Golden Oldie Returns to Belgrade

As the rain buckets down  in the place I now call home on the the South East coast of Australia, the bouillon is simmering on the stove in preparation for a pot of Borsch and Django Reinhardt is keeping my energy up, I arrive at my first massive blogging challenge. How do I write up 2 weeks (broken up by a week in Hungary) of an amazing re-visit to Belgrade without it becoming a stodgy long diatribe? Do I break it up into categories thereby losing the daily flow? Do I write it week by week? – eeeeek! Well as they say, just start with the first word and the rest will come, so here goes…….

Tuesday 16 July 2013.

My nice, calm and very expensive Alitalia flight from Rome arrived in Belgrade safe and sound. So it was back to the crazy drivers, but at least they usually stop at pedestrian crossings in Belgrade unlike Italy and Poland and many other places, but still best to double check. They all tend to drive flat out and slam on the brakes at the last minute.

My welcome back from the staff at the Hedonist Hostel was a delight, hugs all round. It felt like a real homecoming, these guys start feeling like family very soon after you first get there, no wonder so many return. So, a big thank you to Marjan, Anja and Milica, there were others who totally made me feel welcome but unfortunately names escape me, after all I am running almost 2 years late with this blog.

We tried to establish some Serbian wall leaning , oh well the hats look good.
We tried to establish some Serbian wall leaning , oh well the hats look good.

After my first visit in May 2013 the Hedonist, located at Simina 7, became the hostel that I judged all others by. They set the bar very high by knowing exactly how to make their guests feel at home and providing all the right information and entertainment. To think that I almost ignored this place when I was originally researching hostels in Belgrade, what a mistake that would have been.

As I mentioned in two of my previous blogs; ‘Golden Oldie and First Born Take off to Serbia’ and ‘Golden Oldie Achieves a Dream – Bocelli in Tuscany’, the most important part of this world trip was about researching my parents’ early lives. As they spent most of their youth in Serbia it was logical for me to go back there again to continue the research and attempt to do some writing.

This time there were heaps of Aussies and, of course, lots of other travellers at the hostel. The Exit Festival had just finished in Novi Sad so Belgrade was full of young tourists. (Exit is not my style of music but if you want to know what it’s all about, here is where you’ll find the line up for 2015 http://www.exitfest.org/en/lineup-2015).

The hostel was bursting at the seams with fascinating travellers, just on my first night back I met one English lawyer, 2 Australian student lawyers, one Australian theatre nurse who had just spent 6 weeks volunteer nursing in Nepal, one Australian student engineer and a Dutch Scout leader, what a mix! Belgrade, a super melting pot of people from all over the world. That was just one group which was gathered around the dining table scoffing the hot crepes (palacinke) that the staff provide regularly. Palacinke night is just wonderful at the Hedonist, hot crepes cooked right there in front of you, nutella, cream, Plazma biscuit crumbs etc and a whole lot of fun.

These guys also put on a regular barbecue (for a small fee) which is just fantastic, lots of salads lots of meat.

Right there are 2 reasons I prefer to stay in hostels (the good hostels of course), the fascinating people you meet and the social events that the staff put on. In the great hostels they know exactly how to balance the in-house entertainment with peace and quiet and advice for out of house entertainment. Hotels tend to leave you to your own devices so I only stay in a hotel when I either need a break from socialising or there are no good cheap hostels to be found (and that is rare, hostels are everywhere). Unfortunately the mega hostels either try to force socialising on you or act like hotels and provide very little.

The plan was to hop into bed, get some writing done for the blog and get a reasonable amount of sleep before heading off to the local market the next day.

Preparing the barbecue
Preparing the barbecue
Wonderful salads to accompany the barbecue
Wonderful salads to accompany the barbecue
The start of palacinke (crepe) night
The start of palacinke (crepe) night

 

Wednesday 

Well as Robbie Burns said ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley’ (translates to ‘often go awry’), no writing got done, my Norwegian room-mate started chatting and we sat up late into the night sharing travel stories, luckily we were the only two people in the dorm that night.

Bakery, Murals and Markets

As a result of the late night my day started later than I had planned so top gear was needed to achieve my goals which  included finding the markets. To get to the closest markets it is easiest to take a walk down the ‘old’ street Skadarlija, used to be known as the Monmartre of Serbia where the Bohemian life was led by poets, writers, singers and artists in the cafes and restaurants. Reading more on the area now as I am writing this I have discovered that amongst the singers performing there in the early 20th century was Olga Janceveckaya a Russian gypsy songstress who has always been one of my favourites. There were rumours that she was a spy (not sure for which side), true or not it all adds colour to this place. Skadarlija is very much a tourist area now but maintains it’s old world feel with restaurants serving up wonderful food at reasonable prices. There are, no doubt, other more ‘real’ local eateries but that was not my goal so I didn’t specifically go in search of any.

I found it interesting how tenuous connections kept appearing as I continued to research my parents’ lives by living in their favourite city. It is quite possible that one or both of my parents frequented this street in their youth and now there I was walking along the same cobblestones. That thought just kept amazing me every time it struck me as I wandered Belgrade.

First it was back to the bakery that Ginski and I discovered when we were there in May, for some local ‘street food’. Their specialty is goulash made mainly from offal meats served in a scooped out bread bun, love that stuff, it reminded me of Mum’s version, son wasn’t too keen though, he much preferred the Burek (another wonderful local specialty found throughout all the countries of the former Yugoslavia). It was so nice to be back albeit on my own this time.

