30.5.12

The "Dult" Regensburg, Germany

He who drinks beer sleeps well, 
He who sleeps well cannot sin, 
He who does not sin goes to heaven. . . 
Amen. 
- Unknown German Monk
Passing Dom Cathedral (Regensburg, Germany) on the way to the "Dult."
Crossing Stone Bridge and checking out the Danube River in Regensburg, Germany
Hubby and I found ourselves back in Germany's Bavarian region yet again. We made a trip back to Regensburg, Germany to see our friend Reece, take pictures of the city in the sunshine (Lets be honest, I was the only one taking pictures), and to experience the "Dult." You pronounce "Dult" exactly the way it is spelled; and Reece said that we absolutely had to come back for Regensburg's "mini Oktoberfest." I am not exactly what you would call a "beer fan," but I'm always up for something new, cultural, and "blog-worthy." I quickly realized that the Dult offers a whole lot more than half liters of beer in 20-pound steins! 
Walking into the Dult was like entering a really clean, well maintained medieval fair.
Regensburg is a city full of history and whispered stories of days past. One can trace the city's history back to Roman times (there's an ancient Roman wall from 179 A.D. that still stands in the city center. Read my blog about it if ya want), and zipping forward a few thousand years, the enormous Thurn and Taxis palace is still inhabited by the beer-brewing, royal family. 


Germans seem to find any excuse to drink beer! They are very particular about their drink of choice, even down to the fact that each beer has its own specially designed glass/mug. If by chance you receive your beer in the wrong glass/mug, you'll most likely receive embarrassed apologies from the bartender. Everything seems meticulous and thought through in Germany, and I suppose they party hard because they work hard too. 


The Dult did not disappoint! I really did not know what to expect when Reece said that this was Regensburg's "mini-Oktoberfest." They have the festival for three weeks at the end of spring to celebrate the coming of summer and again for three weeks during the fall to lament the end of summer. I figured there would be a big tent with lots of beer being spilled on my feet, but I was not prepared for the intensity of the whole event. It was like a photographers dream with all the costumes and bright swirling colors, and I tried to capture the moments as best as I could. 
There was not a seat open in the Dult! A very festive atmosphere!
All night people were trying to climb this greased poll and ring the bell at the top.

Lederhosen - The German outfits that men wear. Whole groups of guys could be seen wearing the same exact outfits and dancing together on the tables. 


Dirndl - The outfits for women. Most of the women were wearing these lacy, bust-enhancing, apron type outfits. Super cute and I felt a little left out. I decided, then and there, that I would never show up in Germany again without my own dirndl. 


Table etiquette in Germany - No open tables? Not a problem. In Germany you just squeeze in anywhere possible. This is totally strange for Americans, but really if there is open space on a nearby bench, you ask if you and your friends can occupy it. It usually works and you make new friends. 


"PROST" - "Cheers" in German. Be prepared to "prost" at least once every 10 minutes! Clink your glass against the bottom of your bench-neighbors glass to avoid breakage. Even the thick glass steins can break when over zealous beer drinkers offer up a "prost." Trust me!
Our new bench-friends at the Dult in Regensburg, Germany. 
My Hubby and Reece sent me around the enormous tent to find a place to sit (or rather stand). It was so insanely packed! People were jumping up and down on precariously thin benches, the cover band was playing a blend of German drinking songs and popular 80's hits, and the dirndle-wearing-waitresses were pushing through the crowd hugging 6+ steins full of beer. Right near the stage, I found a group of guys who let us share their flimsy bench. They were a little disappointed when I brought two guys rather than two girls to the table with me, but they quickly embraced us with a loud round of "PROST" and deemed us new found friends. 
Our new friends in the matching red lederhosens.
Hellloooo from the Dult in Regensburg, Germany!


Dancing the night away on our flimsy little bench at the Dult!
Reece's mug totally broke when our new found friends offered up a "PROST."












The Thurn and Taxis royal family outdoor beer garden at the Dult. 
Specific mugs for their beer!
What sort of tourists would we be if we didn't get a bratwurst at the Dult?!
The best pretzel IN THE ENTIRE WORLD was found at the Dult in Regensburg, Germany!
If you're ever around Regensburg in either the spring or the fall, make sure to get to the Dult. The three week bi-anual festival promises fun for the entire family! Fair rides, arcade games, giant pretzels, beer, costume sightings, bratwursts, dancing on tables . . . it's all there! 

