Monday, October 15, 2012

September 28th: The Streets of Zagreb

This was my first weekend in my new place and also the first weekend I was going to be alone. Amy returned to Karlovac, the city where she is teaching English for the year.*After spending Friday cleaning my apartment and making some dinner, my new friend, Jenn, stopped over to have some wine before we went to explore the town. Jenn is another Fulbrighter that came to Zagreb to do dissertation research like I did. She is a PhD candidate at Penn State who studied Croatian at Pitt in the summers, so we share a Pitt connection (Ljiljana!). Anyways, I'm sure there will many more mentions of Jenn in the future.

Venturing out into the Zagreb nightlife meant that we continued our exploration of all that this city has to offer for socializing, relaxation, and general procrastination-things PhD researchers are very good at when in the field. This particular Friday marked the first night I experienced the night life of Tkalčićeva Ulica. This street is just next to mine and  is connected to it by this stube ( the Croatian word for stairs).

As a native speaker of English, the pronunciation of Tkalčićeva presents a bit of a challenge-even wikipedia doesn't offer phonetics for it's pronunciation. Therefore, I will try my best at my own: ta-kal-chi-cheva. The best explanation I can offer to explain the "ch" sounds in Croatian is that the č is a hard sound, like the English church, while the ć is a bit softer, like chess. It may never be distinguishable in my speech, but I'll keep trying :-) In case you are curious, the "c" in Croatian is like our English "s" when it is enunciated. Ulica is then pronounced with a long "u" and hard "s" as ooh-li-sa, with a sa like in sauce. I should offer a disclaimer here that I am not a linguist so my apologies if you are and the phonetics I'm making up here are horrendous .

Anyways, to get back to the task of the post. These complicated (for English speakers) names come from the use of famous name for streets in Zagreb. Many, if not most, of the streets in Zagreb are named after historically important figures in Croatian History. Like Trg Bana Jelačića and Ulica Nikola Tesla  Tkalčićeva come from the name Ivan Tkalčić, who was a Croatian historian of the city of Zagreb and its diocese, as well as the librarian at the academy of arts and sciences.** The street itself has many cafes and bars, a few restaurants and shops. Here is a photo of me having coffee at one of them.

The street is now a pedestrian zone and probably a place where I will spend a considerable amount of my time. It is in the historically preserved part of the city, which can be seen in the picture below or some of the shops and more cafes. The bell tower in the background belongs to St. Mary's Church. I can heard bells from my place all the time, but I haven't figured out where they come from yet.

I also live on a street named after another famous Croatian, Stjepan Radić. Radić was the founder of the Croatian Peasant Party in the early 1900s and was an advocate of Croatian autonomy throughout the existence of the first Yugoslavia (1918-1941), also know as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes during its first several years. Radić remains an important figure in Croatian history today; hence the name of my street Radićeva.** Radićeva has many more shops than Tkalčićeva but less coffee shops. Most of the shops on this street are jewelry shops. Including one where I recently bought a bracelet and a pair of earrings for about $10. I have a feeling I will be visiting this particular shop quite often. There is also a small bakery (pekara) where I have been purchasing  fresh bread every few days for 6 Kuna (Croatian currency), which is a bout $1.00.I certainly do not miss spending nearly $4 for fresh bread at my grocery store in Pittsburgh. For pictures of Radićeva, you can visit my post about Gornji Grad and my new place. The most famous image from the street is most likely the horse statue that is somewhat near my place and has a few cafes around it where I often have coffee.

*If you would like to also follow Amy's adventures, there is a link o her blog under my information-it's a link titled "Amy's Blog."
** This information comes from I don't just know this stuff of the top of my head. Info on  Radićeva and Stjepan Radić is straight from Wikipedia. It takes me long enough to write these. If I had to do any more research than this, I would give up entirely :-) 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

September 26th: Gornji Grad: My New Home

I woke up this Wednesday morning thinking that sharing an apartment with a young, visiting student might lead to late night parties and a loss of productivity so I started thinking I was better off alone. Especially after a whole week of not having my "own" space-I hadn't been able to really unpack in the dorm for fear a roommate would show up and my crap would be everywhere. I realized how much I have grown accustomed to living alone and making things exactly how I like them. With this new found clarity about where and how I wanted to live, I made my first call to an online post for an apartment seeking a tenant in the old city. Instead of using the skills I've been working so hard on the last few years and speaking in Croatian, I opted for the easier, do you speak English? and continued from there. I easily set up an appointment and met an agent to view the apartment at 1pm. I moved in at 5:30pm. Obviously I liked it but hopefully I wasn't just desperate for a place to live. 

