Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Serbia (but not Montenegro)

After driving through Hungary and spending a night on the border, we woke up early (11:00) and headed into Serbia. Here's the border:

To answer that age old question "Where did Yugoslavia go, it had such a cool name": Serbia and Montenegro.

Unbeknownst to me and everyone else in the car, the country of Serbia and Montenegro is in fact the remains of the nation of Yugoslavia, which ran into some tough times in the mid-90's. Here's a refresher for you all on the events of the Civil Wars, which could aptly be described as a "massive bummer". Serbia officially stopped using the name Yugoslavia a few years ago, but their web addresses all end in .yu, so there you go (hidden pun).

Once we got over the border we headed to our destination for the night, the capital city of Belgrade .

The roads were pretty good, with a collection of interesting vehicles:

One thing that was notable was the quality of Serbian (and Balkan, frankly) (hell, all of Eastern Europe) driving. I don't know if it relates to some type of deep-seated death wish that drivers in this region share, but I tell you people right now that the drivers around here are crazy. They have no problem with passing on blind curves, and I've seen 18-wheelers try to do this, notice another 18-wheeler coming in the opposite direction, and then have to swerve back into their lane at the last second while almost killing whoever now occupied their space. On mountain roads. This photo is a great illustration of Serbian highway fun, note that this is a two lane highway with only one lane each way:

The drivers here drive like I did in high school, and those of you who knew me in high school realize what a damning criticism this actually is.

As we entered Belgrade we saw this building, which for some reason I thought was just fascinating:

Belgrade, and Serbia in general, is very nice, with a mix of old and very old with some new thrown in. Let me take you on a tour of Belgrade without you having to leave your computer screen or put on pants.

First of all, we stayed at the TIS Hostel Belgrade, which I highly recommend to people planning to stay in a Belgrade hostel.

We started the day by walking down the main street towards the big church and the castle, which are must-haves for any European city worth its salt. Here's some pictures of people on the street:

On the way we came across some great advertisements. I think my obsession with European ads is eclipsing my obsession with small animals, which is itself frightening in its force. Here are some excellent ads I saw:

The Burger Ad: This guy is awesome. And sprouts on a burger? Awesome. Go America!

Ooops!!!/Tota!!y Sexy: Both of these ads are gems on their own, so to find them together was sublime. I think the one on the left should be the new ad campaign for the Plan-B pill. The girl from the "Tota!!y Sexy" poster would pop up again in my trip, stay tuned!!!

Chipsy, the bee-hive shaped chip/person: Chipsy is a Serbian brand of potato chips, and you can find them in a huge number of flavors, including a tasty tzatziki. I don't have a picture handy, but Chipsy has a logo which we all fell in love with, a happy bee-hive-shaped thing with white gloves. Behold the Chipsy!

We got so into Chipsy Mania that we even composed a song entitled "Chipsy". The chorus goes something like:

Chipsy, Chipsy
You're so Gold and Happy
Don't leave me for another potato
And stop being so salty

It's coming along. We also wrote a song called "Socks and Shoes", which begins thusly:

Have you heard the news?
Socks and Shoes.

Bit of a work in progress. Look for the album to "drop" soon.

This next ad will illustrate an important point about Serbia, which is that most of the writing is in the Cyrillic alphabet. You may remember these letters from watching "Rocky 4", but let me refresh your memory with this frightening ad about who knows what:

Soon thereafter we arrived at the very nice Tashmajdan park which is in front of the aforementioned and mandatory big church, St. Mark's Cathedral (thanks to Srdjan for the info). In the park we witnessed the first of approximately 7,000 stands devoted to selling honey:

We also walked around the cathedral, which is beautiful. You'll have to trust me, because the only picture I got of it is of a nice little girl asking this dude for change:

The next stop on the march to the castle was the capitol building. Serbia has a beautiful capitol building, as you can plainly see here:

It is also, to the best of my knowledge (I haven't googled this), the only capitol to have large statues of men seemingly having sex with horses, and vice-versa, in front of the building. But don't quote me on this. I'm also not the first person to have remarked on this issue:

Next, it was lunch at some seafood place with life preservers all over the wall. I had some pasta, and someone else had a t-bone:

Finally, full of sustenance, we knew it was castle time. A very nice park surrounds the grounds, and because the weather was great it seemed like much of Belgrade was out enjoying the sun. I took a few photos of a genre I could grow to love, "Children on Weapons":

Here's a couple pictures of the castle grounds, which in all seriousness are great (the grounds, not the pictures):

What was really nice was the view you could get from the cliffs on the edge of the park. These pictures don't do it justice at all, it really is a great scene and if you are in Belgrade you must check it out:

Then this dog played with this ball, which kept me mesmerized for over ten minutes:

That night we hit the town. Belgrade has many nice cafes, bars, and whatnot:

In an underground passage, I saw this guy selling rabbits. When I took a picture of it he called me a nasty name. My feelings, however, we unharmed:

The next morning we headed out of town, which is when I saw the following things, which I would rank as the "most interesting things I saw in Belgrade". These buildings had been destroyed by the NATO bombing. I was told the second building is the remains of the Chinese Embassy (remember when we "accidentally" bombed it?), but who even knows. I know I don't.

