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The Belgrade Chronicles

6. September ~ 5. October 1997

Our trip started at 6 o'clock in the morning on Saturday, 6th September. After paying one of our drivers a fiver a case for loading the bus we set off from Dortmund - I for one with mixed feelings about the things to come. The bus - still nearly empty - set off for its long trip. Now I thought we would be heading just about straight for our destination Belgrade but I was soon proven wrong when the driver got on the motorway towards Bochum, going west instead of east. OK, I thought, we'll have top pick up some people in Bochum to fill up the bus. Unfortunately, not everyone who had booked a seat on this bus lived in Dortmund or Bochum. What followed was a cross-trek through the entire Ruhrgebiet covering Dortmund, Bochum, Essen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and finally Frankfurt. Six hours after having left Dortmund we finally started going east.

At about six o'clock in the evening we pulled into Munich to gather up our final passengers bringing the total to 48 travellers - most of them already very weary - heading for Yugoslavia.

Soon after that we were powering towards the Austrian border and after a fairly brief stop during which one of our drivers took it on himself to see all our passports through customs we continued our (possibly perilous) voyage. At about eleven o'clock we stopped for an evening meal at a Yugoslav restaurant in Austria which these drivers seem to frequent quite regularly for they were greeted heartily. It is obvious that this restaurant survives on the custom the drivers bring. The meal was fairly cheap and quite good, especially considering our previous food that day had consisted merely of sandwiches. We both - Alek and I - had a mixed grill and some red wine which we hoped might help us sleep better on the rather cramped seats. This bus could have done with an extra meter in width (and length).

In the early hours of Sunday we arrived at the Hungarian border and after a border guard had inspected the passports we continued. The driver announced we wouldn't be stopping in Hungary because it would be too dangerous. It turns out that the Hungarians have started robbing innocent tourists.

24 hours after leaving Dortmund we were nearing the Hungarian-Yugoslav border and the driver informed us that we had two choices - we could either wait or pay. It is customary to help the Hungarians to find the right stamp more quickly by giving them a fiver. If you don't extend them this "courtesy" it can take them up to four hours to process all the passengers on the bus. Guess what we did...

Now the Yugoslav guards were another story all together. Because they are all honest, law-abiding people they don't accept any money from weary travellers. No, they ask them to get out of the stuffy old bus and get some breaths of fresh Serbian air. And while everybody's out anyway they give you the chance to see if you've forgotten to pack something by opening and searching your luggage. Fortunately, they believed Alek that his box with a picture of a vacuum-cleaner on it contained just that. (In fact there was quite a lot more inside but who's counting...)

After negotiating our way through some small villages and overtaking a couple of dozen tractors and other slow moving cars (doing top speed of course) we managed to rejoin a motorway which they promptly wanted some toll for.

Our first stop - Sombor - was a very interesting experience and quite a culture-shock. As soon as we neared our stop people were running towards our bus waving cartons of cigarettes and home-made blankets shouting "taxi, taxi". So, I went out and checked that they didn't steal our luggage - which they didn't.

A couple of hours later we deposited a second load of people in Novi Sad which appeared to be a slightly bigger town, maybe even a city. In Novi Sad they seemed to have the carton-waving, taxi-shouting people under control because I couldn't see any. This time we merely kept an eye on our luggage through the windows of the bus. However, one person ventured into the bus and tried to get change for an obviously fake 500 Mark note. Nice try - but no doughnut...Mijo

At five to twelve we pulled into the Belgrade bus-station. There we were greeted by Alek's uncle Mijo (Miomir). He is a very hearty, friendly person. He's the director of the foreign-currency division at the Yugobanka - one of the two big banks in Belgrade, the other being the Beobanka - but he doesn't look the part, at least after business hours. Mijo wears sport-suits and trainers and drives an old VW Jetta.

Speaking of driving - it's hell in Belgrade (and everywhere else in Yugoslavia). People just drive the way they feel like - they don't signal, they drive their little beat-up cars around at top speed and sound their horns at the slightest occasion.

Our flatOur first stop was Mijo's flat which lies fairly near to the centre in a suburb called Novi Beograd. It's a nice flat but not something you'd expect to find a director of a major bank in. It's well-decorated and nicely furnished but it's not all that big. After having eaten a meal with him and wife - a lovely warm and caring person called Brankica - we made our way to our flat. Going in was a bit of a shock because it seems that Olga - Alek's sister who lives in the flat - either didn't have the time for quite a while to clean it or didn't care to. You haven't seen a pile of dirty washing quite so big before. And the state of the bathroom appliances were, well, nearly unspeakable. So, we set to cleaning the flat because even if she wanted to live like that, we certainly didn't. Also, the stereo didn't work and there were hardly any lightbulbs to be found anywhere in the flat. OK, in some rooms it wouldn't be sensible to have lightbulbs - there aren't any fixtures for them...

Olga - on the rightAfter having cleaned some of the flat and ourselves after the long journey, we settled back to what was going to be a nice evening. Around ten o'clock Olga returned from giving private music lessons and we had some food she had prepared earlier. (She's a music teacher and wants to be a concert organist/pianist.) Then we settled back with the bottle of wine I had brought as a gift and spoke until late, exchanging views on life, the universe and everything. Fortunately, she speaks and understands English very well. Sometime after midnight we retired.



Monday, 8th September 1997

This morning I was awakened by Alek at about nine o'clock. I dreamed something about audio-systems which might be connected to the terrible hypnotising music they played in the bus. It was some kind of Yugoslav folk music called Cirilica and they had the cassette-player set to cycle-mode (for thirty hours!).

After breakfast we took a taxi to see a friend of Alek's who wanted to hook us up with a car. This guy - Jovan - seems to have tons of money and he does a lot of trading work. At the moment he's trading with chocolate from Germany. When we walked into the office it seemed like we had stumbled right into a meeting of the "Family" - a lot of men in suits, sitting around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes (all legitimate business men of course). However, the person we had come to see wasn't there yet. This didn't change for the next 3½ hours. When he finally did arrive, he told us that he only had really big cars at the moment like BMWs etc. and that he would try and find us a small car where it wouldn't matter if we crashed it or if it was stolen. He did however change us some money at a very favourable rate, paying 3.6 Dinars to the Mark instead of the official 3.3 to 1 rate, which was nice. So at least in a small way it was worth the wait. After that we took a bus into town.

