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.


L is for Lighting Up


I often like to walk around our neighbourhood. “Up the hill and down the hill”, I call it, as reference to a way of getting my walking time done. When I first arrived, I tried to find a route to do my usual loop configuration and it failed miserably,  as the traffic after work made walking unsafe on busy streets without sidewalks. Once I figured out that a simple “there and back” walk on quieter roads would be more successful, the evening walks took shape. I am constantly warned that walking anywhere in this city, at any time, is a danger, yet I continue to do so because I feel largely safe walking where I do.

I see other regular exercisers too: the friendly rasta guy, the group of chatty moms, and solo joggers who come and go. They say good evening, I smile back and–with some basic awareness and precautions– things feel pretty safe.

The streets near our home have some beautiful houses with gardeners, guards and housekeepers who take care of them.  In the evening when I am usually walking uphill, its the time when the household staff and construction workers are heading downhill to the bus.  Most of them are smoking a little ganja on their way down to relax and change focus, I’m sure. Its a very subtle thing. Often I don’t see anything in their hands, but the joint is there, cupped away from the breeze. Its only when they pass by that my nose follows the drift of smoke and I head up into their trails which can take minutes to disperse.  On one guy’s tail is another and the next ganja cloud. Some days its like Woodstock heading up that hill!  I don’t mind the smell and it does leave a chill vibe in the air.  At the end of the day we all need to do a little chilling out, right?!



K is for Kingston


Yes, K has to be for Kingston.

I have no clear memory of what I expected of the city before I moved here.  Arriving in a new place, knowing its going to be home from now on, I look around with fresh eyes and wonder when I will ever start thinking of all the sights as normal? The people, the streets, the noise, the traffic….figuring out where you are.  Processing it all takes a while and there is no defining moment when the new becomes normal, it just sort of sneaks up on you.

As our time here comes to an end, and by way of reflection, I asked myself some questions.  Mainly I was looking for something new to say that I haven’t already covered earlier.

What were my first impressions?  This one’s easy.  I did a post on it earlier.  I remember thinking how calm and clean Kingston was after Kathmandu. I also didn’t expect it to be so green. Looking down on the city from high up, buildings are nestled between trees and it all looks quite charming.  The northern suburbs especially, where the birds and flowers make the city look pretty attractive. I enjoy looking out to the mountains also, which are mostly visible with dramatic clouds. Compared to the chaos of Manila and Kathmandu, the roads seem relatively orderly, there are traffic lights and drains that work.

What did I like most about living here?  From my first few months to my last few, my favourite things haven’t really changed.  I love the greenery and the mountains, walking around Mona, and sitting in my screen porch writing and listening to the wind blow through the palm leaves.  I can add that I have made friends with Jamaican colleagues, who have been some of the kindest people with a great sense of humour.  Jamaicans know how to laugh!  I’ve also read and learnt about the Caribbean and its history, and –wow– does it have some history, although there is little left to see these days.

What did I dislike most about living here? I have felt trapped and dependent on others my whole stay.  The dangers of crime, vulnerability of being a foreigner, health issues, lack of realistic transportation options and not being able to go out at night have made exploring the city close to impossible for me.  And there just isn’t that much to do for the unconnected in Kingston.  Colleagues with small children have loved it here, as its a great outdoor city and there are nice beaches less than an hour away.  But I’m so ready for a safer city with a public transportation system and urban events that will make it easier to meet people.  I’m looking at you Belgrade!

What do you think you’ll take away from your time here? In each new place we have lived, each comes with its own challenges and benefits.  And I’ve always believed its up to me to figure how to make the best of it.  We chose this life to experience the change and learn from each new place and, perhaps, leave it a little better (however small) than when we arrived.  This time,  its got me.  I don’t truly know what my takeaway from Kingston will be.  Right now it just feels like its an acceptance of “you can’t win them all.”   Hopefully time will teach me there’s something more.

So, I’ll just end with a few random photos of Kingston not covered elsewhere:


Curlers!  Many Jamaican ladies have no problem going out while they are still fixin’ their hair.  Always makes me smile!


Street scene near Papine.



