A Travellerspoint blog

A very special day in Užice

Užice


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There were one or two more normal classes first thing and then the next couple of hours were taken up with final rehearsals and getting ready for the Show. The Show went really well - both classes put on a great performance. My class did a tweaked version of Modern Cinderella and the other class did a reverse-gender version of Romeo and Juliet.

The school day finished early so that people (including us) could go to view a special event in one of the town squares - the school leavers' dance performance! I hadn't heard of it before, but it turns out that this traditional event is synchronised in several countries across the Balkans; the school leavers from every secondary school in every town come together to dance the same dance at the same time in one massive group in a public square. There was a commentator and introducer speaking over the loudspeaker and I think it was being televised too. We went along with some students and teachers from 'our' school to watch. It started in decorous and well co-ordinated fashion, with white umbrellas and basic ballroom steps; as time went on it became gradually less and less decorous and co-ordinated... The umbrellas were dispensed with, the music changed, the group broke up into smaller ones and the celebrations became more raucous, though not in a negative manner. It was a very joyful event and I felt very lucky and privileged to have been at the school on just the right day to have had the chance to see it.

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Eventually M and I moved on in order to get started on the rest of our programme for the afternoon... We bought some lunch from a mini-market first, and then split up, each of us with a group of eager now-ex-students keen to show us around. M wanted to get his hair cut, so his group took him to a barber; mine took me to a tiny but interesting house museum first. It was built by a rich merchant in the second half of the 19th century and reminded me quite a lot of the National Revival house museums in Bulgaria. The Ottoman influence was clear.

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Next up for me was the Church of St George, a small and pretty Orthodox church with an incredibly beautiful interior. My guides said that they had never been inside before, which I found interesting.

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My last stop before both groups met up again was at a cultural centre, where we had Turkish coffee and one of my guides told my fortune from the coffee grounds, reminding herself of the meanings from her phone.

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Once we had met up again, some of each group had to go home but others remained. They took us to the Old Town, which is the name of the archaeological remains of a 14th century fortress dramatically set on a steep, rocky hill a little outside of the city centre. We walked alongside the River Đetinja to get there. It was interesting to wander round the ruins, and from the top there were absolutely fantastic views of the winding valley and river, the town and the hills beyond. The sun had properly come out now so it was a very hot day.

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More people had to go after that, so only a couple remained. We were taken further along the river and through at least one tunnel to a bridge where we could see a waterfall. We had passed through outskirts of the city and it felt properly in the countryside; very green and lovely. The river ran clear and I was tempted to paddle and/or swim.

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That was our last stop of the day, so after walking back into town and saying our goodbyes we took a taxi to our hotel. I was knackered and in need of a rest - my fitbit said that I had taken 26,000 steps so far today, so I'm not surprised!

Tomorrow we both take the bus to Belgrade. M will go straight to the airport, but I've arranged a night in Belgrade so I can have a good look round some of the city before I fly back on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:06 Archived in Serbia Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains bridges serbia traditions explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church house_museum užice serbian_cuisine Comments (4)

Užice, Serbia

Užice


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I've had an absolutely wonderful week so far, teaching higher-level General English to older students.

Both classes are incredibly lovely - some of the nicest I've ever taught - as are also the contact teacher, the rest of the teachers in the English department, the head teacher and also the cleaning/ tea lady, who we've been getting our classroom keys from every morning. She doesn't speak English but smiles and responds when I say 'dobro utro' (good morning), 'dobar dan' (good day) and 'hvala' (thank you). After finding out what our hot drink of choice was at the start of the week, she started bringing us in cups of it as soon as we arrive in the morning and then during the longer of the breaks we get during the school day. For me she brings in Turkish coffee with a chunk of Turkish Delight, both common in Serbia due to the historical Ottoman link. I find it interesting to note that she makes it using a traditional jug on the hob, not a kettle - even the hot water she uses for people's tea comes from another jug on the hob.

Outside of school I've enjoyed taking in the Balkan flavour of the town. This included the market with shelled walnuts, honey, long pointed red peppers, big bulging tomatoes and other seasonal fruit and veg (I bought a kg of strawberries for only 280 dinars - just over £2); the combination of Cyrillic and Latin scripts; the occasional words and phrases I recognise from their Slavic similarity to Bulgarian; red-tiled houses contrasting with ex-Soviet-looking tower blocks; Orthodox churches; a cuisine based on grilled meats and vegetables, cucumber and tomato-based salads, cheesy pastries, yoghurt, stuffed cabbage leaves and peppers, savoury and sweet pancakes, fruit and/or jam pastries.

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Speaking of Serbian cuisine, yesterday I tried a speciality of the region Užice is in - a 'Komplet lepinja'. One of my classes brought one in to class for me as they wanted me to try it there and then for breakfast - they had mentioned the day before that they were going to bring in a speciality for me but kept what it was as a surprise. A komplet lepinja is a large savoury bun/ bread roll with a lid cut off, the main part hollowed out a little and covered in thick sour cream similar to clotted cream, then topped with whisked egg, baked and some warm pork dripping added on top. It sounds filling, and was - so much so, I had to save half of it for lunch - but it was certainly tasty and I enjoyed it.

Tomorrow my co-teacher and I have the production of the Shows we've been working on with one each of our respective classes and then after school we're going to be shown some sights by some of our soon-to-be ex-students. Something else very special is going to be happening immediately after school, too - but I'll describe this event in the next blog entry, along with the other happenings of the day!

