A New Look

We’ve entered a new land, with a new look. Mosques abound. Minarets are the tallest feature in most towns. The new look also comes with new sounds: when outside, you are likely to hear the call to prayer broadcasted 5 times a day through the minaret speaker systems.  Decorative patterns abound, and fancy Arabic calligraphy is an art unto itself. A new fashion sense is making its presence felt. Albeit not for everyone, the headscarf is definitely in, with huge variety.

Here are some pictures featuring Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque and bits of Topkapi palace that was once the sultan’s dwellings.

Welcome to Turkey

We crossed the Turkish border!! Compared to all the smooth, easy borders we’ve crossed up to now, where no papers other than passports were checked, crossing into Turkey actually felt more like entering a new country. This was the most serious border crossing we’ve been through yet. While in line in the van, we were told to get out of the van and buy the necessary 3-month tourist visas at a different booth, while still in line for the vehicle control. It was interesting needing passports in two places at once. Then there was an issue with our vehicle registration papers. It almost seemed that we wouldn’t be allowed in with our van. Turned out we hadn’t handed the officials the most recent version. To finish things off we were asked to open all doors and our stuff was rummaged through a bit,  our bed prodded and lifted. And then, we were given the go ahead! Still unbelieving, but thrilled, we drove off.

We decided to stop in a roadside restaurant soon after we drove away triumphant from the border in order to plan our Istanbul attack. And as we were pulling in and trying to figure out where to park (and if this was a good place for us), someone came out of the restaurant to wave us into the parking lot, just as three guys in the neighbouring place started to wave us into the neighbouring lot, hoping to win us over or maybe confuse us? The man in our lot noticed and gave the neighbouring waver-overs a good scolding for trying to steal his customers.  That was our first taste of Turkey.

Time Flies!

CONGRATULATIONS TO EVIE who is the current leader in our HOW FAR? contest as we hit our 5 month anniversary of leaving England in Krusevac (pronounced Kru-sh-vats), Serbia.

I have to admit that I enjoy pouring over the map of the places we’ve been. I thought I’d share the big picture of what our wanderings have produced in the last 5 months. Each colour represents a different country.


View NeverQuiteThere in a larger map

You can always find this map on our MAP tab at the top of the page where you can zoom in and have a look for yourself at the location of all the exotic sounding place names we mention along the way.

Belgrade

Belgrade was our first city with a population of over 1 million since Italy.

City driving and parking is always an issue, and these problems are only exacerbated the larger the city.

Lounging on Fortress walls

Belgrade has the added trickiness of being built around the meeting point of two rivers – the Sava and the Danube. That means, aside from the regular traffic and one-way street navigation, we also have to worry about ending up on streets that feed onto the bridges over the river. We definitely didn’t always get it right driving in Belgrade…

When it comes to city parks, Belgrade definitely should hold a title.

A huge green area stretching to the river full of pathways and benches, some tennis courts, a  church and even a restaurant or two nestled amongst the remains of fortifications with roots dating back to the Celts and then Romans.

Floating bars

It is a great park and well appreciated by the Serbians judging by the numbers we saw out and about. Go ahead and click on the picture to get a closer view of how the Serbians lounge.

Belgrade is also home to some floating drinks hang-outs.

They are old barges converted into restaurants, bars and discos. This year the water level was higher than it has been in a while, so they are farther from shore than usual.

For a few more glimpses of Belgrade through our eyes, click on the church icon below:

Belgrade gallery

Lucky This Time

Two days ago, as we drove out of Belgrade, we arrived in a small town called Ljig and decided to pull over for lunch.  We had heard that Ljig sported some nice cheese filled pastries and a local fig brandy (Rijak) that we wanted to sample.  So we nose over into a quiet shady spot, like normal, but when we crawled through to the back of the van, I noticed something was missing.  Our homemade skylight had gone missing sometime during the journey!!!

Like This, but Scarier!