The apartment is located in the old part of Zagreb: Gornji Grad, that is comprised of a secular  medieval town Gradec, and the religious medieval town, Kaptol. I now live in Gradec, which according to wikipedia was establish in 1242. This part of the old town is the location of the Croatian government, the Croatian Parliament (the Sabor), St. Mark's Church (perhaps the most recognizable church of Zagreb) several museums, and many other historical treasures. 

I now live on a street that runs up the hill from the main square (Trg Bana Jelačića) and has several tourist shops, small boutiques (including one fulled with earrings that looked like they were all made for me), and several cafes. 

The entry way to the house that holds my apartment has a beautiful wooden gate and right next to a pedestrian path that leads to the other side of the hill. I have a great photo of it but realized if I posted it here, any creep reading this blog would be to find exactly where I live. If you are really that interested in seeing all my photos, I am more than happy to email them to my friends...or I might get around to posting them on Facebook. My favorite part of the place is definitely my terrace. It appears to be the place where everyone dries their laundry but I'm hoping if I sit out here enough (it's where I am now), I will meet all my neighbors. My landlord told me a member of the Sabor lives above me and I think I may have met him today.

My very first house guest was Amy, who had been in a hotel for the embassy orientation and was sticking around for an open house at the Embassy on Thursday. While I had a lot of unpacking to do and a little bit of dusting/cleaning, I enjoyed having her here to share my first night in my place. I even have a television and so far I have most enjoyed watching Prijatelji, Puna Kuća, and Teorija Velikog Praska (Friends, Full House, and The Big Bang Theory respectively). They are all in English with Croatian subtitles so I'm viewing these as an education tool for my language learning. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

September 25th: The Embassy Sent Me

Today (Tuesday) we had our orientation with our embassy staff and the staff of the Ministry of Technology, Education, and Sport and the Agency for Mobility and EU Programmes of Croatia. It was awesome ;-) It was a bit of a long morning but it was nice how they had so many of the embassy staff come and speak to us. I guess that is the perk of having a Fulbright fellowship. All of the grantees were in attendance including the two that are the English teachers in other cities. Right now there is a picture of us on the Zagreb embassy website, but I'm not sure long it will stay. We all went for dinner later in the day and it was a nice way to get started in the city. On Monday night, most of us met up and visited a few cafes in the center of town along with a Fulbright grantee from the last cycle that has been very helpful to me. It was nice to feel like I knew some people in the city and I look forward to getting to know them better (and I definitely stole Amy's picture from Facebook).

I also went to look at another apartment on Monday, this time in a somewhat famous socialist building, Vitićeva Zgrada. The apartment was big (two bedrooms) and the girl renting it was a German student. The apartment wasn't furnished but she had already provided some things. It was nice, but she also had 7 others were looking at it, and she appeared to be quite young. I was so desperate to get out of the dorm that I would have said yes if she offered right there, but I had to wait a few days to hear from her. I used the time to find an internet cafe and look up a bunch of other apartments to call on Tuesday. 

September 22-24: Rijeka

I needed to get up early to catch an 8am train. Since I am jetlagged, I woke up a 4am. Ok, what now? I got out of bed and actually caught the 6:30 train to Rijeka (Ree-yek-a) instead. I ate my leftover pizza (yum) and made my way to the train station. Since I had no idea how long it took to get to the train station, I arrived about 30 minutes early and popped into the restaurant to grab some coffee. I ordered an espresso with milk but turned around to see that nearly everyone in the restaurant was drinking a Karlovačko, the beer from a nearby town (Karlovac: where my friend Amy is located). Hmmm, I thought. This wasn't the young person's 5:30am beer that ended a long night out, but old man's beer for starting the day. Nice. I found a spot on the train and read for awhile until we started to get going then enjoyed some of the scenery along the way. This part of the Croatia looks a lot like Pennsylvania, it's pretty, but nothing too exciting-so I fell asleep. 

When I arrived in Rijeka, my friend immediately took me to the sea for a coffee and a chat. Rijeka is a town in the western part of Croatia, just before you enter Istria.  It has many smaller towns nearby that we visited as well. One of them was a beach resort used by the Hapsburg Empire. It is called Opatija (O-pot (as in hot)-ee-ya), I have heard several people mention is since my trip so I think it is very well-known and I was lucky to have visited. After coffee I was taken to the house of my host and and this was the view from the room in which I stayed-gorgeous!

