Monday, February 28, 2011

Food and transportation

I met my students today for the first time. A very small group, all female, and very pleasant. They come from all over the country, which is nice. We negotiated a meeting day and time that works for us all. My teaching load is going to be considerably lighter than I'm used to, so I hope various people I'm meeting take advantage of my standing offer to come lecture.

All the people I've met have been so gracious and welcoming. Today one of the professors was celebrating her promotion (a more complicated process than in the US) and they were having a little office party, to which I was invited. Wine and juice and pita, a Bosnian specialty which consists of phyllo-type dough wrapped around various sweet or savory fillings. Delicious.

Croatians seem (rightfully) proud of their cuisine, which varies from region to region. As the country's geography suggests, there are many influences on the food, including Mediterranean, central European, eastern European, and even southern European.  (none of them particularly light cuisines, I should add). People are very willing to suggest delicious dishes I must try or places I must go to sample them. Food tends to be relatively inexpensive and quite fresh--and we haven't even made it yet to Dolac, the big farmer's market near the main square, or the the much smaller farmer's market a couple blocks to our east. It's a good thing I'm walking a lot and climbing 80 stairs to our apartment! When I get back to California I'm going to crave Croatian food, which cannot be found anywhere near us.

Croatians eat lunch later than Americans--about 2pm--and dinner later, too. On Saturdays, especially, lunch with family is the main meal of the day. However, at least here in the center of the city I see people walking while munching on sandwiches or pizza slices almost any time of day. I'm told an afternoon siesta is common on weekends during the warmer months. Many shops close very early on Saturdays.

I'm going to change the subject from food to trams. Zagreb has a very extensive tram system. They run very often except in the wee hours. They can be crowded and the older trams are cold in the winter, but they're clean and efficient and the routes seem very well planned. Several trams stop directly in front of building, making the entire building shake. We've become used to it and it's definitely worth it for the convenience. The tram I take to work stops literally in front of my building's door. There are also busses; the only one I've had to take so far is the one that brings me from my tram stop to my office. They are also comfortable. And you can pay your fare on Zagreb's mass transit system by sending a text message. 90 minutes of transport costs 10 kuna--about $1.85--if you text for your ticket. I wouldn't want to drive in the center of the city. There's not much parking, people drive a little crazy (although less so than in Barcelona), street names are confusing, and street signs are hard to see. Trams are definitely the way to go!

Friday, February 25, 2011


I haven't updated in a few days, mostly because it's been a pretty slow week. It's been very cold out, too cold for much in the way of excursions, so we've been holed up in our warm apartment or watching movies at the theater across the street. True Grit and Harry Potter. A wonderful thing about Croatia is that only movies for young kids are dubbed; the rest are shown in the original language with subtitles.

We did go to the Archeological Museum this week. There's an exhibit there right now on medieval torture devices, which of course I thought was pretty cool. But the permanent exhibits there are interesting, too (and with great English signage). They have stuff from the Neolithic period all the way through the Roman era, some of it dug up very close to Zagreb. A reminder of how very long humans have lived in this part of the world. There's also some Egyptian stuff and an Etruscan mummy.

We've continued our research into the Desserts of Zagreb. Here's what the cheescake looks like at the restaurant at the Sheraton across the street:

It tasted as good as it looked. Desserts here are not only plentiful and delicious, but cheap. Ice cream runs about $1 a cone--and it's really good ice cream, Allison informs me. The restaurant at the Sheraton is on the expensive side, but the cheescake cost only about $3.25 a slice. Man, it's so lucky I'm doing all that walking and stair-climbing!

I've come to the conclusion that some things are just naturally more confusing here than in the US--for the natives as well. There was this strange complication yesterday when we went to see Harry Potter, for example. But people seem to be generally good-natured about confusion--or maybe they just expect it--and things tend to work out well in the end.

One thing I really prefer here is restaurant service. Whether at a kavana (coffeehouse) or full restaurant, someone generally comes and takes your order pretty quickly. And the food comes along eventually too. And then you can sit there forever and nobody will bug you or make you feel hurried. If you want to nurse your $2 espresso and glass of tap water all day, nobody will care. And you just wave when you finally want to pay and leave.

