Monday, January 30, 2012

Foxxy, the dog that we owned for one night

How awesome is it that on the last Friday of every month, the Canadian Embassy opens up their back bar to the public for the "Canadian Club Happy Hour".  Seriously.  They have a real bar with a pool table, two dart boards, and an outside deck right on the premises.  Not to mention the disco ball and the great prices.  Plus, it's non-smoking and  it's the sort of place that you can just show up alone because you know that SOMEONE is bound to be there that you can talk to- so it's a pretty much a guaranteed good time.  This month, Phil and I stayed until closing time, just hanging out with some of the folks that we hadn't seen since before the holidays.  As we are leaving, we see this super cute, pink-nosed, bright eyed dog just sitting by the exit waiting.  She's all friendly and wagging her tail so we pet her for a bit and all that, and then we start walking home.  The dog starts following us, and we are like, "oh, she's so cute", "she's so sweet", "look at that pink nose", "poor baby must be so cold" (there's snow on the ground still and it must have been like 20 degrees by then), so we decide that if she came all the way home with us, then we would keep her.  We walked the good 30 minutes up hill to our apartment and she' was still right behind us, happy as a clam.  Once we were home, she was hesitant to get on the elevator, so I took the stairs with her and we brought her in and Phil's like, "we cannot let her sleep in here without a bath", because she was pretty stinky. (and  because Phil is pretty anal about cleanliness).  So we put her in the tub and Phil gave her a full-on scrub.  That water was running and it was sooo dirty, I don't think she'd been bathed in awhile. We tried to give her some food, but all we had was cat food and by then it was too late to get anything else.  She didn't eat anything, but instead happily plopped herself on our couch and went straight to sleep.

We went to bed and woke up the next morning, to the idea of what owning a dog meant: the walking, the cleaning, the bathing, the vet, the moving around. But we went to the living room, and there she was cute as ever, sleeping soundly.  So we figured we had to get a leash and take her to the vet and all that.  As we're getting ready, she's right by the door, letting out these little howls, I assumed that she really had to use the bathroom, after all it was like 11 AM.  I figured I could just take her out to this little dog park that is about 3 blocks away, and I tell Phil to meet us there.  And then it all happened way too fast... we went downstairs, opened the building's front door, I blink, open my eyes, and she's running, literally running out the door.  So I go behind her, calling after her, "Foxxy, Foxxy, come here girl, nena"..and she's so fast, and so happy and confident.  She's a whole different dog than the sweet little thing that woke up on the couch. I try to catch up with her, but the faster I go, the faster she goes, and she is definitely not going the way of the dog park, but down the street.  I keep walking after her, but she's about half a block in front of me and the street is crowded and I am still yelling and people are noticing her and I just can't catch up and I wanna yell "stop that dog"  but I don't know the words in Serbian, and I didn't want people to think I was crazy.  Even though I know I was acting crazy.  Then, Foxxy started jaywalking on me and crossing the street and I kept crossing after her, but there was one time, when a car had to literally break two inches in front of her, so I didn't want to startle her more and make her run into the street, and I definitely did not want to witness her getting run over, since by then we were on a heavy trafficked strip right where all the buses run. So at a point, after a good chase, I thought to myself,  ok, I just need to turn around and let her go.  So I did.  I saw her turn a corner unto another street and I went home.

I had to come home and tell Phil I had lost her.  He was a little mad, but not too much. We went back to where I last saw her and to another park near the Sava Church, (see post #2), called her name some more, but nothing.  She was long gone. I wish it'd been Phil who took her out instead of me. But I guess she didn't really want to stay and it wasn't really my fault. You'd think that after a bath and all she would have been a bit more grateful, but no, we were used.  Although, we also think that Mami and Angie probably had a little bit of a talk with her during the night, something like, "Listen up, Foxxy, you have 24 hours to hit the road or the claws are coming out".   If that's the case, I don't blame her one bit for leaving.

Foxxy taking her bath

Mami, supervising the whole thing

Friday, January 27, 2012

Road trip: Euro style

My birthday was last week and I turned 33 years old.  When and how exactly I got old I'm not sure.  But it clearly happened.  To celebrate, Phil took me to Budapest for the weekend.  I was really excited because this was our first European road trip.   Saturday morning we packed our bags and hit the road with our newly acquired Garmin Euro maps edition and headed for Budapest.  First thing I noticed is how the roads are so much emptier, then we painfully found out why when we filled up with gas and paid 80 Euro at the pump on the way back!  I couldn't believe it!  We have friends with Navigators who don't pay as much.  Welcome to non-subsidized "petrol".  Anyway, I didn't do any of the driving, but I totally could have because it was a pretty easy drive.  Once we got out of Belgrade, there wasn't anything.  I mean NOTHING.  Open fields, grass, that's it.  Yes, it was beautiful, but I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if your car breaks down.  We hardly saw any other cars, let alone any policemen.  About 1.5 hours later we crossed the border into Hungary and were able to bypass the line using our Diplomatic passports.  That was pretty sweet.  Except it felt kind of weird, because we were definitely dressed down.  Like Phil was wearing a moose hat and I had my "homeless chic" outfit.  Diplomats? More like slackers wanna be hipsters.  But hey, they waved us on down, no questions asked.  That black passport is pretty powerful.

