I think on account of the extreme temperatures I had experienced immediately upon arrival my first impression of Valjevo was not quite as fair as I think it should have been. Like Belgrade, I saw a city heavily littered, heavily graffitied, and with many buildings in varying states of disrepair (partly thanks to the generosity of the American military). I distinctly remember the first time I walked across the Kolubara River which flows beside the newly constructed Orthodox Christian Cathedral of Resurrection. The pristine condition of the new cathedral juxtaposed with the shallow, murky, rock laden Kolubara enticed me to hastily jump to the conclusion that Valjevo would be nothing at all like I had expected after having read about Valjevo online. Had I known any better I would have remembered that the disastrous state of the riverside, full of debris, trash, and stones was due to the extreme flooding which had affected the majority of Serbia in the spring of last year. I would later find out that the riverside is in the process of reconstruction thanks to the generosity and good will of the government and people of Japan and thanks to the predatory loans offered by the International Monetary Fund.
However, thanks in no small part to our dedicated tour guide I soon came to see a different city. Admittedly, between classes, afternoon naps, cultural activities, and of course evening naps, it was with great difficulty that I found the motivation to attend the numerous tours to the various museums, monasteries, wineries, monuments, cafes, and rivers. Each day in Valjevo was a whirlwind of activities and experiences in which I was forced to balance studying (which happened only rarely), exploring Serbian culture, investigating the city of Valjevo, and becoming acquainted with my new classmates each with their own background and motivations for studying Serbian.
Eventually a core group of about six of us students made it a habit to experience Valjevo intentionally and on a daily basis. Those of you who know me should know that the only way I know how to do anything is reluctantly and you should be happy to know I did not change this aspect of myself for Valjevo. I frequently debated not going to any of these activities and lying in comfort in front of my fancy new fan. Everyday was a new restaurant ranging from Italian cuisine to Serbian fast food and from deliciously prepared ice cream to ice cream that tasted a little too much like cigarette smoke. In the evenings after our school organized culture sessions (cooking, singing, or dancing) we would again return to the city where each night we were treated to 20 dinar (19 cents) live performances by local musicians covering a variety of genres of music including Yugoslav rock, American rock, turbofolk, and traditional Serbian kafana music. This music served to draw us closer to the city and eventually our proximity drew us closer to each other.
Eventually I’ll attempt to write more specifically about the historical significance of Valjevo as well as some of the highlights of my three weeks here. There is really just so much more to say about Valjevo that cannot be said within a single post.