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Serbian Wedding: Part 4 a review of the Square Nine Hotel in Belgrade

September 19, 2011 3 comments

Toast

The day after the wedding we had to all check out. Most people were going home but we’d decided to stay an extra day and to stay in a place with a pool. I’d really wanted to do some swimming while on holiday. The Theatre Producer couldn’t find anywhere with an outdoor pool in Belgrade so we ended up booking a room in the Square Nine Hotel.

After we’d packed up our stuff and checked out the wedding party went to a restaurant in Belgrade for a ‘brunch’. You know a light meal, before disappeared into the sunset.

The restaurant was on a cobbled street in Belgrade that was full of other places to eat and looked very pretty. We ate upstairs, the walls were retractable so it was like eating a tree-house. One with an in-exhaustible supply of food.

We were served the classic Serbian starter of meat and cheese. It was lovely and accompanied with a glass of excellent red wine (holiday wine always tastes the best).

After the starter we were all full and enjoying the wine so of course our hosts appeared with more meats and vegetables. We tried to eat as much as possible but after a weekend of Serbian eating we were struggling. At least there were only three meats, so that was a saving grace.

When the brunch was done we waddled around saying goodbyes before heading off in search of our new hotel which appeared to be only a few streets away.

Luggage in tow we rattled down some very pretty streets. We would have got entirely lost too if The Theatre Producer couldn’t read the Cyrillic alphabet. We had a rough map in English but the street signs were in Cyrillic. I don’t know how to pronounce the little one that looks like triangle on a picnic table or any of that.

After not getting lots at all we found the hotel. It was a new build on the outside, looking a bit smarter and more planned than the rest of the buildings in the square.

Square Nine Hotel

We walked in. It was all hushed and softly lit like an episode of the West Wing. We spoke to a very polite man on reception who whispered in reply to our questions. Well ‘don’t tell anyone this’ type whispers but ‘Very good sir, I don’t want to speak any louder for fear of straining your eardrums unduly’

The room was on the third floor and was amazing. Lots of clean lines and soft furnishings. I have never dived on a more comfortable bed or been more jealous of a writing area ever. There was even one of those leather place setting things for you to write your great American novel on, well not on, you know to put the paper on.

There were also a lot of buttons to control the different lighting levels, the curtains and the James Bond villain-esq black-out blinds. It would be fair to say they got a fairly extensive test while The Theatre Producer was having a shower. It was like a sedate disco.

The Theatre Producer was raving about the shower, which was like turning a monsoon off or on, but sadly our bathroom was being a bit naughty and not draining properly. We called reception and they immediately put us in a new room with a  bed that hadn’t been jumped on and gave us each chocolates to eat.

Post chocolates I went down to have a swim in the pool below the hotel. It was the best pool I’ve ever been too for the following reasons.

  • The moment I arrived a very polite man gave me a dressing gown to wear.
  • And some shoes.
  • No-one else was there.
  • The pool was underground but there was a skylight. Amazing.
  • There were funny devices at the edge of the pool for eating up the waves so it was the least splashy pool I had ever been in.
  • There was a gym bit too, I played with the weights and then played the pool again.
  • And a jacuzzi, one made out of wood so it was like boiling yourself in a bucket.
  • There was also a steam room. I lasted ten minutes before I gave up.
  • The super fluffy towels were stored what looked like a pirate treasure chest
I continued on a cycle of swimming, broiling myself and occasionally reading a book on a sun lounger. It was a good way to spend an evening. The Theatre Producer joined me for a bit too.
After swimming a lot, I think for about an hour, it was time to go out for food. So we got on our posh clothes and set off.

