Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Montenegro - Beginning

Getting up at six on a Saturday is not really my idea of fun but we had to hit the road before it gets too crowded and hot. Serbia at dawn is bursting with (unused) potential. The nature is lush and beautiful.
On Zlatibor we take a break and visit Mecavnik. The village is cute although crowded and artificial. If only real people lived in villages like this one. You have to pay to get in. Not too thrilled to give money to Kusturica, but officially it’s for charity. Hope I’m not aiding and abetting war crime fugitives...

For certain reasons we take the road less traveled and chose a route through Bosnia. It’s supposed to be fantastic, and it will be a welcome break from the usual trip via Podgorica. The roads are much worse though, we have been warned.

Munching on cookies my mother baked, we come to Visegrad. The famous bridge on the Drina still stands dominating the city and the river. It’s much more beautiful than I ever imagined it. Nature keeps getting more spectacular.
Driving along the river through the Drina canyon, I simply don’t understand how come this country disintegrated so violently. How can so much aggression be stored in people who live surrounded by such fascinating beauty? Traces of the war are still visible everywhere, houses burned or scarred. People are apparently moving on. There’s regular life amid the signs of struggle. It’s strange and I feel uneasy. I hope this will work out.

We stop at a meadow near Sutjeska and sleep a bit in a green flowery field. We are awakened by a cheerful yellow dog. Cows graze around us. The site of more battles this time from WWII the Sutjeska river provides even more breathtaking nature. The old stone monument perched on a hilltop, gray and forgotten is nevertheless powerful. Clear streams wind through a countryside reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings films.

The terrain becomes flat although we’re still high in the mountains. The surroundings look almost alien. Never been, but it reminds me of some pictures of Greenland. Bare land with shrubs for trees and a strange town of bland preassembled houses surrounding a huge power plant.
Lakes fill up the holes in this rocky terrain. Towns and villages seem lifeless and deserted.
We enter Montenegro at a remote border post. Policemen look surprised to see us/anyone, but kindly welcome us into the new state. The international road from the border looks more like a run down hiking path than a motorway. We navigate with difficulty, as the road is not wide enough for two cars to pass each other by, let alone a car and a truck (although we manage. twice), all the more difficult /scary, as on one side of the road there are sharp rocks, on the other an abyss. Fortunately there’s not much traffic. Since we left the main road in Zlatibor we only saw about a dozen cars and the two trucks (probably lost).
We pass through scary ghost towns, and further amazing backdrops, and as it starts to darken, we reach the mountain tops above Boka Kotorska. The view of the bay is spectacular, the road even more scary. We look with envy at the new modern road still under construction and begin our descent towards the sea
Arriving at our final destination, exhausted and happy to be alive, thrilled with the fantastic and horrifying journey, we pass out and sleep like babies.

Hastily I’m constructing this post on the lap-top sitting under a lemon tree in the garden, trying to squeeze an impressive one day journey through three countries and some of the most incredible and diverse nature I’ve ever seen into a short text. Next time we’ll have to bring camping gear and take time to explore.
When I’ll be able to post is a big question. I’m not in a hurry to go into town.
As for Montenegro, it’s still the same. Nobody really talks about the referendum, but I sense my friends are divided about its outcome. I congratulate those who approve; I try to persuade others that it will be ok. I think it will be. They will be fine.
What certainly hasn’t changed is how beautiful everything is. We lie in the sun all day. The sea is refreshing, perhaps a little cold. In the evening the wind blows and it’s pleasantly cool. I can never sleep so well in Belgrade. I really needed this.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Now that twists of Balkan politics have turned me into an international real-estate owner, I’m off to my Adriatic summerhouse on holiday. It will be my first trip to Montenegro since independence.
I’m interesting in hearing what my former compatriots and continuing friends at the seaside think about the whole thing, but even more I’m interested in swimming in the warm see, sleeping, and generally lounging about, in the sun or in the shade.
I’ll spend the summer with Ivan, my sister, a number of friends, their significant others, and even some Dutch people I’ve never met, who agreed to sleep on the living room floor. Sounds like fun.
This badly needed getaway will also be a test for Reluctant Dragon. Will I be able to post and how often with very limited internet access? Will the change of scenery bring a breath of fresh air into my blog or will the see and sun make me too lazy to even consider posting let alone write anything?
Well, we’ll see. Even if I don’t write for a while, I’ll certainly be back in August.Have fun everyone and thank you for coming.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


