Sunday we had a perfect summer day in the “dog days” of August. The weather has been very hot and so we began the day with a refreshing swim at the Kosutnjak Public Pool. We then drove out to the village of Beli Potok, located on the slopes of Mount Avala, just south of Belgrade. We ate at the Stari Majdan (Old Mine) restaurant. As you can see, they provided plenty of food. The restaurant is in an old quarry and is oddly shaped. The compound has two artificial turf tennis courts as a bonus. We played a set after lunch. The views overlooking Šumadija, the hilly, forested region were spectacular. I recommend a visit, especially if you are visiting Avala.
On the way home we bought a ripe watermelon (lubenica) and played volleyball with the kids in the back yard. Nothing better than a juicy watermelon on a plastic chair in the middle of the yard on a super hot day. It was the last day of summer holidays so we put the kids to bed a bit earlier than usual. It is soothing to listen to the crickets in the evening from the window of our balcony. Ah, the days of summer…
Also loved the huge vats of šliva (plums) they had on display at the restaurant. The plums are used to make the Serbian national drink, šlivavica, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from plums. Distilled beverages from a variety of fruits are very popular in the Balkans and are called rakijas in general. My favorites are the rakijas flavored with honey and walnuts. I wonder how many bottles they can get from one of these vats.
Yesterday we visited Avala, a mountain located in the outskirts of Belgrade. It is about 1,600 feet (500 meters) high and it is the highest point of the forested Šumadija region just south of the city. Because of its height, it has always been a strategic point and people naturally gravitated to it. Both the Romans and the Turks established fortresses there. The Serbian royal family and government also used the area through the years for various activities, like hiking, hotel, children’s clean air refuge, communications towers, etc.
Today it is still a preserved area with some interested things to see. The photo above is taken from the top of the newly completed tower. On April 29, 1999, NATO destroyed the tower as part of their attacks on the Milosevic-led Yugoslavian government. The purpose was hinder Milosevic’s use of the media, as the tower was used to broadcast the national television station. It didn’t stop the broadcast however because the station was broadcasted through many different stations. A big waste of money! Not only in the bombing raid, but also in the fundraising for construction of the new tower.
The kids were excited to go up to the top. Ocean was most enthused about handing the ticket to the lady at the elevator. The views over Šumadija were impressive. There is supposed to be a restaurant on the top but it was not open I guess. The attendant told me that between 500 and 2,500 people a day visit the tower.
I was annoyed to learn that the big monument on the mountain to the Unknown Soldier, built after World War I, was put over the ruins of a Turkish fortress. The strategic mountain must be rich in archeological history, but this has not been studied or developed. The medieval Serbs called the fortified city on top Žrnov. It was later taken over by the Turks. The Ottoman general, Gazi Porča, renamed it Havala, meaning obstacle or barrier. I guess it was a barrier against tribes from the south heading into Belgrade. Below is a picture I found in the Wikicommons of the remains of his fort. The monument is beautiful, but they could have preserved and improved the fortress AND build a monument. I would have preferred a center for Ottoman and Roman studies with the sites excavated, rather than monument.
There are a couple of other monuments on the mountain. One is dedicated to the Soviet military. A plane crashed in 1964 full of World War II veterans. They were going to Belgrade’s 20th anniversary of its liberation from the Germans. I want to see the Memorial Gardens in the nearby village of Jajinci. The Nazis used the area as a “killing fields” and over 80,000 Yugoslav were executed and/or buried there.
We got some popcorn and played “hide-and-seek” in the gardens around the monument. As we climbed on the monument, the marble is chipped in places. Owen was fascinated to learn that it was from flying shrapnel from NATO bombing raid 11 years ago. The kids slept in the car on the way home. It makes a good day trip any time of the year. We’ve gone several times and the kids always enjoy it.
I completed my second full day as a single dad. Nadia gets home today and we’ll head out to the airport this afternoon to pick her up. After Avala, I did some shopping while the kids slept in the car and we hung out at home. We have a sauna and hot tub in our apartment building. The steamy sauna was refreshing way to brighten up a cold February night.
This past weekend I was alone with the kids as my wife went to Budapest with girl friends. On Sunday I took the kids out to Mount Avala for a morning of adventure. It is only 18 kilometers outside of Belgrade and a nice day trip.
This is our second time there, and we found some areas away from the monuments that were great for kids. It was a foggy day (the fog seems to stay around Belgrade for days) and with the woods had a special feel to them. We played hide and seek in the trees near the monument as well as hiked some of the trails going down the mountain. A highlight was going through a tunnel that ran under the road near the Roman mine shaft. The mountain is a former island in the Pannonian Sea, and was always a focal point for people heading to Belgrade. The name “avala” means obstacle or shelter in Turkish. Both the Ottomans and Romans settled the area.
There are plenty of trees, herbs, and wildflowers to identify and the kids loved it, so we will definitely be back. They are reconstructing the TV tower that NATO took out ten years ago. It will have a restaurant and tourists will be able to go up to enjoy the view.
I took this photo on Monday evening at sunset. The sun sets around 4:00 PM here and I was heading to basketball practice on our campus. It shows a crescent moon, venus right below it, and Jupiter to the upper left. Although it looks like they are close, they are all actually millions of miles away from each other. Later on in the evening, the moon blocked venus (called an occultation) which is a rare event. Thanks to my wife for sending this link, which explains more about it. An interest in astronomy is another thing we have in common.
On Sunday we drove to Mount Avala which is about 8 miles south of Belgrade. The mountain is a state park and it has some walking trails, war monuments, and a hotel that looked closed for the season. Being about 500 meters higher than Belgrade, there was still snow left and we had a good snowball fight. Owen showed his tropical upbringing, and he refused to get out of the car, prefering to stay warm with mom. We are both sick this week and driving in the car gives us a break with watching the kids so the trip to Mount Avala had an alterior motive. Behind Ollie and Ocean is the Unknown Soldier monument dedicated to the Serbian soldiers killed in WWI. I noticed some of the marble blocks were chipped. This was from the 1999 NATO bombing raids that targeted RTS state television transmission towers. They are building a new tower that looked like the CN Tower in Toronto, so perhaps there will be a restaraunt there.
We are loving our new car. We bought a GPS also, and I am a believer in it! It is so much easier than old fashioned maps, although I love maps. The GPS tells us exactly when to turn, etc., and you can zoom in and zoom out on the map. It also has pharmacies, supermarkets, etc. Amazing! Below we are shown filling the car up with gasoline. The neighborhood gas station is very low key, so much different than the big, lighted, American gas stations. The Serbian gas stations on the highways are similar to the US gas stations, but the ones found on side streets are like the one below.