there’s a lot to love
Posted on November 4, 2009 at 12:30am Madrid / 6:30pm Cincinnati by Kelly Larbes
“Jedan, dva, tri, pet, šest, sedam. Jedan, dva, tri, pet, šest, sedam.” The monotone counting repeats over and over in my head as I shuffle around and then trip over my own feet and laugh. It is a frequently repeated scene at our new Salsa classes, as well as getting tangled up in each other’s arms. Jay and I have just started taking Salsa lessons, and right now, they are pretty comedic. Any rhythm I have shaking my booty on the dance floor is lost. We are atrocious, so don’t expect us to come back to Cincinnati one day and be able to dance, but hopefully we will have a couple moves. And most importantly, I am having a lot of fun (and most classes Jay is too).
Salsa classes are one the many things I love about living in Croatia. I know I could take Salsa classes back home in Cincinnati, but I always wanted to, yet never did. They were always too expensive and too time consuming. Here in Split, they are less expensive, we have less commitments, and I work less (though Jay sure doesn’t), so we make it happen. Even though I am a little frustrated at how hard it is to learn since we are complete novices, I haven’t given up hope yet.
Croatia can be a frustrating place to live some days, but most days, I really appreciate living here. Here is a list of what I love about living in Croatia. The second, third, and fourth things on this list made my list of frustrations too, but the benefits usually outweigh the negatives.
SALSA AND RUNNING
Salsa and running may not seem to go together, but they do. They are both things I am doing here that make me happy, which I am not sure if I would’ve ever done back in Cincinnati. Even though we look silly at Salsa classes right now, I don’t care because we are having fun. It is entertaining to try to move with the music, learn the steps, and shake our hips. We are the only foreigners in class, so we are getting more of a taste for the culture. Luckily, most people in the class speak some English. A few of them talk to us. Most of them just smile at as. I think they find us peculiar. The instructions in class are given entirely in Croatian, which spices things up too. Luckily, we just usually just need to repeat what the teacher is doing. We should be great at charades some day.
Running is another rewarding activity I have taken up here. I was never much of a runner because I always struggled with it and I enjoyed playing sports more. But whenever I did run, it always felt good afterwards. Here in Croatia, women’s recreational sports aren’t popular and I am too cheap to join a gym (plus there aren’t any close by), so that left me with running to get a good work out. It was a blessing in disguise. I can run six miles now, which I never thought was possible, and it feels great. I have been running twice a week with my good friend here, Paula. We have been great motivation for each other to reach our six mile goal. The beautiful sea views along our running routes help too.
Not having a car can be frustrating, and I admit, I wouldn’t want to live without one forever. But for now, it does me a lot of good. I am not losing weight (I guess my body is at its set weight – or I like sweets too much), but I do feel fresher and healthier because I walk almost everywhere I go. I usually clock two and a half miles going to and from work, on the days we go to dance that is another three miles, and if we go into town in the evenings or on the weekends it is another two miles. Sometimes we take our bikes, which make the trip a bit quicker, but is still a good workout on the way home up the hills. I take the bus some days, usually on a running day, but not often. I have definitely never walked so much in my life.
Not only is not having a car good for me, but it’s good for the earth.
We have the most amazing view from our apartment’s balconies. It looks out over the Adriatic Sea. The blue water stretches for as far as the eye can see and is only broken by a scattering of islands. It puts a smile on my face every single day. There is something about being so close to the sea that feels so nice. Sitting out on our terrace and enjoying a meal or a drink is very relaxing. We can watch cruise ships pull in and regattas race by. And we get to see some beautiful sunsets that turn the sky and sea brilliant shades of pinks and oranges.
Working at Elevator really immerses me in the Croatian culture. I learn so much about Croatia from everyday interactions with coworkers and projects. I am always amazed at the aspects that seem leftover from an old Communist culture. For example, one day we were throwing ideas around for an in-store headline for a redesigned package. I suggested “Change is good,” and got the weirdest look from Maja. I was informed that a Croatian would never ever say, “Change is good.” No one would ever think it either. People here think change is bad. Tony said, “Nothing ever gets better when it changes.” I think that is kind of a sad viewpoint, but it is interesting.
Working at a small office, also gives me the chance to work on a variety of projects. One day I am working on meat packaging and the next day I am working on an identity redesign for a pricey hotel. Sometimes I miss working on larger projects and on larger teams, but then I think about the good things. And one of the best things about working here, is that I leave work almost every day at 4:30. This really allows me to take advantage of living in a foreign country and enjoy everything it has to offer.
