Mid-August

It’s incredible to be at mid-August and to know that these glorious hot and sunny days — a perpetual summer of sorts — are going to continue. After spending months hearing folks up north whine about how hot it is, I’ll soon get to hear them whine about how cold it is and how they want to go somewhere with better weather. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to host them by then. ūüôā

I used to hate cold and snow and winter until I thought I was stuck with them for life and learned to embrace them. And then, I took a train ride to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, in late June of 2007. It was then that I first had the life altering realisation that not everyone in the world lives in difficult climates where you only get a few precious weeks of glorious sunny weather.

It was in Dawson City, Yukon, in 2009 that I first experienced living in a climate of unrelenting heat for an entire season. I was quite heavy back then and it was difficult to handle the heat, but all that sunshine revitalised me.

And it was in Mazatl√°n, Mexico, over the course of of the 2014-2015 winter that a rather lighter me discovered that she can thrive in a hot, humid, sunny climate. I learned from the locals how to keep my house comfortable and clean without air conditioning and how to keep myself from getting heat stroke walking upwards of 20KM in 30C/86F or higher temperatures at all times of day as I explored Mazatl√°n. I knew by the end of those first six months that while I have housekeeping-related issues with living in a humid tropical climate, it makes for a much healthier me. I make much better diet choices and I don’t have my skin issues here, plus the sunshine helps my mood tremendously.

So, really, I had no qualms in moving to M√©rida no matter how many people — mostly Mexicans! — warned me about the heat here. But very surprisingly, I’ve been here since May and have yet to experience temperatures that come close to what I had to deal with in Bulgaria last year. I don’t think we’ve passed 35C/95F plus humidity here while it rarely dipped below 40C/104F plus humidity over there!

The construction of the house I’m minding and the owners’ wishes dictate that I keep the AC on 24/7 to keep humidity levels low. My compromise that I run the AC at about 28C/82F, which is still warm enough that if I’m doing something physical, like cleaning or exercising, I can still get overheated. This means that there is very little contrast with the temperature outside and I never have that moment of, oh, I don’t want to go out because it’s so much more comfortable in here.

The only time I have issues with the climate is the same as many Meridanos — spending time in my truck in the city. I’m sure there are idiots who don’t realise that cars get very hot in even a cooler climate, with temperatures reaching as high as 50C/122F (or more) if you are unable to park in the shade, and who would perceive my having a problem being in such an environment as being unable to handle the local climate.

Well, a very long day of running around like last Thursday could have been life threatening. I actually took my temperature when I got home and even with all the precautions I took to stay cool during the day — waiting in AC or on the sidewalk in the shade rather than my truck, drinking plenty of liquids, and enjoying the cool breeze on the long stretch of highway between M√©rida and home — I was still hyperthermic (feverish) when I got in, with a temperature of almost 39C/102F.

The “truck days” are what wipe me out here because I’m spending time in temperatures of 20C/36F more than the actual ambient temperature. It’ll be nice when I live in town and can ditch the truck and walk almost everywhere. I also know from Bulgaria that even if I get the AC fixed on the truck, that doesn’t necessarily mean much if I’m stuck driving in full sun with no shade, but it’ll help and, of course, make it much easier to get groceries home. A cooler works great for a spell, but then turns into an oven!

I took yesterday off to catch up on my exterior chores. I did all the hard work before the sun got too high in the sky around 11:30AM, then retired to a lounge chair in partial shade with a book, a beer, and Puppy until the sun backed off a bit. Then, I got back to whipping the garden into shape. I probably spent more actual time outside than I did on Thursday and was comfortable and energetic all day. It was a really relaxing day that I really needed.

I’m heading back into M√©rida first thing tomorrow for my first meeting with the owners of the house I’m hoping to rent. Thankfully, I’m going straight there so that I won’t look too crumpled. Let’s just say I wasn’t at my freshest by my 4PM on Thursday. ūüôā

Here’s another teaser/hint about the house, an aerial view of it. Notice the incredible luxury of it not sharing any walls with neighbours:

Recap of the Best Year of My Life

If I measure 2016 by the one yardstick that matters to me, how much I travelled, it¬†was the best year of my life. That’s hard to reconcile with how horrible the year was to the world in general, but it’s my truth.

