Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Apres Ski

I just got back from my weekend skiing in Austria--pretty much a dream of mine. I decided that I needed to get out and do it, so I loaded my skis up and caught a night train. I absolutely love the night trains because you sleep on the way there, and wake up in a totally different world. It is way better than hassling with the airport! On this trip, I woke up in Austria... amazing! For those of you who know the Bavarian villages of Solvang, CA or Leavenworth, WA, they are pretty much right on. The y even had a hotel named Edelweiss... I could hardly keep from breaking out into song!

As I am incapable of planning ahead and having reservations, I met a man on the train who works at Obertauern and could recommend ski lodging for a reasonable price. Because it is early season, a lot of hotels weren't open yet, so I ended up staying in a room above a disco (good thing I am a heavy sleeper). The room was cheap, clean, walking distance from the slopes and came with a breakfast so as long as you don't mind the vibrations of the base below you, it was a great place to stay!

The first day I skied, I quickly realized that I was the ONLY telemarker on the entire mountain (and it is a big mountain). People kept coming up to me and after a bunch of gibberish (German) I would hear the word "telemarker." Luckily most of them switched to perfect English when I mentioned that I hadn't understood a word they said. They all thought I was crazy (apparently not many people from the US ski at Obertaurn). As I got ready to head back to my hotel at the end of the day, I heard loud, fun music coming from one of the ski lodges... it sounded like a party! As I like parties, I headed inside and was introduced to the world of Apres Ski (after ski in French). The idea is that after you ski all day, you are stoked by having a great day, but have nothing to do except head to your lodging. In order to give people something to do, lodges and restaurants open up from 3-6 to let skiers party until dinner time. Skiers come by the mass, still in their ski clothes to enjoy Apres Ski. The music is hilarious (YMCA, Macerena, and Austrian Yodeling) and people are amazingly agile while dancing in their ski boots. I even partook in some of the festivities (yep, I tried dancing in ski boots). At 6, the Apres Ski places shut down to clean up for dinner.

One of the best things about travelling alone is the number of people you meet. The second day I set out skiing with a woman from Austria who rips! We had a great day skiing and once again participated in Apres Ski. What a kick... I wish I had a video camera so that everyone could appreciate how amazing it is. When I decide to quit teaching and make my millions, I will open an Apres Ski place in the states!

Austria exceeded all of my expectations and I can't wait to go back to ski there again this winter... hopefully I can convince friends to come too!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Snow Day!

As all little kids know... these are magic words! All weekend it has been snowing in Belgrade. We currently have about 1/2 a foot of snow and it is absolutely beautiful. It completely changes the whole city, and makes me really happy (even though someone knocked down my snowman).

Saturday, taking full advantage of the snow, we immediately headed to the top of Belgrade's sledding hill. They used to have a rope tow on the hill (and may put it back in if there is enough snow) and there are two mini ski lodges at the looks like we are in the Alps right?

While there wasn't enough snow on Saturday for sledding, Sunday had plenty! We took our trash bags and made "Ghetto" skis and snowboards out of plastic and wood planks. We were quite the hit on the hill. One little boy told a Chrissy (wearing the white coat) "Wow, your yellow trash bag is really fast." We were pretty much entertainment for the entire crowd (and the only adults enjoying the snow).

Apparently, due to the weight of the wet snow on the power lines, a line went down at our lower school causing an electrical fire and destroying our server. The admin is meeting today to decide if they will cancel school Tuesday and Wednesday as well so that we can have a longer Thanksgiving break. I am rooting for it... there is no way to teach without computers right?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Slovenia Rocks my Socks!

I just came back from a crazy, but wonderful trip to Slovenia's Julian Alps. Jamie and Ethan are always up for a trip, so we decided to do a marathon weekend to meet up with Melissa in the Julian Alps. Melissa has decided teaching in Belgrade isn't her cup of tea, so is leaving on the 19th. In the meantime, she has been travelling throughout Bosnia and Croatia, and then met up with us in Slovenia. To get to Lake Bled (our homebase for the weekend), we jumped on an overnight train Friday after school. Somehow we ended up in first class (I assume it is because they looked at us and thought we deserved it), so our sleeping accommodations were fantastic. Comfy beds, a nice rocking train and cold medicine made for an incredible night's sleep. We arrived in Ljubljana early Sat. morning and headed straight for the mountains. Boy do I miss mountains.

