Saturday, December 31, 2011

A more personal post

So it's New Year's Eve and like usual, I am reminiscing about the things I accomplished this year, the good, the bad and the ugly. Like always, I am looking for ways to make myself and my life better.  This year I have three resolutions for 2012 and they all begin with "P".  I am going to be more patient, more proactive, and more positive.  Now, for my readers who don't know me as well, you have no idea how much of a Debbie Downer I can be.  My good friends and family know that I can be extremely hateful and drown in negativity. To show you an example, I am including a video I made on one of those days...

This is the kind of stuff I get all worked up about.  And it needs to stop.  Now.

Besides the 3Ps I obviously have the same resolutions as everyone else in America (or in the world):  go to the gym, eat healthier, take better care of myself, blah, blah, blah.

I am excited about starting 2012 in Serbia with a new job and new friends.  I hope it's at least as great as 2011.  I want to take lots of trips; hopefully one to Africa and one to Jordan, and definitely one back home to see all my friends.  I am also looking forward to hosting DC friends here, especially in summer.  From what I have heard from everyone, Belgrade is AWESOME in summer with all the parks and outdoor seating and restaurants.  Also, Serbia is the number one producer of Raspberries in the world, which just happens to be mine and Phils' favorite fruit (unless you count Avocados-which I don't).  AND I got an ice cream maker and soon will be getting a juicer, so I will be having lots of fun with those two and the fresh produce at the markets.

So happy New Year everyone.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Budapest with the 'rents

So last week my parents and I went to Budapest for 3 days.  We ended up flying because I have heard way too many horror stories about 8 hour train rides from hell in a freezing cold compartment.  Maybe I will try it sometime, becauset it's really a shame, since it's only a 3 hour drive from here.

Before I get on with the trip and city details, I have to share my airport experience.  First of all, the airport in Belgrade is really small and pretty boring.  Our flight was on one of those tiny little planes that only has one row with one seat and the other row with two..definitely propeller.  So after waiting FOREVER to board, (via a tiny bus that goes to the plane because apparently the don't have enough walkways), we boarded the plane.  There were only 7 of us in the flight, which was weird and a little scary.  Then there's this boy and girl in their twentys, who I assume were brother and sister, sitting right behind us and the boy starts making all this crazy engine noises and acting like a lunatic.  I was like, if this happened at home, he would have been restrained or at least reprimanded for sure.  About 10 minutes later, the flight attendant goes around asking if people want to visit the cockpit..I was like "I thought that was illegal now", but I didn't say anything.  So some lady went and loitered in there for what seemed forever and then the crazy kid got up to go and at that time, in my head, I was like "this is it. This crazy kid is going to go ballistic and crash this plane by pushing all the buttons at once or something".  Clearly, I lived to tell the story and nothing happened.  But aside from this little incident, flying in Europe is the best!  Whole bottles of shampoo, raw meats, and other massive amounts of liquids go in my carry on without a frown, we don't take off our shoes or get X rayed, there are real meals and snacks, even if the flight is only 45 minutes!  But the airports do kind of suck.  They are cold and not as commercialized.  No Chilli's To Go or other fun fried food places.

Of course, half the point of going into Budapest now was to hit up the Christmas Markets.  Unfortunately, they were not as big or plentiful as the ones in Vienna, but we still managed to go to the main one every night at Vörösmarty Tér  and have some of that mulled wine.  We also ate these doughnut-like things that were called Chimney Cakes in English.  This lady would wrap the dough on a stick, then cook it over a charcoal grill until it got golden and crispy.  Then you can get them to roll it over a topping like cocoa powder, sugar, cinammon or coconut (which is not very Hungarian in my opinion).  They were really good, you just pull and take a long strand, perfect for sharing.

It snowed our second day there and it really added to the beauty and magic of the place.  Even if the Christmas markets weren't as awesome as in Vienna, Budapest was so beautiful and incredible.  Almost too perfect.  All the castles and architecture were straight out of a fairy tale.  My mom was joking that we would see a Rapunzel or some other Damsel in Distress hanging from one of the towers.

In case you didn't know, Budapest consists of two sides: Buda and Pest and they are both equally amazing.  I don't want want to get too specific or become all travel-guidey, but if you do get to go, definitely spend at least 4 days, pay a visit to the Baths, and take the bus #16 from the second to last stop on the red line to go up the castles.  You will save yourself a good 1,000 stairs and possibly a heart attack.