PROST!

24.5.12

Zvonko Bogdan Vineyard

Zvonko Bogdan Vineyard Palic, Serbia.
As you may have figured out, I LOVE WINE, and I find vineyards astonishingly romantic and almost heavenly. The process of planting and pruning the vines, and the time that goes into blending and creating that perfect cuvee; I just love all of it because it speaks of intentionality and purpose. I am also from Oregon's wine country, so maybe that has something to do with my mini wine obsession. I occasionally remind Hubby that he needs to make lots and LOTS of money so that we can retire early, buy a villa (with a vineyard) in Tuscany and grow old making wine and entertaining guests. He always gives me a silly little smirk and says, "well, honey, looks like you're going to have to find one super-duper-high-paying-job to make that all happen! I'm never going to make THAT much money!" I just laugh it off - and he thinks I'm joking - but I am really not joking at all. Ohhhh to be a dreamer, married to the ultimate realist! 

So, I am holding onto my dream, and perhaps one day, I will find a "super-duper-high-paying-job" and finally get that Tuscan villa. In the meantime, I satisfy my cravings by visiting other people's vineyards! While Subotica, Serbia claims to have a "wine route," I have struggled to find many well established stops along that supposed "route." Of course Dibonis Winery is close by and it's fabulous (read about the grape harvest at Dibonis), but I think the staff may be getting sick of entertaining me! I figured it was time to discover a new place and the one on my radar was Zvonko Bogdan Vineyard on Lake Palic, Serbia. 

This is Zvonko Bogdan - a famous Serbian folk singer who lives in Subotica. 
Zvonko Bogdan? What's with the name? I asked the same thing and was met with looks of astonishment from my Serbian friends, "you don't know who ZVONKO BOGDAN is?! He's only like the most famous Serbian folk singer, and he lives in Subotica! He might even be your neighbor." Ops. I quickly looked the local celebrity up on Wikipedia and YouTube and raced out to the vineyard that is his namesake. Sadly I was greeted with construction trucks and boarded up windows and doors. I dejectedly turned my car around and drove home. Boo.

Several months after my first failed attempt, I contacted the marketing and PR manager for Zvonko Bogdan vineyard. She assured me that I could come out for a wine tour and tasting even though the vineyard wasn't exactly finished. I jumped at the opportunity and headed out for that tour and tasting. 

The vineyard is owned by three jolly gentlemen (Mr. Bogdan being one of them), and they have been producing wine for a few years enlisting the expertise of a renowned German wine maker. The completed facility will include a hotel and fancy-pants restaurant which are both largely unfinished. My tour guide showed me only the parts that were completed. The well polished (and expensive) barrels and fermenters have only been used once, and since it's not yet the season for the second harvest, things were really quiet. Give it a few months, and I am sure this place will be a buzz of activity. 


Fancy fermenters polished and quietly waiting for the next harvest. 
The well designed tasting room looks out into the barrel room. 
Wine of display at Zvonko Bogdan Vineyard. 
Usually guests aren't allowed in this climate controlled barrel room - but I'm just lucky I guess!

A merlot and two great cuvees for tasting. 
Zvonko Bogdan's Cuvee No. 1 was my favorite and of course the most expensive! 
I am looking forward to getting back out to Zvonko Bogdan Vineyard once it's finished. I didn't get a projected completion date, but let's just hope it's soon. I only have two more years in Serbia! 


As always, thanks for reading, following and commenting! It's always great to hear from family, friends, travelers, and fellow bloggers!

22.5.12

HOLY SHEEP!

Note from Lana - This "situation" happened several months ago, but Chris has not had too much time to write. Please enjoy his much anticipated "Holy Sheep" story. It is long, but you will get sucked into his deep, thought provoking writing style. 

PROLOGUE
In this episode, a question that haunted Charles Darwin: if natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another?  The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition, and there is no doubt that today's plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness ... or even, self-sacrifice. Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?”

HOLY SHEEP!
(a.k.a THE COMMUTE PT.2)
No sooner was the question asked, that the screech of tires and the subsequent thud followed.  The podcast “The Good Show” led by Jad Abumrad and Robert Kruwlich of WNYC’s Radiolab abruptly concluded with only the introduction having graced my ears, and its medium, my iPad, lying atop the floorboard beneath the passenger seat, headphones murmuring, and the story continuing.  For me, a new, more personal story was being written, one not too different than the one that haunted Charles Darwin, one that is instead hauntingly similar.

