Royal Palace Belgrade

I remember my early explorations of Belgrade’s ‘sights’.

Kalemegdan was one of the first, and even now one of my favourites, given that the path one takes within its depths determines whether you pass beneath ancient boughs, or alongside players of chess, or upon battlements, through flowered gardens, across open grass or more.

I was first taken to another ‘sight to see’, Republic Square, on a snowy winter morning. As snowflakes drifted down around me, I saw a great bronze statue of a man, mounted upon a horse, pointing fiercely into the distance. This it transpired, was Duke Mihailo, who during the mid 19th Century completed the expulsion of the Turks from Serbia and liberated the remaining 7 cities that lay still under the spice and silk heel of Turkish rule.

From the Duke Milhailo statue we’d strolled along the street named after him, Knez Mihailova, Old Belgrade’s vehicle-free chic main shopping destination. We ambled in and out of the clothing stores and bookshops passing beside buildings whose pleasing architectural styles ranged from romanticism to renaissance, partaking of coffee halfway to warm our shivering bodies.

It was summer when I first went to Ada. Bronzed bodies shimmered under a punishing sun, and youths splashed at the water’s edge. We hopped from café parasol to café parasol drinking coke and seeking islands of shade. Melting into comfortable divans, we watched the world flip-flop by, before hiring bikes and free-wheeling along the lanes of the park at a speed that evaporated the sweat from our faces and cooled us down.

My first gaze from the heights of Avala came during an autumn day of bright sun but chill air, when hiking along the wooded paths was marked by faint clouds of mist from our breaths. I took the elevator ride to the top of the tower thinking I’d arrive in a large room – only to walk past the elevator doors and find myself standing beside a wall of glass and a very visible drop of many hundreds of meters to the ground below. Great view – but knee trembling for those uncomfortable with heights.

Given that the title of this article is the ‘Royal Palace Belgrade’, you may wonder why I have not mentioned the place as yet?

Well, this narrative follows chronologically my explorations of the ‘sights’ of Belgrade and the Royal Palace never interested me during my early days in the city..

Visits to the Royal Palace are often included in tours to the Royal Grounds, and labelled as tours of the ‘White Palace’ (the other palace on these grounds). Photos of the White Palace aren’t inspiring, and having seen many stately homes in the UK, those photos were enough to put me off taking the tour for a long time during my time in Belgrade.

Which is a shame, because its a must-see tourist destination which I did eventually make my way to.

Situated on the hills above Belgrade, I adored the wooded grounds upon my first glimpse of them. As our minibus approached the palace, shafts of light from a spring sun penetrated the boughs of the trees and marked our way.

We saw the White Palace that day, a severe neo-Palladian structure, built in the 1930’s and used by both Tito and Slobodan Milosevic when in power. Sporting a vast ‘chequered floor’ stateroom (known as the black and white salon), a royal dining room and a golden salon furnished with rococo furniture, this whilte columned building impressed me.

It was the Royal Palace that awed me, however.

Sporting a façade made of white marble mined from the Adriatic island of Brac (which was also used for the White House in Washington DC), the Royal Palace is small but gorgeous. My jaw dropped as I wandered around. Carpets, tapestries, Serbian folk motifs and frescoes competed to ensure every space pleased the eye.

Decorated in (what I learned was) the Renaissance and Baroque style, authentic furniture and paintings greeted me at every step and reinforced the message of splendour and wealth.

The billiard room and cinema in the basement, had me daydreaming just how I would spend my time if I lived (as does still the Serbian Royal Family) within these walls.

If you visit Belgrade, there are many places you should visit – but make sure the Royal palace is not be the last!

The Cyrillic Alphabet As Political Act

So Laura, seriously. Why didn’t you start learning Cyrillic sooner?

Zing!

should have bitten the bullet and taken a Serbian language class at a university as soon as we arrived in mid-2010. I should have committed to driving 30 minutes to one-hour each way (thanks to cluster-fuck bridge-construction traffic into Belgrade), rushing home to feed my infant, while playing with my toddler.

Hell, I should have even been able to get tons of studying done. What better moment than middle-of-the-night bottle feedings?