Riding the bus in Belgrade is - well - an interesting experience. Not only does the number of people that fit into the bus amaze but also the artistic way in which the bus-driver switches lanes and avoids obstacles like pedestrians crossing the road (also very perilous in Belgrade). There is a saying that a bus holds 150 people or 300 Belgraders.

Knez MihajlovaWe made it into town and there we paraded along the pedestrian precinct (called Knez Mihajlova) and into the Kalimegdan which is a huge park, 52 km2 big and very nice. It houses a fantastic amount of statues, statuettes and busts of Serbian heroes and a fortress which was erected by the Turks during their 500 year occupation of the city. The fortress now houses a war museum with many items from all the different wars. KalimegdanThe park definitely deserves another visit as does the city centre and the next time I will take my camera along. There are very nice views of the city from the fortress and there are also very nice examples of its inhabitants walking about there. J

After a fairly short stroll through the park we made our way back to a bus-stop to find transportation back to Cerak which is the suburb we're staying in. In the evening, Olga went out again and we accepted an invitation from Mijo for supper. It would help us recover from the bus-ride home which was even more extreme than the ride into town.

Nice viewsWe took a taxi to Mijo's flat and "supped". It was very nice and they were as friendly as ever. By the way, going by taxi is very cheap here. For ten Marks you can traverse half the city. However, going by bus is even cheaper - its free. No one ever bothers to check the tickets, so no one ever buys one. But the rate at which people get on and off and the amount of people in the bus would make it a very difficult task indeed. And if we should ever get caught we've decided to play the dumb Germans that don't speak a word of Serbian. The worst they can do is throw us off at the next stop.

We also did some shopping today in the local (super) market. We were surprised to find that the prices are similar to those in Germany. (Only here the wages are much lower.)

FortressTomorrow, we will try to get the car and Alek has some cousins here who'll try to organise some entertainment for us.



Tuesday, 9th September 1997

This morning we went into Belgrade's city centre with Dragan, an old friend of Alek's. Dragan studies civil-engineering at Belgrade university and took part in the four month long student demonstrations that followed the attempted manipulation of the last local elections. He's also an avid aviation fan. Dragan showed us some of the city's sites from the bus. He has a very good command of English and speaks with a nice Slavic accent. Dragan took us to the places where street merchants set up stands and stalls from which they sell bootleg copies of CDs, cassettes and CD-ROMs. We bought a load of CDs because they're a sixth of the German price (20 Dinars) and I saved about 200 Marks today.

Our return trip to the flat was everything except comfortable. Now I know what a sardine feels like. Alek explained that it can get even worse when the sun is blazing down during the summer months. People just collapse in the overcrowded buses and temperatures can easily exceed 40°C. He said he once even had to give first-aid to someone who had collapsed next to him.

In the afternoon we wanted to go to a visagist called Milesa but the shop was closed. So we met up with some of Alek's old friends instead and they talked the whole afternoon until about nine o'clock in the evening. I tried to listen and follow the conversation but alas my command of Serbian leaves much to be desired. To my defence, I have to say that I only started learning it a week ago.

Sometime during the afternoon we also found time to do some shopping and we bought some much needed lightbulbs. In the evening, we ordered some pizza and emptied a nice bottle of red wine. I also called home and reported my bounty. At about ten o'clock Olga returned. I must remember to find out the exact time of my birth and then she will make a proper horoscope for me. Olga is really into horoscopes...

Tomorrow, we'll meet with Brankica and she'll take us to an optician. Alek wants to get some contact lenses because they only cost 80 Marks here instead of 300 Marks in Germany. I'm thinking of getting some for myself as well - but I'm not sure, yet. After that we'll meet up with Mijo and he will exchange some money for us. We only change about 100 Marks each at a time because the exchange rate varies quite considerably here.



Wednesday, 10th September 1997

Trg RepublikaWe took the bus into town this morning. We actually got some seats but the drunk two seats next to us dampened our spirits a little. The bus filled up very quickly and a malfunctioning door in the rear of the bus heated the tempers of the people who wanted to get out. After arriving at Trg Republika (Republic Square) we made our way to the bank where Brankica works. It's also Yugobanka - like Mijo's just a different branch. She took us to the optician and Alek got his contacts. He is very pleased with them.

Then we returned to the city centre, left Brankica and walked to Mijo's bank. We later heard it's soon really going to be his bank because he's being promoted the its head-director. Mijo took us out for lunch - which was nice - and we had a four course meal. There was more food than we could eat. The head-waiter seemed to know Mijo really well and he greeted us all with a handshake and a measure of supplication. This restaurant has a table permanently reserved for Mijo and towards the end of our meal the manager of the restaurant came by our table to say hello. If you didn't know Mijo holds a very high position at the Yugobanka which is right next door you would most certainly think him a Mafioso the way he is treated. Mijo offered to take us down to the coast. The bank has put a big Mercedes and a chauffeur at his disposal and since he's going down for the weekend anyway we accepted his invitation. It seems Jovan is taking longer than expected to find us a car, so we'll go down with Mijo and fly back up again. The flight will cost about 80 Marks and takes about forty minutes instead of ten hours in the car.

In the late afternoon we visited Alek's other uncle - Gule - and there was coffee and cake and a lot of talking. Bogdan, Alek's cousin, appears to be very talented in mathematics. He won 1st prize in a maths-competition in Belgrade and 3rd for Serbia. He's a also a very big basketball fan.

Alek phoned one of his cousins - Maja - and we'll visit her and his aunt tomorrow. She is the PR-manager for a discotheque called Zvezda and she'll take us along one evening. Tomorrow evening we're going to Jovan's flat.



