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Archive for May, 2009

Village Day

One of our offensive linemen, Djole (Joel-A), invited Stan and I to his village over a month ago.  He was thoroughly preparing for May 28th, his “Village Day.”  At 12 PM on Thursday Milosh, another offensive linemen, picked us up and we drove 30 minutes north to village of Kotraza (picking up Mirko, a defensive back on the way).  Once we entered the mountainous village we had to wait for Djole to direct us to his house.  We were pleasantly surprised when Djole and his friend met us on a tractor (Reminded me of Iowa, where it’s common to find tractors on the road during harvest season).

Djole leading us on the tractor
Djole leading us on the tractor

We traveled another 1/2 mile up a long, elevated road before we reached Djole’s family land.  After meeting Dusan (Djole’s dad) and Rick (fake name; Dusan’s friend), we got a tour of the surroundings.

Dusan, Djole's father, drinking Rakia
Dusan, Djole’s father, drinking Rakia

Rick is a retired mechanical engineer who worked at the auto factory in Kragujevac (now a Fiat factory).  Here, he is seen getting a little routy.
Rick is a retired mechanical engineer who worked at the auto factory in Kragujevac (now a Fiat factory). Here, he is seen getting a little routy, forcing a blurry picture.

Djole’s grandparents lived in the village for nearly 70 years (they passed away in 2003).  They were totally self-sufficient and raised their family in the village, including Dusan.  They owned pigs and goats; grew corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables; owned bee hives for honey; made wine and Rakia from grapes; picked fruit off surrounding trees; got fresh water from the well on their property.  The family would barter and trade with other villagers on Mondays in the village center to accommodate any lacking nutritional needs.  The family stretched out their food sources, as corn kernels were ground up and made into bread, lamb’s wool was wound for garments, and domestic leather shoes were produced.

Operating the 70-year old well; Fresh water
Operating the 70-year old fresh water well

Self-efficiency does exist today.  The well is still intact and working, bee hives are maintained to produce domestic honey, the wine cellar is still active, the Rakia equipment is in tip-top shape, and corn is still harvested.

Contained bee hives; domestic honey is said to have medicinal, nutritional, and tastical value
Contained bee hives; domestic honey is said to have medicinal, nutritional, and taste values

An interesting note about the old house on their property – a room inside the house was used to transmit radio signals during WWII.  The high elevation must have benefited the urgent troops, as they marched up to the house and transmitted their signals away.  There is a new house on the property now and the remains of the old house have been left untouched.

Troops used this room to transmit radio signals during WWII
Troops used this room to transmit radio signals during WWII

We were once again treated to a great Serbian meal of grilled lamb and cucumber/tomato salad.  Of course we were convinced to try the Rakia, as every new fruit flavor was coined to be “better than the other flavor.”  Yeah, we caught on to their attempts to get us drunk.

Djole's crazy Uncle.  He didn't believe we were American.  Then, he had us touch a loose tooth he had.  Intersting fellow.
Djole’s crazy Uncle. He didn’t believe we were American. Then, he had us touch a loose tooth he had. Interesting fellow.

After our lunch and a crazy interaction with Djole’s uncle (see picture above), we went on a hike to see some of the countryside.  I was surprised to come across wild strawberries, cherries, and plums.  Unfortunately due to the rain, we were unable to hike to the top of the mountain to explore the old ruins.  Rumor has it that Djole’s sister Jovana, who is a player for the city’s volleyball team, honed her athletic skills as a kid by climbing up and down the ruins.  I was sad I didn’t get the chance to get a workout in before our game this weekend.

Wild strawberries may be small, but they pack a delicious punch
Wild strawberries may be small, but they pack a delicious punch

I enjoyed visiting Kotraza.  Kragujevac is in a valley, and most of the surrounding villages are higher in elevation (like Stragare, the village I celebrated Slava in about three weeks ago).  It is nice to get out of the city and see the countryside.  It is also relaxing, leaving you with ZERO worries.  Once again, it is hard to replace the interactions I am having with the Serbian people.  At one point during the day I ventured out of the house and started talking to Dusan and Rick near the grill.  There was an obvious language barrier, but attempting to understand each other while disregarding language was challenging and unique.  However, I got a great feel for the quality people they were.  And again, the hospitality was tremendous – inviting us in and feeding us with open arms.  Thanks to Djole and his family for a great day in the village.