Alphabet_Laura-Dennis-300x225

Mommy’s homework

True, so true. Because the best time to tackle a new, very difficult language, is when one is sleep-deprived, culture shocked, and juggling two little kids.

may have believed Cyrillic was “just a phase” …

The truth is, I resisted learning Cyrillic initially because I took the “dual-lettering” (words are often written in Cyrillic and Latin) in malls and stores to mean that Serbia was on its way to “European-ize” itself, as it attempts to join the E.U. [No, I’m not an idiot. It’s just that the complexities of Balkan history and culture were fairly limitednonexistent in terms of American social studies education. And Western media, exemplified by the “All Serbs are war criminals” stereotype.

So anyway, Cyrillic as a phase? Um, not so much.

Reality check: Cyrillic is the alphabet of the Serbian language. While the West may lump ethnicities together, creating “Serbo-Croatian” dictionaries, locals will tell you that there is no such thing as a language called Serbo-Croatian. [I have nothing against Croatians, heck I was raised Catholic!]

Serbian is a language distinct from Croatian. (Let’s be real here, they’re verysimilar). Several words are different, and dialects and accents vary. But. Thealphabet of Serbian is Cyrillic, and the alphabet of Croatian is Latin.

Rebel Serbs, really?

The difference in alphabet is not to be taken lightly.

In February, thousands of Croats rallied against a new law to display Cyrillic Signs in Vukovar, which is now a part of Croatia, but has a large ethnic Serb population. According to Reuters, Vukovar is “a town destroyed in the 1991-95 war with rebel Serbs.”

vukovar_Laura-Dennis-300x206

WARNING: I may be more nationalistic now than some Serbs. I may be a foreigner and truly have no beef against anyone because of their ethnicity, but I do have opinions … If you are 100% sure that the American media reporting of the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s was balanced and unbiased, skip this section, please. I wouldn’t want to risk inadvertantly un-washing-someone’s brain.

Another quote from the Reuters article that exemplifies the Western perspective on the Balkan conflict

… the easternmost town of Vukovar, which many Croats still see as a symbol of destruction and suffering brought on by the Serb rebellion against Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. [boldface is mine.]

To clarify … the above referenced “rebel Serbs,” and the “Serb rebellion” … these were Yugoslav citizens. If they carried a passport, it was for Yugoslavia. People of Serb ethnicity were fighting to keep Croatia from gaining independence from Yugoslavia.

Stop! Caveat Time: Yes, the Serbs “lost,” yes, there was bad behavior on both sides. (This happens in war.) History is written by the victors, saying who’s a “rebel” versus who was “justified” and a “freedom fighter.”

Imagine for a moment …

Florida_Laura-Dennis-300x262

If Florida declared independence, who would YOU call “rebel”?

Cuban-Americans [insert your mixed American ethnicity of choice] in Florida decided they were fed up (they, too have their reasons) and declare a free and independent Florida. … Would it be appropriate to call U.S. soldiers and citizens who take up arms against those seceding–rebels?

Would we call the ones who are fighting to keep Florida in the U.S., rebels?

Before anyone starts flaming me in the comments Consider this: during the Civil War, the Confederate Army was the Rebel Army, because they were the ones seceding.

Remember the American Revolutionary War? Yep. In that case, our constitutional Founders were Revolutionaries. Those who were remained loyal to the British throne (for whatever reason, surely they had at least one) … were “loyalists,” because they tried to keep the American colonies from gaining freedom.

The rebels were those who wanted to break away.

Cyrillic Alphabet as Political Act

Back to the Balkans …

What happened in Vukovar is that the Social Democratic-led Croatian government sought to implement a law (yes a law that passed by a democratic process). The law allows for Cyrillic public signs in places where there is at least a 1/3 Serb population. A significant number of Croatians (approx 20,000 rallied) have a problem with it.

The Croatian government is attempting to soothe ethnic tensions. … Protesting a law intended to recognize ethnic diversity, a law that your own democratic government carried out? That’s bad juju.

There you have it: Cyrillic is a political act. Ethnic tensions die hard.

