Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Italian Style

After an all night ferry ride, we arrived in Italy on Christmas Eve. After our friends picked us up, our first stop was the fish market where we got some mussels for a special meal that night. I believe the whole city of Bari was out shopping, probably because all the stores would be closed for the next two days. They really like fish in Italy. Even the potato salad looks fishy :)

Besides the mussel dish, we got to try many new types of food, including multicolored carrots. They are unique to the region around Bari, and are sweeter and crispier than other carrots. I think that maroon carrots would do quite well in the states. They also come in yellow. Another new veg for me was the fennel which tasted like licorice. And the fresh mozzarella was amazing!

On Christmas morning, we each received a nice fleece shirt for presents, and we gave a book on Montenegro to our friends. When the stores opened again on the 27th, we went shopping and once again, I think the whole city was out. At the end of the day, we boarded our ferry and headed back across the Adriatic, from Bari to Bar. A good Christmas, and since Montenegro follows the Orthodox calendar, we get another Christmas on January 7th!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A New Fruit Experience

Produce vendors tend to give a free piece of fruit to regular customers when they make a purchase. Once we were given a very nice pomegranate. On a recent excursion to the piazza next to our apartment, we were given this. Neither of us had ever seen one before. So, we took it home, washed it, cut it in half and took a bite. The flavor was sort of like an apple kissed by an orange. The texture was sort of like chewing on soft wood.
When we described, it to a friend here, she told us it was a quince. They are not to be eaten raw, but cut into pieces and stewed. I guess we'll know for next time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On The "Road" Again

It seems much of the last few weeks has been absorbed in travelling to other countries. Since the end of November, we've been to Albania, Serbia (admitedly only to the Belgrade airport, but since we spent seven hours there, it seems like it should count) and Germany. And on the 23rd we will pack up and head out again, this time by train and ferry. Our destination: Bari, Italy. We will take a train from Podgorica to Bar (a coastal city in Montenegro) and then board an overnight ferry to Bari (Bar to Bari, fun, right?). We have been invited to spend Christmas with some friends currently living in Italy. Then we come back to Podgorica for the big New Year's extravaganza (that's the big holiday here), and then another Christmas (the former Yugoslavian countries celebrate Christmas on January 7th-oddly enough after epiphany-does that mean the Magi came before Jesus was born?)
I think after that, we'll be done with travelling for awhile.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Decorating for the Holidays

We were asked after a recent post what exactly a "rauchen man" looks like (especially, are they like nutcrackers). While their features may resemble nutcrackers in some ways, the "purpose" of the rauchen man is to "smoke" rather than to crack nuts. You light a small incense cone and insert it in the RM, and the smoldering incense causes it to look like the man is smoking. Also, he doesn't have a handle on his back which causes his mouth to open and close. We did see some nutcrackers, but Steve really had his heart set on one of these guys instead.

In recent years, Podgorica has started to decorate for the holidays. Delta city is covered in strings of white lights, and has both a giant decorated Christmas tree in the hall, and medicine ball sized ornaments hanging from the ceiling. They have even begun to attach decorative lights to the street lights. We had no trouble understanding the snowflakes. Even though it rarely snows in Podgorica, snow is intrinsically linked with Christmas and New Years in the Western hemisphere.

But what, may one ask, were these cone shaped red things? We had a lot of fun speculating. Steve whimsically guessed that perhaps they were angels without wings (or heads, for that matter). Laura's thought was that maybe it was Saint Nicholas from the back, wearing a hooded coat. One of our friends here implied that it was a Christmas tree, just red. If that is the truth, I think our ideas were better :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Soaking Up Culture

For our final full day in Berlin, we decided to go to the Pergamom museum. This museum houses an ancient Greek alter from Pergamom (hence the name), the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, much ancient Islamic artwork, and many, many Greek and Roman statues. There were also giant columns, such as this one, with Laura imitating Samson :).

Once again, the museum was huge. We spent about four hours wandering around, taking in all the sites. About halfway through, Laura's headset "guide" developed a glitch, and started guiding in German instead of English. Unfortunately, her German comprehension was not up to the challenge, so she just stopped using it. We saw enough ancient artifacts to last us for quite some time. It was a rather heady experience to see the walls of Babylon and know that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and King Nebuchadnezzer saw these same walls. A small disclaimer, I got the picture of the Ishtar Gate off the internet, as we didn't take a picture of them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cute Knut and the Berlin Zoo

Our second day in Berlin we decided to visit the zoo. Their current mascot is Knut (K not silent, rhymes with "cute"), a polar bear who turned two the day after our visit. His mother abandoned him at birth, and so the keepers raised him, and all the people of Berlin sort of adopted him. The zoo gift shops were really just polar bear merchandise, there was only a tiny bit of stuff for other animals. We heard on the BBC while we were there though, that the zoo won't be able to afford to keep him as he grows up. They are looking at other zoos who would want the "celebrity" bear.

