Read, Write, Run, Roam

Archive for April, 2011

I’ve got to see a man about a horse…

Our guests leave today, but we won’t be a twosome for long-Muz’s sister is arriving in Belgrade an hour after our current guests fly home. We’ll have a steady stream of guests over the next few weeks to soak in the Serbian sunshine.

The first thing I do is walk guests to Republic Square, up Knez Mihailova, and to Kalemegdan. It’s a nice way to reset jet-lagged minds, offer caffeine, and introduce people to a lovely city. And if that doesn’t wake them up, looking at military equipment usually does the trick. I’ll be making this trip quite a few times, but I never tire of it.

It’s exciting to show people “my” city, to see it through their eyes, and learn something new in return. I knew Serbians loved children, but traveling with an adorable three-year old really brought it home. I had forgotten how strong rakija seems when you don’t drink it on a regular basis. And I took the great coffee here for granted. I’m looking forward to new (re)discoveries as the weeks go by. So, any suggestions for things to show visitors in Serbia?

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Dubrovnik, Croatia: wall to wall history-and people

Dubrovnik graces the covers of Croatian guidebooks, travel magazines, and thousands of postcards. We were hoping to see the blue skies, white marble, and oceanside restaurants the postcards promised. We got all of those things—plus tens of thousands of other people.

Ye Olde Cruise Ship

In addition to the tourists and day-trippers, there were two cruise shipsdocked in port on our first day there. The crowds were impressive, even in the off-season. We obviously weren’t the only people who heard it was a beautiful city. After some people-watching at a sidewalk café, we bought tickets to walk along the wall of the city.

Dubrovnik offers unique sights, and the wall is the best way to see them. The wall was built in stages as a defense strategy. Some parts of the wall were built as early as the Middle Ages, and the whole city was enclosed by the 13th Century. The wall emphasizes Dubrovnik’s interesting mix of old and new: upscale bars tucked behind medieval walls, smoothie stands by ancient towers, and clotheslines bearing the latest fashions in old courtyards. You can even get a sense of recent history: the newer terracotta tiles indicate which buildings were renovated after the 1991-1992 shelling by the Jugoslav People’s Army.

When the cruise ships departed, the city seemed to take a sigh of relief. (Or maybe that was just me.) I pretended to get lost in narrow, steep streets that were almost empty after nightfall.

It was indeed a gorgeous city. Despite that, I didn’t love Dubrovnik. It was too crowded, too pricey, and tried to offer something for every tourist. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t exactly a Dalmatian experience. In becoming an international destination, the city has seems to have lost some of its local flavor. I’m spoiled by our Balkan travels, I know. We’re able to visit smaller places by car, we’re forced to speak the local language, and we’re used to a more local atmosphere—both good and bad—on our travels. I’m glad we were able to see Dubrovnik, but next time, I think I’ll visit a smaller island with grilled sardines, travarica, and a bartender who refuses to make an apple martini.


Trogir: Italian roots, Balkan hospitality

I wasn’t surprised when our guests from the States wanted to visit the Croatian coast. In my unscientific opinion, Americans are more inclined to go to Croatia than any other Balkan country. We agreed to go with them, but I was a little skeptical. I thought the natural beauty of Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, and, of course, Serbia, was equally beautiful as Trogir.

And then I saw it.

Our friends’ three-year old daughter kept asking, “what princess lives in THIS castle?”

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of Balkan sites equal to, if not nicer, than the Croatian coast. But few places have such well-preserved/restored medieval cities, with the additional benefit of being on the water. Trogir’s prime location made self-governance difficult. Greece, Rome, Venice and Austria-Hungary occupied the island at different points in history.  But the Italian influence seems the most prominent. We tasted “Easter bread” similar to Panettone, saw ubiquitous pasta dishes, and heard people bid farewell with addio. When we complimented our chef and pension owner on her pizza, we were even given an Italian response: “Ah, but pizza is not a meal.”

There’s a dolce vita air about Trogir. It’s a town designed for wandering, taking photos, and eating ice cream. We saw the major sights in one day and decided to spend the next morning exploring smaller islands in a boat owned by our guide, Marinas. We signed up for a three-hour tour and joked about getting stranded.

Of course, this resulted in us getting stranded.