Supper

We had decided to let fate decide where we would eat, walked out the door saw the menu for the in-house restaurant and immediately turned around and tried that. It sounded amazingly swish and was shockingly cheap.
The food that followed was amazing. A pea soup amuse bouche then gazpacho soup (we both chose that) served in an excitingly original way.
TP had some fish thing that was great and I had gnocchi, well something like gnocchi. Every dish was delicious and then served in a redicilously over the top way. Think Masterchef but far more polite, they kept giving us little sample dishes between courses like an attentive parent.
For pudding I had knickerbocker glory (great) and TP had Black Forest Gateau which was one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Much later we retired back to our room and fell asleep in the huge, lovely bed. The next morning I got up at 7 to get in a pre-breakfast swim, TP wanted to do some further testing of the bed.
Later in the morning we went down for breakfast which was also excellent. We had a selection of exciting pastries as well as Eggs Benedict and some extremely good coffee.
If you are ever in Belgrade stay in the Square Nine Hotel

The journey home

With much sadness we got a cab back to the airport, queued and then got onto our flights, stopping only to buy a selection of sweets with rude names and very large Toblerone bars. Two Swiss flights later (and two more chocolates) we were back in a very wet, very damp London.
Lessons learned
  • Serbians eat a lot of meat
  • There isn’t that much to do in Belgrade, but it is nice
  • If in doubt, order the Black Forest Gateau
  • Going on holiday with a girl isn’t always a disaster
My first nice holiday with a girl was over, and I think I’d even go so far as to say I’d like to do it again.
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Serbian Wedding: Part 3 Dinosaurs and cannons

September 15, 2011 5 comments

Toast

It was the day of the wedding at last. It was also bloody hot. It was the sort of weather that would make you say ‘steady on girl’ if someone even suggested you wear more than just shorts. I was in heaven.

Here are the three things I didn’t want to be wearing that day.

1) A dinosaur costume

2) A rubber one-piece

3) A suit

Sadly my first two looks had been vetoed so I had to go with the last one. It was a wedding after all, although it turns out the first costume would have been weirdly appropriate. More on that later.

At about midday everyone got all spruced up. I got into my linen suit and The Theatre Producer put on her fancy dress.

It had flowers on it and was a faintly vintage number that made me suspicious that some WW2 fighter pilot would whisk her away at any moment. I resolved to spend the rest of the day standing near her and growling at any men that got too close.

We waltzed down to the lobby and found lots of other people were looking like they were on their way to a job interview/prom.

There was a little bit of ‘ooh you look nice’ and then we all piled into a coach and went on a drive. Passing Serbians would have been impressed by how formally dressed British people get before they go on a coach tour.

Coach Trip

We passed the time talking about weddings while the coach driver stopped for directions. Literally stopped in the middle of the road and shouted at people in garages.

Someone on the coach had been to a Pagan wedding which involved people getting all nudie. This sounded well skills until I realised it would probably be just ancient Aunts and the creepy man you went to school with getting their danglies out. WELL RUBS.

Eventually we arrived at the venue. It was a lovely restaurant with an outside bit full of huge trees, gazebos and a sort of thing with pillars that could be used for getting married in. Or at night, with the right lighting, summoning the ancient gods of Olympus*.

Lots of people appeared and we stood around excitedly drinking water in the brilliant sunshine. The water was quickly swapped for boozes and the venue gained the appearance of a summer party in England, a very well dressed one.

Tiny lady hats

The groom was standing around nervously doing catalogue poses in his suit while we waited for the bride. She appeared in a long, very warm looking dress with a cool hat. Not that the hat would help keep her cool, it was one of those splendid tiny lady hats with mesh on it.

She appeared and got photographed a lot, then she walked up to see her massively grinning soon to be husband.

The service wasn’t that religious, it alternated between readings in Serbian and English. One of the English readings was about dinosaurs and romance. It was aces. It was the first time I’d ever been at a wedding where dinosaurs were mentioned.

After the couple said ‘yes’ at key points (huge cheers). After the service was over everyone cheered some more. Then the newly married pair walked over to a big wooden log thing and set it on fire. It fizzled for a bit and then went.

BANG

Yes, they had fired a cannon to mark their marriage. Everyone jumped.

It was amazing, the only thing that would have made it better would have been if they had fired it again, or constantly for the rest of the evening. Bangbangbangbang.

More booze was handed out including Jagermeister which apparently is a completely acceptable afternoon drink in Serbia rather than the ingredient for a cocktail designed to make you sick. We had some ‘sipping vodka’ accept no-one told us it was for sipping in time so we downed it.

Yes we are that classy.

We went inside it was much cooler, which was actually quiet pleasant. Not that I like being cold, I just felt less like I was going to burst into flames at any moment.

The meal

The table we had been assigned to was called ‘batwing’ and was the furthest away from the top table, but incidentally right by the bar. WIN.

