Settle and travel -> Perast, Montenegro – lilas academia

monday september 19

On Monday we had Serbian and Peace and Conflict Studies. I was definitely a little tired from the whole weekend, but I felt motivated to put in a lot of work.

After class, Isabel and I took the trolley bus to the National Library, which was right next to Saint-Sava and about a five-minute walk from my apartment. We went to a bakery and grabbed a sandwich and a pastry before going to sit in the library. The library had a cafe, where we chatted for two hours before getting to work. It was a beautiful library, with tons of tables facing a huge window. There were a lot of university students working, and I was able to concentrate and do quite a bit of reading.

At the National Library in Belgrade

After my readings, I went home, to dinner and rested!

tuesday september 20

On Tuesday, we had our lesson on the breakup of Yugoslavia. Our class made group presentations on various topics regarding Yugoslavia – nostalgia – my group talked about national holidays in the former Yugoslavia and the memories our host families have of them. After this course, I chose to separate from the group and go back to work at home, because I felt a little overwhelmed by all our missions and I was traveling ahead.

I was still riding on a high emotional level because of how great our weekend was last weekend, and I was excited for the weekend ahead (we are traveling again). I was able to do a lot of work on Tuesday, which made me feel good and on top of everything.

Wednesday, September 21

On Wednesday, I basically went from class to class, from appointment to appointment. The weather has really changed today; it was cold and threatened to rain at any moment. It was a pretty average day – I find it interesting how things already settle into such a routine that I feel like I don’t have much to write on some days.

I always feel like I’m trying to establish a good schedule that balances my academic/work needs with my emotional/physical wellness needs, but I know that will come with time and adjustments. Honestly though, I’m looking at the process of adjustment and the process of change. I know it will take time, and something about that gives me comfort. Plus, having the whole band going through the same thing together makes it really enjoyable. After this weekend, I feel like we’re still bonding as a group, which is really nice. And we have a girls’ trip this weekend, which I’m looking forward to!

Thursday September 22

Today we had another lesson on the breakup of Yugoslavia before an afternoon walking tour. Our class walked through various memorials and sites of the 1999 NATO bombings, the remains of which are preserved in the city. We passed the President’s workplace, the parliament building and the site of the state-controlled media building.

Passing by these buildings and the memorials erected for the victims, it really reminded me of the concept of memory studies. Understanding what and how people choose to commemorate the events is a very fascinating look into their lives and the stories the government is trying to maintain as “facts” about these incidents.

Overall, the whole conflict we’re looking at is incredibly complicated, and there are so many sides. I begin to understand how each side felt vindicated in their actions, how unresolved history and trauma exacerbated certain ethnic fears and led to violence. We also spent the week exploring Western perceptions of the Balkans as “savage” or “the last frontier,” and how these narratives shaped the international community’s response to the crisis in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Memorial for the children killed in the NATO bombings in 1999

I’m definitely ready for the weekend and for traveling! This weekend should be less busy – we’re going somewhere with a beach and my goal is to sleep a ton, read for fun, not just for school, and work on an essay due in a few weeks. It should also be a bit warmer on the coast, which will be nice, as we’ve had a dramatic cold spell here for the past few days. I hope the water will still be warm enough for us to swim in the Adriatic.

Honestly, this week has been pretty exhausting (like every week) but not in a bad way; in a necessary way, it comes from trying new things. I take great care of myself to make sure I can maintain my stamina for the semester. I can’t believe we’re done with week 3 already!

Third weekend: Perast, Montenegro

friday september 23

On Friday we had our first quiz in Serbian, then we had a talk on Peace and Conflict Studies before getting ready to go to Perast, Montenegro! I went home and had a delicious lunch with Ceca and Šare, who has been very absent lately as he is working on a Bollywood film shoot in Serbia which requires very long hours. It was nice to have a family meal, as I definitely miss our family dinners at home.

Then I went back to school to meet the girls and we took a taxi to the airport! Everything was incredibly smooth and the flight only lasted 50 minutes. When we arrived in Perast, it was dark, but it was hot. We caught our taxi and walked through the rocky streets until we found our AirBnB. The view was stunning – we could see the mouth of the Bay of Kotor.

After dropping off our things, we walked to a waterfront hotel/restaurant and had a delicious dinner (I had pesto pasta) before heading back to the AirBnB and heading to bed.

Saturday September 24

Saturday we woke up early and spent the morning taking in the view from our balcony and taking lots of photos. It wasn’t incredibly hot – in the 70s – but it was warm enough that we wanted to hit the beach. We had a breakfast of omelets, coffee and the local Perast cake, which is an almond cake with powdered sugar on top. After breakfast we walked to the north end of town where there was a pirate themed bar with beach access. We lay on the sunbeds and swam in the Adriatic all day which was great fun. It was the relaxing weekend we all needed.

School is really starting to pick up speed and the bustle of Belgrade is constant, so it was amazing to get away from it all in this quiet town perched on the edge of the bay. The streets are old and the town has existed since the 15th century. The main street is just along the bay; but you can wander the small alleys for hours getting lost. There are also a ton of cats who are very friendly and love having pets and table scraps.

After the beach, we returned to the AirBnB to take a shower before going to dinner at another restaurant. The food was amazing, then we went back to the AirBnB and watched The Tinder scammer, a documentary about a man who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from women through an elaborate Tinder scheme. It’s a very interesting documentary and I highly recommend it.

Sunday September 25

Today we woke up and had breakfast before wandering around the city a bit before arriving at the airport. After a delicious breakfast, we climbed the many steps of an old bell tower, with a view of the whole city. The Bay of Kotor is a truly magical place that is so stunningly beautiful it looks like it must have come out of a storybook.

We took a taxi to the airport and passed through the town of Kotor, where Nana and I visited on our cruise in May. It was very special to come to a place I knew – and it certainly made me feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to so many wonderful places already and excited about the places to come.

We are currently at the airport, waiting for our flight back to Belgrade. It’s busy and we’re sitting on the floor – Isabel is looking at photos from the trip, Lauren is reading for the class, and Emily is listening to music. I am so grateful to this incredible group of women to travel with and take this weird and insane study trip abroad.

As we head into week four, I can still say without reservation that it doesn’t feel real that we’re here. Last week I had my first homesickness, when I realized how far I am from everyone I love and how long it is until December. I still wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else this semester – and I really feel like I picked the right program for me. It matches my interests and the location is so special. Exploring the Balkans has been amazing so far, and I look forward to continuing when we visit Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the weeks to come.

I’m glad we’re not leaving Belgrade next weekend, as we have a Serbian midterm course on Friday and a trial for our Yugoslavia breakup course on Tuesday. School is definitely speeding up a bit more and I’m grateful to have a more relaxed weekend to focus on my studies.

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