Thursday, 11th September 1997

We had a fairly lazy day today. I got up around ten o'clock and read my book a little. Then around midday we decided to go to the stadium of Red Star Belgrade. Alek wanted to buy a Red Star dress but they didn't have the right kind there (poor quality, same price as in Germany). So, that was 35 Dinars out of the window for the taxi we decided to take after the bus didn't come for ages. On the way back, however, we dared to take the bus and were promptly punished. Firstly, we had to wait for what seemed an eternity because it isn't a frequently used line and secondly this bus was the fullest so far.

In the afternoon, Alek visited a friend but I passed and sat down with my book again. (Very good, easy reading btw - Wilbur Smith, Goldmine) Later, after returning, Alek tried to phone his aunt Maca - in vain. Apparently, they had a brownout there and that also affected the phones. Olga returned from a test she took at the Goethe-Institute which she passed three of possible four levels. However, Alek had opened one of the windows and Olga got all panicky about it not being "reshuttable". Both started shouting and tempers flared and now Olga is pouting and doesn't want to speak with Alek any more. I think they're both over-reacting and it's probably for the better that we're going away for a week or so.

Anyway, we finally got through to Maca (in fact she called us) and we went over to her flat. There we met her, her two daughters Maja and Vanja and Vanja's daughter Tamara - a little squirt of 2½ but bright as a button. Maja's very nice, 26 years old, has dark blonde hair and seems to prefer the vamp-look when she goes out. When we get back from the seaside she'll take us to the club where she works. We might even go bungee-jumping but I don't know about that, yet.

Our chauffeurAfter that visit, we took a taxi to Jovan's new apartment (penthouse of course - 90m2, 270.000 Marks, 3.000,- per m2) which was nice. His girlfriend/wife is very pregnant and they're expecting the child any day now. We had watermelons and talked. Jovan speaks German quite well, which he should because he trades a lot with Germany. They buy about 18 truckloads of chocolate from Aachen every month. That's an equivalent of about 200 tons of chocolate. They (He) also trade in orange juice from Austria and Coca Cola from Hungary. I think he has enough money. At about midnight we took a taxi home.

Tomorrow, we're having an early start. We're getting up at 4:30 (in about three hours time) and the chauffeur will pick us up at around 5:30.


Friday, 12th September 1997

LandscapeThe trip turned out to be a very interesting experience, sometimes even heart-stopping. Either people here don't know how to drive or they've just lost their will to live. I think our chauffeur missed his calling as a Formula One Racing driver. Anyway, there were some terrific views of the landscape and I got a good impression of what Yugoslavia looks like. Up in the north there's nearly only agriculture with vast fields. Rolling hillsAround the big cities it is less, of course.

Going into Belgrade proves to be interesting because of the increase in traffic and the notably extreme driving style of its inhabitants. Leaving Belgrade and heading south you'll find fields again but not for long. The further south you go, the harsher the landscape gets. For quite some time we travelled through a very rustic and pretty bare region with rolling hills and very sparse vegetation. This continued until we got near the border to Montenegro where you can find many a wooded hill or mountain. The region is very mountainous and travelling along the winding mountain roads with their hairpin-bends and steep inclines can be very treacherous. All along the way you can see flowers and reefs that have been placed where people died. However, we made it through in one piece. The mountains continue right on up to the water, leaving only a thin strip of flat low-lying land. There, many a small town has sprung up, offering its inhabitants a fairly quiet and simple life combined with the pleasures of living right on the waterfront. Another thing you notice when you're in Yugoslavia is that everywhere people are building houses. The only problem is that they don't seem to be able to finish them because they don't have enough money to pay for it all in one go.

MountainousRight up on the waterPeople here have a lot of time and they take a very relaxed attitude towards life and work. They have set themselves different priorities. For the people here it is more important to lead a happy life and have fun rather than to possess material goods. (Although this can't be said for all, of course.) Another thing about this country is that there is no middle-class. Here you are either reasonably well off (and that's nearly only possible if you're crooked) or you can just about scrape up enough money to eat. However, despite all their problems these people seem happy enough, content with what they have.

Another phenomenon here is that even though they have hardly enough to eat, people here are very well dressed. The younger ones at least have a very good dress-sense - especially the girls. There is a saying here that there are as many beautiful girls here as there is water in the Danube. It's probably right.

Anyway, to get back to our trip down to Kraçici - that's the little town we're staying in, right on the waterfront of a bay surrounded by mountains.

On our way down we stopped at a number of places. First, we stopped at a meat factory where some kind of credit contract was signed.

The second stop was in Podgorica - formerly Titograd - where we met executives from the local Yugobanka branch.

Weekend retreat and our limoThirdly, we stopped at the weekend retreat of the head-director of one of the Yugobanka's branches in Belgrade (actually the one where Brankica works). His name is Dile and he has a kind of a farm were he grows and produces his own wine and spirits and a great array of fruits from grapes and figs to kiwis and nectarines. After being fed a lot of fruit and later some soup we continued our journey. Dile came along and so there were now five people in the Mercedes, two of which were important, but very friendly, bank executives.

On arrival in Kraçici we checked the water supply and ordered some more that was to be delivered the next day. (They aren't connected to any water-mains in that town - they have big water-tanks.) Then we went down to the water where some of Mijo's friends, Petrovic, have a house nearly right next to the water. There we had a little swim and sat in the sun for a while.

In the evening we went to Budva, the nearest big town and former tourist magnet, in the Mercedes and went our ways after agreeing a meeting point. Alek and I went out to the promenade where we checked out the goods the street merchants had to offer among other things. Then we bought some postcards and went into the old city. A lot of the old city is still intact and the architecture of the houses and streets here is very interesting. There are many little shops and restaurants in a maze of little narrow alleys and the houses only stand a couple of meters apart. After walking around the old city we decided to visit one of the many cafés on the promenade and we sat down for some drinks. The prices were OK but it was too loud, so we moved on to a different place in the old city. Later, we met up with the others and drove back to Kraçici.