This was a rare year of my life where there was enough money to do what I wanted to do. I prioritised paying for the¬†big stuff, like making sure I had a roof over my head, could get from point A to point B, and that I stayed¬†healthy. I¬†savoured the little stuff I could afford. I refused to be a glass half empty person and bemoan that I couldn’t do X,¬†Y, or Z because of a tight budget¬†and instead celebrated that I was wherever I was at that moment.

I covered so much ground this year that you might have forgotten where I started. So here’s my 2016 travel retrospective.

January started in Mazatl√°n,¬†Mexico. It was the second year of my life starting there and the novelty hadn’t worn off! I spent many hours cantering on a beautiful tropical beach, a weekly ritual that made me feel like the richest and luckiest woman in the world.

The lagoon at the Isla de la Piedra botanical gardens.

The lagoon in Mazatl√°n’s Bosque de la Ciudad.

February brought me to Mérida, in the Mexican state of Yucatán, on a scouting mission in anticipation of possibly moving there!

I saw ancient Mayan ruins!

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

March had me discovering the wonderful botanical gardens right in my backyard on Isla de la Piedra.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra's botanical gardens.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra’s botanical gardens.

April found me seeing Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

…and exploring Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

…and the town of Moab, Utah.

May took me to Cody, Wyoming

downtown Cody, WY

downtown Cody, WY

…with¬†plenty of time to explore the Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

…¬†and a¬†Japanese internment camp

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

… before going¬†home to Haven…

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

… before getting on a plane and technically visiting my last Canadian province.

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So June took me to¬†London, England (really!)…

London from the St. Paul's Cathedral

London from St. Paul’s Cathedral

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… and to¬†Bulgaria!

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

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July took me on two trips to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

August took me to Plovdiv

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

… and across Bulgaria in a Chevy to Nessebar

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

…to Soviet ruins

Buzludzha

Buzludzha

Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

…the scenic town of Teteven

Teteven

Teteven

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

…the Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

…and a the magnificent 15th century Glozhene Monastery.

inside the Glozhene Monastery

inside the Glozhene Monastery

September saw me quit Bulgaria for Serbia and finish the month in Belgrade.

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

October found me in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, BiH

Sarajevo, BiH

Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

…blipping through Albania

an Albanian fortress

an Albanian fortress

…staying out too late¬†in Prizen, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

…not being impressed by Skopje, Macedonia

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

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…ambling through¬†Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

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… then through¬†Alicante

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain

… before settling in Almer√≠a for seven weeks.

The port of Almería

The port of Almería

November was spent in lovely Almería learning to live in the real Spain.

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

December saw me in M√°laga for a few days…

M√°laga from the top of the itinerant Ferris wheel.

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…before jetting off to end the year and ring in 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands!

Quintessential Amsterdam scene

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What a journey 2016 was, from getting more and more comfortable in Mexico to becoming a seasoned European traveler!

But the most amazing thing that happened? I was offered my key to Mexico. So my 2017 is well plotted. But before I return to the blistering tropical heat of the Yucatán, England, Quebec, and Haven beckon. So clichéd as the saying is, the best really is yet to come.

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers!

Being a Vegetarian or Pescatarian in the Balkans

I am not a vegetarian, but I have a few vegetarian and pescatarian readers, including Croft, who have asked if they would be hungry traveling through the Balkans so I thought the question merited a post. Just keep in mind that I haven’t specifically been looking for meat-free options, so these are just general observations based on things I’ve ordered or seen on menus in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There is a huge difference between the offerings in small towns and those in larger cities, and fish/seafood availability depends on how far you are from a water source. Here are some of the basics you will find just about anywhere:

Salads

First of all, fresh produce here is cheap, excellent, and a matter of local pride. I don’t know what the food situation is like in the winter, but in the summer months and well into the autumn, you won’t have a problem getting a basic salad with tomato, lettuce, sweet peppers, cucumber, onion, oil, vinegar, and local cheese. The vegetarians I met in Bulgaria say they combine different salads and add in cheese and bread for a simple meal when eating out.

Pizza and pasta are ubiquitous and really good. So you can often get plain cheese pizza (or sometimes add olives or other veggies!), both in sit down restaurants and at takeaway spots. If a restaurant has pasta on the menu, there will usually be one with a plain tomato sauce or with a cheese sauce.