Bakery on Skadarlija
Bakery on Skadarlija

I hadn’t realised how close the markets were to the Hedonist. Down Simina, turn left on Skadarlija, through the Bohemian Quarter of cobblestones and charming restaurants, past the murals, across the major thoroughfare of Cara Dusan and there it was. Not immediately obvious but once I found the entrance I discovered how big it was, hidden behind the buildings which line the street. I loved the markets, cheap, colourful full of vibrancy and wonderful fresh produce. Being so close to the hostel cheap self-catering with awesome produce was going to be easy. I wondered if this was where Dad, as a young boy, worked?

Markets on Cara Dusan
Markets on Cara Dusan
 Wandering the Skadarlija cobblestones

Wandering the Skadarlija cobblestones  worked?

 

 

Murals on Skadarlija
Murals on Skadarlija

On the way back to the Hedonist I dropped into Jevrem restaurant (at 36 Gospodar Jevremova ) for lunch. That was very enjoyable but seriously, 6 types of meat in the mixed grill!? Plus vegies? I’m a huge meat eater but there was no way I could get all of that into me! The Serbian (my parents called it Turkish) coffee was nice and it was lovely to know that someone still makes it in a restaurant in Belgrade having been told by several cafes and restaurants that nobody serves it any more, I think the more traditional places do actually still serve that wonderful coffee. I also discovered that on a Friday night they have a pianist playing at dinner time so, I booked myself in.

Front of Jevrem restaurant
Front of Jevrem restaurant
The massive meat lunch at Jevrem!
The massive meat lunch at Jevrem!

Hostels and why I love them

Back at the Hedonist it was lovely catching up with people I’d met on my first visit and just happened to be there at the same time again, it seems to be a place to which people just keep coming back. So there were lots of chats with the two Russian girls (Eva and Julia) and we became friends and happily still communicate over social media and hopefully will meet up again somewhere, perhaps back in Belgrade or Russia or both.

Now here’s another thing I love about hostel travelling, when you find a really good one which is set up perfectly for socialising, you end up sitting around chatting and meeting other travellers, you hear their stories, get invited to their countries, you learn more and sometimes make life long friends. That afternoon was one of those times and low and behold I struck up a friendship with Natalie an absolutely delightful and interesting young lady from Australia. We seemed to have a lot in common and she asked to borrow Mum’s book. We have also stayed in touch ever since with plans to meet up back in Oz at some stage. It was becoming obvious that my original reason for coming back to Belgrade (thinking I would find time and quiet space to start some serious writing) just wasn’t going to happen, although I did manage to at least write up each day’s events in between the fun. This visit was again about meeting new friends and researching.

Thursday

It seemed that word was spreading that I ‘write’ – not surprising I guess seeing as I was sitting at the computer a hell of a lot (attempting to write) and people kept asking me what I was doing so my research of parents’ lives and blog story was repeated many times. A young fellow came up that night and the first thing he said was ‘I’ve been told you write and I need to talk to someone who might understand’. So that took us into a lengthy conversation about muses, people thinking he’s crazy etc etc. All he really needed was confirmation that other people also have words forming themselves into creative expressions at weird times. Poor guy has obviously been put down by both family and friends when he has shared his thoughts. It was delightful to have a chat and support him in actually writing things down instead of just letting them get lost out of his head. I hope he felt better about his creativity and actually gets something on paper.

Friday 

Knez Mihailova – The amazing pedestrian street

Only in Belgrade! I went for an innocent walk, popped into an antique shop for a quick look and ended up joining the owner and a customer in rakija, white wine, cevapcici, loud music and dancing. I could not believe the other two when they both got on the furniture to dance!

It was difficult extracting myself from the clutches of the antique store – which was taking on a surreal ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ atmosphere and I thought that at any moment a piece of furniture would drag me into some parallel universe, so I finally made my excuses, left the other two to their dancing and continued exploring Knez Mihailova the longest pedestrian shopping street I’d come across.

You’ll find all sorts of things along that amazing street, fountains, sculpture displays, cafes, restaurants, hotels, shops, people selling weird stuff on the pavement and lots more. You could easily spend an entire day there. Knez Mihailova is protected by law as one of the oldest and most valuable landmarks of the city. It is named after the Prince of Serbia Mihailo Obrenovic III. Its 1 kilometre length takes you from around the Department of philosophy to the entrance of Kalemagdan Park and was the main street when Belgrade was the Roman city of Singidunum, which is why it leads directly to the fortress. If you would like to know more about the history (particularly of the fortress) I recommend you have a look at this site; http://tripandsleephostels.com/2015/04/the-city-of-a-thousand-wars/

or

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knez_Mihailova_Street If I were to repeat all the information that you can find on these sites (and many others) the blog would go on forever. Suffice to say that Central Belgrade is a place to walk, there is so much to find, see and experience there.

On Knez Mihailova
On Knez Mihailova
'Think deeply, see broadly' The motto of the Philosophy Department
‘Think deeply, see broadly’ The motto of the Philosophy Department
Tether tennis sales? On Knez Mihailova? Why not.
Tether tennis sales? On Knez Mihailova? Why not.

Jevrem again

It  was time to get organised and go to dinner and some live music at Jevrem . Some self imposed time out from re-reading Mum’s book and researching was called for. As if I hadn’t challenged myself enough, now it was dinner by myself in a slightly ‘up market’ restaurant – that was worth a pat on the back.

Jevrem has a wonderful atmosphere with both inside and outside eating areas. The night turned out to be rather interesting, once again only in Belgrade! I sat down at my table and while the waitress was chatting to me I noticed an elderly man and lady looking at me and smiling, I began to feel a little awkward. Then the sweet gentleman came over, he was the pianist and wanted to ask what sort of music I liked so he could play it for me, so nice, I must stand out like a sore thumb as a tourist. No sooner had he left to go to the piano an older lady came in (I figured out she was 75, although I swear she looked older) and decided to sit with me and proceeded to give me a Serbian history lesson in Serbian. Luckily I understand enough to have made some sense of a lot of it. The waitresses couldn’t stop apologising, but it was really sweet. Anyway, she stayed for a drink, decided their food was too expensive and left (after giving me several hundred years of history) perhaps she was hoping I’d buy her a meal but that thought didn’t strike me at the time.

