[Webmaster's note: This report was written by Biljana Ackovski Petrovic, a friend of BikeAbout. Biljana has graciously written this report to tell you what the BikeAbout team might have experienced had they been able to visit Yugoslavia. The opinions expressed in this report are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BikeAbout.]

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Yugoslavia (Montenegro)


picture of Biljana
There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a Belgrade citizen. Just as people here cannot plan their lives, they cannot plan their days either... simply because you never know what can hit you from where and why.


One thing is fairly dependable: in summer, you wake up to blue skies and heat. I went across the street, taking care not to wear heels which simply dig into the sizzling asphalt, and walked into my favorite grocery store, only to be told that it no longer stocks normal, pasteurized and homogenized milk without the obligatory vitamins A and D in it. Why? No explanations... So I opted for yogurt instead, which is brilliant, thick, and, unlike other European versions, something you drink instead of eating. There are loads of privately owned bakeries in town with rather good pastry, so instead of burek, the local greasy pastry with cheese or meat inside, I bought two croissants.


Most of the people in Belgrade simply can't communicate before their 2 Turkish coffees. This means that the phone starts ringing around 10 a.m.

I meet with my painter friend Snezana who's having her first one-man show in Belgrade next month and is naturally very excited about it. All this is in the midst of her preparations for emigrating to the U.S. Walking to an outdoor café, we meet all sorts of people. A journalist with whom I used to collaborate and who specialized in Internet-related articles, presents me with the book he has just had published. The biggest shock comes when I realize that it is war-related. However, he tells me that he had first printed it on the Internet so I suppose a relation between his previous and present interests still exists...


Belgrade (Beograd) is not what a person would call a pretty city. It definitely doesn't live up to its name (Beo = white, grad= city). If anything, I think of my friend Tiyane and his first reaction when he came to visit me. "Why is everything so gray here?"

Belgrade was initially founded as a Roman settlement called Singidunum, and survived a host of settlers and conquering armies. It was destroyed on a number of occasions, and bombed by both the Germans and the allies in World War II. The older buildings in the center mostly date from the beginning of this century and would be beautiful with a new coat of paint.

While sitting in the cafe and drinking mineral water, we run into my friend's cousin who's living in Vienna. With him is a friend who's living in Milan. The annual return of all those living abroad usually occurs in the summer months. While visiting our friends who simply weren't lucky enough to "escape," we from abroad complain of this and that, miss the free and easy atmosphere of Belgrade and talk about the general alienation trend in the world while those who stayed stare at us with wise and knowing eyes... They are too exhausted to even complain anymore.


Around 3 p.m., everyone rushes home for lunch, usually prepared by the "Mothers." Serbian mothers are an institution: overly protective of their offspring, dynamic and strong. While living under our parents' roofs (which the majority of the people do, due to lack of apartments and funds), we are treated as infants, regardless of our age, turning the majority of the 25-45 year olds into eternal adolescents, devoid of any responsibility and worry. We are nurtured with homemade soups and dishes, our clothes are washed and ironed ("No, just relax, you know you can't iron!"), our homes are spotlessly clean and all our faults are ignored. "She/he is still so young..."

My lunch (prepared by my mother) is delicious. Stuffed trout in wine, boiled potatoes, and beets with olive oil and finely chopped garlic. The vegetables are bought at the local open market, a meeting place for all conscientious mothers, as well as all others. The fish is a different story. My friend is on good terms with a fisherman who brings fresh trout to specially designated places once a week (i.e. to a certain apartment, all very hush hush). If you want to eat fresh fish you've got to have the right "contacts," a familiar word which opens all doors in Belgrade, ranging from food and jobs to the trendiest places and designer clothes which mysteriously appear in Belgrade for 1/10 of the "normal" price, etc. We've got one local farmer who brings in fresh cheese and eggs every Sunday, and another one who brings in his own organically fed chickens... There's no relaxing; you have to be on your toes every single minute of the day.

Afternoon activities or siesta

Something close to a siesta exists in Belgrade as well. The sacred and unspoken house rules are clear: no phone calls from 3-5 p.m. However, certain households don't adhere to this. So if you would rather do something other than nap (another Serbian cult), you mingle with those whose house rules are more lenient.