This pic was taken at the top of the Royal Castle on the Buda side.  It looks like it came from the internet, but I swear I took it myself as soon as it started snowing.

This is the Parliament building.  Second largest in the world after London's.  Apparently, they do free guided tours, but I am not really into going inside fancy buildings; I hate gaudy and old school grandiose furniture from the old royalty.

Awesomely, even if there weren't actual Christmas markets everywhere, they did have the mulled wine or Forralt Bor wherevere you went.  Up on the hill? Little kiosk of forralt  bot.  Out and about near the Parliament?  Stop by for some forralt bor.  Nice dinner?  Guess what we serve-- forralt bor!  At the airport gate, Getting ready to board your flight back to Belgrade?--grab your last forralt bor of the trip and stumble to your seat, sir.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Some random observations and news updates

Here are a couple of cool things I have seen lately.

First of all, I HAVE found things that are much bigger in Serbia than at home.  For example, local, Serbian beer can be bought in 2 litter bottles and it's only about $2.50
and as you can see in the pic, YES, they do have Coke Zero in Serbia! As a matter of fact, they ONLY carry Coke Zero and not Diet Coke, which is fine by me.  I think CZ is far better tasting than Diet.

I was also able to find celery. The biggest stalk of celery I have seen in my life.  I am NOT a celery fan or even eat a lot of it, but Phil and I hosted a housewarming party and I was making a Buffalo, Blue Cheese, Chicken Dip and thought it would be a great "healthy" addition as a possible dipping utensil.  I had never really seen it at the farmer's markets or the grocery store.  This baby weighed over a kilo AND I paid about ten dollars for it.  Worth it?  Yes!  It made a great conversation piece at the party.  Although, I was disappointed because it was very leafy and I was left with just a tiny bunch of little stalks to use for my veggie platter.

The magazine is not necessarily larger than at home, but I do like that you have a choice of sizes.  Purse? or Bathroom?  It's exactly the same edition, page by page (trust me I looked!) and the smaller one is a little cheaper.

I have also noticed that there are a ton of shoe repair shops around Belgrade.  I first saw this in a window and thought it was adorable.  A cute little garden gnome (Noam-ey!) working hard attaching new heels to old shoes.  Then I started seeing them everywhere.  I don't know if it's a chain of stores or if it is the official sign for repair shops, but I think it's super cute and a great way to let non-Serbian speakers know what's inside.

Then last weekend, Phil and I went to the International Women's Club Holiday Bazaar, where each country sets up a booth and sells things/food/ornaments, etc from that country and for charity.  We had some Indian food and bought a few decorations at the Russian and Chinese tables.  Then we went over to the American one, where some of our friends were working selling raffle tickets to win American themed gift baskets.  They had one called "Tex-Mex basket" full of Old El Paso brand items.  There was a "American Baking" one, with chocolate and butterscotch chips and Funfetti cake packets and canned frosting.  All the awesome/awful things America has to offer in one big glorious basket of calories and chemicals.  OF COURSE, Phil had to go and WIN the "American Food Basket", which according to the raffle workers was the most prized one in the house.  It had 3 packs of Mac and Cheese, 2 jars of Peanut Butter, BBQ sauce, Ranch Dressing, Buffalo Sauce, some baked beans, some Zatarain's brand New Orleans style pre made dinners, and some other good ol' American items.   I felt really guilty for winning, mostly because of the other people had their hearts set on it.  We tried to give it away, but people were hesitant to take it.  So here is a picture of us with our grand prize.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Moving and unpacking

Moving is hard.  I have to pat my self in the back for doing a kick-ass job at separating our things in the four different categories that we had slated: storage, boat, air and luggage.  I can honestly say that our air shipment had every single thing I needed to survive for the two months that took our boat to get here.  Except for my cheese grater.  That was my only downfall.  We finally moved right before leaving for Vienna and on November 30th, we got our boxes.  It was crazy.  62 boxes in total delivered by two guys in a span of 3 hours.  They system worked like this, One guy would call out the box number and I was supposed to check it off against the inventory list and then tell them where to put it.  Some of the boxes were really easy "kitchen", "books", "bedding".  Then came the hard ones: "miscellaneous", "costco stuff", "things in closet".  I created my own system asking him, "is it heavy?" if it was, I sent him to the farthest room of the house, cause there was no way I would be able to carry that by myself later.  After all 62 were checked off, (though we sort of cheated because there were 3 #47s, 2 unlabeled boxes and about 8 unchecked numbers --which were probably might fault, because I was really distracted by the whole thing and not doing a good job of tallying) we called it a night. I think he and I were equally sick of each other and I was so worn out that I didn't even care if I was missing stuff.