The delightful pianist at Jevrem
The delightful pianist at Jevrem

A lovely dinner, interesting talks, nice music and then back to the hostel. I walked into a party in the common room, the obligatory partaking of vodka before going clubbing. Soon they were all jolly enough and it was late enough for the young ones to go out and although I was invited to go along I had to say no , I’m still ‘old school’ going out at midnight just doesn’t fit into my reality. So there was quiet time for me, at least until everyone came back much worse for wear.

Searching out churches

Sunday

Flash of inspiration the previous day, who would/should be able to point me in the right direction for information on the period when Mum and Dad were here? Maybe if there was a Russian church they might know. So a bit of research, yes there is a church in Belgrade (The Church of the Holy Trinity), within walking distance according to the map. So after a night of emotions, reading the saddest chapters of Mum’s book in order to get my questions organised (so glad the dorm mates were all out) I was off to church in the morning. A very long walk followed by 2 hours of standing and a long walk home took it’s toll, but I was glad I went, although as usual it caused more questions than answers. It turned out that on that day a Serbian priest was leading the service as the Russian priest, who could have possibly given me answers, was in Moscow and wouldn’t be back till 4 August.

The church warden took my email address promising to pass it on to the priest upon his return, with my questions, needless to say that didn’t happen. The absence of the priest  caused some re-organisation of my thinking, I wasn’t planning to stay that long, what to do? It seemed, though, that he may have been able to help me out, as this is the church where General Wrangel, leader of the white Russian Army is buried. I had heard many a story from Mum about the General and the evacuation of the army to the Yugoslavia, seeing as Mum’s uncle was in that army. That was a cool find.  Although no research could be done, once the choir started singing I just had to stay on, a very small choir but what voices!

The tomb of General Wrangel in the Russian church
The tomb of General Wrangel in the Russian church

 

On the way out of the church I ran straight into a Serbian wedding going to St Marks (next door to the Russian church) complete with ‘lumpovanje’. This is a traditional musical accompaniment for the bride and groom, a very loud brass band with accordions and drums accompany the wedding party through the streets playing a very loud style of traditional music. Again I remembered my mother’s stories of weddings in various towns and villages. If you would like to get a taste of what it’s like have a look at this video on Youtube

On the way home I came across the biggest post office building ever!

Mega Post Office
Mega Post Office
Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity Belgrade
Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity Belgrade
Brass band 'lumpovanje' escorting a wedding party
Brass band ‘lumpovanje’ escorting a wedding party
Wedding heading to the Serbian church of St Mark
Wedding heading to the Serbian church of St Mark

Tuesday was taken up with exploring the fortress, it is a fascinating rambling place built at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. However, I have given a couple of sites above for you to explore so will refrain from any description here – except for a few photos.

Zindan Gate 1450, Belgrade fortress
Zindan Gate 1450, Belgrade fortress

Museums and mausaleums

Wall of the fortress on the river side
Wall of the fortress on the river side

Wednesday

An interesting visit to the National Museum, located on the main city square called Trg Republike. A small museum but certainly some learnings for me, I hadn’t even thought about this area being part of the Roman Empire, but there it is, lots of relics and ruins. On top of that I hadn’t known about the Milan Edict either, hmmm perhaps in our current times we need to be more aware of what it says and perhaps expand it.

A picture paints a thousand words Edict of Milan
A picture paints a thousand words Edict of Milan

Thursday

It was the day to visit Tito’s Mausaleum (also known as The House of Flowers) and the 2 museums next to it. So a lovely Finnish lady and I hopped on the tram. I found both the mausoleum and museums interesting but not spectacular, however these things must be seen if you are in the city and there is a lot to learn. Not only is Tito’s white marble grave there (although supposedly he is actually buried outside amongst the flowers) but also displays of all the gifts he had received. One of the displays fascinated me in particular. This was the display of the batons brought to him each birthday on 25th May. It all started in 1945 when the youth of the country organised mass baton relays throughout Yugoslavia. The batons conveyed birthday wishes for long life and good health to Tito. There are apparently 22,000 of them in the museum many very elaborately decorated. Eventually the 25th of May became known as Youth Day.

The other sections of the museum had all manner of costumes and items from other countries on display.

Titos grave in the mausoleum
Titos grave in the mausoleum
Batons presented to Tito by the youth relay
Batons presented to Tito by the youth relay

Sometimes hostel life can be awesome as it was that evening with crepe night, a birthday watermelon (spiked with vodka of course) for one of the girls and live entertainment by a bunch of Swedes and a saxophonist from somewhere else.

Vodka spiked birthday watermelon and cake
Vodka spiked birthday watermelon and cake

At other times it can be very annoying as in the next night when I was awoken at some horrific hour of the morning by the Brazilian boys who had been out all night

You generally find some musicians staying in hostels
You generally find some musicians staying in hostels

and for some reason needed to have a conversation in the dorm (as if they hadn’t had enough time to talk to each other).

The 31 degrees in Belgrade felt so much ‘hotter’ than 31 at home, maybe it’s the humidity, putting that together with a lack of sleep and it ended up that a walk to the post office, the gelato place and the supermarket (for watermelon, chicken and booze) was enough for one day! The afternoon was spent sitting around chatting to lovely Ursula (from Chile) about Mum’s book, my research and her amazing search for family while drinking local beer, now that’s the way to spend a hot languid afternoon on holidays.

