Friday, June 24, 2011

When in Rome…

…eat Croissants for breakfast, and eat Gelato every day. Life will be good.

Also, carry a trustworthy guide book. It will be your friend. Seriously, I always have guidebooks when I travel, but I rarely carry them walking around. Rome is different. Not because it's harder to navigate (it's not), but because it's easier to get caught eating in tourist traps of dubitable quality, where a guidebook can help you find better options for local fare in the neighborhood you find yourself. You’re already going to pay a bunch -- Rome is très expensive -- so you might as well get quality. Seriously worthwhile. We did much better with the ever-helpful Lonely Planet than when we chose on our own.

Be prepared to cover your shoulders and knees to enter the Vatican museum. Same thing goes for St. Peter’s (if you brave the lines, which we didn’t).

If it’s summer, hydrate early and often. And keep in mind that public bathrooms may be scarce, and/or icky, but still better than dehydration.

Leave time for window shopping when walking anywhere.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Benvenuto a Roma!

I arrived in Rome, very tired from an over-night flight, this morning. After sleeping in, we stumbled upon the Piazza del Popoplo almost on our door step, and then went to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, which was indescribably cool. And then we had gelato. A good start to a vacation in Rome.

We’re located in the center of the city, in walking distance of so much history and culture – which is awesome. Much more exploring to be done, after getting some rest tonight.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wrapping Up Belgrade

As I write this, I’m sitting on an airplane back to Boston. I left Belgrade a week earlier than planned due to the aforementioned family emergency. I was able to have the two interviews which were scheduled for the last week, and they were quite useful. Then, I spent a final shabbat in Belgrade before heading home. Having sorted out the plan to go home meant that I was able to enjoy the last time there without stressing much.

I spent almost all of shabbat with the Rabbi’s family. I went to the synagogue Friday night for services, and had already been invited to dinner at their home. There was one other guest, who spoke little English, and I of course do not speak Serbo-Croatian at all, so that made conversation a bit ackward, but it was lovely to have a real shabbat meal, especially after so many weeks traveling and eating packaged non-perishables (no fridge). The next morning I went to the synagogue again, and after that there was a small Kiddush (coffee and pastries), during which I actually talked with several people about my research (people reached out when they realized I’d been there more than once). After Kiddush I stayed for lunch and the rest of shabbat with the family. It was really a wonderful time. I had a lot of good conversation, with people who I very much enjoyed getting to know; I played with the kids; I had real home-cooked food. By the time I left after havdalah, I went back to the hotel to pack. So all in all, a very good way to end my time in Belgrade.

So, that’s all for Belgrade. Stay tuned for the one week trip to Rome still coming up after a one week hiatus. And of course, a future Balkan adventure in Bosnia and Croatia in the fall.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Shavuot in Belgrade

I spent Shavuot in Belgrade, and finally got to meet the Belgrade Jewish community. It’s a bit hard to separate out how it was, because I was so anxious for news of home, having had a family emergency immediately prior to the holiday starting.

There were services at the synagogue on Tuesday night. There were a surprising number of people, after how empty it was when I was last there. There were even a good number of women. In addition to the Rabbi’s return, this may be partially accounted for because davening was followed by a community dinner (250 dinar, which I paid when I inquired about service times on Monday), for which they converted the community kosher kitchen to dairy (making everyone very excited, because this is a highly unusual event). The Rabbi introduced me to a few young women in my age range, and I sat with them at dinner. The food was delicious and the company pleasant.

Wednesday morning I also went to davening, which was much smaller, but there was a minyan (quorum for communal prayer) and the Rabbi assures me there are more people on shabbat. The shul / community is predominately Sefardi, so there were some interesting differences, the most noteworthy of which was a special Ladino prayer for Shavuot – a Ketubah (marriage contract) between G-d and the people of Israel. After services I ended up having lunch with the Rabbi’s family. It was a quiet affair. They tell me they’ve normally had 20-ish guests for Shavuot, but they were tired this year. It was perfect for me, a home cooked meal, and some nice time to talk with new people without being overwhelmed was really perfect for the moment.

The rest of the holiday was pretty quiet. I read. A lot. And watched the clock. A lot. And ate. Not so much, but enough.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Back in Belgrade

I never thought I’d be so happy to be in Belgrade, but after the obstacle course that is walking down the street in Pristina, it feels amazing. By obstacle course I mean not know when there will be a sudden gigantic hole in the side walk, or unpaved sidewalk strewn with rocks and random giant pieces of concrete, or cars parked, or, my personal favorite, a car driving up onto the sidewalk and straight towards you at full speed in search of parking.

Other things I’m happy about:

  • More vegetarian options than in Pristina
  • Less reason to fear for my life while crossing the street
  • More street signs
  • More people who speak English
  • More sunshine / fewer thunder storms
  • More Jews (i.e. any form of Jewish community)
  • No worries going out after dark, because its well lit with lots of people around (actually it seems that Belgrade never sleeps!)

This week should fill up pretty quickly. I’ve got two interviews scheduled and Shavuot in between.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Not much to report

The last few days have been pretty quiet. I’ve just been hanging around Pristina, and tracking down some contacts. Meanwhile I think this place is making me addicted to coffee -- it is going to be hard going back to my only occasional coffee when I get home!

I had another interview the other day, which at least cuts my costs per interview in half, and which was a very good contact who I wouldn’t have had without being here. I also spoke with another potential contact recommended by the first interviewee, but unfortunately he’s not in town this week. We had arranged to talk tonight to see if we could meet tomorrow morning early before my bus back to Belgrade, but his wife called to say he hadn’t made it back yet and wouldn’t be here tomorrow. But it is still a contact to follow-up on later, so that’s something. Next report will be from Belgrade.