A long weekend in Belgrade

26 Sep

Last weekend I was experiencing the delights of Belgrade in Serbia with a group of friends. Serbia is the 32nd country that I have visited in Europe, which means that I am slowly inching towards my goal of visiting 40 countries in Europe before I turn 40.

I was expecting Belgrade to be similar to Bucharest, where we visited in February this year but I was pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and clean. I would even argue that it is nicer than many cities in the UK. I was glad that we had a Serbian native in the group; it meant that it was easier to communicate (though I am sure it would be ok to visit even if you didn’t know any Serbian) and we went to some cool places that weren’t crowded with tourists.

Here are some of the highlights from our trip:

Food

I felt like all we did was eat. Serbian cuisine is very hearty, full of meat, potatoes and general deliciousness. I was surprised that it was allowed to smoke in the restaurant that we ate in on the Friday night. It has been so long since I have eaten indoors at a place where smoking is allowed. The atmosphere was great, especially as there were musicians going from table to table throughout the evening. Luckily, they didn’t come and seranade our table! In Serbia there is a type of salad that is basically just cheese. So I am now a reformed salad dodger.

On Saturday morning we had a traditional Serbian breakfast which is savory pastries with spinach, cheese and meat, as well as a yoghurt drink. Somehow the breakfast didn’t fill us up and we decided to have a unlimited mezze-style lunch. The idea was that they bring you small plates of food until you tell them to stop. We managed to eat everything from the list and then ask them for more. It’s important to get your money’s worth on holiday.

We had an impressive all you can eat brunch on Sunday which left us completely stuffed and was, compared with Swiss standards, incredibly cheap. We definitely didn’t go hungry.

Drink

Serbian beer is very tasty and I was happy to try several different brands. We also managed to find a Serbian cider which was a bit too sweet for me. It reminded me of Kopparberg.

Schnapps are also popular but I’m not a fan of drinking schnapps in general so I avoided partaking whenever possible. We also did some late-night drinking in a couple of trendy places.

Churches and architecture

Churches seem to be everywhere in Belgrade. I love looking around churches and those that we saw at the weekend were some of the most ornately deocrated buildings that I have ever seen. One small chapel in the Belgrade fortress also sold bottled holy water, famed for its healing properties but I decided not to purchase one.

There are some incredible-looking administrative buildings in the capital and they are all lit up at night which I think makes them look even more stunning.

Markets

We visited a market, which was a fresh produce market but also incorporates a flea market. Thankfully, we had already eaten by the time we walked around the market so we weren’t tempted into buying anything. I found it interesting that there were meat stalls or butchers where you can order your meat and they will prepare it and cook it for you so it can be picked up later in the day. It seems like a really good idea.

Escape rooms

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I love an escape room. We managed to do two while we were in Belgrade. We finished the first one so quickly that we had time to do a second one. The employee was very impressed that we managed to solve both of the rooms so quickly. We almost beat the record for both of the rooms. She even suggested that we enter the Escape Room World Championships which I am sure would be great fun and would possibly be the only way I will be able to claim that I have competed in a World Championship! We’ll have to see if anything comes of that in the future.

The Beach

I was shocked that there was a beach in Belgrade but there is. Of course, the beach isn’t on the coastline to the sea because Serbia is a land-locked country. The beach is a man-made beach on a lake. The weather was beautiful and I would have definitely gone for a swim if time had allowed. It was just nice to relax in the sun with a cold drink.

Thanks to Stefan (translator and organiser extraordinaire), Mark, Araz and Markus for being great travel companions on this great weekend.

I will soon be visiting my 33rd country in Europe in two weeks when I go to Kiev for a long weekend.

Arosa Animal Adventures

18 Sep

Last weekend we headed to Arosa in glorious sunshine to get in touch with nature. Arosa is famous in the winter for being one of the best ski resorts in Switzerland but there is also plenty to do in the summer.

There is an “Eichhörnchenweg” (“Squirrel Pathway”) which you can wander down and feed squirrels and birds. 

I was sceptical that the squirrels would be tame enough to come up to you and take food from you but they did. In fact, I would say that a few of them were very cheeky. They would take the nut from you, go and bury it in the wood and then come back to get another one. It was so much fun. We even spotted a very cute squirrel who looked like he was wearing white socks – we nicknamed him “White Feet”.

Birds wanted to get in on the action as well. There were some bigger birds that I didn’t like. Their claws dug into you when they swooped down to rest on your hand and their beak dug into you when they went to eat the nuts. I liked the little birds. You don’t really realise that they have landed on your hand because they are so delicate. I felt like Snow White with little birds landing on me.