Jamie, Ethan and I could barely contain ourselves as we checked into our room and immediately set out for some exploring of Vintgar Gorge. This super steep canyon has crystal Green waters and some killer rapids. Unfortunately, they are pretty log jammed, so I won't be kayaking them anytime soon. We walked along the boardwalk through the river canyon and then decided to go a bit off the beaten track. Long past the time we should have met Melissa, and 10 km from town, we realized that no one picks up hitchhikers in Slovenia--or maybe just not those who look like riff-raff like we do.

After meeting up with Melissa, we decided to explore Lake Bled. The lake has a castle on one side, an Island Church in the middle, and is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, they do not rent out paddle boats at night. We were somewhat sad to not be able to row out to the island, until we stumbled upon a boat on a dock. Some kind Slovenian had left it with oars all set up and untied. We decided to go on a covert mission to the island (yep, we are molding the minds of future leaders). Either the owner didn't mind us using his boat, or he didn't notice, but we left it back on his dock after our nighttime adventure.

Sunday was another beautiful day so we set out for Triglav National Park. Hiking in the mountains definitely did the soul some good--I didn't realize how much I miss the mountains! The slopes were steep, and I can't wait to go back. Perhaps next time, we will take advantage of the mountain huts for a backpacking trip.

We arrived back in Ljubljana at 9 Sunday night in time to catch an overnight train back to Belgrade. Of course, the train was an hour late, so we headed straight to school, still stinking in our hiking clothes... I am ready for my next weekend adventure!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween in Belgrade

The beauty about teaching in Belgrade, and from what I understand- all of international teaching, is that you have a built in community of expats. This weekend was full of parties to celebrate Halloween and Oktoberfest.

The weekend started out at the Canadian Embassy for a huge costume party. There were all sorts of costumes from blow up pink flamingos (My coworkers Jamie and Ethan) to people who had raided a local theater's costume department. My assistant principal, Eric, won the men's costume contest with an Afro wig and some crazy clothes (who makes skin tight plaid pants long enough for a guy who is 6'5"?). If you are wondering about the pink flamingos (I couldn't stop laughing), they were purchased recently at WALMART in the states... check em out!

Saturday was Oktoberfest at our director's house, followed by another Halloween party put on by a woman who works at the American embassy. Unfortunately, after Oktoberfest, all I wanted to do was go home and sleep...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Black Mountains

The past weekend two coworkers and I had a "girls" weekend on the coast of Montenegro. Our plan was to meet at least half of the population of Montenegro, or Cerno Gora as they call it there. It may sound like a lofty aspiration, but is in actuality entirely possible as there are only around 600,000 people in the entire COUNTRY! I am convinced, however, that as soon as this place is "discovered" there will be a huge influx of citizens.

The coast was a very rugged and breathtakingly beautiful place. We hit the season just right as there were almost no tourists (besides aging Britains) and yet the weather was still pleasant, although not warm enough to swim. Our trip started out in Budva, your traditional beach town. There were palm trees and lots of beachside cafes with very few people. One of my coworkers, Chrissy has an Irish friend who owns a pub in Budva, and we wanted to make sure to find him. As it turns out, there is only one Irish pub in old town, a small area of town amongst the walls of an old fortress. This pub is NOT the English pub.

Colom showed us around Budva, and Kotor, a town at the tip of Southern Europe's deepest fjord. Kotor is home to an old fortress high on top of a mountain that rises straight up from town. We climbed the stairs to the top to enjoy some amazing views. On our way up, we thought two Japanese tourists wanted us to take their picture. Of course we agreed. The next thing we knew, we were IN a picture with an elderly Japanese couple.... I hope I make their photo album!

Kotor also has an old town. The old towns feel like a fairy tale as the streets are too narrow for cars, so it is entirely walking cobblestone streets. I felt as if I was in a different world. While I had a hard time understanding Colom, I believe he said that the Montenegran coast has a strong Italian influence from the trade ships way back in the day. This is supposedly why the old towns feel so different from the rest of Serbia.

On our third day (long weekends are the best) we headed down to check out Sveti Stefan, an old fishing village turned exculsive resort. It was considered the most exculsive resort in 1972 and was frequented by Sylvester Stallone. It is currently under construction, but still makes for quite the sight. The entire village is located on an island about 50m out to sea. It is connected by a man-made sand bridge and has stone walls the entire way around. Unfortunately, my camera broke so I do not have pictures after the first day of our trip. I can't wait to head back to Montenegro!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

My first Rip-off

Today was the first day that I have officially been ripped off for being a foreigner (or stranger as they call it here). Two coworkers and I headed out for dinner as we have a three day weekend and needed some way of celebrating Thursday night. On the way home, we noticed that the meter in the taxi cab was skyrocketing and was on level 3. We had never seen it before--1 is for daytime 2 is nighttime, 3 is ?? We tried to ask, even using the few words in Serbian that we thought might make sense, but the driver acted completely oblivious. Finally, Jamie leaned towards the front seat and tapped on the meter. The taxi driver immediately switched it to level 2--we aren't totally dumb Americans! The worst part was, as we left the cab, he started talking with us in PERFECT English--he totally knew what he was doing. Not to worry though, we showed him.... the total fare was 348 dins, and we only gave him 340- a difference of about 20 cents. That will teach him to mess with us.

