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Back in the Saddle

Okay, okay….I know it has been much too long since my last post….would you believe me if I told you that I had two posts already written up that just “magically” disappeared while I was traveling? Yes? No? — well, regardless here I am now!

Towards the end of August I traveled to Kiev for a training conference for our secondary programs. It was a very informative 4 days of learning how the recruitment process is put together here, how we evaluate students who apply for our programs and how final decisions are made. It was a great opportunity to meet other American Councils field staff (as I had not previously met anyone working in other AC countries!) and to get a better grasp on our programs. A very busy, but useful time!!

Following the Kiev conference, I headed back to the States (re-routed due to the “Hurricane of the Century” to Chicago and then to Akron) and filled the next 5 days in Ohio with running around way too much, packing the rest of my stuff and helping Josh to button up the house in Seven Hills. It was a lot of work and I regret that I did not have more time to just spend with family and friends….on top of the running around, my body decided to betray me and I was sick for the entire week as well….ahhh…..the best laid plans…..some things just never work out how you want them too….

With husband in tow we arrived back in Belgrade on September 5th (Labor Day for all those in the US).ย  Our trip was definitely one to remember – starting with an overbooked flight from DC to Munich that then got changed to a different flight from DC to Frankfurt and an alternate option from Frankfurt to Belgrade. All in all the flights worked out and we arrived only 1 hour after we were originally supposed to.ย  As is customary, we waited with all the other passengers at the baggage carrousel for our 3 crates and duffel bag all checked in at Cleveland Hopkins….we waited….we waited….and kept waiting…..but alas! No bags! After filling out a report for missing baggage at the airport we me Misha who whisked us off to the grocery store (to pick up my long awaited yogurt —- which you would have read about had the blog not come up missing!) and then to the apartment.ย  Unfortunately getting back to the apartment was a little anticlimactic as we didn’t have anything to unpack….after a nervous night of thinking our luggage may be lost forever, we received a call the next day that our luggage would be delivered to the apartment and around 5pm an airport van pulled up with our missing pieces. It was a huge relief! (By that point, as I was so tired, I couldn’t remember what I had packed, but knew it MUST be important! – the only thing I could remember is that I had packed 5 packages of sugar free pumpkin peeps, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them!) ๐Ÿ™‚ย  — and yes, as soon as we got the bags, I tore into one of those packages! (needless to say, I am down to 1 lonely package…so sad….and it isn’t even Halloween yet!)

These last two weeks in Belgrade have been busy, fun and stressful all at the same time. I have really enjoyed showing Josh around and seeing Serbia through someone else’s eyes (he will have to give you his take on….let’s call it….”Serbian fashion”….) and seeing the little things that I don’t see anymore. This week we celebrated his 34th birthday which gave us our first opportunity to go to a restaurant here (amazing smoked trout!) and at dinner I asked him if he ever imagined in his life that he would be celebrating his birthday in Belgrade, Serbia, to which he promptly replied “No!” – but then said he is loving every minute of it (I am sure not EVERY minute, but hopefully most!) In these last two weeks at work we have been gearing up for our recruitment season, as we will start interviewing students who apply for our secondary exchange programs and I also attended two events (one at the US Ambassador’s house and one at the British Ambassador’s residence). I also started travel planning as I have several trips coming up. It looks like October and November will be crazy!

All in all I feel like I am getting to know Belgrade more and more every day and finding a niche here. I do find myself watching “Hot in Cleveland” every chance I get and love the references to the “Cleveland Playhouse” or “Lakewood”….just nice to hear something familiar from time to time….

Just found the blog I thought was gone forever!! From August:

It seems that since I moved to Serbia that all I can think about is food….what will I eat?…..where can I find____?….I wonder if they have?….Due to my….er….”special” way of eating (insert sarcasm here) thinking about what my next meal will be has really consumed a lot of my thought process since I got here. Prior to leaving the US, I checked the website for my staple food – my absolute favorite food – my lifeline – Fage Total 0% Greek Yogurt – and found out that they sell it here in Serbia. So, with a sigh of relief, I said to myself, “This food thing in Serbia, won’t be so bad, at least they have Fage. Fast forward to 5 weeks later and I still have been unsuccessful at finding this delectable product here. I have been to the Greek supermarket three times, looked up and down all the refrigerated aisles to no avail! Each time, I go with my hopes held high, and each time I leave disappointed.

