Read, Write, Run, Roam

Belgrade Sights

The Muž guide to Serbian gift-giving

Muž is a cool man under pressure–until it comes to holiday shopping. He doesn’t believe in “wish lists” and usually buys (admittedly lovely) gifts the week before Christmas. I picture him entering a store, finding a saleswoman that vaguely resembles me, and handing her his credit card.

Not this year.
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This Christmas, Muž gave me the best Belgrade gift yet. It’s not any of my previous suggestions, but it was better than all of them combined.

Muž worked with a company to publish the first year of posts on this site–two volumes of confusion, laughs and adventures. Thanks to him and to all my readers for helping to create an amazing gift.

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Djokovic pays top dollar for his slice…of cheese

Who has two thumbs and likes expensive cheese?

According to The Sun, Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has bought the entire 2013 supply of the world’s most expensive cheese, costing £800 a kilo, or almost $650 a pound. (Meanwhile, I’m too cheap to buy the good brie…)

The cheese is called pule, named after a young donkey. I think. (I don’t even know what a young donkey is called in American english. Cub? Foal?) Anyway, as the name implies, the cheese is made from donkey milk. The donkeys are from Zasavica, Serbia, northwest of Belgrade.  According to my bad translation of this article, it takes 50 liters of donkey milk, taken by hand, to make one kilogram/2.2 pounds of cheese. The milk is prized as anti-allergenic, particularly when raw, as donkey milk has 60 times more vitamin C than cow milk.

I’m sad to say I’ve never heard of this cheese before. Who knew I had been living so close to the world’s most expensive cheese? Who knew the world’s most expensive cheese is from Serbia?

Anyway, Djokovic is going using his year’s supply of cheese for a his chain of restaurants in Serbia, called Novak. The Belgrade Novak restaurant is conveniently located by the Djokovic tennis courts. I’m not sure how many people can afford $650/lb cheese in Serbia, but I’ll make him a deal: if there’s a ton left over, I’ll come by next summer and challenge him to a tennis match. Whoever loses gets a pound of pule sir. Do I drive a hard bargain or what?


Cekaonica: Belgrade’s not-so-secret bar

IMG_5956Belgrade guide books often mention “secret bars.” In reality, they’re born more out of need than secret. Owners flaunt zoning regulations/papework and create bars in abandoned hospitals, basements, or empty apartment buildings. Some of these, like the Federal Association of Travelers, are exactly what you picture: they’re found through an unmarked door in the basement of an apartment building, and make you feel like you crashed a very civilized cocktail party. Others are tiny, loud apartment-sized spots. Some are actually in apartments, with very angry-or tolerant-neighbors.

They’re definitely bars, but not not exactly secret; many have websites or are commonly shared through word-of-mouth. Still, most people have a favorite “secret” bar, and I’m no exception.

My favorite not-so-secret bar? Čekaonica.

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Čekaonica is located at the top of the BIGZ building, a half-abandoned printing plant that was built in the mid-1930s. BIGZ building is just off a highway in an area that’s part industrial, part late-night clubs, and part Senjak mansions. Typically Belgrade, really.

There’s no sign, so visitors simply walk in the building, past a sometimes-present security guard, and turn right down a dark hallway to find the freight elevator. There’s graffiti everywhere, and enough random noise and sounds that make you realize the building isn’t abandoned–but that the residents may not there legally. And if that’s not enough to make you feel a bit secretive, wait until you get into the elevator.

IMG_5979The freight elevator is my second-favorite thing about Čekaonica. It’s not for the timid, because it lacks interior doors, and it’s not for the uninitiated, because it’s operated by pushing the knob button on the bottom AND the floor button you want. Like a secret code, if you will. And nothing impressed my cohorts (Serbian and American) like showing them a crazy building, a scary elevator, and a secret code.

Until they saw the view.

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This is my favorite thing about Čekaonica. It’s one of Belgrade’s few (only?) rooftop bars. From here, you can see the glory of the fortress, the brutalist architecture of Novi Beograd, or the seediness of the train yard. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset with a glass of wine and listen to live jazz. Because that’s right readers, it gets even better: Čekaonica is a jazz club.

The bar, I’m told, got its name (“waiting room”) because there’s a recording studio and jam space in the lower levels of BIGZ. Musicians would hang out on the roof while waiting for their turn to play, an enterprising person decided to put a bar up there, and Čekaonica was officially (unofficially?) in business. While this place isn’t so secret anymore, it manages to feel low-key. That is, until the new “secret” club next door starts blasting the bass at 1am.

Čekaonica is open from 10am-2am, and is located at the top of the BIGZ building. I don’t have the address, but ask for the BIGZ building and any taxi driver should take you there. You can find the bar’s Facebook page HERE.


30 Posts in 30 Days

30 posts in 30 days–completed! Now I have free time to stare at blobs of paint on walls, like this guy:

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This mural is on one of my favorite Belgrade walks: Kneza Mihailova to Kalemegan Fortress.

I’ll keep up the blog (pinky swear), but not every day. I’m shooting for a Monday-Wednesday-Friday post schedule. Thank you to all the readers and commenters who kept me going, and for introducing me to your blogs for inspiration. Happy Friday to all, and super happy Friday to my fellow NaBloPoMo participants.


