Island Hopping in Dalmatia – Korcula, Hvar, Palmizana

Strolling through the old town, we stumbled upon a lovely little restaurant hidden amongst the stone walls. It was a tiny restaurant, cozy, inside a courtyard with open skies to the stars above. Once seated, we were presented with several fresh catches of the day, fish on ice, and we chose one, it was cooked fresh for us. We feasted and felt like we were a part of that old place.

The next morning we boarded a ferry to Hvar Island and were picked up by my muz’s old friend from middle school and her husband. They met us at the ferry with their 3 prized poodles and after a quick coffee stop in the main square, they showed us to their home, which is also a guest house. They have a popular business there and we were lucky to get a room there for 2 nights. The three days we spent in Hvar were heavenly. If I were to come back to this region again, I would spend more time in Hvar, and a little less time everywhere else. Hvar Town is similar to Korcula Town, except more modern, bigger, busier, more lively. It feels like a real city, whereas Korcula Town has more of that old village feel. The main square in Hvar is much wider and more open than Korcula, and feels more free. Its tourism scene is booming. Luckily we were there at the tail end of it. Dubrovnik felt far away at this point, and comparing it with Hvar, it was no contest, Hvar all the way. Dubrovnik felt so commercialized, so touristy, so crowded. you could see there was beauty there, but it was hard to appreciate, because it was covered up by all the glare of tourism. Hvar in comparison felt authentic, it felt fresh, and it was amazing.
Our hosts treated us to an amazing breakfast complete with all major homemade dishes – pastries from a bakery, olive oil, honey, cheeses, peppers, even wine and rakija. After the feast, we explored the old town, pausing the peruse the lavender on sale at the kiosks, a local speciality. We saw all the main points of the town, stopping to take in the history, the old wells, churches, etc. After another coffee, we stopped at the beach, my muz swam while I explored the island a little on my own. That night we ate at Posteni Djordje (Honest Georges), a great Italian restaurant on the main square. Conversation flowed freely like the wine, and we chatted for hours in the open courtyard, happy to be on Hvar.

The next day we took a little boat excursion to Palmizana Island, a small island among a group of little islands off the coast. A 20 minute boat ride took to you a paradise I only imagined existed. White pebbly beaches, a few lounge bars and restaurants, a handful of boats, were scattered before a backdrop of island jungle foilage. We lounged on the beach, we swam in the water, we let go of lifes stresses and sunk into the island life, if only for that day. We found the best lounge there, Laganini, where all the chairs were stuffed feed sacks, like bean bags, and all the tables were made of tree trunks. There was even a little treehouse lounge fixed into a large fig tree, and this is where we perched, sipping our drinks and watching the sun sink into the sea. It was perfect.

I swam in the water and finally connected with the water for the first time. This water really was special, it really was magic. It was pure, warm, calm, clear, clean, and so so soft. It was so clear I could see moss growing on rocks 30 feet away, I could see the gooose bumps on my knees it was so clear. I swam and swam and twirled and sank and floated and played like a baby dolphin. It was magic water. It was incredible.I felt how valuable it was, like the most rare resource, like the finest perfume, like expensive oil, like wars must have been fought over this water. It was soft to the touch, and felt almost alive. It was incredible.

After our perfect day, we returned to Hvar and had dinner by the marina before exploring the nightlife scene a bit. Tourists travel from all over the world to Party on Hvar Island and we weren’t ready to leave before at least seeing what the fuss was all about. We walked through pubs and bars and clubs, but it was nothing we hadn’t seen before. We shared a cocktail a “Karpe Diem” bar before returning our room.

The next day we hiked up to the top of the Fortress wall, taking in a great view of Hvar. We then found a great little cafe on the water complete with hammocks and lanterns, and great cocktails, Falko. It felt separate from Hvar, less European, more Jamaican, and so we took a moment there. Our hosts drove us away from Hvar Town to a great little fisherman’s village on the backside of the island called Milina where we sat 2 meters from the magic water and ate fish that was caught especially for us, ordered the night before by our host. We took in one last seaside view, one last fish meal, wine with friends, it was perfect.

We finally returned to Korcula for one more day before we started the drive back South. This day we met another couple of my muz’s friends. This one had been a local island girl that my muz and his brother had been friends with way back in the day when he spent his summers there. They were, as all of the people we had met so far, very warm and welcoming, and more than hospitable. They too, owned a guest house that let out rooms during the tourist season. They told us about a hidden little beach, off the beaten patch, and we drove to it, stopping to pick up some Canadian hitchhikers along the way who were lost and needed a ride to our same beach. We spent a few hours there, and I was glad to get some time to say goodbye to the Magic Water. That night, they treated us to a perfect Korculan dinner, in old town, they laughed and reminisced about old times, and I felt like I was one of them. It was great to be in touch with my muz’s childhood and past on this level.