And again, I'm impressed with the patience with which Croatians handle my lack of language skills. People who speak English (and many do, especially younger people) very politely switch to English right away. And those who don't resort to gestures (or, now and then, make an attempt in other languages like German). Nobody TALKS REALLY LOUDLY in Croatian, as if that might help me magically understand. And with the exception of a single person, nobody has been snotty at all to me about it.

I am slowly picking up a word here and there. My Croatian vocabulary so far is...eclectic. A lot of it is food-oriented. Sometimes I dredge up my rusty Russian and that helps, too (like yesterday, when I had to figure out which bathroom at the theater was the women's *g*). Still, it's a little relief when I get to talk with native English speakers now and then!

Monday, February 21, 2011


Remember all that lovely blue sky yesterday? This is the view I woke to today. It snowed lightly all day. Not much of it actually stuck, but the little flakes blew into my face and hair. I learned that it is socially acceptable in Zagreb to use an umbrella when it snows. Nebraskans look askance at such a thing, even though snow will get you wet. As in Nebraska, however, silly hats are also completely acceptable. I saw a man in a tall furry one today.
So now that we've been here 3 weeks (well, counting our Spanish excursion) I have learned some things.
  • Living in a new place where you don't speak the language is exhausting. Learning to do even the simple things you do at home takes a lot of effort. Things like paying bills and grocery shopping. I've sort of figured out the post office, for example--I know where to pick up packages and where to buy stamps. But today when I tried to mail one letter and buy additional stamps I couldn't make myself understood, so I ended up just mailing the letter and giving up on the extra stamps. Then there are all the conversions: currency, metric, etc.
  • I've also really come to appreciate the value of social cues. Despite my language impediment, I've learned to do things like ride trams and buy groceries and go to theatres and cinemas, all without major embarrassments. I learn a lot by following what others do. And in shops and so forth, I've been able to communicate pretty well with pointing, various hand gestures, and a few shared words.
  • I've also learned that if I do look like an idiot for not being able to follow basic directions (like understanding a cashier or knowing when a door says push instead of pull) I won't die from it. People have been forgiving.
  • And also, sometimes when I am confused it has nothing to do with being a stranger. Many people seem to wander around the post office in confusion (the postal employees are very pleasant) because there are lots of places to go for various purposes. At the theatre the other day, I found our seats right away, while others didn't. And when an old lady came and insisted (in English) that my seat was hers, another lady sitting nearby informed her in Croatian that the old lady was mistaken, and let me know that I was in the right place (she was a very nice lady).
  • Sometimes I have moments when I can't believe I'm here. Had one today while waiting for the tram near campus. I thought, What a strange chain of decisions had led to me standing in the snow by tram tracks in Zagreb! It seems so unlikely when you think about it, and yet here I am!
  • I'm very pleased with myself for managing as well as I have.
  • I worry a lot about things that turn out to be no big deal. Like for some reason I was stressed about paying my gas and electric bills at the local grocery, Konzum. Turns out you hand the cashier your bill and your money and she gives you back your change and receipt. Couldn't be simpler. I tell myself to stop worrying so much but I rarely listen.
  • Allison worries that I will get us lost. I don't know why. I'm actually a pretty good navigator and I have yet to get lost.
  • Allison is a supremely adaptable kid. I'm so proud of how well she's doing with all her major life changes!
  • I've never lived right in the center of a big city before and I like it. It's so convenient and I haven't missed driving at all. It takes roughly 30 minutes for me to get to work by tram and bus, depending on how long I have to wait for each. I find it to be good thinking time. I catch the tram directly in front of my door. On the way back, it lets me off across the street--right in front of a drugstore, which was perfect when I needed to buy toilet paper today. And my afternoon errands--post office, ATM, buying an alarm clock, paying bills, buying groceries--all happened within 2 blocks of here. That said, when the weather's nice I've also been enjoying walking a lot. It's a diverting way to get more exercise. I expected more noise, but aside from the trams (which are close enough to actually shake the building; I've got used to it) there's very little noise. Our building is a quiet one.
  • I can live without TV, a dishwasher, garbage disposal, or microwave, or a clothes dryer. But I still need my Internet. And boy, Skype is a wonderful thing!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A nice Sunday in the city

Finally Blogger is letting me add some pictures! This morning Allison and I went to a boroque chamber music concert at the Croatian National Theatre. Spike accompanied us.
The picture below was taken in front of the theatre. Spike's generally a lot easier to pose than Allison.

