Read, Write, Run, Roam

Posts tagged “Serbia

Keep Belgrade close to your heart: Serbian gift guide part IV

Belgrade will always be in a Beogradjanka’s heart, but this gift will make sure it’s on the heart, too:


This pendant is sold on Etsy for $9.00 here. As much as I like this, I wish the map was in Cyrillic, or offered people the street they lived on. Svetogorska represent!

If you’re loved one isn’t from Belgrade, never fear. You can find kits online for a one inch magnifying glass pendant and make the necklace with any map you have on hand for a thoughtful homemade gift for someone missing home or travel.

But if you’re not the do-it-yourself type, I’ll bet you can ask the Etsy seller for a custom map to keep your favorite places nearby.

Merry Christmas Eve to my non-orthodox readers!


Belgrade for the holidays, part dva

So, you want to send your favorite Beogradjanka a gift, but they already have the amazing books I recommended yesterday? Look no further, because I’m featuring Serbian gifts all week, and I have this gem for your favorite Tesla fan.

What’s this? Why, only a signed limited edition print of Tesla attacking Edison with an x-ray gun on a mad cat while the Wardenclyffe transmits in the background, courtesy of


One thing’s for sure: it’s not something they already have.

Get it here.


The Serbian word that everyone knows

 Can you guess what it is?

Hint: its favorite fruit is a neck-tarine. Its favorite dog is a bloodhound. Its favorite game is bat-miton.

It’s a…vampire. (Technically, vampir)

Best. Soundtrack. Ever.

That’s right, Serbia is the home of the vampire legend! Transylvania gets all the credit, but the legend may be traced to Northern Serbia, when people like Petar Blagojevic and Arnold Paole died in the mid-18th Century, only to haunt local neighbors who died mysteriously a short time after.  Suspicious villagers dug both men up (in different towns) to find their corpses looking untouched. They were declared vampires, staked through the heart, and burned for good measure. Austrian officials who controlled parts of Serbia at the time reported this phenomenon to Vienna, and the vampire story was born.

Now there’s word that a famous Serbian bloodsucker may still be on the loose.  According to the Austrian Times, known (and more importantly, unslain) vampire Sava Savanovic has lost the mill that was his home. Now that the mill has collapsed, it’s believed that Savanovic is wandering around his hometown of Bajina Basta, just waiting to find Winona Ryder, I mean, victims.

The article claims that the Bajina Basta town council advised all villagers to put garlic on their doors and windows, which seems like an…unusual way for town officials to spend their time and energy. To be honest, I doubt these villagers are more concerned about vampires than they are concerned about the tourists who may stop coming to tour the old mill. Besides, Serbians are always buying lots of garlic. Try cooking a traditional meal without it.

Read more about the story here, if you dare. I’m pretty skeptic–though I might consider driving past Bajina Basta at night. I’m not worried about the vampires as much as I am worried about the garlic breath I’ll have after eating there.

Top 10 Signs You May Live in Belgrade

I’ve been compiling a “You know you’re in Belgrade when…” list for a while, but it never seemed finished. Now I realize it will probably never be finished; there are too many observations and too many missed opportunities for one person to do it in one year.

I also realize that many of these things aren’t unique to Belgrade, but hey, that’s where I live. Enlighten me if you’d like and add your own thoughts in the comments!

(P.S. This photo is a bit misleading…it was taken in Subotica, not Belgrade.) 

Top 10 Signs You May Live in Belgrade

1. You park on the sidewalk and walk in the street.

2. You know 8 Pedjas, 6 Dragans/Draganas, and 3 Zorans/Zoranas.  Let’s not even talk about the Milicas, Anjas and Minas.

3. Your favorite bar has no food, but an extensive cigarette menu.

4. You’ve bought 15 “orphanage” cards from strangers on the street…who never give you envelopes.

5. Grocery shopping involves a pijaca, at least one Mini Maxi, and a stop at Stampa for smokes.

6. Elderly women are far stronger than you are. (That’s what happens when you carry 30 pounds of vegetables around every other day.)

7. If you’re a woman, your closet is full of galoshes and stilettos. If you’re a man, you have five pairs of pristine sneakers.