Hostels and some of the challenges – Manners

Saturday 

Yes there is an unwritten set of hostel manners that the decent travellers adhere to, others unfortunately think they are the only ones there. It was quiet until 5am (didn’t even realise a new dorm mate had come in) then, shattered silence! Alarm goes off, obviously the Turkish girl’s as she finally got up looking for the phone. Is it in the locker? No, maybe in the luggage? Yes! Alarm gets louder, Hmmm can’t see in the dark, light goes on, finally alarm goes off. She visits the bathroom, back in bed, silence again, till 5.45 when same person decides it’s time to get up, bed light goes on, lots of rustling, zippers opening, She leaves, light stays on – sometimes I love hostel life, other times I’m over it.

I decided to go out to Zemun even though it was 33 degrees outside. Zemun lies on the Danube and was once a separate city. I walked along the river past lots of little restaurants, it was a time I wished I had someone with me who spoke the language properly, would have been nice to stop and have a bite to eat, I settled for an icecream on the way back to the bus stop. I couldn’t cope with the heat and tiredness so decided not to explore further. There is a rich history to Zemun and of course way too much to put here so Wikipedia comes to the rescue once again, take a look at;

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Zemun

On my way out to Zemun I had noticed a massive market with a very Ottoman looking roof so on the way back I hopped off the bus to take a look. Located across the road from the central transportation hub Zeleni Venac is massive,  it was a delight wandering up and down the rows, you can buy pretty much anything there not just food products. Once again the thought crossed my mind, was this where Dad, as a young boy, worked?

‘The town market became the base of his activities. He ran messages, doing any kind of work. He made himself indispensable at the market. He started to make some money but still slept under boxes at the market until a Serbian farmer offered him a job on his property. So Tony became a shepherd.’ Excerpt from my mother’s memoirs, Jermolajew, Tamara. It Can’t Be Forever. Gininderra Press, 2005.
Sadly Mum is gone and I can’t ask those questions now.

Zeleni Venac market
Zeleni Venac market

The 29th July arrived, my decision had been made to go to Hungary for a week before returning. A note about going to Budapest from Belgrade, it is much cheaper and more convenient to go by mini bus. The Hedonist books the bus for you, you leave at a civilised hour of the day, it is safe and the driver looks after the border crossing by collecting all the passports. The border guards have a good look at you before handing back your passport, however we didn’t have to get out of the bus so that was good. One thing, best not to have any alcohol or cigarettes (except enough for yourself for the trip) with you, the Hungarian border is pretty strict about that. The only thing about the mini bus (or at least the 2 drivers I had on 2 separate occasions) make sure you know exactly where you are going, if it is possible, because both times I was dropped at the wrong place which caused a little more than just annoyance.

So it was a temporary farewell to Belgrade with great thanks to my newly found friends Eva, Julia, Natalie, Alex, Rachael and Ursula, and the rest of the guests and onward to Budapest.

A bit more craziness at the message wall with rakija and coffee
A bit more craziness at the message wall with rakija and coffee
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Golden Oldie and First Born Take Off to Serbia.

Golden Oldie and First Born Take Off to Serbia.

And so on Tuesday 14 May Grisha ( aka Ginski) and I flew Turkish airlines via Istanbul to Belgrade . And that is a whole different episode!

It took a while to figure out the cheapest and easiest way to get to Belgrade from Naples. Not an easy task. Taking the train to Rome and then an Alitalia flight to Belgrade was going to be costly because not only is Alitalia an expensive airline but there was no connection on the same day so we would have had to stay in Rome overnight – more expense. Normally I would say ‘Oh well let’s spend a couple of days in Rome’ but I didn’t want that extra expense. Anyway, when I go back to Rome I want more than a couple of days. So it turned out that Turkish airlines was the way to go but that meant spending 2 extra days in Naples. Yes I know that sounds strange but 2 nights in Naples in our hostel was cheaper and easier than one night in Rome and a whole lot less frustration and running around, in case you haven’t noticed I’m into travelling with the least amount of hassle.

This part of my story is going to prove a little difficult for 2 reasons,
1: I was in Serbia on three separate occasions this year so there is a lot of information and 2, it’s part of my research on Mum and Dad, so it’s all a little emotional, but I’ll try to clean up the personal emotional aspect while leaving enough in to make it all relevant. Again, I’m keeping the daily journal format otherwise I’ll never get this written, and I’ll probably end up doing each week separately although I’m toying with the possibility of rolling it all together, we’ll see what happens.

14 May 2013

So here we are in Belgrade, via Istanbul airport. Arrived about 7.30pm, checked into the Hedonist Hostel (the guys there seem really helpful and fun) had dinner in the Tri Shashira (that means 3 Hats) restaurant recommended by the guys at the Hedonist. It is in Skadarlija, the cobbled street in the old quarter that was once the haunt of poets, writers and artists, now full of tourists, and I’m already liking this place. A street filled with restaurants and music. The sort of thing I expected to find in Italy and Croatia but didn’t. The meal we had was enormous ! We went a little overboard, we were hungry but didn’t realise how big the meals are. Grisha had chevapcici and chips, we had a Shopska salad each and I had a Karadjorge (rolled veal stuffed with ham, butter garlic, crumbed and deep fried)– yum! If we come here again we will order one meal and share! So looking forward to exploring the rest of the city and especially the 2 rivers Sava and Danube, Mum and Dad spoke of their walks along the rivers with great fondness.

A chevapcici sandwich for dinner
A chevapcici sandwich for dinner
All that food! We sort of overdid it.
All that food! We sort of overdid it.

 

Ok, so now to figure out how to actually have a decent sleep in a top bunk! I hate top bunks! This could be interesting.