Then came the hard part. Unpacking.  Phil is a firm believer that he won't be able to sleep at night if he knows there is a hot mess right outside his door.  I tried to convince him that it was inhuman to try to unpack everything on one night. I won this battle.

It took about 5 days to unpack every single box.  We kept a running list of things that were missing, and as we unpacked, we checked them off with a little cry of joy.

Every time we found a box with more clothes there was a groan of "MORE CLOTHES??!!"  Both of us definitely have a problem. I could not believe the amount of boxes we had of just clothes.  But since this place is so big, I have my own little dressing room and closet, a la Cher Horowitz from Clueless.  But Phil and I have promised each other not to buy ANY clothes in the two years we are here.  We've been really good so far, so I am really determined to go through with it.

Then there was the whole: "WHY THE HECK IS THIS HERE!" which is what I was screaming when I found a dust rag and some old magazines and such.

We are down to missing two items: my old yoga mat that was never used and cumin powder.  I choose to think that I just never packed them, and not that we are missing a box full of treasures that we have memory lapses about.  I could just imagine one day in the future we'll be like "where is the wedding album?"---  probably with the yoga mat out in Timbuktu.

Also, since we didn't know what sort of furniture and things we were getting, we definitely brought extra things.

This is the stuff that shall remain unpacked for the entire two years.  They'll be sitting quietly in the guest room until it's time to go back.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving in Vienna

Two words: Christmas Markets

Somehow, I missed the memo on the existence of the European Christmas Market culture.  Until moving here, I had never heard of them or even thought about how Christmas time is different in other places.  My friend Maureen from OR first mentioned them and sent me a link, so I decided to ask around to see what was the story.  Clearly, Phil and I, and probably about 99% of the people we know have been missing out on what is possibly one of the funnest, most beautiful traditions in the world.

This past Thanksgiving, Phil and I flew to Vienna (for a measly $162 round-trip!) and went Christmas Market hopping.  Initially, I'd figured we'd visit the 2-3 most popular ones, perhaps one each night; but after having an absolutely fabulous time at the first one, we decided we wanted to see them all.  So we had 3 days to hit up 13 markets.  Vienna was freezing, much colder than Belgrade, it stayed at like 30 during the day and in the 20s at night (do realize that "night" starts at about 4 PM here).  In true character with our refusal to let go of our youth, we stayed in a hostel --I know, I know--but it was cheap, clean AND centrally located, so after dropping our bags we made our way through the city.  I almost felt like I was back home in DC.  Don't get me wrong, Belgrade is fine and I like it, but Vienna is a real metropolis.  We rode the metro and had Starbucks and saw some true diversity!   We saw Asians, African-Americans Europeans?, AND some Latinos!..we even found a place called "Casa Mexico" where I stockpiled on some yummy authentic hot sauces, while speaking Spanish and getting coerced to try some strawberry Tequila that was "solo para damas".

Poor Phil's been on Starbucks withdrawal for almost 2 months.  We strolled through their shopping streets, where everything is ridiculously expensive, looking at the sites and making our way to our first market at the Museum Quarter, which is basically a huge square where a bunch of museums are housed.    I made this little video to give you some perspective on what it was like.  Because it was Thursday, there were very few people there, Friday and Saturday got more and more crowded, but never like the insane crowds I've dealt with during Black Friday specials or during holiday shopping at Tyson's in VA or in Plaza in PR.   The quality of this video is very poor, so I apologize beforehand for my lack of cinematography skills.

Those are the famous markets.  There are tons of nice wooden stalls, most of them selling Christmas decorations or wooden toys, then some sold food to take away and/or give as gifts and others food to be consumed then and there.  We had the mulled wine, which was hot and great, and very progressively, they give you a a mug for a 2 Euro deposit and you use it for the rest of the night and get the deposit back, so no Styrofoam cups or plastic, no trash.  Gotta love that about Western Europe.

Phil had the pizza pretzel, I got the one with the chocolate and nuts

So for the next two nights, as soon as it got dark, we went back to the markets.  
This is a second, smaller one near the Stephanplatz.