8. You’re more loyal to your bakery than your church.

9.  The pharmacies are full of medicine, but none are as strong as rakija.

10. Everyone laughs at superstitions…and then follows them.

Zen and the Art of Making Rakija

One more item was crossed off the “Belgrade bucket list” this week when I was invited to watch grape rakija (lozovaca) being made in a village outside of Fruska Gora. Fruska Gora is national parkland about an hour outside of Belgrade. It’s known for its fresh air, gorgeous scenery and wineries. Yet we weren’t there for that. We were there for the rakija.

My friend Lisa, a professional photographer working in Serbia, invited me to join her to document the experience. I don’t have her photography skills, so I can only guess I was chosen for my drinking skills. Whatever it takes, people. We arrived just as the grapes were being poured into the distiller.

The grapes had been sitting in barrels for about a week. Normally they might ferment a bit longer, but Serbia’s late summer moved the natural process along quickly. This weather has also been great for wineries—the drought forced grapes to produce more sugar than usual. Look for 2011 vintage wines over the next couple of years. We couldn’t wait that long, so we tasted some of the young wine that our gracious host provided.

I normally don’t like young wine, but this tasted more like fresh grape juice with slight carbonation. The best part is that there’s nothing but fermented, pressed grapes in this pitcher. It doesn’t get any more natural than that. After a toast to the harvest, we turned our attention to the giant, slightly scary distiller. The machine looks crazy, but it’s actually pretty simple. Fermented grapes are poured into a container heated by a wood stove underneath. (Grapes go into the container closest to the camera.)

The stove must be kept very hot, and the grapes must be stirred via crank to prevent burning or sticking. A flour paste is pressed along the seams of the distiller to prevent steam escaping.

After two hours or so, the mixture becomes hot enough that it begins to boil. Steam then rises from the first container, travels along the long pipe and moves the second container, which is filled with cold water to help condense the steam and cool the liquid, which is—almost—rakija.

I say “almost rakija” because the first liter of liquid isn’t rakija at all. It’s methyl alcohol, a substance that is highly flammable and poisonous if consumed. One must wait until the methyl alcohol has been passed (the prvenac, or first batch) to start collecting the drinkable ethanol/grain alcohol. You should know when the methyl alcohol has passed because the smell (like rubbing alcohol) will make you recoil.

After the prvenac, you can start collecting the rakija in glass jars. Our host first stores rakija in glass for about three months, then decides if he wants to age the rakija in barrels or glass. If rakija is golden, it’s likely because it was stored in wood, and not necessarily because of how long it aged. Or it’s because coloring has been added–a big no-no in the homemade rakija world.

We tasted the first drinkable batch of rakija, but it was pretty harsh. It takes several months for rakija to be smooth enough to drink comfortably, and years for it to taste like the rakija I’ve come to enjoy. Good things come to those who wait, I suppose.

It was a special day of Serbian sights, tastes and sounds, but my favorite part of the day was waiting for the grapes to boil. I was happy to sit around the distiller eating fresh goat cheese and bread, sample grapes and apples from our hosts’ orchard, and smell the wood burn. It was a surprisingly meditative process that resulted in a feeling of accomplishment: making one of the oldest beverages known to man. Serbians may not practice zen, but the art of making rakija comes pretty close.

If you’d like to see Lisa’s photos that day, you’ll have to wait–but you can see other amazing shots of Serbia on her website

Freaky Friday: the Tower of Skulls in Niš, Serbia


Many months ago, Muz had a conference in Niš. Naturally, I demanded to tag along to Serbia’s third-largest city (or second-largest, depending on who you’re talking to). Niš has all the “typical” makings of a Serbian city: a riverbank, fortress, pedestrian avenue and bohemian quarter. It also has a most atypical monument: the Tower of Skulls.

The tower, also known as Ćele Kula, was built after an 1809 battle between Serbians and Ottomans. At the time, revolutionary Serbs from the North sought to liberate Niš from Ottoman rule. Serbian Commander Stevan Sinđelić was losing a battle against the larger, more powerful Ottoman forces when he carried out his sacrificial plan to blow up the gunpowder depot. The explosion killed 3,000 Serbs and 6,000 Ottomans. Enraged at his losses, the Ottoman commander ordered the heads of Serbian soldiers to be removed. Some were sent to the Sultan, and 952 others were used to adorn a tower. Surviving Serbians were forced to build the tower as a warning for anyone who defied the Ottoman Empire.