Savoury pastries, like the Bulgarian banitsa (flaky pastry filled with crumbly white cheese) are very filling and make a good breakfast. When I was in Nessebar, my “typical Bulgarian breakfast” (according to the menu) should¬†have suited Croft just fine — fried dough (or cr√™pes) with cheese, jam, coffee, and fresh fruit.

Eggs

They are a major source of protein out here. I don’t eat them, but I’m pretty sure you could get an egg added to just about anything you want.

Bean soup (Bob)

I’ve only seen this in Bulgaria. I don’t know if, like in¬†Mexico, the beans are cooking in animal fat/broth, but if you eat fish, you should be able to handle a little broth. I would imagine salad, bread, and bowl of bob would be a very filling meal.

Larger cities have all of the above, of course, but if you do research, you will find restaurants that specifically offer vegetarian food or with vegetarian options. You will also find fancier salads (I had one in Belgrade that had smoked salmon, capers, and broccoli, and more) and the ubiquitous doner shops usually have falafel on the menu. The Balkan version of Chinese food is pretty common in the larger centres and they have lots of veggie options.

Coastal areas (which include places along rivers, like Zemun, Serbia) have excellent fish and seafood and I’ve seen trout or other fish on the menu further inland, but it tends to be a special of the day. When I was on the Black Sea Coast, you could get many different fish, octopus, squid, shrimps, etc.

I haven’t seen tofu or mock meat here (and I did look for tofu when I was in Sofia because I like it for breakfast, but failed), but have seen ingredients like quinoa on the menu in some places. If you are cooking for yourself, you can find natural food shops all over the large cities with ancient grains and more.

The local food tends to be pretty bland, relying on salt for its flavour, so I’ve had better luck eating the more “international” cuisines. But there’s enough choice that even a strict vegetarian¬†should be able to find something to their¬†liking. If you like pizza, the Balkans will be heaven for you as the¬†pizza here is super inexpensive and crazy good. Pasta has also consistently been a safe bet.

All told, I think that a vegetarian could get a filling meal at any restaurant they walk into. It might not be the most original or tastiest meal of their life, though. But in the summer months, with the tomatoes being as delicious as they are out here, even the basic “shopska salata” is an experience.

Thanks for the question, Croft!

First Morning in Belgrade

I had a really good first night in Belgrade! There are two layers of windows, so once they were shut, the apartment was surprisingly quiet, except for when other tenants would clomp up the stairs. I woke up around six, answered a few emails, then went back to sleep until about eight.

This was my first morning since I left Haven that I wasn’t feeling rushed to do something. I’m here long enough that I don’t feel an immense pressure to go explore right this second and I don’t have dogs whining for their walk. So needless to say, I took it slooooow.

It took a while to get coffee since I had to boil water on an electric stove… and didn’t notice I’d put the pot on the wrong element. No wonder that took a long while. *sheepish grin* My bun (still fresh) with peanut butter was the perfect breakfast and I was happy I would be able to head out in search of groceries on a full stomach.

I was surprised to find tons of info on Belgrade, like the low-down on where to get groceries, in English. I found that such info, usually written by expats, was sorely lacking in Bulgaria. Moreover, the expats I had contact with were surprisingly useless for that sort of knowledge. They live in small towns and don’t¬†go to Sofia much. Max, who lives in Sofia, seems to eat a very clean diet and doesn’t appear to shop in proper supermarkets, so he didn’t even seem to know there are Billas and such right downtown. My limited contact with the expat community in Bulgaria made it seem very insular, rather like how I perceive a good part of the Gringo population in Mexico, choosing to be in that country for the better climate and cost of living, but not being really present or immersed. So it was refreshing this morning to have all this great information on hand as it would make it much easier to settled into my life in Belgrade, however short my stay might be.

Since I live a block from Republic Square, I did a search for grocery stores in its vicinity and found a Maxi right behind it. That was twice as close as the nearest grocery store Siri found. I located the store without any issues and it was great! The produce was better and more varied than what I found in Bulgarian grocery stores (hence why I preferred to buy at the markets!) and I found more international items, including a few Canadian Patak sauces (not my favourite one, sadly), and came¬†home with a tub of HUMMUS! ūüėÄ I was realistic as far as how much I expect to cook and focused on just breakfasty and snack stuff and some pasta for a quick dinner the night I know will come when I don’t feel like going out. Prices seemed comparable to Bulgaria (ie. very low by Canadian standards). Like in Bulgaria and some US states, beer is mixed in with all the other groceries rather than being in a separate area. I didn’t get any because I had too much to carry as it was!

