Where We're Going

Where We're Going

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Straws in hot chocolate and bumper-car buses

Hello, John here, about time I wrote a post on the blog methinks.

Belgrade is not a beautiful city. Apart for the grounds of the fortress and the views from there it's a smoky, industrial town with cars belching out rancid fumes all over the place. Its centre is small and is nothing special to see. However, Eurovision or no Eurovision we loved the place; mainly due to the people we met, plus the city has a lively, positive vibe in general. It's definitely somewhere you have to get lost down the backstreets to properly find and enjoy the cool little buildings and open spaces. There are interesting political undertones to a lot of aspects, not least Eurovision which was at times like a rally set to backing music.

Serbia is a place where the events guides list Fish Soup Contests immediately after international music festivals with no less honour. And there were more Fish Soup Contests than festivals. In Novi Sad a lot of the graffiti was on the lines of graphical descriptions of safe sex, no doubt the work of a local cad called Wanksy was our reckoning. Joinees have been amongst us in spirit: HOBO is on a bunch of products including a coffee machine called WEG. Vixie has mentioned the multitude of silly product names; we picked up some Šlag in Belgrade we've had along with us ever since.

So since then we've been across the border, a couple of nights in Sarajevo and now here in Mostar. The journey from Belgrade to Sarajevo was not fun. Over 10 hours in a bus, and half an hour spent at customs in the middle of that - during which the driver had to turn off his engine and thus the air conditioning, so the heat hit us like a fox filled with rocks. About that time was when I found half a dozen huge insect bites welling up on me to add to my collection of smaller ones from the previous days (much to the amusement of a certain Vixie who never, ever gets insect bites). The driver was a typical Slavic driver from our experience, whose hobbies included taking off as many car wing mirrors as cigarettes he smoked. Similar to the taxi driver earlier on (the 'regular' tram never turned up) who quite happily ducked and weaved through traffic and traffic lights, but would beep his horn loudly at anyone who drove like him, which, being in Belgrade, meant everyone. We found it funny that although drivers in this part of the world are maniacs towards other drivers they are always courteous towards pedestrians. Being pedestrians most of the time that suits us.

We finally ended up at the Serbian part of Sarajevo which is totally separate to the main city, despite asking specifically for a ticket that went to the main centre. The Serbs don't seem to readily admit the existence of the main city of Sarajevo, from the ticket office to the bus station we arrived at, since people there told us there were no buses from there to the main city just around the hill. The taxi driver feigned ignorance of the city and after deciding on where he was going to drop us off (after a few changes in direction including off-roading it for a short while) refused to alter course to somewhere more useful, so we were fortunate to end up pretty close to where we wanted. We did have to walk up a very steep hill with our backpacks before we could finally collapse on our beds though (which looked ready to collapse themselves).

Though the journey was annoying the scenery was incredible. It was flat all the way to the border, but the places we passed and countryside itself very pretty. It was when we eventually reached the hills and started going up (and up and up and up) that things started getting absolutely marvellous. The hills and mountains here are absolutely covered in trees, like a scaled-up version of moss-covered rocks. Every time we reached the end of a plateau the coach would sweep round a corner to reveal yet another luscious panorama. We were immediately glad of the good weather and for making the journey in the daytime, otherwise we would have missed out on one of the best parts of the journey so far. Basically the road and scenery was something like the Top Gear crew have wet dreams about.

Sarajevo is a far prettier city than Belgrade. There are hills/mountains all around it - a lot of the residential districts are up in the hills and there are Muslim graveyards up there too, which could be rather macabre if they weren't so pretty and well-maintained. The 'old town' of the city centre has been totally renovated since the war, and reminded us of a large version of the high street in Taormina: stylish and slick, and good for wandering at night. It seems that a lot more money has gone into developing and maintaining the centre there than in Belgrade. It did feel a lot like walking through a big-budget Hollywood film set at times though, like a mock-up of what a quaint European old town district should look like. The genuine mosques, churches and other buildings that it was built around were gorgeous though and so we enjoyed it there.

Three highlights for immediate mention:
*Club Bill Gates, a bar serving drinks and pizzas including the 'Jumbo Bill'.
*A bunch of old men playing giant chess in the park in the middle of town. We came across old men playing chess in pretty bizarre locations in Serbia but this sight made us very happy.
*An attempted thievery from an old woman with a 'baby': grabbing me by the arm up close, I noticed a sneaky hand on my wallet - the baby then clearly a fake, as it had grown an extra limb between its legs, in the shape of her previously hidden arm. I shook her off and found the experience exciting, but Vixie was ready to smack her in the face and see how far the baby flew.