Saturday, 13th September 1997

Day by the waterIn the morning, Alek and I tried to go shopping in the local "supermarket" but they had nearly nothing in the shelves and some of the dairy products had expired four days ago. It's quite a long walk from our apartment down into the "town centre" where the shops areAdriana (shop is). We later found a kiosk which is a lot better stocked than the so called supermarket and cheaper, too. Other than that we spent the whole day by the water, went for some pizza at around five and then went up to the apartment again. In the evening we were invited down to Petrovic's. They have a very pretty daughter called Adriana who studies medicine. We sat out on the patio and talked all evening. The driver and Dile went back today in the afternoon, so now it's just the three of us.



Sunday, 14th September 1997

Sunday was much like Saturday, really. We went down to the sea again but the water was to cold to swim. So, I just dangled my feet in the water and lay in the shade. I'm quite sunburnt, so I'm going to take it easy for a while and keep my shirt on. We were invited for lunch at Petrovic's and we had mousaka and various kinds of fish. It's very difficult to maintain your weight when people keep offering you tons of food. Later, Adriana came down to the water but she didn't stay very long because it was too cold for her.

In the evening, Alek and I started working on a remake of Mercs (our own RPG), going back to the original concept. We had a thunderstorm here that lasted throughout the night. Sometimes, the thunder was so loud, it woke me up.



Monday, 15th September 1997

Had a bad night. Couldn't sleep because of the storm and some very pesky insects. Got up at seven o'clock because Mijo is going for a cure for his heart in Herceg Novi (he had a bypass operation). We went along but we had to wait initially because the chauffeur was half an hour late. This time, we had a Volvo 440 which was OK.

We stopped at the clinic where Mijo checked in and we went up to his room. Everything was very sparse and just how you would imagine an eastern European clinic. Mijo has great view of a busy road and a high-rise block of flats.

Then we called Alek's uncle Pero in Herceg Novi for him to come pick us up and after a while we all went down to wait for him. This was when a stupid, about 30ish year old man in a new Opel Omega decided it would be really cool to drive up really close to the door of the clinic. However, he didn't seem to have noticed me or the stone trash-bin I was sitting on and he kind of hit it with his car. If I hadn't got up, he would have hit me, too, but this way he made a nice big scratch in his right front wing. J Serves him right.

WaterfrontShortly after that, Alek's uncle arrived in an old, beat-up Renault 18. Pero used to be a diplomat for Yugoslavia in Moscow before the war but after the division of the country the number of diplomats was reduced and lost his post. Now, he does foreign-trade (import-export) for a Cypriatic company. Pero and his wife are very nice people and they have very successful children. Their daughter is a specialist surgeon at the leading eye-clinic in Moscow (one of the finest in the world) and their son also does import-export. They took us out for a nice meal and later Alek, Mijo and I went for a walk along the waterfront, accompanying Mijo back to the clinic. Then we said our good-byes and walked back to Pero's house.

Shortly after, he drove us back to Kraçici. From Herceg Novi you can take a ferry across a part of the bay which cuts the travel-time down by about an hour. It takes the ferry about five to ten minutes to get across the bay. However, on the way back, one of the ferry's engines gave up the ghost and the captain performed some interesting manoeuvres to stay on course.

Back in Kraçici we continued our work on Mercs. Now, there are only two of us.


Tuesday, 16th September 1997

Today we had both sun and a bit of a breeze. So, in the sun it was quite warm and in the shade it was fairly cool. Adriana joined us down at the water and brought a book you could kill someone with. So, she studied for a while and we lay around. Later, she brought out a chess-set and we all played each other. Adriana plays very well and she beat both of us. In the third game Alek beat me by two moves. After that we played Jamb which is a variant of Yahtzee but more complicated.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of garbage swimming around in the water today, so swimming was out of the question.

In the evening, we cooked spaghetti which were of fairly poor quality but we made the best of them. Then we continued our work on Mercs and later we watched a football match - Schalke v. Split, an UEFA-Cup game which Schalke won 2:0. The interesting thing was that the Serbian TV-station had pirated the game from the German TV station RTL, commentary and all. They just put their own commentary over the German but you could still hear the original. In the half-time break they showed video clips from the German music channel VIVA instead of adverts. This truly is the cleptocratic republic of Yugoslavia.



Wednesday, 17th September 1997

Today, we did nothing! We slept in till late - about eleven - and then we sat out on the balcony. The weather wasn't good enough to go down to the water - so we didn't. Alek wrote a poem and a long letter and I played solitaire and read my book. Then we got hungry and made another load of spaghetti.

In the evening we watched TV and arranged to picked up from the airport in Belgrade on Sunday. (We're flying back up).



Thursday, 18th September 1997

Thursday was another lazy day. We took the radio down to the water and lounged around in the sun. In the evening we grabbed a bite to eat and watched footer on the box.



Friday, 19th September 1997

So far, I haven't got tired of doing nothing which is what we did today. Mijo has come for the weekend. A funny thing happened today. Yesterday, we wanted to get some Pleskjavica (something like a hamburger) but then they didn't have any ketchup. So, today we bought some ketchup at the kiosk and went back but today they didn't have any meat. So, we decided to get some pizza but they didn't have any at the pizzeria. In the end we made spaghetti. We spent the rest of the evening drinking wine and talking.



Saturday, 20th September 1997

It is very hard to get a complete Pleskjavica in Kraçici. There is only one place that sells them and they are very badly stocked (and very expensive as well). Today, the had meat but no other ingredients. So, we bought some "bare" Pleskjavica and went down to the kiosk and got some mayonnaise and a couple of cokes.

The flatThis was after having a cooked breakfast in the morning which Mijo prepared and many hours of lying in the sun.

Halfway back up to the flat we noticed that Mijo still had the keys. I lost the draw and had to go back to the friends we left him with. Later, after freshening up, we went back down and spent the evening there.

Tomorrow, we're flying back to Belgrade. I've decided to get some contact lenses for myself on Monday.

(On an extra note: I caught my first limpet today. It has a very nice shell on the inside and on the outside it looks like a smiling face.)