Milosh, Jelena, and Djole
Milosh, Jelena (Djole’s cousin), and Djole as we finish up our hike

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For those of you who know me, I am a pretty decent fan of coffee.  Coffee was always there for me in college, where a clutch cup would promote finishing up a paper during the early hours of the morning or greet me when I would work the first shift at the college health center.  Here in Serbia, a fresh brewed cup of coffee, American style, is hard to find.  Cafes serve espresso, cappuccino, and what is known simply as Nescafe.  Yes, this is a brand of instant coffee.  However, the drink I am alluding to is a lukewarm concoction of milk, sugar, and coffee, complete with a 2” foamy top layer, served in a tall glass with a straw.  I don’t find it tasty at all.

I was in a hopeless pursuit of coffee…until I heard about Turkish coffee.  Turkish coffee is created by combining finely ground coffee beans, water (must be cold), & sugar (optional) in a pot.  The coffee and sugar are stirred until dissolved/mixed and the pot is put over heat.  Right before the coffee boils the pot is removed and coffee poured into cups.  A GOOD Turkish coffee has a thick foam on top, which can only be created by using cold water and low heat.  I have yet to establish a solid foam layer, but I am attempting ferociously.

The steps for a great cup of Turkish Coffee (thanks Wikipedia!)
The steps for a great cup of Turkish Coffee (thanks Wikipedia!)

Onto some more random things…

I brought five books with me when I arrived here in mid-February.  I finished up the fifth one yesterday.  Time for a little book review, in the order I read them:

A Team to Believe In: Our Journey to the Super Bowl Championship by Tom Couglin & Brian Curtis.  Post-championship books are a dime a dozen for the most part.  Unless, 1) you are a fan of the championship team or 2) the author(s) take a historical perspective on the building of the championship team.  For me, this book took care of both of those factors.  I found the book especially delightful because of Coughlin’s history; his insight into his own faults as a coach is pretty tremendous.  There is a foreward by legendary coach Bill Parcells that is pretty neat as well.  Any Giants fan should give it a read.  Great for coaches as well, especially those struggling with their coaching identity.

———-

The Yankee Years by Joe Torre & Tom Verducci.  This book received tons of criticism right when it was released; thanks NY media.  The history of Torre’s time with the Yankees is great to read, you find out some interesting things about players under Torre’s reign (i.e. Kevin Brown, Johnny Damon, & Carl Pavano).  But, the true insight comes from Verducci who has been covering MLB for years.  He puts in perspective the tremendous downfall the Yankees endured from the business side of the sport.  How the Indians and Red Sox jumped ahead of the Yankees by basically being smarter – focusing on development & statistical breakdowns concerning players.  For instance, Fausto Carmona (the pitcher who knocked the Yankees out of the 2007 playoffs) cost the Indians $10,000 and a dental plan.  A small price to pay considering the Yankees paid Pavano $40 million to make 26 starts, paying of $4 million dollars for each of his 9 wins.  It’s nearly 500 pages, but brings to the forefront many interesting situations and actions from the past.

———-

Eli Manning: The Making of a Quaterback by Ralph Vacchiano.  Are you catching onto a trend here with all the NY sports books?  This portrayal of Eli Manning is a very quick read.  The additions of Ernie Arcosi (ex-Giants GM, responsible for drafting Eli) are great.  More of a specific biographical tale suited to Giants fans or Eli fans in my opinion.

———-

Golden Boy by Paul Hornung.  I picked up this book in January at a Barnes & Noble for $2.  For the price, it was an informative and honest portrayal of life and times of Paul Hornung by Hornung himelf.  The title is nothing more than irony, as Hornung tells relays stories of womanizing, gambling, and drinking excessively.  There isn’t so much insight on the actual game of football, as more stats and personal stories are relayed (including drinking with Brett Favre on the golf course, six months INTO Favre’s sobriety!).  The book itself is entertaining, especially for someone who did not live during Hornung’s playing career.

———-

Parcells: A Biography by Bill Gutman.  This was probably my least favorite book of the five.  My reason: Gutman’s writing.  The book was written shortly after Parcell’s retired from coaching (the first time) shortly after the Jets 1999 season and I could tell the book was rushed.  Spelling errors and grammatical errors were present.  The words didn’t flow quite right.  However, I did learn a ton about Parcells, including his year absence from coaching when he was 38 years old.  I got a feel for his motivation and ego, but even more about his psychological edge and the compassion his ex-players have for him.  If you are interested in Parcells, I would dare to say there are better books worth your time.