After lunch and a brief ..ahem....4 hour nap (remember, I'm still jet lagged). My friend and I went out on the town and I met one of her friends. She was lovely and I really enjoyed myself. I even tried one of the liqueurs that Croatians are so fond of here (people back home, think Slivovitz) except this one was Lavender flavored. Since I mainly just have a preference for wine and beer, this was a little strong, but not so strong that I think I could have lit it on fire, so I drank it in a few small sips...and I survived just fine. On our way home we grabbed a late night snack of burek (cheese or meat filled pastry) at the bakery (Pekara) and I was ready for bed. 

The next day I woke up at 11am instead of 4am (still jet lagged) and my friend's grandmothers were at the house. This was lucky for me because I got to watch one of them make a Bosnian pastry called pita. This was made exactly, and I mean exactly, like my family makes potica (of the apple variety) except that this woman was a true professional and could do it all by herself in about half the time my cousin, Jen, and I can. This one was filled with cheese and cream and was sooooo good after the Balkan coffee she also made for us. After this amazing meal, we were off to the beach! I did manage to get myself into the water a little ways, but I didn't swim. I just stood there and watched little tiny fish swim around me. I definitely have to make it back to the coast before it's winter!

Later that night, I wanted to try some of the mussels that come from the Adriatic so my friend and I had very nice meal at a local restaurant. Since I'm in a new country and want to try everything, we ordered an appetizer of octopus-a first for me-and it was delicious!

The rest of my meal consisted of mussels, a bit of parsley salad, an amazing piece of yogurt pie (like cheesecake but less rich) and some wine. All of it was about 1/3 of the price I would have paid in Pittsburgh-yes! We even had a sweet little visitor that politely waited until we were done eating to come and say hi. 

It was a great end to a very nice weekend but I was grabbing the train home in the morning to return to Zagreb and find myself a place to live!

September 21: Coffee

On the eve of my first night in the dorm, I planned many things I needed/wanted to accomplish on day two. Jet lag is a bitch and I woke up in the middle of the night and spent four hours making these plans only to fall back asleep and wake up a noon. Oh well, I just cut the list in half:

Task #1 coffee (insert use of Croatian language skills here)
Task #2 Hair Dryer
Task #3 Train ticket for the weekend (I'm going visit my friend-same as yesterday, I don't know that many people here yet-in Rijeka on Saturday morning)
Task #4 Internet: to find place to live and get out of dorm as quickly as possible.

I met my friend again but this time I manage the tram all by myself into the main square (Trg Ban Jelećica) and grabbed a map from the tourist info center. We met and took a short walk to a seafood restaurant that was on ulica Nikola Tesla. Now I know what my heavy metal loving cronies back in Minnesota are thinking…Tesla, wasn’t that a sweet metal band from the 80s???? It was, but Nikola Tesla is also the pretty famous inventor of the AC electrical current (check out this oatmeal post’m going to make an awesome tour guide someday. I tried new kind of fish, the menu called it sea queen in English but in Croatian it is orada. I didn't know what either of these two things are, but wikipedia has since told me it is Sea Bream, a freshwater whitefish.  It was prepared as a whole grilled fish, but the waiter cleaned it for me before I ate it. It was very flavorful. After this I had my first cup of coffee at a café (kafića)-Hallelujah, the European know how to make coffee, it’s none of this watery brewed stuff I buy in America because I’m too cheap for espresso. A cup of espresso with a little bit of milk is 10 kuna, roughly $1.50. Awesome.  

After this my friend walked me over to a bookstore and pointed out an internet café, we said goodbye (until I was to meet her in Rijeka the next day!) and parted. I looked around the book store while, bought a cute little green moleskin notebook that has become my personal dictionary for all new words I’m learning and I left to find my way to the train station. After walking in the wrong direction, hoping on the wrong tram (I knew the right one, apparently I didn't care-must be the jet lag), and getting another one, I arrived at the train station to by my ticket to Rijeka. This was my first exchange in Croatian, I was so proud. Apparently it worked too because I’m on said train right now righting this post!