Tip: if staying in hostels and booking through one of the online agencies and sleeping in a dorm, always contact the hostel separately and ask for a lower bunk (unless of course you are a much more agile oldie than I am). I’ve never had a problem doing this since but this was the first dorm for me and I didn’t think of that bit of information.

15 May 2013

The guys at the hostel are awesome, Turkish (Serbian) coffee made for me! Yay! Thanks guys.

Beograd! I’m liking you more and more. Today we did the overview walk just to see where things are, where Grisha might want to run (yes I have a crazy son who runs) and places I might want to go back to for a better look. This is such a chilled out city. When we first walked into the massive pedestrian plaza (Knez Mihailova) we stopped, looked at each other and pretty much both said something like ‘ This feels so chilled out!’. There are heaps of restaurants and the shopping area with every shop you can think of. I remembered my mother saying that when she was young and living in Belgrade the city was considered the Paris of Yugoslavia. Still no Turkish coffee in any cafe but we did find a place called something like Kings of Turkey with heaps of baklava and other awesome sweets so might try them one day. Also discovered that there is a place called the Russian House so going to check that out tomorrow for some of that history I’m searching for. We have already extended by one night, I think we’ll need more time, loving it.

So, briefly we discovered the wonderful pedestrian plaza, walked all the way up to the fort (Kalemagdan), saw the convergence of the Sava and Danube rivers that my parents talked about often in their reminiscences, found a public fountain in the pedestrian plaza. Now, I have to stop for a minute and rave about that. What a great idea! This beautiful fountain with multiple outlets of perfectly clear drinking water, there for all to use. The locals, the tourists and definitely the homeless. All free, and under each outlet is a basin that holds water as well so those who may want to splash water or wash something could do so. Marvelous public service, so basically I only had to buy one bottle of water and then refilled it at the fountain every time we passed..

This says it all, on the wall at the Hedonist Hostel Belgrade
This says it all, on the wall at the Hedonist Hostel Belgrade

Yay! Great excitement, moved to a lower bunk tonight, loving that, got a curtain to hide behind too! Did I happen to mention that the guys at the Hedonist are awesome?

 

That awesome fountain in Belgrade
That awesome fountain in Belgrade
We found the confluence of the Sava and Danube
We found the convergence of the Sava and Danube

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Thursday 16 May

More exploring on foot, went to find the Russian House to find out if they have any information on the Russian community during the time my parents were there only to find out that the library was closed. The woman at reception knew nothing about anything, but did give us the phone number of a lady she thought might be able to help (that ended up being an interesting conversation, more later). There is a little souvenir shop in the building and so as not to have wasted a trip I bought some imported Russian chocolate.

17 May 2013

Today we started our search for Mum’s history in earnest. We hopped into the little green machine that we hired and drove off to Fruska Gora, 95 kilometres from Belgrade in the direction of Hungary.

Novo Hopovo monastery in Fruska Gora Serbia is where mum went to school from age 5-10. It wasn’t too hard to find, the highways in Serbia are really good and well sign posted.

The area is stunningly beautiful with green rolling hills, vineyards and forests. We first saw Novo Hopovo, which I was pretty sure was Mum’s school but there were signs to Staro Hopovo 2 kilometres further on so we decided to check that out just in case. I am so glad we did, the road wound through forests to this pretty little church and bell tower.

I quote from another traveller’s description – Staro Hopovo Monastery (staro meaning “old”) is a short 2 km drive away from Novo Hopovo. It was built between 1496 and 1520. The original church, also dedicated to St. Nicholas, was ruined by an earthquake in 1751 and a new one of cut stone and brick with a ten-sided dome was built. It was dedicated to St. Panteleimon. Robert C Trip Advisor

Grisha and I had a wander around and took some photos, it would have been nice to have time to walk in the woods but we needed to go to Mum’s school as obviously this one was not it.

 

The beautiful little church and bell tower Staro Hopovo
The beautiful little church and bell tower Staro Hopovo

 

So back up the two kilometres to the other building, a large yellow edifice. We wandered in and came across a priest (or monk, not sure which) walking along the cloister. Language wasn’t easy but we got enough to figure out that he knew nothing about the Russian era of this monastery but was happy for us to have a look in the church.

Again I quote from Robert C – Novo Hopovo (novo meaning “new”) is a Serbian Orthodox Monastery located in Fruska Gora National Park south of Novi Sad in Vojvodina. The yellow monastery buildings with red roofs are accented by a bell tower that was completed in 1760. The yellow monastery buildings surround the real gem, the beautiful old St. Nicholas church, which was built in 1576 . The frescoes around the altar and nave were frescoed in 1608 and the narthex in 1654. The wood iconostasis was built in 1776. The monastery was founded between 1496 and 1502 on the site of a previous church built in the 10th century. The church and iconstasis were heavily damaged in World War II and the treasury and its objects looted. Reconstruction took some 30 years. Robert C Trip Advisor

Between 1920 and 1943 the nuns of the monasteries were almost all from Russia, as they had to flee during the October Revolution (just like my father).
In front of the entrance of the monastery is the tomb of Mother Jekaterina who was the head of the monastery of Hopovo. She was Russian and grew up near the House of the Romanov family. http://sajkaca.blogspot.com/2010/02/monatsery-novo-hopovo-in-fruska-gora.html

Next thing we noticed was that the monks make their own rakijah for sale, with their own label, nice!. In retrospect we probably should have bought one.