After the concert we had lunch. I had a couple of typical Croatian dishes: Zagorski strukli and blitva. Allison had turkey cordon bleu, which came with tartar sauce on the side, plus vegetable garnishes to arrange artistically.
The restaurant was on Tkalciceva, which is a long pedestrian street lined with cafes and things. It's in the upper, or oldest, part of town.

The Zagreb cathedral is not far away. That round tower to the left dates to the 15th century. Kept the Turks out.

And this is the funicular. We didn't ride it today but we will eventually. It's too fun not to! Every day at noon they shoot a cannon from the top of that tower just to the right of the top of the funicular. And then every dog in Zagreb barks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Back in Zagreb

We made it back to Zagreb--with our baggage, even! Much as I loved Barcelona, it's always good to get home. And Zagreb is beginning to feel like home.

We arrived home late Saturday and took the airport bus to the main bus station, which is only 2 tram stops from our place. Couldn't be more convenient! On Sunday I learned that some of the local groceries--Konzum is the name of the chain where we usually shop--are open on Sundays, at least until 2pm. So we were able to get some shopping done. And since the weather was fairly gray and dreary, we spent the rest of the day being lazy indoors.

Today was more productive. Our twice-a-month cleaning lady came and was able to restart the pilot on the heater in the living room. We have two huge ceramic heaters, which I'm guessing are original to this building (circa 1880), although now they run on gas. The pilot on one went out while we were in Barcelona. Glitches aside, I've coveted these heaters since my first trip to Europe in 2001, and now we have two. :-)

Also today, Allison and I went to the campus where I'll be teaching. It's in Borongaj, a little way out from the city center, on a former military base. We catch the tram in front of our building, take it for about 20 minutes, and then transfer to a bus that takes us straight to the building where I'll teach. I met with the chair, who gave me a clearer idea of what to expect class-wise and how to prepare. And I got an office. It's huge--probably three times the size of mine in California--and it has a big window, which my usual office lacks. I wonder if I can bring the office back with me? By next week I should know what days ans time's I'll teach and in what room, and how many students.

Finally, we went to the post office, which is almost across the street from us. I'd shipped 2 boxes of Allison's school books here, but the USPS is a bit euphemistic when it labels it International "Priority" Mail. This box arrived last week. The other's still on its way, having taken a detour to Canada. Retrieving the package took a little wandering back and forth, but the post office employees were very helpful and we found the right spot at last, and the package was in our hands quickly. Then we carried 20 pounds of books down the block and up 80 stairs. Allison was less than ecstatic to be reunited with her math book.

So now it's still gray out, but she's doing school work and all is well. A few flakes of snow fell earlier today but didn't stick.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


We have really been enjoying Barcelona! I have cool pictures, even, which Blogger is refusing to upload. But we took a motorcycle tour (taking turns in the sidecar!) and have checked out several of Gaudi's creations. We've taken the elevator to the top of the Christopher Columbus monument (which is very un-politically correct) and walked La Rambla. We have tried new foods including xocolata--hot chocolate almost the consistency of pudding. And today we took the train to Figueres to see the Dali museum. I'm impressed with Spanish trains--clean and easy to figure out. I have practiced my bad Spanish (I don't even try with Catalan!). I have used my Kindle to buy a novel somewhere an hour outside of BCN, while zooming down the train tracks.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Yes, the blog is titled "Phyllis in Croatia" but today I'm in Barcelona. Allison and I arrived here late this afternon, having sprinted to make our tight connection in Paris. Unfortunately, my suitcase had no such luck. Allison's made it, at least. The Air France people have been friendly and apologetic, but they have no clue where my suitcase is. Argh.

Well, I'm going to have a good time anyway. This looks like a fascniating city--what little I've seen of it. Lots of motorcycles everywhere going fast. :-)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Yay! I got to escape the Superbowl!

Yesterday was a shopping day, in part because most things are closed on Sundays. We bought a printer/scanner and blanket and some pillows. We also went to one of the bookstores off Trg Bana Jelacica and Allison bought a couple of DVDs (with English and Croatian). The weather was gorgeous, and Allison sampled some of the delicious local ice cream.