Now please excuse me while this quote-un-quote rebel expat (and proud American citizen) takes some time to study her Cyrillic.

*  *  *  *  *

Vukovar protest image. Florida image from freedigitalphotos.net

Serbia Takes Part In Earth Hour Action

Global action “Earth Hour”, organized by World Nature Fund will take place in Serbia as well, by symbolically turning off street and decorative lights for one hour, from 20:30 to 21:30 in more than 40 towns.

By joining in the most significant global event of that kind, public institutions and citizens will point out to the harmfulness of human influence on climate and consenquences of excessive consumption of limited natural resources. The action is organized for the seventh time globally, and for the fifth time in Serbia.

This year, it is excpected that 152 countries and 7.000 towns with 200 million participants will take part in the event, while last year 140 countries, more than 6.000 towns and municipalities, with around 1,8 billion were involved.

Expat Confessional – 3 Ways I Suck At Driving In Serbia

Driving in and around Belgrade is not easy. [Understatement.]

Things simply doesn’t make sense (literally, as in I’m illerate in Cyrillic). It’s New York City-type-driving on steroids. Lanes are more narrow, drivers cut-it-closer, with just the slightest bit of aggression. No, I’m not implying all Serbs are aggressive, I’m still a semi-PC-American, remember? People are skilled, not nasty drivers.

I will never understand the traffic patterns here.

While I do consider myself a competent, safe driver, but please don’t ask my husband his opinion, I will now provide a few examples to elucidate why and how I truly … suck at driving in Serbia.

1. The Protected Green Left-turn Light.

Doesn’t sound so hard, right? It (should) mean I have the right-of-way to make my left turn safely.

Not so.

These lights coincide with green walk signs for pedestrians who are crossing the very intersection through which I’m attempting to drive.

Seriously. It is extremely disconcerting to see grandmas slowly shuffling and I hope to dear god they don’t fall and break a hip crossing these intersections. What I want to know is … Why give me the go-ahead with a protected green light? Why Serbia-traffic-laws, why?

Those sneaky protected green lights mess with my head.

Which brings me to Confession #1: may have slammed my breaks on more than one occasion to keep from flattening a man-in-a-jaunty-white-jacket-who-nearly-lost-his-life, sorry! pedestrian who sprinted into the intersection at the last possible moment.

2. Un-marked lanes, which are actually reserved for … trams. Yes, as in electric trains on the street

Belgrade has electric trams, like those quaint street cars in San Francisco. Here, they sometimes have own dedicated lanes. No big deal, right?

Confession #2: Ummmm, I may have driven in tram lane once or twice. Don’t judge … it was empty, as in tram-free!

These lanes aren’t properly marked (see above, re: Laura’s illiteratacy), so to thestupid American driver and even a casual observer, they are merely unused lanes perfect for getting a leg-up on backed up traffic.

3. Invisible traffic lights

On the subject of unmarked-things-you-need-to-see-when-driving-a-car (and, yes, I was wearing my glasses, thank you for asking) … Most traffic lights have some “protective material” that reflects the light, thereby making it nearly impossible to ascertain the light’s status … until one is nearly in the intersection.

Confession #3: I may have run a red light (let’s call it pink, not quite red) but not on purpose!

Love Between Serbia And Croatia

A photo showing a young couple kissing, with the boy wearing Serbian and the girl Croatian flag was uploaded on image service “imgur”.

User who uploaded the photo described the circumstances that led to its creation.

“College ‘United World’ in Mostar attracts people of more than 40 nationalities. Located in the town which is still divided by war in population’s subconciousness, he became the symbol of new generation of Balkan nations. This year, a Culture parade takes place to mark 50 years of the movement ‘United World’. We all proudly wore our flags through the streets both on Bosnian and Croatian part of town. My Serbian friend was holding hands with his Croatian girlfriend. When an older lady asked her how she can walk besides a Serb, she kissed him. That’s when I took the photo. It is nothing special really, a couple showing affection, but for us here in Mostar, it is evidence that new generations are not willing to continue with war in their minds”, wrote the author of the photo.

Young In Serbia Want To Be Soldiers

Even though Serbia abolished obligatory military service two years ago and left only the possibility for those who wish to go to army voluntarily, there is a still great interest for puttin on an army uniform.