IMG_7781IMG_7810 

The beautiful church inside the Monastery
The beautiful church inside the Monastery
Inside the Novo Hopova church
Inside the Novo Hopova church
More of the frescoes Mum would have seen
More of the frescoes Mum would have seen
We left a bit of Mum in this copse of trees
We left a bit of Mum in this copse of trees
some of the vineyards surrounding the Monasteries in Fruska Gora
some of the vineyards surrounding the Monasteries in Fruska Gora
Rakijah made by the Monks
Rakijah made by the Monks
Another Rakijah made by the Monks
Another Rakijah made by the Monks

 

 

 

,

The beautiful little church is in the central courtyard, surrounded on all sides by the monastery. It is ancient, the frescoes partially destroyed but still absolutely amazing. I stood there for a long time in awe of the age, the beautiful decorations and the thought that my mother stood in this church as a little girl and now I was standing in the same church. She talked of this monastery so often during my life I could almost feel her presence. I wondered where she may have stood. I’m sure there would have been some order to where the
classes stood. I also wondered whether the icon of Mary where the girls used to hide all their personal requests to her was still there.

My dear son as always took many photos (love having a professional camera man in the family) this was an important trip for both of us bringing to life my Mother’s stories. I would have loved to have attended a service there, perhaps I’ll go again one day. After much time soaking up the energy and the history, we finally left, walked around the church and along part of the cloister where Mum would have walked to and from the school to the church.

The church stands within the square surrounded on all four sides by the monastery building, a beautiful space. The cloisters serene and beautiful, I could just see all the girls in their Sunday uniforms filing from the monastery to the church along these cloisters. Once we’d had our fill of the church we retrieved Mum’s ashes from the car and found a lovely copse of ten trees and left a little bit of mum at the foot of one of those trees, I hope  it grows even more beautiful and strong, Mum loved all living things and particularly loved the forest around this monastery. And so it was time to drive back, 95 kilometres and a life time away from Mum’s childhood.

 

 

17 May 2013

Totally away from the topic of Mum and my research……..

Yay!!!! Eurovison on Serbian TV – this’ll be good. Basically I’ve got it all to myself, everyone else has vanished. Reckon that Eurovison has cleared the hostel! However I watch it every year even though Australia can’t be involved, it’s so much fun. I think since the days of Abba some people in Australia have held a soft spot for Eurovision. Now it pretty much has a cult following with Eurovision parties and drinking games and SBS has done an awesome job of televising the event and now creating a live chat line – just plain good fun! So here I was in Serbia watching it on my own!

18 May 2013

Trip to Bela Crkva to track down mum’s third and last school. Well was that a surprise! Yes I know, I have skipped from school #1 to school #3, that is because school #2 is in Slovenia and we had yet to get there.

Now back to that phone call I mentioned earlier. I guess it’s a cultural thing, but I rang the number given to me by The Russian House, a woman answered, I introduced myself by my first name and told her how I got her number and why I was calling. The first thing I got was:

‘And who are you?’
I repeated my name,
‘Yes, but that is just your first name! What is your surname and your patronymic? You haven’t given me those!’
At which point I’m thinking ‘Gosh, have I rung the Secret Service or something?’ Anyway, finally after giving her my full Russian name (why she needed it I have no idea, she certainly didn’t use it and wouldn’t have known who I was anyway) she admitted to knowing nothing about the schools but gave me the name and an approximate address of a gentleman in Bela Crkva the town where Mum went to her final school who apparently had a ‘museum’ based on the Crimean Cadet Corps in Bela Crkva with which mum’s school had connections, so I was hoping we would have some luck there.

The trip there was quite fun, apart from the fact that Ginski is fun to travel with, laid back, just as photo mad as I am (just professional with much better results) fun conversationalist and a good driver, travelling distances in other countries is always fascinating. We came across, trucks, tractors hauling various loads, horses and carts, hay wagons all a challenge on the narrow roads. No wild life but the dogs and cats play chicken with the traffic quite a bit, so you need to be alert. Road kill unfortunately tends to be cats.

We came across all sorts of vehicles
We came across all sorts of vehicles
Even slower than the tractor
Even slower than the tractor

There was great excitement when I finally saw a whole field of red poppies, thank you Universe. There had been lots along the side of the road but not a full field, so I happened to mention to Ginski that I hoped there would be a whole field of them and then there it was! The car came to a screaming halt, son jumped out of the car as I handed him the camera and off he went doing what he does best. Take a look at the result!

 

With a screech of brakes, a grab of the camera and my field of poppies dream came true.
With a screech of brakes, a grab of the camera and my field of poppies dream came true.

 

We made it to Bela Crkva and found the Russian church, unfortunately locked. So on we went to find the address of the guy. When we first arrived I got a little concerned because I thought it would be a wild goose chase after the trip. But we struck gold!

The town initially seemed run down (like a lot of towns in Serbia I’ve noticed), once it was a large centre but seems a lot of people have left or died and many buildings are abandoned and fallen into disrepair. So my hopes were fading. I also wasn’t sure whether the address that the strange Russian woman in Belgrade gave me was real, at the very least she wasn’t sure of the street number. So we drove down Partizanskaja street, found the number and all the doors onto the street looked locked. The street looked deserted. It’s a bit like that here, there are no front yards, all the houses are right on the footpath and they have large double doors that lead into courtyards,  all gates and doors appeared to be locked.

I noticed that a couple of doors down there was something that looked like a shop so I thought I’d go in and ask, after all the Belgrade woman said that everyone knew this guy. As I got closer I heard voices inside, entered, to find that it was a restaurant. I asked the waiter who approached us if he knew a Mr Kastelyanov – Strike me pink! But he immediately turned to a gentleman at a table of people having lunch and said ‘ I think this is for you’. Yes it was the man we were looking for! You could have knocked me down with a feather. He was as amazed as we were. After a brief explanation of what, who and why we were, apologising for interrupting his lunch and offering to come back at another time, it was agreed that we would stay in the restaurant, have a cup of coffee and wait till his lunch was over. It was in fact a 12 month memorial lunch for one of their friends (the Orthodox people have memorial services followed by lunch 40 days after a death then a year after the death. Some people carry on and have annual memorials)

So I had my first proper Serbian (Turkish) coffee in this restaurant along with some really nice traditional cake. I’ve been looking for the ‘Turkish’ coffee ever since we arrived in Croatia and have been told no-one serves it in cafes, particularly in the cities. What the waiter in Bela Crkva told me is that they no longer call it ‘Turkish’ coffee it’s Serbian coffee in Serbia, so I guess it’s Croatian coffee in Croatia. The 2 slices of cake that came with it must have been from the memorial lunch – awesomely yummy rich cakes, again took me back to my youth and mums cooking.

