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Archive for April, 2009

10-week mark

As of 2 days ago I officially completed my 10th week out here in Serbia.  It has been a long, yet quick 10 weeks.  The beginning started out fairly slow due to weather (Remember my first 3 days here my city got the most snow since 1984!), practicing in a gym, lack of games, and adjustments to Serbian lifestyle as well as my new lifestyle.  After our first game in mid-March I began to adapt to my everyday routine and playing in actual games again (i.e. the soreness, bumps, and bruises).  From the first game on things have really taken off.  As I look back, in the past 6 weeks I have played in 4 games and travled to see Budapest, Bratislava, and Prague!!!

Gypsy mom with baby in hand
Gypsy mom with baby in hand

Life here really varies by the day.  I have a ton of downtime, especially on bye weeks like this one.  A typical day consists of 3 meals (2 if I sleep in) at the cafeteria with Mama, browsing the internet, drinks at one of the cafes in town, more browsing, lifting/practice, TV shows online (just finished the sole season of Freaks & Geeks), and you guessed it…more internet!  Oh, I forgot to mention the interactions I have with gypsies.  They will get their own post soon enough, but our paths cross every time I sit down at a cafe as they wander through asking for money (dinars).

"Daj mi deset dinara" - Serbian for "Give me 10 dinars"
“Daj mi deset dinara” – Serbian for “Give me 10 dinars”

Most days afford the chance to peruse the city and meet interesting people who have interesting stories.  For instance, yesterday Stan and I were invited to one of gyms in town by the owner, in an attempt to win over our business.  There we met a guy named Vuk (which means wolf in Serbian).  He studies economics at the University here and speaks great English.  We discussed some about the NBA playoffs (as Vuk is a Lakers fan) and then moved on to some other topics, such as the economy.  Vuk shared with us that in 1993 the average salary for a full-time worker was about 3 Euros a week – enough to buy one pack of cigarettes he noted.  He said the economy was so bad that older couples would hold hands and walk off the top of buildings, committing suicide as they had lost hope they could survive.

Interactions such as the one with Vuk are what make my experience living here interesting, as they shape and help me more fully understand this culture that I am intertwined within.

The songs go on for hours at Balkan
The songs go on for hours at Balkan

I have become very comfortable with my teammates here.  After each game we gather at a place called Balkan.  At Balkan you will find plenty of beer and rakia (Serbian national drink) to go along with jovial Serbs singing native folk songs. It is here where I have gotten to know my teammates on a personal level and where I am constantly reminded about the stuff outside of the actual game of football that are so integral to my whole experience in Serbia.  My time with the guys and our unique interactions outside of practice and games are what I will remember the most from my time here and the memories I will value for a lifetime.

We recieved champagne as a gift from the Mayor's office after our first home game
We recieved champagne as a gift from the Mayor’s office after our first home win.  Here, China displays the bottle at Balkan.

A couple more updates:

– My friend from Grinnell, Calvin, visited last Thursday night.  He is currently completing a fellowship through Grinnell in Greece called GrinnellCorp.  We had a great time and I think he has a small place in his heart for Serbia now.

Calvin enjoying the a 3 AM chicken sandwich after a tour of Kragujevac
Calvin enjoying a 3 AM chicken sandwich after a tour of Kragujevac

No game highlights yet.  We are waiting to get the film from the officials and I do not have a timetable on when we will receive it.

– There is a nice write-up about our Challenge Cup game on the Eurobowl website.  Here is the link: http://www.efaf.de/eurobowl/index.php?Inhalt=newsmeldung&ID=1028%22

– Game pictures are up.  Click on the “WB Photos” tab at the top of the blog and then on the Pancevo link.  There are over 400 pictures thanks to Tribal.

– This coming weekend is the Serbian Labor Day.  We have a team BBQ planned for Sunday and it should be a great time.

– Next week is a festival in honor of the city.  There will be all sorts of events going on like mini-futbol games, concerts, and plenty of food and drink.

Snake (DE) and I kickin' at Balkan
Snake (DE) and I kickin’ at Balkan

Over and out.

