Kalenic Pijaca – Belgrade’s Green Market

During my first week in Belgrade, I set out to find Kalenic Pijaca, which is Belgrade’s largest green market, located only a few minutes walk from our home.  Unfortunately, I got there too late, and it was closed.  So I snapped this picture, just to confirm that it was even the right place.

All of the vendors and their colourful produce had gone.  Sweepers were just finishing up for the day.  It all looked very utilitarian and grey.  Now when I hear from Belgrade that COVID-19 has closed all their green markets, so the above image is what I see in my mind’s eye. Such a sad thing, as the Kalenic Pijaca was such a big part of the local community. But this pandemic too will pass and it will eventually be back to its colorful self.

Kalenic Pijaca

Kalenic Pijaca – fully loaded!

After years of putrefying vegetables in Manila, fresh, but dodgy vegetables from Kathmandu that needed to be sterilized before eating, and overpriced, baggy vegetables from Jamaica, the supply in Belgrade was cheap, fresh, local, seasonal and very varied.  It was a cook’s dream.  Every visit, your favourite retailers would be there but, there were always new ones to discover, especially on weekends.  I found fresh blueberry juice, homemade jams and avjar,  fresh and dried flowers,  imported olives, different Serbian and Greek cheeses, fat free bakery products and wild greens of every type.  Upstairs there was an old fashioned cheese, ham, bacon and meats section, which was like stepping back in time to 1952.  At the back of the market, there was a pasta alley, a fishmonger area, and along the far edge, a gypsy market selling used clothing and all kinds of very battered bits and bobs.  We even had a French Serbian guy selling imported French cheeses.  I wonder if he is still there?  At the entrance, if was common to see older Serbians crouched on the ground, selling small items they had handmade or brought from their gardens: knitted hats or gloves, olives, capers, vine leaves, dried lavender or rosebuds..  Gypsies sold random things from “the back of a lorry,” and old guys played chess or backgammon on upturned vegetable crates.

Small bricks and mortar stores formed the perimeter of the market. There, one store that sold mainly eggs, always had a long queue out the door and down the street.  I never did figure out the attraction.  The world’s best eggs?  Or simply the cheapest prices?  I asked a Serbian friend and she said that long lines attract people.  It didn’t really matter what they were selling, if the line was long, people would join it.  I’m not sure that was really the case, but she may have a window into the Serbian mentality that I never gained?

Shopping was tough going at first as I knew not one word of Serbian.  Fortunately, the prices were mostly marked and the exchange rate was easy.  So we communicated with fingers, the occasional German –I at least know German numbers– or simply a pen and paper.  Vendors were nearly always patient, friendly and honest when I held out my wad of small notes and let them pull the correct amount.

The market was our destination nearly every weekend, and the third in the trifactor of reasons that the city really grew on me.  I miss Kalenic Pijaca, but unfortunately I am not alone.  I’m sure the local miss the centrepoint of their community more, and look forward to their market reopening sooner rather than later.

Here are a few random videos that I took a while back.  Hopefully it will give you the feel of the place;



A Sense of Neighbourhood

Our favourite corner cafe for a coffee after shopping at the green market.

OK. I think what is happening here is a list of my favourite things about Belgrade. Walkability was definitely in the top 3, as was the sense of neighbourhood that we developed in a fairly short time.  When I look back at my time there, it is one of the things I miss the most.

Our street was a small, quiet one, just off the main boulevard in the city.  Close to the big Tasmajdan Park, it was only a 15 minute walk to the Serbian parliament, and a half an hour walk from the Danube river and the city’s main tourist attractions.  We were in the heart of the city; Yet, when I stepped outside it was relatively quiet.  A few steps around the corner, the roar of the traffic on Alexander Boulevard was deafening, but we were far enough back that the lights and noise never bothered us.  Sometimes in the early morning, you could hear the squeak of tram brakes or dogs barking but, although we were all piled on to of each other in a sea of apartment buildings, I rarely heard yelling or blaring TVs. 

