the fracturing of the former Yugoslavia. This may be a lifetime ago to young Serbians, but it’s a massive change for much of the country.
I was reminded of this recently, when I read that a Serbian municipal court is working to distribute Tito’s assets to his family–thirty years after his death. The delay stems from a complicated question: if he was the leader of a socialist country, how many items in his state-owned homes belonged to him personally? In 1984, Tito’s widow tried to claim over 1,000 items, including jewelry, books, and a horse-drawn golden chariot.
(Which begs the question, what is she going to do with a golden, horse-drawn chariot? Sell it? Display it? Give her grandkids the coolest plaything in the world? But I digress.)
Questions about property ownership are stark reminders of Serbia’s recent socialist history. When buying a house here, property titles can be unavailable or murky. If prior owners fled from war, were evicted, killed, or simply moved away for several generations, there’s a fugue of uncertainty over the purchase. This doesn’t include the somewhat common issue of buying a house built without permits.
Serbia is still selling national assets, like its telephone company, copper mines, and JAT airline, but disagreements over price have stalled sales. Though apartments have been “denationalized,” questions about ownership of state-confiscated apartments and maintenance remain. I’m told it can be difficult to convince apartment owners to collectively pay for maintenance of common areas or upkeep of historic facades.
This isn’t an, “oh, those crazy Balkans” post, but rather a “man, things have changed here” commentary. And as is usually the case with rapid change, there are growing pains. But as Serbia moves toward an international capitalist economy, I’ll do my best to support it. Especially since the shops on Knez Mihailova are awfully tempting.
If you read this and are still interested in Balkan property rights interest you, congratulations-you’re as nerdy as I am. Check out this UN Report for more information.
It’s officially springtime in Europe. How do I know? It’s not because I see trees blooming in courtyards. It’s not the well-dressed people strolling along cobblestone streets. And it’s not because sidewalks are losing territory to cafe tables. I know it’s spring because the media is dominated by one word: Eurovision.
Eurovision is an international song contest. Each country chooses a person or group to sing on live television and receive votes from other countries. The most popular song wins the competition, evoking national pride and heavy airplay. It’s a cross between the Olympics, the United Nations, and American Idol on LSD.
Serbians are justifiably attentive to Eurovision. The first time Serbia entered the contest as an independent country in 2007, it won. This allowed Belgrade to host Eurovision 2008, increasing Serbia’s international profile and attracting tourist dollars.
Even if you don’t like the music (and trust me, you probably won’t) Eurovision is worth watching for the crazy sets and performers. Here’s Jedward, representing England:
Then there are the more colorful performers, like this guy from Moscow in 2009. Sadly, he didn’t make it to the semi-finals. I guess they don’t give many points for amazing mustaches.
The gentleman below is a Spanish contestant who performed at the semi-finals last year. I think I’ve had nightmares similar to this image. The guy in the black t-shirt crashed the performance, but I barely noticed him next to the zombie/jester guy.
In addition to crazy outfits, there’s political intrigue as well. This year, Greece complained that Macedonia’s song was too nationalistic; Armenia was accused of stealing part of its song’s chorus; and according to Belarusian bloggers (I love this term) Belarus’ entry sounds remarkably like another song by a Russian rock band.
Serbia will participate in the first of two semi-finals on May 10th in Dusseldorf, Germany. I plan to admire the insane costumes and performances while I cheer on Serbia’s Nina, who (I presume) will perform this surprisingly retro, jazzy tune.
Who knows? Caroban could be the winner of this year’s Eurovision, keeping company with other winners like ABBA and Celine Dion. At the very least, when this song becomes European elevator music, you’ll be able to recognize the tune.
I’ve written quite a bit about rakija without revealing our secret: we didn’t have any in our home. Why was this a problem? Rakija is essential for Serbian hosting. A home without rakija is like a Nationals game without unforced errors. It’s like Charlie Sheen without a prostitute. It’s just…odd. We wanted to buy rakjia, but there was a dilemma. The best rakija is homemade, and we didn’t know anyone who distilled it. I had to don my detective lipstick and get to the bottom of my new case: the riddle of finding homemade rakija.