On a much better note, last weekend, some friends of friends in Seattle were biking through Serbia (you may be asking who does that, but apparently these people do) and stayed with me for two days. They are on a year long biking trip around the world. We showed them how teachers live in fancy apartments and have country cottages. A couple of my coworkers bought a country cottage a few years back and had a pig roast for his birthday. They have adopted the custom that to celebrate your birthday, you pay for all of your friends to party. The country was beautiful and the food was fantastic (all but the pig head with an apple in the mouth). I think the bikers enjoyed being able to speak the language. Check out their trip at

This weekend, we are heading to Montenegro for some beach action and hiking. Too bad it is almost winter, the water looks beautiful.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Buda and Pest

For the past weekend, three coworkers and I went on a crazy fun weekend trip to Budapest (really Buda and Pest). We got on the train at 11 pm to arrive in BP at 5 am the next morning. Luckily, we had the forsight to reserve bunks as it would have been a miserable trip had we not slept.

After arriving groggy due to lack of sleep and at least two 3 am wake-ups to check our passport (one out of Serbia, one into Hungary), we found a nice cafe and planned the day. We had to see the famous castle (we still aren't sure if it is real) and wanted to check out the spikey Parliament Building. One of the most interesting sights was an old church that had been destroyed during WWII. When the communists came into power, they decided that the church was a great setting for a fancy (i.e. ugly) hotel on the hill. Instead of completely destroying the church, they built around it. It now has remains of the church walls and floor right in the middle of the motel. Makes for a funny sight... what were the communists thinking?

After a marathon hike around castle hill and through the streets of downtown Buda and Pest (they are cities across the river from each other), we headed for one of the world famous baths. Of course we chose a "G" rated bath as after my experiences with nude beaches, I didn't need any more old men in the buff. The baths are a very intricate system of hot and cold pools. The hot pools range from luke warm (not my favorite as it was not all that warm outside) to smoking hot. It was fun to just try the different tubs.

Perhaps my favorite tub was a medium warm tub with strong jets pushing the water in the tub in a circle. All you had to do was lift your feet and you would bob along, hitting people as you went. It was quite fun until trying to get out when you are shoved into the wall as the current is so strong.

After the refreshment of the baths. We headed back downtown for dinner and another walk (our muscles had been soothed by the hottubs). Parliment looked amazing at night and there were many live bands playing in various restaurants.

Sunday morning, we continued our explorations of downtown Pest, and tried for an art museum, but were shut down as the tram track was under construction so we couldn't make it to the right part of town. Mom, I did really try to go to a museum. It amazed me how much English is spoken in BP. There were easy to recognize tour groups all over the city. Without fail, the guide had a funny hat, balloon, or umbrella and a group of foreigners following. I had forgotten how many tourists are outside of Belgrade.

The train ride back took us through the not so pretty country side of southern Hungary and northern Serbia. It was.... Flat. Lots of corn and pheasants.

We arrived back in Belgrade just in time to go to bed. It was nice to know my way around and actually understand a few words on the streets. I hope to go back to Budapest sometime this year!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Downtown Belgrade

I finally bit the bullet and headed downtown to take touristy photos of Belgrade. Downtown Belgrade is bustling at all hours of the day with tons of people shopping, lounging and enjoying the city. There are many parks and beautiful buildings right next to communist era buildings. One of the better traditions of Serbia is their ability to enjoy a cup of coffee or soda. There are many cafes with street seating. You are expected to sit and chat for hours.

There are also many orthodox churches in Belgrade. These churches are massive and beautiful. One church, Sveti Sava has been under construction since the early 1900's. Construction keeps being delayed by wars and lack of funding during the communist era. I believe it is finally almost completed and is a huge church (not the one in the photo).
Apparently people really like to get married here because every church I have seen has had a wedding in progress. The good news is they don't mind tourists and other church goers in the church during the ceremony.

