Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Serbian Style Halloween

I have always been a big Halloween fan.  Between the candy and the costumes, how can you not love it?  Every year that I lived in DC, I either went to a party or just paraded the streets of Adams Morgan looking for the funniest/most original costumes. In Belgrade, the North American expats have made sure to bring Halloween and its spirit to whoever chooses to join in the festivities.  Last year, since we were newly arrived, we ventured to both the Marine House party and the Canadian Club parties costume-less and unaccompanied.  Both parties were pretty fun, considering we didn't know anyone there and they actually proved to be the catalyst in making what would later be our best friends in BEG.   This year, we were ready to rock the house with our well-planned out, 5 Euro a pop, home made with Chinese Market materials group costumes.  Our great friend K. (also known as 'Martha') was the brain behind the 'Fun and Inappropriate Costumes' Operation.   Since we had two events back to back, we decided to each have two costumes.   For the Canadian Club, we opted for the more generic one: Angry Birds.  Using trash and recyclig bags, some huge pieces of paper fabric and shower curtains, we each got to be a different color bird.  Except me.  I go to be the pig.  King pig to be exact.  I had the most bootleg, but funniest costume of the six.  K. made me a crown to wear, along with my green pig ears.  All pics courtesy of C.  who should really consider joining some sort of Serbian paparazzi group.

The birds stomping on the pig

For the second costume, we had first come up with the idea of being scrabble boards for the facebook game 'words with friends'. Later, we thought, "what if we are just words...and then, all together, 'with friends'?"  So we picked some good word combinations for ourselves; appropriate and professional alone, not so much when together.  We had a lot of fun posing for pics and arranging/re-arranging our positions to come up with some other good phrases. Again, Martha went all out and made us the most beautiful, perfectly lined up tiles for our words.  Literally. Just four days earlier, we all went to her house to find that she had already pre-cut the poster board in perfect equal squares, rounded the corners, printed out the individual letters, cut them to perfection, and glued them to the board.   In order to finish all the costumes in time, she re-arranged the living room as her own personal sweatshop and divided us into two groups.  As Martha has never been a teacher, she didn't realize that grouping by ability is perhaps not the best idea; so she set 'us', the least capable ones, working on the menial tasks of marking places to make holes, hole punch, tape and assemble tiles and 'them', the smart ones, to work on the finishing touches for Angry Birds.  Needless to say, Phil became the model, 4.0 student all over again and half hour later he was allowed to work alone on his own bird.  Me? I was still struggling on figuring out if the ruler was upside down as I marked where the holes would go.



So overall, costumes were a huge success, and the parties were really fun.  But the real highlight of the night was that I met a reader who is not already one of my friends!  I was walking around as the 'king pig' and someone dressed as a Mexican came up to me and straight out asked if I had a blog and if it was Flippin' Serbia.  It made my night!   So, if you are reading still, let's get together and hang out! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Incredibly slow, yet remarkably fast, we have now officially celebrated one year in Belgrade.  The best way I can describe it is the way people describe having kids; the days are long but the years are short.  We are now halfway done with our adventure and I can hardly believe it.  There is so much still that I haven't done (starting with becoming fluent in Serbian), places I need to visit, restaurants to try, people to meet, and questions to get answered.  I thought it'd be fun to make a quick list of the things I miss most about America and a list of my favorite things in Serbia.  Obviously, family and friends aside.

Top 5 things I miss most about America:

1. Mexican food/Chipotle/Asian food/good sushi - even though I have been to a couple of decent places, nothing compares to the diversity and authenticity of ethnic foods in the States.

2. Unlimited re-fills and ice- no explanation needed

3. Metro - the bus system in Belgrade is great, but when it's cold, raining or just plain miserable outside, it's nice to be underground instead of at a bus stop.