We’ve moved back to our apartment as our friends are coming back from vacation. No need to look after the dog anymore. I feel sad. I’ve grown quite attached to the little guy. He’s a loving and loveable dog, and I’m going to miss our walks, even those half-conscious ones at 6am after a whole night partying at Exit and the uncomfortable train ride from Novi Sad.
Indoors he is calm and quiet, but outside he becomes an uncontrollable torrent of energy. His favorite past time is digging up mole holes on a nearby meadow. He can spend hours digging until he can barely walk and collapses under a shady tree.
Unfortunately a few days ago leisurely activity turned into tragedy as he caught and, in the process, killed an unfortunate mole. He proudly paraded it around, and all attempts to get the dead animal out of his mouth were in vain.
Another hobby of his is that from time to time he likes to run away and although he doesn’t wander very far, he successfully evades capture and is not fooled by offerings of food or playful coaxing.
However, everyone has a weak spot. As Ivan put it: He likes moles more than he likes freedom. He was caught while he was digging, oblivious to the world around him. Just as the mole’s, the mole hole was his undoing. I guess, what goes around, comes around. Not that going home to get fed and being killed by a digging dog are very much alike. Bad analogy.
Anyway, the point is - as long as someone’s entertained, one can get away with anything. So don’t be caught in the mole hole.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


This years Exit was more international the ever, the official language seemed to be English, and I like that a lot. More and more people from other countries are finding Serbia an interesting tourist destination, hidden from the outside for so long, lovely, friendly, cheap and weird. The internet and other media are full of affirmative though somewhat shallow stories about the aggressive dictatorship turned party land. At the forefront, Belgrade is once again full of tourists. I hope this welcome contact with the world will help promote openness and tolerance. With this in mind I wanted to share some tourist related thoughts from yesterday:


I feel, and always have, that people who don’t pay for public transportation tickets deserve to get fined. Public transportation in Belgrade is far from perfection, but it’s much better than it ever was, and I don’t think we can expect it to improve further unless we all do our part.
Yesterday, on a trolleybus, I witnessed a quarrel between a guy and girl and the ticket controller. From what I could understand, the girl, a local, had her monthly ticket, while her friend, a tourist, didn’t have a ticket of any kind.
The ticket control guy said they could either pay the “penalty ticket”, give the girl’s personal data (tourist boy didn’t have a passport) or get out and wait for the police. He was polite, for ticket control guy standards. The girl accused him of being unfair and unreasonable for daring to pick on a foreigner, who “just got here and didn’t know he should pay for the ticket”!?!?
Really?! Unless he had come from, I don’t know, a village in central Burkina Faso where there is no public transportation, or some weird country where they have state-sponsored buses, he should know you have to pay for public transport.
Eventually they unwillingly paid for the extra ticket, after first pretending they have no money and then complained about this “outrageous” incident for several stops.
Cultural differences are one thing, this is just plain rude.

