Journal

MY FIRST SERBIAN SPRINGTIME 11 May 2011

Hello once again from beautiful Belgrade, Srbija! This 3rd trip here is so different from my first two, which were in winter to ski. (In 2004 we skied for a week in Kopaonik National Park, about 300k southeast of Belgrade – a fairy wonderland of deep, new snow, A-frames, and deep forest countrysideon the mountaintop. In 2008 we drove from Belgrade through Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia, then across the middle of Italy, stopping in Venice, Verona, and Turin before skiing for a week in Val d’Isere, France.) So I finally get to see this city and country not as cold and grey-brown from dirty snow. As I flew into Belgrade, the view was breathtaking – lush fields and valleys of every color green imaginable, dotted, then saturated with terracotta orange roofs everywhere, trees in bloom, and accented by the two great rivers that meet in Belgrade (kiss, as the locals say) – the Danube and the Sava.

[Just a note of observation on traveling to Serbia, before I get too deep into talking about my visit: Why is that every time I have come, I have been struck by the departure from Munich to Belgrade? The Munich airport, where I have connected each time headed here, is impressive – huge, bright, and very clean. But strangely, at the Belgrade departure gate, after you pass by the boarding attendant, rather than walking through a jetway, you shlepp your carry-on luggage down four flights of narrow stairs (no escalator or elevator to be seen anywhere–what do the handicapped do?), to a shuttle bus, and wait there for about 30 minutes, feeling neglected and unimportant. Then you are driven to the farthest parking lot of the airport, to the last, very small airplane on the lot, to climb the stairs!]

On this trip, I am staying in Jim & Irena’s new three of us4th floor flat, which is even more charming in three dimensions. The love and detail they put into its total makeover is so obvious. They really sweated over how to make the most of the small balcony-terrace (remember, Irena is a civil engineer), first trying to install an angled door from the kitchen corner (too many practical and engineering complications!), but then going for a full glass door, side-wall window, and sink window, so that while standing at the cooktop, you can see nearly 100 degrees of skyline. And the kitchen is beautiful…very modern (as is the entire flat), with wonderful lighting, forest-green accents in the cabinets (which open like Delorean doors!!), patio viewthe countertop, and even in the small green stones cemented into a gap in the floor tiles and along the windowsill and up the wall, like a backsplash. stonesAnd the view really is spectacular – out over the western and southern tip of Belgrade, across Lake Ada and the Sava River with Novi-Beograd to the right, and the airport in the near-distance. Planes often fly directly overhead (high enough not to be too loud) on their approach to land. Jim says a close friend commented that “even bloody Tito didn’t have a view like this!” I haven’t gotten a really good photo of the view on a clear day yet, so I will put that up later.

My first day here ended with one of Irena’s famous dinner creations of baked chicken stuffed with prunes and sremush (a wild green garlic veggie more like spinach) and wrapped in bacon, served over couscous with wine on the beautiful terrace.

signThen after I slept 12 hours, Jim and I rode 21+ miles on bikes in beautiful weather toward Surcin near the airport, along the Sava River. That was quite a ride (my first ever in Serbia). First, I followed Jim down very steep, narrow, curving streets, with cars impatiently sitting on my back wheel or going around me with inches to spare while I rode my brakes, afraid to even take my hands off. We then crossed the main street and highway over to Lake Ada, one of the most popular summer playground areas of the city, with shops, ice cream vendors, cyclists and roller-bladers (there are sava kej*separate* paved trails for walkers, though they use ‘ours’ anyway), a large fountain at the north end of the lake, and rowers practicing and competing – a beautiful park. We rode around the end of the lake over to the Sava River, and walked down wide planks onto a long blue, covered ‘ferry’ boat (holds about 20 people and 8 bikes) to ride across the river to the kej (quay) – the levee that protects the low-lying houses and farms to the west. (Check out this cool sign [above] on the path, and the quote.) All along the river are restaurant boats with gangway entrances, brightly painted and landscaped with great variety. Our ride from that point on was all along the beautiful kej [left] – quiet with only a few cyclists, walkers, and cars. On the way back I struggled home up the steep hills back to the flat (10% for 300′) – but never walked [Irena's] bike. (I found a great iPhone app called ‘Walkmeter’ that uses the GPS to track a journey – from that app, here is a Googlemap link to our ride, actually more fun to view in Google Earth.)