During the March application period, more than 3.000 candidates applied for Serbian army service, which is 5,5 times more than planned.

Ministry of Defense stated that it was first planned for 500 soldiers and 40 candidates for officers to be sent to training centers in March.

For the available positions a total of 3.042 candidates applied, 2.881 of which for military service, and 161 for officer course.

502 candidates for soldiers and 41 for ofiicers were invited, and all of them responded positively to invitation.

Out of the total number, 54 candidates for soldiers and four candidates for officers are girls.

Gold Medal For ‘The Serbian Giant’ Asmir Kolasinac!

Asmir Kolasinac created history to earn Serbia their first ever gold medal – in fact it was also a first ever podium position – at a European Athletics Indoor Championships in Göteborg with a masterful performance!

The 28-year-old Serb, who had won a bronze medal at last summer’s European outdoor championships, had led the qualifiers into yesterday’s final and backed up that performance when it counted by producing the four longest throws of the competition.

In the final assessment Kolasinac’s fourth round throw of 20.62m was his best, however after leading with his first legitimate throw of the competition in round two (20.60m) he never looked likely to cede control of the final.

In silver, Hamza Alic claimed a maiden European Athletics Indoor Championship medal for Bosnia-Herzegovnia courtesy of a lifetime best effort of 20.34m in round four. Ladislav Prasil of the Czech Republic secured the bronze with 20.29m. There was disappointment for defending champion Ralf Bartels of Germany who has to settle for fourth with a season’s best of 20.16m.

Alic raised his arms aloft after opening with a season’s best 20.15m in round one to take an early lead in an otherwise forgettable first round, which witnessed just three other legitimate throws.

However, round two saw the final step up a notch as Kolasanic stamped his mark on the competition with a season’s best 20.60m. Portugal’s Marco Fortes also shifted into the bronze medal position with a respectable 19.90m.

Kolasinac looked frustrated with a 20.21m effort in round three. Meanwhile, Prasil elevated himself into provisional silver with 20.29m. At the halfway stage it was Kolasinac from Prasil with Alic in bronze.

An otherwise low-key final stepped up in class in round four. The first significant move was made by Alic, who switched podium positions with Prasil to move into silver with a personal best effort 20.34m. Kolasinac, meanwhile, further strengthened his grip on the final by improving his best by 0.02 out to 20.62m.

The penultimate round saw Prasil’s bronze medal position come under threat. Fortes of Portugal went out to 20.02m to briefly move into fourth until Ralf Bartels re-took that spot with 20.16m. Meanwhile, Kolasinac achieved his third longest distance of the day with 20.51m.

The final round was a little bit of a damp squib as there was no change to the overall placings. But perhaps appropriately the final word belonged to Kolasinac with a 20.49m effort.

Novak Chatting With Chinese Fans

In order to be closer to his Chinese fans, Novak Djokovic launched his Sina Weibo profile in January. After winning the Australian Open and leading Serbia into the Davis Cup World Group quarter-finals, the world no.1 chatted with his Chinese fans through the most popular free instant messaging service in China – QQ.

Q: Have you ever thought about breaking Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slams?

Novak: I didn’t necessarily think about breaking his record, but I definitely thought of winning more GSs.

Q: Many fans were very interested in your final match which was against Murray, do you think the duel between you and Murray could replace the duel between Federer and Nadal?

Novak: Maybe, but it doesn’t have to replace it because Murray and me, we have quite different rivalry than Roger and Rafa. So our matches just add one more interesting rivalry on tour.

Q: You teach me a lot about tennis and life, and you’re like my role model. Can you tell me how do you handle difficulties and challenges in your life and career?

Novak: Thank you! That’s really inspiring to hear. Handling difficult situations is never easy, I always try to be positive and believe that I can overcome them. There is no recipe for it unfortunately.

Q: Nole, which GS is most important in your mind this year? AO, Wimbledon or Roland Garros?

Novak: This year it’s all about RG! But, I wouldn’t mind winning all 3 🙂

Q: How do you relax when you feel tired? How do you motivate yourself?

