Cruisin’ in the Land of Corn Juice and Constantine

Niš

I would like to start this post with a guarantee to my readers: Your knowledge of Serbia is going to increase 10-fold by the end of this post. How do I know this? Because the odds are in my favor – you don’t know much about Serbia. So 10-fold, 2-fold, red-fold, blue-fold, the number doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that you exponentially increase your knowledge of Serbia in the time it takes you to read this. I knew next to nothing about Serbia before traveling there a week ago, and now I know that Serbia is filled to the brim with popcorn, medieval fortresses, 6-inch heels, and munchmallows.

Lets start from the beginning. How did I end up in Serbia? CES organizes a weeklong study trip in Central or Eastern Europe for the study abroad students (gratuit!) every semester. This semester’s trip was to Serbia. So despite the fact that I accidentally told at least five people that I was heading to Syria (they really need to do more to diversify their names), a bunch of CES students and I were busy busing around SERBIA last week, making stops in Subotica, Belgrade, Niš, and Novi Sad. The trip was incredible. From swimming in the ice-cold, debatably cleanish water of Palic Lake to eating delicious lunches of unidentifiable meat in street food joints where beetles scamper across the counters, to raging the night away in the fire-hazardous kafanas of Belgrade, every experience was ridiculously cool.

Without further adieu, here’s what I have to share about Serbia:

Political Life

1) People LOVE Tito. On one of the days in Belgrade, we visited the museum of Yugoslav History, which was basically one big love letter to Tito. We visited his grave, walked through exhibits of ivory cigar holders and satin gloves, and watched a “documentary” (propaganda film) showing how the even trees greeted Tito warmly wherever he went (I swear I’m not making that part up). I never knew someone could be loved so much. I left the museum wishing he were my bffl.

Tito's grave, Belgrade

2) On one of the days in Niš, a couple of us witnessed a big political rally. Of course, no one knew what was happening, but I later asked a couple of Serbian students, who told me about it – the man speaking was Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and tried war criminal who committed crimes against humanity (started a campaign of persecution of local ethnic Croats in 1992). He just returned to Serbia from jail because he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Heavy stuff.

Vojislav Šešelj - Leader of the Serbian Radical Party and tried war criminal. Recently returned to Serbia after spending 15 months in prison because of his failing health.

3) Don’t bring up certain topics. We were instructed to remain silent about Kosovo and the Bosnian Genocide even with the tour guides. Another sore topic is the NATO bombings of 1999. If you want to have a political conversation, just start talking about how much you love Tito and you’ll be in good company.

One of the buildings bombed by NATO in 1999

Food

1) Popcorn is life. I’ve never been in such a popcorn-centered society, and IT MAKES ME SO HAPPY. I don’t understand why more societies don’t feature popcorn as a main part of their culture. It’s simply the greatest food ever. Serbia gets me. On a side note, I did make a popcorn faux pas in Belgrade. All the popcorn kiosks have different spices outside so that you can season your popcorn as you wish. After being handed my popcorn, I picked up what looked like spray-on butter (What can I say? I love my carcinogenic chemical butter.) Turns out, chemical butter is Windex in Serbia.

2) Corn Juice. Not great. Tastes like sour yogurt and corn that has been brewing at room temperature for two weeks. Not for the faint of stomach.

IMG_4906

3) Munchmallows. The single greatest fluffy-pillow-of-air-confection to ever exist! It’s like an uncooked fun-sized s’more wrapped in love and bundled with a thin layer of milk chocolate.

Jaffa-munchmallow-105g

4) Unidentifiable meat. At breakfast, you get unidentifiable round meat product resembling baloney or spam. At lunch, you get some type of unidentifiable meat wrapped in bacon. For dinner, you get lamb.

Cultural/Historical Life

1) Constantine the Great, son of Flavius Valerius Constantius, was born in Niš. I now have a bust of Constantine sitting on my desk. Hooray for free souvenirs.

2) Waiters don’t write stuff down. Ever. Each time we went out for a group dinner, the waiters would memorize everyone’s order, but then they’d have to come back at least 3 times to verify what everyone had. Someone always ended up unhappy with the delivery.

3) Apparently, violin prodigies are rampant in Serbia. I went to a classical music concert at an art gallery in Novi Sad, which ended up being a blow-to-the-ego recital of adorable Serbian children playing like Paganini.

Nightlife

I’ll be in touch.

I think that’s enough for now. I will be hopefully write again soon about Serbian nightlife because it was phenomenal and I’m still recovering two weeks later. In the meantime, I highly encourage you all to go make a bowl of popcorn with all the fake butter your little heart desires!

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