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The other day I helped out two girls from the city with their English.  They have a big test coming up on Saturday and after they learned I was from America they figured I would be of some help.  The study session was decent, except they are learning British English, which believe it or not was confusing for me the English speaker.  There are all sorts of crazy words in their book that threw me off, like oughten’ve.   Whatever the case, I think I did help them out.  Oh, and I got a free espresso out of it.  Not a bad trade.

Also, this morning I visited a market near my apartment.  For the past week I had seen patrons walking around with bags of fruits and vegetables.  After some searching post-breakfast, I stumbled upon the HUGE outdoor, covered, hidden market.  For only 90 dinars (roughly $1.25) I got a kilogram of strawberries (jagodas in Serbia). I didn’t have my camera on me, so I missed out on some quality photos.  I’ll be sure to get some photos in the future.  That’s it for this post.  Talk to you guys soon.

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In our final contest before our HUGE match-up against the Reggio Emilia Hogs from Italy, we played our “neighbors,” the Kraljevo Royal Crowns for the second time. If you recall the first time we played them, it was in a small village on a field that had seen dryer days. The conditions forced me to call our game the MUD BOWL. Well, yesterday about 10 minutes before our ride came to take us to the field, Stan and I mysteriously heard thunder. Then rain. Intense rain. We were baffled and thinking that maybe it was a supernatural way of ensuring a MUD BOWL encore.

We drove through the rain and got to the field. As we opened the car doors the rain stopped. Within 10 minutes the clouds cleared, sun came out, and temperature rose. Nice weather stayed for the rest of the day and our worries washed away.

I can not say enough nice things about the guys from Kraljevo. A couple guys played for the Wild Boars before they had a team, I believe that was in 2006. It was also nice to catch up with Josh – he is an American serving a Christian mission in Kraljevo. First off, Josh is a beast. We watched Kraljevo play the team from Belgrade (Blue Dragons) about a month ago. Josh must have made 30 tackles in the game. Second, him and his wife have three kids and another on the way (Congratulations!!!). He told that his oldest son is in National school, which means that he has become the family translator if necessary. Josh’s Serbian is pretty decent, but it always helps to have a fluent son! Third, Josh says he will be in Kraljevo for at least another year and half. I have a lot of respect for Josh and his family and I wish them the best of luck.

Kraljevo will be dropping down to second league next year. A loss 2 weeks ago sealed their fate. The last team in the first league each year drops down for the following year and the champions of the second league move up.

Interesting fact from the game: Stan got a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty before the game started for NOT being out on the field during the National Anthem. He was on the sidelines warming up his arm.  The Serbs don’t mess around.

Here are the best pictures from the day thanks to Tribal…

Line of scrimmage and the Serbian flag flying in the distance.
Line of scrimmage and the Serbian flag flying in the distance

Koska and his girlfriend flashing the Wild Boars sign.
Koska and his girlfriend flashing the Wild Boars sign

Good timing with the camera
Good timing with the camera

It's always nice to look at Tribals pics after the game, always full of female spectators
Always nice to look at Tribal’s pics after the game, always full of female spectators

So, this OL had #41 and one of our WR's had #69.  Shouldn't they trade???
So, this offensive lineman was wearing #41 and one of our wide receivers had on #69, which is an ineligible number for a receiver. Shouldn’t they trade?  About halfway through the third quarter Stan proposed the idea.

Josh's helmet broke early in the 3rd quarter.  He sought the help of our team Doc.
Josh’s helmet broke early in the 3rd quarter. He sought the help of our team Doc.

Fans in attendance.
Fans in attendance

More female spectators, thanks Tribal!
More female spectators, thanks Tribal!

Stats
Stats

Our RT, Brdja, was under the weather with a fever.  He also has no neck in this picture.
Our RT, Brdja, was under the weather with a fever. He also has no neck in this picture.

Head referee
Head referee

Photography is all about angles.
Photography is all about angles

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Biden in Serbia???

Biden became the highest ranking official to visit Serbia since Jimmy Carter in 1980
Biden is the highest ranking official to visit Serbia since Jimmy Carter in 1980

Vice President of the U.S. Joe Biden visited Serbia yesterday.  It is kind of weird to be in a different country WHEN it is visited by one of your high officials.  Being in Serbia may be a unique situation.  The 1999 bombings for the liberatation of Kosovo created some negative tension towards the U.S.  This was the first visit to post-1999 Serbia by a high official of Biden’s stature.  It is weird for a couple of reasons:

  1. Everyone made comments about his visit, saying “Hey, your VP is visiting Belgrade this week.”  You can only take the same repetitive comment so many times.
  2. A majority of these comments were followed by a negative comment – of course these were by my friends and teammates, coming off as a joke.  But, were they really joking…
  3. Biden was on the cover of all the local papers!  Although a given, still weird to see writing in Cyrillic and VP Biden cheesing on the cover of every paper here (although the headline was in English).
  4. I got to discuss politics with an old-Serbian man who didn’t speak English.
  5. This may be the weirdest reason: Today a guy walked into the presidential building in Belgrade with a grenade in his hand.