The view from our back porch. Not particularly appealing at first glance, but I actually grew to see it as a community over time. And the apartments are much fancier inside than they look.  Clearly no one pays condo fees, as the exterior and grounds were crumbling.  But when you looked hard, you could see who did maintenance and who didn’t.

The parking situation on our narrow street was a mess. There was rarely a parking spot available, so people invented spaces by parking on the pavement or on corners, blocking the sidewalk for pedestrians.  The traffic wardens never seemed to be around at the right time.  Many a time, I cursed out parked vehicles, as I could barely navigated between them.

Our little street

The neighbourhood had lots of tiny, mom and pop type businesses.  Some were traditional and had been around for years, but many of the smaller units came and went in a very short period of time.  On our tiny street alone–in just two years–we gained and lost a delicatessen, a fresh pasta shop, a greengrocer, two hairdressers and a coffee shop that was a favourite stop for us.  Andrew, the owner, turned a tiny 10 square meter space into a welcoming, friendly local stop.  He doubled his seating capacity by renting the parking spot outside his shop and constructing a very pleasant seating platform outside.  It added charm to our street and helped keep him in business.  But a year later, the new mayor ran on a promise to increase parking spaces in the city and ceased renting them out to businesses.  So our street gained one parking space and lost our only coffee shop.  A poor trade in my opinion. I missed Andrew’s stories and how he would introduce local residents to me.  Through him and my wonderful hairdresser, Jelena, I got to know my neighbours and they seemed to like chatting and practicing their English with me.  In return, I practiced my basic Serbian on older shopkeepers, who knew only Russian as a second language.  It was the first time I was out of an expat bubble and in a safe place where I could felt part of the community.  I really miss that.



Out and About in the City

Belgrade ParksBelgrade is essentially a very walkable city, and that’s probably the thing I was most excited about when we moved there.  Sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks, parks, underpasses and pedestrianized shopping areas, all helped make Belgrade a city that doesn’t place the car before the humble walker.  Its sometimes not the most beautiful of cities, but the city planners always seem to make a place for people to walk, talk and meet with nature.

Our prior home cities were terrible for pedestrians: crazy drivers, unsafe lights, snatch and grab opportunists on motorbikes,  wild dogs, professional pickpockets, giant potholes, missing or unsafe paving…we’ve had it all! Belgrade offered the opportunity to aimlessly wander around and just blend in.  Aside from using general commonsense and situational awareness, it didn’t take constant vigilance like other places I have lived, and I could look around me, not always just over my shoulder.

But, it took a while to find an exercise routine here.  I tried several gyms and dance classes and didn’t like any of them.  Too much techno-beat “music” and yelling!  The gyms were full of sweaty, muscled males and the yoga classes were all in Serbian.  Then I discovered a pilates reformer studio, where the ladies tolerated my terrible Serbian and I grew stronger limbs and core over about a year using their torture chamber-like devices.  I always dreaded going (a bit) but always came away glad I did.

Tasmajdan Park

To broaden my exercise mix, I added walking routines to get the cardio, alternating with my trips to the pilates studio during the week.  Tasmajdan Park was a close-to-home favourite and, as the second largest park in the city, I learnt to weave a path along the many small trails so I could manage a 5k loop.   In the summer months, sometimes it was a bit too crowded with small kids, tricycles, dogs and ice-cream waddlers, but I usually managed my way around them and enjoyed the freedom of being in a kid-friendly space.  As a regular, I spotted the routines of others: the guy who played his synthesizer for tips at the bottom of the fountain stairs, the various honey and cold drink vendors, the Russian weightlifter types who hung out on the outside gym bars….  Occasionally, a special event would take over the park and there would be a concert, a food festival or a beekeepers fair where I could stop and explore.  Rarely were the crowds so big that they drove me away.

Tasmajdan Park

Beekeepers Festival in Tasmajdan Park. Not just honey!

In the winter when the sun went down early and it was too dark to go walking in the park, I walked home from work instead.  It took about an hour on foot.  Belgrade’s pedestrian bridges and underpasses made the traffic safe, and after work there were always enough people around to not fear the dark.  Halfway home, I’d sometimes stop at St Sava, Belgrade’s iconic Orthodox church and people watch for a little while, especially in the long Christmas season, which spans from November to January, and the church sparkled with Christmas lights.  St.  Sava is probably the city’s most important icon, and I loved that I could walk there from home.