Beautiful Belgrade

Is it just me?
Have you ever noticed how Belgrade/your city looks better when you’re showing it to someone from abroad? I was taking some friends from Zagreb around town, and the streets seem cleaner and wider, the buildings larger and more monumental, the parks greener. Have you noticed how you yourself feel a bit like a tourist?
Is it that we tend to take people to the most representative sites, avoiding the ugly bits? Or is it that we open up and appreciate things more when we look through the eyes of others? Perhaps it’s that the superficial view of a tourist allows us to look at the surface, disregarding all social, political, communal, infrastructural complaints that we usually have? When you don’t delve deep, you just see the lovely facades, the great views, the lively streets and tasty food.
Belgrade is beautiful.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

EXIT, day 4

WOW! The Pet Shop Boys!!! … and the Scissor Sisters!!
The best show on Exit! Ever! Still recovering…

But let’s start at the beginning. We spend Sunday afternoon strolling around Novi Sad, which for those who don’t know, is a beautiful place, a sort of a tasty bite-size city, which you can explore, experience and enjoy in a short time. A lot has changed since my last visit, mostly new shops and cafes, but many buildings have had facelifts too. The city looks better and much more alive. Replacing the cobblestones in Dunavska Street with stone tiles is, however, a crime against humanity.
Surprisingly for Novi Sad, I managed to eat some terrible food, a cardboard sandwich and detergent flavored ice-cream. It was hot and humid and as we sat on the grass in Dunavski park, I was feeling quite cranky and dark clouds were starting to loom. Literally. We decided to disregard the impending tropical rain storm and have a great time.

After a couple of drinks sitting on the banks of the frothy Danube, and looking at lightning tear through the gray sky above the fortress, a bit tipsy and in much better humor, we made our way across the river in the fleeting rain, past entrepreneurial people selling over-priced garbage bags as first-aid against the weather.

On a short tour of the fort, we wandered past half empty stages, as everyone was in the open-air cinema watching the world cup final. The skies had cleared as we got to the main stage, where Chicks on Speed had already started. They’re great fun, crazy, kitschy and humorous and we danced our way to the very front rows.

Then … the Pet Shop Boys - the first truly spectacular concert in the history of Exit festival - a simple modular set, which through lighting and projections changes from the lacy curtains of Suburbia to a marching ground for queer soldiers and a sky full of pink fighter planes; amazing dancers with great choreography; witty, sarcastic costumes; political references and ultimate pop music!

Even before they got on stage we were all screaming like teenage girls on Mtv. (I must admit I feel a bit ashamed). Some songs from the new album, and a collection of hits from throughout their career, ending with collective hysteria to It’s a Sin and Go west.

My throat and neck were hurting from screaming and straining, my legs sore from jumping and dancing, but I was utterly happy.

And then, the Scissor Sister put on another amazing show, energetic and wild. The singer, a disco version of Jack from Will & Grace, has a wonderful voice and dances insanely.
With the last atoms of strength we danced some more, not believing it was physically possible.

All in all, it was a wonderfully gay night, in every sense of the word. Aching and tired, but ecstatically happy, we headed to the train station, gobbled up some delicious fruit tarts on the way and fell asleep in the uncomfortable plastic seats.

Exit 2006 was a huge success. Keep up the good work, people!

P.S. Sorry for the poor quality of the photos, I have a crappy camera

Sunday, July 09, 2006

EXIT, day 1

We didn’t get to experience much of the festival atmosphere on the first day of Exit. Arriving to Novi Sad at 8, there was no time to lounge about, so we joined the streams of people flowing down city streets, across the bridge and onto the fortress.

Everything went like clockwork, and somewhat mechanically as we made our way past ticket control and police, got some drinks and arrived to the main stage, where the Cardigans appeared at 15 to 9, right according to schedule.

This seems to have surprised a lot of people, as it wasn’t too crowded in front of the main stage. In the past years Exit has become progressively more accurate. In the first few years, you could never tell who was playing where, and when.

The Cardigans were lovely. There was a friendly sing-along atmosphere as they played all their hits and some new songs. Some hard-core fans were there, screaming “we love you, Nina”, as she started playing her mouth-accordion. It was nice to hear Love Fool, and after some screaming and roaring, there was an encore, and they played Favorite Game, which is my personal favorite.