Sunday, 21st September 1997

Brankica and her mother arrived this morning. They had loaded their car on a train and came down over night. We spent a last couple of hours at the beach before going back up and having a proper meal prepared by Brankica. At five we left for the airport in Tivat which is a quarter of an hour from Kraçici.

The check-in at the airport is not computerised. (I have the boarding-pass to prove it.) We flew in a JAT 737-300 Boeing jet and the flight took about forty minutes. I sat next to a really nice lady from Tel Aviv. (Tivat was just a transit-stop between Tel Aviv and Belgrade.) She told me she had emigrated to Israel in 1948 and was now visiting her old friends there for the first time in 49 years. She was pretty excited about it. She worked as a flight-instructor and was the first female flight-instructor in the Israeli military. For some time she was the only female military flight-instructor in the world. She is also the last survivor from the Belgrade concentration camps. Her name's Xantia something. Very nice lady. She also used to work for BAC for a while and trained pilots in London.

Alek's uncle Gule picked us up from the airport and drove us back to the flat in Cerak. There we made - spaghetti.

We desperately need to go shopping an do some washing.



Monday, 22nd September 1997

Back in the city again today. It's quite a difference from the lazy, quiet Kraçici. We took the bus to the opticians and he measured my eye-sight. I have -1.25 on my left eye and -1.5 on my right eye. I also have .25% cylindrical vision on both eyes which means that I can't wear contact-lenses. I wouldn't be able to focus clearly in the distance. So that's that.

From there on we went into the centre of town and walked along the pedestrian precinct. We went to Dile's Yugobanka branch and he invited us up to his office. We sat in a massive conference-room with a huge table. (It's a pity I had forgotten my camera.) We drank Cola and chatted with Dile. He invited us to drop in any time.

KalimegdanAfter that, Alek and I walked in the Kalimegdan which is really very big. Alek says it even contains a zoo next to some museums and other things. We went round the park for a bit (or some of it at least) and then we made our way back. We walked to the place where street merchants sell the fake CDs and we got another batch. After that we rode the bus home again.

We're picking the car up on Wednesday morning.

We visited Dragan and his brother Cale up on the fifth floor (we're third) and on Sunday maybe we'll go to the air museum at the Belgrade airport.

In the evening, Alek went for a massage (I had one before we went to the sea - excellent) and I busied myself cleaning the kitchen. Olga is not a good housekeeper.

Later, Zeljko and Jero came to visit. They are old friends of Alek's.

Olga and Alek don't seem to get along very well and he is dissatisfied with the way the flat is being kept. (It belongs to his parents, not Olga.) Luckily, he has decided to try and be nice for the remaining time so as not to spoil the mood for everyone. This is good because it would make living there unbearable if they kept having big feuds all the time. We'll see if he can keep his temper in check because he does tend to get overheated quickly. I think he's just blowing steam to vent his anger but it's unpleasant for the people around him.


Tuesday, 23rd September 1997

We visited an old friend of Alek's today whom he hasn't seen in about five years - Vlado Milicevic. He seems to be pretty well off, mostly due to the fact that he and his father have influential friends. Vlado has a pretty neat hi-fi system and a big TV - an outfit rarely seen in this country. I believe his father worked for the diplomatic corps. We watched a video of the incident that probably sparked the war on the Balkan. It was a riot between Croatian and Serbian hooligans during a football match in Croatia between Zagreb v. Red Star Belgrade. Many signs indicate that it was a planned riot because for instance there were many handily placed stones for throwing in the stadium and the security fences had probably been prepared with acid so that they could be torn down easily by the hooligans. It was a very violent display of raw human aggressiveness and naked hatred.

In the evening, Alek went to karate-training with Marko who lives on the fifth-floor and holds third Dan. I went along and watched. It was fun to see the little ones, mostly beginners, doing the exercises more or less the same as Marko had showed them. (He's the instructor.)

Zeljko, Boban, Jero and CaleAfter we returned, we had planned to eat something in peace and quiet for an hour or so before Zeljko was supposed to come by. However, before we could even start preparing anything to eat Zeljko, Boban, Jero and Cale arrived - so that was that. We sat and talked and later we all went out to a café which is round the corner. I spoke a lot with Cale who has a fairly good command of English. He's the junior vice kick-boxing champion for Yugoslavia and is now studying to be a surveyor. His greatest wish is to leave this country and work somewhere abroad. I'd say that this is symptomatic of this country and doesn't say much for it. Most of the people that have half a brain and think independently (which is not taught or promoted in school) wish to leave. However, not everyone can and they are condemned to a mediocre existence under a de-facto dictatorship. For example science isn't respected here. A bus-driver in Belgrade earns more than a university professor. A professor earns about 500 Marks a month whereas a policeman earns about 1.400 Marks a month. Sad.



Wednesday, 24th September 1997

We were promised a car and today at least we saw it. It's a VW Golf I turbo-diesel, white and it has an alarm. However, the guy that drove it last took the keys to it on a business-trip - stupid **** - but hopefully he's coming back this evening and will deliver the car to our flat.

So, we walked through the city-centre for a while and bought an English computer magazine. We also did our duty as young tourists and paid a visit to the local McDonald's restaurant.

We then took the bus out to Sajam which is a trade fair complex. There is also a hall where merchants have permanently set up shop and there I found a nice belt for myself (50 Dinars ? 15 Marks) After wandering around the merchant's stalls we went into a trade fair that was being held at there at the time. It was an industrial fair with lots of welding equipment, pipes, protective clothing and alarm systems. I enjoyed it as a novelty but Alek was more interested since this is more or less his field. He explained a bit about welding techniques and how pipes and valves are made. The actual trade fair was free but you had to pay 10 Dinars a head to get into the complex.

In the evening, Alek went out for a couple of hours and I stayed in the flat, listened to some music and read the magazine we bought. The guy with the car didn't come by - of course.



Thursday, 25th September 1997

Today was a good day. Today we finally got the car. Today we watched Mr. Bean.