Creepy AND historic? I was hooked. I arranged to go there with Muz’s Serbian colleague, who I’ll call Vodič (guide). The tower is now housed in a building for its protection, which makes it look almost quaint. I had no idea what to expect. Vodič said I’d have to see it for myself.


As we bought tickets, I wondered if it would look like something out of an Indiana Jones move or an old Bones episode. But this was no movie prop.

Many skulls were looted or destroyed over the years

Frankly, it was upsetting. I consider myself to be somewhat hardened against gruesome things, but I had not expected this. I know what you’re thinking: RHOB, it’s literally called the Tower of Skulls. What did you expect? Yet hearing the words and seeing the tower are two different things. I kept thinking about the horror these men had endured, and the terror of the Serbians who had to build the tower. Maybe I couldn’t hack it on Bones after all. Well, that and the fact that I have zero science background.

Sorry, guys

The woman who took our tickets accompanied us to the tower and gave us a short history lesson in Serbian. She didn’t speak any English, but Vodič translated what I couldn’t understand. She then showed us the case that (supposedly) holds the skull of Commander Sinđelić. His skull was rumored to be at the top of the tower, but I read that it was given to the Sultan.

A long back-and-forth began between Vodič and our tour guide. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but watched in complete fascination as he leaned his head to the bottom of the glass case and took a long sniff. After that he hurried us out of there. I think he knew I was going to ask a lot of questions. And I did. “What was that? Why were you smelling it? What was she talking about?”

Apparently, there is a belief that Commander Sinđelić is due for sainthood. There’s also a belief that the remains of a saint give off a particularly sweet odor. The tour guide insisted my friend smell the skull, and he hustled me out of there before she made me do the same.

“Did it smell like anything?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I just wanted to get you out of there,” he said. Sigh. Serbian men can be very chivalrous, but obviously he didn’t know that American women are straight-up nosy. “I would have smelled it!” I said. He gave me a look I’ve come to learn very well: the seriously, American women are weirdos look.

I guess I had adjusted to being around all those skulls fairly quickly. I wonder if Bones producers want create a new show starring a Serbian housewife…

Slices of Serbia: a pizza pity party

When I was researching Belgrade in preparation for our move here, guidebooks and blogs all seemed to agree on one thing: no one comes to Serbia for the pizza. I thought this was fine. I mean, we weren’t coming to Serbia for Mexican food, either. Who cares if the pizza is bad? As I read more on the subject I discovered why Serbian pizza horrifies the casual traveler. It’s not because the crust is too thick or thin. It’s not because the ingredients aren’t fresh. It’s because if you’re not careful, your pizza slice could be covered in ketchup. Specifically, pizza ketchup.

image source:

Oh yes, this is real. Pizza menus will describe their pizzas as having cheese, tomato, pepperoni…and ketchup. But RHOB, this isn’t really ketchup, right? It’s something else. Nope, this is ketchup. Actually, it’s a little sweeter than American ketchup, so in some ways it’s worse than Heinz 57 or something similar.

But not to despair, non-Serbian pizza lovers! Many places offer pizza without the ketchup. And there are several Italian restaurants in Belgrade that serve Naples-style pizza sans red stuff. There’s even a Pizza Hut on Makedonska. I’ve never been there though so I can’t comment on their ketchup policy.

Truthfully, it’s not the ketchup that tourists should be concerned about: it’s the marinara sauce. This is the most confusing part of ordering pizza here. Sometimes, the marinara sauce is good. Really good. I’ve drizzled it on white pizza or dipped my pizza crust in it. Other times, it’s awful: a processed, sweet goop with chunks of canned tomato in it. STAY AWAY. When you get the side dish of sauce, it’s hard to tell whether you’ve got the good stuff or not–so you’ve got to ask yourself…do you feel lucky? Well, do you?


Image source here.

Overall, I think Serbian pizza isn’t great, but I have a few places that satisfy the craving in Belgrade. The best pizza I’ve had here was in Novi Sad at Kuca Mala, pictured above. Excellent cheese-to-toppings ratio, a nice crust (not too doughy) and decent marinara sauce. Muz’s pizza was just ok. He made the odd choice of getting the Mexican pizza, which featured corn and…carrots. People may not come to Serbia for the Mexican food or the pizza, but they certainly won’t stay for a Mexican pizza.