I wasn’t sure what The Theatre Producer had done to get put on this table but I’m sure she is very sorry.

A band started playing. They were pretty good doing covers of wedding favourites, but they were SUPER LOUD. So loud I couldn’t really have a conversation with anyone.

Toast: Hello, how do you know the newly weds?

Guest: I can ask, but I’m not sure if this restaurant does have any beds.

Toast: The family are lovely, I wouldn’t go so far as to call them fat heads. Anyway would you like some wine?

Guest: Tuesday, we fly back on Tuesday.

Toast: This suit? Oh I bought it while mashed one time.

Guest: You’re going for a climb?

And so on. I gave up even nodding politely to things I couldn’t hear properly after I accidentally implied I was pro-bear baiting.

Let the meat begin!

Food started to arrive. The opened with the classic meat and cheese starter. It was a good one too and served with apparently unlimited bread. I ate my roll and it was immediately replaced with another loaf by a little man with silvery hair.

After the starter most people indicated they were full (through the medium of mime of course) but the meal had just begun.

We had a lovely meaty soup with more bread before the serious business of meat could begin. There wasn’t just one course of meat, or two. Three would have been an insult to the auspicious occasion and four some how lacking.

No this Serbian wedding feast was to feature five, yes five courses of meat as it’s main dish.

Each meat sub-course was big enough to be a main dish at any other event. It was jolly tasty but also physically and mentally exhausting.

Half way through there was a little break for speeches, and all the ladies were ordered up for a special ladies dance with the incredibly loud band playing Serbian music.

The ladies danced. The song ended, but before they could return the band started playing another song just for them. All of the men were stood around watching while increasingly ‘glowing’ ladies danced to accordion music.

The song went on.

And on.

It lasted at least two beers and a gin and tonic before The Theatre Producer and her fellow naughty table girls escaped and returned. Some less brave women were still dancing away though.

Before anyone could relax more meat was poured on our plates.

The final course was meatballs which most people couldn’t face. That is their loss because it was the best and I felt a sense of achievement that only mountain climbers will understand when I finished the final bit of meat.

We drank a lot of booze. There was a bit of dancing but the dance floor didn’t fill until the band took a break and someone put on their iPhone. You’ve not seen joy until you’ve seen a whole family mime jazz flute to Paul Simon.

The loud Serbian band seemed a little bit miffed by that.

Slice of cake anyone?

Some cakes appeared, the wedding cake was wheeled into porn-style disco music.  One of the other cakes was made out of pancakes and had a top like a Crème brûlée.

It was amazing. I could have eaten that all day but annoyingly I had been eating vast amounts of meat for most of the afternoon. Fool.

There was more dancing. Then out of no-where a brass band appeared and started stomping around and playing honking tunes while everyone shouted at each other about ‘IT’S A BRASS BAND’ and ‘WHY WERE THEY HIDING IN THE KITCHEN FOR MOST OF THE NIGHT?’

We danced.

We drank.

And at about midnight we piled back into the coach (looking slightly more crumpled than before) and went back to the hotel.

*This might have happened later, but I was terribly drunk so I missed it.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Serbian adventure.

Serbian Wedding: Part 2 Nikola Tesla’s amazing house of DO NOT TOUCH

September 14, 2011 6 comments

Toast

The Theatre Producer and had eaten ourselves into a stupor the day before. An actual stupor. Previously I had never eaten so much that it had lowered my I.Q. I have to say I was a little bit proud.

In Serbia the meat eats you!

This day was going to be different, oh yes. No more podge for us! We had a day to hang about in Serbia and see the sights and by jove we were going to see them!

The first sight we saw was the breakfast bar.

I resolved to only eat a couple of bits of melon and perhaps half a prune.

This resolve lasted until I saw the selection of excellent pastries they had available. Damn you pastries and your seductive call.

The sour cherry ones were a bit of a disappointment (but I had three just to check) but the apple and cinnamon ones were amazing.

I remember them fondly and occasionally look at photos of them while listening to sad music. Goodbye my friends…

With breakfast out-of-the-way we decided to go and explore the sights of the White City. There are basically two things to see in Belgrade.