Before you go crazy, let me elaborate on #4.  Apparently, the guy was convinced JAT Airways (the airline I flew from London to Belgrade on) owed him millions of dollars.  He pulled the pin from the grenade as he entered the building, prompting a full out SITUATION.  Eventually some sense was talked into the man and he gave up after a couple of hours.

I was working out in the gym when I heard about this situation, although an  abbreviated version.  Here is the rundown:

Guy: “Eh, your Vice President visited Belgrade…”

Lady on treadmill: “Serbski, Serbski, Serbski…”

Guy: “Oh, she said a guy had two grenades in his hands at the President’s  office.”

I was confused to say the least.  I didn’t have a timeline in my mind for when this happened.  I thought, maybe, that somebody tried to hold the building hostage this morning before Biden took off to Kosovo.  Or, maybe this ordeal happened the day before.  Again, confused.

Turns out, it was just a guy with a large financial problem.  Biden was safely on his way to Kosovo and out of the building before it happened.  Again, weird to be in Serbia during his visit.

"New Deal" reads the Cyrillic dominated paper
“New Deal” reads the Cyrillic dominated Serbian paper

From what I read about Biden’s visit it appears that the Serbian government and U.S. government are willing to move on from the past.  The U.S. appears happy to help Serbia become part of the European union.  Biden said this,

“The United States does not, I emphasise, does not expect Serbia to recognize the independence of Kosovo.”

I agree, let’s move on.

I went on a little run today with three guys on our team (Mladen, Tomic, & Djura) before practice.  On our walk to the trail we stopped at Mladen’s grandparents apartment.  I walked in, greeted his grandparents with the minimal Serbian I know, and turned to see the television on and images of Biden’s face.  The images led to a quick discussion with Mladen’s grandfather – yet he doesn’t know English and I don’t know Serbian! An odd interaction.  With Mladen in the other room and Tomic beside me, it was a failed conversation (Tomic doesn’t know much English, hence he is the worst translator.  Although he claims to have gotten an 8/10 on a big English test in high school a couple years back.  I say B.S.).  As for Mladen’s grandfather, I think he had some really good political discussion in him, I just couldn’t understand him!

Mladen's grandfather, good for political conversation(s)
Mladen’s grandfather, good for political conversation(s)

Mladen’s grandmother made some delicious food, a nice pre-workout meal.  The only problem was that she kept giving me food.  I had two bowls of what I can only describe as pea soup, 3 slices of bread, salad, a breaded vegetable, and 2 glasses of homemade juice.  Healthy, yet filling.  The best part: She invited me over next Wednesday for SARMA (cabbage filled with rice and meat), my favorite Serbian dish.

Mladen's grandmother can cook up a storm
Mladen’s grandmother can cook up a storm

We play the Kraljevo Royal Crowns this Sunday at 4 PM at home.  Below is the advertisement for the game.  Peace.

Promotional posters for our game this Sunday against Kraljevo
Promotional poster for our game this Sunday against Kraljevo

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Highlights are up, via youtube, after about 4 tries thanks to the newly refined audio restrictions implemented earlier this year. Anyhow, enjoy:

Also, there is an article up on the EFAF Eurobowl website about the game (don’t mind the wording; some things get lost in translation). Check it out here: http://www.eurobowl.info/

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KGWB outside city hall before leaving to Poland
KGWB outside city hall before leaving to Poland

We journeyed up north on Thursday afternoon, around 3 PM, through Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic towards our destination – Wroclaw, Poland.  This out-of-country game was the second of three round robin games in our pool of the EFAF Challenge Cup.  Our opponents were the Wroclaw Devils, a semi-final team from the Polish league last year.

Divlji Veprovi
Divlji Veprovi (Wild Boars)

Restrictions on Serbs leaving the country are excessively high.  Stan and I first noticed this on our trip to Budapest, as our train was stopped for nearly 2 hours and our passports were checked about 10 times (in reality they were probably checked just twice each, but I felt the need to exaggerate here).  The check this time wasn’t as bad, but we did take the opportunity to scare a couple of our guys by making them line-up outside the bus, saying that Border Patrol needed to re-check them.  Got to keep the guys on their toes.