What a difference a year makes: Belgrade’s new bridge

The Ada Bridge was nearing completion before I left. When I returned this summer,  I thought it looked pretty sharp, especially at sunset.

The new bridge is the the widest mixed-use (highway and rail) asymmetric stay cable bridge in the world, and the one the largest cable-stayed bridges in the world. What does that mean? It means that there’s a heck of a big pole (pylon) with super strong cables holding up cars, trains, bikers and pedestrians. And that sums up my knowledge about bridge engineering.

It also sums up my knowledge about what to call this thing: is it New Bridge, which is what people called it before I left, or Ada Bridge, what the internet is telling me? Ada Bridge certainly has a better ring to it.

No matter what this bridge is called, it’s a welcome addition to the city. Not only am I happy to see attractive, world-recognized architecture being built in Belgrade, I’m also happy for all the people who no longer have to sit (as long) in the horrific traffic over the Sava River. And if they are stuck in traffic, at least they get views like this.

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Belgrade’s Tesla Museum: Celebrating Serbia’s Famous Son

Before we moved back to the States, I made a Belgrade Bucket List in an attempt to conquer the city before we left. Of course, the list was long, and we wound up missing out on some quintessential city activities. Like going to the Nikola Tesla museum.

If you should have the good fortune to meet at Serb, and that person doesn’t mention Nikola Tesla in the first hour, then I must say: you have not met a Serb. Tesla is one of the most famous Serbians, ever. He was a renown scientist who contributed to the development of AC current, wireless electric power transmission, the remote control, x-rays, and foresaw wireless signals similar to the internet. AND he inspired an amazing 80’s band and a verrry cool car. What have you done lately?

Lots of hair product here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The man is so famous that three countries vie to call him their own. Tesla was born in 1846 in modern-day Croatia to Serb parents. His father and maternal grandfather were Serbian Orthodox priests, but he has famously stated he was “equally proud” of his “Serbian origin and Croatian homeland.” In 1891, seven years after moving to America, he became an American citizen, and expressed his pride to be an American, too.

After moving to the U.S. in 1884, he spent the rest of his life there, mostly in New York. Sadly, he was a great scientist but a terrible businessman. He was cheated out of patents and funding, spent his grants and savings on experiments, and died penniless in New York City in 1943.

You can understand my disbelief that we lived in Belgrade and never went to the Tesla museum. We figured we would go with our numerous guests and get sick of the place–but sent guests there without us instead. So when we came back to the city as tourists, the Testa Museum was one of our first stops. The museum is on Krunska, a pretty, mansion-lined street.

The museum offers tours in English, and I wouldn’t recommend seeing it any other way. After a short video about Tesla’s life, our tour guide demonstrated experiments to our group of 18 European visitors. We first demonstrated the tesla coil’s wireless power. Check out the arc of electricity and the people holding fluorescent tubes. Look ma, no wires!

we also saw Tesla’s remote control boat move:

and even got to feel AC current pass through us. The docent explained how the current couldn’t hurt us, but I let this random dude test it out before I gave it a shot.

Finally, we were led to Tesla’s resting place. His remains are stored in a golden sphere, which is supposedly Tesla’s favorite shape. I think there’s more to this, but can’t remember the exact story. Maybe that AC current was stronger than advertised.

The museum is a little short on details–especially about his later life in America and incredible fondness for pigeons–but the experiments and local pride make up for it.

Tesla might be gone, but he’s not forgotten. Recently, Tesla fans raised over a million dollars to build a Tesla museum at the sight of the Wardenclyffe Tower, where Tesla experimented with wireless broadcasting. George Clooney is rumored to be interested in playing Tesla in a developing movie. He’ll have big shoes to fill after David Bowie’s Tesla in the underrated movie The Prestige. (How is Bowie so foxy after all these years?)

Could it be that we’re in the midst of a Tesla revivial? Perhaps. And if not, I’m at least glad to knock another item off my Belgrade Bucket List.


Belgrade: where the streets have four names

…but I often was

When I first arrived in Belgrade, I found a map in one of the million folders we were given upon arrival. I kept getting lost with that map. Utterly, completely lost. Muz tried to pin it on my famous lack of direction, but the truth seemed more bizarre: I had been given an old map with completely different names for certain streets. It also didn’t help that my map was written in Latin alphabet and the street signs were Cyrillic.

People told us that some of the streets had political names that didn’t quite fit with current times, and changed to reflect older names–names that probably also had political origins, but no one cared about them anymore.

Long after I bought a decent map, of COURSE, signs like this started going up all over town:

And while it’s nice to see the history, nothing explained why the names changed. But I suppose that’s fodder for another post.

When I returned to Belgrade this summer, I found that the street signs had changed once again. The names were the same, thankfully, but now many were written in Latin and Cyrillic.

 This is great for tourism, but I can’t help but feel a bit of pride that I learned my way around town pretty well without Latin. Well, without Latin and with the indispensable Magic Map. Even with a command of Cyrillic, no trip to Belgrade is complete without one of these.  Because you never know when a street will have a new name.