When I returned to my car after the day’s work, darkness had already descended; and with it, an eerie fog.  Unlike the billowy fog experienced in the morning commute, this night fog was whispery, seeming to hang loosely like a spider’s old web; and the mellow yellow glow from the moon caught trapped within it.  Winter was coming to Serbia, and with her cold breath, silence fell over the nightscape.  Consequently, the bellow of the diesel engine seemed disproportionately harsh amidst this cool stillness.  I readied my iPad with a podcast, fit the headphones into my ears, and pressed PLAY.

“In this episode…” As I drove through the town of Senta, the moon-illuminated fog had begun to descend lower to the ground, and slithered through alleyways and around trees like some golden serpent; its hazy tentacles licking the surface of my car when I passed through.  “… shaped by cold-hearted competition.”   I had seen no other car, nor hitchhiker, even after I exited the city limits.  Senta, now in my rear-view, offered interruption for the imposing fog, its network of buildings diffusing its power.  Up ahead, however, only flatness.  No low-lying hills, no buildings, not even a car.  The fog evolved from the loosely flowing web to a firmly interlaced fabric, blanketing this new landscape of uniformity.  “…or even, self-sacrifice.”  The moon was now imprisoned by the fog, its light shared by no one.  Black.  Everywhere black.  No street lamps.  No city lights.  No stars.  No moon.  I switched from my low beams to high.  The impenetrable fog belligerently repelled the light back into my eyes.  I quickly undid the action.  Consequently, I lowered my speed as well, and leaned forward, focusing hard on the challenge ahead.  It was then I saw what appeared to be blurry man, or a ghost amidst this backdrop of gray and black.  It was waving its arms overhead, signaling me.  I slowed further.  “Do we really live in a dog-eat-…”  HOLY SHEEP! " . . . world." 


By the time I saw them, it was too late.  If there was one camouflage perfect to conceal a flock of two hundred sheep, it would be this densely woven blanket of fog that I now just broke through.  Researchers say that, in intense situations like this, time doesn’t actually slow, but instead people perceive time to slow because their senses are heightened, and thus we record more information.  After the fact, when we play it back, it seems unfeasible to capture so much information in matter of seconds.  Such is the case here.

The sea of sheep flowed perpendicular to the road and crossed it.  On one end stood the ghostly shepherd, helpless to save the followers he had led into perceived annihilation.  I swerved to the left, into the other lane.  The flock not only swallowed the road, but the shoulders and land on either side as well.  My evasive action was futile.  I locked eyes with them as their eyes locked on the booming headlights.  The hot white beam illuminated their hollow eyes, reflecting back four hundred suspended eerie yellow celestial spheres in an ocean of black, stars burning bright before a collective supernova.


In the final millisecond, the sheep blotted out my headlights, creating a very brief spell of absolute darkness, followed by the deafening thuds.  The car bounced left, right, up and down as it reacted to the several impacts, and then creaked to a stop amidst a symphony of “baa baas.”  Upon collision, the car was moving at a much slower speed, but the bumper still exploded into a shower of splintered plastic.  Debris peppered the herd, their bulky wool coats acting as armor.  Other pieces lay scattered amidst the road, my license plate included.

I sat in a state of shock, my brain unable to process the events, unable to act until I saw the shepherd approach my passenger window.  He was signaling me to back up.  Of course!  While the front half of my car did respond violently to the impact, I had not felt the rear tires react to the sheep beneath my car, so they must remain there.  Slowly moving in reverse, surprisingly, three sheep staggered upon shaky legs and stumbled to the field adjacent the road.  One final sheep needed assistance, his rear leg bloodied.  The shepherd helped him upright, and on his other three legs, he too limped to the safety of the road’s shoulder.  I followed suit, and moved my car off the road and into the company of the shepherd and his bruised and battered followers.