The largest of them all is the one in front of the Rathaus, the biggest church in Vienna.  
This one was a little crowded, but it added to the ambiance of it all.

And our last night at the SCHÖNBRUNN CASTLE.  We enjoyed hanging out in them so much that the next morning, before our flight, we decided to head up back to the first one for an early lunch.

Of course, we shopped too much, bought things we probably don't need and won't use, and probably paid way too much money for a gold painted walnut dressed as an Angel diva, but that's fine.

All in the Xmas spirit.

You can't see it well, but those are hot dogs.  They stick the bratwurst inside the bread and top it with the little piece they cut out to insert it in.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turning European

This post might be full of way too many stereotypes, but like I always say, there is always SOME truth to most of them.  So this is the low down on how we have started assimilating to the oh, so slow and posh European lifestyle.  Let's start with the food.  This is a picture of our new staples:

Orangina--healthier than Fanta and Coke, tastier than water, less heavy than OJ
Freshly baked bread--that I go out to buy on a daily basis, super soft that day, hard as a rock the next day
Veggies and fruit in a fruit bowl--no need to keep in the fridge, buy just one each time!
Real butter-- not kept in the fridge either
Eggs--only 10 in a package, feathers sometimes included
Milka--melts in your mouth, your hands, and everywhere else; so creamy and delicious that we have a bar every day. Ok, I have two pieces, Phil eats the rest.
Meat--covered by the MAXI wrapping, never frozen, probably still mooing
Canned meat--discovered at the supermarket with a lady giving out samples; looks gross, tastes great.

Then there's our household appliances:

Could not get any more modern, but really?...the oven is as small as the microwave and the washer only fits two complete outfits, not to mention that once you close it, forget about that lonely sock left behind in the hamper-- it's too late.

The fridge is really new and big and it has its own walk up window to easily access a cold drink. There is an ice dispenser, but they never connected it to a water source, so we don't have ice.  Good thing that we drink Orangina now, which doesn't need ice.

Now the whole problems is trying to figure out how things work and no, the instructions are not in Serbian- they are just pictures.

Everything is so new that the stove top is a touch screen!  That one is pretty easy to figure out, but the washer is a bit more complicated.  We have no clue what the check mark is for, so hopefully we won't need it.  We figure butterfly is for delicate, sheep is for wool, iron is for a cool spin at the end... and XL for Americans?

But my absolute favorite one, which is not an appliance itself, but a true European staple is the little guy next to the toilet that looks like a toilet, but doesn't flush.  The Bidet.

I had never used one before and was definitely a bit nervous and skeptical at first, but again, 10 hours home alone every day lend themselves to random experiments, and after 2 days I can say we will be installing one of these when we come back home.  Why don't we have them, is beyond me, cleaning yourself well afterwards makes so much sense!

In the words of  you wouldn't want to shake my hand if I just wiped it off with paper, right?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Movie Night

This past weekend Phil and I decided to check out the movie theater at the biggest, yuppiest mall in Belgrade, the Usce in New Belgrade.  We had seen the movie listings online before we went and decided for the 7:50 showing of In Time with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. Now, it's really weird how they are playing a lot of the same movies that are out in the states right now: Paranormal Activity 3, Anonymous, In Time, etc., but they also have ones like Mr. Popper's Penguins, which is so old it might already be out on Netflix Instant Play or worse, in the $5 bargain bin at Target.  Anyway, we go upstairs near the food court and it's like every other mall in the world.  Thousands of teenagers are hanging out. Girls on one side, boys half their size on the other.  They look at each other and giggle.  No one is really in line, they're all just there; looking around pretending to be bored, when you know that they're loving every second of it.  So Phil and I make our way through the crazy crowd and get in line for our tickets.

When we finally get to the cashier, I let him do the talking, while I try to figure out the concession stand menu board above us. Then Phil turns to me and asks "where do you wanna sit", "they're letting us choose our sits".  HUH?-- I'm completely confused. But yes, when you buy your tickets, the girl turns over her computer screen and shows you a sitting chart, kind of like the Ticketmaster one you get online when you buy tix to a concert.  We pick good, centered, back row seats and we are on our way to kill time and see the mall.  Since we know where we are sitting, we can come back right before show time.