A Huge Castle

In the middle of the city is a massive castle, it’s like properly gigantic.

It’s well old and pretty smashed up but enough of it remains to make you wish you’d packed a wooden sword and shield. It’s free to get in and the only thing to stop you climbing all over it is a sign saying you might die, which everyone ignores.

In the middle of a castle is basically a park, so you can walk among the trees admiring the tiny lizards and looking over the two mighty rivers that meet in Belgrade. There is also an ice cream van, and that isn’t even the best bit.

The castle is full of tanks! Mostly World War 2 tanks, but ones in all shapes and sizes. If you like looking at tanks (me) this will keep you amused for a very long time trying to pick your best tank.

After you’ve looked at tanks a lot you can go to a little cafe (I’m v glad the castle’s builders realised visitors would need refreshments) and have an ice-cold drink.

Everyone in Serbia drinks Bitter Lemon as their soft drink of choice, so if you order it you feel all cosmopolitan and Eurasian. Yeah, I’m totes a local don’t you know.

There is also a mock-Tudor house in the park at the top of the castle too. I don’t know what that was about but since it wasn’t a tank I didn’t care.

To surmise: Tanks = awesome, weird mock-Tudor houses = mega lame.

Oh and there are some mines and torpedoes to look at too. We wandered around for quite a while admiring canons and things that go bang. The Theatre Producer even picked her favourite cannon, it was terribly romantic.

For some reasons some of the moats of the castle have been filled in with tennis courts, I assume filled in, I can’t imagine they would have served much of deterrent to invaders when the castle was functional, unless the invaders were terribly polite.

‘Take the castle!’

‘We can’t Sir, they are in the middle of a game of tennis.’

‘Tennis? This is war!’

‘But Sir, they are half way through a set!’

‘Oh, okay Crispin, wait till they change ends and then we will run past quietly, see if you can steal a ball too.’

After looking at the castle we had lunch in the ‘touristy area’ of Belgrade.

This is a special area with, well some restaurants and some shops that pretend to sell pirate costumes but don’t actually and make people like Toast very angry. If you don’t sell pirate gear, don’t put it in the window. I HATE THEM.

One of The Theatre Producer’s male friends and I sat down and had a beer while TP and her lady chum bought more earrings. I got a little bit drunk.

I am blaming this drunkenness on the fact I ended up buying an authentic pair of ‘Bay Ran’ sunglasses from a man with a bum bag.

I think he must have been some sort of shop-owner that had got lost and couldn’t find his shop, to explain why he had lots of sunglasses for sale that he was trying to get rid of cheap.

We ate lunch. I don’t know how I managed it, but I stuffed lots of food in my face once more and proudly waddled off to the second thing to see in Belgrade.

Nikola Tesla’s house

If you don’t know about Nikola Tesla, he is a dude. Like proper cool. Go and read about some clever stuff he said and the amazing inventions he came up with.

David Bowie played him in a film once and everything.

Nikola was from Serbia and his house has been converted into a museum. You can see his experiments. If you time it right (on the hour or at half past) there are tours where his fantastical devices are fired up for your amusement and wonder.

Time it wrongly, like just miss the tour and be with people who don’t want to hang around for another half an hour waiting, and you in a room of exciting looking brass and wood things that you MUST NOT TOUCH.

NO PLAYING WITH SCIENCE.

It wasn’t that good, but I’m sure it can be good, you know given the chance.

Eating massive trainers

We went back to the hotel, quite tired and took a nap. When we woke up we went to the restaurant in the hotel and had supper.

It was very strange. The Theatre Producer had a long bit of pork that sort of looked like the sole of a giant’s shoe. She said it was nice, I think she was lying or trying to impress the waitress (or the giant who had donated the shoe).

I had a kebab thingy with lots of cucumber. It was basically some meat on a plate. Most Serbian meals are like that.

The meal was nice, I like eating outside and the couple behind us were swearing in French in an amusing way. Oh those crazy French eh?

Since we are brave explorers who live life to the max, we ordered a bottle of the local wine.

It was, well after the second bottle it was pretty okay. It definitely tasted very winey. Yes, it was white and tasted of winey grapes. I told the waitress this and she was clearly impressed by my knowledge of fancy wines.

We retired for the evening, quite drunk.