Serbia was great, and I was bummed to leave. More people should visit. However, we had to move on to Bosnia, which is a whole different story... (suspense, I hope)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Balkan Spring Break

I went to the Balkans for Spring Break. While I was there, I took many pictures. This time there was less food and more cats, not sure why, perhaps I am maturing.

Here's a map of the route we took:

It should be clear why I was held back a year in kindergarten (art deficency/social skills)(maybe that wasn't actually clear from the map).

We set out on a Thursday with nothing but our wits, a Renault, too much luggage and about fifty maps:

There was the driver/car-owner J.C., the spunky and snippy V2, and the must have member of the group, V1:

And I was there, but you already knew that.

On a 1-10 fun scale, with 10 being just way too much fun, I put this trip at a 14. I plan on writing about each of the places we went, because I have some free time, because I plan on basically just showing movies for the last four weeks of class (I'm hoping the extended version of "Apocalypse Now" takes two weeks). I must also note that many of these pictures (the good ones) were in fact taken by V1, who has the magic eye and actual creative ability. I hope you enjoy it as much as I hope you enjoy it.


1. Serbia
2. Bosnia
3. Croatia Part I
4. Croatia Part II
5. Hungary
6. Animals

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hi From The Road

I am currently in Zagreb, Croatia, at a youth hostel waiting for three very nice French people to take their showers.

Last night I went to a party at the Zagreb university dorms. The party was being thrown by a local student who won 200 euros on the Croatian version of ˝The Weakest Link˝. I drank a lot of Fanta.

And the Balkans are rad. I have to go now to eat my complimentary continental breakfast, which is juice.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Return to Budapest

It's great living in East Slovakia, especially now that the weather is warming, the birds are singing, and the old ladies are peeling off a couple layers of babushkas. Sometimes, however, you just have to get out and go somewhere big, somewhere where you can get Indian food with meat in it and not be stared at for having red hair. From where I am, the cheapest and the closest place to go is Budapest, so last weekend me and the Vi headed south for some urban fun.

I've already been to Budapest a couple of times, and written about it here, but this time I took more pictures of water and less of food.

Why water? Because last week, due to the melting snows in the mountains, the Danube flooded and severely dampened large parts of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. I took these pictures of the Budapest waterfront, if you look close you can see the street signs for the road that used to run next to the river, and now runs in the river:

It's election season in Hungary, I think the Socialists vs. the non-Socialists, and there are huge poorly-airbrushed posters all over town for the different candidates. Would you rather vote for this guy:

or Dr. Szabo Zoltan?

Although looks can be deceiving, I would guess that if you don't vote for Dr. Zoltan he will personally come to your house and break your kid's fingers.

We stayed in a very nice hostel with a balcony. If you stood on the balcony and took pictures they would look like this:

It was also the first legitimately warm and sunny day of the year in Central Europe, so we went up to the castle in Buda and put our feet on the grass. It was very refreshing. These are feet:

By the castle they sell tons of touristy frippery. I was at first drawn to the Queen, Rolling Stones and Britney Spears Russian nesting dolls that were available:

But after a quick look around I found the much more enticing Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden and "Matrix" ones, which probably have more long-term collectability:

Later we ended up in a nice restaurant, looking for a cold beverage:

We ordered, and when the drinks hadn't arrived twenty minutes later I became curious, and went to see what was what. It ended up that our waiter was busy out front putting pieces of fruit on someone's windshield. That's Hungarian service for you:

And most importantly, Liza is coming to town:

So that's Budapest in a nutshell, or as Hungarians say, in a dióhéjban.

Tomorrow is the start of Easter break at school, which lasts a week and a half. I'll be headed by car to the beaches of Croatia, through Bosnia and Serbia. The CIA seems to recommend the trip, as long as I don't spend too much time wandering around in orchards. If I run into any unexploded ordnance, landmines, or localized political violence I will do my best to get a picture of it, and if I don't make it back than my regular readers can split my CD collection (I'm looking at you, Grandmas!). Happy Bunny Day!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Vyprazany Dinosaur

I went to the new Italian restaurant in town last night, and discovered that the owner/chef was actually Italian, from Sicily. He offered fried dinosaur with french fries on the kids menu:

If you're interested, I had the lasagna. It was saucy.

Maybe I'm in a bit of a rut, blog-wise.