Christmas YU-Folk Festival, Belgrade

24 Dec 2001 - 2 Jan 2002

(Christmas YU Folk Festival Belgrade 2001/2 Photographs)

Ciga Despotovic and his wife Ivon popularised international folk dancing in the Netherlands. After a long illness he wanted to visit Belgrade before he died and wanted it to be a folk dance festival. So his friends organised this festival so that for a final time Ciga could promote his national heritage.

Eight English people joined others from the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

The teaching sessions were all carried out to live music and were exhausting /exhilarating. Where the teacher could not speak English (the preferred teaching language), an interpreter was provided. The building was somewhat dilapidated but the main hall had an excellent floor though bits of the ceiling had a tendency to join it (though luckily not whilst anyone was underneath). The session timing was very Balkan which made it difficult for the first few days until a compromise was worked out between the different attitudes. The course cost approx 10 a day for 30 hours of teaching, an evening being entertained by Gradimar's display teams, a visit to the ethnographic museum, a Christmas party, a New Year's party plus several other evening socials.

We stayed at a youth hostel in the centre which was well-heated and quiet. It was off the road inside an inner courtyard. We paid approx. 10 per day per person for a shared room and 3 meals a day - basic food but very good value. We were near the parliament building and surrounded by embassies

The 'old' centre of Belgrade was more like a town than a city though as you went away from it so it became more like a capital city (noisy etc.). The citadel was well worth a visit as was the ethnographic museum. (our sightseeing was limited due to being tired from dancing and Janet's aversion to the cold). In general everything was very cheap though quality did vary.

Our best 'buys' came from the shops selling religious items where 'gold' leaf icons etc. were very good value. We also discovered Macedonian Red wine (1 a litre - export quality). One present to get for someone who has everything is a local calendar with all the religious holidays according to the Serbian Orthodox dating. This is some 18 days later than ours (hence Christmas is our 6th Jan - so when we flew out on Christmas Day we arrived on an ordinary day and everything was open). CDs were cheap. We saw 'Harry Potter' in English with Serbian sub-titles in a cinema for less than 1 each.

We found the people generally nice and never felt uneasy anywhere.

On leaving the country we were asked by an official whether we had any foreign currency. He happily accepted that we had not as Janet had spent it all. However it might be important to ensure you can prove you are leaving with less foreign currency than you entered with. In the airport duty free area only one shop accepted Serbian dinars.

Folk Christmas YU-Folk Festival, Belgrade, Macedonia

Copyright John Douglas