The next day some people were going to get married so we needed to be ready for that.

Read Part 1 on the Serbian Holiday with The Theatre Producer

Serbian Wedding: Part 1 The Meatening

September 13, 2011 6 comments

Toast

The day of the wedding arrived. I was nervous and tired in equal measure.

This was mostly due to getting drunk the night before the trip instead of packing. I started off carefully picking out my outfits and finding my flip-flops and then I accidentally poured a lot of  cider in my mouth.

I don’t know how it happened, I also ended up mysteriously playing computer games with Biscuit. The Theatre Producer arrived and wasn’t as impressed by the progress Biscuit and I had made on Borderlands as we had hoped.

I wasn’t that packed in the morning. I’m not saying I wasn’t packed at all, I just wasn’t as packed as I could have been.

The Trip

The flight was super early at City Airport, we were early for it because I’m bad at being late. We were like zombies, ones that smelled faintly of cider.

Check in didn’t take long and soon we had nothing to do apart from eat too much breakfast and think about all the items I’d forgotten to pack. Honestly it’s not such a big deal, I mean who really needs shoes anyway?*

We had to connect in Switzerland to another flight. There isn’t much to say about it apart from Swiss Air give you a chocolate before landing and quite a lot of leg room. Two flights, two chocolates. WINNING AT LIFE.

Serbia (Fuck yeah)

Serbia was HOT when we landed. It was proper summer hot, not like ‘oh gosh I could probably get away without wearing a jumper, what what?’ but ‘OH MY GOD I’M ON FIRE’ hot.

Actually it wasn’t that bad, I just suddenly found myself regretting my choice of cardigan even if it did have sexy leather elbow patches. I am sad for Serbia that they didn’t get to see me wearing that as much.

A man with an excellent moustache was waiting for us at the airport and took us to the hotel for free. My opinion of Serbia (already good after their strong Eurovision entries) was rising all the time.

The Hotel

The hotel was nice. It was on the far side of Belgrade, functional and clean.We had a room with a balcony and an en-suit mosquito**.

We dropped our bags off, shouted at each other about how we were on holiday and that was exciting (god knows what the people in the room next to us thought) and then went off in search for food.

The food quest didn’t go well. We found a shop that sold pencils, one that sold academic books and a cafe that didn’t do meals. We thought about trying to survive on pencils (the coloured ones have flavour right?) but instead got some funny shaped crisps (Hurrah for weird Euro-snacks) and walked sadly back to the hotel.

It was when we were about 30% through the crisps that we noticed the rather large and  swish restaurant that we had cunningly ignored before.

So we did the sensible thing. We hid around the corner eating crisps until we were finished and then walked in.

Food

The Theatre Producer asked politely if the serving lady spoke English, she replied ‘of course’ and then sat us down in the corner. The restaurant had a big outside bit with sprays that pumped out water to lower the temperature a bit.

We ordered some bubbles and quite a lot of food. Far too much food really. We had a starter which was smoked meats and cheeses and then they brought out more food.

Serbians like meat. They really like meat, a lot of it. We bravely ate through it while  Sealed with a Kiss (the Serbian version of course) played on an endless loop.

I’m going to recreate that for you by typing in Sealed with a Kiss every now and then so you get the experience.

After the starter (which we shared) we were full. Not just ‘oh gosh I’m fine, no I won’t eat another biscuit’ but ‘PLEASE KILL ME NOW’. I didn’t want to eat any more.

Sealed with a Kiss

More food arrived.

Sealed with a Kiss

The Theatre Producer had a turkey and cheese thing that had four turkey breasts in it I had a sort of chicken Kiev. One where everything that wasn’t meat had been replaced with pork.

Sealed with a Kiss

It was some meat, wrapped in a sort of purse made out of some other meat, with a meaty sauce and some meat on the side. It was also huge, bigger than my head.

It was meaty.

Sealed with a Kiss

A band turned up and were about to play for us, but more food appeared so they went away again. The band was mostly made of accordion players. Everyone in Serbia can play the accordion, fact***.

Since they didn’t play for us the restaurant helpfully played Sealed with a Kiss again.

We carried on chomping through our food. I felt felt so full that my stomach was tight, but we couldn’t leave any food behind, otherwise our Serbian hosts would have thought less of us. Brits are made of sterner stuff.