The zoo is huge, we spent 5 hours wandering around, and we still didn't see all of it, but we were hungry and footsore and decided we'd seen all the really important things. In particular, Laura was thrilled to be separated from a panda by only his glass enclosure.

There were also the usual array of monkeys, zebras, elephants, hippos, big cats, birds, an aquarium, a petting zoo, a nocturnal house... There were some penguins who were pretty cute as well.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snow in Berlin!

We've been told that it doesn't snow much in Montenegro, so we were very happy that our first full day in Berlin was a nice snowy one. After spending most of Tuesday either in airports (we spent about 7 hours in the Belgrade airport waiting on our connecting flight) or on airplanes, we were so happy to be wandering around in the open air.
Our main purpose for coming to Berlin at this time was to see the Christmas Markets we missed last year (by three days!). We discovered during our sojourn in the city that there are several areas where these markets are located, but the main one is located around the Kaiser Memorial Church. This church was built to commemorate the marriage of the Kaiser, and had beautiful mosaics depicting that event. It was bombed during WWII, and preserved in it's battered state as a memorial.
There are many wonderful things at the market. Yummy food such as roasted chestnuts, chocolate covered strawberries and bananas, candied nuts and dried fruits, decorated cookies, marzipan, bratwurst, and various hot beverages.
Then there are the beautiful handmade crafts from local and international artisans. Within a few steps of each other you can purchase lovely scarves from India, olivewood creches from Israel, Russian nesting dolls, and handblown glass balls and animal figurines, jewelery, puppets, straw ornaments and wooden "rauchen" men ("smoking men" they are hollow, and you put incense cones in and when they burn smoke comes out of their carved pipes) and candle fans (I'm not sure what their called, here is a large example at right, the wind from the candle flame causes the fan at the top to turn the figures, rather like a merry-go-round) from Germany. They really know how to deck the halls in Germany. We certainly we put in the Christmas mood.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An American (Thanksgiving) in Albania

Okay, so I know it's been a week since our last blog entry, and it will be a week before our next entry also. So, I thought I'd just tell a little about our visit to Albania to meet with friends for Thanksgiving. There were these neat little Pilgrim hats at each place. They were homemade peanutbutter cups on top of cookies :). Also, someone had a few pieces of candy corn left over from an event, and they kindly gave them to me :). Our hosts had a cute dog named Oreo, and Steve especially had fun playing with her.

The day after Thanksgiving we hiked up to a castle overlooking the city. The original stones were built during the Roman Empire when the Balkan countries were Illyricum. The smaller stones were added to the ruins during the middle ages. The castle used to be open, but is now locked. This doesn't stop children from getting in to play football. One was very happy to show us how to get in, but I (Laura) am afraid of heights, and scaling a 2000 year old rock wall to climb around a fence while suspended over mid-air 20 feet above ground is not my idea of a good time.

We travelled farther into Albania for some time spent with some friends Steve had made on earlier trips to the area. Last night we had the adventure of getting home. Our friend Andon gave us a ride to Tirana. From there we caught a furgon (a van taxi that has a scheduled route, though not scheduled stops or times, like a bus) to Skoder. In Skoder (at a restaurant named Podgorica) our kind furgon driver found us a taxi driver who drove us over the boarder, and then on to Podgorica.

Tomorrow, very early in the morning, we board the first of three planes toward our destination of Berlin, Germany for the Christkindle Markts. We will return on the sixth, so no posts until next Sunday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Around Podgorica

Wandering around the city of Podgorica, there are many things to take in. Here are some more of the sites of the capitol of Montenegro which we captured on our anniversary. First a brief history lesson. During World War II, Podgorica was apparently bombed by both sides of the conflict, effectively demolishing it. When Tito rose to power in Yugoslavia, he designed and rebult the city, naming it after himself. There are still remnants of the name Titograd to be found, especially on man-hole covers. We also went with our language tutor to a cafe named Titograd (It's near "Cheers").