We walk around the mall, without buying anything, since everything is majorly overpriced and stopping for ice cream because like most places here, the mall was incredibly overheated.  I literally had to strip down to my undershirt.  We walked around, taking our sweet time, mentioning how awesome it is that we know exactly where we are sitting. The whole time I am thinking I could blog about this under  "Ways that Belgrade is better than DC" - no more standing in lines before Harry Potter premieres, no more crooked necks due to sitting on the first row.  My movie watching experience has officially doubled in luxury, thanks to the brilliancy of the Serbs.  Also, take note that our tickets were about $11 for both, so that is 2 for1 in DC prices AND the concessions are WAY cheaper.  Obviously, they are also WAY smaller, but if I went on about everything that's smaller here, this blog would be called Shrinkin' Serbia. Their popcorn and soda are what normal human beings should eat, with no fake oily butter.  Also, they do have Nachos with that fake orange cheese, but they call them Tacos.  I thought that was hilarious.

When we finally decide we should go inside the theater, because after all, we weren't sure about the length of the previews or if there were previews at all, we walk to the theater and it's packed.  But no big deal, we know our seat numbers.  Then, they turn off the lights.  COMPLETELY.  And we can't see.  So I am fumbling with my cell phone trying to read the ticket and it's row 8 seats 7 & 8. But we have no clue where we are or where that is..and the previews are starting and people are quiet and Phil and I officially become "That American Couple".  I try walking up the stairs counting till I get to 8 and then I whisper to Phil to ask the girl if that's row 8, but my "whisper" is loud, in English and incredibly annoying, even to myself.  She clearly understood me and says, no, it's row 7.  So we go up one more, but it's pretty full and I can't see the seat numbers because people are covering them with their backs, so I again ask Phil to ask people what is the seat number, but he doesn't want to interrupt anymore. So we make our way to the empty part, and apparently someone was already on my seat, but I didn't care, we just sat on numbers 8 & 9, which was really no different.   So much for the easiness of it all.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Another food related post

I finally found something that I will definitely miss once we don't live in Serbia anymore.

About a week ago, Phil and I went to this French restaurant with two friends (wow! I guess we have friends here now) and one of them, who has been in Serbia way longer than the rest of us recommended that we try the Shopska (Šopska) salad.  I am really not much of a salad person, and I am DEFINITELY not a cucumber person, but we all took her advice and we got 4 shopskas. My life proceeded to change forever when I encountered one of the most delicious tastes in my life.  The salad is extremely simple: tomatoes, cucumbers and grated cheese.  The thing is that cheese is not a kind of cheese I'd ever had before.  I asked the waiter what kind of cheese it was, and he just said "Feta", but it is SO not Feta. This cheese miraculously melts upon touching the veggies.  You don't even need salt, oil or any other kind of dressing. Just cut up your veggies, grate cheese on them and serve. Listo.  I was determined to start indulging on this magical salad at home, considering that the tomatoes here are the most wonderful I have ever had and that I only have a little over 700 days to enjoy them.

For the next couple of days, I proceeded to stalk a few Serbs that I know around the embassy, and I was able to draw a couple of conclusions:

1.  Here, Feta just means white, semi soft cheese.  Many cheeses go by the generic term Feta
2.  No one really knows which cheese goes in the salad.

But finally, after basically interviewing more than 6 different people, I was able to get someone to write a name on a piece of paper, take it to cheese counter (as complicated as the meat counter that I first blogged about in my first post) and ask for 500 mg of this soft, salty, miraculous cheese.  I made my salad that night, and I was in heaven.  Of course I couldn't resist and add my own little spin on it, adding yellow peppers in there. Peppers in Serbia are awesome and cheap.

Yeah, my picture is crappy cause I was in a hurry to get to my salad, but here is the wikipedia link for more info:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Walk up window?

One of the things I really like so far about Belgrade is that there are multiple choices for eating on the go.  If you are hungry and in a hurry, you can just go up to a stand or food stall on the street and grab a bite to eat. No chairs, nothing.   Most of the time it's pizza, or some sort of burger or other types of Serbian specialties (which I will have to do a whole other entry on, once I figure what all of them are exactly), but today I found the biggest, nicest, yummiest walk up window yet.  A huge pastry shop right on the corner of a major Boulevard.

