As I did in Dhaka, Bogota, Lima, and Rome, I will write a couple of articles about the good and not so good things about living in the Washington, DC, area. First, some of the good things.
Free drinking water. You can drink the tap water.
High speed internet.
International cuisine. I will write more about this later, but in the DC area, one can get good Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Japanese… you get the idea.
International people. Many embassies are located here.
Public transportation. Between the train, bus, and light rail, you can get many places for 3-10 dollars.
Availability of things – Amazon is sometimes delivered the next day or faster, and some shops are open 24-7.
Free museums, free concerts, free meetings, and free libraries. The Smithsonian is a collection of 21 museums and almost all (I think only the one in New York charges an entrance fee) are free to enter.
National Airport (DCA). Having an airport on a metro line and within a mile of DC is gold. Dulles is also on the metro but 25 miles away.
People like dogs. Oh, wait, that’s not just here. But I still think it’s a good thing about being here.
Homeless people and beggars. This is a stain on American. Quite a shock to the tourists as well.
Prices. Things are pricey.
Price of going out to eat. I am now cooking, if one can call it that, at home.
Housing prices. Gawd. Half a million dollars for one bedroom apartment!
Shootings and crime. Over 200 homicides in DC this year (as of October).
Preservatives in the food. Read the label. It is a bit scary.
Skunk smoke. Both DC and Maryland (or they will soon) have made it legal to consume marijuana. The stuff that smells like a skunk is low grade — so I am told. I wish they would switch to non smelly kinds.
The weather. George (Washington) did not choose this place for the weather (I think he wanted short commute). The weather is humid and hot in the summers and the winters are not spectacular. But, there is air conditioning so if I can avoid going outside from May to October…
However, I am still thankful for the overall quality of life in the DMV.
One can tell that modern day Serbia was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, not only in the architecture, but also from the food.
There seemed to be a bakery or sandwich shop on every corner in Belgrade. We went to a modern one built in wood and with space to sit. Some of the ones I saw on the street seemed to be more of a walk up style.
The pastries were much like in the Viennese traditional (in Danish, danish pastry is actually called “Viennese bread” as that is where the traditional stems from). In a small town near the Hungarian border, I had a sandwich made with a simple unleavened flatbread.
There is quite a cafe coffee culture here as well but the local coffee was topped high with whipped cream. Reminded me of that time I had Sacher Torte and had to ask for it “mit schlag” — with cream.
Every culture has a dumpling and one of the dumplings of Serbia is called a “knedle.” It is a round fried ball filled with, traditionally a plum, but now made with chocolate and anything else one could imagine. The dough is boiled first and has the consistency of a matzo ball or thicker.
I was delighted to see “potage” on the menu because as I am a bit of history buff, I had seen shows about medieval cooking where everyday the peasants at potage which was anything they could find to add to their pot. In Serbia, it was a thin delicate soup. At the place we had it, it was served in mini cast iron pots. Adorable.
We had other soups as well that were simple hearty soup that for some reason is not so easy to find in many restaurants. At least not in Rome.
Another classic food is meat stew. Served with pasta and sour cream on top. Very hearty.
They have Greek salad here, but their Serbian salad is called “shopska” (spelled differently but sounds like that) which means “hat” because the salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, has a “hat” of shredded fresh cheese which is a bit like cream cheese.
Another food here is polenta (maize/corn) and I had it served as cakes topped with shredded meat. Before I lived in Colombia and Venezuela, I did not really like polenta or arepas or anything made out of cornmeal but now I have a hankering for it once in a while.
I like dairy products and one of the traditional types here is a cultured product that I think is made from the whey, a bit like kunefe in Turkey but more delicate. It was called “ayvar” and was served with toast and flossed pork.
As I hoped for, another local specialty is spicy pickled peppers, a bit like a banana pepper. One of the spiciest things I have tried in a while.
Then there is the rolled stuffed meat a bit like a chicken cordon bleu but this one was pork. The local slang term for it roughly translates to “a woman’s dream boyfriend” and it was about 10 inches long.
For dessert, one of the traditional items is called a snowball but it is more of a snow cloud or floating iceberg of meringue in custard.
Aside from traditional foods, Serbian food also includes pizza and gelato and all manner of international foods. More on that another time.
I expected to be surprised by America. And I am. Here are some of the things I have found surprising so far.
25 percent tip is expected on many restaurant bills.
Tip for almost everything. When paying electronically on a tablet at a cash register, the cashier will turn the tablet to you so that you can add a tip… for standing on the other side of the counter.
The prices. I ordered pizza. It cost me 60 dollars for two. But in general, the prices are high. Except on gas. Healthy food is expensive. But now even the fast food is pricey.
The smell of skunk (in DC, I’m told that if it smells like skunk then it’s a bad grade of marijuana).
Large food portions. I ate half a chicken. It sounds like it was a small chicken. No, I was SERVED half a chicken. And it was large. That said, the other day, I was surprised at the average size of my sandwich.
