I have been in Belgrade for 3 days now. I love the city. From about ten minutes into it I felt like I could live here and be happy (except for all the smoke, but we shall get to that later).
It has been cold and rainy since my arrival, and it fits every notion I had in my head of a the beautiful grey bleakness of Eastern Europe. I arrived at the Hotel Excelsior, which is where my ex-diplomat boss likes to stay, and found that it stands bang opposite the National Assembly which is in an ex-Palace and looks like this (but without the snow).
This part of town is full of hangovers from a greater Yugoslavic past, lots of imposing buildings with fountains in front and wide roads. I love the rain. It fees delightful to be sploshing across puddles, while not freezing away. It is May, so everyone from Belgrade that I have spoken to is peeved about it, but since I just escaped an unusually unpleasant summer in Bangalore, I'm not too unhappy.
Prices in Belgrade are a relief from the unrelenting ridiculousness of Switzerland. Everything seems reasonable, and I had the most wonderful dinner, with drinks and dessert, at a very lovely restaurant for the amount I spend on a general- bought on the go from a supermarket- lunch in Geneva. And the food- day 1: bacon wrapped chicken breast with a spicy cheese salad and chips. On my second day I returned to the same restaurant and asked the waitress for something light with vegetables. Looking thrilled she said, leave it to me and marched away, only to return with 5 bits of fried aubergine and an enormous piece of chicken schitzel covered with a mushroom and cream sauce. She scowled when I wasn't able to clean my plate, and went off in a huff when I told her I wasn't able to deal with Serbian portions. She was mollified later, when I ordered a glass of rakia (a sort of fruit brandy- that is usually 40-50 % alcohol), and stayed to chat with me about things I should do while in town. After three sips of the stuff I stopped, and this time she laughed at me, because i was beginning to drop thing. Even on a full stomach quince rakia is too much for me.
The workshop I am here to attend is held at the Police Academy. Like so many other college messes the food here is not so bad that it is inedible, nor good enough to inspire you to really want to eat it. There are 25 other people who go to lunch with me, and this is what most of then eat: 2 or 3 hunks of bread, a bowl of soup, a plate of leafy salad, a plate with sides- usually mashed potatoes or chips and boiled veg, two medium sized pieces of meat or one large piece stuffed with cheese, and a slice of cream filled cake for dessert. And this is just the average. Most of the men eat more. A few of the women eat less. There is also no way to tell the women at the counter to give me a small serving of anything. Even when I say this in Serbian they look at me blankly and then move on. So when I waste half or more of the food on my plate my worried hosts keep asking if they should get me something different, but the problem is not a lack of things to eat, it is the excess.
This evening I shall go to a restaurant inside a converted opera house. Will report on this tomorrow.