Perhaps the most intruiging aspect of Belgrade for me are the buildings bombed by NATO in 1999. The buildings still stand with the scars of the bombs, while the other half of the building may still be used as office space and apartments. It is a wonder that they do not hate Americans here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Country Refreshment

The past weekend was the first venture out of Belgrade.... and the trip went quite seamlessly (well almost). Zlatibor, as it turns out is quite the Serbian vacation spot. Picture a mini Aspen. It is in the hills (which they call mountains) and is a quite touristy spot with lots of comfy chairs to sit and drink coffee in. After showing up and realizing that no motel would let us stay there because they couldn't register our paper copies of our passports with the police (our originals are still in lockup at the embassy), we found a small apartment that would rent to us for a reasonable rate. The apartment was complete with doilies and scary baby dalls (see picture).
Saturday, we went on the Mountaineering trail for a hike. Aparently mountaineering means a stroll through the forest to the top of a few wooded hills. It was quite an adventure as the trail was not well marked, and a stray crippled dog made his way with us. It was great to get out of the city and into fresh air though, and Jamie, Ethan and I all thought it was just right for us.
Sunday, we headed to Uzice (with lots of accents over the z and c). This is almost a very quaint little village had it not been for the communist building sticking out of the center of the city. The highlight of this town were the ruins of a mideval fort on the outskirts of town. We hiked around the fort and practiced our newfound rock climbing moves on the walls.

It wasn't until the way home that our real adventure started. We thought it would be fun to take the train back even though it was about an hour longer. When we stepped on the train, we immediately realized why everyone recommended busses.... it was standing room only. We ended up finding enough room to sit on the floor at the very back of the train next to the WC (toilet in case you were wondering). We opened the back sliding doors for some ventillation and it wasn't entirely uncomfortable unless someone needed to use the restroom at which point it was an AWEFUL smell.

Luckily, we made it back to the rainy Belgrade. We had missed all of the bad weather. This week has been a whirlwind of activity with open house last night, student council elections today and preparations for a middle school dance on Friday. I have also now convinced six unknowing middle school students to run cross-country, so it sounds as if we will be able to travel to Kiev in October. More later..... Serbian Lessons call!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Zlatibor or Bust!

Life in Belgrade is becoming somewhat routine. I can now ride a bus everywhere I need to go (and actually usually make it there), I can generally order food that I enjoy in restaurants, and I still can't speak Serbian! It has gotten quite a bit cooler here (maybe 50's although I am not sure because I don't get Celsius), but I very much enjoy the cooler weather even though I no longer see naked men at the beach on my runs.
We have been climbing with a local climbing club a bit at a place very near my house (very near is less than a mile). It apparently used to be one of Tito's summer theaters, and the cut they did into the earth provides for six or eight climbing routes along with some bouldering. It is a great afterschool activity, and fun to hang out with Serbians!

School is as always going well, although sometimes I have to ask my kids to call out so that I feel like I am really teaching. I'm not used to having such polite kids, and so few! An interesting thing I have started to notice is that the foreign hires (me) at my school are by far the least qualified. From what I understand, Belgrade has around 20% unemployment, which means ISB hires incredible locals. Some have law degrees and masters degrees in engineering. Even our aides and receptionists all are college educated, and many of them have teaching credentials. All of this, and the local teachers still make 40% less than I do and don't get their living paid for... equitable right?

This afternoon, two coworkers and I are headed south and west to get out of the city and go for a few hikes. Hopefully the buses work... it should be about a 3-4 hour ride to Zlatibor. I am excited to see a different area of Serbia, and to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Market Mania

I have now been teaching for a full week (hence the no "blogging") and have been enjoying myself with wonderful students. I teach four classes, two sixth and two seventh, with between 9 and 13 students in each class. I end up having students call out a lot because it is too quiet in the room. Sixth graders are quite the joy as they are very excited to be given their math books and their first homework assignments. What happens to them by eighth grade?

After my first week with students, I ventured farther from Senjak (the upscale neighborhood that I live in) than I have in the past. There is a charming town, Zemun, that has become a suburb of Belgrade but retains its small town feel. In Zemun, there is a huge market with all sorts of vegetables and goods. I decided to start on my house plant collection (forgetting that I would be bringing it all back on the bus). A coworker and I spent the entire day milling around the town, and walking along the river (there is lots of water in Belgrade). In all an enjoyable day.

For Saturday night, we headed downtown, trying to find the underground scene in Belgrade we have heard so much about. After finally finding the black gates to an apartment complex, we were buzzed into a dark hall. We searched until we finally found the door of the Federal Association of World Travellers, a hot night spot. Unfortunately, there was a private party, so we had a late dinner and called it a night. Apparently, we are not hip to the local goings on yet--next weekend a local coworker has promised to show me some local spots.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


On a hot Saturday in Belgrade, my coworkers (three shown at right) and I took advantage of the only appealing option- swimming. Belgrade has an incredible park (Ada) that runs around a lake. While locals have warned us that the water may not be pristine (all of Belgrade swims in the stagnant water), we have decided that Ada is very underrated. The park is a recreationists dream, complete with beaches, cafes, carnival rides and even bungi jumping. The people watching is also incredible as European men all enjoy sporting very tight speedos.

