GREETINGS FROM BELGRADE!

First day back in my native city, second time in a month

For a second time in a month, I am back in my native city. This time, however, as a resident for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Late German Crew

It was an interesting trip right from the get-go. My Lufthansa-Condor flight had been delayed in PHX in by about 30 minutes due to a late arrival of the incoming aircraft from Frankfurt.

Then we had to wait another 30 mins to board because the entire crew was late arriving at the gate. 😀 In all my travels around the world, which is over 4 million miles, I don’t ever recall another instance when an airline crew was late for departure. And then they say the Germans are punctual! 🙂

But then, God intervened (strong tailwinds) and we still landed in Frankfurt on time – on the wings of a Condor. 🙂

 

Last Starbucks

I used a part of my 3-hour layover in Frankfurt to enjoy my first and last Starbucks Americano. At least until they open some stores in Serbia.

As a matter of fact, a friend who saw my comment to that effect from Frankfurt, tole me Starbucks have announced their intention to open 10 stores this year in Belgrade. So maybe it won’t have been my last Starbucks drink for long? 🙂

Just in case, I brought 5 pounds of Starbucks French Roast with me. That and some other food items and winter clothes pushed the weight of my case up to nearly 70 pounds! It was a hernia-making duffel bag. I felt sorry for the tiny check in agent at the Phoenix airport who had to lug it to the conveyor belt.

New Phone

As expected, I had a short night’s sleep due to jet lag. The first thing I did when I woke up was to install a new SIM card in my iPhone with my new Serbian number (+381 65 533 0332 – make a note of it).

I had never done something like that before. But thanks to the advice of my good friend Nenad who secured that card and number for me, the process was a piece of cake. And thanks to the fact that the iPhone keeps all your personal data in memory, my new Serbian phone number picked up right from where my US number left off – with all the contacts and messages available and accessible.

New Bank

My next task was to get a new bank. I had received good advice from both my nephew Stasa and my friend Nenad about the banks they use. But I ended up choosing a third one – by proximity to my flat and by color.

 

The Komercijalna Banka was less than 5 minutes’ walking distance from my place. And its corporate color scheme was encouraging. It was the same as that of my (ALTZAR) aura. But what really sealed the deal was Tatiana (Tanja) – a lady behind the counter who did all paperwork for me. Despite an initial computer glitch in the banking system, she prevailed and managed to open two bank accounts for me with a minimum fuss and bother on my part.

It was a great example of customer service and the importance of an INDIVIDUAL within a corporate structure. Just as was Sandra, the lady from MUP Vračar who helped me gety my Serbian passport and the ID card back in May. In that instance, Sandra had to overcome a power failure in the entire city block. And she got the job done anyway with a smile on her face (see DAY 5, MAY 16: SUCCESS! LIFELONG DREAM REALIZED AFTER A 6-MONTH QUEST).

But once my US dollar account was opened, I was amazed at how much effort and bureaucracy it took for Tanja’s colleague to make the first cash deposit for me. Can you believe it – the poor lady had to the record the serial numbers of all the dollar bills I gave her!? (see the photo of my receipts).

 

Breakfast in Sarajevo

“Did you also go do Sarajevo?” I joked when she returned from a long absence.

Previously, I had told Tanja and this lady that while Tanja was wrestling the bank computer system to the ground, I had gone to have breakfast.

“I went to Sarajevo,” I said with a straight face.

(For those of you who are not from Europe, Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia. It is some 300 km/190 miles away from Belgrade).

The two ladies looked up at me with a question mark written all over their faces,

“I was craving a burek,” and then cracked a smile. They laughed. Because they knew I I suppose there was a burek store next door whose name was Sarajevo.

(Burek or Börek in Turkish, is a family of baked filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo, of Anatolian origins and also found in the cuisines of the Balkans, Levant, Mediterranean, and other countries.)

Shared birthday – Saint Constantine Day

While she was filling out the paperwork for my bank accounts, Tanja said excitedly, “we have the same birthday – June 3!”

So I gave her high fives. “The two Gemini,” I said.

“Did you know what’s important about that day?” I asked her.

“No.”

“It is Saint Constantine Day.”

“Oh, yes, I knew that,” she fessed up.

I then shared with her the story of my double identity – Konstantin and Slobodan (triple if you add Robert to the mix, but I did not want to complicate the story with that). And how I technically don’t exist by my given name (Slobodan) in the Belgrade registry which only knows me as Konstantin.

The rest of the banking staff were also listening to this conversation and laughing appropriately as the story progressed. At end, everybody was smiling and laughing.

“Konstantin is a pretty name,” Tanja opined.

“I agree,” I said. “But in this lifetime, it only made trouble for me.”

Altzar_Constantine.jpg

Green Oasis and Shady Neighborhood

I spend the rest of the morning checking out my new neighborhood. I was delighted to see so many little shops and cafes – all within easy walking distance from my flat. I certainly won”t miss driving in crowded cities. Because this neighborhood is like a little green oasis, secluded and yet smack in the middle of the Old Town Belgrade.