Now this had happened once before, where we were driving along at speed with a non-tied down window and it just flies straight up in the air (with no noise) and hurtles across the sky like a five pound, pointy edged frisbee.   The plastic is about a centimeter thick and feels almost as heavy as glass, so maybe a more apt comparison would be with a five pound shuriken hurtling twirling up to a height of about 20 feet and then crashing down.

We drove all the way back to Belgrade and re-drove the route we’d taken, scared that we’d find some sort of horrible accident that we’d caused with our lax window tie-down behavior.  I was very worried (and pretty sure) that our bought-on-the-border insurance would leave us pretty much screwed for this kind of a thing (oh, and that the whistling skylight of death hadn’t decapitated a nun).

She's fine

We even drove the route to the supermarket and back before eagle-eyes Christina finally spotted it across the road on one stretch of the highway out of Belgrade.  It had apparently come down on a corner (on the pavement, thank god) and cracked off the corner.  This is very tough stuff, though, so I found the corner almost intact nearby.  I glued it back together and braced it with a piece of plywood and its nearly as good as new.  We just need for it to rain good and hard to be finally convinced that we can trust it.

Now we have a little mantra that I chant every time we start the car (its a diesel and so needs the plugs warming).  “WATER, WINDOWS, LAPTOPS” as I flip the key back and forth to try and prevent future potential catastrophes.  Needless to say, since its got three parts, you can tell we’ve had a few other little incidents….

Zagreb Graffiti

An avid reader of our blog noticed that we’ve added a new header and couldn’t find it in our galleries.  I hadn’t included it in a gallery before because we had already started posting about Serbia the next time we were online. For the curious, our new header is based on some graffiti we saw in Zagreb at one of the city’s light rail stops.

All eyes on you

Picture 1 of 2

Amusing Museum Musings

In the city of Novi Sad we wandered into a couple of Serbian museums. It has been a bit of an experience. The museums seem to be almost entirely abandoned. Both of the museums we visited we had entirely to ourselves. One curator kept himself busy switching the lights off behind us, each time we left a room. Some of the highlights were some golden Roman helmets, studded with pearls and beautifully carved horns crafted by Serbian shepherds.

Adding to the lax, unmuseum-like atmosphere, there was crew installing an exhibition, apparently, judging by the open bottles, fueled by beer.

In the modern art museum, we had a guided tour by a friendly and enthusiastic literary graduate, hired as a security guard.

Museum-going is definitely not the popular activity around here.

Novi Sad

Our first Serbian city: Novi Sad, on the Danube river. In the European style we appreciate, pedestrian areas and cafes abound. With the World Cup on, you’d expect everyone to be holed up inside watching soccer (aka football) at game times. Not the case. Outdoor cafes are built into the bones of these people. You’re never forced to choose between enjoying the breeze and watching the match: the TVs are hung outside.

Here is some local colour: lounging goats from a rural area outside the city, and a very colourfully tiled church roof on the main square.

Serbian flavours

Yes, that reads Serbia

Serbia has its own distinctive shapes and customs. The Cyrillic alphabet stands out. As you often see signs written in both scripts, I’m having fun puzzling out the sounds of all the letters. I have to admit that the Greek alphabet is helping me pick it up faster.

The skyline also looks different. Many of the church steeples seem to be based on a new logic; they’re not just tall and imposing, they have shape!

Besides the novelty of walking around with multiple one thousand dinar notes (worth about 10 Euro), we’ve also been intrigued by the equations featured on the bills. We’ve been puzzling over the one on the 100 dinar note. Any ideas?

Stephen has taken to ordering his next beer with a thumbs-up. Here, finger counting starts with the thumb, which means one, then thumb + index = 2, and so on…

Triumphant triumvirate

Our HOW FAR? contest continues to progress. Crossing over into Serbia means we have new leaders to announce. In fact, we currently have new leaders in every category: Alex with her guess of 8 countries, Beth with her guess of 4.5 months, and Gaye with her guess of 6500 miles.

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