After the squirrels and birds we took a gondola up the mountain to see the bears. Unfortunately, two of the bears were sick and they weren’t outside. But Napa, part brown bear and part polar bear, was happy to show off to the crowds. The bears have all been rescued from places where they have been drugged, forced to perform and chained in small cages. It’s sad that people feel that they have to exploit animals for their own amusement. I’m sure the bears are happier now, living on a Swiss mountain being looked after properly.

Of course, there were lots of mountains on the hillside as well. I don’t feel that I have had a lunch on a Swiss mountainside if I can’t hear the jingle-jangle of cow bells in the distance.

I had thought that the summer was over and days and weekends spent like this were already over but the weather seems to be good again, so I am hoping for one or two more days like this – enjoy the weather and nature before winter really begins.

Challenge #15 – completed!

11 Sep

I have just finished my fifteenth challenge on my 40 Before 40 list – to have something that I have written published. I can now officially call myself a published author!

Unfortunately, I am not publishing my debut novel (but I hope that will be coming soon) but a book of travel tips. I found the job online through a freelancing website and applied for it. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would to research and format the book but I finally handed it in last weekend. I got confirmation that the book has been accepted and will be published early this week.

I will get paid for the book, when it is released on Amazon in the next month or so. The amount of money won’t break the bank and that wasn’t the main motivation for doing it but it is a nice bonus.

Up until now, I have resisted marking this challenge as completed because I have had work published on other blogs, for example, but I have never been paid or rewarded in any way. I think part of being a published writer is that you get money for the work you have done.

It was interesting to take on a project like this because:

a) this type of writing was something completely new to me. I had a brief from the client that I needed to fulfil and a deadline when I had to submit by. A lot of the writing that I have done up until now has only been for me and, therefore, I haven’t had a hard deadline or a list of requirements to fulfil;

b) I was able to appreciate how much time and effort that goes into the researching, writing and editing process. These processes are very different from one another so you have to use different skills or learn them quite quickly;

c) my biggest problem with writing, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is that I find it hard to finish anything. I happily start writing about something but it soon goes downhill as I start thinking that what I’m writing makes no sense, isn’t good or both. I did want to stop this assignment. I was under no contractual obligation to complete it but I decided to push through and finally finish something. I am so glad that I did. I felt so satisfied that I had successfully completed the assignment. Plus, at the point in time when I thought about quitting I was about 75% of my way through. If I had’ve quit, it would’ve been a huge waste of effort.

I now feel more motivated to try and get some non-fiction writing projects and I seem to be gathering momentum with my fiction novel that has been parked out of sight and out of mind for a while.

If anyone would be interested in getting a copy of the book when it becomes available, please let me know. Though it will only be of use to you if you are planning on visiting a very specific place in Switzerland.

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Update on #40Before40

1 Sep

It is now two years since I decided to start my 40 Before 40 challenge. Basically I set myself 40 challenges to do before I become 40-years-old.

Here is the second annual update about how things are progressing.

To date I have completed 11 out of the 40 challenges. It doesn’t sound like a lot but I have at least 10 of the longer challenges started and well under way. I do still have three years left to go but I know that this time will fly by.

Here are the six challenges that I have completed over the past year:

Challenge #3 – Go paragliding

Challenge #17 – Write a diary for a year

Challenge #25 – Cook every recipe from one cookbook

Challenge #29 – Read The 40 Books that Every Woman Should Read

Challenge #31 – Take up a new sport

Challange #39 – Downsize

Here are some of the challenges that are currently in progress:

Challenge #2 – Visit 40 countries in Europe

So far I have visited 31 countries so far but by the end of 2019 that total should be up to 33. I have already chalked off all of the main countries off the list. Now I am left with some of the harder to get to places to get to. I hope that I will be able to visit at least 3 more countries next year but I will have to see when is the best time to visit some of the places.

Challenge #8 – Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list

I have seen 168 films from the list, so there is still some work to be done. I haven’t watched anything since around June time. I think movie are the sort of thing you enjoy more in the winter time. As the nights are drawing in, it means that it won’t be long until I sitting watching films again.

Challenge #26 – Learn how to fold 40 origami designs

The designs actually take longer to make that I thought they would but I have enjoyed learnign the designs that I have made so far. This is one challenge that I hope to have completed before the end of 2019.

Challenge #27 – Read 40 novels in German and Challenge #35 – Read 40 non-fiction books

For most of this year I have been reading English non-fiction books and these two challenges have been forgotten about. I am planning on focusing on these challenges in the last three months of the year.

Challenge #37 – Have a haircut at least 4 times a year

I prefer going to the dentist that going to the hairdresser. I have been doing well on this challenge until my haridresser ghosted me and moved back to the UK. I am now not convinced that the replacement I have found is right for me but I will stick with her or find someone else to do this so that I keep on track.

