Monday, May 9, 2011

Lucky lucky lucky!

I know I haven't posted in a while. We've been so busy! Before I put up a few pics from recent travels, allow me to gush about the Fulbright program for a moment. It's been such an amazing experience! I've met some wonderful people and been able to make a lot of professional contacts that will be wonderful for future research. I've had a lot of fun lecturing to students all over Croatia and I've learned a huge amount about Croatia's culture, history, and politics. And that's just the work part! Because when I'm not working I'm sitting in cafes and guzzling espressos; or I'm sampling all kinds of new foods; or I'm zooming around Europe by plane, train, or automobile, visiting places I've always dreamed of visiting; or I'm admiring views over the beautiful Adriatic. Every single day I think about how very, very lucky I am. And of course Allison's twice as lucky, getting to experience this at 11 years old!

Okay, so we went to Venice. Amazing Venice:
 And we went to Plitvice Lakes, a stunning national park about 2 hours from Zagreb:
 And I lectured I Rijeka, on the coast, and had coffee and cake in Opatija:
 And we went to the unbelievably adorable Dubrovnik:
 And Split, with its 1700 year old Roman palace, in which people still live and shop and eat and obsess about soccer:
And that was just in the last three weeks!! I told you I was lucky!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday thoughts

It's been a busy week. Monday I had class. Tuesday night I gave a presentation at a youth counseling center. Wednesday I went to Osijek, 2 hours to the east, and gave a lecture to high school students. And Dennis's mom and aunt arrived, so yesterday we did a little touring. And today I went to Zadar, down on the coast about 3 hours away, for another lecture. Tomorrow night we leave for a week in Venice.

It might be a good time to get away from Croatia for a little bit: today a former general whom Croatians consider to be a war hero was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 24 years in prison. It's hard to escape occasional reminders of the war here. The beautiful library where I lectured in Osijek sports what I'm pretty sure are bullet holes:
 Osijek is only about 20 miles or so from the Serbian border and was badly damaged in the war. Zadar was also hard hit. The library was destroyed by shells. The new library, where I lectured today, was built in what used to be army barracks. I find that very appropriate. And the new library is very nice. But I've also seen minefields that are still marked with warning signs and I've seen a few buildings that were destroyed and never rebuilt. And today someone told me what it felt like to be taking shelter in the US embassy basement as rockets were attacking.

But I've also seen some wonderful things. Like this neat old building in Osijek (built in 1802):

 Buildings like this are not in the best of shape, not because of the war but because of communism. During the communist years, private ownership was taken away and nobody had the incentive or money to keep buildings in good repair. After communism, it took years and years to sort out who owned what (it's still being done, in fact). And then Croatia's not a rich country, so funds for repairs can be hard to find.

But here's the river, viewed here from a hotel cafe (it was cold on Wednesday):

 And some interesting graffiti  near the riverfront:

I don't know who painted the swastika and iron cross, but they were painted over by someone who sympathizes with Crvena Akcija, a radical far-left group.

The drive to Zadar today passed through beautiful scenery, such as this cool little hill, with snowy mountains in back of it:

Along the way I saw deer and we went through several long tunnels. The road to Zadar is an excellent one. They've built a bunch of bridges over the highway so wildlife can cross without getting hit.

And Zadar is a beautiful city. There's a marble sea organ you can walk on. We saw a school of fish there--sardines, I suspect:

 This is standing on the walkway, looking towards the harbor. That big boat is the ferry to Ancona, Italy. The sea and islands here were just gorgeous.
 Zadar also has some interesting old buildings. This is a 9th century church. If you look closely, you may see that they used the columns from the Roman ruins in the church's foundation:

 The courthouse in Zadar:
 A marble column from the Roman forum, with the remains of the forum itself behind.

In addition to deer and sardines and the Adriatic, I saw a single motorcycle rider today wearing a jacket that read "Hell's Angels Croatia." I wish I'd had my camera available. I've had some really lovely chats with the folks in Osijek and Zadar. And after today's lecture (which was sparcely attended because they were announcing the verdict in the war crimes case at about the same time), a lady in the audience gave me a packet of wild asparagus as a gift.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More observations

I have become extremely fond of cafes. Yesterday I went to one next to the train station to read over a journal article manuscript. I had an espresso and water. Allison sat next to me with her Kindle and a Fanta. This was what was in front of me. How on earth am I ever going to settle for working in my office again?

Some recent observations:
  • It's not uncommon for men here to carry small manbags or wear fanny packs.
  • The local dogs seem especially well-behaved, even off-leash.
  • People around here often carry plastic shopping bags from various stores. Most ubiquitous are Konzum's red and green ones, which cost an extra kuna but are pretty heavyweight. But today I saw someone with an H&M bag--H&M just opened here last week.
  • The waiters in cafes seem genuinely pleased when they are tipped, even if it's only a kuna (less than 20 cents). And most of them work very hard, often having to walk long distances between the sidewalk tables and the bar.
  • I don't often see the other residents of my building, but when I do, we exchange dobar dans. Except one older guy who always just grunts at me. In my opinion, if someone has seen your underwear hanging on a clothesline you can at least say dobar dan to her.
  • Unlike my neighbors, I choose not to hang my underwear outside. Towels and sheets go on the outside lines, the rest stay on my indoor drying rack.
  • People here are not patient about waiting. They're not really rude about it, but they don't like lines and they are always in a hurry to get on or off of trams. On the other hand, they don't seem any more punctual than Americans.
  • Things get done here...eventually. Like the tree that was chopped down about a week ago down the block, and is still ther in pieces. I suppose eventually someone will take it away. Or my building, in which intercoms were installed in January. In late Feb or so they patched the holes, and someday they will repaint the walls.
  • People here are proud of their foods. I hear a lot of "You have to try this" and "This is our traditional...." I don't blame them. There's a very wide variety of foods, influenced by many cultures, and all delicious.
  • I like the relatively small size of Zagreb, especially the center. If you talk about a particular restaurant or ince cream place, everyone knows exactly what which one you mean. And people run into friends and acquaintances often--even I have a couple of times!
  • My Croatian students write better English than many of my American ones.
  • Toddlers the world over love to chase pigeons.
  • Zagreb must have more shoe stores per capita than any place on earth.
  • Although Croatians are proud of their country, when they speak to me they often compare aspects of it unfavorably to the US. I don't know if they're being polite, or maybe all the US media they get here makes the US seem bigger and better.
  • Things in US politics that seem strange to me--opposition to universal health care, obsession with gun ownership--are downright mystifying to Croatians.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I didn't want you to think that the only thing I'm doing in Croatia is eating. Sometimes I drink, too.
Yesterday I was invited to visit some wineries. These are small, family run places about 30km from Zagreb. The first one we visited was Tomac winery. Here are some of their barrels:
This barrel is special--it contains a wine called amfora. Grape mash (half of it from 70 year old vines, half from Chardonnay) is put in a clay jar and buried for 6 months. They dig it up on Good Friday, strain it, and put the wine in these barrels for 18 more months. They only sell this wine at the winery and to restaurants they trust to treat the bottles properly. The wine itself is a dessert wine, sweet and subtle. Very nice.

Bottles have to be turned. Some get turned by hand, and some in this gadget. They have to be turned twice a day and twice a night.

 The view outside the winery. It was a gorgeous day with bees buzzing everywhere.
 Inside the tasting room. They moved an old traditional house from elsewhere in the country to their vineyard. I love this staircase.
The wine in the glass is amfora.

 View of the valley.
This view is from the second winery we visited, where we also had a delicious dinner.

The tasting room. We enjoyed sitting outside for our appetizers and grappa.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


It's 79F outside right now, with a little breeze and a few puffy clouds. One of those days where you wish you could bottle the weather and save it forever. I have quite a bit of work to get done but didn't want to the day to go completely to waste. So Allison and I made our way to a nearby sidewalk cafe--there are 6 or 7 within a block of us--and sat there with our Kindles, reading and eating cheesecake. And if that isn't the definition of a perfect afternoon, I don't know what is.

A few recent observations:
  • Everyone's mood seems to have lifted when the weather improved. Not that folks were surly to begin with, but when it was cold and gray, folks rarely smiled in public. Now everyone smiles--the waiters, the people in Dolac. Even the Konzum checkers. It's nice.
  • I have a favorite bakery now. Naturally (and probably fortunately) it's not one of the zillion of them within a 5 minute walk from my place. No, this one is up at Dolac, 20 minutes away. They have a truly enormous selection and everything I've tried there has been delicious. Yesterday I could not decide on a loaf of bread, so the friendly girl behind the counter (who spoke English) recommended one to me. It was made from cornmeal with pieces of corn inside, and it was incredibly tasty. We have gobbled up the entire loaf alread.
  • One of the things that makes walking in Zagreb very diverting is that fact that shops change their window displays extremely often. There's a stretch of street I walk several times a week on my way to the main square, and it seems every time I pass by the displays have been changed.
  • Thus far I have resisted the effort to buy shoes. This effort has been monumental, because Zagreb has more shoe stores than any place I have ever seen.
  • Despite the fact that many of the locals drive like maniacs and they get very impatient behind the wheel--I was once nearly run over by a pair of nuns!--accidents don't seem common. Yesterday I happened to walk by the aftermath of an extremely minor fender bender, where there were 2 police cars and 4 officers busily filling out forms.
  • Yesterday I remembered to buy blood oranges at Dolac before they go out of season. This is a different variety than the Moros I've seen in California--thinner skin and sweeter flesh. Delicious.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring shopping!

We continue to have some beautiful spring weather this weekend, so we did what everyone else in Zagreb does: we went to Dolac and then hung out at a cafe. Spring has made itself known in Dolac, too: fresh strawberries have appeared! Also wild asparagus.  I bought some of each (pleased with myself over my newfound skill to ask for a half kilo instead of a whole one), as well as some honey and some delicious cheese. I don't know what the cheese is called, but it's soft and crumbly and a little sweet, and it's smoked as well. It's a little like a smoked ricotta or something. Sort of. Yum. I'm quite excited to try that asparagus tonight--I've never seen it in US markets.

There was some sort of thing going on in the main square involving people singing folk music and selling various  products from Gorski kotar, a foresty mountainy part of Croatia. Lots of the vendors were selling blueberry brandy, so I bought some. I got some honey brandy, too. Then we hung out in a cafe on the square for a while. As you can see in the pic, it was crowded. But everyone was in a good mood, the vendors in Dolac all smiles, and I conducted all my purchases without a single word of English (the girl who sold me the honey thanked me in English, though. *g* I bet my accent is terrible! But at least I try some Croatian, which folks seem to appreciate). Even my poor, harried waiter at the cafe had a smile today. We stopped at a bakery on the way home for rolls. I'm looking forward to dinner tonight!

Even though I still spend a good portion of my time not exactly sure what's going on, I'm getting better. And I am inordinately pleased with myself over my skills at coping in a new country. It's a great confidence builder.

Although I miss California, I know now that once I return there will some things about life in Zagreb that I will pine for.  I had an epiphany about that today--living abroad is a very dangerous thing, because once you do it, you will never again be quite satisfied with life back home. They should warn people about that!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A good week

We've had a good week here in Zagreb. On Monday my twice a month cleaning lady came. Not only did she clean the apartment, but she also French-braided Allison's hair and gave me a shoulder massage. She's a very nice lady. She doesn't speak much English but we manage and she is just very sweet.
On Wednesday we had a picnic in Tomislav Square, a few blocks from our apartment. Several Fulbrighters were able to attend (as did Spike--can you see him?). The weather was lovely. Croatians use their parks a lot--for hanging out, for napping, for making out with significant others--but not so much for picnicking. We may have been a tad conspicuous on our bright pink sheet, but we had a really nice time.

 A spring view from my study, with the tree below my window in bloom.
 This is a pita, which I have been told is Bosnian in origin. They come with various fillings. Mine was cottage cheese and spinach. Yum!!
 And this is a burek, a variation on the phyllo-and-filling theme. Allison's burek had meat and onions in it. You can buy these everywhere and they're cheap and filling, if not exactly dietetic. The combined cost for pita and burek was about $3.50. I have the distinct impression that the low-carb craze never quite caught on here.
Today we did the paperwork and interviews with the police for our temporary residency. The process went very smoothly, in part due to the assistance of a very nice person from the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education, and Sport. They don't seem inclined to expel us from the country, at least! We have to go back in a month or so to get some sort of stamp for our passports. I guess it's appropriate that I am becoming so well acquainted with the main police station here.

And in the afternoon today I gave a lecture at a high school. That was fun, and the kids asked good questions. Their English was excellent. I'll be doing that same lecture in several other locations throughout the country, which I'm looking forward to.

The weather is supposed to be gorgeous this weekend. I think we might brave Dolac on Saturday morning for some shopping. I say brave because all of Zagreb goes there Saturday mornings, and then they hang out in cafes with friends before going home for a big family meal. But I have heard rumors of wild asparagus and strawberries at the market, along with some cheeses and honey I want to try.