The journey from Sarajevo to Mostar was even better to the one described above. Nothing to do with the fact it was shorter and sans stress but because the scenery was even more awesome, in the most literal sense of the word. A lot of it was a gradual ride downhill, and the terrain was rockier and more dramatic. We met up with the river, which due to the brilliant blue sky and vivid greenery was a wonderfully shiny turquoise, the kind you usually only see on photoshopped pictures in Haven Holiday adverts for Bognor Regis.

Good quotes that I can remember right now:
"This time next year we'll be milliners"
"John Terry... he's worse than Hitler isn't he? Well OK maybe not that bad... worse than Steps then"

Finally for now: I am 'growing' a 'beard'. This is due to Vixie thinking it would be a good idea mixed with me thinking it makes shaving much easier on our travels. Vixie seems to like it so far, claiming I look like a pirate. Since pirates these days are Nigerian ones being a major contributing factor to higher oil prices, the jury is out as to whether this is a Good Thing. I personally reckon that anything would look better on my face than hair but I think we're coming to a good compromise after a sideburn-related discussion.

P.S. Oh yes, as for the title of the post: they put straws in hot chocolate and they have buses that are like bumper cars.

Our last night in Belgrade


The weather here is incredible! It was 35 degrees this afternoon, and not much cooler now it's the evening. I'm writing this from Mostar, which is in the mountains south of Sarajevo. We came here this morning from there, the route was gorgeous, but I'll get John to tell you about that...

Our last night in Belgrade was lovely. I thought it'd be a bit of a let down after Eurovision, but it was nice in a different way. We had to move from our beloved Star Hostel to another hostel on the outskirts of town. It was in a nice green leafy area, and would have been really nice had there been anyone else staying there. One thing we did notice was a big sign on the fridge which read:

"WARNING for those who are stolen our food: we remind you that we are gay, and of course HIV +. Enjoy your meal and the rest of your life. GOD BE WITH YOU!"

So that was a bit weird and didn't really make me like the place much.

Luckily, we had arranged to meet a friend of my friend Lisa's in town that night. In true Serbian style she was 2 hours late, but we love her for it. She came with her friend Gordona ("It's like your Gordon Brown but with an 'a'") with whom we had a discussion about how there is no feminine version of the name Gordon in Western Europe. She thought it was most strange. They were two of the most interesting people I have ever met, they had something to say about everything: we chatted about art, family, Belgrade, Eurovision, Scotland, politics and costume dramas (they adore Pride and Prejudice). We went to our first bar in Serbia, I had my first taste of Serbian limonada and John had a beer for 92p. We somehow managed to keep those drinks going for the entire night, and it quickly became time to get our last bus home. When we left them at the bus stop I gave them both three kisses, as is custom in Serbia, and I think they were really impressed that I knew to do that. I learned it from watching Eurovision :)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Moscow in 2009?

Ooh, last night was a bit nail-biting, wasn't it? We were in the packed area outside City Hall for the whole show, the atmosphere was great and there were so many young people! We chatted with some Macedonians who liked the UK entry but were very frank about the fact that no one in Europe would vote for them, despite it being a good (ahem) song. Of course that doesn't matter to us, I don't think I have ever voted for a UK entry in my life. I was very impressed that Ukraine and Greece did so well, and was secretly hoping they would win so that we would get to go there next year, but it looks like it'll be Moscow in 2009, if we can afford it! If not, we'll be back in the Swedish pub making flags out of paper and cocktail sticks like we did last year. You're all, of course, welcome to join us :)

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Eurovision = my favourite thing ever!

Last night was INCREDIBLE! The Arena is awesome, the atmosphere was amazing, the show was spectacular and the Brits looked like football hooligans. No surprise there then. Other than those bloody Brits, the whole experience was wonderful! Everyone was having a great time. We were sat amongst a load of old Serbian ladies, who were fairly placid for the majority of the show and then when the Serbian entry came on stage suddenly sprung to life! There was a young couple sat in front of us with a little boy of about 3 years old. We couldn't help but both mention that that would be us in 5 years time, and I truly hope it will be. They were having a great time, and the little boy was too. He especially liked the pirates. I didn't enjoy them as much as I thought I would, plus they weren't received well by the Serb audience who booed them at the end of their performance. Unsurprisingly, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Albania were booed too. I thought Croatia were fun, especially when the old guy started scratching the decks of the gramophone, but the Serbs didn't agree.

