Magic, Marriage and Mayhem.
Magic, Marriage and Mayhem.
Forgive my language, but I am fucking exhausted. Both mentally and physically. In fact, I’d say Sladja and I are unlikely to ever forget July 2021. In terms of experiencing some of the most intense highs and lows life has to offer, last month certainly had it all… and then some.
It all started off well. For the first time since we arrived in Serbia (October 2020), we were finally able to do some cross country travel. Ok it was just a week, exceptionally tame by my standards. But hey, sometimes you just have to take what you can get.
Lord only knows we needed a break, as the previous nine months had taken their toll. We’d had to secure a place to live, address various health concerns and get vaccinated. Not to mention diving into the black hole that is Serbian bureaucracy in order to get my temporary resident’s visa. Then jumping into a similarly dark void for our marriage paperwork.
During those nine months we’d only managed a couple of overnight trips away from Belgrade. Thus I’m sure you can appreciate just how much we savoured our seven days touring Eastern Serbia. In truth, it was a magical trip. First, we enjoyed a couple of nights in the peaceful Danube town of Veliko Gradiste, where we stayed in a boat hotel. That was the view from our balcony, pictured below.
Next came a couple of nights in the village of Golubac. Also perched on the Danube, we took a private river cruise, visited the stunning Golubac Fortress and did some hiking in Djerdap National Park. I also fondly recall our morning exploring the fascinating Tumane Monastery and its leafy surrounds.
Last, and by no means least, we finished the trip by celebrating our birthdays in the exceptionally pretty hills of Donji Milanovac. Renting a tiny room in a family guesthouse, we ordered a giant cake, drank our hosts’ homemade cherry juice and enjoyed more incredible Danube views from the balcony. As an old friend of mine was once fond of saying, “good times”.
The trip was of course over much too quickly. And before we knew what was going on we were back in Belgrade. Rest assured, dear readers, that I will write up a detailed series of travel reports from these Serbian adventures. Some patience, if you will, it’s on the list.
Back in Belgrade, Sladja surprised me by treating us to a night at Ben Akiba Luxury Suites. It was the evening of the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England and she wanted it to be a special experience. At home in our (non luxury) apartment, we would have relied on streaming the game via BBC iPlayer through our VPN on patchy Wi-fi. In Ben Akiba, Sladja had found a place with lightning fast wifi and a large flatscreen TV with a vast array of cable channels.
Ben Akiba Luxury Suites.
It was an amazing surprise and such a thoughtful idea. Unfortunately, England lost the game on penalties, stretching their major trophy drought to 55 years. I was gutted, even though I’d known in my heart of hearts that we weren’t going to win. Despite the defeat, we still had a great evening with takeaway food, ice cold beers and a dip in the living room hot tub. A memorable night.
With the comparatively frivolous football out of the way, Sladja and I launched into wedding prep as the clock ticked down on our big day. And then, quite suddenly, I awoke one morning to some really shit news from the online ESL platform I work for.
New Chinese government regulations are on the way, they said. The company needs to act accordingly, they claimed. Consequently, they’d decided to cut teachers’ salaries by up to 40% across the board. Effective within just a few weeks. I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. Imagine turning up to work one day and being worth 40% less than you were yesterday.
The Mayhem Part I.
The days that followed were even worse. I discovered that my company had also blocked all in-app messaging, presumably to stop teachers from contacting each other… and crucially parents. “The chat tool is under maintenance” they said.
With our wedding day fast approaching, the future was starting to look uncertain. Especially when I discovered how my company had started firing teachers who tried to give their contact details to parents during lessons. Furthermore, they showed the door to a number of part time teachers and those with average ratings. What a mess. Nevertheless, we resolved to sweep our worries to one side and focus on our special day.
It was a lovely intimate, low-key day, which we enjoyed very much on our own terms. We ordered a delicious cake from one of Belgrade’s fanciest bakeries. And Sladja gathered some flowers from the local market to fashion a little bouquet.