Novak: I relax with my girlfriend and friends. We walk in the nature, read books, cook. Being surrounded with people who love me is very important to me, they give me back the energy when I’m tired or down.

Q: Hi, Nole. May you win the championship in Melbourne. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Novak: Thank you! In 10 years? Hmm, I see myself as a father 🙂

Q: Did your design your shirt for games by yourself or just pick them from the Uniquo?

Novak: We do it together, they suggest me couple of options and then we talk about which one I like the most and they try to work around that. Uniqlo is doing amazing work so far! Do you like my game wear?

Q: Dear Nole! Can you swim? Which one is your style: breaststroke, front crawl, butterfly or backstroke?

Novak: Yeah, I can swim. I learned when I was little and can do all styles.

The Good, the Bad, and the 3 Year Anniversary

Yep. You read that right… At approximately 4pm today (January 28, 2013) I will have lived in Serbia for 3 years. It has been one heck of a ride, too! I’m just an average emigrant here living with a Serbian salary and enjoying life. I wouldn’t change too much either, honestly.

Almost always I get asked why I left America to live here.  It’s simple.  It’s Serbia. True, it has the bad – what country doesn’t? But then it has the good – great even! It is a matter of what you want in a country – in your personal life and what you want in a culture/society. And I chose Serbia.  A special someone helped that, too. My original destination was Russia or Ukraine as a teenager. But Serbia is simply amazing and I love it. No regrets.

My three years here have been never dull. Ever. I’ve managed to always be legal here, thankfully. I’m aiming for citizenship when I’m eligible. I’ve had jobs with language schools, privately taught, and now own my own small, international company. The economy blows, jobs are scarce, but it’s Serbia! Everyone knows about the food, nightlife, and women (and men!) – but not everyone appreciates the true beauty of Serbia. That would include the customs, the culture, the deep rooted history, and the mystery of everything that happens in Serbia. I’ve been to protests, witnessed rallies and demonstrations, and sat through lectures and conversations of profound debates. This is my life as an expat. It’s not the normal life of an expat – true. But I wouldn’t change it really.  Okay, maybe more traveling around Serbia and Serbian territories. Bettering my own Serbian language skills – which is my own deaf lazy bum’s fault (but that’s my new year’s resolution). I’ve never been to a club here. I love dancing but most of the time would prefer to see a folklore dance troupe over clubs and drinking. And yes, I’ve had rakija. It’s nice if it’s of good quality. But I prefer a good wine which there are many options here in Serbia!

I’m new to The Balkans Daily, if you haven’t noticed. I generally write at my own blog when I have time, but it’s very focused on the topics covered. And here I have a chance to show a different perspective of expat living that doesn’t really fit into my own blog. I’m honored with the opportunity, too.

Today when I was headed home from my English lesson in Novi Beograd, I had the luxury of walking from Ušće to Slavija. It gave me so much time to think about my life here while I had Beogradski Sindikat, Frank Sinatra, Stateless, and other great music blaring in my ears. Seeing the snow blanketed river-banks, the mixed architecture from different time periods, the coming and going of passersby, bundled up children, the scars of wars yet to truly end , the stench of the winter air – all of it makes me feel complete. This is what a city should do for you. And this is what Beograd does for me.

So yes… Serbia has problems. So does America. But I feel at home for once. And I’m forever grateful that Serbia has taken me into her arms and treated me as one of her own.

Here’s to three years and many more to come!

Roads In North And East Of Serbia Snowbound

Due to strong winds in the north of Serbia, snow that was previously cleaned from the roads by the snow removal services was blown back onto the roads and blocked the traffic.

During the previous 24 hours, members of Emergency situations sector, ambulance crews and snow removal teams have evacuated more than 130 persons, some of them children and sick.

Most problems with the roads occur in vicinity of towns Zrenjanin and Vrsac.

Situation is similar in the east of the country. In the area of Majdanpek and Donji Milanovac municipalities, some roads towards central Serbia are snowbound.

With the exception of these two regions, all other roads in Serbia are passable. Those who travel through Serbia are advised to use the highway Nis-Belgrade-Subotica.