For those who think I’m just being a rakija snob, well, you’re right. With homemade rakjia, taste buds and local reputation are on the line; it’s not mere swill sold to tourists. And store-bought rakjia doesn’t just taste bad-it’s possibly dangerous. Serbia experienced a rakija scandal in 1998, when 56 people were poisoned by rakija made with methyl alcohol rather than ethanol. Not exactly what this drinker/shopper/detective wants to hear.
So on a recent trip to Zlatibor, I kept my eyes and ears open for clues about homemade rakjia. Fortunately, the spirits of Cagney and Lacey were with me, and I saw this sign on the way back from Sirogojno.
It was a strong clue. I drove up the steep driveway, parked by a tractor, and dodged chickens to cross the yard. A man emerged from the house. I mentioned his sign and he gestured toward a small wooden table with two rickety stools underneath. I didn’t take photos of the house-I didn’t want him to think I was being disresptectful, somehow.
He brought me a thimble-sized glass and poured me a drink from a flask. It was a nice plum rakjia but I was looking for medovica (honey rakija). He didn’t have any, but offered a sample of his juniper rakjia, poured from an old Courvosier bottle. I guess distilling is like making jam-use whatever containers you have on hand. Four hundred dinars later, I was the owner of a liter of juniper rakjia. To keep things mysterious, I received it in a sparkling water bottle.
The case seemed to be over…or was it? Later, I toured the Zlatibor market in the center of town. Rakija isn’t openly sold in Belgrade markets, but it was plentiful there. I looked for the least sophisticated label I could find and settled on the Terzic Jelena stand. She offered a sample, and I was as hooked as a three-eyed fish in the Anacostia River. We bought a bottle for five hundred dinars. It doesn’t look fancy, but at least it’s not in a water bottle.
We left Zlatibor content with solving the mystery not once, but twice. On a roundabout way home, we stopped at Studenica Monastery, where we were offered coffee and a smooth plum rakjia. When we complimented the bottle, we were informed us that it was made in the monastery. Ah, capitalism. We bought some as a souvenir.
Were my detective skills sharpening, or was this just a holy coincidence? Either way, we are now proud owners of not one, but three locally made bottles of rakjia. Now we just need to find rakija glasses…but that’s a mystery for another time.
I took one morning during our stay in Zlatibor to visit the museum and village of Sirogojno. The drive was pretty,
if not a bit slow, thanks to the numerous farm equipment on the road.
Sirogojno’s ethnic village/museum was founded in 1980 to exhibit preserved buildings from the 19th century. At the rate that Zlatibor is undergoing construction, this was a prescient move. The wooden buildings were removed from their original sites and reconstructed in Sirogojno’s ethnic village. The village features wooden houses, some built with wooden nails.
In addition to houses, the village has preserved grain houses, chicken coops, and what I think are woven beehives below. I’d love to give you more information on these, but my Serbian isn’t quite good enough to figure it out.
Before I left, I had to look at the famed sweaters of Sirogojno. Their history makes a RHOB proud. In the 1960s, local women formed a company to market the wool sweaters they knitted by hand. Fashion shows and international interest followed. In 2009, Sirogojno exported 500,000 Euros ($709,305 USD) of hand-made wool knitted items. (I knew I should have learned how to knit.)
The sweaters seem to follow two kinds of patterns: scenes from village life,
and simple ones with a looped, hooded collar and cuffs. After comparison shopping, I chose a simpler sweater that was shorter and more fitted than the traditional style. It was pricey, particularly for Serbia, but I was happy to help the local economy-and get a useful souvenir in the process.
It’s getting warm in Belgrade, but the sweater made a great jacket in the mountain air of Zlatibor. Now that we’ve returned, I’m hoping to put it away until next October-or my next trip to Serbian mountains.