Finally we boarded the ferry back to Orebic, back to our car, and we started the trip back down the coast to Rafailovic, where we would meet up with my muz’s parents. What a journey we had.






Exploring Korčula


After wondering whether I would feel the magic of Korčula, we decided to get in the car and explore the island. We had already wandered through Korčula’s Old Town, an old 14th and 15th century town with marble streets and old churches and red roofs and alleyway cafes. Now we went to discover the wild Korčula. The Korčula of my muz’s childhood. They had built an old stone house perched on the water’s edge a few miles outside town, and it was here that he spent his summers. We drove closer and closer to his home and closer to my vision of what Korčula was. His home had long ago been vandalized during the war and they were subsequently forced to sell it. It was a simple concrete structure with no electricity and a water tank fitted with live eels to keep it clean. A campground was located behind the house where campers from all around the world would come to set up a base from which to spend weeks windsurfing and swimming. As we approached the house, my muz suddenly pulled over on the side of the road, excitedly. “Do you smell it?” He asked. “The pine trees, the salt water, it’s just as it was!” He pointed to a hole in the brush and led me down a rocky nearly invisible path towards the water and it opened up onto a group of white boulders. We scampered down over the roots and brush and up onto the rocky ledge. “This is where I would jump from”, he said. “This is where it all happened.” This is where the magic of Korčula crept into his heart. This is where all the memories were. We were finally here.

We drove on towards his home and as we approached, we noticed a couple sunning themselves on the dock, the girl was topless. He excitedly pointed to the campgrounds and the olive trees, and told me all about the home. The home was under new ownership, they were building a modern addition and had added a real roof, new doors, and were clearly trying to make it a proper modern summer home. I was glad it wasn’t finished, because I could still see what it had looked like in his youth: primitive, yet lovely. We climbed up behind the house where we came upon a tiny stone dwelling made of hand carved stone. He told me about the man who worked here, this was his workshop, and he hand carved the stone from a quarry behind his stone house. He literally took dynamite and blasted the rock, then cut it, then chipped it, then carved it into perfect rectangular blocks which would be sold to be used as building materials in the town. He had made stone benches and tables on which my muz would sit as a boy, eating feasts of fresh fish with his family, guests of the stone mason on that hill. We descended back to the road, and he pointed out olive groves and blackberry bushes and pine trees, and the spot where the fig tree once grew in front of the home. It was just as I had imagined. It was beautiful.

We then drove around the island, visiting all the little fisherman’s towns, each more ancient and more removed than the last.  We passed vineyards and graveyards, and abandoned stone houses with angry political graffiti staining them. We drove by a bent old lady working in a garden, a tired man carrying a wheel barrel, and tourists on red shiny bicycles. We visited one of the only sand beaches (as opposed to the classic pebbly beach) on the opposite side of the island, and stopped for a beer and a sunset view, and to let all the sights we had just seen sink into our memories. This was the Korčula I had hoped to see, and I loved it.

Korčula Island

Some nights at home in Los Angeles, he would wake up having been dreaming of diving into the waters of Korčula. We were surrounded by traffic and construction and the constant sounds of cars driving by, but at night he would escape to Korčula Island, where he had spent many childhood summers. . I’ve never known a place to hold such a strong grip on someone. He talked about these summers like it was where his heart discovered joy. Mostly he talked about the water: the calm, clear, warm water. The water that was clean and refreshing and seemed to almost have healing powers. The water that he learned how to windsurf on as a boy, feeling the wind and racing through the waves, his boyish frame growing stronger every year as he learned this skill. He told stories of this place, laughing and reminiscing, and almost crying with homesickness of this island. And he always told me we would make it here someday. And finally here we are.

We were standing at the water’s edge and he was looking at the water, and I watched him delicately step closer to its edge. He kept looking at it but not getting in. It was like the water was a wild animal and he was afraid to get close as he might scare it away. He needed to romance it, needed to know that he meant it no harm. I think he needed it to recognize him first, to invite him. It was as if his soul was saying, “It’s me, remember? I came back for you”. Finally the sea and he were ready. He dove in head down and swam. He kept swimming and swimming and I thought he might never turn and stop. I could almost feel his soul being released to fly free. Finally he stopped and turned over and floated on his back, the water so clear around him, the tiny ripples creating the perfect bed. The sound of the water must bring back so many memories, the smell of the salt and the trees, and the sound of the church bell in the distance. This was his home.