I have also decided to make one change to my list. I am going to change my Challenge #40 from starting and maintaining my own travel website to create a piece of artwork. I never intended on changing any of the challenges that I had chosen but after trying to start writing for this website, I realise that writing about travel wasn’t giving me as much enjoyment as I thought it would. The whole point of the list was to make sure that there were things on the list that I would enjoy doing. So, sorry, but that challenge needs to be replaced.

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Ciao August!

31 Aug

Another month of 2019 has flown by. So far, my favourite month of this year has to be August. It’s been a busy month but also a surprising month. I don’t want to sound too philiosphical but I feel as though I have learnt a lot about myself this month.

August started off with a trip to Dublin, with the aim of taking part in a 10k race. When we booked the trip sometime in March, it felt as though I had an age to get in shape and get myself ready. But time goes by so quickly and I knew that I wasn’t in the best shape to try and beat my personal best. I had a time in my head that I wanted to beat and I managed to be it by 3 minutes – which is about as long as a lifetime in running. The first 5km I manage to absolutely fly through and it got harder past the 8km as a lack of training began to show. I surprised myself because it was the most enjoyable running race that I have ever taken part in. This was mainly because I hadn’t placed myself under weighty expectations that I normally do.

I was so motivated after the race that I was determined to keep up with the running and get myself even fitter. But that hasn’t worked out like I was expecting. I’ve surprised myself about how quickly I lost that feeling of being inspired to continue with something and how lazy I can be when I don’t have a tangible goal in place. I hope to pick up where I left off in September.

I also went to a theatre workshop. It was a taster session for adults looking into devising theatre. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. One of the artistic directors told me at the end of the session that I was a natural performer and I should harness my potential. This revelation was a shock. Just two weeks before my 37th birthday someone was pointing out to me something that I had been completely unaware of. I’m not sure what to do with this piece of information but I have signed up to some more theatre classes starting in September. Let’s see what additional revelations come out of that.

One of the orchids that I thought I had killed about four months ago has suddenly bound back into life. I had been in denial for a long time and the plant has been in the living room looking flaccid and depressing. I’m glad that I didn’t decide to bin it. The leaves are now green and healthy. New shoots and flowers and yet to appear but I have a feeling they will be coming soon.

I went paragliding this month and I loved it. I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it and it was a very strange moment when we were told to run as fast as you can until your feet don’t touch the ground no more. I am already planning when I will go for the second time.

This month I looked after a cat for the first time. I have always been wary of cats. Most of them have a villanous glint in their eyes and I still haven’t fully recovered from when the school cat scratched the back of my hand when I went to stroke him at primary school. Even now I can see the streaks of blood running down my hand. The first time I opened the door I was greeted by an affectionate cat, who wanted to rub himself (and all of his fur!) all over my legs. I was armed to the teeth with instructions and was well-briefed on what I needed to do. It soon got to the point where I was looking forward to finishing work to go and see the little fella. So that was another surprsing thing about this month. He’s a bloody poser though!

So August has brought plenty of nice surprises. I have a feeling that September could bring more of the same.

Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 – completed

28 Aug

I have officially finished the first round of the Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 that started on 1st July. The idea is to read a book from 10 different categories. This is the third time I have participated in the challenge and, once again, I have read some interesting books that I wouldn’t have read off my own back.

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Here is a short breakdown of the 10 books I read:

Freebie (any book that is at least 200 pages long):

Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

I bought this from a second hand book shop about six months ago and I had no idea what it was about but I liked the look of the front cover.  I found this book very funny and relatable. I love some of the descriptions in this book. The story takes place on the day that Elvis died and tells the stories of three friends writing for a music magazine.

A book beginning with “F”:

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It was a long read, about 650 pages and the style of the writing took some getting used to. The book is about the Knight’s Templar and their alledged involvement in many historical events. The books centres on three bored editors at a publishing house who become obsessed by a theory that is put forward by a potential author. The plot is a complicated mix of history, religion and politics, which is right up my street. I absolutely loved this book, even though it was a challenging read at times.

A book with “rain”, “thunder” or “lightning” in the title:

The Rainmaker by John Grisham

I think this is the second Grisham novel that I have read. I like the style of writing – it is easy to read and the action flows at a good pace. This book was about insurance companies refusing to pay out on a policy. It was interesting to learn more about how these companies make their money and how the underdog can take on corporations. I wasn’t so keen on the ending. It seemed a little unrealistic to me but I won’t spoil the ending for people who want to read it themselves.

A book with a building on the cover:

The Last Tenant by Sarah Kisielowski

This is a book that was written by a friend of mine who goes to the same writing club as me. She has told me a lot about the plot and about the writing process and I am really interested to read the story for myself. The story centres around a man who has to go to Berlin to clear out the apartment of his maternal grandfather, who has passed away. He finds out about his family history through a series of recorded tapes that his grandfather has made. He is surprised to learn the truth about his family.