Wary of the predicament now a reality for me, I left the car running.  The rhythm of the engine seemed to mimic that of the adrenaline pumping through my veins.  I rolled down my driver-side window when the shepherd approached.  In Serbian, he angrily asked why I was unable to see the flock.  It is obvious, isn’t it?  This shepherd attempts to lead a couple hundred sheep across a highway in complete darkness, blanketed by a dense fog, alone and without any warning signs.  This man, or his sheep for that matter, wore no reflective vests, no flashlight in hand, or headlamp atop head. 

I replied, in Serbian, “Sorry, I don’t understand the Serbian language.”  On the contrary, I did understand pieces, those in context, just not the whole picture.  I wanted him to know I would not be able to discuss the present matter using his native tongue.  The shepherd, puzzled, responded again in Serbian for he knew nothing else, “You don’t understand?”  “No,” I replied.  He then appeared even more frustrated and raised his voice further.  He had realized that he could not communicate with me, and nor could I communicate with him.  Incoherent loud noises seemed to be his solution to this problem.  It appeared, at this point, he wanted me to turn off the car, and get out.  “Eh, I don’t think so,” I mumbled to myself.  The shepherd’s composure was rapidly declining so I figured I better hold tight.  Then, I saw it; the side mirror showed my license plate lying atop a collage of bumper shards and mutilated wool in the road.  Certainly, I was worried about the shepherd’s lack of calm, but I couldn’t leave without the license plate.  So I turned off the car, stepped out into the lion’s den. 

With my back to the idle shepherd, I walked to the center of the road where the plate rested.  The fog had settled in deeper, hugging the road, silencing the night.  Even the sheep, minutes after the accident, lay quiet, perhaps observing in full earnest the man perceived responsible for their misery.  Their black eyes penetrated deep and a chill set it.  I reached down and picked up the plate, and its abrasive scarred edge cut my finger.  As the red blood formed at the surface of the wound, so did the shepherd from the shadows wielding a wooden staff above his head.  The shepherd carried the stick heavy, his body not in the form it may have been many years ago.  The enraged passion in his face, however, showed young and vibrant.  He swung the staff at me, but it fell short as I retreated backwards.  I recalled the sharp edge of the license plate, my eyes instinctively drawn to his exposed neck.  I hesitated.  “…survival of the fittest...cold-hearted competition…self-interest…or genuine cooperation…kindness.”  In my indecision, the unraveled shepherd seized the moment, grabbed my jacket, and began punching deep into my chest.  The blows connected softly contributing no pain.  Perhaps it was the layers of clothing, or the now child-like strength of the aging man, or the fight-or-flight adrenaline the burned inside me, but I only felt anger and no pain.  I grabbed his arm to remove it from me, and his eyes widened.   In them, I saw a mad man, a wildling, a man more animal than the ones he leads.  His next bark was louder, his next swing more deranged, his bite more rabid.  I stopped him once more, stepped back, looked again deep into those feral eyes, and yelled, “STOP!” 

Tonight, the survival of the fittest would not be measured by physical strength, but intellect and logic, for I am not only interested in surviving this night, but the days to come.  If I countered the shepherd’s attacks with those of my own, then the story would no longer read of a car accident with animals, but instead an American assaulting an old and feeble Serbian man in the dark at his home.  Surely, even a simple shove to provide me the opportunity to escape would result in a full-blown fictional story of battery, my mug on every local Serbian newspaper.  I suppose sometimes both self-interest and genuine cooperation work together to ensure survival.  The decision was made; I did not have another choice.  I could not fight back, but instead, I had to award his attacks with kindness and cooperation. 

The word “stop” is universal in both Serbian and English, and its meaning was clearly received by the shepherd.  As a result, he momentarily stopped his attacks, but still held the staff above his head, his face unchanged.  I exited the highway, once more towards the shoulder, and stood about a few meters from my car.  The shepherd followed me, yelling something more in Serbian.  I caught one word in particular from his perceived ramblings, and replied, “Yes, police,” in Serbian.  I was not certain a police presence would benefit this situation, since most do not speak English, but perhaps with the shepherd pacified, I would have opportunity to call upon a colleague to come and translate for me.  I expected the shepherd himself to call the police, but he did not do so.  Instead, he grabbed me by the arm and attempted to force me towards the residence that sat thirty meters or so from the road.  In these conditions, the house appeared derelict, the ghostly fog whispering an uneasy welcome.  I resisted and pulled my arm again from his grasp, which brought his staff down upon me once more.  I easily evaded, and irritatingly demanded he stop for now the second time.  In Serbian, I told him that I would remain here.  The shepherd, unconvinced, grabbed me yet again and still, I denied his encroachment.  At this point, I figured he carried no cell phone, and needed a stationary phone located in the residence to call the police.  He did not trust I would remain on-site if he left me where I stood.  I, therefore, pulled out my cell phone, and pointed at it.  “What is the number,” I said, obviously regarding the police.  He did not grant me with a response, but instead moved on me again. 