Fortunately, we were able to make it to Marinas’ summer cottage. It had no electricity, no running water, and loads of character.

Trogir may have Italian roots, but it also has Balkan hospitality. Marinas offered his family’s homemade wine and sage rakija. He encouraged us to explore the island and relax.  Our new boat was slow to arrive, so we were only able to reach Maslinica for grilled fish and octopus salad before heading back to Trogir.

Maslinica

When we arrived, our pension owner came back from her restaurant to ask about the trip, play with Milos, and offer a little doll to our friend’s daughter before we piled in the car for the drive to Dubrovnik. Trogir is popular for its architecture and natural beauty, but its Balkan hospitality is its true charm.


Fields…and trunks…of gold

We spent yesterday driving from Dubrovnik to Belgrade. I wouldn’t recommend doing the drive in one day, but we were rewarded for our stamina with Croatian gold. What’s Croatian gold? It’s the term I invented for these fields of yellow flowers/plants we passed on the drive from Zagreb to Belgrade.

I have no idea what these are-they’re in agricultural fields, so I presume it’s a crop of some sort. They’re especially gorgeous in the setting sunlight.

That wasn’t the only “Croatian gold” we saw. At a rest stop before we reached Zagreb, we saw several cars selling golden cheese-yes, cheese-our of their cars. I’ve seen a lot of things being sold out of cars in the Balkans, but gourmet cheese wasn’t one of them. Until yesterday.

We were interested in the cheese, but in too much of a hurry to try them out. Besides, RHOB is willing to take risks, but sampling cheese that’s been sitting in a hot car all day isn’t one of them.


Church on *Easter* Sunday: St. Lawrence Cathedral in Trogir, Croatia

Happy Easter/Srecan Uskrs! This year, the Julian and Gregorian calendars have Easter falling on the same day, so we can celebrate both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian Easter today. In Serbia, Easter is celebrated on Friday and Monday, so we took advantage of the holiday weekend to travel to Croatia with friends visiting us from the United States.

Trogir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it’s small enough to retain the image of a sleepy little town in April. May-August is a different story-that’s when the herds, excuse me, hoards of people come to admire the marble buildings, winding streets and the main square featuring the Saint Lawrence Cathedral.

The Cathedral, known as Katedrala Sv. Lovre and St. John’s Cathedralwas built over a four hundred year period starting in the early 1200s. The entrance to the cathedral is the work of Majstor Radovan, a famous Trogiri architect and sculptor.

Though most of the Cathedral was completed by 1251, the famed bell tower was built in the late 1300s. We climbed-and climbed-up the tower for a bird’s eye view of Trogir.

This morning, we woke up to the cacophony of church bells in Dubrovnik, a much larger town with a bevy of churches to choose from. I decided to post about the less-visited Trogir, but I’ve included some pictures below from the people leaving Eater mass at the St. Blaise Cathedral. The adults all have Easter baskets, but I’m not sure what’s inside. Some looked to have bread inside, and others may have contained doilies. Anyone know what’s in the baskets? Is there a Croatian version of Peeps that I don’t know about?

Happy Easter and a peaceful Sunday to all my readers.


Happy Earth Day!

Here’s eco-consious graffiti by the Branko bridge for earth day.

I’m not sure when this mural went up, but I wonder if it was in 2010. That year, trees along Kralja Aleksander were removed. Officials claimed the trees were blighted, but others believe the decision was hasty, ill-informed, or underhanded. That same year, the Rolling Stones planted four trees behind their stage.

Trees made headlines recently, when cherry tree seeds were distributed at a Thanks to Japan event. Unfortunately, some headlines also mentioned the melee over the free seeds.

I guess Beogradjani are serious about their trees. And why wouldn’t they be? Trees provide shade, produce oxygen and keep soil healthy. Read about the top ten reasons to plant (and keep) trees here.


I’m…lovin’ it?

I promised myself that I wouldn’t eat McDonald’s in Belgrade. Why would I eat a pressed patty of dubious origin in Serbia? A pljeskavica tastes better and costs less. And during the almost six months we’ve been here, I haven’t wanted to eat there once.

Until now.

Fried brie and curly fries? McDonald’s, this is unfair. I guess I know where Muz and I are going for his birthday lunch…