Tom fullfilling his shirt's message at 7 AM as we entered Poland
Tom fullfilling his shirt’s message at 7 AM as we entered Poland

We got to Wroclaw at 11 AM Friday morning and checked into the Boogie Hostel.  Then we gallivanted around the city…

Main Square in the city
Main Square in the city of Wroclaw

Monument commemorating 22,000 Polish soldiers who were killed by Stalin in 1940
Monument commemorating the 22,000 Polish soldiers who were shot and killed by Stalin and his army in 1940

Gnome hanging on the lightpole
1 of 14 Gnomes in the city; this one hanging onto a lightpole

Alf lends a hand with the gnomes
Alf lends a hand with the gnomes

Wood carvings are popular
As the picture suggests, wood carvings are very popular in Poland

Wroclaw is considered the Venice of Poland.  The city also has 14 metal gnomes around the city.  Much like the rest of Eastern Europe, the main part of the city is updated and clean.  However, wander a block away and you can easily find graffiti all over the walls of apartment buildings and businesses.  One thing that did stuck out in Poland (literally) was people urinating in public.  I saw at least three men, not hidden at all, urinating in the open aspects of the city.  Interesting observation.

After some exploring and much needed food, we headed to our light walkthrough at 5 PM Friday night.  It was nice to run a bit after such a long ride.  After practice, a group of us hurried to a local kickboxing store within a nearby mall because we were told by EFAF officials that all players must have colored mouthpieces, visible by the referees (most of our guys have clear mouthpieces).  The store came through in the clutch, promising us 20 colored mouthpieces to be picked up the next morning.  Ironically, the store next to the kickboxing store was full of American Army clothing.  I felt right at home.

American army merchandise store in Wroclaw
American Army merchandise store in Wroclaw

There was some light rain yesterday morning in Wroclaw, but the rain did not affect our 5 PM kickoff.  The game was held at the Olympic Stadium in Wroclaw, which was built in 1935 and holds 35,000 people; our game, however, didn’t need that many seats.  The stadium is actually under renovations as it will be used as a training facility for the EURO 2012 soccer matches taking place in Ukraine and Poland.  Although a bit older, the stadium was a great venue for the game.

Olympic Stadium
Olympic Stadium; site for our game

THE GAME:

We got off to another quick start as I caught a pass from Stan on our first offensive play for a 74-yard touchdown.  Stan and I connected for our next two scores.  We had to go for 2-points after every touchdown because we were traveling without our kicker.  The score was 20-0 after the first quarter.

Serbian National Anthem
Serbian National Anthem as two Polish girls hold-up the Serbian flag

Our defense came up with 2 INT’s late in the 2nd quarter to help our offense build upon our lead.  Going into halftime the score was 44-0.

The second half went pretty quickly as we ended up shutting them out 66-0.  Stan threw for 8 TD’s on the day, a career-high for him.  Alf had 2 of those TD’s; Bunny, Ogi, and Tomic rounded out the TD catching crew.  Stan also ran for a TD.

"When I run, time stops" - Ogi
“When I run, time stops” – Ognjen (Ogi) Nikolic #18

The match was friendly and injury-free with the Devils.  There coach has been over in Europe coaching for about 5 years now.  He has high hopes for the future of the team and considers this year a rebuilding one.  I wish him and his team the best of the luck with their remaining games.

As you can probably imagine the ride home was loooooooong.  We ate some McDonald’s before leaving Poland.  Along with some Polish beer, it made a nice meal.  We took advantage of the beer selection with a little beer experiment.  Our right tackle, Brdja, couldn’t pick a favorite…

Brdja couldn't decide with of the 4 was his favorite
Brdja couldn’t decide which of the 5 was his favorite

We play Kraljevo at home this coming weekend.  The third of five straight games.  Be sure to check out the pictures in the gallery.

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Our bus is scheduled to leave in the next 10 minutes.  I am frantically writing this post, packing my bag, and heading out the door.

We are playing the Wroclaw Devils in our second EFAF Challenge Cup game this Saturday at 5 PM.  The bus ride should be around 16 hours; but who really knows with passport checks, stops, etc.

Here is a preview of Wroclaw from a picture I quickly searched for on Google.  I’ll catch up with ya’ll next Monday.  Have a great weekend.

Wroclaw Old Town Square
Wroclaw Old Town Square [http://www.mikeydread.com/images/poland2006/poland9.jpg]

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