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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)

In the middle of Austrian wine country

Deutschlandsberg


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When I arrived in Deutschlandsberg last Sunday after a smooth 55-minute train journey from Graz, I was picked up from the station by the guesthouse owner and taken on a brief driven surprise tour of the town, including the little castle which lies on a hill overlooking the town. Deutschlandsberg lies in wine country, as I could see from the fields of vines on each side. There was an amazing view from the castle; apparently you can get married there - a stunning setting, to be sure. I'd heard that it contains an interesting museum; this turned out to be true, but apparently it's closed for the winter. The restaurant there - a very good one, apparently - is also closed until April.

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The town itself is small but very pleasant to walk round, with colourful buildings, market stalls, a peaceful atmosphere and some Konditorei for coffee, hot chocolate, beers and cake.

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This evening we climbed one of the hills surrounding the town.

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The course I was teaching this week went well. It was general English, which I have lots of experience in, but for the first time ever I had to prepare one of the groups for a show. It felt quite strange to be acting more like a drama teacher than as an English one. The show was good considering how little time they had to create a script and rehearse (it was a 4-day course rather than the normal 5), though there were definitely areas that could have been more polished. The story that the class and I came up with was a modern retelling of Cinderella with some role reversal and the appearance of one or two characters from other fairy tales.

It was an informal show, only performed to another class rather than to the whole school and/ or to parents; I was quite grateful for that because it was my first Show and because of the said lack of enough rehearsal time! Next week there isn't a Show because it's an exam prep booster course, but in my final week of this contract there is one, so I've already had a couple of ideas for how to streamline the deciding-on-the-type-of-show and the scriptwriting stages.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:06 Archived in Austria Tagged landscapes market austria english_teaching fortifications deutschlandsberg Comments (1)

Last stay in Sofia; the Ladies' Market calls

Sofia


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Yesterday morning Dave said goodbye to Veliko Tarnovo as we caught the 10.30 bus to Sofia. When I bought the tickets it felt strange to be speaking Bulgarian again after not having done so in the previous two and half weeks.

The 3.5 hour journey was uneventful, though we did see some sunflower fields. After taking a taxi to Hostel Mostel and settling into our private room, we headed out for a late lunch at our favourite place; if you've read any of my recent Sofia entries, you might guess where this is - a small pizza café at the junction between the Court of Justice and Boulevard Vitosha. Delicious, handmade on site, large slices and cheap.

After that we thought about going to the Ladies' Market, but then had the thought that it would probably be better to visit it in the morning. Stalls might be running out of stuff and packing up by this time in the afternoon. With that in mind, we headed back to the hostel and had a nap, played pool, had our free dinner and used the internet until it was time for an early night.

We went to the Ladies' Market in the morning, as we had intended. This market was the one place I had seen recommended but hadn't actually been to yet in all my previous visits to Sofia, so I was particularly keen to go. Not only was this Dave's last time in Sofia, it was mine as well. When I leave Bulgaria in a few days' time, it will be by train from Gorna Oryahovitsa, a town five minutes' drive from Veliko Tarnovo. The market was well worth a look-around, as it seemed to have some of pretty much everything. We didn't buy any of all the fresh produce around (though if we had been here for another night I would have bought some to cook for dinner), but I did get some crystallised kumquats.

Once we got back from there, we packed up, checked out and took a taxi to the airport. I was sad to be leaving Hostel Mostel for the last time. The staff were all nice but one girl in particular was always especially so. At check out I made sure to tell her how much I had enjoyed coming here.

After saying goodbye to Dave at the airport, I took a taxi to the bus station and got on the next bus back to Veliko Tarnovo.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:11 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market airport hostel buses dave sofia bulgarian bulgaria veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Istanbul


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Edit from March 2019: Altan Şekerleme is still going and still appears to be very highly rated!

Today, our last day in Istanbul and Turkey, there were three priorities; A) to revisit the Spice Market, B) to go to a specific shop for some Turkish delight and C) to catch the correct night bus back to Bulgaria.

A) came first, after a typically satisfying breakfast at Piya Hostel. We were keen to return to the Spice Market to get some more spices for ourselves and some presents for people. No fake saffron this time!

Between the Spice Market and Altan Şekerleme

Between the Spice Market and Altan Şekerleme

One thing we didn't get at the Spice Market was the Turkish delight. I had been recommended a different place to buy that from instead. It was only round the corner, in a back street - a shop called 'Altan Şekerleme'. The Turkish delight, ('Lokum' in Turkish and Bulgarian) is hand made on site here. As soon as we stepped inside and started looking at the piles of Turkish delight on offer, some pieces of it were handed to us as free samples by the lovely old owner and younger female assistant. Delicious! I could taste the natural ingredients; it was not at all artificial-tasting, like some Turkish delight can be. I bought two kilogram boxes of different flavours; one for my family and one for us two to share. For his family Dave bought a kilogram box of mixed sweets - some Turkish delight, some marzipan pieces coated in dessicated coconut and some hard candies like boiled sweets. There was a funny moment at the end when I tried to take the bag of boxes from the owner - he shooed me away and gave the bag to Dave to carry instead!