This thought of turning the other cheek only works as long as the attacks are limited to two.  After repeated assaults, I had no other cheek to provide him, and instead my mind began reverting back to violence.  There is a limit to how much I could take, and it was clear the shepherd was not going to be cooperative despite the kindness I allowed him.  I viewed the staff readied above his head, and how it shook unsteadily.  I remembered his failed swings from before, their foolish direction and weak intensity.  I then envisioned I would teach him how to hold the staff, how to swing it with purpose, how to hit its mark.  Having nearly twenty years experience with a baseball bat, I would need only one swing.  My eyes moved from the wooden staff to his head, focused on his temple lightly covered by some unkempt hair.  Grab the staff, and swing.  One and done.  I go home.

Then, as if from some divine providence, my cut finger throbbed, and the license plate in my hand became palpable again, diverting my thoughts away from the violent.  All of this, his aggressive behavior, the attacks, the intensity in his eyes that I mistook for blood lust was instead only that of fear.  He, too, was fighting to survive.  Without the license plate, what proof would he have that the sheep were hit by a car.  He was only a scared shepherd, a small pawn on this massive farm.  He feared the owner, he feared for his job, for his family.  I gave him the license plate.

The shepherd’s stick lowered, and he readily received it.  I, then, pushed a button on my Blackberry, illuminating the back light, and pretended to call someone, or as the shepherd presumed, the police.  Seemingly content with this course of action, he turned his back to me and began to walk towards the injured sheep.  I held the phone to my ear and mumbled into the receiver; the words even more unintelligible the further he distanced himself from me.  I contemplated actually calling a colleague of mine for help, but despite the brief respite, I was worried there would not be another chance to leave without further violence. 

He stood over the injured sheep, their baa baas acting as the reassurance he needed.  Everything was going to be alright, he presumably thought.  His guard was down.  My eyes remained fixed on him as I slid the phone back into my pocket and calculated my next move.  He was probably ten steps from me, and I ten steps from the car.  If I run, I could be in the car before he notices, and pulling away before he could act.  I imagined it was possible he could be at the car before it started moving, but not in enough time to prevent escape.  Ok.  Ready…set…oh no!  I paused as his head turned around to focus on me again, but only long enough for him to realize what was about to happen.  I sprinted hard for the driver side door, opened it, and leaped in.  The shepherd was in pursuit, with approximately eight steps until he reached the car.  Keys into the ignition, six steps.  Turnover of the engine, three steps.  Stupid diesel.  Car into gear, 1 step.  As I slammed on the accelerator, I felt him on the back of the car, banging feverishly.  The car jumped into motion, surely spewing dirt and grass behind.  The shepherd desperately pursued the escaping car on foot, before giving up and heaving his wooden staff at me.  Finally, it made contact, but with the rear window, and then fell back to the road, clamoring wood to concrete until it went still.  In the rear view was the shepherd, a blurred ghost caught in a whispery grey web of angst and despair, his shouts fading with each accelerated second.  Moments later, he was gone, consumed by the darkness he surfaced from a half hour before, and with him a story to tell, and a license plate as proof.

EPILOGUE
On the drive home, I sat at first in silence, only the repetitive hum of my wrecked bumper dragging atop concrete acting as soundtrack to my thoughts of reflection.  My breathing remained heavy, but the sense of escape did wonders to streamline my anxiety.   I then called a colleague, and informed her of the incident and the loss of the license plate.  We made plans to go with the company’s lawyers to the police station the next morning, file a report, and retrieve the plate.  