It’s now 11:30 and there is a walking tour at 2:00. I’ll probably go amble around for a bit and grab lunch. Once I’ve done the walking tour, I’ll be ready to visit museums and sites as I’ll be better orientated. I’m thus far finding Belgrade very confusing and street signage isn’t obviously so it will be good to get a few landmarks. Being so close to Republic Square is a huge help as I know I can always get there and then find my way home.

I still can’t believe I’m in Belgrade of all places!

Sofia, Bulgaria, to Belgrade, Serbia (with a layover in Nish)

To my immense surprise, I actually got some sleep in Sofia. I woke up around 3:00, but, thankfully, was able to go back to sleep until my alarm rang at 6:30. I dawdled almost too long in bed and then hurried up to dress and finish packing. I was out the door by 7:00ish, with my bus being at 7:30.

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Points to anyone who recognises what this is and where this picture is from! Hint: I was there this summer and there are pictures of this on my blog! This gorgeous scene was hung above my bed in Sofia.

The bus wasn’t at the station yet, so I went off in search of coffee, which in Bulgaria either comes from a vending machine or is a freshly made espresso. I wanted the latter of course. As I scanned my myriad options, an older gentleman came over and asked me in perfect English if I needed help finding a bus! All my uncaffeinated brain could stammer out was, “I’m fine Thank you. You’re very kind!” Where was he yesterday?! I settled on a caf√© and was very pleased with my choice, since the coffee was good enough to drink black!

I kept an eye on arriving buses as I drank my magic bean potion.

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That bottom word is one of my least favourite in Bulgarian! I know what it means (entrance), but forget pronouncing it! The X sound is the bane of my existence. This is something along the lines of V-k-h-o-d….

Finally, I saw a bus¬†marked Nish, like that, in Roman letters. A lot of people spell it Nis, without the accent (NiŇ°), but if you drop the accent you need to add the h to get the proper pronunciation. The driver got out and called out, “Serbia!” I felt a little shiver of anticipation. I stowed my suitcase under the bus¬†and went in to get a window seat.

The woman who had sold me my ticket had really not been listening to me and had sold me a ticket for 4:00PM today instead of 7:30AM. I chose to play dumb and see if it would get sorted out. Sure enough, the woman matching the tickets to the passenger manifest (international route!) took off with my ticket. A few moments later, I heard the driver call out “Maria!” It took a long moment to realise that that was me! He handed me a¬†corrected ticket and off we went!

There was a whole lot of nothing to the Serbian border, which we reached in about an hour and a half. En route, I started to feel queasy and realised it was because I’d just had the black coffee, so I tucked into one of the cheese croissants I bought yesterday. It cured my ills!

At the border, we waited in line behind another bus and then it was our turn. We all had to disembark to go through the immigration part of the checkpoint. Everyone ahead of me had just an ID card and flew through this part of the crossing. Then, it was my turn. The officer scanned my passport, frowned, and looked up at me.

Him: How long were you in Bulgaria?

Me: About three months.

Him: About three months?

Me: Um, a little less. About 88 days.

Him: Are you sure?

Me: Pretty sure…

Him: You were in Bulgaria 87 days.

Me: I didn’t know if I should count the entrance and exit days.

Him: You can only be in Bulgaria 90 days.

Me: Yes. That is why I have to go to Serbia today.

Him (after stamping my passport and handing it back to me): Welcome to Serbia!

Now, how do you think this exchange went? Just from reading it, it sounds like a Canadian-style interrogation where I was sweating bullets, right? Well, not at all! The officer’s tone was friendly with an under tone of teasing. I wasn’t worried at all!

As everyone was processed, we had to move to the back of the building and then go outside, where it was freezing. Thankfully, everyone else got through more quickly than me and the bus was finally cleared to let us back on.

Next step was customs. This time, an officer came on board and took our documents. I didn’t really like seeing my passport go off like that, but at least I expected it. It came back with another stamp showing I’d cleared customs.

