Friday, 25 May 2007
It has become more difficult to keep up to date with the blogging as we are travelling around. I hope to be able to fill in the gaps when I have a chance.
Bob and I are now in Belgrade (Beograd), Serbia (Srbija), staying in the flat of Rad’s sister in a central part of the town. It is a huge change from the urbane western European style of Vienna and Budapest. We feel like we are a different, now Eastern European culture.
I had placed the toe of my foot tentatively on the seat in the train opposite for the first time for only seconds when a guard came around and remonstrated with me in gruff tones. I may not have understood what he said, however I certainly understood the meaning! Bob was out of the compartment and I fumbled around for quite a while attempting to find our tickets. The older man near the door I think told the guard that we were Australians (guileless), and on presenting my tickets the attitude seemed to change considerably.
A glimpse of Cyrillic script on a wall was the first indication that I had that we had left Hungary and had entered Serbia. The passport inspector quizzed me on how long we were staying, what are intentions were and where we were going after Belgrade. I am still unfamiliar with all the countries boundaries after the break-up of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, so muttered Croatia as our destination. Afterwards I realised of course that our next planned stops (Bar and Kotor) were in Montenegro.
Running a bit behind schedule, we passed through the names of towns and cities familiar to one from the war in the Balkans so recently, such as Novi Sad where our fellow cabin mate departed. Eventually we slowly reached the platform of Beograd where Rad’s brother-in-law, Nik was there to meet us. Now past nine pm, he hailed a cab and took us to the small but comfortable flat opposite the largest Orthodox Church in the world. Despite being built for over a century, it was still under construction. It’s large, dominant dome provided us with a ready landmark to identify our location at any time.
It was late and we took our leave and went to bed.
Saturday, 26 May
I had developed a cold, no doubt exacerbated by the propensity of others to smoke both in Hungary and locally. Mili and Nik came around at the appointed time, 10:00am in the morning, and Nik and Bob went off exploring the ‘green’ market nearby while Mili and I chatted. As she had been an English teacher, there was not confusion in communicating, although I am always embarrassed at my poor language skills and inability to speak the local tongue.
When the lads returned, Bob was like a little boy in his excitement at what he saw, and some of the things he bought at the market. He had a bag overflowing with baby spinach leaves which he bought for around dinar; a full kilo of large red strawberries ( dinar); some smoked meat; a loaf of rye bread. It was the cheese pavilion, with row after row of fresh cheese that excited him most and he was keen for me to go back to and experience this too.
First, we had some bureaucratic business to attend to. We were required to register with the police within 24 hours in order to get an exit permit to leave the country (quite a good idea). However, nothing was quite this simple, nor ever quick. We had three visits to two different police stations over the course of the day, and still have to return to tell them that we are leaving.
The kindness of some people was wonderfully displayed by the actions of a barista in a small café we went into near the main police station. Although his fine looking espresso machine was kaput, he made us good, Turkish coffee and delivered to us some small, rich chocolately treats gratis as his gift to us.
I had made a simple meal for us with items we had bought from the local market that afternoon – a length of spicy salami, some fresh egg noodles (described as the best in Belgrade – they were expensive, but people were seeking out her tiny stall); mushrooms; a wine bottle filled with fresh passata – crushed tomatoes and of course, the huge quantity of baby spinach leaves. Even if I do say so myself, it was pretty damn fine!
I crashed and left Bob to wash up, my sinuses pounding, but before he had a chance the cracks of thunder in the sky sounded distinctly different, like riffle shots. Bob grabbed his camera and left to see what was happening, while I tried to shut my eyes and seek relief to the pain through sleep.
The noises continued, although I found that I had slept and woke with a start when I realised that I had slept (I had no idea of what time it was now, nor what time it was when Bob disappeared through the door with a cheery “won’t be long”). Now I was starting to get worried when I realised that he hadn’t returned, and that some time must have passed.
That afternoon, we were stunned to see lines of riot police establishing themselves along the route that we were walking from our apartment to the police station (and the train station next door). They were kitted out in full regalia – body armour, helmets, riot shields and lethal looking batons. Given that it most had the build of a 6’5” gridiron line backer to boot, they presented an intimidating sight. A small band of teenage supporters of the local team ‘Red Star’ were escorted by no less than 3 police vans full of police as they made their way up the boulevard to the football stadium. There would have been 40 at the most, all lanky and pimply, in fine voice, but far outstripped by their escort let alone the gladiators who lined the route.
It seemed apparent that now the match had been played and Bob had gone out to witness the fans returning from the match. The noise which had alerted me earlier and sent Bob scurrying from the apartment had gone now, but where was Bob? I tried to dispel thoughts from my head of him being passed around a crowd of football supporters fuelled by larges quantities of Pivo (beer) and used as a ball for practice.
I continued to lie in bed, although nervously noted that there was nothing I could do.
He did return, in one piece, and largely avoided being caught in the worst of the melee. He took some photos, and some very atmospheric video with the camera, although had got lost, or at least disoriented as he followed the mob of supporters down to the town centre. He was now full of respect for the riot policeja who managed to prevent a riot among the very boisterous fans. Having left without money or a map, it took some time for him to find his way home. I slept, but not well.
Sunday, 27 May
Apparently my snoring was rocking the foundations last night, even though I was in a bed made up on the sofa in the lounge and Bob was a few feet of concrete away. My head was not happy, and it was going to be a slow day. Bob did not sleep well either, given my thunderous breathing.
It was certainly harder to breathe here in Belgrade than in Canberra. Undoubtedly there was more vehicular pollution, but it was the density of the cigarette smoke that really affected me. The first acknowledgement that one was in a café or restaurant was the instant provision of a clean ashtray for your use. Everyone smoked. It hung in the air like a thick, impeneratable cloud.
No running therefore for either of us, however in the afternoon we had a delightful guided tour through the park-like surrounds of the Citadel, a crowning maze of fortifications overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers. Here one could see the thick green reserves of the island in the Danube which was preserved as a bird refuge, and the welcome green forests on the northern bank and in sections of Novi Beograd or New Belgrade. There were many people out enjoying themselves on a Sunday afternoon doing just as we were, contemplating the views, or enjoying an impromptu get-together of Bosnian dancing and music in a square.
With rain threatening, we headed out of the old fortified walls of the citadel and up through streets in which were a raft of interesting restaurants such as ? and the similarly named ‘Que Pasa’. In light drops of rain we walked down a pedestrian mall, lined with shops and full of people on a Sunday evening walking, buying ice creams and catching up with friends. We decided to join them and have a warming café (for me) and a pivo (beer) for Bob under the ubiquitous red and white shade of Coca Cola and Coca Cola Light Umbrellas. The service was kind, helpful and unhassling.
We caught a trolley bus home and ended up looking around for something simple for dinner. I attempted to turn some packet soups into a meal with the leftovers we had in the house, while Bob went in search of a take away. I was rather pleased with myself when I succeeded in producing two substantial, but different soups with the few ingredients I could pull together and attempted to send Bob a text message. I knew that I didn’t have enough credit to phone him with my Hungarian SIM card, but thought that a text might get through. It did, as I heard the familiar chirp of Bob’s phone in the room next to me.
He returned, with a local pizza which was surprising good, with little cheese and not over topped in the American/Australian style. It was quite ‘Italian’ in this sense, and not a bad meal at all. The soup would have to wait. I covered the pots and put them in the tiny refrigerator for another time.
Labels: Belgrade, Serbia