Happy (Julian) New Year


The fireworks above St. Sava’s Cathedral in Belgrade last night signify the Srpska Nova Godina or Serbian New Year. The Serbian Orthodox Church, along with some other Orthodox churches, traditionally celebrates the Julian Calendar New Year, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar this century. Hence, on January 13th, the Serbs celebrate another New Year with a mass, firework show, and concerts and parties around the city.

I went down to St. Sava’s last night to catch all the fun. I’ll be posting videos later today. I think any excuse to party is cool, and acknowledging Julius Caesar’s (or his team of astronomers) calendar from 45 BC is very interesting. I had a sense of solidarity with the Serbians in attendance. It was a contrast of the holy service occurring inside and the drinking and fireworks occurring outside.

I was excited to use my new iPhone last night to capture video of the event and I will post later today when I get a faster video connection.


Halloween (Noć Vištica)


The kids loved all the Halloween parties this weekend! The holiday, known as “Night of the Witches” in Serbian is not celebrated in Serbia, but in our expatriate circles and the international school, it is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Kids get so excited to dress up and trick or treat and even the non-American parents, get into the spirit of the event and dress up as well.

On Friday night the kids attended the school Halloween party (photo above). Owen’s outfit was from the obscure movie “Tron”, Oliver was Iron Man, and Ocean was a princess.

The Canadian Embassy hosts a costume party every year and Nadia and I went with friends again this year. Our friend Claudiu brought costumes from the USA and we went with traditional Bavarian folk costumes. We had a lot of laughs and one of the best things about the night, is the costumes allow strangers to interact with one another. Everyone has their “act” with their costume or we try to guess what they are dressed as.

Nadia, Bill, and Charmaine

The fun continued on Saturday evening with the American colony, Banovo Brdo, hosting a trick-or-treat and party. The kids went around to many of the homes in the gated community. Then Robert and Julie turned their home into a Halloween Amusement Park with decorations, food/drink, and a haunted walk in their yard. Absolutely brilliant and I would like to give them a big thank you! The kids ran around and laughed and had a blast.

A special part of the evening was Ocean losing her first tooth. She was so excited that her tooth just fell out. Nadia luckily found the tooth on the ground and the tooth fairy left 200 RSD for Ocean last night. My angel princess is so beautiful!

Museum of Aviation Visit


Owen and Ollie, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

I can’t recommend enough for young children on a cold day, a trip to the Museum of Aviation in the mushroom-shaped building at the Nikola Tesla Airport. Oliver was so happy to see the jet fighters. Both Owen and Oliver were running around the complex, inside and out, shooting at each other and playing military games. They also learned a bit about the history of aviation in Yugoslavia and military planes in general. They are shown above in front of my favorite plane in the museum, the SOKO F-22 fighter. The jet fighter was made by the SOKO (Falcon) company in Mostar for the Yugoslavian Air Force and is still in use today.

The kids were also especially interested in the American and NATO planes that were shot down during the bombing campaign of 1999.

I also wanted to show everyone the boys’ new haircuts. I finally got sick of looking at the two hippy-children and we took them downtown Senjak for a good haircut. They look so much better and so much younger. I love the little guys so much!!!!

Family Picnic to Kosmaj

The monument to the Yugoslav Partizan Division in World War II.

Yesterday we had a family picnic to the “little sister” of Avala, Kosmaj. The mountain is located just a bit further south in Šumadija, and is also a designated park. There were a lot of people picnicing, a favorite Serbian activity, but it is such a big place, that we felt very relaxed. We walked up to the monument above, and then walked even further up to the military post. From there, we walked through the Beech forest, back to the picnic area, but no on trails. The kids absolutely loved climbing the hills and rocks, and playing with sticks. I loved the huge number of spring wildflowers.

The mountain may be named after the Slavic protector of woods and animals, Kozmaj. The kids felt her/his spirit and were in their element. The place is a nice day trip from Belgrade, with playgrounds, hiking trails, sporting fields, and a monastery (Tresinje) to visit as well.

Oliver climbs down the hill in the Beech Forests of Kosmaj.

Christmas Eve Service: A Serbian Orthodox Tradition


St. Sava’s Cathedral, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

Last night we went to Saint Sava’s Cathedral here in Belgrade for the burning of the badjnak and the Christmas Eve Service. As you can see from the photos, it was a beautiful and culturally enriching night for my family.

Each of the kids had a “badnjak” which is like a yule log. The word badnjak may be derived from the verb, bdeti, which means to stay awake or keep the vigil. The tradition stems from pagan times and the man of the house (domaćin) or sons on Christmas morning went into the woods and cut down a young Oak tree. The yule log is kind of like a ceremonial sacrifice to bring health and happiness to the family for the coming year. The log was burnt over the family hearth. Today, an assembly of twigs with Oak leaves, corn, pine sprigs, and straw is tied together with a red ribbon and sold in markets and street corners around Belgrade. Every church has a bonfire on its grounds where people can come and throw their badnjaks in the flames.

There were hundreds of people there and outside the church a mini-market was set up selling religious and holiday crafts and mulled wine. We went inside the massive cathedral to watch a bit of the service and light candles in memory of lost family members. The service, shown below, had a lot of priests singing and waving incense. There were also lines of people waiting to kiss various icons.

Afterwards we went to have some Lebanese appitizers at the Byblos Restaurant and the kids played in the park.

Political Campaign Posters In Belgrade


I’ve noticed around the city the past couple of weeks many political posters. This spring they will be holding parlimentary elections and next year there will be a presidential election. The campaign has begun!