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On the way back from there we got off the tram two stops later than usual so I could buy another two pairs of cheap trousers from the same stall outside the Grand Bazaar that I had been to before we went to Cappadocia. Once I had bought them and we had taken the tram back two stops, we walked back to the hostel on a rather circular route via Kennedy Caddesi, the road that runs along the seafront.

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On our way along that we came across the ruins of the Byzantine Bucoleon Palace; only some high walls remain now, almost completely taken over by climbing vegetation.

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Back at the hostel we rested for an hour or two in the communal area. The girl at reception, who turned out to be the daughter of the owner, was really nice and helped us by ringing the otogar (main bus station) and checking bus times for us. As I expected, there was only one bus to Veliko Tarnovo - a night bus. Apparently they couldn't reserve tickets for us over the phone, but they said that so long as we got there a decent amount of time beforehand, tickets wouldn't be a problem.

We arrived over an hour in advance. The main otogar is absolutely huge, so beforehand I was worried that it might take us ages to find the right bus company (Huntur). Almost as soon as we stepped out of the metro station we were accosted by a guy asking where we wanted to go. As soon as I told him, he insisted that if we followed him he would be able to get any ticket for us. My suspicions were raised so I said no thank you, we already know where to get our tickets from and how much they should cost. Just then I looked up and what should I see on the other side of the station but a 'Huntur' sign - so we headed off at a brisk pace, saying no thank you again to the dodgy guy.

Buying our tickets from Huntur was easy. We had a lot of time to kill after that so we went inside the main station building to explore. We bought some dinner, drinks and snacks to have on the long journey.

The bus was comfortable enough and we managed to get a decent amount of sleep. The journey took 12 hours this time and seemed to go smoothly. I remember waking up once and seeing that we were stationary at the side of the road, but thinking nothing of it and going back to sleep after ten minutes. Well, later on (after we'd arrived in VT) it turns out that the bus had broken down and we'd been there for about three hours!

Goodbye Turkey - we will definitely return!

Posted by 3Traveller 07:03 Archived in Turkey Tagged market palace turkey istanbul hostel buses dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Sunset and coffee next to the Aegean

Izmir


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This morning we took a train from Selçuk back to Izmir. Dave wasn't feeling very well, so when we got to our hostel room we just rested in bed for a few hours until about 6pm. We stayed at the same hostel as before (Shantihome), but this time we got a better room; bigger, with a nice balcony to sit in, and with a lock on the door!

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After his sleep he felt better, so we went on a walk to the park we'd passed through on the way to and from the train station. It was still sunny and warm, but the main heat of the day had gone. An ice cream kept us going on the way there.

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After strolling round the park, we walked to the seafront, passing through a market on the way. The market was a basic one, like a car boot sale without the cars, with people selling things from blankets on the ground. A lot of household objects, tools and things like that.

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We reached the seafront much further south than where we'd been the other day, so we just followed it north until we reached the area of Alsancak. The sea was much more choppy this time, but this hadn't deterred the hundreds of fishermen who had set themselves up all the way along the seafront. The sunset was amazing, the large, very red sun hanging lower and lower over the sea until it disappeared altogether over the horizon.

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It seemed that nearly half the population of Izmir had come to the seafront area - variously sitting on the grass in the stretch of park next to the seafront walkway, fishing, enjoying the sunset and filling up the seafront restaurants and cafés.

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As we got nearer to Alsancak we suddenly started hearing lots of chanting and some whistles... We noticed a long line of police officers stretched across the grass, from the restaurants to the seafront walkway. A flag-waving protest was making its noisy but seemingly peaceful way along the path next to the restaurants. We couldn't make out for sure what it was about, but I thought it might be related to the terrorist bombing in the town of Suruç (the other side of the country, near the Syrian border) earlier today.

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After passing that we continued to the same small restaurant we'd been to when we were here before. I had the same thing as before, because it had been so delicious; Dave had a tuna salad. We finished with some delicious Turkish coffee. In a plain cup without any accompaniments, unlike the stuff we had in more tourist-orientated places in Istanbul and Cappadocia, but the best tasting in Turkey so far.The other coffee I've had has been very nice, but this was the winner!

Posted by 3Traveller 15:07 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains market turkey izmir hostel dave procession turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

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