Croatia may be just a baby when it comes to being its own country and government, but the cities, especially Split, are very historical. The city center of Split is set in the old Roman Diocletian Palace. It’s very unique how the town has grown with the palace and the lives of the citizens are interwoven throughout. People live, work, and play in the palace. One could argue that the alterations people have made to the palace are destroying history or one could argue that living in the palace is the best tribute one could give to its founders. I don’t know who is right, but I know I really enjoy walking through all of the little alleyways and sitting in the almost two thousand year old Peristil listening to live music. It feels pretty amazing to be sitting on an old step and thinking that a Roman emperor walked on the same stone thousands of years ago.
Everything in Europe is so much more compact than in the United States. It makes traveling to completely new places much easier, and Jay and I are definitely taking advantage of this. We’ve traveled more in the past six months than ever. We’ve been to three island paradises that are just an hour boat ride from Split (Brac, Solta and Hvar); two Croatian National Parks (Krka and Plitvice); Trogir; Duce (visiting Trogir or Duce is kind of like visiting Dayton from Cincinnati, but, still, they were both neat and new to us.); Sarajevo; and Italy twice. And we leave for Egypt in less than two weeks. I cherish traveling and experiencing new places, so I really appreciate that living here has given us the opportunity to do this more.
The Croatian islands could just go under ‘traveling,’ but they deserve their own nod. There are over 1,000 islands on the Croatian coastline. Most of the islands are small and deserted, but about 20 of them are large and inhabited. This is a lot of islands for a country the size of West Virginia. There are three large islands off the coast of Split that are just an hour boat ride away and several other large islands just beyond those. The nearby islands are great for day trips. Ferry rides are only $5 each way (so much cheaper than ferries in Italy). The islands all have quaint historic towns and beautiful rocky beaches with clear turquoise water. The water is so pristine and refreshing for swimming. The islands make me feel spoiled and overindulged in the summer.
Split has similar seasons as Cincinnati, but the summers last longer and the winters aren’t as cold. It’s not a tropical paradise, but the weather sure beats what I am used to. There are over 300 days of sun every year. Even cooler days feel great with the clear blue skies and warm sun.
The food in Split is perfect for Jay and I, considering we don’t like our greens. There is lots of meat, pizza, and pasta at every single restaurant. The lack of variety may annoy some people, but it suits us just fine. Jay particularly likes the real ham topped on the pizzas. There are bakeries on every corner in town. People buy fresh bread daily, and it is delicious. The gelato is the best I’ve ever tasted, and a cone is just $1. Some lunches I enjoy a cheese ‘pita.’ This isn’t what I would normally consider a pita, but instead, it is a warm flakey croissant pocket filled with a creamy cheese. It is sooo yummy, and is probably the food I will miss most when we leave one day. Jay and my new favorite enticing dessert is a Krempita, which is a type of vanilla pudding cake. There are also scrumptious vanilla cream filled fresh donuts. Clearly, self control is a necessity here.
We really enjoy immersing ourselves in a new world. We are are taking in so much. We have learned a lot about the history of the region and the Croatian way of life. We’ve acquired a little of the language. We enjoy talking to locals and seeing how they can have an entirely different perspective on life from food to health to work to their soul. We find it interesting the people here will refer to things as being good for their soul. People in the United States who talk about their soul are often eccentric hippies, but here it seems more conventional.
PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
Not only have we met Croatians, but we’ve gotten to meet interesting people from all over the world since we’ve moved here. Jay plays soccer with guys from about eight different counties. We’ve met an Australian couple who works for six months of the year and sails around the Mediterranean in their sail boat for six months a year. We’ve met a Canadian lawyer who helped establish the Kosovan government while working for the United Nations and now works on humanitarean efforts in Bosnia. We’ve met an outgoing gay British millionaire who travels with his personal chef, owns homes all over the world, and was lending his Spanish home to the President of Malowi while he was in Croatia. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We’ve also made a few good international friends. We had friends (Yes, it feels good to finally be able to say we have friends here.) over one afternoon to enjoy lunch and drinks on our terrace. We joked about what a strange stew of people we had together: two Americans, two Aussie Croatians, a South African, and a Frenchman. The mix of perspectives sure made for fun conversations. Cincinnati will always be home, but on afternoons like that, there is no place I would rather be than here.