Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Belgrade Beer Fest and more giant produce

Two weekends ago it was Belgrade Beer Fest and even though a couple of friends told us not to get too excited, that it was nothing to write home about, we still made plans to check it out thinking of it as sort of a dress rehearsal for Oktoberfest.  Well, we liked it so much on Friday night that we decided to go back again on Saturday AND then again on Sunday.

The food stations, just two choices: Pljeskavica or Sausages

Beer Fest consisted of about 25 beer tents, including a Mexican themed one selling dos equis, corona and the like, 5 giant food stalls, a stage with local bands with the TV screen, all set-up in a ginormous field where people could walk around and visit the tents along the confluence of the two rivers (Usce).
The great surprise element - and what became the main source of fun and entertainment- was the unadvertised carnival inside the fest.  State Fair-like rides were all set up in one side of the field bringing together families, college kids and the occasional tourist.   Given, I'm pretty sure most of them were decommissioned in the US back in the early nineties and then re-sold to various second/third world countries before making it into Serbia..but nevertheless, we still rode in them.  Because really?  What are the odds that you pick the exact ride, exact seat, date and time when it's going to fall apart?  I figured that if it was my time to die, then there was nothing I could do about it.

Really fast but close to the ground, it seemed like the safest alternative

I nicknamed this one "the spaceship"  it seemed harmless, until it lifted up to the sky and started rotating like crazy

Me and Phil cheering to our survival

The 4-in-1 picture is courtesy of my new friend M. who is new to Belgrade and is clearly a more talented photographer than I am.  You might think I'm pretty fearless, but the truth is that I am a total scared-y cat when it comes to getting on those rides.  It took a lot of pleading from Phil and many hesitant looks and "waiting moments" to get me on that Speedy.  Phil and our Saturday group were way more enthusiastic; especially K. who happily rode with Phil on the spaceship and some other evil-looking ones.  We all put our foot down when it came to the whole circle-upside-down pirate ship.  It was really funny, though, that some of the rides had typical American propaganda like a cartoon of Uncle Sam and a bald eagle. 

The second highlight after the rides, was the BLUEBERRY beer.  Most of the people in our group thought it was too sweet, but we really liked it.  For me it was the perfect combination between a beer and a cocktail, not too bitter, not too sweet; not too filling but not too strong.  We spent most of our time in that tent, the Black Turtle, and then walking around a little bit through the other carnival -like games.  On Friday, my friend V proved to be really good at darts; she was able to get a pin in the bulls eye and two others on the circle right outside of it, which I was sure it would get her a semi-decent prize (except, really, there weren't any, except one ALF doll that we lobbied for to no avail), but the man just gave her a super pathetic mini-doll, the kind that you would get from a 25cent vending machine.  Then I guess he felt really bad for me, because I tried to play another game, throwing tennis balls to some tins and literally made a complete ass of myself, missing every tin.  He still gave me a consolation prize of another awful looking thing that I gave away immediately. 

V squared and our fabulous prizes

Last but not least, we are still enjoy some great produce with the last months of summer.  Here I am with a giant stack of green onions.

Greeeeen Giant!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beyond Belgrade: Mokra Gora

When my friends K and R invited me to join them on a road trip to Mokra Gora, I had no idea what they were talking about.  I asked around at work and got very conflicting messages from, "It is definitely a must-see, you need at least 3 days" to "so not worth it, if you are going to drive 3 and a half hours, go to Budapest again".  Since they were going to go regardless, I decided to check it out for myself and come back with a full report.

The main attraction at Mokra Gora, besides the mountain scenery, is this train called the Ĺ argan Eight, which used to be part of a "Romantic Road" route back in the pre-war days.  Now, they have reconstructed the most scenic parts and changed the original train cars to more touristy ones for a sightseeing ride through the mountain side.  The name Sargan Eight comes from the fact that if you went on a helicopter or on a plane over the tracks you would see a figure eight.  Also, according to Wikipedia, Mokra Gora are the words in Serbian for Wet Mountain.

Landscape as seen from a lookout point

Before getting on the train, we went to the other must-do nearby, a so called  "Ethnic Village", which is a nostalgic replica of what a Serbian village would have looked like back in the old days.  It was a cute little arrangement of wooden cottages that are now restaurants, shops, and tourist traps.  We had heard rumors that Johnny Depp had once filmed a movie in the area and that they had made a statue of him.  I asked one of the ladies that worked there, and it seems that the legend is true, but that they moved the statue to an unknown location because of "the construction."  I am not sure what construction she was referring to since 1.  There was whatsoever NO new construction anywhere around where we were and 2.  If anything is going to bring crazy American tourists to the middle of the Serbian countryside, it will certainly be a life-sized replica of Johnny Depp.  Oh, well.

