Sunday, October 28, 2007

Palin's New Europe

The blog entry on Belgrade 2.0 (click here to read it) about Michael Palin's new travel series 'New Europe' reminded me of the first episode of the series, which I've been watching long before I began this blog. For those of you who don't know, Michael Palin has been travelling around the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain. I've enjoyed the series a lot as it gives these countries some publicity in the UK and, I hope, breaks some of the stereotypes prevalent in the West about these former communist countries.

He covers all the countries in the region apart from Belarus and Montenegro, (but includes East Germany and Turkey - which was never behind the Iron Curtain in an ideological sense, geographically you could say so). When I first heard about the show I just couldn't wait to see it and when I found out the first episode would include the former Yugoslav countries, I could hardly contain my excitement.

Starting off in the Julian Alps for about 10 seconds he immediately ends up in Croatia. He visits Split, Dubrovnik and Hvar, it's all rather pleasant with him tasting food, drinking coffee in Dubrovnik and meeting a rather odd musician. Bosnia also gets a good look in - Sarajevo, Mostar and Medjugore. Of course, being a self-confessed 'serbophile' I was really waiting with baited breath to see how Serbia would come across in this, so far, fantastic travel show.

All we get to see of Serbia is Belgrade. Sure, that's not so bad I suppose, it's a start for Serbia to even have any sort of positive publicity in the UK. He speaks to Rambo, a slight crazy musician on a boat, floating along the Danube, with a brief view of some brown buildings in the background and he speaks to some pretty girls in a darkened restaurant. I would have at least liked some shots of Belgrade city centre or Kalemegdan park. It really disappointed me. It's all over in 5 minutes, while the rest of the show is devoted to Croatia, Bosnia and Albania. Perhaps equal treatment of the five countries would have been a bit more fair. Serbia needs all the good publicity it can get in the West in order to shake off the images of a war-loving, destroyed and unhappy society.

OK, perhaps I have no right to be so annoyed. He did at least visit Belgrade, and he did visit one of my favourite raft clubs - Exile - showing some trendy young Belgraders dancing in a club no different (if not better) than those in the UK. I just wish he had devoted more than five minutes to Serbia and had shown at least a bit of Belgrade, not just the river, which runs through this undervalued and under-estimated city. Perhaps Novi Sad would have been nice to visit too?

Hmm, at least Serbia got more of a mention than Macedonia. A five second shot of Palin standing by Lake Ohrid, then he's magically transported to the mountains of Bulgaria and Turkey for the rest of the second episode.

Check out the YouTube video of the Belgrade spot - let me know if you agree with me or not!)

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Finally entering the real world

I should probably introduce myself a bit more and explain what I've been doing for the last few months. I'm Adam and I'm 23 years old (and to be honest, that's the first time I've seen my age written down in the last few years and it is slightly odd - flashback to when I was ten, thinking that it would take ages to reach 20). I'm from Edinburgh, Scotland, lived there most of my life apart from 3 years spent studying Serbian & Croatian at The University of Nottingham, plus 1 year in Belgrade studying at the Filololski Fakultet on my year abroad. I say 'studying', more like having the time of my life, drinking coffee all day in the hundreds of wonderful coffee shops in this city, and partying all night in nightclubs or in fellow international Serbian language students' flats - some of the most crazy, eventful and crowded flat parties I ever had the pleasure of attending or indeed hosting. Friendships were made and subsequently lost as we all headed back to our homelands, after we had the precious 'I passed the filoloski fakultet' certificate in our hands. Luckily, my Serbian friends didn't go anywhere, and again we are drinking coffees, clubbing and sipping gin in our flats (but not to the same extent as the year abroad).