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EFAF face/name pre-game check
EFAF face/name pre-game check

Yesterday was the Wild Boars first ever involvement in international competition via the EFAF Challenge Cup.  The EFAF Challenge Cup is a new tournament involving teams in Central/Eastern Europe (Italy, Hungary, Poland, & Serbia).  It is a great way to further promote the sport of American football in Europe.  Our game provided our Serbian referees the chance to work with an established Norwegian referee (who even reviewed the game film with them after the game).

Although our game was considered an international one, the team we played was from Serbia – the Pancevo Panthers (thus, the game also counted for our Serbian league).  They have always played the KGWB’s tough (including a 34-28 last minute victory in last year’s NLS semi-finals) and have an American QB from Virginia, Willie Sheird.  He just happened to have an American flag in his bag…

Willie brought an American flag to the game - perfect picture opportunity
Willie brought an American flag to the game – perfect picture opportunity for us Americans in Serbia

Here is the commercial from this past week advertising the game:

Head Norwegian referee leading the Serbian crew
Head Norwegian referee leading the Serbian crew

In our first joint EFAF Challenge Cup/Serbian league game we came out firing on all cylinders.  Once again, we started off extremely fast pushing the ball up and down the field and scoring on all of our offensive drives in the first half.  In fact, we may have scored too soon into those drives as our defense ended up playing a bulk of the time in the first half.  Nonetheless, the defense played a great part in getting us the ball back and only gave up a late TD right before the half – when intermission hit it was 43-8 KGWB.

Audible?  No, just a TD run for Stan
Audible? No, just a TD run for Stan

Scoring in the first half went like this:

  • Stan connected with me for a 35-yard touchdown
  • Stan followed with 2 TD runs (1 yd. & 7 yds.)
  • I returned a punt for an 85-yard TD
  • Stan added another 1-yd. TD run
  • Darko Cvetkovic turned an interception into an 80-yard TD

Punt-return for a TD in the 2nd quarter with Mladen in the background
Punt-return for a TD in the 2nd quarter with Mladen in the background

Our team doc helping out the ref
Our team doc helping out the ref at halftime

The Panthers played better in the second half, scoring 3 more TD’s.  We added 4 more TD’s – 3 passes by Stan and a fantastic run by our RB, “Bunny,” who broke 3 tackles on his way to a 15-yard scamper.  His run is highlight film material for sure.

Bunny after his great TD run in the 4th quarter
Bunny after his great TD run in the 4th quarter

Publicity from Ana Pantic & Channel 9 from Kragujevac
Publicity thanks to Ana Pantic & Channel 9 from Kragujevac

About 800 fans came out to watch us on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, filling up the bleachers on our sideline at Susica stadium.

The crowd behind our bench
The crowd behind our bench

Some interesting things about our team and the game:

  • Some of our guys don’t really wear hip pads, which can be a problem for some EFAF officials.
  • Our footballs are synthetic leather because that is all that is available in Serbia; these footballs may be considered “illegal” in the rulebook.
  • We don’t have pylons for our endzones and the orange cones we have are considered too dangerous for EFAF games.
  • I dropped a sure TD pass and knocked down one of our makeshift goalposts.  If we had a lowlight film, the play would be on there for sure.

Our junior team guys fixing the goalpost I knocked down
Our junior team guys fixing the goalpost I knocked down

  • We had some odd poles and sharp objects near the field that need to be covered up for our next game – luckily nobody experienced their wrath.
  • The Red Bull girls stopped by our sideline in the mid-second quarter and dropped off refreshing beverages for our team.
  • One Pancevo player performed a slide tackle on Tomic, one of our WR’s.  No flag was thrown.  It was a weird play and definitely a bit dangerous.

Slide-tackle on Tomic.  Yes, we are officially in Europe.
Slide-tackle on Tomic. Yes, we are officially in Europe.

  • Ivan Radojicic, a young and promising defensive back, broke his right collarbone.  However, after he did it I talked him into playing the final 2 minutes of the first half.  He is a tough kid and we are going to miss him for the next 6 weeks.
  • A lady came down onto the field after we had just shaken hands with Pancevo and wanted a picture with me; I obliged.

This random lady came down on the sideline after the game for a pic with me
This random lady came down on the sideline after the game for a pic with me.  The unpredictable things that happen in Serbia!!!