Today’s featured church is one of the smallest I’ve seen yet: the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Sirogojno, Southwestern Serbia. This Serbian Orthodox church was built in 1764 and is dedicated to the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. English information on the church is slim, but it is either a reconstruction based on another church in the same location, or was moved from a different, original location to Sirogojno.
- The church is next to an open-air museum that showcases Serbian architecture and life in the 19th Century, but I’ll write about that later. We’ve just completed a marathon return back to Belgrade, and it’s time for RHOB to dream about her next Serbian adventure.
I generally don’t like sandwiches, even though I once was a “sandwich artist” at Blimpie. Actually, working at Blimpie ensured that I would never like sandwiches. Do a little research on deli meat and you’ll see why. Serbian sandwiches are the exception.* They feature grilled meat, great toasted bread, and are served in gigantic quantities for a low price. In the Balkans, I’ve lifted my sandwich ban to accommodate pleskavica, cevap, and now, komplet lepinja.
Komplet lepinja is a Zlatibor specialty, though I imagine it’s available somewhere around Belgrade. The flat bread of the sandwich is the “lepinja” part. It’s a bit like pita, but with fluffy dough (is this a term?) inside. The bread is then brushed with lard-relax, it’s basically butter-and grilled. The inside of the sandwich has eggs, kajmak, and prosciutto. Since kajmak and prosciutto are Zlatibor specialties, I’m basically in the best place to try one. So I did. And fell in crazy, fatty love.
If you think this is a simple egg sandwich, you’re wrong. Very wrong, I’m afraid. This is the most gourmet kind of “egg sandwich” you could hope to have in your life. The raw milk kajmak, the proscuitto cured by a nearby family, the fresh bread that is crunchy on the outside, and buttery goodness on the inside…to call it an egg sandwich is to claim that Blimpie’s tuna salad is made in-house. If anything, it’s more like the most delicious chipped beef sandwich than anything resembling an egg sandwich.
The only problem? It’s so huge and filling that I haven’t been able to eat another real meal for 24 hours. I can’t believe it. As Muz says, don’t let my small(ish) size fool you: I can put food down with the best of them. I had plans to try a different komplet lepinje every day I was in Zlatibor, but I couldn’t even think about it today. Don’t worry though, readers: RHOB is a trooper. I’m eating a light dinner so I can try another one in Zlatibor or Macka tomorrow. Now that I’ve found the best sandwich in Serbia, I’m not letting it get away from me quite so easily.
*Eggplant parm and meatball subs are the exception to this rule.
If there was a Serbian version of Dirty Dancing, it would be set in Zlatibor. It’s a popular mountain resort area nestled among pine tree forests and known for its fresh air, hiking and spa treatments. I haven’t spotted a dance hall yet, but I’ll bet there’s one somewhere in the little shops that surround the town center.
The town’s charm is somewhat manufactured, but the natural setting isn’t. The region has been a vacation spot since the early 1800s, when Prince Miloš Obrenović summered here. (I hate to use “summer” as a verb, but he was a Prince.) The air is noticeably nicer here, and it inspires a rare sight in Serbia: physical activity. People come to Zlatibor to ski in the winter and swim and hike in the summer. But true to the Serbian spirit, it’s also known for its smoked meat, kajmak and lepinja, a special sandwich. You’ve got to love Serbia: they don’t take their exercise too seriously–and if they do, it’s followed by a meal of 3,000 calories.
True to the Zlatibor spirit, I started my first evening here with a hike to the monument. I was with several Serbian women, one of whom was wearing heels. Based on their footwear, I figured it was a short walk and brought our own Prince Miloš along for the walk. After 40 minutes of walking uphill, I felt like I was carrying a watermelon. Actually, I was luring a French Bulldog up a hill with a giant stick.
Miloš and I have a long way to go before being considered Serbian. It was a nice walk, but there was no way I could have done it in heels. Even for this lovely view.
At the top of the hill, we stopped to admire the Zlatibor monument to fallen soldiers in World War II.
