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!