As for the rest of our EFAF Challenge Cup Group, we head to Wroclaw, Poland, on May 16 and host Reggio Emilia from Italy on May 31st.  The top 2 teams from each pool advance to the semi-finals which will be played on the last weekend in June.

And of course more game pics below and soon to be on the WB photos tab at the top of the page…

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Okay, so the first thing that may have come to your mind when you saw the name of this post was the movie Hostel (by the way, this link is gory) – you know the one where American backpackers visit Bratislava and are drugged, kidnapped, and sold to be murdered?!??

Bratislava is not actually like that.  Well, the Bratislava we visited was not, although we did not visit any vacant buildings, just stayed by one…

View from the University dorms.  Is that a vacant building right there??
View from the University dorms. Is that a vacant building??  Uh-oh!?

We headed down on Sunday night from Prague and got into the dorm about 8 PM.  After some much needed showers, we visited the city center with Dieter and Chris while the other students attempted to get caught up on their studies.

Main Square is the heart of Old Town Bratislava
Main Square is the heart of Old Town Bratislava

The first thing I noticed about Bratislava was how relaxed and clean the center was.  One reason for this is that the city has only 500,000 patrons.  There were numerous nice cafes with outside seating which reminded me of our city in Serbia.  It was a perfect setting for us coming off some late nights in Prague.

Stan got some great night pics of the city.  With Dieter and Chris we went to a  place called Robust, aptly named the “Chillout Bar.”  Robust is situated underground in what resembles a brick tunnel.  With a DJ spinning and neon lights, I can confidently say the environment was CHILL.

Chris, Dieter, myself, and Stan chilling out in Robust
Chris, Dieter, myself, and Stan chilling out in Robust

After Stan devoured another Kebab (his favorite food in the world by the way) we went back to the dorm as our exhausting nights in Prague were finally catching up to us.

Clean streets, good public transportation, relaxed environment
Clean streets, relaxed environment

We awoke in the morning, at a quick meal with Dieter and Chris, and hit the bus station.  We did not get to view the Hrda Castle, which overlooks the Danube, due to construction (but I got a pic from the bus as we left!).  This is more than likely the main landmark in the city and the most popular tourist spot.

Although the bus was over an hour late, we hit the road back to Budapest to link up with our return train to Belgrade.  Again the bus was nice.  For 3 Euros we had leather seating, a movie, and coffee or tea.  Great deal!

Thanks to the Bratislavan crew for the adventures in Prague and hospitality in Bratislava.  Study hard, party harder, and enjoy your last month in Slovakia!

Crowns (Czech), Euros (Bratislava among others), Dinars (Serbia), & Forints (Hungary)
Traveling amongst countries involves many different currencies — (L-R) Crowns (Czech), Euros (Bratislava, among others), Forints (Hungary), & Dinars (Serbia)

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Prague 2

Our time in Prague has ended.  Overall, I would say the decision to visit Prague over Vienna or other spots turned out to be the right one.  Here is a recap of the sites and events, day-by-day….

FRIDAY

Our first full day in Prague consisted mostly of visiting the main tourist spots.  Our hostel was conveniently located near the Vitava River.

View at the architecture near the river and our hostel
View of the architecture near the Vitava River and our hostel

Once we found the river we followed it north to the Charles Bridge.  The bridge began construction in 1357 and was not only an important connection to the Old Town and Prague Castle, but also aided in trade routes for western and eastern Europe.

St. Charles Bridge leading up the Prague Castle
Charles Bridge leading to the Old Town & Prague Castle

Near the end of the bridge heading towards the castle
Near the end of Charles Bridge, heading towards the castle

Crossing the bridge led us to the Prague Castle.  Right outside the castle we spotted a nice medieval looking bar/restaurant.  We decided to grab some traditional Czech delicacies – beer and beef gulash with dumplings.   Mmmmm, tasty stuff.  The castle is full of little museums, walkways, offices, and shops, but the most impressive part is the St. Vitas Cathedral.  Most components of the castle charged for entry (besides the church).  Therefore, we just wandered around and took advantage of the great views as we exited.

