Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Friday, July 28, 2006

I heart Krakow

I like Krakow a lot - I am sad to think of leaving here tomorrow and I already starting to plot my return. . .

I've been trying to figure out why I like it so much. My conconclusion is that it has nearly everything I like about Belgrade :
cafe culture
a slower pace of life than the States
a river
people in public places
interesting history
crazy politics [the current president and prime minister are identical twins who were movie stars as children]

and some things that Belgrade doesn't have:
lots of ethnic restaurants
an amazingly well-stocked, even by American standards supermarket (think Larry's Market) [in which I picked up mango chutney & wasabi and replenished my Lesbian Tea Collection
an English language used bookstore with a cafe in which I can sit and read magazines
a nearby saltmine full of carvings of saints, and JP2 and an entire church carved into salt

Also, it's somewhat comforting to be back somewhere where a Slavic language is spoken after my time in Germany. My sources tell me that Serbian and Polish are only 30% the same, but that is still something. I can read some signs and the numbers are similar. It's satisfying to realize that my recently acquired language skills are a bit transferrable.

scariest border crossing ever

A few days have passed; I now feel ready to recount this story. . .

So the Germany-Poland border crossing is probably the worst I have experienced. Worse than being yelled at in Bulgarian and made to get off the train at 5 in the morning. Worse than having all of my luggage scrutinized upon returning to the US from Cuba.

The German train people would not sell us tickets all the way to Wroclaw, just to the German-Polish border, which seemed strange. We were unsure what we would have to do at the border. We did know that we only had 30 minutes before the train continued on. Would we have to get off the train to buy the next round of tickets? Would we have to switch trains? Would the border guard and ticket agents walk down the train checking passports and selling tickets?

When we arrrived at the border, we noticed that everyone else was getting off the train, so we did too. Laden with luggage and at the back of the train, we were the last through customs. They border guards decided to give us extra scrutiny, sending our names over walkie-talkies, scanning our passports through some sort of device. They were smiling most of the time, so I wasn't worried about being detained, but I was worried about missing our connection.

After some confusion finding the ticket-selling window, we asked if we could pay in euro. The clerk said no and the search for a money-changer commenced. After a quick look outside of the station, I opted for the atm. We got our money and we able to buy our tickets. . . and even managed to pronounce Wroclaw (Vrots-wav) in a way that the clerk understood.

And then: the sprints: we ran across the station and a few tracks to our crowded train. We made in on with just a minute or two to spare.

My fingers are crossed that my trip to Banska Bystrica, Slovakia tomorrow will be less eventful. There is a close bus connection that I would like to make, but my host has assured me that there is a 90% chance that I won't make it & will have the joy of hanging out in random small Slovak town bus station for an hour tomorrow morning.

There are worse things. I have a good book. (It's even British.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

the real reason for the trip to Poland

While we were still in Berlin, N and I joked that the real reason that we were going to Poland was to see Johnny's newest film. (N's Johnny Depp obsession is equal to my own.) The film will not be out in Serbia for another month (oh the injustice!). Through a series of complications, N was not able to see it in Northern Ireland, where she lives. And Poland, unlike Germany, is not a place that dubs its films.

Two nights ago, we fulfilled our mission. We walked to the theater in a big shiny American-style mall, to check on show times and arrived 5 minutes before a showing. The theater was directed pirate-ishly.

And the film, though not amazing, was really satisfying.

The next morning, we got up early to visit Aushwitz. Somehow, these contractions feel okay.

single serving friends

I spent Saturday night and Sunday in Wroclaw with a friend of a friend. MV, a friend from college with, told me to meet up with MP, a fellow he did an engineering internship program with in The Netherlands a few years back.

I was a bit hestitant. I felt like I was imposing on him, but over e-mail and text messages, MP seemed up for it.