Posted by 3Traveller 16:01 Archived in Serbia Tagged market serbia english_teaching užice serbian_cuisine Comments (0)

Back to the Balkans

London Luton Airport, Nikola Tesla Airport, Belgrade and Užice (Serbia)


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I'm back in the Balkans for the coming week, in Serbia to be precise. Serbia is new to me, but I've already been reminded of other Balkan countries I've been to.

I'm teaching in a small city called Užice (pronounced oo-zhi-tse), which is only about 35km from the Bosnian border. I got here OK earlier after a very early morning, uneventful flight from Luton Airport to Belgrade, a three and a half-hour bus trip from Belgrade Bus Station to Užice city centre, and finally a taxi ride to the hotel, which lies a few km out of town. The scenery near Užice is dramatic and stunning, with winding roads and river, stone enscarpments, hills and forest - it reminds me a bit of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, where I lived and worked for an academic year (see earlier in this blog).

I've met up with 'M', my co-teacher for the week, here at the hotel. We've spoken about how we're going to approach the week ahead, and taken advantage of the hotel's small all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner (only 500 Serbian dinars - about £4!). The selection they had for us to choose from seemed a little random; I had cheesy tomato and vegetable pasta, a very red, thin and tasty type of sausage, and sesame seed sprinkled chicken chunks. For dessert I was overjoyed to see a plate of tolumbi - like in Bulgaria, these are thick and flattened fingers of batter seeped in syrup - a bit mushier that the Bulgarian ones. They also had one of the most mouth-watering pastries I've ever had; a glorious combination of moist flaky pastry, cherries and cherry syrup.

I'm looking forward to what the next few days will bring!

Posted by 3Traveller 10:39 Archived in Serbia Tagged hotel airport buses serbia belgrade užice serbian_cuisine Comments (2)

Working in Vienna

Vienna


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Update from June 2021: The pay-as-you-wish Pakistani restaurant is the famous Der Wiener Deewan. The Sigmund Freud Museum finished its refurbishment and renovation and is fully open again.

I had a busy but interesting and enjoyable week teaching in the historic centre of Vienna.

This is the first of the short contracts this year where I've had to take public transport to school rather than being able to walk. Taking public transport during rush hour every day in work clothes gave me a real sense of being more like a resident rather than a tourist, although clearly this was just a very small taste of that. It's interesting how even something as 'everyday' as the Underground/ metro experience can vary in different countries.

I was thinking of going to the State Opera on Thursday (you can get cheap tickets if you get there early), but in the end I had too much admin to do and homework to mark to be able to go. There are several museums I'd love to have gone to but I would never have had time to fully do them justice, plus I was always so tired, so I left them for a time in the future when I'm in Vienna but not working. It's a shame I had to fly home late Friday afternoon as it meant I had to go straight to the airport after work, with only a quick stop at the hotel to pick up my bags. Otherwise I would have explored the city more and gone to a museum then and on Saturday morning.

One place I did go to was the Sigmund Freud Museum, but the main part of it was closed for refurbishment, so I just saw the temporary two-room exhibition, which focused on the basic details of his life and his psycho-analytical theories. It was still worth seeing, of course, and the ticket price was reduced in light of the situation.

I did go out for lunch with two of the other teachers a couple of times, to the same place; an Pakistani restaurant where you only pay what you can afford and what you think the food was worth. You serve yourself and the whole atmosphere is very casual. On both occasions I had a delicious chicken paprika dish with rice; for dessert there was a type of lovely thick semolina pudding with 'mandeln und mango' - I wondered what 'mandeln' meant, then soon found out it means 'almonds'. They called it 'Halwa' which was interesting - turns out that this is from the same wider halva family of sweets popular in the Middle East, Greece, Turkey and North Africa, though in a form very similar to rice pudding, and semolina-based rather than sesame.

The teaching was enjoyable throughout the week and the final project presentations and Show went very well. I was very impressed with what they managed to achieve with only a week of preparation - very proud.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:33 Archived in Austria Tagged trains vienna austria museum english_teaching unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Return to Vienna: Coffee and goulash

London Luton Airport, Vienna Airport and Vienna


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Back in Vienna for a few days to teach a course at a school in the city centre.

I met up with my partner teacher 'M' at Luton Airport, as we were on the same flight. On arrival at Vienna Airport we took the CAT (City Airport Train) into the centre for €12 each, only to find out later that we could have taken the slightly slower but much cheaper S7 train for only €3.90 each - oh well, at least we know now for the return journey!

On our half-hour walk to the hotel we discovered that it was the day of the Vienna Marathon. We walked along the route for a while, with the runners passing by and supporters spurring them on. At one point we were given free goody-bags by a bank. Amongst some boring stuff there were two interesting things; a can of peach soft drink and a yellow plastic poncho - unneeded at the time because it was sunny, but I kept onto it just in case I might use it another time.

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After finding our hotel it was too early to check in yet so we dumped some stuff and then went to a nearby café. I had a lovely 'Grosser Brauner' coffee, but wasn't hungry enough to eat anything. There was a helpful guide to some of the most typical types of coffee in Vienna.

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In the evening M and I had dinner at the atmospheric Seven Stars brewery/restaurant with the other two teachers we'll be working with this week. The Seven Stars is where we all had a drink and some food at the induction weekend back in January - I very highly recommend it! This time I had the most fantastic goulash with one big round dumpling in the middle. We followed that with some ice cream from a place on the main shopping street; one of the two best places in Vienna for ice cream, according to one of the others. I had tiramisu flavour and it was indeed amazing.

Posted by 3Traveller 17:29 Archived in Austria Tagged trains vienna airport austria brewery unesco_world_heritage_site austrian_cuisine Comments (0)

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