4.  Happy Hour - go out straight after work, get home by 11, go to sleep.  No need to stay up till  midnight to  go out.

5. The fast pace - all my life, growing up in PR, people said I was too wound up, that I should "chill-out", take it easy, etc.  Then I moved to DC and I fit right in.  Now, I am back in the land of no rushing, no sense of urgency.  Except on the buses-I find that Serbs in general are very laid- back and take their time to do things ; but when it comes to getting off the bus, all the built up impatience comes out.  Riders literally get a microsecond to jump out or you'll be stuck inside.  Not to mention that the stops are WAY farther apart than they are in the US.  If you miss your stop, you might end up walking a good 2-3 blocks.

Top 5 things I will miss about Belgrade:

1. Amazing produce - Serbia has hands down the best eggs, tomatoes, peppers, and salads I have ever had in my life.  It's crazy how well-dressed cabbage can fill the spot.

2. Taxis -  they are everywhere, very reliable and you can text your location to have one come get you!

3.  Convenience - how could it be?? Belgrade more convenient than DC??  In my particular case, in many ways yes.  We live a block from an awesome bakery, Mini Maxi (711 type convenience store), and a taxi stand.  No more weekends wasted at Costco or at Target.  In Belgrade, we have a ton of storage space, so I go 'shopping' in the guest room, where I have all the toiletries I will need until we go.

4.  Parks - there are so many nice parks and green spaces that are easily accessible, clean and full of ice cream vendors.  Part of me wishes we would have come here later, when we had kids, because the playgrounds look great!

5.  Location, location, location - in the US, I would visit a new country once a year at the max.  Here, it's amazing, ALL flights are international flights.  There are more than 15 countries that you can get to in about 2 hours and for less than $ 300 for a round trip.  Unbeatable.

No shopping update - If you have been a follower for most of the year, you might remember that I promised not to buy any new clothes the whole time we were here.  Well, I am sad to report that I caved in and did get a couple of things, most of them online and when I went back to the US in July.  I have bought 6 dresses, a skirt, and 2 shirts.  I will definitely try harder this year.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Last weekend we flew to Munich to fulfill one of the big-ticket items on our travel bucket list - Attend Oktoberfest-which did not disappoint whatsoever.  The best way to describe it is, as I said at one point during the trip [and this is a direct quote], "Oktoberfest is the definition of 'my scene'" or like one of our friends said, "imagine that your favorite team just won the Superbow, and all of you are on the same team".  That is the essence and vibe of Oktoberfest.  There is no sulking, negativity, pushing or shoving.  Zillions of people occupy the same space but camaraderie reigns.  Besides drinking liters of beer and kilos of sausages, we managed to visit most of the big tents and gardens and go on the rides. Contrary to most people's suggestions, we didn't make reservations in any of the tents because there were only four of us and you had to prepay for at least 8 in order to have a guaranteed seat.  Instead, we scouted around looking for tables with empty seats.  Overall, we were pretty lucky; we got to seat at 3 different beer gardens and one day we had 'breakfast' inside a tent.  The whole experience was phenomenal. Like all things German, Oktoberfest was incredibly well planned, efficient, and executed seamlessly.  Take a seat, order, pay up, clink, sing, repeat.  Everywhere you looked were heaps of good food and monstrous beers, people wearing the traditional dress of dirndl and lederhosen no matter their age.  Little kids and grandparents sat at the table and cheered and clinked mugs with the rest of them.   If there is a way to promote world peace, this seems like a great way to start.

The highlights include:

Beer: Probst!

Fashion: Going Native in our Drndls

Flying: I still cannot believe  I agreed to this

Bratwurst, Viking, and Beer

Team Spirit: Massive tents with tables of newly made friends

The Devil's Wheel: seeing people get ejected by centrifugal force is actually really funny.

Gran Finale: "I've had the time of my life" sung my 5000 drunk people holding sparklers.

