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.