Terrific coffee and Russian style cakes.
Terrific coffee and Russian style cakes.

Mr Kastelyanov proved to be a delight and a mine of information. He took us back to his house where we met his wife as well. They both speak perfect Russian although born in Serbia, so communication was easy. The ‘museum’ (he prefers to call it a memorabilia room) was chock-a-block full of photos, items, paintings, books etc related to the Crimean Cadet Corps which had escaped the Russian revolutions and based themselves in Bela Crkva. The Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) (particularly individuals starting with the king and his family and other royal relatives) was very generous to the White Russian migrants who escaped and settled in the area. They donated buildings, monasteries and castles to the Russian schools which had nowhere to set up their educational system.

Two of those schools were the Crimean Cadet Corps and the Marinski Donskoi Womens Institute. They were housed in massive buildings in Bela Crkva and the two schools shared important occasions like religious festivals, balls, choir performances. At other times communication between the boys and the girls was strictly forbidden (needless to say they managed to get written messages to each other in secret).

Mr and Mrs Kastelyanov had associations with the cadet corps through their families, particularly Mrs Kastelyanov whose grandfather was an artist and documented their escape from Russia in paintings. Her father was a cadet at the school. As a result of all their memorabilia and the connection between the two schools they also had quite a bit of information about mum’s school., even a photo from 1938 of a joint gathering, it is quite possible that mum may be in that photo – impossible to know though because she had no photos of herself as a young girl, so I have no idea what she looked like. Here is one of the sad things about wars and migration – Mum and Dad had no evidence of their youth, no photos, no papers, nothing. Sadly I didn’t get to do this trip until after mum passed away, so I can’t show her the photos to find out if she is there. War messes up lives for many generations! I wish human beings could resolve their differences without violence.

 

 

Quite possibly Mum is in this photo as her best friends mother (Princess Bagration-Muhranskaya) is in the photo
Quite possibly Mum is in this photo as her best friends mother (Princess Bagration-Muhranskaya) is in the photo
Dear Mr Kostelyanov shows me around his museum
Dear Mr Kastelyanov shows me around his museum
Another photo where Mum might be as she was in the same class as the princess.
Another photo where Mum might be as she was in the same class as the princess.

 

After telling me everything he could Mr Kastyelanov took us to see the building where mums school had been. It was massive. Unfortunately totally unused for 5 years and and parts of it unused for much longer than that, so it has fallen into dis-repair.

If you look hard you can see where the name of the school was 'Marinski Donskoi Institut' Under the clock
If you look hard you can see where the name of the school was ‘Marinski Donskoi Institut’ Under the clock
Inside the crumbling building that was Mum's school.
Inside the crumbling building that was Mum’s school.

As we walked around we found that someone had created a large hole in the fence that was supposed to protect the back of the building, so in I went. After his first shock that I was going through the hole in the fence our guide decided to join me. After a little while he loosened up and began enjoying breaking into the back of the place. The dear man was like a kid again eyes sparkling at doing something ‘naughty’ I love when people just go with the flow and decide to enjoy themselves.

As a result of clambering through the fence I managed to walk in the courtyard where Mum would have walked and played. There is the remnant of a basket ball court, I don’t know if it was there when she was there or whether it was created later, whatever, this area was her playground. I suspect that they would possibly have had a tennis court there as she used to tell me how she loved to play tennis

We had a good wander around, he showed us where there had been a  restaurant for a few years and we even had a bit of a look inside, but it is all falling apart and way too dangerous to go too far in, how I would have loved to have seen the place the way it was when Mum was there. I always find it sad when beautiful old buildings fall into dis-repair.

After the school he took us to the Cadet corps school which you can’t enter because it is still used by the Serbian Army. Best we could do is stand at the boom gate and look at bits of buildings through trees while he spoke with the guard, no photos either!

That done we went off to the cemetery where many of the Russian migrants are buried, some are people of the royal court.
The cemetery is also in a state of disrepair, but now cadets from Russia (they have finally realised there is important history here) go there annually for tours and do some volunteer work in the cemetery so piece by piece it is getting improved.

Back at the house he excitedly told his wife all about our naughty entering into the back yard of the old school and even managing to get inside the building.

Oh what a day! (although probably even more questions have arisen) Thank you to Vladimir and Valentina Kastelyanov for spending hours with us explaining all they could.

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Some of the Russian graves in Bela Crkva
Some of the Russian graves in Bela Crkva

I

 

Sitting at the kitchen table back at the hostel, after our exciting day,  playing around on FB, and around me I hear German, Spanish, English in various accents and a touch of Serbian now and again, some of the people speaking those languages are from the relevant countries, others are not, it’s just awesome! Last night we had Russian as well. Loving this multicultural melding. The best part is that all these people are young, perhaps there is hope for our world through all these great people sharing lives, languages and traditions.

19 May 2013

Drove out to Novi Sad and Kikinda. Started out late, stopped in a little place and got Serbian coffee. Didn’t like that town much, pretty typical rough edged Serbian men in singlets sitting around smoking and drinking – the Serb version of Bogan – got to Novi Sad, larger than I expected and it would have been nice to explore properly but we discovered that Kikinda (our final destination) was another 80kms away. So we couldn’t stick around in Novi Sad.