Today we went to see The King's Speech at the theater across the street. There are lots of English-language movies here and except for the little kids' movies they're subtitled instead of dubbed. Tickets were cheap--less than $5 each--although there's some sort of extremely complicated pricing schedule that I can't understand, with 9 different prices not including 3D movies and T-Mobile Wednesdays. The seats are bigger and more comfortable than in US theaters (they even have loveseats) and you reserve particular seats when you pay, just like at live theatre. We enjoyed the movie, and who can beat the convenience of a theater across the street?

In the morning we're off for several days in Barcelona. We're going to be slightly adventurous and take a tram 2 stops to the main bus station, where we can catch an express bus to the airport. Hopefully we'll make our 1-hour connection in Paris. I wonder whether I'll be saying hvala and dovidenja in Spain?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Today was a busy and productive day. I went back to the bank--this time by tram--and actually managed to get an account opened. It turns out I'll have to return one more time to pick up my ATM card, but at least now I now how easy it is to get there by tram. One tram line takes me door to door. Literally--on the way back it stops directly in front of my door.

I got some work done on my textbook revision today, too.

And this evening we had dinner at the home of a Fulbrighter who's been here since the fall. Also there were his lovely wife, a Fulbright student, and another US student who's here on an exchange program. The dinner and company were wonderful. They also have a fantastic apartment, although I should note it's up just as many stairs as mine. Allison was mostly jealous of their 2 TVs. They have great views, too. And they don't have trams and trains next door, but do have a church with loud bells very close, so that's even, I'd say. We rode a different tram line home.

If you're counting, I have been up over 480 stairs today (not all at once, thankfully!).

We walked through the main square, Trg Ban Jelacic (pronounced Turg Bon Yellacheech), this evening. It's about 15 minutes from our place, and it's always very busy. I tried to post a crappy picture I took of Ban Jelacic himself, but Blogger keeps giving me error messages. In Croatian. Anyway, there's a big statue of a guy with a pointy sword, astride a horse, and that's where you typically meet up with people. I like this square because it's always so vital--clearly the heart of the city. There's a skating rink there now and they often have concerts and other events. When the weather turns warm there are tons of sidewalk cafes. The only downside is you have to be careful not to get run over by a tram!

Last night I bought tickets to a Sunday morning chamber music performance at the National Theatre. The performance is only an hour long, which should be perfect for Allison. I'm looking forward to seeing the inside of the building. The outside is pretty spectacular--usually. Right now it's covered in scaffolding.

And in a couple days Allison and I will be off to Barcelona!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

We are slowly getting settled in. Yesterday we registered with the police, as required by Croatian law. It was somewhat complicated due to my lack of Croatian, but we got it done. Today we walked a mile and a half or so to the bank to open an account and after arriving and waiting 20 minutes learned that to open the account I needed a piece of paper I hadn't brought with. Sigh. Well, it was a lovely day for a walk, anyway. The sun came out and  it reached a relatively balmy 36F. I feel like I earned the pastry I bought from the bakery across the street.

Speaking of bakeries, there are many. Probably a half dozen pekarnas within a block or two radius of here, including one just around the corner. Could be dangerous, except every time I visit a bakery I have to climb more than 70 steps to get back to my apartment, so it evens out.

I'm really loving this apartment. It's very spacious and comfortable. Quiet, too, other than the noisy trams, which we're getting used to. I like the sound of them, actually.

We haven't yet ventured too much around the city, but that will come. So far, we've scouted out several grocery stores nearby.
I am very happy to be able to buy blackcurrant juice here.

This is Glavni Kolodvor, the main train station. It's about 2 blocks from our place. As you can see, a nice, sunny afternoon today.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We have arrived!

Our flight was long but didn't have any problems at all, the wonderful folks from the embassy met us at the airport with a van, and we successfully dragged our suitcases up to the third floor. Which is really the fourth floor, as Americans reckon it. The apartment is very large with huge ceilings and doors. We're still figuring out the heating and plumbing and internet, but we're making progress. We did a little grocery shopping trip yesterday and today we'll buy cell phones.

It's nice to be back after two and a half years! I remember where things are, like the grocery store, and it feels familiar, although the weather's a little chillier than June.

I'm looking forward to some exploration this week!

I must say, however, it would be nice if Blogger didn't helpfully translate itself into Croatian.