We returned to town with revived lungs and a hearty appetite. Fortunately, our hotel obliged with a buffet fit for Kellerman’s, I mean, King Aleksandra. The highlight of the meal was Zlatibor kajmak. Kajmak in Belgrade is a cross between cream cheese and butter. In Zlatibor, it’s denser and more feta-like, thanks to the fresh raw milk in the region. I like kajmak in Belgrade, but I love it in Zlatibor. Looks like I’m going to have the time of my life…and hit the hiking paths again.
For many Christians, Lent is a sobering period; a time for sacrifice, self-reflection and repentance. But if you’re vegetarian or vegan in Belgrade, it’s the best forty days you’ll enjoy all year. Don’t put away those mardi gras beads, herbivores! Laissez le veg temp rouler: make like a tree and leave for the nearest Belgrade kafana.
Lent is one of several “fasting periods” observed by the Serbian Orthodox Church (and other orthodox churches). Fasting makes me think of starving in a desert or that awful pepper/lemon juice diet. In Serbia, it just means being vegan: no meat, eggs or dairy. Some websites claim that people abstain from alcohol too, but my unscientific polling of local bars has proven otherwise.
If you’re looking for a vegan meal during lent, keep your eye open for the word “posna,” meaning lenten. Many restaurants will feature a posna menu or are more willing to adapt a dish for this purpose. This menu, from a kafana on Makedonska, features soups, pitas (vegetable pie), and what I interpret as muchkalica, which is a pork and and pepper stew (but sans pork, I presume.)
Not only will your arteries thank you for a posna meal, but you may earn the right to pass through the pearly gates. According to the Serbian Orthodox Church website, “Abstinence from foods (fasting) alone is a means of attaining virtue.” Though I suppose this only counts if the vegetarian is a member of the Orthodox Church. Oh well.
For any Beogradjani and visitors looking for veggie foods during and after Lent, I highly recommend the delicious take-away spot Lila, on Palmoticeva 5. They also deliver and have a menu in English. Finding Lila was like finding a unicorn drinking champagne out of the holy grail, after winning a lifetime supply of awesome shoes.
I never thought I’d say this, but thanks to Lila, I’ll be partying like it’s Lent all year long.
Over a decade ago, New York artist Kevin O’Callaghan decided to re-imagine the Yugo as art. It was 1995, ten years after the Yugo was introduced to America and three years after U.S. sales ended. He bought 39 Yugos for no more than $92 apiece, and commissioned students to turn them into new objects. The project was called Yugo Next.
The exhibit was a surprising success; it toured the United States and revived Yugo-mania for a second, brief period of time. The cars were remodeled to become new objects ranging from a portable toilet to a movie theater. I’ve included two favorites below:
You can see other Yugo Next cars here.
What RHOB wants to know is, whatever happened to the exhibits? Were they auctioned to collectors? Sold as scrap metal? Despite my extensive research 5 minutes of using Google I can’t find any information about them. I wonder if somewhere in America, a Yugo-phile is lovingly polishing his Yugo-confessional.
I don’t know if any of the cars made it to Serbia, or whether the exhibition even made headlines here. There are still Yugos on the streets of Belgrade, though not nearly as many as in Kragujevac. Yet the days of Yugo sightings are numbered; the car hasn’t been manufactured since 2008. I imagine any old Serbian Yugos would be used for spare parts, not art.
Still, it’s fun to think of how Serbian artists might reinterpret the Yugo. Would they create a mini-Kalemagdan? A ćevapčići stand? The lighter has already been done—a shame since Belgrade is synonymous with smoking, but perhaps someone could redesign a Yugo as Belgrade’s “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” sign:
Of course, there would have to be a Tesla Yugo, with a ball of lightning at the top. And a small tennis court in honor of Serbia’s recent Davis Cup and Australian Open victories. That would certainly top this foosball table Yugo:
What do you think, readers: any ideas for Ex-Yu artists to re-imagine Yugo Next?
I may be a city girl, but Muz is a country boy at heart. So when he was invited to go pheasant hunting outside of Belgrade, he jumped at the chance. And me? I didn’t even know what a pheasant looked like. I stayed in the city that day and hoped he wouldn’t bring home any dead animals.