The short walk to the registry office took just a few minutes. The gathering was a small one, just us, the registrar, the translator and Sladja’s immediate family. Sladja looked gorgeous that day, as she always does, and I don’t mind admitting that we both had a wobbly moment while exchanging vows.
After the ceremony, we all went for dinner at a local restaurant called The Tree. This is where Sladja and I had our first drink together during my maiden visit to Belgrade in August 2019. It felt only right that we celebrate here. And what a feast it was, with wine, roast veal and a homemade cake from Sladja’s mum.
The Mayhem Part II.
Sadly the seriousness of what was going on in our professional lives came into sharp focus the very next day. With more information coming out about the Chinese government’s new regulations, we were left without even a hint of a honeymoon vibe. If you haven’t heard the news, the basics are as follows:
1: All core education private tutoring companies have been banned from making profits. They must now register as non-profit organisations.
2. Chinese educational institutions can no longer hire foreigners remotely.
3: Foreign teaching materials are to be banned in Chinese schools.
4: Private tutoring firms will be forbidden to operate after 21:00, during weekends and public/summer/winter holidays.
Of course there’s way more to all this than I’ve briefly mentioned here. Just Google if you fancy getting the full picture of how deep it all goes. The ludicrous pay cut I’d been subjected to was my company’s desperate attempt to cut costs and plug a hole in what is obviously a sinking ship.
Somehow though they continue to operate. Other platforms have already fallen, announcing immediate closure or scheduling an end to operations by the end of the year. Sladja, who also works for a Chinese company, is currently sweating on last month’s pay check while the government “carries out an audit” on her employer.
Seriously, dear readers, the stories I could tell you about this whole mess reach way beyond this modest report. I shall hold it all back for a future short story. Almost certainly some years down the line when the dust has settled and I don’t feel quite so bedraggled by everything.
A Fork in the Road.
Both of us know we have to start thinking about a new path forward. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We find ourselves at one of life’s almighty forks in the road. Do we go and work for another online teaching platform? Should we perhaps start something of our own? Draw a line under teaching and embark on a whole new professional journey together? Only time will tell.
We are into our last month in Belgrade. What an unforgettable ten months it will have been by the time we pack up our stuff and head off for an indefinite period of living/exploring/working (?) around The Balkans. This has long been our plan and whatever carnage unfolds in the next weeks, we will not be denied it.
We head into a future that is much more unknown than I would like it to be. But we do so with a certain amount of experience and resolve. We are married (!), fully vaccinated and financially stable. We are alive! Whatever it is that lies ahead, I know that we’ll face it together.
With so much going on in recent weeks, I have found it hugely challenging to keep Leighton Travels ticking along. Having run out of finished content, I decided to republish my short story series The Slovak Files for those who hadn’t read it. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and comment, it was much appreciated.
Next up, a brand new series of travel reports from… oh, you’ll just have to wait and see. This series was slowly put together in between all the chaos, so forgive me if any of it feels a bit… distracted. Thanks, as ever, for your loyal readership, it means a lot.
You have handled the obstacles in recent months with patience and your usual sense of humour. DLTAGYD.
It will all work out for you in the end. Look forward to pastures new as you and the Mrs go forward.
Cheers. As ever DLTAGYD is good advice. Though unfortunately there are so many “A” to deal with.
Life has its ups and down, they are tests, human survival is infinite. Best of luck. By the way France just beat Serbia in Olympic basketball women ::) Cheers
And welcome to China lol
I shall inform Sladja of this devastating news! Thanks for reading.
What a time you have had. Never a dull moment my boy. Whatever the future holds you have each other and are blessed.
Never a dull moment indeed. Thanks for listening through all this, a rollercoaster ride to say the least.
You never know what is around the corner Leighton but I’m sure you’ll both come out of this dire situation well even if it takes a while to achieve. You both look so happy (and so nice) on your beautiful wedding photos and I wish you both well for a happy future together.
Thank you very much Marion, for both your continued readership and support. The blog community means a lot to us. I hope you’re having a great weekend!
It is a sad coincidence that just when you are organising your personal life your professional life is completely turned upside down. I am sure that you will turn it into something positive and that it will give you the opportunity to make a new series. I wish you both all the best, looking forward to future readings.
