Mala Fabrika

When I travel I always make a point to roam around the city and get lost. But this time, we decided to walk across the city on foot with a purpose. We wanted to visit Mala Fabrika. It’s ranked the number 5 restaurant in Beograd on TripAdvisor. I was surprised to find that the restaurant scene in Beograd to be very sophisticated. The restaurant was quaint, well decorated, and service was excellent. They spoke perfect English and was very courteous in answering all our questions. 



First course was a procini mushroom soup. It was very flavourful, creamy but not heavy. If you like mushroom, you would be delighted with this soup.




We then ordered a traditional Serbian dish. It was a little like jelly with meat inside. Savoury. Reminds me of this Chinese dish from northern China called cold meat (“凍肉”).


The main course was a bread pork chop with pickled veggie and baked potato. The pork chop was not very catchy, it tasted like any other pork chop. But the potato was delicious. We couldn’t stop eating it. It was very flavourful, and crispy on the outside.


Though it was getting to a point where we were having too much food, we couldn’t pass up for this opportunity to try a traditional Serbian meatball. It was served in a clay plate, hot and sizzling. Topped with Serbian cheese that was mild and resembled mozzarella.


Last but not least, and thank goodness we were 2 starving kids from the day before, we managed to find room for dessert. A creamy custard cold soup with meringue on top. It was simply delicious and not too heavy even after such a big meal.


I also indulged in wine. I had a glass of fume blanc. It had a nutty oaky bouquet. Citrus and grapefuit clung to my nose. There was a strong smell of alcohol. Medium viscosity, most likely due to the alcohol. It was a dry wine with good acid making you salivate.

After a delicious meal, we slowly made our way across town again. We stopped by the fortress for some night photos of the bridge and the river. It was a breath taking view up at the top. I took in as much as I could of the view knowing that tonight was our last night in Beograd. Goodbye Beograd. Until next time.


A Nostalgic Farmer’s Market

We had no particular plans in mind for Beograd. We didn’t know what to expect so we decided to wander around. We headed out a little later that morning because R wasn’t feeling well from yesterday morning’s cold shower. She ended up with a fever and cough.

We stumbled into an open air farmers market. The market was very lively with neat rows of stands and people selling their produce. From nuts, vegetables, meat, flowers , eggs, fish and anything else that you might expect to find in a market like this. The people were very friendly. I learned that if you want to take photos of them all you need to do is offer them a smile and show them the photo after. There was a sweet lady who allowed us to stand behind her stall for a photo. We gladly obliged.

We spent a lot of time wandering in market and taking photos. I was very curious to find out what people were buying, what was in season, and where did all the produce come from?


A lady catching up on her daily news.


One of the reasons why I love visiting farmers markets when I travel is because of how wonderfully colourful everything is.


Some farm fresh eggs to go please.




After we continued on into the bohemian quarters. The cobble street was empty. You can see shop owners are just starting to wake up from what appeared to be a busy evening last night. We walked into a shop and I got some fried fish to try. It was a bit salty but very tasty.
We decided to make our way to the restaurant which was all the way across town. The walk was a very long 45 min journey. We walked by St. Marks cathedral and took a short break. The cathedral had some very interesting brick work and beautiful columns. It’s always so fascinating to me that churches and cathedrals are so elaborate when it comes to the architecture, paintings, murals..etc.


Onward to Beograd

I’ve been intending to continue documenting my travels to the Balkans and Turkey, but life has been busy. In my last post we were at Sofia, Bulgaria, and we were heading to Beograd (Belgrade), Serbia. We took an overnight train that was very old. We managed to get a private coach so that we could catch some shut eyes during the night. There were a few things that I had to prepare myself for the ride. I didn’t drink any water, to avoid having to use the bathroom. Bring food, because food is not offered on the train even though it’s a good 7 hour ride. If you are considering taking the train from Sofia to Beograd, you also have to be aware that at the boarders between Bulgaria and Serbia, the train operators change from Bulgarian to Serbians. At which point, they will come knocking on your door to verify your passport. I was very nervous when the Serbian boarder police took my passport and left with it. I wasn’t sure who he was, and why he needed to walk away with my passport. As I began to panic he returned with my passport.