When I arrived home, Lana greeted me with a new painting she had just finished.  My apprehension still had the best of me, and I failed to show interest in her accomplishment.  She noticed, and I began to tell her of my distressing commute home.  Her reaction was, well, not what I expected.  After sharing that I had run into several sheep with my car, she fell into a fit of laughter, but was followed up by deep concern as the story continued.  In future retellings, I have had similar responses, and perhaps you the reader now can relate as well.  In truth, I can’t deny it.  It is a comedy up until the time the shepherd entered the scene.  Then, it becomes a tragedy, starring me as I struggled to answer Darwin’s question first hand.  Instinctively, my initial thoughts spoke to fighting fire with fire, to survive by physically out besting my opponent; but to what end.  I was the fittest this evening, but I accomplished it without physical presence, but instead by showing kindness, desperately seeking cooperation; a better end, and therefore proving the standard view of evolution as too narrow.  In the end, the shepherd kept his job, the sheep survived, and I was returned my license plate.  Without doubt, there a code that rewards genuine cooperation and kindness.  In Serbian, the code reads, “Љубав побеђује” (Love Wins).

The END!
(Another note from Lana) Want to read more from Chris? Check out The Commute, and stay tuned for stories from our four-months in Namibia, Africa. 







18.5.12

Homemade Serbian Food

Stunning spring colors. 

There are so many wonderful travel blogs out there! The web is full of young professionals and dreamers who have left their corporate jobs to traverse the world. They backpack through the Amazon, lounge in Thai hammocks, eat their way through Italy, couchsurf all around Europe, snap pictures of Moroccan snake charmers and snowboard the Swiss Alps. I never in a million years dreamed that I would have time to sit down and actually read one post from a travel blog, but then again, I never really expected to quit my job and move to Serbia.

Then I even started my own "travel" blog - yet another personal shocker!

My birthday boy (Chris) and Marko and some homemade rakija. 
While the life of a worry-free-jobless-traveling-nomad sounds adventurous and exciting, I don’t wish to change our situation at all. We’re still traveling, but we’re doing it a little differently with a company that values my husband and has trusted him with an expat move. While we will see a lot of the world during our three-year contract, we will also have a good understanding of a new culture. There is something very special about truly feeling the heart beat of another country; it completely changes your world-view and you will never be the same again. So far, we’ve learned a bit about Serbia’s history, made a lot of Serbian and Serb-Hungarian friends, participated in a Serbian parade, gone to concerts, learned to spot region specific architecture, been invited to birthday parties, celebrated Orthodox New Year and Easter, tried a lot of rakijas, and just the other day we were invited to the country to meet Marko’s family.

Marko's family owns a goat and several pigs and they simply live off the land.
Lot's of little piglets! They're just so cute when they're little. 
A homemade grill (old washing machine parts) and pork from the farm. Hmmmm . . organic food!
Marko's father was such a wonderful host!
There is something very special about meeting family – about being invited to share an evening of stories and laughter and home cooked food. Marko’s mother and father live 45 minutes away from Subotica in the village of Lovcenac. Marko’s parents own a small plot of land with a garden, tool shed and a few animals. There they built a small house (now used for storage) that they lived in as they slowly built the larger family home where they raised their two sons. Today they live alone -occasionally babysitting the grand baby and entertaining when their kids come to visit. 

Marko’s father was an international truck driver during Yugoslavia's glory days. He has since retired, but he sure loves to tell great stories. In a husky, Serbian-Godfather-like voice he recalled his many trips through Europe, the Middle East, and Ukraine. He emphasized his treks through Ukraine because Marko had mentioned that my family has roots there. He looked at my little round Ukrainian face, beat his chest and proclaimed, “You see Lana (and Chris), we are all like family. You belong to us. You belong to us. . . to Serbia."

I was truly touched. That is something you don't hear if you're just passing through Serbia with a guide book and a few hours to check out a restaurant and sling back a shot of rakija or two. To truly feeling like you belong takes time and investment in a culture. 

Sitting across the table from the man of the house makes you realize that regardless of cultural, political and language differences, deep down, we truly are all the same. We are all people and we all belong. Every good father loves his family and ultimately wants to provide the best for them. Watching Marko’s parents interact with their little grandson, with their son Marko, and with two complete strangers, made me think of my own mother and father. It was Chris’ birthday and it was a special time for us to experience another facet of Serbian culture. 

Marko's sweet little nephew. 
This is their only grandchild and they just love him to pieces. 
What a wonderful homemade-Serbian-birthday meal! 
Thank you (hvala vam) for inviting us into your home and treating us like family. 
Thank you for making us feel like we "belong." 

15.5.12

Graffiti Be Gone?