After the border, we almost immediately pulled over at a rest area before finally starting to get some Serbian miles under us. Like Bulgaria, Serbia is wide open and rural.

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Foggy mountain.

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I thought we might be driving into a storm, but nope.

Serbian villages look like Bulgarian villages.

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353KM to Belgrade…

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There was a lot of roadwork being done, what appeared to be the construction of a new highway. My first impressions of Serbia are that it is very industrious!

I liked the stripes of colours at this quarry:

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I turned to look towards the driver’s side at one point and WOW!

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Serbia really wasn’t that different from Bulgaria!

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We got to Nish at 10AM local time, which was 11AM Sofia time, bang on schedule. I just wanted a bathroom, but the cost was 50RSD (dinar) and, of course, I had no local currency on me and didn’t want to break my euro note. I realised to my horror that to control human traffic within the departure terminals where the bathrooms are, there’s a turnstile system to get back in. To get cash, I would have to exit, find an ATM, wait in a very long line to get a ticket, and then get to a bathroom. I rather cursed my coffee at this point. ūüėÄ

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Thankfully, I found an ATM from a proper bank right outside the bus terminal. It was a bit strange to request a withdrawal of 10,000 anything, but it was only 122CAD! I grabbed my bills and went back to the station to buy a ticket.

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Serbian currency is going to take some getting used to! Divide by 120 to get the CAD equivalent, or more roughly, by 100. So these bills would represent our 20, 5, 2, 1, 0.50, and 0.10. Kinda sort of. I’ve figured out that less than 1,000 is a deal for a meal!

The lady who served me had just enough English to understand me when I asked what time we would arrive in Belgrade, but not enough to answer, so she wrote it down, 2:30. Oh, and she had offered me an express or a local, and I went with the express since it was the next bus (at 10:50) and would get me to Belgrade faster. I forget the difference in price, but I don’t think it was significant.

And then, finally, the bathroom! I paid and was heading to the turnstile when the attendant banged on her window and motioned for me to come back and leave my suitcase with her! I was rather loaded down and have no valuables in the suitcase, so I was very happy to do so, especially since she pulled it into her booth where it would be secure.

It was almost 10:40 by the time I sat down to try the free wifi. My stupid phone refused to connect to it, but my iPad had no trouble, to my immense relief, since I wanted to contact my host in Belgrade to confirm my arrival time. I’d said 4:00 and decided to stick with that as it would leave time in case there were any contingencies or I couldn’t find the apartment. He wrote back immediately to say he’d be there.

That done, I Googled “platform” in Serbian since I wasn’t sure where to catch my bus and I knew the info was somewhere on my ticket. I learned that a platform is a “peron,” rather like the French for a porch! I scanned my ticket and found –Ņ–Ķ—Ä–ĺ–Ĺ. As it turned out, I was at the right platform, eight, so I didn’t have to go anywhere.

The bus pulled up right at 10:50 and we lost a few minutes while passengers disembarked. When it was finally time to load luggage, I was confused that people were passing the attendant money. As it turned out, you had to pay 50RSD (about 0.60CAD) per bag on top of your ticket. This is where I started to learn that Serbian numbers are very similar, if not identical, to Bulgarian numbers! I mean, the guy said to me, “Pet…”¬†which meant he wanted 15, 50, 0r 500 for my bag. 15 and 500 made no sense, so I pulled out a 100 and he took that, gave me back 50, stuck a tag on my bag, and handed me a receipt!

The bus was super crowded but I managed to get the last window seat!!!!! AND no one sat beside me, so I was able to spread out! That’s the good news. The bad news is that the bus was apparently manufactured by the folks who build the “local” Mazatl√°n buses, so my knees were touching the seat ahead of me. It was cramped and would get a bit painful as the trip progressed!

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Saw this car coming out of Nish. Better a “Yugo” than a “Nova”!

We made a stop or two before finally getting under way. I had a simple lunch of pineapple juice and a ciabatta roll that I just dipped into my peanut butter jar. I then played a word game for a while since the scenery was getting monotonous, then decided to have a nap. It was bang on noon and I was just started to doze off when… BOOM. Tire blowout! The driver did a great job steadying the bus and pulling over safely.