Prior to WWI, Montenegro was a monarchy. King Nikola I and his family were forced to flee the country in 1915. After the war was over, Montenegro was annexed into the kingdom of Serbia. Since that time, the erstwhile ruling family of Montenegro has been living in France, although the current head of that family, Prince Nicholas (or potentially King Nicola II) visits anually, and says that if his people want, he will become their king (doesn't seem likely though). Near the "Scales" there is a large statue of King Nikola I on horse back. This is a handy landmark for remembering which street a certain restaurant we like is on.

The church of Saint George (no doubt named for the famed slayer of a dragon) is very old, and doesn't seem to have capacity for a large gathering, but seems to still have services, judging by the fact that it was wired for sound. This seemed incongruious with the fading but still extravagant decor of velvet curtains and altar cloths and gold bedecked icons of the saints. We were pretty sure that photography was prohibited inside so we only snapped shots of the exterior.

Near the indoor piazza there is a wall made of corrigated siding that was the original greyish color when we first arrived, then was painted white, and a few days later had quite a colorful mural of fruit and veggies on it. We are still not sure if it was the work of an artist commissioned by the city (or someone else) to paint it, of vandals, or of the children from the school across the street. This is only one portion of a fairly long wall.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Anniversary Montenegro Style

November 18th was our 2nd wedding anniversary, and we decided to celebrate by going to the Chinese restaurant (there is only one in Podgorica-at least this side of the river), and walking around areas of the city we hadn't explored before. The Chinese food was very good. We started with a trip to the post office where we found two anniversary cards waiting for us-good timing Grandma and Aunt Lois!

We found an area called Scales, that goes down to the river via stone steps and has many different paths. It looks like there used to be a castle there. We found several other places during our explorations, an old Orthodox church named for Saint George, and a bar where everybody "should" know our name :)

We got ice cream and bought some souvenirs, and came home and watched a DVD and skyped my best friend (and her sweet children). A good day all around.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Avoid Store Grand Openings

We walked down a "new" to us street today and came across a large supermarket that was having its grand opening. We needed groceries, and it was pretty close to our home, so we decided to check it out. Personal space went out the window! In the aisles, we would get separated, because only one of us could get through before a crowd of people would block the path. Once we made it to the check-out line, the old couple behind us kept pushing into us with their shopping baskets (at least they didn't have a cart!). While we were waiting in line, we saw a Milka mascot. Milka is a chocolate company, their mascot is a purple cow. As we exited we were each given a bag with free products in it. Steve gave away the bottle of beer to a man standing outside the store. We were uncertain what the one product was. Laura received a large bottle, and Steve a smaller one and the label said "sirka." At first we thought it was vinegar "sirče", but when Steve took a test sample we decided that it must be a briney substance used for making cheese "sir." As neither of us plans on making cheese while we are here, we will find some needy cheese-making family to pass it on to :). We also received between us small bags of sesame seed crackers, peanutbutter filled pretzels, and cherry and yoghurt flavored cookies (the type of cookies is called plazma-so I guess the store was a plazma donor). We have decided that we will try the store again at a less hectic time, and then decide if it is one we want to frequent, or if the longer walk to Delta City is preferable to the chaos of the Plus Market.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Life Without Candy Corn

Okay, I (Laura) will admit to being slightly addicted to candy corn. Last year in the States, I was able to get it from late September until the end of March. First it comes in autumnal shades of orange, yellow, brown, and there are the yummy accompanying pumpkins too :). Soon after Thanksgiving, you begin to find it in red, white and green (called "reindeer corn), or in shapes of Santa, bells and trees. After Christmas, it's just the red and white of Valentine's Day (Cupid corn) and finally a sort of pastelli Easter "bunny" corn. I don't know why I like it so much. It's just good (unlike circus peanuts).

It would seem that it doesn't exist over here. We did see a picture of it on a bulk food bin, but no candy corn inside (we figure it came with the bin, which was probably imported from America). My loving mother was going to send us some, but quite sensibly drew the line at paying $27.00 to ship a pound.

So, I will just have to spend a year without candy corn. I will have to make it up by indulging in much wonderful chocolate, and other candy I can get here. And then, as Steve informed me, I will really be able to appreciate the candy corn, which I took for granted before, when we return to the states.

