Monday, April 21, 2014

Tito and Tesla

On Saturday, Mark departed back to the US, and I switched over from hotel (business) to hostel (personal). It was still grey and rainy, and I was semi-miserable. I hadn't seen the sun in days, and I was starting to wilt.

I checked into the hostel and dropped my stuff, then decided to venture out into the city to visit the Mausoleum of Tito, which was not too far by bus from the center of town.  I wandered over towards the bus stop, and began to see cracks of blue in the grey skies.  I prayed it would burn through.

I got to the bus stop and found the right bus.  I had figured I would buy the ticket on the bus, but they don't sell bus tickets on the bus-- you have to have a card.  But I was already on, so I rolled with it.  My Serbian friends had mentioned that the ticket checkers were not out over the Easter weekend, but I still felt a little skittish.  Especially because I swore I heard a walky-talkie on the bus.

But it was fine, and I got off at the stop between Old and New Belgrade.  I got my tickets for the Tito Mausoleum and Museum of Yugoslav History.  As I was wandering through the gardens, the sun was starting to peek out.

At the Museum of Yugoslav History, there were all sorts of objects from the different regions that comprised Yugoslavia.  Costumes and dresses from Montenegro, Croatia.  Bosnian swords and Slovenian ornamental flasks. It was interesting, but it was a little strange because there were also a number of gifts to Yugoslavia from different countries so it was a little discordant.  

As I exited the museum the sun was finally out, and I caught its rays.  I can't begin to express my joy when the warming light hit my face after days in the grey.  I sat outside Tito's final resting place, soaking in the light. 

I visited Tito's Mausoleum, which had pictures of Tito connecting with other world leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement.  It also had an interesting collection of intricate ornamental batons from across Yugoslavia.  On Tito's birthday, youth would run relays and pass these ornamental batons on from their villages to reach the dear leader.

I saw Tito's marble coffin slab--thankfully he was not pickled like Chairman Mao and Uncle Ho.

I left the grounds and found a kiosk where I could purchase a bus pass to get back.  I got a loaded pass just as the bus pulled up and I jumped on it.

I headed back into the city, stopping for lunch at a Serbian fast food joint for pljeskivica, a giant Balkan hamburger, which came with tomatoes, onions and cucumbers and slathered with curry ketchup and fries covered with tartar sauce (different than the American version).  Since it was Passover, I had to eat it without bread.  But the fastfood place had no forks or knives.  So they cut the burger up into little pieces and I ate the meal with a toothpick.

After lunch, I wandered over to the Nikola Tesla Museum, which had demonstrations of the genius' inventions.  I wandered through some of his letters to famous friends and his book collections.  I also saw the urn holding the ashes of Mr. Tesla.  

After, I headed over to the Historical Museum of Serbia. which had some interesting exhibits on the Serb war heroes killed in the Communist take-over of the country, and the work of the OZNA (Yugoslav KGB). It gave a very interesting history of the forced collectivizatios, which the Yugoslav peasants and farmers fought bitterly.  There was also something that made me shudder.  It was something detailing the torture used by the Communists, including detailing a form of torture now known as waterboarding.  This technique apparently dates back to the Spanish Inquisition.  Nice work Bushies, you used the same techniques as Torquemada's goons.

I returned later to meet my Belgrade b-boy friends in their breakdance practice spot in the Belgrade Metro.  After their practice session, with its requisite flips and dips, we hung out in the park pre-gaming and then went dancing until the wee hours of the morn in a smoky club.

I woke up late on Easter Sunday to a beautiful sunny day.  I wandered through the city down to the immense Saint Sava Basilica to see some of the Easter services.  From there, I meandered back to St. Mark's Cathedral and back into the city center.

In the sun, the city had changed completely.  People were out strolling through the pedestrian boulevard, and sipping coffee in street cafes.

I made my way to the sun-drenched fort where families were out meandering about.  

Later in the evening, I met my friend Andejlko at his family house for an Easter feast that his mother had prepared.  I drank homemade apple rakije (brandy) and ate delicious Russian salad (potatoes, peas, eggs and chicken salami) and a wonderful mushroom stew.  There was a delicious dish of ground beef rolled up with hard-boiled eggs in the middle.  It was all delicious.  And mothers of the world are all the same.

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