The posters definitely have a negative tone to them, highlighting the faults of the other parties.

The poster above reads, “Their interest in our debt!” and the subtext is “they brought the Belgrade economy to the edge of destruction.” The poster shows city mayor Dragan Đilas speaking with the economic minister. In a “city-state” such as Belgrade, the mayor has almost the same amount of power as the president and it is a position that the major political parties go after.

The current president, Boris Tadić will be serving out his five-year term in 2013. I think this is the first time a president has done that in Serbia’s short time as an independent nation. I don’t know how he can win reelection with the economy the way it is in Serbia. Experts are predicting Barak Obama facing difficulties getting a second term with 9% unemployment and a slow recovery. Tadić should be in big trouble with 23% unemployment, foreign direct investment falling in half in the past two years and inflation close to 10%. They also have 1/3 of their budget going to pensions.

But with a situation as dire as it is, it will be awfully difficult for anyone to turn the economy around. I don’t see much difference between the political parties (much like the USA) with all of them in favor of a 1 billion Euro subway system, promising more jobs, and cutting down on corruption. Most also agree to support the agriculture sector of the economy, which is already a healthy 13% of the GDP.

The argument used to be should they try to join the EU or go it alone or have a special relationship to Russia. I don’t see the EU accepting Serbia in the near future with the economic problems of Greece, Italy, and Spain.

Serbia needs leadership that will make it easier for businesses, both foreign and domestic to start up. Serbia is one of the most difficult places in the world to do business because of the bureacracy from Communist times. The rule of law needs also to be established here with everyone paying taxes and punishment of crime and corruption. I feel they should be putting their energy to trying to unite the Balkans instead of going for the EU membership. The negative campaigns are not focusing on the real details of what needs to get done and who can do it. Politics are the same in most countries and the USA is not an exception.

The poster below is making fun of Serbian Progressive Party leader, Tomislav Nikolić. He used to be with the Radicals and the left side shows him wearing a t-shirt of Voja Šešelj, the former leader of the Radicals, now on trial at the Hague. “Who is the person who never lied to you, Nikolić or the real Toma?”

Serbia deserves good leadership and I hope whoever gains power in the next election, and focus on good government and the betterment of lives of its citizens.

Freedom! The Gazela Bridge Completes Construction


I took this photo Saturday evening while coming back from New Belgrade. All six lanes of traffic were open for the first time in many months as a large repair construction project was completed 7:00 PM on Saturday. The Gazela Bridge is one of the main bridges in the city connecting the old part of Belgrade with the New Belgrade. Besides being used for intra-city traffic, it is also part of two major highways crossing Europe (E70 and E75) and so besides Belgrade traffic, there is lots of foreign cars cruising through. The bridge has more cars crossing it than it was designed for.

The bridge built in 1970 was in desparate need of reinforcement and it looks and feels much better. The project did however, make everyone’s lives a hassle because of the limited options in crossing the city. Hopefully with all six lanes open, this will cut down on the traffic delays that were a daily part of many Belgraders lives.

The city is working on another bridge across the Sava River (see photo below) which should be done in the next few months. It will be interesting to see how this affects traffic flow. There are only two other bridges going across the Sava in the center part of the city. The bypass project, which would divert E70 and E75 traffic is still in the planning stages.

By the way, the name “Gazela” comes from the fact that on a side view, the bridge does look like a gazelle running.

View from the river, of the almost completed Sava Bridge (August 2011)

Autumn Colors of Belgrade


Autumn Colors, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

We are in the peak color season in Belgrade. In Europe, as opposed to my birthplace of Michigan, the colors are mostly yellow. The theory goes that there are more tree species in North America that gives more colors and the ice age killed more of red-producing pigment trees in Europe than in North America. Despite not having the reds and oranges, it is still a beautiful time of year. Above is a photo of a wall at our school.

It was great this morning. I was walking with Ocean to our car and she said, “it is leaf day today.” There were leaves literally falling all over the drive way. It has been great to experience the change of seasons, especially for the kids.

It has also been foggy this week in the mornings. Below is a photo of our yard yesterday morning.

Historic Flag At Libyan Embassy


Rebel Flag , originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

I noticed that the rebels flag was raised this weekend at the Libyan Embassy here in Belgrade. I wonder who put it up? The “rebels” are moving in to the capital Tripoli, Gadhafi’s family is leaving the country, and it sounds like he is making a last stand in his home village. There still may be weeks or months of fighting in Libya, but it does look like there will be a change in government.

It is odd however that the official Libyan flag, which is all green, was taken down and the tri-color rebel flag put up. If Gadhafi approved the Ambassador and staff here, they quickly switched sides. I wonder who decided to raise this flag instead of the official one? Are all Libyan Embassies throughout the world changed the flag already?

Gadhafi was a terrible president for the country. I don’t have much hope for a good government coming from the rebels either however. Libya is cursed with oil reserves and as with most nations with oil, it doesn’t bring prosperity and a democratic society. I hope the rebels after they are done fighting, travel to Norway and see how they managed their oil money. Norway is one of the few countries that has been able to use its fossil fuel income to better its society. It has done so by basically putting most of the income in a trust fund and slowly selling its reserves. Having lived in Venezuela, another OPEC nation, I don’t have much hope for Libya…

Perfect Summer Day

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.
Stari Majdan Came Through with a Delicious Lunch
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…
Ocean notices the plums

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.