And it was great. He is one of the most generous, hospitable people I have ever met. He gathered his friends together and we went around the town climbing church towers, looking at paintings in the round and baroque university lecture halls, seeing a silent movie with live musical accompaniment (hooray for arriving in the middle of the Wroclaw Film Festival!) and going to the best places for ice cream, potato pancakes, and iced chocolate with ice cream. He gave up his bed for us and slept on a sleeping pad on the floor. Every breakfast was a feast of bread and spreads and vegetables and deliciousness. He answered most of our random questions about Poland and Wroclaw. (And, to be even more endearing, worried allowed that he wasn't much of a host at one break in our conversation.)

And he introduced us to my thus-far favorite Polish beverage: beer with syrup. Maybe it sounds disgusting, but there is something really satisfying about a good beer with a shot of ginger flavor syrup in it on a sunny afternoon.

I wish Wroclaw and Belgrade were closer together.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Berlin bears

There is an art exhibit in a Berlin square in which bears are decorated to represent each of the UN member countries. It is a fundraiser for something - I do not remember what.

The bear for Egypt is decorated like a pharaoh, the Bahamas´ has tropical fish, Ireland`s is a leprechaun and the American bear looks like The Statue of Liberty.

And then there is the Serbian bear.

While everything else is whimsical, the Serbian bear is has a few spots of blue paint and bullet holes. It is the only serious bear and my stomach dropped when I saw it. Other countries with violent history painted the bears with scenes of nature or in traditional costumes. Serbia was the only one that played up the violence.

It was a curious artistic choice, that I don´t think I agree with. Too many people already have the Serbia=war equation in their head. This exhibit didn´t seem like a good place to play up the stereotype.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Germany has thai restaurants and swimmable rivers.

But, most amazingly, the free museum I am currently in offers free internet, in little cubbyholes right by the bathrooms.

I am tempted to stay here and e-mail for a bit, but there is a city to explore.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

So that’s why ‘It’s a Small World After All’ is set to music

I rarely have ‘small world’ moments, largely because I am so far from all that is familiar. It the past few days, I have had two, both involving music.

A few days back, I was sitting in the British Council, reading the international edition of Time while my brother used the internet. There was an article about the six CDs to buy for the summer or some such. One of those CDs was by Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, my former coworker’s band. Over two years ago, I saw them when they toured through Portland. It’s the only time I have been on a guest list. My +1 for the evening was a fellow that I sort of dated (the relationship was brief, but the events surrounding it, including him later admitting that he was lusting after my best friend the entire time, have become an Epic Saga.) It’s good to see that a man I went to movies went and ate lunch in the park with is becoming the rock star we used to joke about him becoming.

Earlier this afternoon, I was at my friend T’s house for book exchanging and catching up before I leave town. On his kitchen table, was the CD of March Fourth, a band based in Portland that I had seen play a few times. The aforementioned jerkface’s best friend is a member of that band. “How did you get this?” I asked. T’s housemate met a band member last week while traveling in Croatia. The band played in a parade for the World Cup, apparently. The band member then came and stayed at T’s house for a few days while visiting Belgrade.

The houseguest wasn’t the aforementioned best friend; I checked.

Forecast: Intermittent Posting

It’s not as though I have been much of regular poster recently – the DSL has been out at work- but a I-won’t-be-posting-regularly warning still seems necessary.

Over the next two weeks, I am adding four countries to my ‘places I have visited’ list.

Tonight, I take off for Berlin-via-Zagreb. (It’s much much cheaper to take the train to Zagreb and fly to Berlin from there than it is to fly straight from Belgrade.) I will be spending a week in Berlin at the BVS-Europe retreat.

I am returning to Belgrade overland stopping in Wroclaw and Krakow, Poland, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia and Budapest, Hungary and any place else that my heart (or the bus and train routes) take me.

The joys of public transportation

On Wednesday, my brother suggested we visit Prince Milos’s residence, which is now a museum dedicated to the 1804 Serbian uprising. I had not yet been to that part of town, so I got out my map with public transportation lines on it and plotted a course. The number 3 tram should take us from close to my home to close to our destination. We walked to the tram stop where I though we could catch the 3 to find that it was not listed among the trams that stopped there. We waited a little while and did not see a 3.