Meanwhile, I sat on the shore, which was more of a rocky slope that artfully descended into the sea. Though I tried to capture the feeling that he had, I was at a loss.  He sang cheerfully in Italian as I rearranged myself on the rocky ground, trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable, jagged edges poking me. He swam the backstroke like a native while I spit out salty water and shivered from the chill. He was at home, and I was …along for the ride. I will probably never connect with this place like he will. Possibly because I was never here as a child. There is something about childhood experiences that take root in you, that become a part of your story and hold charm and energy and a sliver of your youth. You just can’t see a place the same way if you see it first through adult eyes. I can try, and I am, and I can appreciate, and I do, and I can see him revel in this happiness, and that will have to be enough for me now.


Road Tripping in Dalmatia

The next morning, we boarded one of the last Yugoslav airline flights to Tivat, Montenegro. Soon the airline will be re-named “Air Serbia”. My in laws were coincidentally also booked on this flight, and we sat across the aisle from them during this short trip. Once we landed, we said goodbye as they went south for their vacation, and we rented a car and started our drive North, up the coast of Montenegro and over the border into Croatia.

Our first stop was Old Town Kotor, an ancient village on the sea built within massive stone walls all around it. As we entered the city gate, I was in awe. I had read about it, seen pictures, but to see it in person was something else. The streets were white marble and the churches towered in every square. This was one place where Catholic and Orthodox churches shared a courtyard, recording a time where many different peoples lived amongst each other in peace. We strolled through the town, stopped to enjoy some street musicians, and take in some history from the many guided tours. This would be the first of many cities we would visit that had a similar feel o them. A fortress, massive stone walls, marble streets, ancient history mixed with modern pizzarias and ice cream shops, and lots and lots of tourists. Still, the beauty was astounding, and we lingered enough time to appreciate it.

Soon, we moved on and continued our drive to the bay of Kotor. We stopped in Perast before pressing on to Risan for the evening. Perast is quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I’ve been many places in the world, seen a million views, but this is one of the most unique seascapes I have ever seen. Set in a deep inlet, the views from the land are of tall hills that dominate the sky. Technically it is not a fjord, but it looks like one. Both Perast and Risan are tiny coastal towns with ancient stone buildings, churches, and clock towers, and seaside restaurants and cafes along the main stretch. There are a handful of rooms for rent, and seafood is the local specialty. The tranquilty along these stretches is otherworldly. We sat at a restaurant on a dock and breathed in and out the salty sea air, and this was the first time on this trip that I let finally let go of the burden of my stress and surrendered to the peace around me.

Later we drove on to Risan, where we stopped to ask a toothless woman with a baby walking on the side of a road if she knew where “Lorena Rooms” was. She did indeed, in fact she was related to Lorena, and pointed us in the right directions. I had carefully selected this guest house after many hours of online research, but now I began to doubt myself. Minutes after we pulled into the driveway, my doubts vanished however, as we met Branko and Lorena, who greeted us and immediately offered us a drink of their homemade wine. We sat on their balcony overlooking the view, and they talked and talked and talked like they hadn’t had any visitors in quite awhile. Luckily, my muz speaks the language, and I was able to sit back and listen. Above us stretched a canopy of grapevines, the grape clusters swollen and begging to be picked. Even kiwi fruit hung ready from the vines above us.

They showed us to our room, which was simple but clean and fairly modern, and we had our own bathroom and refrigerator, and the view was simply stunning. They had even included a bottle of wine.

The next morning they greeted us with “local tea from the mountain, domestic honey and lemon grown from their garden” It was divine. We sat and talked and talked and talked, and the glistening in their eyes gave away their sweet spirits, even though I could not really understand most of what they were saying. Lorena was saying how I looked cold, and she went into the house to get something for me. To appease them, I dug into my bag and put on a sweater, and soon she emerged, satisfied that I was now warm enough. A few minutes later I noticed she was discreetly putting back on the simple crocheted vest that she had been wearing previously. Suddenly I realized what had just happened. She had literally gone in and realizing she had nothing else, had simply taken the shirt off her own back to give to me. I have heard about his, but never witnessed such behavior. These were good people. When we left, we waved and waved as we drove away. I almost felt like they had become family.