During the half an hour break after the concert we decided not to move, to keep our good spot close to the stage, and it was becoming increasingly crowded. Getting to the bar and back in these conditions is an impossible task, especially with a glass of beer, so pouring beer into a water bottle is a smart thing to do.

Franz Ferdinand appeared with a bang, and from the first moment the crowd went wild. For me, at first, it didn’t feel too right, the music was great, but the vocals were a bit weak, and there was a lot of pushing and shoving as drunken kids started to throw themselves around.

But very soon it got much better. You could feel the positive energy (and the heat) rising from the people, and on stage FF gave it their best, so we jumped and screamed without stopping. With every song a hit and an ecstatic crowd, some obligatory phrases in Serbian, a historic act of reconciliation with dedicating a song to Gavrilo Princip, and some frantic drumming in the end, the concert was a huge success. The spectacular fireworks that followed seemed very much in place.

Having learned nothing from previous years, at 1, I insisted that we head to the train station immediately, as I hoped there would be a way of getting back to Belgrade before morning. Off course we ended up sleeping on a bench waiting for the first train at 3 am. Serbian railways leave much to be desired, but arriving to the unfinished but already decrepit future Belgrade Central station, I was just too happy to be home.

Today I hope to get to Novi Sad and Exit a bit earlier. I don’t think the experience is complete without walking through town, or having lunch on the grass in Dunavski park. I want to check out the other stages as well. At least, now we know the train schedule, there is no need to rush. I’m sorry I missed Morrissey on Friday, but I’m sure tonight will be wonderful too.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I’m heading to Novi Sad today for the first day of Exit. I’ll also be back there for the closing night of the festival. Tonight I’ll be listening to the Cardigans and screaming to Franz Ferdinand! I have a feeling this time a Franz Ferdinand will fare better among the Serbs than his predecessor. On Sunday, I expect a pop extravaganza with the Chicks on Speed, Scissor Sister and the Pet Shop Boys.
Stay tuned for reports and photos…

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Pain in the blog 4

I tried hard, I read a lot, I made some improvements, took some advice.
Visitors finally started coming - not in huge numbers but steadily.
I was therefore happy to see 3 comments from anonymous people saying they rally like/love/are impressed by my blog.
But there was something suspicious. Vague and not really related to the posts, these didn’t look like comments of my blog, but of A blog.
I noticed a small link in the bottom leading to a page selling something.
Is this supposed to be advertising? Is this supposed to be effective advertising?
I will never EVER buy your product, whatever it is.
Using an automated service to send positive comments to people just to get them to click on your website is just pitiful.
Thanks for the compliments though :)

My neighborhood

Writing about my suburban experience got me thinking about where I live now. We’ve recently moved into a new neighborhood, and immediately felt at home. It’s beautiful and alive, with the best outdoor market in Belgrade and some nice places to eat and drink at nearby.
But what I enjoy most are the little quirky details. Like the small shop I pass by on my way from work which always color-coordinates items in its window (see bad photo).
Nearby there is a stray dog that often sleeps on the roof of a car, and a while ago I saw a women parked on a corner, blowing soap bubbles out her car window.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

In Suburbia

This weekend we left our apartment in the city and went to a friend’s house to take care of her dog while she is vacationing with her family.
I very much enjoy the greenery, fresh air, and the big bathtub. I never considered myself a dog-person, but the dog is nice, friendly and well-behaved and I realized that one of the most relaxing things I’ve done in a long time was walking the dog through the forest on a cool summer Sunday afternoon.
After that I passed out and slept for a whole 12 hours which for me is usually the first sign of being on vacation, although I’m not. Yet. I must be doing something right. I enjoy this.
I really like living in the city, and I don’t particularly enjoy the longer commute and the extra tickets I have to get for the bus, but the view of nature from the balcony, walking the dog and baby toys scattered around the house gave me a glimpse of how things might look one day in the (distant) future, and I think I won’t mind terribly when that day comes.