I calculated I could afford only a one-hour delay and still get to my apartment by 4:00. So I figured I was going to have to scramble for internet access in Belgrade to let my host know I’d be late since there was no way a tire repair service and/or backup bus could reach us in time. But, get this, the bus driver and his helper changed the tire themselves!

I was in such disbelief that I got out and took a picture because I figured no one would believe me.

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We were back underway in 45 minutes. Wow! I promptly went to sleep and next thing I  knew, I was in civilisation. It was about 2:30. Were we coming into Belgrade already?!

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Yes, we were!

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Belgrade’s trams look much more modern than do Sofia’s.

We got to the bus station at 3:00, so I had an hour to get to my apartment, only 1.3KM away. So, of course, I planned to walk and turned down offers of taxis.

Look at this sign near the arrivals. Puts so many countries to shame:

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There was a wifi signal at the park behind the arrivals area, so I figured I could use it to orientate myself and then follow the directions to the apartment. But signage was poor and Google Maps was being a Google product and not cooperating. I could not orientate myself at all. The iPad doesn’t have the compass and the phone’s compass would not work on wifi, so I couldn’t even figure out in which direction to set off. So frustrating!

I eventually got into a cab and quickly realised I’d made a mistake (ie. got into a fake cab) and was about to be scammed. Sure enough, my 1.5KM drive cost me about 12CAD! I know I should have gotten out the minute he turned on his metre, but I was running late and lost! ¬†I just did some research and his metre did start off at the right amount, but ran up very quickly, which is how they get people. So, welcome to Belgrade. It appears that getting scammed by the taxis is a rite of passage. I’m just glad that this doesn’t matter even if it matters. I’ll be more careful if I get in another taxi.

I recognised the apartment when we got to it and said the Bulgarian “tuk,” for here, only to learn that it’s “tu-ey” in Serbian. ūüôā The driver got the luggage out and made sure I knew where I was going, so he gets points for not being an evil scammer (I read horror stories about scamming drivers, so, really, I got off easy). It wasn’t until I was standing at the door to the apartment that I realised I had no idea where exactly I was supposed to meet my host! Dang, what did we ever do before internet?! I scanned the names next to all the buzzers for the building and was going to press the one that started with “–ł–≤–į–Ĺ” since my host’s name is Ivan when I heard my name! I turned around and a man introduced himself as my host’s brother Marko (easy to believe based on the host’s Airbnb picture). It was exactly 4:00!

My arrival in Belgrade continued to be a little less than smooth when Marko informed me that the apartment I’d rented had been flooded overnight and was inhabitable… He said he had another place for me that was comparable and even closer to downtown. I followed him there. The apartment he showed me is¬†comparable, but not newly renovated the way the other apartment had been and also doesn’t have a balcony. But they actually rent it out for more (which I know is true because I saw the listing for this one) since¬†it is right downtown about a block from the pedestrian street, rather than about a kilometre away. So, in a way, this is an upgrade, depending on your priorities. The bed is comfy, so I’m happy, but I am concerned that there’s just a bar and no table, so I’m not sure where I’ll be transcribing from…

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Standing at the entrance, bathroom to the right, then kitchen, then living space.

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The kitchen isn’t bad at all. I should be able to cook simple meals here, but, really, I’ll probably do a lot of takeout pizza. ūüôā

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I took lots of pictures of the surroundings so that if I get lost, there’s a chance of someone being able to guide me home!

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My building and address.

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Organic bakery right next door!

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Fancy clothes store on the other side.

It was then time to walk around and orientate myself. Marko told me that behind the building is all manner of cheap fast food and he’s right. Don’t have to go far for pizza! I walked a bit aimlessly for a while.

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Fancy building. Government offices?

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It’s the post office! Wow!

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Ah ha! Directions! I headed in for the tourist info centre!

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Another fancy building…

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The national museum! This is when I realised just how close I am to everything! And that my Bulgarian was going to be useful in Serbia!

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Bulgaria invented the Cyrillic script and is very adamant about using it. Serbia, not so much. There is a of Roman writing all over and even books are published in it. I actually find it more difficult to read the Romanized Serbian than I do the Cyrillic because the Romanized version relies on a bunch of accents to guide pronunciation. I haven’t learned those (yet?), so I have no idea how to pronounce most of what I see, even if the letters look more familiar. The Cyrillic does have some unknown characters, but I can muddle through.