Arriving at Beograd, we found ourselves on an old train platform. It was half past six, and we were exhausted. There was a weak wifi signal at the station (thankfully), and I was able to map out our airbnb location.


I didn’t realize the walk was going to be very long with our heavy backpacks. We walked well over 45 mins on empty stomachs (because we didn’t eat the night before), barely any liquid, and lack of sleep.


We made our way as quickly as we could to pick up the keys, and headed over to our apartment. We went through the front gate only to realize that I don’t know which apartment and which floor we are on! I walked up and down the building to no avail. The next best thing to do was try to call the landlady. I didn’t know how to use the pay phones in Serbia, so I walked into a convenient store to borrow a phone. The store owner wanted to charge us $5 USD for the phone call. I shocked that she would take advantage of lost travelers like that, but decided that we should pay her anyways because we were exhausted and there was no other way. The phone number didn’t go through. We were officially homeless.

We sat outside on the streets in front of a hotel, hoping that we could get a wifi connection so we can email the lady and hope that she would email back. We sat there and waited. The city was starting to stir and people were out walking their dogs. For a few people, I’m pretty sure we were their amusement for the day. Two foreign girls looking completely lost, sitting on the street with their backpacks. There were a few moments where I was convinced that we would be homeless for the next few days. Just as I started to panic, she emailed us back. We headed back to the building and finally found our apartment.

The place was a studio room with just a bed, a small kitchenette, a small bathroom with a shower. It was simple, well decorated and clean. We were pleased. At last, a hot shower and some food would be nice. R jumped into the shower and low and behold, the water was freezing. She was soaked in freezing water from head to toe. I emailed the landlady and she said that we had to turn on the heat in the apartment and wait half hour before the water warms up. Unfortunately, it was too late for R. We napped for what seemed like just a little while, and when we woke up it was 1pm already. I was starving. We set out to look for food. Having not eaten for at least 36 hours we were determined to feast. We walked around and realized that we were staying in a very quiet neighborhood, a bit away from city centre. Some nice bakeries and restaurants lined the street.

We decided on a retro looking restaurant called “Ime Restorana”. The decor felt like we were stepping back into an old Serbian home. There was little debate as to what we wanted to have, because we were so hungry we wanted to have everything.

We started with fresh corn bread. It was warm and tasty. The bread was a little dense and a little savoury. Very different from the typical french bread that we get in Toronto.


We then had a mushroom with stuffed cheese and some sort of pork ham. It’s almost like bacon, but not as fatty. When we ordered this, we thought that the portions were going to be a lot smaller, and we didn’t realize that it would be served with rice. the mushrooms were essentially baked with the Serbian cheese (which resembles feta cheese in taste and texture). The mushroom was very juicy and the juice was absorbed into the rice. I’m assuming that the mushroom was made on the bed of rice so that the rice would pick up the flavour. The rice was like a balsamic rice. It’s a little harder than what I’m use to which is more along the lines of soft chewy Japanese rice.

Next we had a Serbian pie. It was layers of pastry cheese. The pastry layers were crispy on the outside and soft and chewy with the cheese on the inside. Could you tell by now that we’ve over ordered?


Next we had a simple tomato sauce pasta. There was a generous splash of olive oil. The tomato sauce was very light, and as you can see there were no bits of tomatoes in the pasta. It was just the tomato juice and olive oil. Very tasty and comforting after a long day.


The protein came next. Chicken breast with herbs in a cream sauce. I personally wasn’t a fan of the cream sauce. I though that there was too much sauce on the chicken and the sauce was better served on the side. The cream sauce was savoury with generous amounts of herbs to balance off the creaminess.


And did you know that Serbia actually grew it’s own grapes? I was delighted to find out that Serbia made it’s own wine. This wine had a dry finish to it. It had a grapefruit and citrus bouquet. It was pale straw in color with a slight green tinge. What you would expect from the cold climates of Serbia. After I got home, I read a bit more about Serbian wine, and learned that Serbia used to produce a lot more grapes. But during the war, people abandoned the vineyards and went to war. (War is bad, wine is good!) Before the war, in the 1970s Serbia had named 7 main wine regions with further sub region classifications. But now the industry is picking up again. You don’t get Serbian wine in Canada because it’s too expensive to ship. But if you ever get a chance to go to Serbia make sure you try out their wine.