PS. This is in no measure a plea for someone to send candy corn, it is too expensive, and I will survive :)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

We Got Mail

It's been two months, and finally we've received two actual pieces of "snail mail!" About a month ago, we found an envelope addressed to us, but it had been open and the contents removed. So at the advice of an acquaintance who works at the post office, we rented a post office box for the year. It's about a mile away, so every Tuesday and Friday we walk there to check for mail. It was getting a bit discouraging, because the long walk was not feeling very fruitful, but this past Friday, there were those two whole envelopes, just for us! We realize that with email, Facebook, Skype and our blog, staying in touch by snail mail isn't so necessary or easy, but it is nice to once and awhile have a tangible piece of evidence that people remember you exist.
This is not intended to guilt anyone into sending us mail, just sharing that we are so happy not to be forgotten.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Walk to Delta City

I really wish we would have brought pedometers along so we would know just how much we've walked since we arrived here. We walked maybe two miles yesterday to Delta City, a new mall that will soon have a movie theater (this is good since we were told the only other movie theater in Podgorica is falling down). There is a giant supermarket there, with more selection than our nearby Mex Centar. On the way, we took pictures of the Morača river, and a statue of Saint Peter of Centinje, who reminds me of the Elbonians from Dilbert cartoons. I guess it's the hat and robe :)

Along with groceries, we purchased a printer for our laptop, and since it was bulky, we decided to take a taxi home. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that they still haven't opened the road they were painting. It's been a week and a half! But we learned that there is a twisty back way to our building, probably not one we'll use often.

We also took a picture of Delta City, which looks pretty much like an American mall we think. If you wonder why I look a bit worried, we have to cross that intersection to get to the mall, and pedestrians don't really have the right of way here. You pretty much just go when you can.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Has It Been Two Months Already?

Two months ago today Laura's parents drove us to the airport (thanks Mom and Dad!) and we boarded a plane in Dulles, switched in Vienna and finally landed in Podgorica the next day where we were picked up by friends and driven to our new apartment.
Since that time we have met many new friends, traveled to several different countries, gone out for coffee or pizza often, visited parks, open markets and a museum, and have been having daily language classes.
Our friend Lazar took this picture of us in a park in Novi Sad.
We hope to go to the nearby town of Cetinje (the original capitol of Montenegro-it's where the King lived, they still have a Prince, but he is actually living in France, his family was exiled after WWI, that is where the cultural museums of Montenegro are.
We also will begin teaching/tutoring English to some middle school students starting next week. This will also help our language learning.
Our travel plans for the next little while include visiting friends in Albania for American Thanksgiving, going to the Weinacht's Markts in Germany in early December, and visiting friends in Italy for Christmas (December 25th-here in Montenegro, Christmas is celebrated in early January because of the mostly Orthodox population).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pada Kiša

Pada kiša means "it's raining" in Serbian. After a week's worth of sunny, 70˚ F days, we came out of a coffee shop last night to discover that it was raining. We had not taken our umbrellas (kisobrane) along, so we were a bit damp when we got in.
I'm not complaining about the rain, it's good. I wish it would stop raining in Philadelphia long enough for the Phillies to win the World Series though :)
If the Boston Red Sox had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, we might be a house divided, as Laura is a Phillies fan (since 1993) and Steve is a Red Sox fan (since forever).
It has been 28 years since the Phillies have won a World Series, 15 since they even went to it.
After some skyping with friends and family on Sunday and Monday, we feel pretty in touch with both for now. We even learned it snowed on Monday in Erie!
Sorry, no pictures for today's entry. I wish we had taken a picture of the way that they paint road lines and crosswalks here. It seems that they make a tape stencil of where they want to paint, load up a leaf blower with paint, and then spray for the crosswalk lines, and for the directional arrows on the road. For the lane division lines, the seem to have a small paint pump attached to a small loader, and they drive and spray. It really is funny. Plus they pretty much shut down the whole stretch of road they are working on for several days to do it.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Humming the music from "Fiddler on the Roof" right now :). We have been exposed to many of the customs and traditions of the former Yugoslavian culture, especially on our recent trip through Serbia.

We passed by a heritage museum, unfortunately it was closed for Sunday. We did get a shot through their display window. We were informed that the shade of blue on the dress (and the outer walls) is the typical traditional shade. I (Laura) really like the blouse!

We also saw a man making some home brew (brandy we were told). I'm not sure how well the "still" shows up. It is just to the left of the dark car on the right, and has a great deal of smoke coming from it. Not sure what the wheelbarrow is for. Steve said you could really smell it as you approached.
It is legal and customary for people in the Balkans to make their own alcoholic beverages.