That didn’t happen.
He brought home some pheasant that evening. Fortunately they were plucked and relatively blood-free, but I didn’t know what to do with them. The other hunters recommended pheasant soup. Of course, none of them had actually made the soup themselves; Serbia is quite traditional when it comes to domestic duties. I improvised a recipe based on chicken soup.
First, I trimmed the fat off the bird, cut it into halves, and removed the legs and wings at the joint. Remember, I said the bird was relatively blood-free. When I was finished, I felt like a serial killer.
It was disgusting. I spared you photos. You’re welcome.
I washed off the parts and put them into a stock pot with about 3 quarts of water covering the parts. I boiled them for about 2 hours. I had to skim the water. I’m not sure what I was skimming, but I knew I didn’t want to eat it. As the bird boiled, I cut up vegetables and lightly sautéed them. Soup is a popular dish in Belgrade, and markets carry a “soup veggie” package that contains parsnip, carrot, and parsley. I decided to do as the Beogradjani do and use that.
I would’ve added celery, but I haven’t seen any since I arrived here. Celery root is everywhere, but no celery. Can someone explain that? Anyway, after two hours, I took the parts out and stripped the meat. I poured the broth into a new pot, straining it through a colander with cheesecloth.
Some people like the broth by itself, but I beefed it up with the meat, veggies, oregano, salt, pepper, cloves and a small amount of nutmeg. After it simmered for about 45 minutes, I added some diced cabbage for a celery-like crunch to the soup for 10 minutes. Next time, I’d add some white beans.
It took longer than I anticipated, but it was delicious. I’m still a city girl, and I still prefer to see my poultry wrapped in plastic. But if you have to do something with a bird corpse pheasant, I’d recommend this. Muz was pretty impressed, too. But now he’s talking about going boar hunting in the spring. Any suggestions?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that life is a journey, not a destination. But if RWE had been in Serbia, he’d say that Serbian journeys are its life, and the destination is just icing on the cake. We drove from Belgrade to Budapest and back this weekend, and between bad weather and road detours, we got glimpses of Serbian life outside of Belgrade.
First, there was the horse-drawn cart. On a major road.
As cute/interesting/funny as this is, I’ve become a bit immune to it. We’ve seen this a few times, and sometimes in major cities. (Not in Belgrade though-yet). Besides, nothing can top this guy.
Then there’s sight number two, that reminds me of the year that I was really into Archie comic books. (And no, I’m not 50.) Archie’s car was constantly called “a jalopy” and I remember thinking that jalopy was a funny word, and what on earth was a jalopy anyway? Archie just had an old car.
This is a jalopy:
I couldn’t see the duct tape, but I’m pretty sure it was there. Also, I love that the bicycle looks as big as the car. I guess it will come in handy when the hamster wheel in the engine falls out. Sigh. I secretly like this car, and the owner. He’s obviously not a quitter.
Then, we had to come to a sudden stop to let someone herd his cows. Across E-75. The major North-South highway in Serbia.
I must confess, this was a first for us, and quite a surprise. Cattle drives along back roads wouldn’t be shocking. But E-75 is practically the Jersey Turnpike. When was the last time you saw cows crossing the Jersey Turnpike? (There’s a terrible Jersey Shore joke here, but I’m too ladylike to type it.)
Obviously, these are mere highlights. Rural towns may not be fancy, but they’re not as backward as these pictures might suggest. I haven’t shown you the BMWs and Mercedes that are constantly whizzing by us. (I’m jealous like that.) But I will show you our final sight this weekend: an adorable parade of kids in costume that held up “traffic” in Lovćenac, population 3,700.
Ralph Waldo Emerson had a good idea, but I think Don Williams, Jr. stated it best: our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.
When the temperature dips below freezing, the trees around Studenteski Trg (and other places) often collect frost. It’s so pretty, I almost forget that my fingers are numb. Almost. It’s even more dramatic at night. The trees look as though they were dipped in sugar. Cold, cold sugar.