Just a little note to our readers: We try to stray away from political topics on our blog because:

1) This is our story - not a local politicians campaign blog.
2) We know that the Balkan history is sorted and painful resulting in a lot of political unrest. 
3) Everyone has their own opinion(s) when it comes to politics.
4) We really are not interested in offending anyone or even starting a discussion on the matter.
5) Ohhh yeah, and we can't understand Serbian well enough to follow what's going on in politics. 
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
All of that, and now I am going to briefly talk about something that may be considered "political." Last week, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was in Belgrade, Serbia, and once he left, the image of Subotica started improving just a bit. Coincidence? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, one former politician had the words and suggestions to bring about positive change for another country. Serbians may not believe that he has any right to speak to them about improvement for their country, but he does have a proven track record in America. That's just my opinion.

As most know, Giuliani stands out as one of America's most memorable (former) Mayor's for his response and dedication to console and cleanup after the September 911 attacks. He also cleaned up the image of New York prior to those attacks by attempting to eradicate graffiti in the sprawling metropolis. He saw graffiti as a symptom of urban decay and he put actions behind his words. 

Now days, Giuliani has his own consulting company (along with several other personal businesses) and while he says he visited Belgrade on "personal business" and was not paid by any political party, some in Serbia have their own suspicions and ideas. It is campaign season in Serbia. 
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in Belgrade, Serbia.
These are the posts in the center of Subotica, Serbia - covered in layers of Graffiti. 

When we first moved to Subotica, I was shocked by the graffiti that covers almost every building. Walls and windows are vandalized with gang tags, political bashing, hateful phrases, and a whole lot of words that I (luckily) cannot understand. From the outside, even our apartment building looked like a ghetto, but once inside the cozy, remodeled flat, you forget how derelict the exterior appears. I secretly wanted to take a bucket of paint and a brush and freshen things up a bit. . . 

New paint!!
. . . . But as soon as former Mayor Giuliani left Serbia, this guy (above) showed up and gave our building a fresh coat of paint. It's amazing how much better the center of the city looks now. I have no idea if Mayor Giuliani's presence in Serbia and his stories of New York improvement had any impact on Subotica painting over some of Her graffiti. Maybe there is no connection, but regardless, any improvement is good improvement. 

12.5.12

May 1st Festivities Lake Palic, Serbia

For weeks leading up to May, everyone seemed to ask us the same question: "What are you doing for May 1st?" (pssssss - one of my fellow-North American-living in Serbia-bloggers wrote a little about the history of May 1st if you wanna check out that link I posted.) Initially, Chris would answer by saying, "well (duh), it falls on a Tuesday, so of course I am working. Maybe Lana's free though. . . " But as the much anticipated day got closer and closer, Chris realized that not only was his office closed on Tuesday, May 1st, but also on the following day. Most of his coworkers took Monday off and turned it into a five-day holiday, so Chris did the same thing. Hooorahhhhh for 5 days off in a row with my hubby!

So then the tables turned and we started asking everyone else around us what they were doing May 1st.

More or less, May 1st is "Labor Day" for a lot of the world. In Serbia, the banks close, the days suddenly seem a little longer, stores run out of every sort of meat, and neglected grills make their summer debut. The bank holiday is a time for all working adults to take a much needed rest from work and enjoy the impending arrival of summer. 

Our friends suggested spending the day on Lake Palic - with 100,000 other locals and tourists. I could not imagine that many people visiting a polluted lake that should never be jumped into - but they came from near and far to enjoy the gypsy carnival, local vendors, grilled meats and sunny weather. We set up a patchwork of blankets away from the crowds and spent 12 whole hours playing football, frisbee, cards, eating and drinking. It was relaxing and rejuvenating and we planned a repeat of the day as spring opened into summer. 

Enjoy our pictures of May 1st on Lake Palic. 

Usually the Lake Palic is quiet and empty, but not on May 1st!

The weather was just perfect!


Jelen Pivo = Deer Beer. A Serbian favorite!

The gypsy carnival - I posed and smiled but I did not take a ride!

Lamb? Pork?

Chris teaching everyone how to play American football. 

Stylish Sanela!

Sunset on Lake Palic, Serbia May 1, 2012.

The background just begged for a jumping picture!

We're finding more and more jumpers!

Good Night Lake Palic!