Adelaide. Singapore. Frankfurt. Belgrade. Four airports and 33 hours in transit.
I have to tell you, sitting in the same position for 24 hours does dreadful things to your back. Having said that, it may have also been the 8 hour stop over in Singapore where Jamie and I decided to explore the airport with backpacks filled with bricks… Okay not bricks, but it may as well have been.
You see, we found out only as we arrived that Changi Airport doesn’t have lockers for security reasons. This is completely reasonable, but not knowing this from the start, I had packed a DSLR, 3 lenses and a MacBook Pro in my backpack, along with the rest of my carry on. So here I am, trudging along Changi Airport with this 10kg backpack lunged over me for the better part of 8 hours. This was all followed by another 14 hour flight. By the time we arrived in Frankfurt my back was in so much pain I think there may have been a few tears while devouring a Big Mac – although that also could have been sheer happiness of eating anything other than plane food.
Who really likes long journey flights anyhow? And if you do, you should really considering hosting inspirational talks for the rest of us.
It took stepping outside Belgrade Airport for it to finally hit me that we had landed in a whole other country; on the other side of the world. After what was a much less complicated process through customs than what we expected, we were picked up by my dad’s cousin, Mito, from the airport.
And so began the two-week-long journey of not embarrassing myself with my broken Bosnian/Serbian. I think it went well for the majority, Jamie even picked up a few words here and there and by the end of the trip he had promised the kids that he’ll learn the language before we return again one day. Everyone was fantastic about including Jamie in the conversations as much as they could. I was not only impressed but unbelievably appreciative. Jamie being Jamie, of course, he’s comfortable in every situation you throw at him so he handled himself without forming a bead of sweat during our entire time in Belgrade and with family.
To combat our inevitable jet lag my family took us out for a walk around Belgrade the first night. The most prominent landmark was without a doubt the Church of Saint Sava. It was rather beautiful in its structure and was blindingly white, even by 10pm at night.
We had plans the following day to meet with family I hadn’t seen in over twelve years. It’s crazy what sticks in your mind. The visual memory that pulling up to my grandmother’s sister’s house sparked was rather overwhelming. We had lunch with the family and I had a chance to reconnect with my cousin. Afterwards we ended up at her place and had ice-cream and coffee with her lovely mum, and then headed out to an awesome little bar called Samo Pivo (only beer) – and guess what? They only served beer. What an awesome concept. Beers from all around the world served in their own unique glasses. After that we went out to another bar to watch my cousins partner play in a band. The atmosphere of the band, the bar and the crowd was beyond fantastic. It was nothing like the atmosphere of similar set ups in Adelaide. It was a place filled with culture, and complicated history, and it was blindingly obvious to the two outsiders, sitting with a beer in hand and observing everything around them. I think that was the point where it finally started sinking in that I was back in a city that only existed in my memories for the last half of my life. By the end of the night my jetlag caught up to me and I was falling asleep in my beer. It was time to call it a night.
The third day started off with us visiting a local shop and buying some food for the house. We walked the cobbled streets down past my old kindergarten, where I got to point out to Jamie that this was the place I learned to tie my shoe laces. So irrelevant but incredibly surreal. The most surprising thing for me was how much I remembered the streets. They triggered more memories for me than anything else. The patterns of the stones were so peculiarly familiar to me. The rest of the day was spent reconnecting with more family members on the other side of the city. It was wonderful to get to know family on a different level, as an adult as opposed to a child. It was already strange for me seeing all these familiar faces, so I can’t imagine what it was like for them to know a shy and quiet 12 year old only to have a somewhat louder adult return twelve years later.
Jamie and I went out that night for a walk and ice cream on the other side of the Sava River. We ended up stumbling upon a line of boats that were actually bars and stopped in one to have a beer for about $2. I have to say, so far the most welcome aspect of Eastern Europe was the cheap but fantastic food and beer.
At this point in time we had no clue when we were set to leave for Mostar, or even how we were going to get there. Being the organised person that I am, you can imagine the anxious battle I had going on inside of me. We found out the next morning we were leaving on the Saturday and that Mito was driving us there, which was a beautiful gesture in it’s own right, let alone that it was a 10 hour drive. After having a bit of a talk that morning we decided we’re also going to stop by two little towns on the way: Drvengrad (Woodentown) and Kamengrad (Stonetown).
The day before we left we decided to explore Belgrade a bit and actually have a chance to do genuine travelling. We spent the morning walking around Kalemegdan and visited the Belgrade Fortress built in the year 535. It was a rather surreal place. The outskirts of Kalemegdan park had absolutely wonderful views of Belgrade. We stood there for a while, a little breathless from both the view and the walking. At the top of the park stood a tall statue named Pobednik. We caught a glimpse of it on the first day when we were driving into the city from the airport. He’s a rather beautiful thing and overlooks the majority of the city.
After our walk we found ourselves in the centre of the city, in Knez Mihailova. A busy street surrounded by shops, culture, restaurants and people. We did a bit (a lot*) of shopping, sat down at a few cafes for drinks and eventually met up with more family to go out for a nice dinner.
That night at dinner my jet lag, combined with possible sunstroke from being out in the sun for 9 hours, hit me really hard. I was dizzy, spacey and couldn’t concentrate on my surroundings at all. The night ended with my inability to hold a conversation for longer than 3 seconds, and so we were driven home for me to get some rest before our big drive the next day.
I can’t tell you the embarrassment and guilt that has followed me since that dinner. Lesson learned, folks. Don’t push your body, not even on holiday. Sometimes you need a break even from travelling.
Miraculously feeling better the next day we said our sad goodbyes to the family and set off for Kamengrad and Drvengrad.