Thanks for this very kind message. Hopefully, with some hard work and a little luck, we will quickly be able to move forward from this.
Congratulations on your wedding! I hope that you will figure out a way of this messy situation and find a new path forward!
Thanks for reading and for the positive wishes. Whatever happens, we are really looking forward to a relaxing month in Montenegro in September.
At times, it seems when life gives you something good, it also takes something back. Professional unstability isn’t for sure the best – but you’re together, healthy and married! Congratulations! Looking forward to read the new travel series!
You’re right Nic, life often works out this way. Thanks for reading and for dropping me a line. Much appreciated!
As that great American philosopher/baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I am buoyed by the thought that you are doing just that and are headed for more “Good Times.” By the way, loved Sladja’s wedding bouquet and her pink “Bee Your Self” top. Good advice.
Good to have you back Memo. I truly hope that there are plenty of good times ahead as we try to navigate these choppy waters. Will email soon, it’s long overdue!
You certainly had the highest of highs and the lowest of low these last months. But hey, you’re still here and married – cheers to that 🥂! Sladja looked beautiful and love her flowers! My husband and I came to “that fork” three years ago … quit our jobs, sold our house in the city and moved to our (very small) beach house. Things are not always going the way we would like it – thanks Covid – but we are still alive and doing well under the circumstances. I’m pretty sure this will be the case for the two of you as well.
Sorry to hear about your own challenges, but yes, as you say, there are always positives to take. Thank you for your warm words. We would love our own (very small) beach house one day!
Life presents many obstacles for sure. Glad you had the happiness of the wedding. Congrats to you both. It is always better to have someone to face life’s obstacles with. As to China, they have a real hate on for Canada and America right now. Wish we had never become part of #45s power play and hope Meng can either be released or extradited soon. The world is an uncertain place and all we can do is close our eyes and take the fork. Stay well. Allan
I’d almost forgotten about the Meng situation. Another unholy mess. You know Sladja and I were actually thinking about returning to China before this chaos kicked in. For a traditional teaching job. But I think this puts an end to all that for good. Thanks for the encouragement, it’s exactly twenty three days until we take that fork.
Apparently There are more than 100 Canadians locked up in the Chinese legal system for a variety of paranoid reasons. I always thought I’d like to go visit China, but no Canadian is safe there right now, so I will take another fork and tell China to simply fork off. Cheers.
Ha ha nicely done.
Congratulations on the wedding! I can’t wait to travel again but not sure when that will happen. It looks like you guys had an amazing time- thanks for sharing your beautiful day and pictures! All the best!
Hey thanks for reading and for contributing to the thread! Just about to take a look at your blog.
Congratulations on your marriage! You have done amazingly well with your partner and the pandemic. The issue with the job is a minor and temporary setback. (Easy for me to say, right. 😊) I’ve liked traveling to and through China (airfares and people are great), but the communist government there is so paranoid. It must control everything there to survive and it is now trying to control matters outside the country too. I’m very much looking forward to your next series
Cheers John. Like you we have also greatly enjoyed our respective China experiences. Well, for the most part. Definitely hoping for the drawer marked ‘temporary’ in the large cabinet of setbacks. Hope you’re well and enjoying the summer.
Sounds like you guys are doing a good job of weathering the storm. I hope everything gets sorted out soon! Congrats on the wedding and I look forward to hearing about your travels through Serbia and the Baltics!
Thanks Diana, appreciate you getting in touch. Looking at my posting schedule it might be a while (to say the least) before I get round to posting about The Balkans. But rest assured I will get there.
Balkans… not Baltics haha 🤦🏼♀️
Ha ha no worries. Slip of the fingers, happens to the best of us.
You two most certainly have the experience, intelligence and chutzpah to keep going forward with any idea you deem useful. I have confidence in you. Good luck and know that we’re behind you 100%.
Thanks Mary! We can feel the strength of your support all the way from sunny Oaxaca.