We drove on the Herceg Novi, not to be confused with Hercegovina. Herceg Novi was yet another variation of the ancient city set alongside a gorgeous sea view. This city was a little more developed, a little more touristy, but still, simply breathtaking. We walked along the seafront, settled for coffee and a view, taking the time to smell the salt air before returning to our car and driving up north again.

Soon we reached Dubrovnik, which of course is the most well-known town of this region. As much as I enjoyed Dubrovnik, I have to say, if I came here again, this is the one city I would not visit. After seeing a few lesser known, but still ancient and beautiful coastal towns, this one left me a little unimpressed. Maybe because it’s so popular and therefore overcrowded. Or perhaps, if I stayed longer, I would discover more of it to love. It is the quintessential Dalmation coastal town, completely encircled in a stone wall, which at times, is 6 meter thick. We walked along the top of the wall and the view from above – the vast expanse of orange clay roofs was indeed incredible. The marble streets and stone churches were gorgeous, but the tourists from the many cruise ships crowded the city like ants. We finally found a perfect spot of peace amongst the crowded streets. We discovered an isolated little bar outside the city wall, clinging onto the side rocks, where the view was amazing, and dropped steeply into the sea. Here we had cold Pepsi, hot sun, an ancient fortress behind us, nothing but sea view in front of us, it was divine.

Soon we were back on the road, and much to my surprise, my muz turned off the road before reaching our ferry point at a little town called Ston. There were two towns, Ston, and mali Ston (little Ston) and we pulled over and explored the town a little, which really did feel like a hidden gem. This town was once famous for is salt production, and because of its proximity to bigger, more important Dubronik, and the fact that Dubrovnik depended on it economically, a foreboding long stone wall was built around the city to protect it against the many invaders, mostly the Ottoman Empire. Apparently, in Ston, you can volunteer for a day or two to work at the still functioning salt flats. It is also a culinary treasure of the region, famous for its fresh seafood and olive oils and of course, local sea salt.

We returned to the car and pressed on to Orebic, where we would catch the ferry to Korcula. The drive from Ston to Korcula was a steep winding road hugging the mountain side so tight, I don’t know it 2 American size SUVs could pass each other without one falling off the cliff and into the sea below. Most places there were no guard rails, and the blind curves were relentless. We stopped to take a minute at a war memorial off the side of the road, furthering, if only by an inch,  my understanding of this region’s complex history.  We arrived in Orebic and boarded the ferry to Korcula. Since it was dark, I couldn’t see the island much as we approached, but I knew we were finally here. The excitement rose up inside me as we met his old family friend at the ferry dock and she drove us through the old town to our home base for the night. My muz had asked her to help us find a place for the night on the island, much to my protests. Even though this was his stomping ground, I felt I had a better idea of what we were looking for in an overnight stay, and I, being the control freak that I am, hated to surrender this important decision to someone else.  I wanted a place with character, a room with a view, a place where we could meet other travelers and share stories and ideas. I knew that these places were available here, but I also knew that this may not be where we were going.

It had rained recently, and we drove through the dark, wet, streets of Old Town Korcula making our way to what I hoped would be a perfect resting spot from which to enjoy the Island. As we approached the building where we would be staying, something didn’t seem right. We opened the door and walked down the hall, each side covered in old paintings of hills and seas with huge crosses on them. We opened the door to our room which was all white. White walls, white floor, white bedding, a tiny window in one upper corner which opened up to the grey street above, and a single gold crucifix hanging above our bed. I suddenly realized where we were. This was no charming guest house, we were in a convent! My heart sank as I realized we would be staying here. No view, no character, no island feel. We did have access to a patio, we were told, but to be careful when we went up there, no late night talking or coffee and conversation, as the nuns might be using it for their daily prayers. So much for the relaxing romantic setting I was hoping for. So far, Korcula was nothing like I expected.


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I need a vacation before my vacation.

On Fridays when I get out of work, I am so exhausted that I can barely drive straight. When I finally get home, I stare at the TV, too tired to even walk the dog or feed myself. I usually sleep at least 10 hours before waking up feeling like I was hit by a truck. When I finally drag myself out of bed, it takes me awhile before I have enough energy to make coffee. Then I make a whole pot and sip it for hours while poring over my weekend to do list. By Monday I am refreshed, but never quite ready to do it all again.