John wants Spain to win. I quite like France, Ukraine and Croatia. I can honestly say I don't really mind who wins. Portugal, Sweden and Israel seem to be the favourites, and of them I would root for Sweden, but that's partly because I'd prefer to go there next year rather than the others! Tonight we are watching the show from outside the Parliament building with a lovely Canadian couple from the hostel and lots of Serbs! Hurrah!

We took a day trip to Novi Sad today, which was about an hour and a half out of Belgrade. It was very pretty, very hot (and then all of a sudden very thundery) and nice to see somewhere in Serbia other than Belgrade. The ice cream there (and here) is lovely. Today I tried Nutella flavour and Kinder Bueno flavour. Yum. I also tried a local speciality, Burek. It's kind of a filo pastry pie filled with potatoes or meat or cheese or spinach. They were enormous! 60p! Bargain!

I'm getting so into Belgrade that I'm going to be really sad to leave. I've been told we will really enjoy Sarajevo where we will be heading on Monday, but we're having such a great time here I almost don't want to leave. I'm sure we'll be back, but I would have quite happily spent a couple of weeks here. I imagine that will be the same in every city we go to, so I'll just have to get used to it I suppose.

Eurovision in 2 hours, woop!

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Belgrade = awesome


Here we are on our second day in Belgrade and it is an amazing city! The people are lovely, the weather's warm (if a little thundery) and the food is incredible! So far we have tried Booom Flips, Alka Flips (which are made by Slap Group), Pardon biscuits, Chipsy Chips, Flipy Flips, Choco Flips, Slag Kreme, Lav beer, Cockta, Plazma biscuits, and my favourite, Rum Bums! We have yet to try Noblice, though, something I know Mr Jixie is very much looking forward to!

Apart from the food, the city is fantastic in so many other ways... everyone we have met here seems to be the nicest person we've ever met until we meet someone else! The first person we met is perhaps still my favourite - after leaving the bus from the airport and not being able to read the Cyrillic road names, we found the nearest map we could which was located on the side of a seemingly closed tourist information booth. The map was in Cyrillic too and we had almost given up hope when a young fellow in a dark blue uniform started coming towards us. He asked if we spoke English and asked if he could help. We said that we were OK and that we were just having a look at the map, when he declared: "You are tourists! I am Tourist Information!" He asked if we were from England and upon our reply told us that his favourite type of car is the Land Rover Defender. We were somewhat amused that he had volunteered this information, but he looked disappointed, as though he thought we didn't believe him. He proceeded to pull out a mobile phone with a screensaver of said car and proudly presented us with it. Oh, the delight! We instantly loved the man!

Shortly after this encounter we made it to the hostel where we were to meet yet more lovely people! Almost immediately I found someone to talk about Eurovision with - hurrah! The hostel guys say they don't like it but seem to know all the entries from years back, rivalling even my knowledge! They maintain they only know about it because their mother is a big fan. I, for one, do not believe them. They told us they are rooting for Armenia to win, whereas I liked Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece so far, but obviously we haven't had the second semi-final yet (it's on later tonight and the hostel guys "suppose they might as well watch it" with me ;)

While wandering around in town yesterday we found a number of Eurovision Information booths, which excited me immensely! We chatted with a guy in one of them who told us that on Saturday night there would be big screens up outside the Parliament building as well as outside the Beograd Arena where the event is actually taking place. We walked there today and - *EXCITEMENT* - there were still tickets being advertised for tonight's semi-final and for the dress rehearsals for the actual event on Friday and Saturday! We couldn't resist: we bought tickets for the second dress rehearsal on Friday night! I reckon it'll be kind of like the final but without the voting... I guess. The tickets for the final were SO expensive that we had barely contemplated going, but the tickets for this are far more reasonable! I know it's not the same as being there for the final, but it's still going to be AWESOME! And it's thanks to our lovely friends that we are able to go to it, so thank you Toby et al! I am super excited!

Lots of love to you all!


Thursday, 15 May 2008

All booked up!

OK, so I know I was having thoughts about being crazy and leaving it until we got there, but we decided it would be sensible (God, I'm so grown up!) to book everything before we left. If our plans change then we can still alter plans and things at the time.


...bookings have been made.
...itinerary is all set.
...tickets have just arrived in the post.
...we've had our leaving party (AWESOME night!)

It's now just 6 days until the big OFF! Bloody exciting!