I got out my map and plotted a new course. The 12 could take us from where we were to within a reasonable walk to the museum. We walked to where we could catch the 12 and waited. It came and we hopped on. All looked promising until it did not turn the way it should have at the train station. We got off the tram and discovered that we had been on the 12L, not the 12.

After further map consultation, it was discovered that the 13 would take us where we want to go. We got on the first tram that came. I did not see the number, but Brad said that the reader board wasn’t working well, but it should be the 13. But it made a wrong turn at the train station. We got off at the next stop and discovered that we had been on the 2. We were now back on the route of the 12 (not the 12L). We waited for it, but only 12Ls came.

I suggested we walk to the train station where we could catch the 13. We did. We were nearly at the train station when we saw the 13, but it was a bus, not a tram. We ran across the street and climbed on. It went in the direction we wanted, although not as close as the tramline on my map. We passed construction that explained why the 12 and 13 tram lines were not running.

We got off the bus and walked for a while through an open air market (fresh raspberries!), park, and a cemetery with photos engraved on the headstones (kind of creepy) before arriving at our museum.

When we were nearly there, we saw a bus. It was the 3. At least it was easy getting back.


On Monday night, Women in Black had our Srebrenica vigil in Belgrade. I was a bit scared and nervous beforehand (last year, tear gas was thrown at the vigil) and was happy to have my brother standing at my back. It passed without incident – someone yelled “ustasha” (which doesn’t make sense, my brother pointed out. Why would the Croatian fascists commemorate the massacre of Bosnian Muslims?) We had a police escort back to the office. It was my first police escort.

The following day, we headed to Potocare, Bosnia for the commemoration there. The 500 bodies identified in the past year were buried. It was hot, really hot, and we were all wearing black-not good for keeping cool, which lent itself to some dark humor, ‘how could they have gotten up the energy for a massacre. It’s too hot. . . no wonder those Dutch peacekeepers let the enclave fall –who could fight in this heat?’ Morbid, I know.

I’m sorry.

SWF 35, lives with parents

In the states, living with your parents much past the age of 20 is a warning sign that something is not quite right financially or mentally. Here, that is not so much the case and it’s one of the hardest things for me to adjust to.

Where do you live is one of my first questions for a new acquaintance and ‘I live with my parents’ is not an uncommon response. It is not a warning sign for anything. It just means that they are unmarried.

I spent Saturday afternoon with a friend who is described by the title of this post. I had her over for dinner in January and she kept telling me that she wanted to return the favor. I didn’t quite realize that she was so slow to reciprocate because she was waiting for a time when her parents would be out. She doesn’t like to invite people over when her parents are there because her aging mother feels obligated to be a good hostess, cooking for the guests.

I love my parents, but I am very happy that social norms and financial concerns do not require me to live with them until I marry.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

happy birthday, america

I made an American feast for a few American friends last night.

A few days ago, a Serbian friend asked about my intended menu.

"I'm making baked beans, you know, like prebranac. And cornbread. It's like proja," I heard myself say. So my feast was not so American after all.

At least the peach cobbler and movie selection (National Treasure - don't see it) were unquestionably American.

Monday, July 03, 2006

temporary superiority

I've been feeling really good about my food, recently.

I've been listening to The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I would highly recommend. The author explores different American food chains (supermarket, organic market, local farmer, hunter-gatherer) to fascinating results. I now know more that I ever need to know about corn. (1/4 of items in the average American supermarket contain corn. Corn has evolved and been bred to the point that it can't pollinate itself without human help.)

I like to listen to it while I prepare my meals. There is something really satisfying about cutting up cheap, fresh, relatively local, and in season fruit and vegetables (tomatoes! cucumbers! peas! peaches! raspberries!) and preparing vegetarian delights while listening to descriptions of cattle feedlots. I feel so superior.

I'm sure if you ask me next February, when I am sick of potatoes and cabbage, I will beg for the American industrial food chain that can provide me with relatively affordable out-of-season produce.

my big break

I was told a few days back that footage of me stipping in the square will be in a documentary that some people are producing about Women in Black. . .

superstardom, here I come.