Belgrade doesn’t have a Punxsutawney Phil to let us know how many weeks of winter are left, but Serbia does have a similar holiday on February 15th called Sretenje. On this day, if a bear sees its own shadow there are 40 more days of winter. I must say, I think a bear is a better harbinger of spring than a rodent.
So let’s cross our fingers for a cloudy 15th. These photos are pretty, but RHOB is sick of her snow boots.
The title of this post is from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.
“What kind of food will you miss?” was a common question before our move. And a hard one. I had no idea what food would be “missing” in Serbia, so I wasn’t sure what I would crave. Even now, we haven’t been here that long, so I still don’t know when I’ll break down at the Maxi-Mini, sobbing for Oreos or Fritos or some other American product that Just. Won’t. Mold.
I also realized that the “American” things I like are, in true American spirit, from other countries. Sushi. Guacamole. Green curry. Sweet potatoes. And salsa. I love salsa. I used to have three kinds of salsa at home to put on chips, eggs, quesadillas, potatoes, whatever. When I moved here, I knew that my love affair with salsa was going on hiatus.
What I didn’t know is that I would find a worthy substitute so quickly. RHOB is a food hussy. See ya, salsa. Hello, ajvar.
What’s ajvar? First, stop calling it av-JAR, silly. It’s pronounced EYE-var. It’s a spread made with red peppers, eggplant, onions, garlic, and a few other ingredients, roasted together, peeled and mashed into a delicious pulp. If you’re Balkan, you mash it in a special mill. If you’re American, you put it in the food processor and horrify your Serbian friends.
What makes ajvar so amazing (apart from the delicious taste) is its versatility. It out-hustles salsa by being equally good on chips, eggs, potatoes AND moonlighting on its own as a salad and a spread. Have you tried salsa on bread? I don’t recommend it. Served it with lamb? Gross. Have you tucked your spoon into a jar of salsa and munched away? Ok, I’ve done that. But only under duress. Ajvar is the MVP—most versatile player—of spreads.
If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl. You can probably buy it at a Whole Foods, or make your own version using this (untested) recipe here. Lots of recipes call for bell peppers but if you can, try to use roga peppers. If you like it as much as I do, you’ll have another “American” classic dish you can’t live without.
I am a drinker. Always have been. But it may not be what you think.
Until I accidentally put them in storage (ugh), I had refillable water bottles at the ready. I packed drinks for car trips longer than 20 minutes. I love the phrase “to-go cup.” More than once, I had to explain that I was neither diabetic nor a recent contestant on Survivor: Gobi Desert.
If that was unusual in the States, it’s downright freakish here. People don’t walk around with water bottles, or any beverage for that matter. And when they’re in a restaurant, they are occasionally offered dainty glasses of water next to industrial strength espressos and large glasses of wine. Want to order water? No problem. You’ll get a tiny bottle made to make you feel like a giant. And at 5’4” in Serbia, it takes a lot to make me feel like a giant.
I don’t understand this. Aren’t people thirsty here? The tap water is tasty enough. Here are five possible reasons for this anti-water phenomenon:
1. Chronic dehydration is a national pastime.
2. There’s only one size of glassware for non-alcoholic drinks. In the whole country.
3. The Wicked Witch of the West cast a spell on Belgrade.
4. It’s a way to avoid using public bathrooms.
5. They’ve seen the movie Signs and rooted for the Aliens. (Spoiler! But really, it came out 8 years ago.)
What’s strange is that people don’t have problems drinking anything else in large portions. The bottles pictured here were purchased at a local takeaway kiosk. The “large” water is considered enough for two people. The beer next to it is for one person (one liter) and the other one is the larger size (2 liters) they sell at the kiosk. The vendor didn’t blink when I bought the beer, but when I drank half of another bottle of water in three gulps I thought I heard an audible gasp.
Belgrade, I can’t step up when you expect me to buy kilos of vegetables, a cevap sandwich the size of my head, or a beer that rivals a Big Gulp. But when it comes to water, I will drink you under the table.