About two weeks ago I decided to take matters into my own hands and contacted the Fage company in Greece (Yes, the yogurt is THAT good that I contacted the company in Greece) to find out what was going on. Unfortunately the gentleman responsible for Serbian distribution was out of the office so they gave me his name and number and told me to call back in a week. I called today and just got his voice mail, but left my email address for him to contact me….can you believe it? He just emailed me back! I was so surprised that he responded. He sent me the name and email of the person in charge of the supermarket here that is supposed to carry the Fage products. I have now sent him an email, and am hoping I will hear back soon. The wait continues, but I am so hoping that my persistence will pay off.

UPDATE:

Today I got the following message – Imagine my elation at such a note!!:

Dear ms Lisa ย 

Today the truck withย  FAGE yogurt is coming here
I hope that we will have the yogurts after one week
I will send for you 3 cases of TOTAL 0% in the supermarket.
You have to call the manager of the store.
You have to be sure that I will order the pieces of the total that you need.

I emailed him back immediately to confirm my interest and that I would contact the store’s manager. I hope this will work!

UPDATE: When we arrived back in Serbia on September 5th we went directly to the supermarket to find the manager of the store. I told him my name and that I was the “crazy yogurt lady” after which he directly brought out 3 cases of Fage yogurt – it was quite possibly my happiest day in Serbia yet!ย  I know many of you won’t understand my love of this creamy goodness, but there are others of you out there that are just as big of fans as I am….and if you aren’t, seriously, go try it….you just might understand….

Mixing It Up

Some of you may know that I love to cook, so you might imagine that it was a difficult thing to bid a temporary farewell to all my favorite kitchen appliances – my Kitchen Aid Mixer, the Breville Toaster Oven, my Cuisinart Food Processor – because they operate on American voltage and not on the 220-240 voltage system here….very sad….why isn’t power universal?? and for that matter what is the deal with the metric system and Celsius? We all need to get on the same page!

Well….my lack of kitchen appliances finally got to me today I had to make up for it a little….

Introducing my new mixer/chopper/blender —-all in one contraption!

Seriously, why don’t we have things like this in the States? I think that Bosch has made items like this due to the typically small space available in European kitchens – but these would also be great in the American market as well. This little guy does 4 things in one and I can’t wait to use it – up first, lentil soup! ๐Ÿ™‚

In case you are interested, you can actually buy a machine here that acts as a bowl mixer, blender, juicer, food processor, chopper all in one eliminating the need for many machines and integrating it all in one handy appliance about the size of a Kitchen Aid Mixer. Sadly it is out of my price range at the moment at $300, but a girl can dream, can’t she?! (praying the dollar will go up some day!) Amazing! Check out the pic of that:

Who would have thought that a little can of Diet A&W Root Beer could make someone’s day?

Today I got access to the US Commissary and I feel like I have a “golden ticket”. The commissary is maintained by staff at the embassy and they carry certain American products that are not available locally. They also have an ordering system where 4 times a year you can place an order by case for what is on their large inventory list (I can do that in September and it will be delivered in October – can’t wait!)

In addition to my coveted root beer (4 cans to be exact) I bought 2 cans of diet Dr. Pepper, French’s Yellow Mustard, Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard, Frank’s Hot Sauce, Heinz Ketchup, McCormicks Nutmeg, 2 packs of Morning Star Veggie Burgers, 1 pack of Morning Star Chicken Strips and Bounce Dryer Sheets — you know, the “essentials”. ๐Ÿ™‚

Seriously, I am in seventh heaven and I know exactly what I am having for dinner tonight!

All this made me think of that special song my sister and I used to sing when we watched Willie Wonka in our younger days. Enjoy!

I’ve Got a Gold Ticket

Welcome Home!

This past week/weekend was a whirlwind of activity. Traveling at the last minute from Belgrade to Macedonia and then on to Albania was unexpected, but went very well. While in Macedonia I attended a reception hosted by the Embassy for some of our departing high school students and their parents. It was a great event and fun to talk with the kids about how excited and nervous they are! From Skopje, Macedonia I headed to Tirana, Albania via car (very interesting trip!) to observe some of the interviews for our program that brings faculty from universities in the region to the US for 5 months allowing them to further enhance their programs when they come back. I was really impressed by the quality of the applicants and can’t wait to hear the final results! From Tirana I took another 4 hour car ride to Podgorica, Montenegro where I caught a flight back to Belgrade on Friday night.