July has certainly been a rollercoaster for you and Sladja. It’s unfortunate that your remote job is cutting its employees, and the company should have honestly been upfront about all of this. Goes to show that it’s not a good company to deal with…but as there were lows, there were plenty of highs as you did get married! And you also did get to travel a bit throughout Serbia, which has been on my bucket list for some time. I hope your situation stabilizes with work, and I hope you get settled in nicely in the Balkans (Greece isn’t that far off!) soon. As for the blog, do what you gotta do. Whether you need to schedule less posts or take a break, there will still be readers like myself who’ll support you!
There are only so many ways I can say thank you to people today ha ha. So thank you! For reading and for your words of support and encouragement. We have a loose idea of branching out alone rather than working for yet another band of crooks. That won’t be easy, but it does feel like the time is right to try and strike out alone.
Congratulations on getting married. Wishing you both a lot of happiness.
Good luck for the future. I’m sure you both will figure out what to do. Things have a weird way of working out eventually. Have faith. 😊
Such encouragement from the blogging community! Thanks for reading and for your positive contribution.
Firstly, love your little trip write up, I really like trips like this with two day here and two day there, you get to see so much more. Congratulations on your marriage, may you have a long and happy life together. I hope you both find other employment very soon, what a stressful time for you both.
Thank you Alison, we are already busy trying to forge a new path knowing that both our jobs could disappear at any moment.
Good luck 🌠🤞
Congrats on getting hitched!! Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy marriage filled with lots of love and laughter. Sorry to hear about how teachers’ salaries have been cut by up to 40%. That’s honestly terrible. All the best on the next chapter of your lives.
Thanks for reading and for your encouragement! Better times ahead hopefully.
Wow….err…..well massive congratulations first to you both! And then whatever abstract nouns are appropriate for all of the other shit! You never know what life holds next so good luck with whatever’s coming bud. Btw, what with travelling again and the hurdles on locating, I haven’t has chance to tackle your Slovak files yet…sorry… promise I’ll get there soon….
Cheers Phil, I hope that you guys are having a blast out in Greece despite those insane temperatures.
It’s just fabulous to be travelling again!
Congratulations on your marriage! I hope you are enjoying this bright spot in spite of all the challenges with your work. Cheers 🙂
Thanks for getting in touch!
Oh my goodness, what a month. Firstly, HUGE congratulations on your marriage, it sounds a lovely, intimate day. Then I’m so sorry to hear about your work troubles, I can’t even imagine the stress and worry for you both. I hope that you can have a break and then work through your next steps together as a team. Wishing you the very best
Thanks Han, I cannot wait to have a break. Really the end of August can’t come soon enough. Hope you’re doing well and thanks for your encouraging words.
Hooray on your marriage! So happy for you! I can feel your anxiety with your work, but I know you both are strong enough to persevere. That t-shirt on your travel plans says it all. You can visualize your plans, and by working hard at it, you will succeed. Cheers, my friend!
Thanks for reading. And for the extra injection of positivity into this thread!
Many Congratulations and Happy Birthday to you and Sladja!! Wishing you endless years of happiness together and lots of adventures 🙂 Best of luck with the fork in the road. I know together you’ll figure it out and everything will work out!
Thanks Lyssy! We are working on it.
Congratulations on your wedding! I hope things are sorted out professionally for you both very soon. Good luck!
Cheers Stella! Thanks for reading and getting in touch.
Massive Congratulations to you and Sladja! Wishing you both many more highs in the coming months and years and I hope the work issues get resolved soon. I also hope the next travel series is about Turkey 🙂
Thanks so much! I’m sorry but Turkey is some way off getting published 🙁 Maybe even another year! Too much to do.
Congratulations Leighton and Sladja!!! What beautiful pictures of your beautiful day! So glad that the two of you have each other to face the highs and lows together because that makes all the difference. I’m sorry you’ve had such terrible lows though at a time that should be nothing but blissful highs. I believe that things always work out as they should through those rocky spots, so here’s hoping that the path of where to go from here will open soon for you two and that this crossroads will be the beginning of a wonderful new chapter. 🙂
Thanks Meg! Whatever happens, I sense it’s going to be an eventful second half of 2021.