The car took very long to get but we made it in the end. We took a taxi out to Jovan's office where we waited for about three hours for the guy who had the car. Then we drove out to where this guy had another car parked and he lead us back to Cerak. People don't know how to lead in a car here. They just drive the same way they always do, running red lights and overtaking in impossible situations. Alek was thrown in the deep end of driving in Belgrade but he managed. The driving-style here must be in the genes.

At first we feared we had been given an absolute hunk-of-junk-piece-of-shit car because it was overheating all the time and the cooling water could have just as well just come out of kettle. We found out later that you have to connect the cooling-fan manually by hooking it up directly to the battery. When you do that, it's fine. The car was built in 1979 so maybe that explains it...

Secondly, we thought the car had a bad starter-motor but that was the alarm cutting off the fuel-supply.

After solving these difficulties the car ran fine and did a good job of taking us - that's Alek, Boban, Cale and me - to the city-centre this evening. We had to pay 10 Dinars for parking but that's still a lot cheaper than taking a taxi and a lot more comfortable than riding the bus (and faster).

We went to the Zvezda cinema where we watched Mr. Bean. It's a very funny film with brilliant timing and hilariously comical situations. Well worth the 12 Dinars entry-fee even though the cinema itself was crap.

After the film we walked up and down the Knez Mihajlova. We did some window-shopping and then we drove back. Of course, we were stopped by a policeman during routine checks and after a short chat with Alek he wished us a good evening and sent us on our way. This was about one or two kilometres from Cerak. Now at least we know that the police here have nothing against German driver's-licences.



Friday, 26th September 1997 (Papa's birthday)

All worthless!We took the car into the centre today and Cale came along. Before, he had shown us his impressive collection of bank-notes and given us some of his duplicates. We had look at some shops and later we went to the zoo in Kalimegdan. The zoo is great fun because you can get right up close to the animals. I even touched a buffalo and an antelope. On the downside a lot of the cages are far too small for the animals and keeping them in there is cruel. (But people here seem to have a different attitude towards animals.) An interesting thing about the zoo is that it also keeps domestic animals, like dogs (Dalmatians, Bulldogs and a Pitbull for example). The zoo is located in a part of the fortress in Kalimegdan which makes a really interesting setting where the cages are either let into the walls or are rooms or areas that have been caged off.

We had lunch late in the afternoon at a brewery's bar and restaurant. There they sell their beer directly from the barrel, unfiltered and untreated and it tastes great. It was quite a long way to walk there from the Kalimegdan but it made us work up a hunger and the meal was worth it. The service is a bit slow because the brewery (and the restaurant that belongs to it) is state-owned and all the employees have something of a Beamten-status (even the waiters). That means that they get paid even if the restaurant doesn't do any business.

In the evening the plan was to go out to a discotheque with Zeljko, Nikola, Mi?a and some girls but the girls cancelled so eventually (after many unsuccessful phone-calls) it was just five young men heading into town. We went to a floating discotheque on the river Sava. There are clubs and discos all along the river in old boats or on pontoons. The one we visited was made up very nicely on the interior (it's like a house on a floating platform), the music was OK and it was quite full. For some reason, however, the others thought that they could find a better place and so we left after about an hour. We drove around for the rest of the night but didn't actually find a better place, nor did we go into any other clubs.

Driving at night here is basically like anywhere else (except for the murderous potholes) because the roads are fairly empty. For some reason the driver of the car that was leading us, Mi?a, still drove like an absolute madman. I'm having my doubts about these old friends of Alek's, especially Zeljko. These people just can't be helped. They don't seem do be all that bright and they sure as hell don't know what to do with themselves. The people in that group don't have the sense they were born with. I don't think they have given one thought to their future, only living in the present with cars and girls being their only interests. When you see these people it's no wonder the country is run down. A ray of hope are people like Cale, Dragan and Boban. They have learned to think and probably like Cale they think it best to leave the country. I would.



Saturday, 27th September 1997

Even though we had stayed out very late we went out with Cale in the morning to play a round of tennis at nine o'clock. That meant getting up at eight o'clock and that meant only getting about four hours of sleep. Still, the game was enjoyable and we took turns playing each other. We had reserved the court for one hour and after returning to the flat we went back to bed for another couple of hours.

In the afternoon, Alek's cousins Bogdan and Pavle came to visit. We went outside and played some basketball.

In the evening, the big dating game was supposed to begin but the girl Zeljko had arranged for Alek to meet was not at all interesting and didn't seem at all interested. Furthermore, these guys (Zeljko etc) can't organise or plan anything. A quarter of an hour before we were supposed to leave they didn't even know where we were going.

We finally went out to the floating discotheques again but didn't go in because we were waiting for someone or something like that.

After an hour or so Alek and I had had enough and we went to the club Zvezda with Nikola. That club is really good and we kicked ourselves for not having gone there earlier. The others can stand around in the cold alone from now on for all I care. By the way, Nikola's company for the evening, Sanja, was very nice and very pretty. Pity she didn't speak English.



Sunday, 28th September 1997

The Belgrade air museumToday, we had about five hours of sleep. We went to the air museum with Dragan and Cale. Dragan was as happy as a child in a candy-store because he's a big aviation-fan. He knows the names of all the planes and the complete history of aviation in Yugoslavia. It was everything and we even got to sit in one of the planes and play around with it. All the rudders still work and it was great fun. They also have a plane-graveyard for military aircraft but it's fenced-in. Alek and Cale weren't enthusiastic enough to walk around the perimeter but Dragan and I were. On our way back we were shouted at from afar by some guard but Dragan just shouted something back about just taking a look and we went back to the car.

In the afternoon, we went to Maca, Alek's aunt and had some lunch.

In the evening, we went to club Zvezda with Vanja and her husband's sister Sa?ka. Sa?ka is 22, has black hair, a trim figure, is very nice and very pretty. Club Zvezda is great. We had a reserved table right next to the dance-floor and Maja got all the drinks for free. Miss Yugoslavia danced next to us the whole night. She's very nice and - needless to say - very pretty. We had a great time with great company. It was even more fun because someone was celebrating his birthday there. Great party altogether.



Monday, 29th September 1997

Since club Zvezda is shut on Mondays we decided to go to the cinema instead to watch Men In Black.