The trip took about 3.5 hours.  Our first stop was IKEA, aka, the greatest place on Earth.  We got a couple of things, but decided against eating in there because it was a MOB scene.  Definitely the most crowded place I've seen since we moved.  Those Swedish meatballs are clearly an international hit.  I almost expected the store to be different from the ones at home, but no, it was exactly the same.  Same lamps, bed covers, cheap glassware, as always.  This was both comforting and disappointing at the same time.  The only thing I did notice was that in the posters section, they didn't have all the NYC skyline ones.  Or maybe they were sold out.

The whole weekend was very relaxing and great.  It felt a bit like being back home.  We went to what people at the Embassy call the only authentic Mexican food place east of Berlin.  This little place called Iguana, which is conveniently located across the street from the American Embassy there.  It was pretty good, but nothing to write home about if it were in the US.  The whole weekend we totally pigged out, we went to McDonald's, Burger King AND KFC.  So wrong!  We also went to the movies and did a little shopping.

Which brings me to the sad truth. I couldn't do it.  I had vowed not to buy ANY new clothes for at least a year, but I caved in.  First in Madrid, I bought what I know call "the birthday dress".  Ever since I turned 30,  I have tried to get a cute dress to wear on my bday, so I wasn't going to count that one.  But once we were in the pedestrian shopping street in Budapest,  I couldn't help myself.  I only got two shirts, but they are cute and good for work and a steal!  Only 7 dollars each!

One funny thing I noticed trying on clothes here is how shirts don't have the ugly white deodorant marks that 70% of shirts I try on in the US have.  I had totally forgotten about this, but here, they don't sell that kind of deodorant.  Well, they do in some places, but it's super expensive.  It seems that most people use the spray or the old school roll-on, not the typical thick white bar, therefore, all their clothes are clean and spot free.  Which is not how I left the stuff I tried on.  Oops.

We came back to a good dusting of snow in Belgrade.  It's really pretty outside, but definitely slippery and slushy.  I hate that the holidays are so early in the winter season.  By now, I am kind of sick of the cold, and technically, winter JUST started. It's going to be a long wait till May... 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Istanbul and Madrid

One of the best things about Belgrade is how easy and convenient it is to go to other places.  I have been really lucky to have already taken two trips since January 1st.  So basically, 2012 is getting off to a GREAT start!  First, I went to Istanbul with Phil and my parents.  There, we met up with our BFFs (Best friends forever) Jamie and Shannon, who we hadn't seen since we left DC.  Mind you, Shan and I ate lunch together EVERY SINGLE DAY for over a year, and Jamie and I have been joined at the hip since the first day at TFA Institute in 2003; so to say I missed them terribly is an understatement.  Istanbul was great. We had awesome weather, great food, saw crazy beautiful sights and had a blast together like old times.  I definitely recommend it as a family/joint venture destination because it has stuff for everyone.  The shopaholics can go crazy at the Grand Bazaar, there's history, nature, relaxation (the baths!) and just of tons of things to see and do.  My parents were loving on all the mosques and old forts and just walking around the city.  We did the Biosphorus cruise that takes you between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, saw a dance show, and rode the typical Double-Decker bus, which was freezing, but definitely worth it.

This is a pic of the Blue Mosque at night, I could have stared at it forever.

So after coming back from Istanbul, I went to Madrid.  Now this was a pretty big deal because it was the first trip I have ever taken that was utterly, 100% alone.  I wasn't visiting friends or meeting anyone there or going with a tour.  It was just me, my carry-on, and endless possibilities.  Now, in my fantasies, I would just have gone to the airport with no plans and picked a flight in that moment.  But since I AM over 30 and a bit less laid back than I wish I was, I did buy my tickets and book my hostel a week before going.  Doing this did save me a lot of money and probably prevented any sort of eyebrow raising at the airport.  I am not even sure if you can actually show up and buy an international ticket on the spot. Maybe next time.

Regardless, I LOVED Madrid. I really liked Istanbul, but have no desire to live there; I enjoyed being a tourist and doing touristy stuff; whereas  in Madrid I was trying to go native.  I had some insider tips from two friends that went to grad school there, and I took advantage of those, and of what felt so liberating-but we always take for granted--speaking the language.  It was so nice to be able to read everything, to see the street names and understand not only the alphabet, but the words and meaning, to be able to ask directions, find them on a map and read street signs.  I was so happy to go to restaurants and be able to read the entire menu without having to ask for help.  To sit next to people on the metro and to overhear their conversations, to eavesdrop on kids on field trips and all those little things that give context to what the daily lives of the people who live there are like.