So now your probably wondering what the total damage is? Well it cost $3,240 Serbian dinar which is approximately $40 canadian! Isn’t that amazing? For such a delicious meal. The staff members spoke a bit of English and was extremely friendly. A lot of smiles, and came to check on the food. They did their best to explain what each dish was. Overall, a fabulous dining experience!

Genius is divine perseverance.



Photo: Cappadocia, Turkey

It seems that life never really gives you a break.  Just when you can almost see the light, just when you feel like you are almost there shit happens. Shit always manage to happen!  The next thing you know you are putting out one fire after another.  I’ve always wondered if life is just a tiring exercise of getting through all the curve balls, lemons, and *insert any object of your choice* that is thrown at you.

I remember a passage from Daisaku Ikeda.  He said (paraphrasing now) that anyone can go through rough patches.  It’s not enough to just get through it, but you have to get through it and come out a stronger, better person.  This passage is exactly what I needed at this very moment. So thank goodness for diligent reading and all the Buddhist meetings I’ve attended.  Problems in life never really do go away -if they do than you need to share your secret with me.  It’s not that life gets easier, or that problems go away.  It’s that we get better.  We expand our capacity to deal with shit hitting the fan and various flying objects coming your way.

So to all those people who are dealing with difficulties now, never give up.  Because..

…genius is divine perseverance.

Let’s all be transformers..

In Sofia, there are a lot of graffiti art on the walls.  The images are beautiful, fun and it really highlights life in the city.   I learned that there’s a group in Sofia called the Transformers.  Their mission is to paint over boring grey electrical boxes and transform them into wonderful pieces of art.  Such an awesome idea, and it really reminds me that, all you have to do is dream and do it.  We always talk about how it would be nice to do this, and do that.  Why not just take a step forward, bring those ideas to reality like the transformers of Sofia.




A Photo Study of Sofia

There is so much to be said about this beautiful city.  A picture is worth a 1,000 words, and I’d like to share a few 1,000 words with you.


Tiles patterned in a scallop shape.  I thought I could sit here all day.


A lovely church that we happened upon.  We took a sneak peak inside and it was gorgeous.


Lucky of us, it was a beautiful Sunday. The sun warmed up the cold brisk air which made it perfect for exploring the city.



The girl has in her hand a traditional Bulgarian Survachkas.  Children make these and they usually attach popcorn, or beans.  It’s all strung up and then attached to the stick.  Then, they will go to elderly people such as their grandparents and lightly pat them with it.  The acting of patting is suppose to give them good health for the rest of the year.  The whacking continues until they receive lucky money.  🙂


Trams that run in the city in Sofia are really old.  They are usually very brightly painted which adds to the charm of the city.


Misty Sofia

We arrived late at night in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Exhausted from our long journey we took a taxi to the hotel, Central Park Hotel. (Cost: 60 Euros per night. Major credit cards accepted.)  The taxi only cost 8 Euros, as the airport was only 15mins away from city centre.   But you will find in Sofia that many shops do not take coins in Euros -they only take bills.   So we ended up paying the taxi driver 10 euros, which was way more than what we should have paid.

When we arrived we were welcomed by a friendly gentleman at the front desk who spoke English -such a relief.  We told him that we were only planning on being in Sofia for 1 day and will be taking an overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade.  He paused and stared at us.  His pause was long and the silence left a dreadful feeling in me.  In his exact words he said, “The overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade is not recommended”.  The dreadful feeling sank a bit lower in my empty stomach.  During our trip planning stage, we struggled a little to find a way out of Sofia.  We read on forums that an overnight train was possible, and the next best method was to take a private bus.  However, there was no specific details provided on how to book a bus and the departure times available.  Still shocked, I asked him why and whether if it was unsafe or if there were boarder crossing issues between Bulgaria and Serbia.  He said that it is not unsafe, but the ride is not pleasant and it would not be recommended for us.  We asked for details of how to book the train ticket and if there were alternatives, and all he managed to tell us was to go to the train station early in the morning around 7am to try to book a ticket.


