Marin and had a strained conversation on the way from the train station to his home in Mala Buna, which is about twenty minutes away. My apprehension added to the already difficult communication. My nerves were soothed, thankfully, by his welcome demeanor, and I started too feel a bit more at ease. On the way back to his house, I found out that he had been waiting for me at the train station for four hours. I had no idea that we were going to even meet on Thursday, so I was stunned! He said he had gone to the hostel, to see if I had already gotten there, and had even tried to call my cell phone number. Of course, he thought it was an American cell phone, so he used the American calling code, instead of the German one, so he never got through.
When we got to his house, (which is rather large, but it would have to be considering he lives with his parents and his sister) everyone was still awake and waiting for me, minus the children. Marin's mother and his wife came out to the car to give me hugs, and I was not under any circumstances allowed to carry my own bag. Mind you, it was only a backpack. I was slightly overwhelmed, but very pleased. It seemed like a scene out of a movie, but then most of this experience felt rather like that. They took me inside and sat me down at the kitchen table, and tried to get me to eat. I was hungry at this point, having only taken a little bit of food with me on the train. I believe I had turkey and fried potatoes. I can never say no to potatoes!! The whole time I was eating, Marin's mother stood by to refill my glass with juice, should it become empty, while his father sat next to me, and patted me on the back every so often. I still think it was pretty funny that we would talk to me and look at me with expectation as though I might understand a bit of what he was saying. I wish I could have. It really would have been nice to talk to him. Even after I was full, Marin's mother tried to get me to eat more, but finally I convinced her I was stuffed and Marin took me to the upstairs floor of the house, where he, his wife, and children live. They already had a new pair of slippers waiting for me, so that I would be more comfortable in the house. Marin lead me to his daughter Marina's room, where I would be sleeping, as there was an extra bed. Marina looked peaceful in her bed, so we didn't bother her. We went into Ivan's room next, and Marin tried to rouse him for a minute, but he would have none of it. Luckily, he didn't seem to get as cranky as Sam does when someone tries to wake him up!! Then we peaked in on Martina.
Marin asked me if I would like to take a shower before I went to bed, and I was happy for that, as I was feeling kind of grubby. They had set a terry clothe bathrobe out for me as well, which was especially nice I thought.
But oh, this showering business was rather interesting. There wasn't actually a shower, but only a bathtub in the bathroom. Not only that, but instead of having a shower head mounted on the wall, it was connected to the main faucet. The tub was lacking a curtain or doors. This is seems to be fairly common in Europe, as I've heard from the rest of my classmates here in Germany, but so far I hadn't experienced this. So I prepared myself for a quick, crouching "shower". Rinse, turn the water off, wash, turn the water back on, rinse. When I was finished, I had lost a little bit of feeling in my legs, as I had been sitting on them, Japanese tea style. It's also worth mentioning that every bathroom I was in while in Croatia, was also the laundry room. I suppose the water hook ups are just placed in the same room. Here is a picture I found on the net, this pretty much sums it up. At least I'm only 5 feet tall, I bet this dude is at least 6 feet!
It was probably close to one or two am at that point, so I said "laka noche". You will never believe it, but I actually got up at 8 am on Friday! I have to say I was pretty proud. I was excited to meet the kids while they were awake. Unfortunately, by the time I had woken up, Ivan was already at kindergarten. I met Martina, who is two, and as cute as she could be, and Marina, who is 6 I believe, who seems to be a precious little girl. Of course I fell in love with them both instantly. I'm very glad I came with gifts, because this really helped them warm up to me. I gave Marina her white stuffed pony. I thought that Martina was a bit younger than she actually was, so I had bought her something a bit too young, but she seemed to still like it. Haba is a popular German toy company, and I bought her a cute little apple that the sections peel away, and inside there is a caterpillar with a rattle inside it. She still seemed to like it. She amused her self with it later on by trying to put things in the apple that would not fit...
Breakfast was interesting. I can't recall what the name of it was, but we had some sort of porridge, that tasted like it might have had corn in it. It was very rich, and didn't taste like anything I had ever had before. There was also something to put on top of it, which looked like some kind of oil with some kind of nut in it. It tasted VERY buttery and rich, but not a typical butter flavor. It probably wasn't butter, but that's the only flavor I can really compare it to. There was also bread, cheese, and salami, which also seems to be typical European breakfast food.
It took a little bit to get the two girls into some clothes suitable for going out, and then we headed out to the car. It was of course a stick shift, as is every car in Europe. We dropped off Stephaja ( I think that's how it's spelled.. Marin's wife) and Martina at the grocery store and then headed into Zagreb. It takes about about 20 minutes to get there, but it seemed to pass fairly quickly. We went and picked up Marin's dad from his office (he is an electrician) Then we stopped and parked somewhere, and walked to another building, where we caught a ride with someone who I think works with Marin's dad. The only thing I could figure out, was that they wouldn't be able to find a parking space or it would be too expensive where we were going, so we had someone drop us off. They didn't explain it, and at the time I didn't really think to ask.