Perhaps, I should expand on my interests. Well, I like Serbia, I like Bosnia, I like everything to do with Yugoslavia (I was lucky enough to set foot in Yugoslavia before it was destined to the dustbin - when it comprised of Serbia and Montenegro and before it was renamed to, erm...'Serbia & Montenegro'), and of course I have an odd attraction to Albania. I like all of those elusive countries, which many in the West probably haven't even heard of. I don't know why, I just do. But then why do people like France, spend all the time they can in Spain or Germany or love the US? They just do - they're interested in the history, the culture, the music, the food, the language or perhaps just the beaches (and Serbia ticks all of those boxes, apart from the beach one - thanks a lot Montenegro!) Putting the Balkans aside, I enjoy electronic music and dancing away until the morning with good friends and a party atmosphere which the more mainstream pop and, seeing as I'm based in Serbia, turbo-folk clubs just can't compare to. I love to travel, I love to visit new cities, towns and villages. I want to see what life is like elsewhere, I want to see what the people who live in which ever city I'm visiting do, how life is for them. I deliberately get all the touristy sights out of the way as quickly as possible and move on to living in the place, not just seeing it (whether that's just for a few hours or a few days). I'm also very keen on keeping up with current affairs, across the world, and especially concerning the Balkan region. I read and watch the news at any opportunity, the second I get up I'm reading the latest headlines, before a single drop of coffee has passed my lips (and that is saying something - I can't do anything else until I've had my caffeine fix). I'm no way near to being a political or current affairs analyst but I like to know what's going on and form my own opinions (whether they are right or wrong in the eyes of some).

So, I graduated from Serbian and Croatian studies in July, 2007. The month and a half between the last ever lecture with Vladislava and handing in that those last ever essays, with dread and fear might I add, to David was spent with friends, discussing what the future holds for us. Some were frantically applying for those graduate schemes with huge companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers or Cadbury's, others were some planning to travel to the Far East to teach English, and then there were those who didn't have a clue. However, I knew exactly where I was going and didn't have to think twice about it - BELGRADE, SERBIA. Where else?!

Therefore, quite literally, a mere few hours after handing back my academic robes, degree firmly in my hand, and some sad goodbye's to people whom I'd become close friends with over the last four years, I was off to London to catch my Czech Airlines flight to Belgrade, stopping over for one hour in Prague. This particular journey to Belgrade was absolute luxury. You see, I had been visiting Belgrade at all possible opportunities during my final year of university, although being a poor student it had to be as cheap as possible. Cheap as possible meant a bus from Nottingham to London Luton, a Wizzair flight to Zagreb and then a train to Belgrade (and the reverse to get back), totalling a whopping 23 hours of travelling, with 5 hours waiting in Luton airport overnight, which is not fun, plus another 4 hours wait in Zagreb, again not fun by yourself. In fact, now I have a deep hatred for Zagreb and have vowed never to return there (please, I have nothing against Zagreb as a city, but the hours spent with nothing to do apart from waiting in the cold train station, too tired and sleep deprived to even contemplate wandering around the city, has left a deep desire to avoid Zagreb at all costs ). Repeat this trip four times, there and back, and you can probably see why flying (almost) directly in to Belgrade was just fantastic!

So, I arrived in Belgrade in the middle of July, no longer a procrastinating student. I was in the real world - the world of job interviews, careers and money. Well, maybe not quite yet, four hours after arriving in my new home I was partying the weekend away at the Dance Arena at The Exit Festival 2007 in Novi Sad.

Hangovers gone, back in Belgrade, and student life firmly left behind, it was time to find employment. I sent off e-mails, made some contacts and went to a few interviews at language schools, although the last thing I wanted to do was to become a teacher, but one does need to survive. Now it's nearly the end of October and tonight I'm going to my first shift at a Serbian news agency, translating the Serbian news into English. Here I am, about to start my first, shall we say, proper job (bar work doesn't count in my opinion) and I'm terribly excited. Unfortunately, it's only part time (and I mean REALLY part-time), so my job search will continue, but with added confidence and enthusiasm.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Well, it seems that I've decided to create a blog. After having read the countless blogs, both active and inactive, about Serbia and the Balkans in general, I thought to myself: "Surely, just maybe, perhaps someone might like to read my thoughts on what's going down in the Balkans?"

Or maybe nobody will read, but at least I'll have kept myself amused on a rainy and grey October afternoon in Belgrade.

This blog should end up containing my thoughts, observations, experiences and groans on Belgrade, Serbia and the rest of the Balkans. Politics, news, what's on sale at the green market etc.

I'm still messing about with the layout and descriptions (I'm new to this whole blogging phenomenon) but hopefully, sooner than later, this blog will come to life.

Pozdrav iz Beograda.

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