Gulash & dumplings
Gulash & dumplings go perfect with a nice brew

Entering the Prague Castle
Entering the Prague Castle

View leaving the castle via photo tricks
View leaving the castle via photo tricks

From the castle we headed to the Old Town Square where the infamous Astronomical Clock resides.  Every hour, on the hour, the clock displays a puppet show.  I was told this was a big tourist trap and not to get caught near it on the hour.  We were successful in that, avoiding the crowds.  This area also had multiple vendors (both food and memorabilia) for the very exciting Easter season, which came to a close over the weekend.  Sausage, baked goods, and beer were abundant.

Astronomical Clock -- the crowds align every hour for the show
Astronomical Clock — the crowds align every hour for the show

Vendors on-hand for the Easter season
Vendors on-hand for the Easter season

SATURDAY

After meeting up with our Bratislavian exchange group for brunch and showing them the Old Town Square, Stan and I took off to see some new things.

At brunch with our new "crew"
At brunch with our new “crew”

We ended up pairing up with a group of 4 students from America who we had met the day before.  Our interests in other sites and lack of directional awareness forced us into walking by the Jewish Quarter and onwards to Petřín Hill.  The hill was a huge commitment by foot.  Although it took us awhile to reach the top, we entered Petrinska rozhledna, an observation tower resembling the Eiffel Tower.

4 American exchange students and us conquering Petrin Hill
4 American exchange students and us conquering Petrin Hill (L-R Libby, Cali, Vicky, and Ilona)

Overlooking Prague from the tower on Petrin Hill
Overlooking Prague from the tower on Petrin Hill

The hill also housed gardens, statues, and even a labyrinth complete with a mirror maze.  Our walk down was so much easier and more relaxing.  It was hard not to notice the ambiance of the area.  The hill was full of thriving trees and green color as every turn had an opening overlooking the rest of the city.

Where do I turn?  Everything looks the same?!?
Where do I turn? Everything looks the same in the mirror maze?!?

At night we met up with our Bratislavian student army, but just went to eat with 4 of them – Luish, Dieter, Chris, and Martinz.  After our meal we paraded the town and ate tasty gyro’s before bed.

SUNDAY

We met up with a friend of mine from Grinnell, Adrianne, who is currently enrolled in a 1-year internship at a law-firm in Prague.  Adrianne actually deserves a medal for making us breakfast in the morning to go along with some coffee (it being our last day meant our funds weren’t very high; always great to get a free meal as a traveler!).

Stan and I hit up Wencelsas Square in the main center of new town.  Shops, hotels, and other businesses line the street up to the National Museum.  More vendors sit opposite of the museum, at the beginning of the street.  I ate a trdeln, which resembles a hollow pastry in log form.  The seasoning was delicious and left me begging for more.

Old Town Square was an exciting place on the last weekend of Easter
Old Town Square was an exciting place on the last weekend of Easter.  Here a legit blacksmith is forming a medieval weapon.

We decided to take a bus to Bratislava with our new friends in the afternoon.  The cost of a bus to Bratislava then a bus to Budapest is considerably cheaper than taking the train straight from Prague to Budapest (or vice versa).  That combined with meeting our new friends made the decision to come through Bratislava an easy one.

Leaving Prague for Bratislava
Leaving Prague for Bratislava with Luish (the avid Absinthe lover) and Chris

Prague was amazing.  A truly great city that lived up to the high expectations — I strongly recommend a visit if you are ever in Europe.

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Why travel?

The question rises every time we decide to take off to a new place.  We spend money, time, and so much effort attempting to satisfy our urges to see something new.  Then when we have a bad experience we are the first to disassociate ourselves with even the thought of doing it again.  Last night showed me the reason why WE travel – priceless human interaction.

After Stan and I viewed most of the token spots in Prague during the day (which I will get to in the next post) we came back to our hostel, showered, dressed, and prepared to go out on the town.  Walking to the common area of the hostel connected us to Luish and Chris, both foreign exchange students who study in Bratislava (Luish from Portugal and Chris from Germany).  A bit later, their friend Dieter from Belgium showed up.  We enjoyed each others company and decided we should go out on the town, but first we had to meet up with their other friends…..7 other people that hailed from all different spots — 2 girls from Bulgaria, a guy from France, Petar’s good friend from Belgium, another German, a guy from the Czech Republic, and a girl from Serbia (IMAGINE THAT!!! the minor words we knew came in very very handy).