St Sava church, Belgrade

Early evening at St Sava, snapped on my walk home from work

Welcome to Belgrade: The Big Red Pepper


If New York is the big apple and LA the big orange, Belgrade has to be the big red pepper.  They were piled shoulder high when we arrived in the summer and were somehow still showing up in the green markets in mid-November.  Serbs love their peppers.  They show up on every menu, mostly as a splash of colour on skewers of grilled meat, and also as ajvar, a tasty red pepper meze dip, that I am suspicious every one has their own special recipe passed down from their grandmother.  Along with its evil twin, kajmak (a deliciously, decadent cream cheese spread that is about 1000 calories per teaspoon), ajvar goes with everything: kicking up grilled meats, salads and sandwiches to a whole other notch.

It was a common site to see men returning from the open air markets carrying two bursting grocery bags of just red peppers.  Their wives had obviously sent them off to get supplies while they prepared giant pans of boiling water, ready to jar and stash the season’s ajvar supply.  Simultaneously, all over the city during the weekends of late summer and early fall, these same guys could then be seen grilling the peppers in the open air, until the skins were black and the vegetables ready to be processed into Ajvar.  Recipes often include some grilled eggplants too, to add a little bulk and extra smokiness, I think.

Here’s a recipe in case you feel like making it:

  • 1 kilo red peppers (Serbians use the long, thin variety but bell peppers would work)
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 10 cloves of garlic, mashed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Grill the peppers and eggplant until charred all over and soft.  Put the hot vegetables in a bowl and cover with a lid.  They will slowly cool and sweat, so when they are cool enough to handle, the skins will come out easily.  Scrap away the blackened pepper skins, removing the stalks and seeds.  Scoop out the eggplant flesh.

Put the pepper and eggplants into a mixer along with all the other ingredients.  Blend until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and season with more salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Let cool to room temperature then transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.





Belgrade Train Station Revisited (Finally)

Back before I arrived in Belgrade in October 2017, I did post on my only experience of the city from back in the early eighties: a train trip in the dead of night on my way to Athens.  It was my first time crossing over from the familiarities of  western Europe to the wild, wild east, and I vowed to revisit the station once I had settled in to our new Belgrade home.  Things didn’t turn out the way I planned.  The station wasn’t near to our downtown apartment and nowhere close to anywhere else I needed to go.  Time slipped by.  I discovered cheese pies a-plenty elsewhere, and my attention turned to exploring our neighbourhood and finding my feet. But returning to the train station was a niggle in the back of my mind.  It was an act of consolidating past and present, and an opportunity to see the world through more mature eyes, rather than just a blog post promise to myself.  Yet, somehow ,I never could quite prioritize the trip when the free time arose.  Finally in the spring of 2018, when the warm weather beckoned us outside, on impulse, I took the 40 minute walk to the Beogradska Zelenznicka Stanica.



How different it looked from the street side on a sunny, spring morning compared to my memory of the dark, smokey interior of the train that night!  The streets were full of people enjoying the first warm day in ages, and I dodged trams and traffic to cross and enter the quite grand-looking, main building.


Once inside though, I entered a time warp from the old, post-war, communist era.  The station’s main and ticketing halls didn’t match the charm of its late 19th Century exterior, and had clearly been refitted circa-1950 and never updated.  It was strangely comforting in a way, because reality was starting to match my vague memories of the place.

I poked about a bit, wondering if it was possible to make it through to the trains without a ticket.  Unimpeded by guards or barriers, I soon found myself on the platform area, and I walked to the checkered tablecloths of the station’s only platform cafe.  Here’s the opportunity to get that cheese pie, I thought.  “Imas pita sa sirom?,” I asked the waiter.  “Ne,” he said, and rolled off a list of menu items that I had no interest in.  I thanked him and ordered a beer, so I could sit and watch my surroundings.  Well, it didn’t really matter now, as I had become an expert in the matter of Serbian cheese pies and had basically decided that they are good, but I prefer the Greek-style pie, although I don’t think any pie will ever match the giant one I ate so many years ago!