A post-apocalptic scene from the downtown.



View from the Northern suburbs of Kingston way out to the Port.



And finally…From the dock of a cruise ship out to the “giraffes” of the dock that I see from pretty much anywhere in Kingston.   Kingston port is still an important harbour in the Carribean and the heart and soul of this island’s economy.

WPC: Nature’s Good Match

Its been a while since I did a WordPress Photo Challenge and I’ve missed them!  Here’s a few of my favourite nature camouflage pictures:


If you are feeling crabby, hiding might be the best bet…


So…did you spot him?


Well camouflaged moth with his more visible buddy. (I actually spotted the big one because of the little one.) Be careful who you hang out with!


E is for Elections


One of only a handful of election posters during the February 2016 election.

It was interesting to me when we first arrived in Jamaica in 2015 that there would soon be a general election. We arrived to a similar situation in Nepal in 2013, but the circumstances were a lot different. In Nepal, free elections were almost a brand new concept and the country was still struggling to stop tire-burning demonstrations,molotov cocktails being lobbed on street corners and spontaneous rioting.  Efforts were underway to prevent illegal voting and the city was transformed into a ghost town on election day, with all moving vehicles (except for official vehicles) banned from the street.  Voters had to walk to polling stations in an effort to prevent bussing.

Here in Jamaica they have their own  history of election violence, but in recent years it has been much less prelevant. Part of the tactics used to prevent election unrest includes control on the display of party materials, which was explained to me when I asked why there were so few political posters around.  Instead of the usual visual blast spread all over a city during elections, Kingston only displayed a modest few.  Close to the election date, we did see bus loads of orange-clad (PNP) and green-clad (JLP) supporters  – the two main parties — as they headed off to rallys, and we watched their orange and green litter blowing down Hope Road on the days leading up to the vote.  On 26th February 2016, Andrew Holness of the JLP was elected Prime Minister with very little civil unrest, and the Jamaican world moved on.

These experiences bring me to the US election, with primaries starting just as the Jamaican election finished.  I feel that my whole time here has been one long — one very long — election season.  Most Jamaicans that I know have access to cable TV with CNN and BBC coverage of what has been going on in US politics and are remarkably informed on the issues as well as the latest scandalous outburst.  In fact, its kind of shocking how closely they follow — its clear that they are not listening to only one media source — and know the ins and outs of each new shenanigan.   There’s an overwhelming disbelief that US politics could be going so badly and that rules, precedents and established norms are being so openly flouted.  I wonder how they feel about what they see in contrast with Jamaican corruption and I can only feel deeply embarrassed from where I stand, which appears to be somewhere in the first twenty minutes of a disaster movie.

I only feel more disheartened for my dear Filipino friends and what it must be like to live in a country that now openly murders people in the street, just a few short years since I lived there.  Democracy is never to be taken for granted.


D is for Devotion


Before I came to Jamaica, I read there were a lot of churches on this small island and, boy, they weren’t wrong; the Guinness Book of Records states that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than anywhere in the world other than the Vatican. They range from tiny little churches in small communities like the one above, to  pretty Victorian stone chapels that might have been transplanted from England, to large, modern open-air domes full of swaying arms and bodies.  On a Sunday, its a common sight to see older ladies in their Sabbath best: conservative mid-calf dresses, sensible shoes, fancy hats and handbags on their forearms.  Running ahead are their adorable grandchildren, all dressed up in lacey fineness with matching shoes and ribbons.  I want to take their pictures but its not appropriate.  It can feel like I just stepped back into 1950.  The children are adorable but something in me feels uncomfortable….I think it is the religious messaging I see.

Unlike most other Caribbean nations, the vast majority of Jamaican Christians are Protestant, with a relatively high percentage being from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, nearly a fifth of the entire country—18.5 percent—is evangelical and another 11 percent is Pentecostal and growing rapidly.

I am not a religious person, although I do respect the religious beliefs of others.  But these statistics explain a lot of about the “fire and brimstone” religious messages that are so common here.


I don’t particularly like the warnings of a vengeful God that I see relayed everywhere.  I don’t like the hateful LGBT messages published in the newspapers.  The church and its warning to sinners show up everywhere in daily life.