I have been working very hard at a stressful job, painstakingly progressing through an intense training program at a rushed pace. Just as my long-awaited vacation is finally almost here, I find myself so close to finishing a major milestone goal at my work, one I had hoped to complete before I went on this vacation to Serbia. A week or two, and I’d be done, but in just a few short days, I will board a plane to Amsterdam, then Belgrade, then shortly thereafter, Montenegro. Instead of finishing this goal, I will be on what I hope to be, my dream vacation. I will not be able to accomplish this one last big work thing before I go, and this is leaving me feeling a little anxious.

Not only do I not feel ready to leave work, I also feel like I am not ready to actually arrive in Belgrade and begin my vacation. Why am I not ready? I’d like to say that I love lazy days and spontaneity, but really I am a perfectionist and a control freak.  I am in desperate need of a vacation and need to relax, but before I go, there’s just a few things I’d like to get done. See, I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared. I show up to doctor’s appointments with a handwritten notes and questions.  I start researching car safety records a year in advance before I plan on purchasing one, and I never go the grocery store without a list.  The idea of getting onto a plane for a rare and special vacation without so much as a plan except to “have fun” is horrifying.

Its not that I don’t love surprises or going with the flow, its just that really want to get the most out of this trip. If I had more time to prepare, I could…practice my Serbian, learn how to do my hair better, and lose a few pounds so I can look fabulous in pictures, and of course, I’d love to learn how to take better pictures so I can really capture each special moment, and as always I never feel like I am writing as much as I want to. Not only this, but I really want to spend some more time researching all the amazing and wonderful things I hope to do and see while I am over there, so I can come up with a spectacular plan for experiencing the adventure trip of a lifetime.  But my departure date is approaching and with the break neck pace of my work and me being so tired and distracted on my down time because of it, it now seems I won’t get any of these preparations done. Wouldn’t it be nice to check off a few “to-dos” before I go unwind? I really think it would help me relax more and get the most out of my trip! It seems like I’m going to have to let go of tying up the loose ends and just embrace the chaos. Instead of driving the car, I’m going to have to just hang on for the ride.


The ABCs of Cultural Exchange

“I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…. an apple, a backpack, a cherry soda.” This children’s game was popular on road trips and at campfires, each kid repeating the line, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring… ” and then they would each add an item that began with the first letter of the alphabet (A for apple, B for boat, C for Catamaran etc.) and went all the way to the end of the alphabet till you reached an item that started with the letter Z . We would vary the game and say “I’m going to the moon and I’m going to bring…an Astronaut suit”, or “I’m going on an adventure and I’m going to bring an Atlas…” It was a fun way to pass the time.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the exchange of items between Serbia and the US between friends and family members. By now I know the drill –  leave plenty of room in my suitcase for last-minute items to bring both to and from Serbia. Every time someone in the community goes back, they are asked to bring with them a smorgasboard of items. The last time my muž took a trip back to Belgrade from Los Angeles, and he was inundated with the usual requests. Most times, its electronics and drug store items such as hair color and vitamins, but one time the list seemed even more colorful than normal. “Could you get me an iPad for my cousin’s husband?” “Return the TV remote control to my little brother’s house that he left here in LA on the couch” “Get some St. John’s Wort (a mood enhancer) from your local vitamin store”, and even, “2 electric fly swatters – they look like tennis rackets!”. The list seemed endless and took up half his suitcase, but like always, he obliged, because that’s really the only sensible thing to do.

In preparation for our upcoming trip, I’ve even come up with my own mental list of personal conveniences to bring to Belgrade just to try to narrow the “creature comfort” gap. A box of energy bars for hunger emergencies, hand sanitizer, and a collapsible clothes drying rack. Still can’t believe there are no clothes driers! And of course, I wouldn’t go travel anywhere anymore without bringing my trusted pack towel light! Of course, on the way back home, we’ll be explaining to the customs officer that our tub of Kajmak (stinky dairy spread) is actually the latest European face cream.

I’m reminded by my muž, that it seems a little callous to assume that Belgrade, with its relative small consumer base compared to the US should be expected to have all the same conveniences that we have here, and at such low costs. But for what we Americans can boast in cheap, modern, conveniences, Serbians offer up in soul. Human nature makes us all want what we don’t have, whether that be something to make your life easier, or something to make it richer. I can just imagine packing up to return home from Belgrade and wanting to bring back a taste of Serbia saying, “We’re going to America and we’re bringing….a homemade jar of Ajvar, a clear and potent Bottle of Slivovitz, and a CD of Gypsy Trumpet music”. What we bring back each time, besides all the memories and maybe a few crosswords puzzles in cyrillic, is a a fresh perspective on life, a few little items to help us savor every day, slow down, and enjoy the ride.