I glanced around me.  The modern station was smaller and scruffier than I remembered.


Weeds grew up between the railroad ties, and I noted that the two tracks in front of me had terminal barriers.  Clearly these tracks were the end of the line and not the same international through lines that I had traveled before.  The train from from Novi Sad came in and terminated in front me.  People rolled off and quickly dispersed into the terminal.  Yes, clearly these were only local trains.


The scruffiness came from the lack of maintenance over the last few years, as Belgrade station was being slowly phased out for relocation.  The old station building is part of a giant Belgrade waterfront development, which will bring a modern, multi-use complex to the centre of the city, including shopping malls, residential apartment buildings and a cultural centre.   It’s a controversial project with many claiming that it will destroy the local community, although some well-planned, culturally sensitive redevelopment of the city is well overdue. It would be good to revisit the site in a couple of years, when it is hopefully completed. Fortunately the plan is to preserve the old railway station and turn it into a museum, eventually rehousing the popular Nikola Tesla museum into a new city centre location.

Procrastination almost resulted in never being able to revisit that day.  Just a few weeks later the station closed permanently and whatever re-emerges from the renovations will not be anything like my 35 year old memories, which is just as well.  The world needs to move on.


November 2017… Wow…just wow!


That was the last time I blogged.  I can hardly believe it, and yet for the all the changes and tumultuous things that have happened since I drew a line on this blog symbolizing a fresh start in Serbia, it also feels like a very long time ago.  Life in Belgrade threw up challenges and difficulties that I could never have predicted.

I don’t like blogging about negative things.  I can see how writing about life’s challenges can be a cathartic experience–I really can–but it has never been for me, either in a public or private diary.  Right now ( and like a great many people, I’m sure), what I need to reflect on  is the positive and joyous things in life.  In between unemployment due to Tillerson’s hiring freeze; serious, prolonged illness in our family; and our current situation where our family is scattered across three continents — there was a Belgrade that made me happy and gave me a wonderful feeling of home.   So right now I want to move forward by looking back at the life-affirming good things, to remember that once this COVID-19 nightmare is over, there will be more of them down the road.  So stand by for a walk through my Belgrade memories.  Stay safe, everyone.

UVWXYZ: Closing Jamaica


I just ran out of time.

June came and so did the pack out preparation, then the packers, then the mad last minute rush of things to do before our exit.  By the end of June I was in London, suddenly literally (and figuratively) thousands of miles away from Jamaica.  At the end of August we arrived in Serbia and have been busy reversing all the actions that kept us so occupied during the last few weeks in Kingston. The weeks rolled by.  My blog has sat silent for an unbelievably long six months, as almost everything in my life has changed, and I still kept kicking the blogging can further and further down the road.  Anyone who has ever blogged will understand that it is hard to reignite a neglected blog.  Certainly part of the procrastination is pondering its value in the first place and whether it still serves me and the handful of people who read it.

I don’t have the motivation to finish the drafts for the end of the alphabet:  U is for Unsafe, W is for Watering Holes (bars), V is for Vendors, Y is for Yams, and Z is for Zion will probably remain unpublished.  But the exercise did serve me well, as it forced me to dig into some of what I had learned and experienced–good and bad– during what was a really unsettled and quite unhappy time in Jamaica.  I regret that things weren’t more generally positive , but now it seems that the reasons are less important than the need to move on and turn the page.  So here it is — the line — and a fresh start in a Belgrade.  Stay tuned!

WPC: Baby Elephant Playmate

Down in Chitwan, Nepal in the late afternoon, the nearby river was the favourite place for the local kids to play. The rowdy young boys played football and swam in the water together. Our resort elephant took her daily bath and her three month old calf lolloped around the riverbank looking for a friend.  The kids would chase her and encourage her to push and wrestle them to the ground.  I thought it was so great to have a baby elephant as a playmate.  I miss that place!