Travelling alone definitely had some perks and some not so great things.  First of all, my pictures are B-O-R-I-N-G.  I didn't have anyone to joke around with or take silly pictures of.  I don't even have any pics of myself; I have no proof that I was actually there!  BUT, you do get to go at your own pace, see what you want to see and move on.  Given that I am a bit on the eccentric side, and not exactly a slow poke, I basically saw everything on the first day.  I must have walked like 12 hours straight. I was so tired and my feet hurt like crazy, but I was in love with the city.  NOT the touristy stuff (El Prado--too religious for my taste), Plaza Mayor (eh, seen better in other cities, not green enough), but loving the way of life and the personality of the Spaniards.  People yelling and cussing out of their cars, teenagers with their hair half long, half shaved off, people drinking and having fun at lunchtime.  I became obsessed with this market, Mercado San Miguel, that my friend recommended and went back two more times, for little tapas--stuffed olives, chorizo & cheese squewers, sangria by the glass. I loved the big park, Parque del Retiro, and the little streets downtown and the metro.  It felt a bit like NYC, where you can find a treasure behind any corner, where you can't judge by the facades, and where things are always happening.  I spent 4 days in Madrid, including a day trip to Toledo, which was cool, but again, one of those touristy places you should only go to once.  I did meet some girls at the hostel and ended up going to, of all places, an Irish Pub.  I guess that's what happens when you pay 14 Euro a night for your dorm bed.  But I love the spirit and experience of the hostels, not knowing who you might meet, listening to others' travels and adventures.  My roommate who took me to the pub was actually living there while she found an apartment in the city.  On my last night, she cooked me some risotto and told me about growing up in Ireland.  You don't really get that at a nice hotel.  Plus, the money I saved on lodging, I spent on this...

Meson del Champinon--super yummy stuffed mushrooms with Manchego and Chorizo


Monday, January 9, 2012

A Serbian Christmas

In Serbia, Chritsmas was celebrated on January 7th.  This was really convenient for us since we are not religious or anything, we had plenty of time to walk around the city and have fun on the days leading up to New Year's.  December 24-25 were absolutely normal days, people were out and about and things were open like usual.  My parents were here for a long time and having them here really helped me get out every day and see more of the city and explore different places to eat and visit.  Every day consisted of more or less the same routine; getting ready, head to the market, eat lunch, go sightseeing, come home, mull some wine, have dinner, watch movie.  All in all, it was GREAT.

We also did a lot of random walking (getting lost) and window shopping.  Like I've said before, the prices here are RIDICULOUS!  Everything is marked up at least 20% from what it would be at home.  So if I really wanted to go shopping- I could, but it wouldn't be very cost effective.  There are tons of the European chain stores at the mall and at this really cute pedestrian strip.  They have Mango, Zara, United Colors of Benetton, GAP, Sephora, Levis, etc.  But you cannot find jeans for less than 70-80 dollars...unless you go to the chinese market...and that requires a whole other post.  

I did enjoy the spending the holidays in the city and saw some interesting and cool stuff.
such as this pretty outrageous underwear (yes, it is a bunny!)

I really wished I could have bought a pair for Phil, as I think this is awesome, but I don't think he would have appreciated the gesture.

I also discovered what will become my substitute for 5 Guys, for those who don't know, Phil and I were OBSESSED with this burger chain out in DC called 5 guys.  We used to go at least once a week.  So know, we will have what we call "church at Goldy's"

Outdoor seating.  Less than 3 dollars. FRIES INSIDE YOUR BURGER.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!  oh, and they serve beer too AND it's cheaper than the soft drinks.

Another thing was that one of our cats became obsessed with my dad. She was physically and emotionally unable to separate herself from him.  My family has never been too keen on cats and I was brought up to think they were slightly evil and double crossing.  It was Phil who changed my mind about kitties and now I am cat lady to the max.  Well, Mami (the cat in the pic) was doing a really good job getting my dad's attention by sitting on his laptop or interrupting his Sudoku puzzles.  By the way, she is NOT allowed on the dining room table, but like all grandparents, my dad just let her do as she pleased.

This was also the first year we ever put up a real Christmas tree.  Or a real Christmas tree that happened to be fake.  I mean real as in not a miniature one that's pre-loaded with ornaments like our sorry ass tree in DC.  The picture didn't come out to show how pretty it looked.  Unfortunately, Santa didn't come to our house.  He either got confused by the change of address from the USPS or we were really, really bad this year.

Finally, I posted this picture as a testament of my mom and I's unfortunate Odyssey to the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art, which we never found.  First we took a bus that had to take a detour. So we got off after 25 minutes and took another bus that I thought would take us nearby.  We clearly got off way too late and proceeded to walk back for over an hour through this park that might as well be the back woods of Belgrade, complete with stray dogs and all.  When we finally made it back to civilization, we asked around and found the building, but the museum seems to be closed for renovation.

It was certainly NOT open, as the swigs and grass were up to my knees and the windows were in pretty bad shape, not to mention the 5 + dogs that had made their home in their parking lot.  I still don't understand where the actual artwork is, since if you click on their link there are exhibitions being advertised for these dates.  It's all a big mystery.  At least we got to see some nice greenery, exercise and have lunch at the food court at the mall.