I am happy to announce that I have finally moved into our new apartment! After an extensive search in Belgrade with 3 different realtors and some rental negotiation, I decided on a 2 bedroom apartment that has a separate (and might I say, impressive – at least to me!) 68 square meter terrace in the center of Belgrade! (and yes, we are a 5 minute walk from McDonald’s! – so when those American cravings kick in, we are all set!) Of course compromises had to made, but in the end I am really happy with the choice and I think it is the best apartment out of all the ones I saw. It came down to functionality versus character and then considering space for visitors and price. I gave up on some of the character, but got got something that I think will work out the best for us in the end. I am loving it right now!

I was really excited to finally get to move and unpack! Moving is pretty much the same experience everywhere, lots of organizing, moving boxes and trying to figure out how to squeeze everything into a tiny space — I have to admit it is actually not my favorite thing to do (even though it seems like I do it a lot!) Saturday afternoon I headed over to the new apartment with Misha and after carefully orchestrating together how my luggage would make it from the ground floor to the 6th floor (7th in American standards) in the tiniest elevator known to man –got everything up to the apartment and officially “moved in”! Of course moving was not without its drama. The landlord, who had been nice up to this point, decided to switch the television that was in the apartment with a different one. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but when I decided to rent the apartment there was a huge TV there. As I am unsure at this point what our entertainment options will be, I pictured lots of movie nights this winter, so it came as a big surprise to me when I arrived an there was a little television perched on top of the entertainment center. Unfortunately all my negotiating power went pretty much out the window as there I was standing in the apartment will all of my luggage around me. –What to do? Should I take it all back down in the tiny little elevator in 5 more trips? hmmmmm……didn’t sound like such a great idea to me…..considering I was by myself it sounded like an even worse plan….and then there was the fact that my landlord is a lawyer – meaning negotiating is his JOB, so……yep, you guessed it…..they somehow convinced me I should be happy I got to move and in the end, I was! I gave up on the big television dream and started settling in.

Sunday meant a big trip to the Serbian equivalent of Walmart/Sam’s Club where I picked up the “essentials” for the apartment. I have found out, unfortunately, that household items (equivalent of what I would buy in the US) are really expensive here and things add up really quickly. I thought some of you might be interested to see the new apartment as it looks now so I included a slideshow below. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope to be able to slowly add touches to our apartment and decorate it, but for now I am just so glad to have a place to unpack, unwind and call “HOME”.

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Week 1 in Belgrade

I have just finished my first official week in Belgrade. I will admit it feels like I have been here longer than that — a least it has been an interesting 7 days! I get the feeling that every week in Belgrade will be like this – unpredictable – which is a nice change!

Street View From Temporary Apartment

This week: I arrived with all luggage (amazing!), went to the police station to register, started my new job, met my amazing colleagues, apartment hunted, went back to the police station to register again, did more apartment hunting, survived the major water leak at the temporary apartment, planned travel out of the country for this week, signed a lease, set up meetings, had my first McDonald’s burger in Belgrade, moved to a different temporary apartment and even tried to track down (unsuccessfully) my favorite Fage yogurt in not one but three different supermarkets — not bad for one week!

All in all everything here is going well – I am doing my best not to count down the days until I am back in the States (35! – wait, I said I’m not counting!) and focus on the tasks at hand (which there are a lot of!) If all goes well I should move into our real apartment this weekend (more on that in a later post), but first, rather unexpectedly, I am traveling to Macedonia and Albania on official business. It will be a busy week!

The weather in Belgrade is playing tricks on all of us. Last week it was the kind of weather where you had to literally peel your clothes off when you got home and today I could have sworn we were in the middle of October with wind and rain….unpredictable – just like my days and just the way I like it!

Today was my first full day in Belgrade and also my first day of apartment hunting. I believe looking for a place here isn’t so terribly different from looking in certain places in the states, like New York. There are realtors here who charge between 50% to 100% of one month’s rent as a “finders” fee for the apartment and you work with them to get the appointments for the apartments you are interested in seeing. Landlords are able to list their apartment with any realty agency – even multiple agencies if they so desire, which can make it confusing if you are using more than one realty company (there are no rules against this) and I am using three….

Today I met with two different realtors and saw a total of 10 apartments – yes, 10! — Let’s say about 70% of those were without elevators so there was a LOT of stair climbing happening in today’s 95 degree weather. All in all it was a good experience. Each of the apartment owners met us at their respective places and showed us around (Sanja from my office accompanied me as well). There was a wide range in what I saw from one to two bedrooms with balconies without balconies, in different parts of town and in various condition. I took many pictures for reference and at the end of the day I was able to narrow the lot to a few favorites. Tomorrow I will be seeing about 8 more and hope to make a final decision from there.

I have a dream to be able to move in to my new home by Friday — we’ll see if I can make that into a reality. ๐Ÿ™‚