I’ve been around Europe on my own as a teenager. I’ve stayed in hostels, random places, I’ve jump seated across the country here in the US. I’ve moved on my own many times, sleeping out of my Toyota, packing nothing but my dog and my life’s belongings into my old car, driving like a snail, home on my back, from place to place, setting up my life for myself all over again each time. I’d find my own place to live, knowing no one each time, setting up all my services, fixing my own plumbing, doing maintenance on my own car, and generally relying solely on myself for pretty much everything. I tried not to depend on anyone unless absolutely necessary and I was definitely paying my own bills, and supporting myself, not leaning on a man or anyone else to take care of me. And I haven’t lived at home since I was 17. I’ve worked hard, put blood, sweat, and tears into my career. I’ve learned to fly airplanes, compete in aerobatics, even teach people to fly them, deal with emergencies, and severe weather, and shoulder deadly serious responsibility. And frankly, I’ve had decent success.
So for the record, here’s exactly what I think I’m getting myself into:
Simply a gray European city, not white, as the name Beograd implies, but a gray city. A dirty, ugly, city, with a certain charm that takes a lot of digging to unearth. I expect cinder block style buildings with grey concrete walls. Typical European architecture, old like a museum, bursting with history, churches, and cathedrals. The cars will be smaller, the streets narrower, and the women will be tall and beautiful and the men will be stylish and attractive. I expect streets where people walk everywhere, endless cafes, and smoke filled restaurants. Young people will be spending hours sipping espressos and smoking while talking loudly and gesturing to each other day after day after day. Night after night after night will be spent at the dance clubs, people partying like they have no ambition other than to dance all night and drink coffee all day.
I expect cold weather. Possibly snow. Definitely some rain. Well dressed people. People who spend what little money that have on clothes, looking good, carefully concealed poverty. Open air markets, lack of every day conveniences. They will have cell phones but no Laundromats. Washers but no dryers. Clotheslines strung up all around. Chauvinism. Hedonism. Immorality. Book shops and pirated CDs and definitely no Wal-Marts. Although they will have at least 1 McDonalds. I expect people will want to tell me what they think of America. They may want to tell me how they think it is over here, what we are doing wrong, what went wrong, and how we, or possibly even I, contributed to all of that.
I expect them to have strong liquor and strong opinions, and loud voices, and good leather shoes. They’ll probably be drinking wine, eating rich cheeses, and stinky dairy products, and cured meats, and lots of raw salads with no lettuce, and they will be fit. They won’t work out, or exercise, but they will definitely be in shape. I expect that a fair number of them will speak some English, and may want to practice with me, and I need to not encourage this, but to instead force myself to practice Serbian.
Maybe I’ll see some old monasteries, maybe I’ll get to ride the train, maybe I’ll have a few family style dinners, and maybe I’ll even get to hear some gypsy trumpet players. I expect to stay in a hostel, with other random travelers, mostly European, but from all over the world, mostly young, mostly aimless, mostly well traveled, and always looking to have a good time. I expect there to be remnants of war, scars of struggle, and definitely graffiti.
These are all things that I expect when I go to Belgrade. I expect to be jet lagged and disoriented and thrown right into the thick of it, and I expect to love almost all of it, learning about the people, the culture, the language, the history, and the lifestyle. I expect to be surprised, and sometimes confused, and elated, and fascinated, and amused, and maybe even disgusted. I expect the language school to be frustrating and rewarding, and to learn more about the Serbian way than about how to conjugate verbs and put together sentences. So maybe I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but I think I have an OK idea so far. And I know I’ll be just fine. Can’t wait for the journey to begin.