 

The street my apartment is on is named after Milutin Bojic (Милутин Бојић), a Serbian poet, theatre critic, playwright, and soldier in World War I. It seems very fitting considering that my maternal grandfather, a teacher by profession, was marching right alongside this poet-turned-soldier all the way through Albania, to Greece (Corfu) and then fought their way back through Thessaloniki to liberate Serbia.

Apartment Interior

And here’s also a part of my apartment’s interior – the two main rooms.

 

This afternoon, I went out for another walk exploring a wider area of my neighborhood. I found this old house very charming despite the decay that has set upon it in the last 118 years,

 

The other shot is the view of my back yard as seen from the second bedroom.

And that’s all she wrote from my first day back in Belgrade.


UPDATE JULY 6, 2018

BELGRADE REJUVENATES

Last night, I slept for 10.5 hours. Guess am finally beating the the jet lag. And then I did something I have not done in over 50 years. Both made me feel young and perky again by the time I got back to my flat.

What happened?

After breakfast, I decided to go to a farmer’s market (“pijaca“). This idea was inspired by my (terrific!) landlady’s action last night.

She had just returned from her vacation. Yet in a matter of hours she was able to buy and bring me some household items I needed and was quite prepared to buy myself.  Being a typical American, I was about to take a taxi and go to a “superstore” like Costco. Which would have taken three times as long and probably cost twice as much,.

“How did you manage to do it so fast?” I asked her.

“I just went to Bajloniјеva Pijaca, she said (name of a nearby farmer’s market).

“And they also had all these household goodies there?”

“Yep,” she said. “There is also a flee market there” (“buvlja pijaca” in Serbian).

And so off I trodded on foot after breakfast this morning to Bajloniјеva Pijaca. I was amazed both by the size of the market and the variety of products that were available. The only thing I tentatively wanted to buy an umbrella. They are calling for rain and thunderstorms this evening and tomorrow.

I was amazed at the size of the market. Take a look…

IMG_5068

 

BUY ORGANIC!

Another friend of mine with whom I shared my Bajloni market experience –  Bane, Serbia’s only organic winemaker (see http://www.plavinci.organic/) – wrote back:

“You are right, shopping at a farmer’s market is a happening. Variety of people and products, interaction with the seller, scents. But I don’t buy anything at a market. I see the farmers from my district spraying their products in the evening, and then pick them in the morning to take to market…. I am not saying that everybody does it. But how can you tell who does and who doesn’t? At a supermarket, they test the samples. At least I can be sure I won’t be eating poison. I shop at an organic market.” (he named it)

Here’s how that conversation went:

[10:27 AM, 7/6/2018] Bob: You are a real an Organic Man. 🙂 There is an organic food store in my neighborhood as well (I named the street). 

[10:28 AM, 7/6/2018] Bane: If they have fresh produce, buy there.
[10:28 AM, 7/6/2018] Bob: Yes, they do.

[10:29 AM, 7/6/2018] Bob: I bought at (Bajloni) market some walnuts, honey and clotted cream. And an umbrella.  As if I had anticipated your advice. 🙂

BUMPY BELGRADE SIDEWALKS

On my way back from the market, I thought that not everything is rosy about my first impressions of Belgrade after nearly half a century. Take the city sidewalks, for example. They may have been intended for pedestrians, but three quarters of the space is being used for cars (parking).

IMG_5074

I also realized I was having to watch where I was stepping lest I might trip and fall.  Belgrade sidewalks are also full of pot holes and bumps. So it feels more like going for a hike than a walk.

A CHURCH THAT WAS NEVER A CHURCH

Just off top the side of the Bajlonijev Market, I noticed a church steeple. It did not look anything like a typical Serbian church. It looked more like something an austere Presbyterian architects might have designed.

So I got curious and walked over to talk to an older man who was standing in a doorway.

 

“I’ve noticed that the church is now being used as a (BITEF) theater,” I said. “But what kind of a church did it used to be?”

“It was never a church,” the man replied.

“It was never a church?” I repeated surprised. “So why does it have a steeple with a cross then? And it doesn’t look like a Serbian church, either.”

“Well, it was built as some kind of a ‘western orthodox’ church. But it was never consecrated nor used as a church.”

“Weird,” I thought. You never know what you will find in Belgrade when your’e not looking.


BELGRADE REJUVENATES

Here’s a Serbian version of the correspondence between my friend Milan from Vienna, Moscow and Belgrade, and me on this subject:

БЕОГРАД ПОДМЛАЂУЈЕ

Један мој пријатељ који живи у Бечу и у Москви али је и он из Београда, ме је јутрос питао *Nadam se da uzivas u Beogradu.*

*Мој одговор:* Апсолутно. Подмлађује ме. Радим ствари које нисам радио више о 50 година. Као, на пример, пазарити на пијаци. Ново исклуство. Управо сам се вратио са Бајлонијеве где нисам никада раније био (ближа ми је била Палилулска када сам живео у Далматинској Ул.). Написаћу једну малу причицу са сликама.

*Његов одоговор:* super!

*Мој коментар:* Не  верујем да ћу икада више храну куповати у радњама западног стила (изузев ако киша или снег падну). Има свега на пијаци, чак и производа за кућне потребе.

Сећам се да је то мој отац сваког јутра радио. И тек сада разумем зашто.

’’’

To see what happened in the afternoon of this interesting day, check out…

 

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