Seeing as deciding the regularity of my blog posts has been my largest hurdle by far, switching over to a new system is in order. Rather than posting solely when I have inspiration, I'm going to post weekly updates (starting today and either keeping with Fridays or switching to Saturday after a week or two so I can conclude each week's happenings). Some will most definitely be a bit more drole (or interesting) than others, but I've been feeling a bit sluggish lately and need to push the limits of my comfort zone a bit. With that in mind, I may be completely off on what I have to offer and some of you will love (or hate) this new system. Either way, keep me posted, will you? ☺
So, what the hell have I been up to? I should give a bit of backstory before digging into this past week.
I arrived in Belgrade, Serbia on the 20th of November with very little planning regarding what I want to do here or for that matter, what I will do. I only had one thing lined up and that was a roof over my head. I had messaged Fair + Square Hostel on Facebook late at night and asked if I could stay there starting within a week (this was on the 17th... which was already a couple of days over my allotted Schengen Visa time). Their reply came swiftly and my fate (for the next few months was determined). At the time of our initial contact, I was planning on staying in Budapest, Hungary for a week or so longer since I was already over my visa anyways. This was to change within a day or two's time as I received multiple messages with links mentioning visa overstay fines/bans and quite frankly got a bit freaked out. Thanks, Mom... for starting that whole cycle. Anyways, with a soul-crushing fear hanging over my head, I asked through gritted teeth what the soonest date that I could head south would be and left on the first night train that would ensure my arrival with (hopefully) no issues.
My train went without a hitch, as can be read on my other blog regarding Schengen overstay and before I knew it, I was in the land of my ancestors. Serbia! The city of Belgrade (Beograd in Serbian: meaning "White City") is interesting and full of culture. It has some extreme slums that are hard to look at, much less imagining someone living in. It also has quite the variety of architecture due to a long-ruling dictator (Tito), his predecessor, and the dissolution of Yugoslavia (1990's to early 2000's). The people and food are nice and fairly unique to Serbia itself. They're both probably not the best to be around for a lifetime as neither are conducive to a healthy lifestyle, but it's definitely a fun place!
Shortly after arrival, I got settled in and was introduced to the workflow of the place. They were extremely open to working in my artwork and mechanical skill sets and even offered to pay for me to visit museums with later guiding of guests in mind. Everything sounded great! Alas, problems were right around the corner so it was probably good in hindsight that I enjoyed my initial days. The personality of the manager, Tamara, and my own were interacting like the introduction of two negative sides of magnets. We didn't get along AT ALL. As anyone who knows me personally is aware of, I have always had some issues with authority figures and if unwarranted respect is expected without cause, I will fight it to the end. Not actively, but just as a result of the fact that I feel that a certain level of respect is automatically given and anything further (such as that of a mentor/leader) has to be earned. This woman didn't share that view. She berated me and other volunteers and repeatedly told us that as volunteers we couldn't do ANYTHING without first asking her. This sounds reasonable but when taken to extremes becomes unbearable. She meant that literally and anything short of breathing wasn't to be tolerated. As a manager by title only and otherwise only present post 4 pm, this just wasn't realistic. Especially when most dilemmas had obvious right/wrong answers and consulting anyone else wasn't necessary.
Anyways, after nearly a month our last argument ended in me being told that I was done on reception and that she didn't care what else I did. She just didn't want to see me. I took this to mean more and so I went to the flat of the hostel owner that night. He and I had always gotten along and he told me that she had presented him with an ultimatum. Either I left the hostel or she would quit. My gut dropped, though if I'm being honest, I had already begun to research new locations in Belgrade. I love this city and want to spend as long as I can here. Back to the issue... He then proceeded to tell me that I wasn't going to have to leave. Why? Well, funny story. Several weeks earlier he had told her that he wanted to take me off of reception to work on other things (ie art, building things, repairs, etc...) and she had disagreed saying that she could turn me into what she desired. So the current debacle was just a result of her stubbornness and not my fault. It looked like a "so long" from myself to her was going to be in order. That said, I was still to try and apologize the next day when I saw her again. Salvaging whatever could be scraped up would be preferred, though I wouldn't have anything to do with her if she did stay. None of this is particularly relevant as our following confrontation ended promptly with her saying that there was nothing to be said and she was done. Andddd THAT was the last time I saw her. Formally, "So long Tamara" ✌.
Since then, I've had a bit more freedom. There's another guy at the hostel who's causing the occasional problem though he's much more passive aggressive so he never actually says anything to me. He's not by definition a volunteer, but he isn't a manager either. More of just... the guy who's supposed to keep the financials in line and registration required by the police submitted daily. Sweet title, right? He's a bit strange and (probably slightly warranted) thinks I'm arrogant. So he does things just to spite me. By that I mean he causes minor inconveniences and mostly stays away from me and what I'm doing. I'm still essentially done at reception, though only because I've been fairly occupied with updating portions of the hostel's website/navigation page, random building improvements, and artwork. I don't have to spend 7 hours at a desk when I could be doing other things. All in all and for everything that COULD have unfolded, it's been great.
Since that day when management changed (became nonexistent) in the middle of December, I've had a lot more time to do sketches and see the city. I've gone out a few times with various people and a few more times solo. The city itself is pretty great and I'm just finding out where the art stores are (I went a couple of weeks without a good water-soluble pen; it wasn't pretty). Besides random projects, I've been here for Thanksgiving (I ate a pleskjavica - similar to a gyro that mated with a huge burger. All for ~$2), Christmas (we made cookies and had some decorations up), and New Years. The latter of which lasted 4 days and I only remember bits and pieces of... You see, there are two factors that were involved. First, we had a group of 27 members of a student organization here and they wanted to PARTY. Second, the liquor here consists of a lot of Rakija and beer. Plus it's really cheap, so you don't really pay attention to how much you're drinking (ex. a 2L of beer costs 165 RSD which is less than $1.5). At any rate, it was a hell of a New Years and I had a lot of fun/met tons of people.
The days since my NYE recovery time have been spent trying to work out ways to stay financially alive. From doing small sketches to considering options for illustration jobs and possibly writing my own book, my mind is alive with options. Besides that, I'm preparing for Serbian (Orthodox) Christmas (January 7th) and soon after, the Serbian New Year (January 13th). I think for the most part, that gets you up to date. I'll post some photos and sketches from the past month below.
P.s. OH! I was also nominated for a Liebster Award (award for bloggers) by a friend and fellow travel bloggers, Christina and Adam Dwiggins (their blog is called Our Sweet Adventures). I'll be posting a blog pertaining just to that shortly after posting this.
(For anyone intersted, my most recent sketchbook can be downloaded HERE)