But the funniest thing was watching a bunch of "Coffee culture" people standing around a small, portable, gas burner in the middle of a sidewalk, so that they could make their mid-day java fix.
The small silver "pot" is used for the traditional coffee brewing (a sort of "turkish coffee-usually very strong, and very sweet). It is then consumed from tiny china cups (almost child tea-set size). Steve prefers espreso, it was hard to find the pot to make that here, but some friends brought us one from Albania.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Novi Sad, Serbia, There and Back Again

We took a trip to Serbia for a conference with a group of friends. On our initial trip we drove through Bosnia and saw some of the war damage as well as some of the rebuilding. It took 13 hours to get to the camp where the conference was held, and was mostly without incident. Our final destination was near Novi Sad, the home city for some of our group. One evening we took a walk around the city and snapped a few shots.

The return trip we took a different route, traveling through Belgrade to drop off one of our group to visit his uncle. This ride should have taken about 10 hours, but it winded up lasting about 15. Apparently there is a regulation that mini-buses need to stop every four hours for half an hour so that the driver can rest. We also needed to make frequent potty stops (there were a dozen of us, and one was a small child). As we were driving up a mountain, we saw several guys pushing their car up, so we stopped and roped them to us, and pulled them until we came to a gas station. When we were about an hour from home we came upon an accident, where a driver flipped his vehicle and then wasn't able to feel his legs. We had to wait while the police extracted him from his vehicle. Apparently, this is usually a job for the fire department, but this town no longer had a fire department because in a case of tragic irony, their building had burned down (this reminded us of seeing a minor accident involving a car labeled "auto school"). Until the ambulance came and took the victim to hospital, and the police cleared the wreckage, we were there at least another hour. Then we drove home through many tunnels (I counted at least 33) of different length and droppped off people at there homes and we finally got to our home at 2 in the morning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Candid Moments

I realized the other day that we didn't have any pictures of us together since we were here. So, I took some. It is not easy , and they tend to look goofy, but I thought you might enjoy a few any way. CHEESE!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Millennium Bridge and more

The Millennium Bridge (or Most Milenjium) is the iconic bridge that was built in Podgorica, because they wanted something that could be easily identified. You see it, and you know "oh, that's Podgorica!" in the same way you can regcognize Sidney by it's opera house or Fenway Park by the Green Monster.

We were told that this bridge cost three times as much to build as the other bridges across the Morača (€6 million rather than €2 million).
I'm afraid that my photos don't do it justice. This looks a bit like an impressionist painting of it :),_Podgorica has more information, and a closer up picture. I rather like the romantic quality of mine though :)
Today we also went to an interesting museum, the Contemporary Arts Center of Montenegro. It is located in the middle of a park, behind the American Embassy (which we have not yet entered-we registered with them online). According to the museum's web page, there are a number of buildings, however, we only went to the Palace of Petrovic one. Inside there was art (mostly modern) from many different cultures. My favorite were the art works on the third floor, mostly from Asia, including some beautiful, large "paintings" that were made with embroidery floss! from Korea. There was no admission cost, we were the only ones in the musuem, except a staff person, and she gave us a small full color book of all the museums in Montenegro. Here's the link:
Also inside the park is a small chapel, and we saw a group of well dressed people followed by a priest in flowing vestments go in, and presumed it was a wedding.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Food Glorious Food!

We both enjoy food. Since we've been here we have tried many new things. Here is a sampling of some of our adventures in eating.
This is a fabulous curried lentil recipe that we found in the More with Less cookbook. I highly recommend it. After tasting how yummy it is, we can sympathize with Esau. It might be worth selling a birthright for :). (For those who might be wondering, Laura made it, and Steve is already asking for her to make it again).

And here are two taste temptations. The red things are truly amazing. They are dried strawberries. Not the dehydrated strawberry slices you get in cereal, but actually candied, strawberry "rasins." It's like eating an entire jar of strawberry jam concentrated into one berry. And the Luna bar is a wafer cookie covered in crispy rice, caramel and chocolate! Steve was familiar with these from before.

This Milka bar IS watermelon flavored. And the best part is, the watermelon is in the form of Pop Rocks. Just imagine the flavor of rich milk chocolate, milk cream, and watermelon popping in your mouth! It's actually very good.

These jaffa cakes are a soft cookie with orange maramalade and dark chocolate on top. I highly recommend them if you can find them where you are. I don't remember ever seeing them in the States, but there is a whole shelf of them in our local supermarket.