After this adventure I returned to a square that I was at earlier and bought a hair dryer, how exciting. Then I found the internet café where I managed to order a beer, ask for the wifi password, and begin catching up on the facebook I had been missing out on….yeah right, I actually spent some time looking for apartment (in case the closet doesn't work out) and emailing some friends. I had another beer and realized it was 8:30 and I was starving. I think my lose 10lbs in a new city because you don’t want to/don't know how to eat plan would work splendidly here if I stopped substituting beer for food. Anyway I found a place called the Bulldog and order another beer (come on, it’s me, would you expect anything less?).  I acquired a food menu and order a pizza, all na hrvatskom, small victory! When the pizza came the waiter moved  me into the bar’s bistro so I was way from all the smokers. There I made my first friend. He was an older gentleman and the waiter that spoke very good English but I tried to a little of my skills on him and he was immediately surprised... in the where the hell does an American learn Croatian???? I guessed the way I clearly pronounced the number 38 (the price of the pizza) was impressive (sarcasm here people, but every small step is a step in the right direction). He told me he was done speaking English then and we had a nice conversation. I told him I was going to be around for a while and I would come back.  I left feeling like the day was a small success. I managed to find what I need and speak the language a bit. I even had leftover pizza in my possession to eat for breakfast the next day and gave directions to a French tourist (only because I had a map and he didn't). As I  walked back to the main square (see below), rode the tram home, and recognized some of the sights on the way, I thought this really will be an adventure, but today was easier than yesterday and I’m sure tomorrow will be even better. Luckily, I have a data package on my phone was texting with my sister (Devon) about the whole thing before I fell asleep. I love technology. I packed up most of my stuff and fell asleep to prepare for an early morning train ride to the coast.

September 20: Minneapolis-Newark-Munich-Zagreb

Day one in Zagreb began around two in the afternoon after about 20 hours of airports and travel (Minneapolis-Newark-Munich-Zagreb). The trip itself wasn't bad. The Lufthansa Airbus A340 was a probably the most technologically advanced airplane I have traveled on thus far. I’m pretty sure I only thought this because my seat was next to a stairway that led below the passenger area to a pod like deck that housed 10 bathrooms and what appeared to be an apartment for the staff.  I saw a flight attendant punch a code in a box near the ceiling where a door slid open and I saw a massive space that looked like some type of lounge….I was impressed, until a stewardess reminded us that only 10 people can be in the space at once since that is how many oxygen masks are available in the event of crisis. Luckily, I wasn't alone on the flight. I had another Fulbrighter with me that is also from Minnesota, Amy, which definitely helped with the nerves. 

Anyway, the arrival in Zagreb was exciting and I was thankful for our host from the U.S. Embassy for the ride and the help getting situated in my room. It’s a student dorm and it is everything you would expect that to be and maybe a little bit less; however it is incredibly cheap and I only have to stay here for a few days…er weeks L…until I find my own apartment. After a brief nap I realized the room had no toilet paper. If I was like my dad always traveled with a roll, this would not have been a problem. Alas, I’m not and was pretty much screwed. Welcome to Zagreb. However if this was to be the worst of my problems, I  figured I would survive. So I had a quick shower and I was ready to start exploring:

Task #1 find TP
Task #2 food
Task #3 phone
Task  #4 find place to live and get out of dorm as quickly as possible.

Lucky for me I had a friend in Zagreb that met me at the dorm and showed me how things work in the city. People speak very fast, just like I speak English, so understanding the language wasn't very easy. In fact on this first day it seemed almost impossible, but I kept telling myself that I was tired and it was new, it was bound to get easier. After a quick bite to eat, I bought a sim card for my phone and officially had a Croatian number. Better yet, a data plan so I could chat with my people back home J. My friend also helped me by a tram card, so I was mobile Andrea with a spiffy mobile phone. I  had arranged to view an apartment that was rented by two girls near the faculty where I’ll be working so I went that way around 7pm. The apartment was very nice, not big but not small, very bright, a few balconies, and a big bathroom. It even had a dishwasher, something I've rarely had in my apartments in America. It has two large bedrooms and a walk in closet….or I should say the room they were trying to rent to me. It was tiny. I’m talking not even 1/3 the size of the other bedrooms. It is cheap, so that is good, but the rent for this place is to be split evenly between the three of us. I was thinking that pretty much sucked so instead of jumping on it like my need for getting settled in was telling me to do, I resigned myself to email over the weekend and bargain to pay half the rent they are asking.  If that works, I’m willing to live in a closet for the cheap rent and opportunity to live with locals in a good location. The rent would be less than he amount Comcast steals from me every month for cable and internet in Pittsburgh.

After viewing the apartment ("stan" in Croatian) and a quick stop at a shop (can’t forget that TP), I hopped on tram and rode half of the way home with my friend, half of the way all by myself. I managed to get back to my room without incidence and settled in for the night. Ripping the entire series of Friends to my computer proved to be excellent thinking since I have no internet in this room and basically nothing to do. Reflecting on my day, I realized I had accomplished 3 of my tasks and was thinking about the 4th. While I would have preferred to have seen a decent room and said yes right away, my dreams of a quick departure from the dorm are on hold for a while. However, my stop at the store also included the purchase of some cookies and a few liters of Staropramen. I had a safe place to stay, TP, and some beer-all in all, not a bad first day in Croatia.