Novi Sad / Denver / Prague Adventures
Remember when I used to post every Tuesday? About like . . . upcoming costume dramas and random things we talked about at school? And now that I have actual things to blog about, I never do. 🙃🙃🙃
BUT THINGS HAVE BEEN BUSY, etc. etc. so since I know it’ll be a least another month before I get around to posting again, I’m going to condense everything into one giant post about my month in Novi Sad, and floods, and moving to Prague, and all that.
1 – It was great. I already have very fond memories and it’s only been like two months, and usually it takes me much longer to get to the fond-memories stage of things. It started out a bit disconcertingly, though. My friend, who is Serbian, in order to secure the lowest possible rent for my apartment, told the landlord that I was a starving artist paying the last of my savings for the lease. He basically invented an elaborate backstory and filled me in on it just as we were pulling up to the building, which is totally something I would make a character do in a book, but is weird in real life.
Friend: I arrange everything so you don’t pay much money. I say you very poor. Ok?
Me: Um, what. . .
Friend: I also say that you’re my brother.
Me: But I don’t speak Serbian. And I look nothing like you. And it’s kind of basically lying, and also, this is never going to work.
Friend: Don’t worry! Don’t speak.
I realised later that his plan was pretty run-of-the-mill for these parts. It felt like even if the landlord didn’t believe a word he said, it was practically expected there would be some truth-bending going on, and anything else would have been viewed as a glaring lack of business-savvy.
(Just so we’re clear: I’m not really ok with this. I’m probably the last person who deserves an apartment rebate, and there’s about 101 ethical reasons not to pretend to be poor to get a cheap apartment. But a) I didn’t have a say in the matter, literally, because I speak like four words of Serbian, and b) it’s a different culture for sure, very much prone to bargaining and embellishing and doing whatever it takes for a good deal, which leads me to number two. . .)
2 – Everyone hustles non-stop in Serbia. The country has a pretty crazy history, including NATO bombings, genocide, and potentially triggering World War 1, and the result is that everyone is constantly out to make a buck, prove their worth, and convince the world that they’re just as worthy as any other country. People in Serbia are fiercely proud, and some of them I spoke to seemed to suspect Western Europeans or Americans look down on them, which was sad to see and isn’t the case at all, I don’t think. (Some of my friends didn’t even know Serbia existed, though, which . . . might also contribute to a country’s inferiority complexes.)
That said, there’s so much to recommend Serbia. It’s an old, culturally rich country, lots of agriculture, horse-drawn carriages on the highways, but also sleek, modern malls, and the fooooood. The food is delicious. And the people I met were lovely and kind. “We hate America,” I was told once by a merry Novi Sadian. “But not AMERICANS.” 👍 Good to know.
3 – People have a strange sense of timeliness in Serbia. I grew up in Switzerland, the land of be-on-time-or-else-you-are-a-terrible-rude-person, so I’ve gotten used to making a time with someone and knowing we’ll both there. Not so in Serbia. In Serbia you kind of need to learn to go with the flow, and if you’re not a flow-y sort of person, you’ll still have to go with the flow, just probably a bit later or earlier than you intended. Examplement:
Friend, blithely: I’ll pick you up at 15 or 16 or 17 o’ clock. Ok?
Me: Ok! Which one exactly, tho- *phone clicks*
Me, all dauntless and When-In-Rome-ish: I’m going to assume he’ll come in the middle of those three options. So, 16 o’ clock. (In retrospect, that’s not super logical, but I’m not a super logical person.)
Friend: *arrives at 15:05, pounds on door, me stumbling out of the shower, looking a fright*
Friend: You’re so stressed! We’re not in New York City! Or Zürich! You need to RELAX.
4 – I finished my book while in Novi Sad. I’ve probably mentioned finishing this book five times now on this blog, which would make sense because this is Draft 6-ish? I asked my editor for more time before she had even read the last draft and went back to the drawing board for some things that weren’t working for me. I thought I would only change a few things, but I changed a lot. And now it’s off, yay!
5 – On my second-to-last night in Novi Sad, my apartment flooded. It was very close to the Danube, and the week before it had rained pretty heavily, and late one evening the Danube got into the pipes and oozed up out of the drains. I heard a gurgling coming from all the pipes at once, then saw this sheet of water spreading over the floor of the living area. I started by frantically shovelling water into buckets with a dustpan and dumping the buckets out the window (loooool, Stefan, so wise, so resourceful), but there was more Danube than dustpans. So in the end I gave up, packed my suitcase, and fled to my friend’s house.
(The landlord was super nice and apologetic about it afterwards, which is funny because I assume it wasn’t his fault? But who knows, maybe he’s a wizard and wanted me gone and so enlisted the help of the rivers and ponds.)
After that, I went to Denver. I was in the US for about five seconds, attended a lovely wedding, drank some lovely cocktails, saw some lovely rock formations, spent 3 hours in Iceland, and escaped back to Europe.
And now I’m in Prague! The Vltava river is right next door, which is giving me Danube flashbacks but I’m on the 13th floor, OK, RIVER? Please stay away. Plz.
It’s been really nice. I’ve been interning during the mornings and some afternoons, which allows lots of time to visit museums and eat chimney cake and putter around in graveyards. The food is not aaaaaas good as in Serbia, in my humble opinion, but still good. The public transportation system is nice, as there’s a subway and a tram-line. It’s definitely a much bigger city than Novi Sad, or maybe my neighbourhood is just a bit sketchier, but I definitely don’t go jogging after nightfall anymore.
My favourite part is the graveyard right behind my apartment. It’s vast and overgrown and quiet, and I’ve spent many a long evening walking through the lanes and mausoleums. The picture below is a teeny tiny grave that has no writing on it but looks old and sad and mysterious. It’s either for children or very short people, but what’s interesting is that even some of the oldest graves still have flowers and candles, as if someone totally remembers the person lying there and cares about them. I usually think graveyards are the height of human hubris, and headstones kind of a sad attempts to last past your expiration date, but if people actually care 500 years later I guess that’s nice.
And that’s that for a bit! 🙂 I hope everyone’s well.