Saturday, March 15, 2014

Adventures: Rovinj, Oslo, Sarajevo, Budapest, and Amsterdam

I suppose 6 months is long enough. Somehow this year has just been flying by. And instead of everything feeling new and blog-worthy, we've developed a kind of rhythm that makes living in Croatia feel normal. We know enough of the language to get by, we've developed a tough skin, and we're (more or less) used to being the dumb Americans. But as I look at the calendar, I'm realizing what a short time we still have here. We'll be packing up and heading back to the States in July, not sure where exactly we'll land but I trust that God has that part figured out for us.

So now I think it's time to look back at some of the highlights of our year so far (and by year, I mean school year because my years are measured from August to July.)

For my birthday my friends Christie, Kelly, Nikki, Kate, and Andrea (also celebrating her 30th birthday) planned a weekend trip to one of my favorite coastal towns, Rovinj. The first night, Christie surprised both Andrea and I with Chinese lanterns to set off over the Adriatic. Later that night, Kate made a pumpkin pie (my favorite and also very difficult to make in Croatia since you can't find all the ingredients). We spent the rest of the weekend soaking up the September sun.
 Kate, Kelly, and Christie
 Nikki, me, and Andrea-about to enjoy some mussels!
 Andrea setting off her magical 30th birthday lantern
 Me setting off my lantern
 Cheesy family portrait
 Workin' it
I love this picture. :)
For my 30th birthday, Sam told me to pack my bags and my passport. I had no idea where I was going. We woke up, had coffee and croissants and got in the car. Instead of taking the exit to the Zagreb airport, we kept driving towards to coast. We drove to the island of Krk and arrived at the Rijeka airport. I boarded the plane, still not sure of exactly where I was going. Once we were airborne, the flight attendant informed us that we were headed to Oslo, Norway. Norway was never a place that I'd considered going to, which was why it was such a great choice.

 Oslo Opera House

We stayed in a tiny apartment that Sam found on Airbnb. We wandered through the old parts of town, as well as the modern part, right along the water. I was surprised by how diverse Oslo was. Different types of architecture, different cultures. I guess I didn't really even have a picture in my head of what Oslo would look like. I kept looking around thinking, "So this is Norway."

The one thing that we were completely unaware of was how expensive everything would be. I guess it was named the most expensive city in the world for several years in a row. By expensive I mean it was $10 for a tall white chocolate mocha from Starbucks. $20 for a Whopper from Burger King. Needless to say, we bought a lot of Top Ramen at the shop around the corner and cooked it in our kitchen.

I love surprises and this one definitely takes the cake. I never imagined that I would be on a plane to an unknown destination on my 30th birthday. It's an amazing memory and I'm so thankful to Sam for making it happen.

I remember watching stories about Sarajevo on the news when I was in elementary school. When we decided to move to Croatia, we learned more about the war and of course about the fighting in Sarajevo. We felt like it was something that we needed to see, to better understand what the people in the former Yugoslavia went through. When you are in the outskirts of the town, the damage is still widely visible. The buildings are covered in holes from mortar shells.
 Sarajevo is a really interesting mix of Austro-Hungarian architecture as well as an influence from the Ottoman Empire. It's east meets west. 
 Memorial for the children killed in the war

 Latin Bridge
 The best ćevapčići is in Sarajevo. 

I was surprised by how much I loved this city. The people there were so strong and kind. We had a conversation with a woman who worked at Čajdžinica Džirlo (a tea shop). She was talking about how the war affected everyone who lived in Sarajevo. She said that people are joyful and thankful here because they know what it used to be like and they're thankful for what they have today.

We also took a walking tour led by a graduate student. He was in elementary school during the war. As he walked us through the city, he stopped and told stories of how his mom had to run down the street to get to work everyday, scared of sniper bullets. He talked about how much he hated the food that was provided by the UN.  He pointed out where the bombs went off and explained how many people were killed.

Sarajevo Rose-holes left behind by 
mortar shells were filled in with red 
resin as memorials throughout the city.

Sarajevo is beautiful, hopeful, with a past that can't be overlooked. That trip holds a very special place in my memory.

Another year, another Croatian family Thanksgiving! Our friends Kelly, Kate, Ian, and Christie all took the 5 hour train ride to Budapest, Hungary. We rented a house and enjoyed our long weekend. We had ribs for Thanksgiving dinner and continued our tradition of going around the table and saying what we were thankful for. We walked through the flat side of Pest and the hilly side of Buda. We visited the Christmas markets and went on a couple of walking tours. On our final day, Sam and I took a bus to Szechenyi Baths. After the awkwardness of figuring out how the lockers worked and realizing we didn't have enough cash for towels, it was very enjoyable.

On the train

 Just like last year!

Christmas Markets
Szechenyi Baths

Every year the Croatian schools have a break called "Ski Week" in February. Maybe it's just me, but by February, the last thing I want to do is spend a week in the snow! We decided to use some airline reward miles to book a trip to Amsterdam, a place that's been on Sam's list since I met him. We stayed in an apartment right on one of the canals. Once again, we trusted our walking tours app to guide us around the city. It feels a little like Venice with all of the canals, but the architecture is completely different.
 I loved all the house boats on the canals

 Everybody has a lock bridge now.

 When in Holland...

 For some reason, I just like this one better upside down.

A parking garage for bikes!

On our third day, we went to the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum. The Van Gogh museum was amazing. It told the whole story of his life. Being that he is Sam's favorite artist, it was a place he has always wanted to visit.

We also visited the Anne Frank House. We walked through the hidden passageway behind the bookcase where they lived for over 2 years. We got to walk through each of their rooms and see the pictures that Anne had glued on the wall. Finally we saw their papers that admitted them to the concentration camp and heard stories of how Anne died of Typhus just weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops. Inside the house, you could hear the church bells that Anne talks about in her diary. What a surreal experience.

In between all of these trips, we have actually been working. :) I have a class of 17, 11 of them boys and they definitely keep me on my toes. And Sam continues to amaze as an art teacher. We've continued to make great memories with the people that we work with. I know that we'll always look back at this time on our lives and remember just how wonderful it was.

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