T is for Tourist Paradise

I had a struggle trying to find somewhere stay for our first trip to Jamaica’s north coast back in September 2015.    This might sound surprising as Montego Bay is the north coast’s largest town and a major tourist destination with an international airport bringing tourists directly from the US, Europe and South America.    A new modern highway now cuts directly from Kingston on the south coast,  making the trip easier and faster than ever.  The new road connects seamlessly with the north coast highway, which dashes past giant signs for resort after resort, but little can be seen from the road. The resorts, palm trees and the beaches themselves are hidden away.  Most offer luxury at an all-inclusive price, which is a popular option for tourists, as it includes accommodation and all you can eat food and drink.   The problem is that is its very expensive.  Prices get cheaper in the rainy season, but even after substantial discounts for locals, $250/night for a “room only” package is considered a deal.  Prices typically go way higher than that.

Our first experience in Montego Bay was pretty much a disaster.  I had shunned the expensive resorts in favour of a mid-range hotel on the supposedly famous “hip strip” in town, hoping that while Robert was working, I could walk, shop a little and enjoy the town.   The hip strip was anything but hip, with nowhere to hang out and just vendors bugging me to buy things I didn’t want.  Worse, the whole area had a feel of decay with closed down hotels and not a lot going on.  Clearly the all-inclusive resorts with their captive clientele had taken a huge toll on the town.   I didn’t like the room they gave us and when they refused to move us to another in a hotel that was obviously not full,  we packed our bags and left.

We moved to a mid-range resort hotel within per diem and were suddenly in the world of mass tourism and package holidays.  The beach was beautiful, but only accessible to hotel guests, and I wandered around a little watching the new arrivals relax into their new tropical surroundings.   One young woman stood beaming.  She literally grinned from ear-to-ear.  I smiled back and said, “You look happy.”    “Yes,” she said.  I’m in Jamaica!”  Suddenly I saw a person who had saved all year to come and who had probably escaped from somewhere cold and urban to feel the warmth of the Jamaican sun on her face.  I felt  ashamed that I had been so grouchy at my experience to date, and resolved to enjoyed the privilege of being in a place that others may never have the opportunity to visit.  But the truth remained that mass tourism is not our cup of tea and the likelihood of returning to that resort was slim.

Montego Bay — an attractive resort beach open only to guests

On later much-needed trips out of Kingston, we turned to smaller, local hotels and struggled there also.  We kissed quite a few hotel frogs before we found our Prince in a privately-owned Negril development, which became our favourite spot.  There are charming, affordable places to be found with a local flavour.  It’s just been a little harder here to find them.  Security issues and bad roads have added to the struggle.  There are independent tourists and Jamaicans who are looking for quality bed and breakfast places at reasonable prices, but the fact remains that the tourist volumes come for the convenience, quality and security of the all-in resorts and that’s where the focus remains.

I do hope that places like downtown Montego Bay develop in the future.  Clearly the old days are not coming back, but I do see the opportunity for smaller, boutique hotels that offer an alternative to the resort experience and widen the type of tourists who visit.  Mobay could be the artisan capital of Jamaican with cool, independently-owned shops and businesses.  The city center needs redevelopment though, and that looks like it’s not happening any time soon.

Jamaica has a reputation as a tourist paradise, and for good reason.    We discovered the pricey but stunningly beautiful, plantation-style  Half Moon Resort pretty late in our stay.  The last minute discovery has been kind of a blessing for the pocket book, as we surely would have returned if there was time.  I liked Half Moon so much more than the modern resorts we encountered.   There are plenty of beautiful beaches, romantic palm trees and lots of very attractive resort hotels in Jamaica but, in our limited time and experience here, its not been an easy fit for us, but we did manage to find our sweet spot in the end.

The beautiful Half Moon resort.  This I will miss!

WPC: Glimpses of Caribbean Life (Evanescent)

ev·a·nes·cent:  soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence; quickly fading or disappearing.
I like to capture daily life from the car whenever possible.  You get tiny vignettes of people’s regular routines, a glimpse of the mundane, extraordinary or odd.  They are not always the best quality shots but I enjoy them for their evanescent quality all the same: