It was quite difficult booking a flight to Belgrade – the best was with the Greek airline- Johannesburg – Athens – Belgrade. Returning was a problem, the flight there left Belgrade at 10 am on the Saturday morning, landed in Athens at midday and departed only 12 hours later at midnight for Johannesburg. I had to take this although it was not ideal, meaning I miss the entire Saturday of the final. But I have missed the final before so this was nothing new. For me the first week was anyway the most important, meeting the artists and composers and getting the promo singles.
Serbia has an embassy in Pretoria but they have a strange visa policy – all visas are done in Belgrade and not at the embassy in Pretoria. This made life tense for me as, although I handed in my passport a month before departure, I was only informed 2 days before departure that the passport can be collected at the embassy.
Nelius Ferreira was going again with me, like he did to Helsinki, so anyway both our passports were coming back on the same day. He however did not fly with Greek airline as he wanted to watch the final and so he flew via Frankfurt which is never a good option for me as Frankfurt is always a busy route and more expensive.
Morten booked a great hotel for us. We also had a prior arrangement – the woman working at the travel agency where Morten booked, was from Belgrade and she arranged with her brother who was still living there to meet us at the airport. So we paid him instead of a taxi. He also took us to the accreditation office to get our accreditation before dropping us at the hotel.
Our hotel was overlooking a MacDonalds that was bombed a few weeks prior to our arrival. At that time the war had just about ended and many people were nervous going. I was not as I live in a country where all kinds of attacks happened often and you anyway will die when it is your time.
Having not been to any ex Yugoslavia country and remembering my difficulty with foreign currency exchange in Kiev in 2005, I consulted my bank for advice on the best way to take money. They advised me to take traveler’s cheques as that is the safest option and lowest commission. The traveler’s cheques were in US dollar. Well, imagine my shock when the Monday morning I went to a bank there and they gave one look at the traveler’s cheques and said sorry, we do not exchange them, especially not American express traveler’s cheques. I went to 3 other banks and all had the same response. That meant I was stuck without money. Morten allowed me to use his telephone to phone the AMERICAN express office in the Netherlands who said sorry, Serbia is one of the few European countries who do not accept this and my bank should have never sold that to me.
It was impossible to deal with the bank in South Africa, I did many e-mails but they were not answered, or someone just said we can deal with this when you are back in the country. I heard that same day of a Finnish Eurovision fan who was on a train from Poland to Belgrade and he was robbed – his passport, laptop, money everything. The Finnish embassy in Belgrade came to his rescue – helped him with a temporary passport and a cash advance etc. I was so impressed – however no such help for me from my bank or the South African embassy. Luckily being with Morten, he wanted some stuff like a shirt and shoes and I could buy them on my credit card in return for cash. Luckily at Eurovision, I seldom spent a lot of money. But I of course had to pay Morten my share of the hotel cost but he understood that I would refund him once I was back home.
I tried not to let this incident ruin my Eurovision experience. I was extremely impressed with the Serbian people, especially the younger generation – they were wonderful people and I mixed with several of them when I took a bus every morning to the venue. Near the hotel was a wonderful kebab place and this guy every afternoon saw me coming and had my kebab ready. He liked the entry of Montenegro so I got him a copy of the promo single ” Zauvijek volim te” by Stefan Filipovic. He was so happy – I guess he was Montenegrin, I did not ask.
I was also very impressed with the members of OGAE Serbia, such a bunch of nice and friendly people and they took me backstage to the room where they gathered. I brought them a bottle of wine from South Africa, but I had it in my hand luggage and right at that time, they were very strict and all liquids were taken off passengers. Luckily I could inform Nelius to bring another bottle but put it in his in his suitcase which is booked in so at least we had a bottle of wine to give to OGAE Serbia.
The OGAE fanstand was quite nice and big, but one floor up and in a very quiet place and I said the chances of anybody coming there is slim. So we moved the fan stand to in front of the entrance to the press conference room and it was the right decision – it was so busy, everybody voted.
I was also very impressed with the Belgrade volunteers – always friendly, always helpful and what was so nice is that often they would stand in a long line and clap and cheer when an artist was coming to the press conference room. Then they walked in a line (like in the army) to get their food, mostly pizza.
Belgrade was also the only Eurovision where there were several press working rooms, two big ones downstairs – one for people with own laptops and one for people who needed a computer. Then upstairs where was 3 smaller rooms where you could sit in peace and quiet. We got an very interesting note book.
The Euroclub in Belgrade was HUGE – one evening Nelius and I were the DJ’s. OGAE Serbia arranged for us to go back to our hotels with a taxi and they carried the cost. Morten was quite impressed with the music we played.
The venue was some distance from the press center but it was a nice walk and there were small little restaurants and shops around it – we ate something light there several times.
The OGAE meeting was hosted in the Euro fan cafe where there were computers for fans to do their e-mails etc. They also had people performing there. The Euro fan cafe was like half way from the press center to our hotel.
I cannot recall the welcome party but I did attend as I went with Morten and other Norwegian fans who stayed in our hotel by taxi. But it did not impress me like Istanbul or Kyiv, nor was it as bad as Athens and Helsinki.
Two countries debuted in Belgrade, namely San Marino with Miodio and their song “Complice” and Azerbaijan with Elnur & Samit and their song “Day after day”. It brought the total countries to 43 as Austria decided to stay home.
Interesting is that a newspaper was printed every day during Eurovision in Belgrade – this was like having a summary of the previous day’s events
Slovenia has a great selection song, MANDOLINE by Sasa Lendero which did not win the selection. We decided to cover it in Afrikaans and I bought some copies to Belgrade since Slovenia is also an ex Yugoslavia country and I wanted to give it to members of the delegation. The Afrikaans version is called “Parstyd” (which refers to the process when grapes are turned into wine). As Nelius wrote the Afrikaans lyrics, it seemed ideal to bring it as he was also in Belgrade. The song was recorded by Ruan Cowley who also recorded the Serbian winner of 2007 “Molitva” in Afrikaans.
Interesting about the Hungarian delegation – they went home after the individual country rehearsals and returned then some days later for the show rehearsals – they told me it was cheaper flying home than to stay in a hotel in Belgrade for the entire period. I liked their entry and one of the composers is Viktor Rakonczai who was part of the group V I P that sang for Hungary in 1997 – I did not recognize him. We discussed covering the song “Candlelight” in Afrikaans.
On the Tuesday of the second week, something awful happened but it also showed that luck is sometimes on your side. I was fairly tired that day and also it looked like it was going to rain, so I told Morten I would be going back to the hotel. He was still busy watching the family show of semi final 1 and blogging for NRK about it. I just reached the entrance of the hotel when the heavens opened – I had not seen that much rain before. I asked for the hotel room key at reception and went up to the room. I cannot remember on what floor our room was, but Morten says it was the 7th floor. As I unlocked the door to the room, I heard a huge bang – the geyser burst and suddenly water was coming out everywhere. I had such a shock. I started getting our stuff out of the bedroom and into the hallway – the water at that moment was just in the bathroom. I of course first SAVED the promo singles but I have never worked this hard to clear the room. By the time I had everything out, the water was knee deep also in the bedroom. I left everything in the hallway and ran down the stairs to reception to tell them what had happened. They reacted quickly, came up to the room and turned off the water and then gave us another room on the same floor but in another passage and helped me carry everything to this room. By that time I was totally exhausted and fell on one bed in the room. Meanwhile an hour later Morten came to the hotel. By that time the key for our old room was back at reception and there had been a chance of staff at reception and he got the key, thinking I had gone out to get something to eat since the rain had stopped. He got to the room, unlocked the door and saw just an empty room – by that time the cleaning people had dried up all the water. He thought we had been robbed – and he could not believe they even took our dirty underwear and he then ran down the stairs as fast as he could and once he got down at reception, someone informed him of what had happened and told him about our new room. We were so lucky, had I got felt tired and because of the storm coming back sooner, the water from the geyser would have flooded everything we had. The only damage was my shoes because of all the water walking in and out to carry our stuff to the passage. Now I always bring just one pair of shoes to Eurovision and so had to walk bare feet to go and buy a new pair of shoes.
By now I had two major incidents – the money thing and the burst geyser, so the Wednesday I just rested most of the day. But life goes on and the contest was on and I had a 10 out of 10 song, Latvia. The moment I heard this song “Wolves of the sea” by Pirates of the sea, I just fell in love with it. Many people looked in shock at me when I said this was my favourite and even one person said how could I even tell that – but taste is individual and I have never made a secret of which songs I like or hate – even if I am the ONLY one liking that.
Many fans were hysterical over the entry from Portugal, “Senhora do mar” by Vinia Fernandes. I remember during the voting at the fan stand, almost half the press voted for this while Latvia had almost no votes besides mine. And it then not only qualified but ended up higher on the night than Portugal. I love the Latvia song so much so when the Smurfs recorded it in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, I made sure I got all the these CD’s – under normal circumstances I would never have bought a Smurfs CD.
I had a disagreement with someone of the Latvian delegation – I was promised the promo CD almost instantly and this person was not willing to give it to me. Finally when some of the composers (who are Swedish) came, I got it, and there were two different singles – I guess one was the Latvian printing and the other the Swedish printing. I had the song also covered in South Africa by Willem Botha and this gave him a chance some years later, but more on that when we get to 2013.
Two press conferences stood out, IRELAND with Dusty the Turkey and “Irelandse douze pointe” – it was jam-packed. The other LITHUANIA with “Nomads in the night” by Jeronimas Milius, almost empty until of course people heard they were giving the promo CD out to those in attendance.
Serbia has a great promo single of their entry “Oro” by Jelena Tomasevic featuring Bora Dugic and they were fantastic, putting a copy into each person’s pigeonhole and also made sure the volunteers got a copy of their own entry. Besides the Serbian version, they had versions in Spanish, Portuguese and Greek.
I nearly lost the Finnish promo single “Missa miehet ratsastaa” by Terasbetoni. I found a black envelope in my pigeonhole with nothing on and thought it was just something stupid and threw it away. A little while later the Finnish head of press asked me if I got the promo single and I said no. She then said but she personally put it in my pigeonhole in a black envelope. I rushed to the rubbish bin and still found it there.
I really like the Andorra entry “Casanova” by Gisela and we covered that in Afrikaans as well.
Armenia brought a fantastic promo back with their entry “Qele qele” by Sirusho – some years later I heard some fan paid a fortune for this CD on Ebay.
The entry from Bosnia & Herzegovina was quite interesting with one of the people hanging clothes on a washing line – this has stuck in my memory.
I have to say that looking back at the various Eurovisions is about high lights and low lights and lowest light came in the form of the Spanish entry “Baila el chiki chiki” by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre. This song is pure horror and occupies the number one spot on my hate list of Eurovision. I could not believe the Spanish public picked this.
Croatia brought someone called 75 cents, a guy who was 75 years at the time – his age record did not last too long and quite soon artists even older came to Eurovision.
Georgia had “Peace will come” by Diana Gurtskaya, a blind singer. Cole van Dais loved this song and covered it with someone in 4 language – English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Spanish.
I really enjoyed the Malta entry “Vodka” by Morena but it should have rather been their entry the next year when we went to Moscow.
Iceland brought Euroband with “This is my life”, a very catchy song and what I like of their promo CD, is that it contains a couple of other Eurovision covers, among them Celine Dion’s 1988 winner in English.
We had a surprise for Maria of Norway. A local female singer Jennifer Zamudio covered “Hold on be strong” in Afrikaans and she brought it to me literally 2 hours before my plane departed for Belgrade.
Sweden had Charlotte returning, but now with a new surname Perrelli. Her song “Hero” was very good but it did not do well. She still remembered me from Jerusalem.
The 3 big Russian countries all had good entries. There was Belarus with Ruslan Alehno and “Hasta la vista”. I took him some fruit sticks which he loved and Belarus TV even recorded him eating some of them – he especially love the apricot flavour.
Ukraine had Ani Lorak with “Shady lady” with composers Philip Kirkorov and Karen Kavaleryan and the promo single also features a Russian version.
Lastly Russia had Dima Bilan returning with “Believe” and I knew when I saw the man ice skating during the show, this will do well. I did not expect it to win, but it did and so gave Russia its first victory.
I got a surprise in my pigeonhole – the CD single of “Viva la musica” by Man Meadow which was an entry in the Polish selection this year and composed by Thomas Gson. This is such a good song and it would have been wonderful if this had won in Poland. We covered this in Afrikaans to great success – keeping the title just with Afrikaans lyrics.
As usual I bought the double Eurovision compilation CD and like in Ukraine, the names of the countries were in the local language, Serbian.
I also took a compilation I had made of SOUTH AFRICAN covers of Euro songs and I really was surprised how much the delegations liked this, especially the composers as the South African market was a totally new market for them.
Going home, the 12 hour sit at the Athens airport was quite difficult but a 12 year old South African girl flew in from Belgrade with me – her parents got divorced and her father went to Serbia and worked there and she came to visit him – she was travelling alone and the airline staff sort of took care of the two of us and we each got 12 euro to buy something – but you could not buy a lot at an airport for 12 euro.
On my return, I had a 6 month battle with with bank over the traveler cheque issue which they refused to solve – the case went to the bank ombudsman who ruled in my favour and I got 100 euro compensation for pain and suffering – he said it could have been ten times more if I had been there alone, but I had Morten and other Eurovision friends and accommodation etc so I did not really was stranded on the street. I had to cash in the traveler’s cheques but as is common in South Africa, the rand always drops so I got less out than I had paid but the bank had to give me the same and also pay Morten my hotel cost and carry all the transaction costs. And the woman who sold the traveler’s cheques to me got a fine – her excuse was she never held a GUN to my head to force me to buy the traveler’s cheques but the Ombudsman ruled I went there for expert advice and they gave the wrong advice.
Through my travel insurance I was not able to claim for the shoes that I lost in the hotel water incident as you have a 50 euro first payment and the new shoes I bought was 45 euro. But luckily the promo CD’s were not damaged as NO money would have been able to replace that.
My favourites for 2008 are
Latvia – Wolves of the sea – Pirates of the sea
Andorra – Casanova by Gisela
Hungary – Candle light by Csezy
Iceland – This is my life – Euroband
Malta – Vodka – Morena
Russia – Believe – Dima Bilan
Sweden- Hero – Charlotte Perrelli
And the horrors are
Spain – Baila el chiki chiki – Rodolfo Chikilicuatre
Belgium – O Julissi – Ishtar
Estonia – Leto svet – Kreisiraadio
United Kingdom – Even if – Andy Abraham