We ate on, Sealed with a Kiss.

There was a long period of very slow eating, with a lot of wheezing and sipping of wine. I had a plan, if I got drunk the pain of being so full would be reduced and I could eat more. It didn’t work.

Eventually we gave up, paid about £1.26**** for the meal (Sealed with a Kiss) and wobbled back to the hotel.

We then fell asleep, it was about 7pm. Rock and roll.

To be continued…

*I had packed some shoes.

**Or some other insect that would bite us during the night.

***Not actual fact.

**** Roughly

When brunch dates go bad

December 22, 2010 9 comments

Toast

The Serbian wanted to meet up again. I’d been rather busy going to art galleries, Christmas shopping and suffering under man-flu so we eventually went out for brunch.

She had never brunched before but I love a good brunch. It’s a meal you can only really take if you’ve got time off. So it’s always a special occasion.

We met up said the slightly awkward hellos of people who have kissed while drunk but haven’t quite decided if more kissing is in order and sat down to eat. The food was excellent but the conversation was troubling.

The Serbian spent the whole time talking about some other chap who had contacted her through a dating website and how she was talking to him but she wasn’t going to see him. Then she mentioned how she had got into the top 20 of another dating website.

I wasn’t quite sure what to say in reply to this.

The rest of the conversation followed this form. She would talk – with distain – about other men who have attempted to ask her out and I would be baffled over what she wanted me to say. This was for the entire meal. Yes, the entire meal.

It was decidedly less fun than magic and video cameras.

We parted with a vague promise of a drink and I think it will be left as that.

Marriage percentage = 0% – Don’t talk about other dates when on second dates.

Lessons learned:
Doing excellent stuff can sometimes make a connection seem like more than it is
Talking about being unpleasant to other men doesn’t impress me
I really like brunch

A date with a Serbian and a video camera

December 19, 2010 11 comments

Toast

I had another internet date. This was with a girl who contacted me first. I’ve been sort of relying on that for the last few months. This is a bad tactic to settle into. Be pro-active!

Anyway this girl contacted me. She was tall, with dark hair and seemed interesting in an intelligent, faintly fighty way. So yes all my weaknesses in one.

I had been invited to a party on Wednesday for, well I couldn’t really work out what it was for but there was going to be complimentary drinks, a magician and the possibility of winning a cool video camera. Ideal for a date.

We met in the rain on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. It was pleasingly dramatic. There was some confusion of exactly where we were meeting but after about half a dozen we had finally managed to find each other.

She was tall, and well she looked, well like her photos. She had a soft South African accent and you could tell her family originally were from Serbia by her fierce cheekbones. 

We hopped on the tube down to South West London. The bar was sort of in the middle of no-where so we had a reasonable walk to get there.

This was really good, because it gave us loads of time to talk. Before we had arrived we had covered, quantum physics, feminism, philosophy and how we were determined to win a camera.

The bar was dark and we were quickly shuttled into the VIP area where they served us dim-sum and other lovely things. My luck, or skill was with my on the night too as I managed to win a video camera. I gave it to the girl. She was impressed.

Then I won another video camera, which also impressed the girl. I kept this one. The magic man turned up and did some really, really good magic and we drank more booze.

We got chatting to a chap to our left and while The Serbian was talking to him she started squeezing my leg. I raised an eyebrow to no-one in particular.

Leg squeezing seems to be the sign that a girl likes you these days, and my assumption was right because when our new friend went to the loo she lunged at my and kissed me on the face with tongues.

Clearly the way to a woman’s heart is expensive consumer electronics.

For some reason I was feeling a little bit cocky. I think the combination of a good tie, winning stuff and VIP areas at got to my head. I turned to her and said.

“I like you, we are going to go out again.”

“I’d like that,” she replied.

So there you go, sometimes you just have to tell a girl how it’s going to be.

There was some more kissing, and a bit more on the bus before we said goodbye. I will see her again, I mean I’ve given her a name and everything.

Marriage percentage: 20%

Lessons learned:
Rubbish first dates are over. It’s all about the swish dates
Winning girls stuff does impress them
If a girl squeezes your knee, she has designs on you.