80 kms of country road, the road itself wasn’t too bad but a much slower trip of course with only one lane each way and dealing with horses, tractors and slow bomby cars. One town on the way was rather interesting only in the fact that it mainly consisted of this one road and stretched for several kms – wouldn’t want to ‘go for a stroll in the main street’!

Somewhere along the way I noticed first a fellow shepherding a flock of sheep along the road and then a couple of young lads minding another flock in a field, my mind immediately went to the stories I’d heard Dad tell of his days  minding his bosses cattle. For some people nothing has changed I guess. There are still very few fences here so shepherds and cowherds are still needed and this is where the children are used..

The other thing is that they have many signs warning of deer on the roads, didn’t see one! I guess they must come out at night, but there also wasn’t any road kill either (other than cats) maybe if a deer gets hit it gets eaten? That’s my theory because unlike our Australian roads that are strewn with various dead wild life I saw nothing!

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Beware of the deer sign
Beware of the deer sign

 

Kikinda itself looked interesting but their civic maps and heritage signs were a bit lacking in information. Also it was Sunday so the Info centre wasn’t open – even if we could have found it! No-one had ever heard of a Russian church let alone a school and we couldn’t get hold of a city map either, oh well I suppose I wasn’t meant to find my Auntie’s school in Kikinda. The day was getting on and we had a long way to drive back to Belgrade so decided to give up on the school search and thought we’d find the ‘Kikinda Mammoth’ as we’d seen signs for that, Hmmmmm all the signs ran out as we got to the centre so we had no idea how far we had to walk to find the thing, or even in which direction so gave up on that too. Final decision was to have a look at the horse driven mill that we had actually seen on the way in, so off we went, found the mill, not sure if it is still used but it still smells of horse so wouldn’t be surprised if it is still used even if only as a tourist attraction, but it was Sunday so no way of finding anything out.

The mill
The mill
Inside the mill
Inside the mill

 

It would have been great to see it in action, massive place, but we took a few photos and headed back. We did notice that we must have been reasonably close to Hungary as the place names were not only in Cyrillic and Latin letters but also in Hungarian, mind you this was all part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. We also noticed that from Novi Sad on to Kikinda there were a lot more Catholic churches so I guess that is a reflection of the past as well.

The other thing we noticed in our drives over the past few days is just how flat Serbia is, apart from Fruska Gora we saw no hills except for the Romanian hills from Bela Crkva. The mountainous area is where Serbia becomes Monte Negro (Crna Gora) I’m told it is just stunning, but unfortunately I’m not going to get there this time.

 

This held the village traffic up a bit.
This held the village traffic up a bit.
Slow poke.
Slow poke.

We were going to have dinner on the way back at Zenum, the old town on the banks of the Danube but it was getting late and we figured that perhaps just going back to the hostel and going to the Bohemian Quarter would be a better idea.

20 May 2013
So I knew I would live to regret yesterday’s decision to have a Serbian coffee at 2.30 pm followed by an excessively strong (even in my terms) cappucino at 4-ish! Sleep eluded me till about 4 am, looks like we’ll just have to go get one of those chimney cakes if I’m to survive on 4 hours sleep!

Returned the car, it was a lovely ride, took us very smoothly through the countryside, bye bye green machine.

 

The little green machine
The little green machine

 

Wanted to see the residence of Princess Ljubica but it was closed, maybe tomorrow. Did get chimney cake though!  The franchise comes from Hungary and I was told by another backpacker at the Hedonist hostel that they are in Prague as well, such a yummy creation!

 

This is how they make the chimney cake
This is how they make the chimney cake, then it gets baked only from the outside
One way of devouring the chimney cake
One way of devouring the chimney cake

 

Lunch, Grisha decided to get the Goulash y Lepine (goulash in a large bread roll , they dig out the middle of the roll and fill with a goulash). Unfortunately not to Grisha’s liking as the goulash was made of kidney’s (I liked the bits that I stole as he didn’t want them).

Dinner, Grisha went and bought all the vegies he needs and cooked up a storm with his vegie dish and this time included the local cabanosi – proper flavours, yum! That dish of his is a life saver for backpacker travel.

21 May 2013
guess I’d better get out of this bunk cave and get the day started, last day in Belgrade, time to move on.

Chill out day – 2pm and Grisha is still asleep! He woke up at 4pm. We didn’t do much other than go get some dinner at the Sesir Moj, a Karadjorge, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the first one at the Tri Sesira. Also there was this annoying woman dressed in period costume constantly talking to a table of young ladies and telling them that she was an actress and then sang to them (awful) then continued talking. We ate and got out of there as it was impossible to talk with her constant chatter.

Hello all! Good morning! Good evening. Awake now! 2nd Serbian coffee for the day – made this one myself, time I got back into practice I guess and a yummy cake thingy that the hostel guys just gave me – yuuuuum! Spoilt as the Mama? Just a bit.

22 May 2013
It’s sad but in 51/2 hours we’ll be on the train out of this lovely city of Belgrade and on our way to Ljubljana via Zagreb – hope it lives up to all the descriptions I’ve heard. Farewell Belgrade, I leave not having managed to do, see, eat or drink everything you have on offer, but you never know, I may come back one day and get to finish all of this.

One of the most challenging feats of this trip? Other than climbing up to a top bunk? Sitting on a lower bunk doubled over trying to drink beer out of a rather large tinny of Jelen!

Oh wow! Running Down a Dream has just come on the local radio station that is on in the hostel – how appropriate!

And so Episode One of Belgrade ends. I did come back on my own, unexpectedly, however that is another story. We will meet again in the next episode when my Ginski and I continue our research in Slovenia, see you all in Ljubljana.