Books stores I’ve visited seem to sell mainly religious books.  There are religious pamphlets on every store counter.  Its all a bit much for my secular eye and I like to believe that if there is a God, it is a loving one.   I know there are religious groups here that do so much to help those in need, but I don’t see them, they are in areas deemed too unsafe for me to visit.   So what is visible to me is religious fury and I don’t like it.


Not an actual sign from Jamaica — but exactly the type of thing I am seeing.

B is for Breadfruit

I’ve always associated this strange knobbly fruit with Captain Bly and the Bounty but I had never actually handled one, eaten it or seen one growing on a tree, but I knew it was popular here and I looked forward to trying it.
In Jamaica they are probably second only to rice as the important carbohydrate content of a meal, although from a little reading I learnt that West African slaves in Jamaica didn’t take to them at first. But the trees grow well here, producing an abundant amount of fruit year round and they eventually became an important part of the local cuisine.

Breadfruit dishes can be roasted, mashed or fried,  but they all start out being cooked on a flame until they are blackened all over.  I really wondered what these guys were doing with their drum barbecues and piles of blackened footballs along the side of the road.


Whatever were those blackened balls? Now I know…

I have to admit I was really disappointed the first time I tried roasted breadfruit. I didn’t think about “roasted” meaning anything other than crispy, and was disappointed to get a pallid slab of white vegetable that looked (and tasted) a lot like a sponge. I suppose a lot of carbohydrates eaten worldwide — rice, bread, tapicoa — are pretty bland. Its how we use them to eat other parts of our meal. Its how they sop up the gravy, how the remind us of a homemade dinner or give us that feeling of comfort food and a full belly that really make them a favourite. Of course, my experience lacked that connection. I didn’t eat more than a couple of bites.

I tried them again fried and like them much better. (I’m afraid that its true that most things taste better fried.) The same pre-roasted slices of breadfruit had been dropped into hot oil and browned, giving me something which was much more like the “roasted” I had expected the first time. An improvement, but not enough to make me seek it out on a menu again.


Fried breadfruit…better than the roasted!

In modern kitchens like ours with no gas, the barbecue is the only way to cook them and the production involved means that I haven’t had the drive to experiment with the fruit. A little tour of the internet shows me other have been quite creative with breadfruit used in a wide variety of recipes other than just the ubiquitous, basic roasting and frying.

For me, however, all-in-all not a great new culinary experience, but I do enjoy seeing them around and they grow on some very pretty trees.



A is for Ackee

One of the first things I noticed on the fruit stalls around Kingston was this odd-shaped fruit:


They are easy to spot from a distance with those distinctive black seeds busting out of what looks like an overripe casing.  What on earth were they?  I learnt quite quickly that they are the treasured Jamaican ackee fruit, which is used to make the national breakfast dish, Ackee and Saltfish.  More on that later.

Then I started to notice Ackee trees around town.  The unripe bell shaped fruits hang from trees everywhere.  They aren’t ready to be picked until they split open and the black seeds are on display, as they are poisonous before they’re ripe.  I understand that you can’t buy them fresh (or canned even) in the US as the FDA have classifed ackee as poisionous and even the canning process doesn’t destroy the toxins if the ackee being processed were picked underripe.  However, this is not a concern here as locals know very well how to pick and process them.


The trees aren’t native to Jamaica but come originally from West Africa, probably along with the slaves that were also imported from there.  Fruit grows abundantly and can produce a harvest all year long.  I’ve read that the wood is termite resistant, so perhaps that’s another reason that so many people have them in their yards.

Preparation of the national dish, Ackee and Saltfish, starts by removing the fleshy arils from the open husks (taking care to also remove the toxic red membrane) and boiling them until they’re soft.


Shucked  arils ready for the pot

The arils look a little scrambled eggs when they are cooked and have a similar mild flavour and texture.  They are mixed with flaked salt cod, onions, tomatoes and green peppers to make the famous dish.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and its pretty good!


Ackee and Saltfish – ready for your Jamaican breakfast