But before that we went into the city-centre for the afternoon. We walked up and down the Knez Mihajlova and found some really good, cheap jackets which we're going to buy tomorrow. At four o'clock we met up with Nikola at the drinking fountain and went back to his place where his mother cooked us an excellent meal. (White meat baked with cheese)

Our car doesn't run on fuel - it runs on water. It loses about two litres per trip. On Wednesday we're exchanging it for an Audi 80.

Dragana (in the middle)In the evening, we went to the cinema with Vlado and Dragana (one of Alek's cousins). She's twelve years old and when she grows up she's going to be beautiful. The film was excellent and really funny. The cinema was quite good, too. Here, people actually sit in their assigned seats.

After the film we walked up the Knez Mihajlova and sat in a café which belongs to one of Arkan's men. Arkan is the gangster in Yugoslavia. He has a small army of about 1.000 men, armed to the teeth. They were mercenaries in Bosnia and Croatia. Arkan is a good friend of Milosevic (so you can see how politics work here).



Tuesday, 30th September 1997

Everything seemed to go wrong today. First, we wanted to get some more money from the bank to buy the jackets by cashing a cheque but Dile wasn't there. So, we had to go through the normal procedure and we got a fairly bad exchange rate (the official one of 3.3). Also the bank took a five percent provision and the whole procedure was quite complicated. It involved two signatures, my passport number and some waiting until the cheque was cleared.

After getting the money, we went to buy the jackets. However, one of the jackets Alek had reserved the day before had been sold by an unknowing colleague that hadn't been informed. I found a nice jacket for myself and at first Alek only bought the other jacket he had reserved. Later, we went back and got the same one I have. They're a third of the German price.

Then we wanted to buy some paintings. We had seen one yesterday which we liked but the guy who sells them told us to come back today because he would have a bigger choice. He didn't. Moreover, he had sold the only painting we liked.

Marko & Uro?In the evening, we went out with Alek's cousins Marko and Uro? (an old traditional name). Their father, Vlado - Alek's godfather - is the chief-surgeon at a major hospital here in Belgrade. Marko and Uro? both study medicine. We went to Skadarlia which is a very old street in Belgrade. It's the only part of the inner city that has remained untouched. The street is paved with cobblestones and there are cafés on either side. It is closed to traffic. We had some beers and some Pleskjavicas and later we went to a (very empty) night-club which had a red carpet rolled out on the pavement and a doorman.



Wednesday, 1st October 1997

Had to get up early today to take the car back and exchange it for the Audi. We waited for an hour before Jovan arrived and in the meantime we chatted with the Teak-Won-Do European champion and coach of the Yugoslavian national Teak-Won-Do-team. Nice guy. Jovan arrived at around ten o'clock and told us they still needed the Audi for business purposes till around four o'clock. (I don't know why the hell he told us to come at nine o'clock then!) So, we were stuck for something to do for six hours and we decided to go to the cinema.

The city-centerWe walked into the city-centre which took about three quarters of an hour and bought some tickets (12 Dinars). However, the film (Face Off) didn't start until one o'clock, so we killed some time by walking around and getting something to eat at McDonald's. The film itself is action-packed and directed by John Woo. There are some excellent stunts. We had the cinema nearly entirely to ourselves.

Afterwards, we walked back to Jovan's office where we had to wait some more. But the car was worth it. It doesn't have a radio, the fuel-gauge doesn't work and sun-roof is stiff but the car itself goes very well and is very quiet. It also has power-steering which is a great bonus for city-driving here.

In the evening, we visited Milosava (Alek's aunt) and together with her and her daughters Dragana and Katja we went to Zora's (Alek's other aunt). Zora has two children, Jelena (17) and Ivan (13) and a house in Novi Belgrade. We stayed there for a while and later we went into the city with Jelena.

We wanted to go to club Zvezda but the doorman told us it was absolutely empty. So, we wandered around and went into a café called Ruski Car. Ruski Building-Site would have been more appropriate because halfway through our drinks the workers on a landing we hadn't noticed actually started working. There were power-tools, iron pipes being hammered and other general con?struction noise. So we left.

Then we wanted to go to Skadarlia but somehow we missed it completely and walked in a big circle. So much for Jelena's sense of direction. We finally found it spent some time there, had some food and went home again.

The car still hasn't been stolen. Touch wood.



Thursday, 2nd October 1997

The cityToday, I caught up on some sleep. Around midday we went into the city and Alek showed me the big cathedral they're building here. It's all fenced-in and you can't go inside but the structure is all finished and it's very impressive. There are massive domes on the roof with huge golden crosses on top. Right next to it there's a little church which we went into. It's really beautiful inside with colourful paintings covering the walls and ceiling. They depict all the orthodox saints and there are pictures saints and idols standing around for people to pray to and kiss. Very nice.The Belgrade cathedral

We then went to Dile and had some Colas. Dile has a very nice office - it should be, he's the head of the bank.

In the evening, we went to see the second league of the UEFA-Cup game Red Star Belgrade v. Germinal Eckeren of which we saw the first game in Kra?ici. The Belgians had won the first game but Red Star only needed to win this match to go through to the next round. So, spirits very high and the atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic. There were about 200 Belgian fans and about 70.000 Zvezda fans. However, the gods must have been against this match because they let loose an incredible thunderstorm. It rained with a vengeance. Down on the pitch the players were slipping and sliding and up on the grandstands the spectators were trying to get a dry spot under the roofs.

When Zvezda scored the first goal, all hell broke loose and there were fireworks and everybody was cheering. However, in the second half the Belgian team managed to score the equaliser which put Zvezda out of the cup. Everybody was very depressed except for the 200 Belgian fans who were having a party in their block.

On our way out we had to fight our way through the masses of fans going in the same direction and through the wall of water that was falling from the sky.

After arriving back in Cerak, we took a short breather, dried off and ordered some pizza before throwing ourselves into Belgrade's nightlife.

