A Serbian odyssey.

September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

I was nearing the end of my 7 day stretch in Belgrade and I was told that the St. Sava temple is a must visit. Being the largest Orthodox Church currently in use, I thought it would be a good way to contrast my tour of the Orthodox Christian monasteries that were modest in comparison, tucked away in the mountains of the countryside. St. Sava temple however was bang in the middle of the city, so I had no excuse not to go.

I picked up my camera, looked up the blogs for directions (since Google Maps for Belgrade is primarily in the Cyrillic alphabet, assuming pretty high navigational skills on the part of the average tourist!) and bought my ticket for the bus (this proved slightly unnecessary throughout my time in Belgrade though, since no one checks the tickets it’s pretty easy to skip a ride for free). I was due to get off at Slavija Square, one of the busiest traffic intersections in the city. Even though I’d never been to this part of town before, there was no mistaking my stop. The bus somehow skirted past the numerous cars zipping by and I was thrown in the middle of a frenzy of what seemed like automobile hell. Slavija Square itself is a tourist attraction, for it houses the grave of a famous Serbian socialist Dimitrije Tucovic in its centre. The standing joke however, is that the mystery lies not in its historical significance but in the amazing capability of these driving veterans to avoid crashing into one another as they drive around it.

After wandering about for a good half an hour, asking people for directions (since few spoke English and it didn’t help that my renditions of the pronunciations of the Serbian street names were laughable, to say the least!), I finally found my way to the temple. Walking down one of the radials off Slavija Square, I could see the tip of the dome of the temple. As I crept closer, I could appreciate it in it’s full glory as it stood there majestically shining in the cool evening light. The two hour long quest proved worth it’s while, inconsequential in comparison, once I stepped inside the doors of this breathtakingly grand structure.


Tito

September 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

At the site of Tito’s grave.
“House of flowers”.
Belgrade, Serbia.

Josip Broz Tito.

1892-1980.

His funeral was attended by 209 delegations from 128 countries, 31 presidents of republics, 4 kings, 6 princes, 22 prime ministers and 11 speakers of national parliaments.

Belgrade, first glances.

September 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

Three random facts about Belgrade :

Fact 1. There seems to some dispute if Turkish coffee is actually Turkish, since the Serbians seem to have established claims over it. Case in point: I asked for a turkish coffee at one of the oldest restaurants in Belgrade, I was given one of the nastiest looks by the waiter who then proceeded to disapprovingly walk off. I was then told I must never commit that mistake again since obviously ‘domestic coffee’ is what I should have said.

Fact 2. In conversation with a young Serbian during my outbound flight, I asked him if the city was big on tourism. The question seemed like a valid one, since the city is full of sights that serve as insignias of its turbulent history especially the previous decade. He looked amused by my query and said, “It’s nice of you to believe that the buildings that were bombed are kept as such, “preserved” so to speak, so as to serve as reminders of the NATO attacks of 1999. If the city was big on tourism, the National Museum at the Trg Republik Square (main square) wouldn’t have been under construction for the last 7 years!”.

Fact 3. The serbians love their meat! In the hunt for authentic Serbian food, I was told that the places serving this fare were called national restaurants or national kitchens. I soon learnt that all their dishes were different permutations and combinations of any and all kinds of meat that was possibly available. I’m not exaggerating when I say their cuisine manages to blend any possible ingredients together, the only prerequisite being that the consumer should be a true-blue carnivore. Case in point: Papazjanija, one of the signature Serbian dishes, as per the recipe book guidelines mixes together pig, calf and lamb meat. Not easily found in any of the popular restaurants, this dish is apparently typical of traditional mason fare, is whipped together by throwing in all the leftover meat from the previous meal!

Old school Europe.

August 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

My first impression of Eastern Europe was through the eyes of Belgrade. One never knows where she may land up, and the same goes for me in Belgrade. The three words that came to mind when I soaked the city in – old. school. europe. Fervently attempting to hang on to its identity – road signs in the cyrillic alphabet, menus restricted to Serbian in most places and people unwilling to speak in English even if they knew how. It’s not tough for one to get lost here. Of course, unless that’s what you’re looking for. Walking the streets of this quiet town, Belgrade can do well in isolating a newbie. For me however, walking the cobbled streets of Skadarlija or passing by the rows of dusty hatchbacks parked alongside run down apartments buildings away from the Trg Republik city square, made me feel like stuck in some sort of a time warp.

When I mentioned this romanticised notion to a Serbian friend of mine, she said – it’s this very idea of “old school Europe” that we’ve become tired of and hoping to break away from. The resignation was evident on that face. Ironic. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

You still wore
the scars of 11 years past.
Amidst all that beauty
lay reminders
of shadows the war had cast.

Walking through the lanes of Beograd, one can see the stark signs of the NATO bombings that took place for close to 72 days starting March 1999. The buildings still lie there, torn down with gaping craters for the world to see. A city with a tumultuous recent history, is reminded everyday of the atrocities that took place here close to a decade ago. As we walked past these structures, I was given an account of what it felt like to live in Belgrade during those times. “We lived a few blocks away, for 72 days the floors shook every time a bomb blew up… and all we could do was lie low and wait for it all to be over”.

Kalemegdan

August 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

Conjectured to be as old as the city of Belgrade itself, Kalemegdan dates back to 535 AD when it was rebuilt by the Byzantines. It derives its name from from two turkish words – Kale meaning fortress and meydan meaning battleground.

Walking through the lanes of this massive structure, I could see that the charm of the fortress stands tall even today. Open till the wee hours of the night, there is an eerie calm that seemed to surround it at the midnight hour. As we made our way past it’s towers I couldn’t help but allow myself to soak in the various incidents that compile it’s almost unimaginable history. Vying for it’s ownership, the fortress’s masters varied from the Romans to the Bulgarians to the Byzantines to the Ottomans to finally the Serbs in 1867. Apparently, as the legend goes, Atilla the Hun’s grave lies under the fortress where the river Sava meets the river Danube.

The mood we were in was a contemplative one. We allowed the darkness to take over our imaginations as we circled it’s walls losing ourselves at some point to the scenes that unfolded before us, as if in conversation with the shadows.

On the road, again.

August 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
– Jack Kerouac

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