Music in the parking lot to keep away the homeless and the migrants. Yes, that’s true. There are some parking lots where canned music is piped out all day long. Apparently homeless people do not like it. This is one of the oddest things I’ve discovered about America and I feel like there must be more to it than this. I will admit that the music is a sort of sickly elevator style teeny bop muzak. Maybe if I remember, I’ll do a YouTube video about this.
Homeless people are everywhere in Washington, DC. Entire cities of tents — some with front yards and patios!
The relative speed of Amazon orders. I can order items to be delivered in six hours from when I order. I also live near a hub. It usually does not get delivered that fast but the offer is there so that is what surprises me.
Vocabulary. The language is different. “Stuffy” for a soft toy — what we called a doll. “Slide deck” for PowerPoint because not everyone uses Microsoft. “Coms” for communication ’cause shorta i’ betta? And don’t get me started on the acronyms!
Shocks and all, I’m enjoying it. This may have seemed negative, so I will write, as I usually do for each new country I live in, a set of pros and cons blog articles. Watch this space.
Holding your own book, that you wrote, in your hands is a real treat. It is not tricky to publish it. The hardest part is writing the book. A book does not have to be 600 pages. To self-publish a book, it is better to keep it under 200 pages. Cheaper too. Once you have written your book, then you can find a place to publish it.
Even if you have no cover artwork, you can still publish your own book. Below are some of the sites you could use. I have used Lulu, Blurb, and most recently, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing when I found that Blurb no longer publishes e-books. I wrote about self publishing twicebefore. I may experiment with other companies.
A danish is a pastry and my favorite one is not too sweet.
Normally, when I fly out of Copenhagen, I get a final danish at the airport. The bakery at the airport in Copenhagen is a branch of Ole & Steen, which is a franchise version of the old venerable Lagkagehuset (layer cake house).
But, New York City has four branches of this franchise! I had to visit.
Obviously, the dough and bread is different (like with NYC pizza, it’s the water, don’t ya know). The menu was also different. They still had my favorite pastry so I got two. My favorite is called “tebirkes” in Danish but they have changed it to “copenhagener” in English. It is in the first photo, covered in poppyseeds. It is a basic pastry with a subtle almond sugar paste layer inside.
The roast beef sandwich that I got was awesome with horseradish cream and rare pink roastbeef (a bit cooked in my photos because it traveled in a bag for six hours). I also bought rye bread and rye bread rolls. My eight rolls were so dense that they had to go to secondary screening at the airport.
Can Albania, with their Roman ruins and Greek temples, blue waters, and Adriatic coastline, be the next big destination? Many people are touting it as such. What I did notice were quite a few hair transplant tourists.
We went looking for the blue waters of the Adriatic. But, we went looking for the beach in the off off season, on a rainy cold day. We did find the beach and had a meal at a beach side restaurant (it was the only place open for miles), and oddly, I had to use my Italian language skills to order as the owner of the restaurant did not speak English.
I would recommend going way to the south near Greece when looking for sunshine. Or go in the shoulder season.
Still, it was nice to be able to get a decent “Greek” salad.
Another thing, everyone smokes.
But, Albania is the birthplace of Mother Theresa so perhaps people would visit for that reason too. There are things to see and do (the communist museums, the plazas, the Greek temples, the Adriatic, the mountains), and it is a bit cheaper than other parts of Europe.
The Albanians are ready. They have the tourist gear. Also, it’s pretty inexpensive to get a car service from Tirana to Kosovo, Skopje, Montenegro, and other parts of the Balkans. This is could be practical because it is not so easy to get to some of those places but Tirana has a direct flight from Rome.
Last fall, I tried to go on a quest to do a “Fall of the Iron Curtain” and I nearly made it. Along the way, I saw many places that are basking in the post-communist times.
In Tirana, Albania, I went to a museum, Bunk’Art2, that explained in a tiny way, what times were like just a few decades ago. The museum is underground in an nuclear fallout shelter and the oppressive atmosphere added to the sadness.
One can easily forget history and take for granted the freedoms that we enjoy. This museum was a quick reminder.
Lake Como is becoming more famous for George Clooney than for its other attributes. I only saw it in passing on my way to catch another train. And then, in Tirano, we found an even better dish!
The little town of Tirano is a pitstop on the way to catch the Bernina Express, but maybe one should stay a while. We did not. We had an hour. We needed lunch. The tiny square near the train station had two eateries so we went to the nearest one. Little did we expect the food to be good.
The house specialty was homemade buckwheat noodles with cabbage, potato, and butter. It turned out to be the best dish of the whole trip.
As the restaurant is used to catering to tourists, I managed to get pineapple and ham added to my American pepperoni pizza. This would never happen in Rome! But, here in Tirano, we were two kilometers from Switzerland so the rules against pineapple on pizza don’t apply here.
The balsamic glazed steak was also something of a surprise. While we were still in Italy, we did feel some of the Teutonic sternness in our waitress. Maybe we are just oversensitive?