Lovely couple!! Congratulations to you both, Leighton!!
Thank you Jyothi!
Congratulations to you and Sladja! You look like a happy couple, in spite of current developments, happy with each other and that’s the important thing. Somehow when I’ve had a work setback, it ends up pointing me in a new direction that I am grateful for, although it may take a while to become clear. I hope the same will be for you both. You have certainly enjoyed a free, traveling lifestyle. Wishing you the best and looking forward to hearing about your next steps.
Thank you very much Ruth. It means a lot to receive this message, I do hope you’re keeping g well!
Awesome story! You will prevail if you believe!
Thank you very much! Thanks for the follow, I will check out your blog later today.
Congratulations on getting married, Leighton! 🙂 Wishing you a lifetime of love and happiness. I am sorry to hear about your work troubles, if there’s one thing I’ve learned n the last decade or so – setbacks are a normal part of the path to success. Recovering from a misfortune begins before the situation even happens. The more solid your footing, the harder it will be to knock you off your perch, and the easier it will be to recover and adjust even if it seems like the world is crumbling around you! Wishing you all the best and from seeing your wonderful photos from Serbia, I can’t wait to visit one day! Cheers 🙂 Aiva
Some sage advice Aiva. Thanks for reading and for your positive words!
I’m so sorry Leighton. Sladja had briefly touched on your current employment situation but I didn’t know the full extent of the challenges you’re facing. I hope everything works out for you both.
Cheers Marla! Everything happens for a reason and we are now launching our own online business! 🙂
OMG this is very exciting!!
Leighton, wow…such a rollercoaster of events. Congratulations on your wedding, sounds like you had an amazing day, you both looked lovely and very happy. Intimate weddings are the best in my opinion.
So sorry about the job situation, I can’t imagine how unsettling it is for both of you.
I am sure you will make a success of whatever new business/career you follow, often when one door closes, another door opens.
Gilda, lovely to hear from you, it’s been a while! Thanks for reading and for your positive thoughts. Just a month or so later and we are already seeing light at the end of the tunnel. With some hard work and a bit of luck, it’s all going to be fine.
I’ve only just caught up with this piece – sorry! Many many congratulations on your marriage 🥂 I can see you had a truly lovely and memorable day, which is as it should be (take it from someone fast approaching the big 40 year anniversary!!)
Good luck with whatever you decide to do next. You’re clearly a resourceful and resilient couple and I’m sure you’ll do just fine!
Aw thank you Sarah. One month later and things are already much better. We are in the process of launching our own online teaching business and relocating to Montenegro tomorrow for a month or two. Hope you’re well!
That all sounds good 🙂 Yes, I’m well, and about to dip my toe back into the world of international travel with a short trip to Paris next weekend!
Still way behind on blog-reading so I’m hoping things are much rosier for you both a month on. Hopefully you’ve figured out what’s next professionally.
On a happier note, congratulations on the wedding! It looked like a lovely intimate occasion.
Eastern Serbia also looks gorgeous so I’m glad you were able to get away, perhaps a honeymoon of sorts – even if it came beforehand haha.
Hey Jason, good wishes can never come too late, thanks for adding to the thread. You’re exactly right, we simply decided to do the honeymoon beforehand. One month later and things are much better. We are launching our own online teaching business and have just relocated to Montenegro for a month, maybe two. Hope you’re well!
Congratulations and wish you both the best Leighton! Give my love to Sladja — you both look adorable together. Look forward to your travels, travel posts and everything else that your site has to offer.
Thank you so much for this kind message! It’s great to see you back on the blogosphere after your recent technology problems.
It’s good to be back!
Somehow I missed the important detail of your marriage; for that I apologise. Many congratulations! Good luck for the future, and thanks for your patronage of my blog which always pleases me. Take care pal.
Thank you Chris! I always enjoy following your adventures. Hope your 2022 is good, but not “too” good 😉
Very kind mate. Hope my “Tales” bring you a slice of England that you might well be missing.