Not only is Ada enjoyable for cooling off on a hot day, it is also the perfect distance from my house for a nice run. There is a trail the entire way around the lake which is preferable to risking my life with the crazy drivers on the road. Additionally, I will never get bored as there are often old men out performing their morning yoga in the buff (yuck).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Boat Cruise

International School Belgrade continues to amaze me in their treatment of teachers. Although we are in "severe budget crisis" (the students only pay 20,000 to go here--quite a bargain), we took a boat cruise on the Danube as a staff. It was beautiful with views of the city.

We also went past Kalamegdan, the fortress in the center of town (also the site of the beerfest where a man ended up in the bear's cage--check it out on CNN
Belgrade is also surrounded by parks and green areas that I have yet to explore. Perhaps after I pick up my bike this afternoon--hot off the black market.

Monday, August 20, 2007

In Belgrade

I finally have my computer hooked up to internet so can begin my accounts of life in Belgrade.

ARRIVAL: After a full day of travel, I arrived in Belgrade smelling of smoke (in Munich and Belgrade, smoking is allowed in the airports and restaurants—is this 1950?), and with an unbelievable amount of stuff (yes, even my kayak made it). Luckily, I was greeted by four school staff members to help me move into my apartment. It is a beautiful apartment in a VERY upscale neighborhood. I will never be able to move back into the slums where I used to live.

While Serbian is a very difficult language, just about everyone here speaks some English. This is very helpful in trying to do things such as riding the bus (more difficult than you would think) and set up cable internet, but not so helpful trying to learn the language.

After misreading a map, I found myself on a marathon walk to downtown Belgrade. When I realized my mistake, I tried to get my bearings and realized all road signs are in the Cyrillic alphabet where c’s are k’s and s’s are c’s (yep, it is confusing!). With a few new blisters I finally reached my destination then braved the bus back.

SETTLING IN: After a few days in Belgrade, I have met a few coworkers who are incredibly fun and helpful. My principal even took me to the Merkatur (similar to Walmart, but more expensive). It seems odd to have my boss know what I eat and which brands of sheets I prefer. I tried to buy some aluminum foil and was not successful. There were boxes that looked like foil and had the word folije on them (similar to foil). Apparently, this means saran wrap.

I have also spent some time exploring the city. There is a beautiful bike trail that I have been running on that runs around a city island/park. The park is complete with a bungee jump station (I am chicken) and nude sun bathers in the afternoons—this really isn’t the US.

Downtown Belgrade is very interesting as it has just about every type of building you can imagine. There are beautiful churches and old style buildings right next to communist era ugly cement buildings right next to buildings that were bombed by the US less than ten years ago (why don’t they hate us?). There is also a walking street through the middle of downtown lined with cafes with outdoor seating—wonderful because I don’t come away smelling like an ash tray. However, just because an item is on a menu, does NOT mean they serve it.
Overall, the transition has gone quite smoothly. It is frustrating when something that should be easy (i.e. setting up internet) is incredibly hard because you do not know where to go or how to ask for help. The good news is that my coworkers are incredibly helpful!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

South Fork Salmon and other Summer Adventures

In my quest to run as many rivers as possible, I found the best multi-day river trip around--the South Fork of the Salmon. After sneaking around the Forrest Service Fire Fighters who wanted to stop our trip, we had four amazing days on the river. The whitewater was incredible, and the scenery beautiful. (Yep, that's me running Fall Creek)

Perhaps the most amazing part of the trip was seeing a wolf in the wild (and no, it isn't a coyote). The wolf was ready to come have breakfast with us, but we preferred it on the other side of the river. Instead, he was kind enough to pose a few times for us.
The summer is now coming to a close, and I am missing people and places already.... come visit me in Belgrade!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mt. Rainier

As I am not actually moving to Belgrade for another month, I thought I would try getting this thing started early. I am, as always, enjoying my summer off. I started the summer with an ascent of Rainier, 14,410 feet in a BLIZARD. Thanks to our trusty guides, my brother and I both made it to the top.
I also just returned from an awesome kayaking trip to Banff Canada. I boated on Toby Creek, Kicking Horse River, and Upper Pack River. I also am ready to move to Golden, BC.... a beautiful little town with a steep ski hill, and a pumping river running into town. Now I need to figure out how to become a Canadian citizen, eh?