A little shaken up, we decided that it would be best to take his suggestion.  We got to our rooms, took  a hot shower and the feeling of being really excited that we are in Bulgaria finally kicked in.  With all that excitement, we couldn’t possibly sleep.  We grabbed our cameras and decided to go canvas the city.   The streets were lit for the holiday festivities.  Cozy restaurants were filled with locals unwinding on a Friday night.  After an hour or so of wandering, we were finally tired.  We headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Waking up bright and early the next day at 7am, we were welcomed by a pleasant surprise.   The city  looked like it was under a spell: the same kind of spell that I would imagine was cast over the whole kingdom in Sleeping Beauty.


We headed out quickly, because we wanted to get information about the overnight train.  We hopped on the tram, which only cost 1 Bulgarian Lev.


We were a little confused as to what stop we were suppose to get off at.   I approached a middle aged lady for directions and with all the English she could muster, she told me that she was also going to the train station and to follow her.   Later on, we found out that she spoke French.  Ru, who is well versed in the French took over.   We asked her how the night train was like from Sofia to Belgrade, and if it was safe.   She said she has never taken it before, so she is not sure.  She said that generally Bulgaria is a pretty safe country to be.   She mentioned that children in Bulgaria learn English as well as another language in school.   She chose to learn French, but German and Spanish was also options.


Stepping into the Sofia Central Station was like stepping back in time.   Manual train schedules were hung on the wall, benches lined the waiting area, and everyone was bundled up because there was not heat.  A morbid looking evergreen tree with tinsels stood tall in the center.

We walked in and made our way to the train ticket counter.  Located on the right far corner -it was a little difficult to find.   There was one lady at the ticket counter who spoke English, and French.  She told us that in order for us to reserve a Private Berth, we need to arrive precisely 1 hour before the train departs.  It cost 55 Bulgarian Lev per person for a Private Berth.  The train departs at 8:30pm every day.  Only Bulgarian Lev is accepted.

Relieved that we could book a ticket, we left the train station.   It was still early around 10am in the morning.   We decided to wander around town and slowly make our way to our tour meeting point.


The small streets were very beautifully lined with neat rows of trees.   Standing tall and straight, reminiscences of the past glories of the Bohemian empire that once flourished.  The mist was still lingering in the city, but the rays of light form the sun shone through.
We walked down the street and couldn’t help notice that a lot of the shops were deserted.   There was a lot of graffiti on the walls, buildings were very run down.  The buildings hint at a story of the difficult past this country had during the communist regime.  Where all property was seized and everything was rationed.
 We continued to wander until it was time to meet up for our tour.

Venturing East

My curiosities have taken me to the less traveled parts of Europe.  Eastern Europe has always intrigued me.  Stories of gypsies, Dracula, lonely beaches, and misty mountains come to mind.   It was a part of the world that I knew very little about, and what better way to learn about something than to go experience it first hand.  When I learned that my dear friend Olga was working in Izmir for a year, I jumped at the opportunity to go visit her and check it out.  And so my journey began -researching, deciding, changing my mind, researching, saving, saving, saving..

I had no idea that airfare would be so costly -though mind you I was traveling during Christmas peak season.  Nonetheless, I try not to let finances impact my travel decisions.  With that being said, I did have to save up a bit.  I had a bit of Petro Points saved up so I converted it all to CAA Dollars, and used it towards my flight.  It was about $1k, which really helped a lot.  (At one point or another, I’ll do a post on playing the Areoplan miles/ CAA dollar game.)

So without delving too much on expenses here is a quick breakdown of how much the entire trip cost.

Flight: $2.4K CDN
Food, Hotel, Spending: $2k CDN

I know most of you would be very interested in how much I specifically spent on each place.  Those will be detailed in my later posts.

So without further adieu, on December 20, 2013 I left for my first stop: Sofia, Bulgaria.

IMG_5704By the way, the little person on the right is Ru.  We will be braving the unknown together.