As I was writing this, I did a quick online search and it is certainly true!

Courtesy of USA TODAY.  Full Article here

Me in front of one of the authentic houses

The Ethnic Village, old cars and everything

The train ride itself took about 2 hours, first you get on the train (we had to go standing room only, because they were all booked for seats) to the top of the mountain.  We were lucky to have gorgeous weather, and since it was the 4:20 train, the sun was pretty much gone and the scenery was beautiful.  I really enjoy train travel and I love having the wind in my face and hair while going really fast, so I was really hogging my window and had my head out for the entire ride.  Once we reached the top (in about 45 minutes), they gave us 10 minutes to get off, take pictures, and look around before boarding to go back down.  Then we kept stopping and re-boarding on the way down.  On the second stop, I think EVERY single person got an ice cream from those classic European freezers with the cardboard index.  Later, we stopped at a lookout point and finally at a cafe, where people get coffee, soft drinks or beer.  On the way back, I met a Spanish guy that is married to a Bosnian, who were spending the weekend there with their kids and her family.  He told me that they rented a house right by the tracks for 13 people for two days for only 60 Euro!

The long and winding road

Hanging out.  Literally.

So, the 36,000 dollar question:  Worth it?  I definitely enjoyed it and I am very glad I went.  If you already live in Serbia, and really like trains I'd say go for it, even if it's a long day trip.  If you have young kids and a big group, it could be fun to make it into a weekend of relaxation and nature bonding.  The drive is kind of a pain.  We left here at 9:15 and didn't get there till 1:45.  Good thing I had packed some snacks for the road.  Also, like most other attractions here in Serbia, there were NO clear road signs advertising the way, and the GPS proved to be not very trustworthy.  Getting to the main road was easy enough, but since it's nestled in the mountain ranges right by the Bosnian border, it was all curves and we kept getting stuck behind heavy trucks carrying everything from timber to live sheep.  There were times when were were doing 35 km/hr; which is less than 20 miles!   Kudos to R for his patience and excellent, one-lane-giant truck-passing skills.  If I had been the one driving, we probably would still be there.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Find me at Ada!

In my humble opinion the best, most awesome thing about Belgrade is its little beach island, Ada Ciganlija.  Neither a real lake or a real beach, Ada is this urban inlet in the middle of the city that was dug out and built as a small resort type strip in the banks of the Sava River.  Each summer, thousands of Serbian and European (and now American) tourists, sun bathe along the shores of Ada until they turn six degrees darker.  Having grown  up in a "real" island, Puerto Rico, I was a bit skeptical at first, but whoever is behind the urban planning in Ada is sheer genius.  First of all, unlike the beaches in PR, Ada's shores are chock-full of stuff to do.  There are regular bars, clubs, and restaurants; FLOATING bars, clubs and restaurants; bike paths, running tracks, paddle boats, canoes, real rowing boats (like crew), a water ski area, AND a bungee jump.  For the less adventurous/athletic types, you can just grab a beach chair or even a bed and just lounge around; you can rent a towel and an umbrella and order drinks or food.  And of course, in true Serbia fashion, you can buy just ONE drink and stay ALL day.  This is both good and bad.  It's nice if you are the one doing it, but it sucks when the best places are full and you want to grab a seat.  The "lake" is pretty clean, the water is clear and warm.  The only thing is that it's super rocky (pebbles rather) and kind of muddy.  But since it's fresh water, you don't get that gross salty feeling or the stinging in your eyes.  I am a big fan.

The Ada beach 

For the sun phobes like me

Hanging out in the water

Also, in the true European spirit, 99% of the men wear speedos. Unfortunately, you can't see that in the picture.  The one guy standing up, is in fact Canadian; hence his trunks.  All women wear bikinis, given most Serbian women are pretty hot and thin, but I have definitely seen a couple who should probably cover up.  I am the only person in the entire beach with a tankini.  I don't think tankinis exist here, but I will not wear a real bikini cause I don't think the Serbs are ready for my jelly.  Anyway, the plan is to hang out here as often as possible before the harsh winter weather comes back.