A book written by an author who has an initial in their name:

Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

I was slightly sceptical about how good this book was going to be. I mean I loved Harry Potter (when I finally got round to reading it) but not every one can right for children and adults with the same degree of success. However, it turns out that J. K. Rowling is the exception that proves the rule. The best thing about this book was that it was set in the countryside and it reminded me a lot about the village where I grew up. When a vacancy suddenly becomes available on the parish council when one of the councillors dies (that is what a causal vacancy is), there is competition to fill the role. The consequences are tragic and thought-provoking but there were part of the story that made me laugh out loud.

A book with an item of clothing in the title:

The Black Glove by Geoffrey Miller

I struggled to find a book for this category and I only found this one by searching the library catalogue. I read this book in one sitting. It was another easy read about the kidnapping of a man’s son who is then found murdered. The plot is complicated but the writing makes the action zip along at a good pace.

A book set in India:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve never read anything by Rudyard Kipling, apart from a few poems, so I thought this might be a good book to read. Even though many people claim that this is Kipling’s best work, I wasn’t a big fan of it. It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young boy growing up in India. I did like the descriptions of Indian culture and reading about how difference life is compared with living in Europe during modern times but the plot didn’t pull me in so that I wanted to read non-stop.

A book shortlisted for the Booker Prize:

Milkman by Anna Burns

This is a recent winner of the Booker Prize. I have heard quite a few bad reviews about it but I actually thought it was well-written. It took me a while (about 50 pages) to realise where the book was set – Ireland – because not much background detail or details to help the reader orientate himself to what is happening in the book. The narrator isn’t even mentioned by name (I don’t think). The narrative refers to “them” and “us” which, if you don’t realise where the book is set, it wouldn’t make any sense. I have heard people say that there is no plot to the book but I definitely thought there was enough things happening in the book to make it entertaining.

A book with a character who has supernatural powers: 

Carrie by Stephen King

I thought this book would keep me up all night. Even though it is a horror story, it wasn’t a blood-and-gore-type story. It’s about a girl with a very abnormal upbringing, who develops the ability to move things with her mind. I felt sorry for the title character because she is very misunderstood by her class mates and the people around her. The book ends with catastophic consequences for the whole town where she lives. I actually read this book very quickly and would recommend it to someone who wanted to read something that was a thriller without being too terrifying.

A book with the same title as a book in another genre:

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

This book made me cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried while I read a book. The story is about a kid who has facial deformities and what happens when he joins a mainstream school. The book is a children’s novel but it is also interesting to read as an adult. Keep the tissues ready for the ending though!

As usual I have decided to tackle the bonus round as well. It has take me so long to get round to writing up the first round of the challenge that I have already finished five out of the ten books that I have picked for the bonus round. So it might not be too long before I’m writing about next ten books I have read for the challenge.

40 Before 40: Challenge #3

26 Aug

Challenge Accepted. Challenge Completed!

My third challenge from my list is now completed. I have always wanted to go paragliding and for one reason or another I have never got around to it.

I began trying to complete this last year. During our trip to South America we tried and failed to arrange the excursion; first in Mendoza in Argentina with the Andes as a backdrop (but communication issues meant that we didn’t manage it) and then in Iquique in Chile with the landing spot on the beach (but the wind was too strong and we weren’t allowed to go).

Fast forward to yesterday and my third time lucky in Interlaken, Switzerland. Although it would have been a lot cheaper doing this activity on holiday in another country, we did have the added benefit or being able to choose a day to go when the weather was good to avoid being disappointed. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The skies were blue without a hint of a cloud and the sun was shining.

First of all we had to choose our pilot. When I found out that one of them was called Haydon, which is the same name as my nephew but spelt slightly differently, I knew that I had to fly with him. He was Australian as well, which meant a lot of banter and jokes during the flight.

Taking off was much easier that I thought it would be. You basically have to run as fast as you can until you take off and you run out of ground. I didn’t even have time to be nervous because it happened so fast. Plus the staff did a great job of making me feel completely at ease but perhaps not when someone mentioned, “We should be ok. I watched the Youtube video last night and I think I can work out how to do it.”

The feeling of being up in the air, hands and arms dangling free, was completely liberating. I genuinely felt completely safe throughout the whole flight. We were only up in the air for about 20 minutes, which went by very fast, but it worth it for the views.

Before landing you can do some rollercoaster tricks and loop-the-loops but I get sick just watching people on the teacup rides at fun fairs so I decided not to. I was more than happy to cruise down and enjoy the view instead.

Landing was almost as easy as taking-off. You have to start running a bit when you hit (not literally) the ground and after a few steps you are back on terra firma.

I am so glad that I made this one of my challenges and I have no idea why I left it for so long to do it. I would highly recommend anyone to try this, unless you have a fear of heights. I could have happily gone straight back up to do another flight as soon as I had landed.