Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sydney Postcards

Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House must be one of the most photographed sites. However, once you are in vicinity it is difficult to resist temptation to take few snapshots. This photo was taken by Jelena from Milsons Point ferry dock, just in front of Luna Park.

Jelena’s shot of Opera house.

I have seen Sydney Opera House on numerous photographs but I have always been intrigued by tilling and was keen to see it from close distance and feel it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

First Impressions

Belgrade greeted us in gray smoggy nightgown, deciding not to get dressed up that Sunday afternoon. We flew small turbo-prop airplane from Vienna (460 km by air) and cleared baggage reclaim and customs in record 5 minutes.

It is unusually warm for this time of the year (last few days was above 12C) and even though it might sound cold by southern hemisphere standards it is not. You dress up for serious cold and once you get inside shops or apartments you are welcomed by heat wave of 22C - 24 C.

Good news is that Jelena got the job that prompted us to move on a short notice. This will anchor us in Belgrade for some time. My job can be done from almost anywhere which gives me flexibility that we tend to use quite often.

Marina started going to school. It is a tall order for her since she arrived mid-year (schools here start in September) and she has to learn Serbian and Cyrillic script (similar to Russian alphabet). Kids start school here in September after they are 6 so she would, according to her age fit into 1st grade. However she completed 2 years in NZ so they decided to put her in 2nd grade. This did not work out well as she has too much to catch-up so she will go to 1st grade from Monday. Idea is that she builds language foundation first and then teachers can see where she fits.

Iva will hopefully start in daycare next week. She learned to say “Nedam moje” I “kako si lepa” (“You can’t have it, it is mine” and “you are beautiful”). Other than that she can’t say and understand much Serbian. However she seams extraordinary happy as she is spending all her time with cousins, aunt and uncle.

Part of the city we are intending to settle is called Dorćol . Being a migratory type for years I struggled to understand need of my wife to live exclusively in this part of the city. Now I finally understand. There are many reasons (good schools, proximity of commercial and cultural and points of interest, educated population) but as main one I can see is possibility to avoid Belgrade traffic.

Other cities might be congested but Belgrade is something else. It feels like you are in a blood stream of pre-heart attack patient. Level of stress and sheer chaos on the street are best avoided. Taxies are cheap (less than 5 NZD to most of central locations, becomes quite cheap if you are sharing) and are reasonable solution if you need to move around on faster pace than walking. One word of warning – pedestrian crossings are nothing more than aggravating circumstance in court once someone runs over you. Don’t expect cars to even slow down while you are standing on pedestrian crossing. In return, pedestrians might start running across the street at any time and place – so be careful if you are driving.

I am really impressed with some cultural aspects of living in Belgrade. One of the first tasks was a search for a good coffee. Traditionally it should be possible to get good espresso and any frequented cafe but I got used to lattes and takeaway coffee.

I strongly recommend Coffee Dream. They have every coffee known to the man and quality is superb. Apart from quality and quantity couple other things did win me over: they serve glass of water with the coffee (this is standard in Serbia), waiter greets you as you walk in and you order from waiter rather than walking up to the bar and ordering there (also standard in Serbia), they change ashtrays often (standard, although I decided to quit smoking so this will not make much difference), they play really good music (it was Shade and some Brasilian music) and they serve Speculaas with their coffee (Cookie is here a standard, however not speculaas).

Greenet is Serbian equivalent of Starbucks and more. With 5 locations in central Belgrade Greenet is becoming local franchise associated with coffee.

Local publishing, bookstores, theatres, art galleries and comming 35th Belgrade Film Festival are definitely worth mentioning but more about that in following posts.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Balkan Collider

What you find fascinating depends on your understanding of particular set of ideas. This stands true for art, history, literature, computer science or high energy particle physics (list could go on but I’ll stop here).

In this sense Balkans (now called South Eastern Europe in politically correct manner) is something akin to collider – strong forces accelerate particles and collisions of those particles create events that generate myriad of data for scientist to analyse.

This area still did not settle down. Next event on horizon is independence of Kosovo.Last month elections in Serbia produced expected outcome. Voters are split between extreme nationalists and pro-European (whatever that means) parties. No main stream party is ready to accept outright secession of Kosovo and it will be very difficult to form coalition government under those circumstances.

Independence of Kosovo as precedent might have some ripple effects on Bosnia and post Soviet republics. Potential membership in EU might have stabilising effect in this region. Unfortunately there is enlargement fatigue in EU and these prospects look distant.

For sanity reasons I decided to ban myself from reading day to day news on this subject. Although it feels fascinating like live history reality TV, it can be emotionally draining experience if you get too involved. However avoiding it altogether might not be possible once I return.

I found different view of history in A history of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific (or on Amazon ). I read this book shortly after I arrived to New Zealand. Primary focus of the book is formation of identities in this region. Although it might feel that there is relative lack of events in regional history there is underlying complexity of relationships. This becomes evident once you have read book like this. It would be useful to apply similar approach (study of identities) in Balkans and I’m yet to find a book that covers this subject in same manner.