We are soo going back next year.  Friends welcome to join!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Adventures on the Overnight Train

 Ever since we moved to Belgrade, I had really wanted to try one of the overnight trains.  In my head, the 'real' European experience needs to include some sort of train travel.  So finally, almost a year after moving here, I was able to convince 4 very brave friends to join Phil and I on the overnight train to Bar, Montenegro.  Initially, the idea was to get the 6-bed compartment and have a fun, dorm-like experience, but when Phil and I went to the station to get our tickets, they didn't  have any compartments completely empty for us to be all together; so we settled for 3 'rooms' of two beds each.  We had a rental car waiting for us to then  drive around the country to the National Parks, spend the night in Budva, drive up to Sveti Stefan and Kotor Bay and fly back from Tivat on Monday morning.  The train was supposed to leave at 8:10 PM and get to Bar at 7 in the morning, so  we met at the train station at about 7:45 and made our way to our seats.  Our rooms were side by side and the best part is that some of them were connected by an inside door that could be folded in, to create a large suite.  You could also put up the top bunks to allow people to sit on the bottom ones without hitting their head; curiously, the bottom of that bunk was made up to look like a nice picture, so that when the whole set-up was ready, it looked like a legitimate living room.

K and R's living room

Phil hanging out in the mid-section

We brought some mojito pre-made mix for the ride and some really unhealthy snacks.  Sadly, we ate 90% of the snacks while we sat at the station until 10 PM.  We kept joking that we should just get off and let those two hours sitting and waiting for departure to be the actual OT adventure.  Finally, at like 10:15, we left Belgrade.  The ride was smooth and pretty fast, not bumpy, but screechy. We went to bed at like midnight, but I didn't really sleep very much at all because of the noise and the movement. But overall, it was a really comfortable way to travel.  The beds were not bad and it felt clean enough.  The sheets and pillows had definitely been washed before and there was nothing terribly disturbing. Except for the bathroom.

We got 'waken up' twice at the border to get our passports checked and stamped, and 12 hours hours later we arrived in Podgorica, still wearing the same clothes as the night before. We picked up our car, which fit all 5 of us in the front and back and had a mini-semi-seat in what I would call tier 3 of the car.  It was the best and worst seat in the house.

We drove for about 3 hours, stopping at a really small town/village for a traditional lunch of grilled meat, french fries, salads and beers.  All six of us ate a lot for 21 Euros.  Amazing!  A quick stopover to a hanging bridge and we arrived at the Black Lake, a UNESCO site within Durmitor National Park. 

Crazy Foreigners

Driving back, we kept looking at the guidebook to find fun things to see and do, and we selected Ostrog Monastery, not a UNESCO site, but a "Montenegro Top 10",  unfortunately, three thousand other people seemed to have the same idea, so we wound up in the top of a very steep mountain, on a one way road, behind about 11 coach buses.  We got out of the car and tried to walk it, and then noticed, that in the distance, it was about 5 miles away-and all uphill.  We quickly aborted the mission and decided to instead drive down to the coast to Sveti Stefan, this glorious hotel-resort-island to watch the sunset and have some drinks.  Two hours later and we made it right on time. The sun had maybe another 20 minutes before setting.  We ran to the coast and were able to take really good pictures.  Then our friend, C. tried to get us into the resort for drinks, but unfortunately, we were turned away because of our too-casual clothes (and probably our too loud voices).  Luckily there was a cute little place nearby, where we sat down and saw the sunset before checking into our apartments.

Needless to say, we were super tired when we finally drove to Budva, where we were planning to have dinner and spend the night.  When we got to the town, we realized that no one had printed the exact address of the place and we didn't have a way of knowing where we were staying.  At least C. had looked at the map beforehand and had some recolection of where the street was located, but we still had no clue exactly where it was, so we ended up knocking on random doors and asking.  No one had heard of the place or knew where it was.  Finally, a kindred spirit allowed us to connect our ipad to his Wi-Fi to look up the phone number.  The miracle of modern technology!  C. talked to the guy, told him where we were, and he was able to give us directions on how to get there.  The whole thing took over an hour, but we finally made it and it was a really nice place with a great location.

The rest of the trip was more relaxing, we walked around the Budva old town, which was nice; same, same but different and the next day we went to Kotor Bay, back to the scene of the scooter accident (see earlier post).  Now, I still have to make it to Macedonia to complete my tour of the ex-republics and brave the overnight trains to Bucharest and/or Sofia!