Thursday morning we drove about one hour north to a ship-building yard in Zrenjenin to introduce Jim’s very close friend, Milan, to the manager regarding a business opportunity. (Do any of you news hounds recognize “Zrenjenin”? – see my last post for this trip, when I get it done!) They build inland chemical tanker and container ships and barges that ply the rivers of Europe.

After a slide show on the business, we were taken on a tour of the shipyard, and had to put on shipyard bright orange jumpsuits, hard shoes, and hardhats for safety – what a hoot! We went quickly through most of the construction area, from the huge hangar where they build the hull, stern, and bow (each separately) of the ships, to the outdoor assembly where they begin to put together the upper decks and jumpsuitliving quarters, join the sections of the ships, paint the hulls, and then slide them down the ramp into the river. We climbed up scaffolds and down inside a huge bow section to see the shell of crew living quarters – WAY too cramped and claustrophobic for me, and for Jim – and around a 10-compartment chemical container ship being assembled and the hull painted. Lastly we walked across the slipramp down to the river to check out a beautiful new €750,000 luxury riverboat under construction, complete with solar panels on top next to the sun deck, and two full suites below – joking about what it would be like to own that sweet thing!

We were passengers in Milan’s car for this trip, and all the way there, he was using THREE phones to conduct his truck shipping business–two cell phones he carries everywhere, plus a car sat phone (and Jim says he usually has more). The drive home with Milan was even more exciting: as we came into Belgrade around 3:30pm, he began to fret about being late for a meeting across town. He pulled into an multi-street intersection packed with early rush-hour traffic, and a hilarious episode ensued – Jim and Milan trafficjamarguing over how to navigate LEFT through the 4 lanes of a huge traffic circle, 99% of the vehicles flowing right, trolleys in each of the outer lanes, and bumper-to-bumper cars merging in between. After that circus, Milan informed us he had not eaten since yesterday afternoon, and asked if I eat meat (“yes!”). So he pulled over and triple-parked while he went to buy three chevapchichi sandwiches (below)chevap from a storefront vendor – a local treat of three-meat finger sausages, stuffed into a lovely Italian-bread-style pita roll, with cabbage, tomatoes, mustard and hot pepper sauce. It was getting very late, so he then proceeded at full speed (40 mph) along side streets seeking short-cuts to avoid the traffic (like a mouse nosing for a passageway). redfacadeAt one point we barrelled down a very narrow street with traffic going in both directions and cars parked on both sides, and he was swerving, honking, eating his sandwich, and STILL talking on multiple phones! I was trying to take photos as we drove, and captured this lovely building’s façade (left) – I learned later that it is one Irena restored.

Thursday evening Jim and I met Philomena, a passionate and outgoing Ozzie friend of theirs, to walk around 1700-year-old Fort Kalemegdan, steeped in history at the center of old Belgrade, geographically and socially, on the eastern point where the Danube and Sava rivers meet. (Incidentally, did you know that at nearly 1800 miles, the Danube River (called the “Dunav” in Serbian) is the second longest river in Europe, after the Volga? despotgateIt originates in the Black Forest of Germany, and empties into the Black Sea, passing through 10 countries.)

I visited Fort Kalemegdan in 2004, but it was very cold and grey so it was a short visit. This time it was lush and beautiful in the soft dusk light, filled with evening strollers, picnic-ers, and dog-walkers, of all ages, and we timed our walk to see sunset over the rivers. We simply sauntered along as the sky turned cobalt blue, while I clicked away on my camera and Jim and Phil caught up on local and Aussie news. As we approached the Despot Gate below the highest tower (right), a handsome, wiry young guy was practicing his rock climbing a few feet up the wall, so Phil tried it as well, saying that she loves climbing but has been away from it for awhile.