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.
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.
Last night we visited Lido Beach in Zemun. It is located on the northern tip of “Great War Island” (Veliko – big Ratno – war Ostrvo – island). The island is situated at the spot where the Danube River (Dunav in Serbian) splits into its tributary, the Sava River. The island gets its name from the numerous armies that use the island as a launching pad for attacks on the city. The Turks, Serbs, and Austro-Hungarians all used it and the Serbian Army still has a presence on the island today.
In the summer, the city of Belgrade, with the help from the Serbian army, they make a pontoon bridge from the island to the suburb of Zemun. I wanted to check it out so we took the family over last night. There is a small beach on the northern point of the island, called “Lido Beach,” named after the Lido sandbar in Venice, Italy. Of course it was a body of water, so I had to jump in. The kids took off their shoes and splashed in the water a bit. Ocean loved the sand. We will probably head back there sometime. It is much like Ada Ciganlija, but the currents are a bit faster. The island is also a big bird sanctuary so I should try to do some birdwatching.
There have been numerous attempts to develop the island. The Danube occasionally floods it in the spring, which is good for stopping people from putting hotels on it! It is a large green area in the city as you can see from the ariel view. It is supposed to be quite popular swimming beach and they do have a life guard, a couple of restaurants, and two volleyball nets.
Nadia is shown above with the kids at our favorite place for pizza in Belgrade, Brodic. It means “little boat” in Serbian and it is basically a boat and raft, moored along the Sava River, near the Sajam Fair. They serve a sesame seed crust pizza that is absolutely delicious. It is more a hangout place for beers, than a family restaurant, but it has a friendly atmosphere and serves Paulander Wheat Beer, which is a favorite of mine. I highly recommend the “The Pizza Boat” as the expats call it.
We are busy packing for our summer holidays. I’m wrapping things up in the office at school. We bought a new car as our beloved “Eidelweiss” is on her last legs. It is a 2005 Town & Country and it is THE family vehicle. I love that both rows of seats can be stored underneath easily and it is quite luxurious compared to the 1996 Honda we are currently driving. We are trying to figure out a name for the car. The paperwork is taking forever however, and we won’t get our license and registration until we return to Belgrade in August. That is one difficult part of living in Belgrade, sometimes simple things like transferring a car title and registering for a license plates take forever and require several trips to government offices. It is one reason why the economy is bad here, is that it is hard to do simple business transactions because of too much bureaucracy.
I took the kids to the zoo on Sunday while Nadia was getting her hair and nails done. We had a great time. I recommend visiting it with the family. I am ambivalent about zoos. It is good the kids can see the animals and learn about them, but it is basically a prison for animals. The conditions for the animals in the Belgrade Zoo are not great, but in my travels around the world, I’ve seen worse.
Last weekend we went for dinner on a “splav” or raft on the Sava River here in Belgrade. The splavs are all over the river and consist of bars and nightclub (like the example above with the New Railroad Bridge in the background) restaurants, and private weekend cottages. There is a good article on the splavs here if you want to learn more.
The water was so high it flooded the bike path. It is up several meters from its usual depth. We had a snowy winter and rainy spring, and hence the high water situation. The hot, sunny weather finally arrived this week and so we are hoping the rain will go away and we can use the bike path again.
Sunday evening we went out to watch the Russian Ballet perform at the Sava Center here in Belgrade. The Sava Center is a great place, it looks like a Sci Fi movie set from the 1970’s, ie Logan’s Run. The architectural style is a lot of cement, glass, and dark panelling inside.
We went out with friends for dinner first and had a great time. It was the first time I have seen ballet live. The dance form originated in the royal courts of France (hence the name) in the 1500 and 1600’s. It is kind of a stylized form of fencing. It is appropriate that I saw the Russian ballet performance, as that is the country that popularized it around WWI after it was declining for a long time.
I enjoyed the evening. A lot was lost with the format of the performances. It was a “best of” with short pieces from a variety of plays. I think with one full play with context, I could be engaged a bit more with the form. I like dancing and we hold periodic dance contests in the house with the kids. When I showed videos of the performance to Owen and Oliver, they thought it was a bit boring and they preferred the “free style” dance form of Michael Jackson videos. I will attend the ballet again, but will wait for a full performance of a piece.
The dancers were quite flexible which I admired. The outfits were a bit too much (see above) for my taste.
I took a photo Friday evening inside the giant St. Sava’s Church here in Belgrade. The church’s massive dome is 70 meters high and 10,000 people can attend mass. It can be seen from all over city. It is the third largest Orthodox church in the world and the largest neo-Byzantine building constructed in the 20th century. The Byzantine architecture style features a large, central, dome and thin windows to let in light. The inside is truly awe inspiring!
We walked down to the church from the main shopping area. I was surprised to see so many children and families near the church. It sits on a small hill surrounded by a park. There were roller bladers, kids playing tennis on the outside walls of the church, and teenagers riding mopeds up and down the side walks. No holy reverence here which is refreshing to experience. The church was open and a few people were taking photographs and looking around. Oliver and I went inside and were blown away.
As you can see in the photo, work is still being done on the church. Construction did not begin until 1935 and has been interrupted by the numerous wars Serbia has experienced. This is the first Orthodox Church I have been in and I was impressed by the mosaics on the walls, which are another feature of the Byzantine style. The Orthodox Church in Serbia is not under the direction of Greece and is independent and has its own pope (Patriarch) and hence the Serbian flag prominently displayed on the front entrance.
The grave of Serbian Saint Lazar is in the basement of the church. He is the Serbian Jesus. He was a Serbian noble who died at the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to legend, he was visited the night before the battle by the Prophet Elijah in the form of a gray falcon. Elijah offered Lazar an Earthly Kingdom or a Heavenly Kingdom. Lazar takes the Heavenly Kingdom, but to earn it, he has to die on the battlefield. He was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church and his feast day is the most holiest of all days in the Serbian calendar, June 28.
The church is named after the son of the founder of the Serbian medieval empire. Sava was originally Prince Rastko Nemanjić and he lived in the late 1100’s – early 1200’s. He was the founder of the Serbian Church. The location of the church was put here because Sava’s remains were believed to be burned here in the 1500’s by the Ottoman Turk leader Sinan Pasha.
I really felt I was at the heart of Serbdom! With the church being in the center of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and with the remains of two of the founders of the Serbian nation and church here, you can’t get more Serbian than this. With the breakup of Yugoslavia over and a new era for Serbia, hopefully they can complete the church. The church represents the long history of the Serbs and the bright future ahead for the country.