After two stops to local cafes more of their friends showed up — 2 more guys from France and another from Latvia.  So, our 15 member group took to the town.  It was amazingly interesting discussing culture, sharing stories, and asking questions to each other (also learning how to say “Cheers” in way too many different ways).  By the end of the night bystanders probably thought all 15 of us were great friends traveling together.

I am posting this for 2 reasons – a) it really was eye-opening to be surrounded by soooooo many different people from different backgrounds and it is hard to replicate such an experience and b) I DO NOT have the USB connection from my camera to my laptop, so no pictures or semi-boring historical info for now.

Stan and I hit the sack at about 6 AM and are off to see more of Prague right now, a little after 12 PM.  Luckily I have gotten great suggestions from 3 friends who have lived in Prague. The advice from my friend Maury (who spent last year here working for a law firm) was priceless – “If random girls come up to you and attempt to hug you they are gypsies and they are trying to rob you, thus no hugs… sorry.” Great advice.  Pictures, etc. will updated soon…………

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Professional backpacking league members
Amateur backpacking league

We took a night train from Belgrade to Budapest last night.  The train left at 9:30 PM and stopped at the station at 4:46 AM.  Our normal seating cab turned into a decent bed, but, there were so many ticket checks to go along with  2 passport checks making consistent sleep impossible.  That combined with a mumbling Hungarian banana salesman who entered our cab, directed Stan’s feet off the seat, and sat down right as we crossed into Hungary further limited our rest.

The trip started out on a positive note.  First off, the backpacks we bought were mislabeled from the 4,250 dinar sticker price to 2,970.  Combine that with a 10% discount and we ended up paying about $40 for some nicely looking backpacks – allowing us to play the part of “travelers.” Secondly, when we bought our bus tickets to get from Kragujevac to Belgrade, the sales lady did not take my 1,000 dinars BUT gave me 410 dinars back (and taking a student discount into account).  So, they paid me to take the bus?!? Interesting move.

Elegant bus station in Kragujevac - the extra 410 dinars came in handy
Elegant bus station in Kragujevac – the extra 410 dinars came in handy

On the train to Budapest we met an American named Stew.  Currently, he teaches English in Belgrade and had spent some time in Prague, so he gave us all sorts of details about the city – even giving us names and phone numbers of friends who live there.

It is also amazing how small the world is.  Stew knew of Nick Hershey, who was a senior OL at Grinnell when I was a freshman, through Nick’s sister in NY.  Weird connection in Eastern Europe.

An American named Stew
An American named Stew we met on the train

Artsy pic of the railway station in the early hours of the morning
Artsy pic of the railway station

We met Stan’s friend Derek, from his playing days in Switzerland, at 5:15 AM at the train station.  Derek lives with Andre and Jack, who are three Americans playing for the Budapest Cowboys, an American football team there.  They offered us a place to stay for the night and we gladly accepted.

Today we took to train, bus, and foot.  We first visited Heroes Square (or Hősök tere for the Hungarian speakers out there).  The square has denoted statues for leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century among other outstanding figures of Hungarian history.  Needless to say, the statues were very precise, tremendous detail over every aspect of the statues.  This spot easily became a favorite.

Heroes Square
Heroes Square is a novel sight to see in Pest

After the Heroes Square we moved onto get some coffee and internet to check out hostels in Prague.  From there we secured our train tickets to Prague, a 9:28 AM departure tomorrow morning.  We hopped on the tram and got some great pics of the bridges connecting Buda to Pest (for those of you not familiar with the area, there are two cities adjourned by bridges and separated by the Danube River) as well as other important political buildings and architecture.

Bridge leading to the Buda side and Buda castle
Bridge leading to the Buda side and Buda castle in the distance

To sum up our day, Budapest became one of new favorite areas.  The patrons were super polite to each other and to us, and the architecture and social buzz was wonderful to experience.  We spent all of our time in Pest, but hope to see some of Buda on our way back south on Monday.

Two travelers in Pest with Buda in the background
Two travelers in Pest with Buda in the background

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Click on the HQ on the lower right corner for HIGH QUALITY – the video is a much better view this way….

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