And this is what I ended up getting for about 75 cents.  It was still warm and delicious.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So what is Belgrade like? A reflection based on 15 days

I think Belgrade is very European, but with many of what Phil and I call "second world traits", such as incessant smoking in open spaces and the constant presence of stray dogs.  The streets and avenues are not grand or wide like in Paris, DC or other European capitals.  There is a ton of commerce everywhere; people walk around at all hours of the day and night.  Pastry shops, restaurants and cafes are plentiful and stay open till 2 AM daily.  There are many stores (shops?), but even if they are American brands, they are not American in their size or selection.  Some stores are so small that you have to first step inside in order to close the door behind you.  That's another thing, doors open to the inside, which is very fire unsafe and kind of awkward if you are carrying things.

On any given street, you will see the following stores in order: shoe shop, underwear shop, "trafika", cafe, bakery.   Repeat on the next block.  There are zillions of underwear shops; my favorite is called Triumph, since that is the feeling I would have if I were able to get into any of their garbs.  They also have one called "Women's Secret", which I think it's pretty funny.

The Trafikas sell cigarettes, soda, lottery tickets, bus passes and magazines.  They are not proper stores, but more of a kiosk.  Serbia is chock full or random kiosks.  Here are two of my favorites:

In case you can't tell by the picture, these are shoelaces.  Yes, shoelaces in every color of the rainbow. Just in case you happen to tear one up while you are walking.  I really wish I could ask how many they sell daily, given that 1.  Most people I've seen dress in head to toe black and 2. Most of them do not wear lace-up shoes.

Along with the underwear stores, there are many of these- stocking kiosks.  The women of Belgrade are very fashionable and in general very attractive, so this one I am sure is a hit.  I do get a kick out of the leg mannequins.

Besides the shops and cafes, the other very particular thing about Belgrade is how people park on the sidewalk. This is SOOOO Puerto Rican!  Half the time I have to walk on the street because the sidewalk is full of cars.  Many times, the sidewalk is MARKED with parking spaces.

This is the street right by the Embassy, one of the main roads in Belgrade. The best is when they decide to come in or out of the parking spot and they are literally driving next to you as you walk along the sidewalk. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's right behind Sava

I haven't been here that long, but so far it seems to me that everything is "right behind St. Sava".  When asking for directions to our new apartment (estimated move-in date is Nov.20), "you'll find it right behind St. Sava".  The market? "oh, go to St. Sava and you'll see it- it's right behind it". Restaurants? "you have to try the pizzeria right behind St. Sava; it's the best". The problem is that St. Sava or as pronounced in Serbian S (svetog Save) is HUMONGOUS. Here is a video Phil and I made trying to find it:

and of course, it's right there. You can't see it from far away, because Belgrade is very hilly. I was definitely not expecting that. The Embassy (and my bubble) are right by the river, but two blocks up from there, it's like San Francisco. Once you hit the flat part, you can see and appreciate the cathedral, but to get there, I was literally out of breath and sweating.

According to what I have heard and read on Wikipedia, St. Sava might just be the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Balkans and one of the largest in the world. Here's a cool fact in case you didn't know: Orthodox churches don't have pews or any other sitting place. You have to stand the for the entire service.

St. Sava is the main attraction of this really nice park with benches and tree lined pathways, along with one of the main roads; where I will be taking the bus around the city once we move. It is also one of "Belgrade's Top Ten Places to go", according to my guidebook.

Here are is another pic of St. Sava during the day time.


So back to the whole, behind St. Sava thing, after you walk the path in the picture, you are literally thrown into a maze of tiny little streets with no names. The streets are so small, that only one car can go at a time even though they are meant to be two-way; and cars have to park in the sidewalk. There is no grid or logic and things are really hidden. To find the market, I eventually just looked for people with those plaid flea market bags that exist everywhere but in America. I really should get some of those too.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Grocery Shopping

I chose this as my first topic 1. because it's what I have done the most of so far and 2. because it's something so normal and commonplace that we take it's simplicity for granted.  There's a regular MAXI supermarket about 3 blocks from the Embassy, not to be confused with the Mini MAXI two blocks from the Embassy.  The Mini MAXI is basically a 711 with a bit of produce less the slurpee machines, but the MAXI is about the size of a small grocery store in a mid sized city, not the shopping palaces of suburbia or Chevy Chase.  At first it's all pretty easy, I get a cart and go through the aisles.  I don't recognize about 80% of the brands, but on the most part you can figure out what everything is by the picture on the containers and the few words that may be in English.