I opt for helping out in my favorite editorial office, the political weekly Vreme. Wednesday is the day when the newest issue closes and when the translators start working on the English edition. There is a general panic, but it is manifested in a laid back and friendly way. Even a general lack of funds can't wipe out the enthusiasm of the keepers of objective reporting, i.e. members of the independent media. Most of the people in the office are talking about the death of Nasa Borba, the oldest and most credible daily in Yugoslavia. This summer marks the preparation of the upcoming war against independent media. As was shown by Nasa Borba, pressure, lack of funds, and poor management can make even a credible daily go under. The stronger and far more powerful B92 radio station is next on the list. As of the beginning of September, the state-owned radio and television company is threatening to cut off their radio transmission.

Having chatted and completed all that I had for the day, I drift home. I pass through a park on my way and see older people happily conversing on the benches, children playing in the playground, parents driving prams, all very calm and peaceful, as if nothing is going on. People, and especially Serbians, seem to have a remarkable ability to adapt to anything.

Dinner and evening activities

When the lights fade, all of Belgrade suddenly comes to life. Everyone finds new energy, from those who are working in privately owned companies, and whose working hours stretch from 9 a.m. to 8, 9 or even 10 p.m. to those who just sit around moping all day. Telephones start ringing, plans are made.

Some DJs from London are playing at Barutana, a club situated in the oldest park Kalemegdan, originally a fortress built in the time of the pre-Turkish occupation. Barutana is in the place where gunpowder used to be stored. And then there are all the outdoor cafes. As it's 30° C (86° F) at 9 p.m., I am definitely more in favor of the latter. However, all cafés with a surplus amount of ringing mobile phones are to be avoided at all cost, unless you personally enjoy hanging out with the local mafia.

Dinner is around 9 or 10 p.m. and is a Serbian (i.e. Greek) salad, made with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, paprika, peppers, and feta cheese.

I decide to rush to a nearby Internet café and spend the next hour writing emails while my neighbor keeps staring at my monitor. At one point I ask, "Is it really all that interesting?" He answers, "Yes!" and continues reading. So much for privacy...

The usual going out time is between 11 p.m. and midnight since all places are open until the early morning hours. In the meantime, you sit around "drinking coffee" (another Belgrade cult) with friends. When a friend asks you to come around, he or she always says, "Come around for coffee" even if you end up drinking orange juice or wine. While "drinking coffee," you exchange the latest gossip and have these deep and meaningful conversations which probably explains why most people don't need to see a psychiatrist.

My friend and I rush off to rally the others. In the taxi I inquire of my friend about his new job and transportation mode to work, a major issue considering all public transport is disastrous - packed, hot and stuffy. Before my friend can answer, Zika the taxi driver (the Person of the Day) turns to me and asks, "So, where do you live?" immediately using the familiar 'tu' or 'du' form of 'you' instead of the polite 'vous' or 'Sie'. The next 15 minutes are spent in the following manner: he tells me of the mistakes he's made in life, gives me advice on how to cope with our typical counter-productive nostalgia (something that all Slavs living abroad seem to have) and finishes off by telling me who to contact in Munich and for what! He nearly gives me a hug at the end and refuses to let us pay for the ride. I wish him all the best, new chances and new countries in the future.

The café we go to - the Wonder Bar - has Latin colors and amazing samples of Wonderbras on the walls. However, the most interesting thing is that it has an air conditioner! Just as the Gauls had a dread of the sky falling on their heads, the Serbs dread drafts and air conditioners. The average Serb spends his days closing windows at home, in the office, and on public transport. God forbid a draft! People have been known to die from it! The music is good and everybody is smiling and drinking Sol or Heineken (4 Deutsch mark per bottle - see the Tech Fact of the Day). I look around and realize that all of us come from different backgrounds and nationalities, as most of our parents migrated to Belgrade from this or that republic at one point or another, turning Belgrade into a melting pot of all religions and cultures. Perhaps this is why most of us don't feel connected to any particular nationality and relate exclusively to Belgrade as a state of "belonging."

I bump into a friend who tells me that I can't reach him at home anymore because he's received mobilization orders that day and will be staying with various friends (which brings 1992 back to mind). I smile. A favorite word of late - escapism - comes to mind. All people living here now have found some sort of escape from reality.

Belgrade is a city of contrasts. It is a city whose atmosphere is urban and cosmopolitan, in the midst of a country that is sinking back into the Middle Ages.

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