Monday, October 02, 2006


I must say that Serbia has been very good to us. In Belgrade we stayed with a great host family, that really took care of us. The son is a big literature and local history and culture nut so I got to learn all sorts of stuff. I don't know all of it and I must confess that when all the crazy recent history was happening over here, I really had no idea what was going on.
As you probably know, Serbia is what's left of the old Yugoslavia. Until May this year it was Serbia and Montenegro but Montenegro has now split off and is the world's newest country. When the other republics were breaking away from 1992 onwards (Croatia, Bosnia, etc.) they quickly deteriorated into wars but Serbian soil was more or less unharmed. In 1993, they suffered from the worst hyperinflation imaginable with the highest denomination bill ever, as already mentioned by Savannah. More recently they have been the bad guys of Europe (something they are not too happy about) with the whole Kosovo mess. We are hoping to get to Kosovo in a few weeks so I will save that story for then.
Today though, you'd never really know it was so recently messed up. Things are gettting stabilized, the atmosphere is relaxed and Belgrade is much like any other European city. We were staying in New Belgrade, a recently built suburb crammed with communist stacking blocks called apartment complexes. Although the city has a very long history (over 2000 years) and has been fought over more than 100 times, there is surprisingly little to actually see and do. There is a big fortress (now a park) on a hill overlooking the Danube river and the ubiquitous European pedestrian street, but other than that there isn't much else. Oh, there is an unfinished church that will be the largest orthodox cathedral in the world, if they ever get it done. The Serbian orthodox church in town has an interesting and unique style to it as well. One we haven't seen before. Not long, very solid and tall. To us Belgrade was extra important because we finally managed to get our visas for Macedonia, but that was again not very easy. I sure hope the embassy staff are not representative of the people...... I think the wierdest thing about Belgrade was just walking down one of the main streets in the centre and coming across a couple of blown out buildings. They've just been left there since the 1999 NATO bombings in response to the Kosovo situation. The coolest thing was staying with the local family and hearing the stories of the days of the hyperinflation, or what it's like to live with air raid sirens and bombings. I do not envy them at all, but I appreciate their openness in talking about it with us. This hospitality thing really is the way to go. I've learnt so much more already.
From Belgrade we went 1 1/2 hrs south to a small town called Jagodina. It's always a good idea to try to get out of the big cities and get a feel for the quieter, more traditional life of the country. We chose Jagodina because we had an offer to stay with another host family. It was awesome! We were met and pampered by a very enthusiastic 27 year old english teacher and her parents who had come home for the weekend (they work in Belgrade). We were their first guests as it is not in an area that sees any tourists at all. We spent the weekend there and were treated with a driving tour of the surrounding countryside on our way to a couple of nearby monasteries and a cave. The monasteries were more like fortresses as they had very thick castle-like walls surrounding them and only small churches inside. At the first monastery there was a group of choir girls that came in on a field trip and just started singing. That's where the feel to these places is. I don't get much out of them usually but when you put sound in, wow! I could stay all day.
This morning we left at 5:30am on the bus to Sarajevo. It seems that every week we lose a night of sleep on an overnight bus or train. As we were in a fairly random place to start and just cut straight across Serbia to get to Sarajevo, we travelled along little roads through the mountains. We are starting to see all the fall colours now and it is definately the prettiest area we've been through in Europe. More rugged mountains and lots and lots of forest, which we haven't seen much of so far. So quiet and peaceful looking, it almost makes me want to stay for winter....... Then again, maybe not.
On the home-sickness front, in Serbia there are tons of VW golf's and other old cars driving around. Haven't seen them in a long, long time. I almost miss driving around in my junkie little duct-taped car.


At 1:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Problem with your driving again, will be you've seen it from all sides of the road, and may just decide to drive down the middle of the road.
Your Mom was always a good driver on our trips to Seattle, good memories.


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