I found the pedestrian zone!

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And ice cream! Coconut! I haven’t had coconut ice cream since M√©rida! This wasn’t as good, of course, but it sure hit the spot! The attendant spoke perfect English, so it was easy to order.

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I found the tourist info kiosk after and the attendant there also spoke English. I got a map, info on a free walking tour, and advice to visit the nearby Telenor store to see about internet (shame that my Bulgarian Telenor SIM isn’t transferable!).

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I found the Telenor store, where the attendant there also spoke perfect English… Let me pause here to say that I’m exhausted from not being able to communicate effectively in Bulgaria and I’m happy to hear the English! Research had told me that Serbians generally speak English and that it’s possible to get by without using Serbian, but I didn’t believe it. Looks like it’s true at least in Belgrade!

The Telenor guy said that they’d sold their last “tourist SIM” and to go next door to the MTS (competitor) office. That place looked a little sketchy, but the attendant understood me perfectly and put me at ease. For 1,000RSD, she sold me a SIM card with 1GB of data on it and the ability to call others on the MTS network. She said I would have to go to a convenience store kiosk to get a top up to make calls or text. I don’t think I’ll need to do that, so I won’t bother unless the need comes up since the kiosks are everywhere. If I run out of bandwidth, it’s only 200RSD (2.40CAD) per GB! As a point of reference, at last research, Bell Mobility charged 10CAD for 1GB over overage and Telus charges 55CAD. Let’s not get into the cost of getting set up for pay as you go. I won’t be able to go home again…

Internet sorted, I ambled some more in search of dinner. I passed a few restaurants that looked good and had what seemed like excellent prices so I made a mental inventory of where to go when I was done ambling.

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National Bank

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I picked an Italian restaurant that had reasonably priced pork choices since I am going into meat withdrawal and pork is my favourite! Eight years of wearing a head scarf and tonight was the first time a server made sure I knew I was ordering pork!

My dinner choice was perfect and wonderful, but I’m sure it will not be to most of my readers’ tastes. There’s a bed of grilled zucchini with the pork over top and a blue cheese and prune sauce over everything. Served with a chewy bread with sesame seeds and a glass of white wine.

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This hunk of bleu alone was worth the price of dinner!

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It was sadly too much and I was unable to finish. It was sooooooooooooo good. An amazing first meal in Serbia! I will have to remember the combination of blue cheese and prunes!

The server was very quick to tell me that the tip is not included in the bill… I hadn’t researched tipping in Serbia and my phone died just before, so I handed over 1,500RSD (about 17CAD). Later research told me that that was a good tip, on the higher end, but not excessive. Notice that the bill is in Roman letters.

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I was done by this point and just wanted to crash. I gained an hour coming to Serbia, but my body doesn’t appreciate it!

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Marko thought there might be a grocery store near the apartment, but I couldn’t find it. I still had a bun left that should be fine tomorrow morning, plus the peanut butter and coffee, so I figured I was fine for the morning. I did pop into a convenience store for water since I don’t like the taste of it here (it is potable). This was one of those stores where you have to say¬†what you want. I broke the ice with¬†those in Bulgaria after getting enough vocabulary to do so. So facing the store here wasn’t as intimidating as it might have been had I zero experience with them. Here, after determining the woman didn’t speak English, I just said “voda” (same word for water as in Bulgarian) and put my hands wide apart to show I wanted a big one. The attendant understood me fine and a bit of “da, ne-ing” got me the bar of Milka chocolate I wanted. The attendant¬†was so sweet! Please and thank you are complicated in Serbian and aren’t sticking yet, so after I paid, I just said thank you in English and the lady gave me a big smile. So she might not speak English, but she understands a bit.

I then rounded the corner and decided to climb the four flights of stairs to my flat rather than fiddle around with the scary lift.

I unpacked a bit when I got in, then jumped in the shower, which was hot and had good pressure. The shower in Malak Izvor was luxurious, so I’m a tad spoiled in that regard and glad I have a good shower here!

So that was my very long day. I’m off to crash. It’s crazy noisy out there, which will take some getting used to, but this is what I wanted, the big city after four months (three in Bulgaria, one at Haven) in the middle of nowhere! ūüėÄ