Survival Serbian


photo(11)Two and a half years since I returned from my Serbian trip, we’re finally planning a trip back together for the first time. The last time I was there, I was on my own and what an adventure I had. This time, it will be different. This time, it’s not really a “choose your own adventure” type of trip, but a couples trip, which I’m sure will be full of different challenges and different joys. My idea of a great vacation would be a fun packed adventure type, and would include stuff like kayaking and bicycling and sightseeing and getting lost in nearby villages. I’d visit museums and nightclubs and meet strangers on the bus and join them for dinner. For him, it’s all about relaxing. His ideal vacation would probably be lazy leisurely days sunning himself at the beach, with a few breaks here and there to swim in calm, clear waters. So the challenge will be to marry these two ideas into one satisfying trip. We plan on over a week in Belgrade, but first, we will go to Montenegro and Croatia for a little island hopping excursion. Let the planning begin!

I’ve been hoarding my slowly accruing “annual leave” for a year and a half so we can go on this trip together, and I’ll deplete every last day I have saved. I’ve seen Belgrade through my own eyes, this time I will see it through his. This time it will be his friends, his family, his childhood memories that we will seek. We will visit his old schools and favorite places and he will show me all the things that make this place his home. It will be a chance to reconnect with his roots, and a chance for us to get away to a place that we both love, for different reasons.

In preparation for this trip, I’ve finally dug out my notes from my Srpski Jezik Radionica from when I was there last, cramming away at the little school on Simina street, sitting on my cozy little bed at hostel Kapetan, or sipping coffee while going over flashcards in a cafe on Knez Mihailova. I’m ashamed to say I have not kept up my Serbian like I wanted to.  All the big and little things that make up life have gotten in the way, and most days, “study a foreign language” somehow kept getting pushed to the bottom of my “to-do” list. Somehow, starting a new career, buying a home, and even just doing laundry have taken precedence. So as the big trip approaches, I’ve gotten frantic, realizing that I don’t want to start from scratch with the language when I get back there. I spent so many hours studying it that it seems a shame to have to pay someone to teach me what they taught me 2 years ago. So here I go. Grammar, Vocabulary, Futile attempts at conversation with the muž. Oh the Padež! Damn the Padež! Why is it so complicated! The Genders! Why must a table be a he or she? The same infuriating questions that plagued me back then will plague me again, I can see it happening already. Why must I memorize a thousand rules just to say a single sentence? Why must I know that if I make something plural, only if it’s a masculine, monosyllabic, noun, that I must add ovi, but only if it ends in a hard consonant? The madness! But no. I will not go down this path again, I will not be overwhelmed. I will be methodical and open-minded and enthusiastic. I will try a little every day. I will accept the absurdity of verb exceptions, feminine nouns that pose as masculine, and old words that have alternate endings, and that G + I becomes ZI in the locative, and I will try not to forget about the mobile “A”s. Damn those mobile As. But I will accept these oddities and embrace them. And if I forget them all, which I expect I will do, I will not care that I sound like a caveman but I will keep speaking and learning and forego pride for progress.

So in the midst of all this new-found ambition, I reached out to a friend who is an English language professor, but who grew up in Belgrade. A perfect choice I thought, one who knows the language, but also knows how to teach someone grammar and conversation, and so today we met over lunch. She decided it would be best to start with useful phrases, you know, stuff I could use with the in-laws and in making small talk. She made me realize that I have to stop focusing on grammar and perfection and just make an effort to speak more to build up my confidence with the language, and not to worry too much about if its correct. This is something I need to take to heart – Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. So we focused on the practical, or what I started calling “Survival Serbian”. I couldn’t help but laugh when she had me write down things like,

“Ne, stvarno ne mogu više” – I really can’t take any more! (We imagined this would be in response to all the incessant food offerings around the table)

“Izvini, malo sporije” – Please, a little slower (For when they talk at hyper-speed)

“”Divna Vam Je Supa” – Your Soup is Splendid! (For when Mama Zlata cooks for us)

These are the kinds of phrases that I’m sure I’ll get a plenty of mileage out of, and will probably be infinitely more useful than remembering possessive plural pronouns or the locativ case. So after nearly 3 hours of Survival Serbian, I leave and suddenly realize I am completely drained. I drive home, exhausted, and wonder how I will ever make progress and start to remember just how intense my “intensive Serbian language course” really was that first time in Belgrade. Suddenly I’m not so opposed to a few lazy days sunning and swimming at the beach, it might be just exactly what I need.