My first "bump" was finding nail polish remover, easy enough it was in the aisle I was expecting (beauty products) and in a very normal looking container, but then I see the label says "Sa Acetona" which I guess means either with, or without acetone.  So I turn to the lady that works there (there are way over staffed at every single place you go to in Serbia, I guess labor is very cheap, or they actually do care about customer service) and I try to ask what Sa means, but then it all just gets more confusing.  The more I ask and explain myself, the more this poor confused lady is talking in Serbian and I just don't even know how to tell her to stop and to nevermind. Mental note: don't ask questions.  

Then came the produce aisles.  Now, the produce here is just AWESOME.  There is not a lot of variety.  Acutally, there is NO variety, there're carrots, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, garlic, potatoes and lettuce and that's it.  And for fruit there are grapes, apples and bananas.  But they are the BEST apples, grapes and bananas EVER and sooo cheap.  I got 4 apples for about 30 cents. Total.   Anyway, apparently, they haven't set the system up to have your produce weighed at the checkout line, so you have to weigh it and bag it first at this little station next to it, and the entire thing is in Serbian, so I am there memorizing the characters in my head to then keying them in unto the machine to print my little scan label for my apples.
It's a good thing I have all day, because I keep forgetting the symbols.

Then there's the meat.  They don't sell meat in frozen stacks or pre-packaged, you have to go to the butcher section and talk to a real human and ask for what you want.  This is where I become Charlie Chaplin and point and nod.  I point to what I am hoping is ham and she picks it up and takes it to the gigantic slicer.  I am so proud and happy that I am getting what I want, I don't even realize she's asking me a I assume she's asking how much I want ..and I don't really know. So she says "one kilo"..and I shake my head and say "no, half", for some reason, my whole life I have been thinking that the international symbol for half was the time out symbol where one hand is completely vertical and the other one is palm down on top of it, but horizontal.  This did not mean anything to this lady, so I keep repeating, half kilo.  I guess half is not a common word.  Finally, someone else notices our awkward scene, and tells her "500" and I nod quickly, "yes, 500".  Well, she gets to work and it looks like 500 grams is A LOT of ham.  But, oh, well.  It was good.  Same thing happens when I tried to get some beef for a stew.  I pointed to this piece of meat that looked good but was gi-normous and asked for half and this time, he totally got it.  I assume people just name the cuts of meat they want and how much, but I don't even know the cuts of meat in English, let alone in Serbian.

So after browsing some aisles full of Serbian specialties, such as the Nutella-esque chocolate spreads featured in the pic above and which I will do my best to stay away from, and dairy sections, I went to check out.  I went from using my credit card for a .85 cent purchase at CVS to only paying cash because we don't have a bank here yet and probably never will.  Anyway, turns out that all my hard work at the produce weigh station was fine, except that I totally spaced out and forgot about the bananas and the lady at the counter is asking and I'm just like "I'm sorry, I totally forgot" and she just leaves me standing there with a line of like 3-4 people behind me to go and weigh them herself.  I felt really bad and kept telling people "so sorry" but unlike DC, where people huff and puff over wasted time, here, it's nothing. No one sighed or gave me the evil eye.  The cashier wasn't pissy or mad. I was the only one flustered. It's so weird how they really don't have a sense of urgency and they are not always hurried.  I felt like in DC my life could have been titled like a book they read at the middle schools, "Always Running" and now it's like "Always Chillin"  

One last thing before I finish this.  Everything IS smaller in Serbia, portions, supermarket carts, appliances, people, etc.  Even the receipts.  The one on the left is a Serbian receipt, the one on the right is American standard. 


So we officially moved about a week and a day ago, but to me it feels like months. Not sure if it was not sleeping for a good 20 hours or just the emotional toll of tying lose ends in DC, packing, saying good bye and travelling, but when we finally made it into the Embassy I was in a sort of strange daze. Now I finally feel more like myself and can start writing. It's really hard to write without a specific audience in mind. I'm really the "inside joke" type of person, so there might be many "Huh?" moments when reading this blog. That's ok, just keep reading, and know that at some point, I might use one that you and I share together. Also, this is kind of a follow up to an old blog I started when I went to China and Vietnam in 2008, so feel free to read the old posts too. This blog is mostly for me, to entertain myself while Phil's at work, to document our Serbian adventure, so that when I'm old or I have kids, I can share this experience with them and others; and for you, so you can keep in touch, see what we're up to, and live vicariously through us! Finally, I named the site Flippin' Serbia because I got a Flip cam, which I'll be using to share videos and document our escapades (hence the apostrophe). Welcome and thanks for reading!