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!