Around midnight we arrived at club Zvezda which was still very empty. It filled up fairly quickly though and around two o'clock it was very full. There was on fascinating girl there who jumped around the whole evening, scooting around the club. She went from one end to the other and from side to side, all the time animating the other clubbers. She kept this up for hours and Maja told us this girl has been doing this for the last three days. She is a beginning- to mid-twenty year old brunette with a trim figure, a pullover knotted around her neck and sunglasses which she kept putting on and taking off for effect. It was fascinating to watch.

When we emerged from the club, which is located in the basement of a building right next to the Kalimegdan at the end of the Knez Mihajlova, it had finally stopped raining.



Friday, 3rd October 1997

We experienced some money problems this morning. Alek came into my room and asked me if I still had my last five Dinars left top buy some bread. He had lent Zeljko 100 Marks at the beginning of our holidays (that was before we knew he was a prick) and has been chasing after him for it back ever since. Alek finally went to Zeljko's parents yesterday and they promised him they would take care of it but it would take them till this evening. Anyway, we scraped up our last Dinars and got some food for breakfast.

City centerLater, we drove into the city-centre where I cashed another cheque to pay for the repair of the washing-machine. I still have 100 Marks left in cash but they're tied up to pay for the phone-bill. Alek will give me the money back when we're back in Germany. Anyway, the procedure wasn't quite so complicated the second time around and the cashier spoke English.

At 12:30 we met up with Olga and started a round trip to visit family and friends. The first was a very nice old lady who used to live next to them in the city-centre. She now lives out in a little house and has some people that take care of her.

Our second stop was a cousin of Alek's Maja Another cousin was also visiting - Kosta. I can't quite follow all the family relations and who is who to what here because it's a very big family. If in doubt, it's a cousin.

Kosta is a physicist who works in the field of superconductors. He has finished his diploma and is now working on his Masters degree and after that his PhD. He said that once the superconductors work at manageable temperatures the sky's the limit (or even higher).

Maja has an eight month old daughter named Olga that has very big blue eyes and a hypnotising stare. She's very cute.

Our third stop was a short one and I waited in the car. Alek needed to pick up a case of clothes to take back to Germany. They belong to his brother in South-Africa (or his wife) and Alek's parents are going to take them down when they visit in December. Then we finally went back to Cerak.

Shortly afterwards Alek headed off to Pavle's eleventh birthday party but I didn't feel like going.

At half past nine, we (Alek, Cale, Pavle and I) made our way into town to watch the film The Fifth Element. It's an excellent sci-fi flick with the stunningly beautiful Mila Jovovic. (I believe she's actually Serbian.) Very good cinematography and great futuristic touches. Of course there's a happy ending but that's what you've come to expect from big Hollywood productions. The film has a fast pace and very good effects. From the point of the cinema itself, this one was the best so far (and I've been in a couple here) even they could use a better qualified projectionist and a clearer sound system. I really like watching movies here because they're not dubbed but subtitled. The quality of the presentation is not as good as I've come to expect from German cinemas, especially regarding the sound quality. I had great difficulties following the dialogue in The Fifth Element because the sound was very muffled. However, being able to watch a film in it's original language is compensation enough. At the end of the film the people in the cinema applauded it.



Saturday, 4th October 1997

Olga told me my horoscope today. In a nutshell, she told me I had a talent for art (which I still need to discover) and will become a public person in that field. Maybe in music or film or both. Best of all, I will have a rich, beautiful and intelligent wife and lots of children. Moreover, I should play the lottery between April 2000 and June 2000.

It was an interesting experience even though Olga sometimes struggled to find the right English expressions.

All the while Alek was out and about visiting relatives. At five o'clock he returned and we went shooting with Marko. That was a lot of fun and my aim is not all that bad for the first time with a gun. It was Alek's first time, too. His results were even better than mine, though. He put two pairs of shots slap-bang in the centre of the target. The guy from the shooting-range couldn't believe it either.

After emptying the box of bullets we bought we headed for Marko's where we met his parents (the chief surgeon). Marko's mother is also very nice and of course she brought us tons of food. Then they had a visit from a friend who's a professional soldier - a specialist marksman or something. When he had left there was another visit. This time from a multimillionaire and his wife. He has a de-facto monopoly on all the coffee sold in Yugoslavia and about five million dollars in the bank.

After the visit to Alek's godfather we paid a short visit to his grandmother who is not well.


The journey back

We left Belgrade on Sunday, 5th October 1997 after some hectic last minute preparations. Alek took the car back to Jovan's Gule took us to the bus-station after saying our good-byes to Olga. At first we couldn't find the bus-station and I was starting to get worried because we only had about twenty minutes before the bus left. I think somehow some people are only happy when everything happens at the last minute in a big hurry.

We did actually make it in time and on the bus we met a nice couple. He's an American called Joseph and she's a Yugoslav called Anna. I think she's about half the age he is. They are touring the world but not like Americans normally do (in two weeks) but indefinitely. They have been all around Central and South America and done most of Europe. They were heading for Frankfurt for three weeks to do some business and at the end of October they're off to India for six months. Very interesting people.

Joseph told us some stories from South America, like that of old women carrying all their belongings tied in a blanket and slung over their backs jumping onto trains and jumping from car to car on the outside of the train trying to sell stuff to the passengers. Or when he was in Bolivia a civil war broke out under his hotel window. Some Indians had come down from the mountains and started throwing sticks of dynamite at the police who responded with tear-gas. All the while Joseph was taking pictures from his hotel window.

The bus-ride itself was bad. It took us 33 hours to get back to Dortmund and we had to wait for 4½ hours at Austrian-Hungarian border because the borders guards felt like it. What made things worse was that many people were smoking in the bus. The air was bad, the seats were uncomfortable and cramped and there was a longer wait at nearly every border. So by the time we arrived in Dortmund at seven o'clock in the evening the next day we were absolutely shattered. For certain - I will never undertake a trip like that in a bus!

But I was glad to be home.

And this concludes the Belgrade Chronicles - a story of Spaghetti, cinemas and the rich and famous. If you enjoyed reading this I would like to hear from you. Feedback is always welcome :)

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