We were taken to the upper part of old Zagreb, which I think is a bit of a "hike" to get up there...very hilly I suppose. And it was raining and icky so I was not going to say no to a free ride! First we went to what I think was the old courthouse. There was a small art exhibit that we looked at for a little bit, and that was pretty interesting. It looked like silk that had been kind of tie dyed, almost, except there was a definitive image to it rather than just shapes. It was pretty interesting. We headed up to the next level of the building and saw where some of the government meetings were held. One room had the strangest interior decorating I have ever seen in my life. It was kind of cool, but honestly it was kind of scary. Not like, wow that's so hideous it's scary. It actually kind of scared me...it made me think of alien abductions or something. And I used to have a huge thing about aliens when I was little.. so yeah.
Then we went in an older room that was more of what I would have thought of as a court room. We took some pictures of course. We looked outside the old glass windows that were so old that it distorted the view and saw the Church of St Mark. It is remarkable because of it's tile roof bearing the coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Savonia, and Zagreb. We would have gone inside, but it was under repair, so we couldn't. Surprise, surprise. You can't go anywhere in Europe without seeing some scaffolding. You may as well just expect it. Speaking of which though, some of my friends went to Neuschwanstein castle (which is what almost all the Disney castles were based on) and it was totally covered in scaffolding and some kind of protective plastic or something. So I was lucky, because when I went, it was completely refurbishing free!
We peeked inside some other churches, but most of them were closed for the day. Then we went to what I believe was a special building for the Mayor of Zagreb. He wasn't there, but a very nice woman who could speak pretty good English met us to give us a tour. I think maybe she is the mayor's assistant or something like that. Turns out, most people will never see this building, so it was really special that I got too. Trying to impress the American, huh? Well, it worked! The interior of the building was very very Baroque. I know a lot of people think it's over done and gawdy, but I liked it. I especially liked the light teal damask wall paper. And the red Australian ( or maybe it was Austrian.. but I don't think so) turtle shell table. Very expensive. It also looked like there were some huge Ming vases. Or they were just Chinese, but they were impressive. Unfortunately, I still didn't quite understand just what the building was for exactly, but my brief understanding was that this is where they bring cultural ambassadors to impress them and schmooze, I guess. So you normally have to be a pretty important person to go here. Guess that makes me important, eh?
At the end of the tour, the woman took us into the mayor's ( I think) office, where there were four glasses of juice waiting for us. Europeans REALLY like their juice, as far as I can tell. She also had a few souvenirs for me. A "virtual postcard" that has a special DVD that has maps and sights of Zagreb" and one of the Gingerbread heart necklaces Zagreb is famous for. It's not really made of gingerbread at all, but I suppose it was originally. It's a bright red heart with white "frosting" decorating it. Here is a photo to give you an idea. I have a TON of them now though, so don't worry!!
Next we stopped to get out of the dismal weather and get a bite to eat. Marin's father stayed behind to get us a table while Marin and Marina went with me to look in a souvenir shop. I think everything was overpriced, but that didn't stop me. I bought a decent amount, and it is probably very touristy stuff, but who cares. I try to shy away from the souvenir shops in Germany, but I knew I wouldn't be here long enough to really find the good stuff, so I looked around here. I was actually pretty pleased with what they had, but then, I haven't seen 1,000 other stores just like it, like I have in Germany. I really had no idea how much I was spending, and I still don't, but whatever. It was worth it. I got some neat stuff!! I'm still hoping I can go back before I come back to the states, and maybe then I'll have more of a chance to find the little off the beaten path shops.
The three of us headed back to the little cafe and sat outside, under a veranda, thankfully. The food got there very quickly, and it reminded me a bit of gyros, only without the cucumber sauce. The meat was on a skewer, and I'm not entirely sure what kind of meat it was. There was also a fluffy and delicious pita pocket type thing, and onions. Just plain, uncooked onions. It's a good thing I like onions.. maybe it's in my blood!! I've always liked super hot onions :) Not so good for the breath though.
Next, we headed down to the lower part of town, and visited the largest cathedral in Zagreb, I believe. My art history is really failing me, because on the outside, it looked Gothic, but on the inside, slightly Byzantine. Or maybe everything in Zagreb is just influenced by Byzantine artwork. I say it looked Byzantine because there was a lot of gold everywhere, and it was to dark looking to be Baroque. The blue ceiling was decorated with gold stars, which made me think of something I have seen before in class, but can't really recall. It was an impressive cathedral. At the main alter it looked as though there was a recreation of a tomb of some sort of bishop or something. There were pews all around it where one could pray, and Marin's father and I did so. I had to cut my prayer of thanksgiving short though, becaus my eyes started to well up, and I had to blink quickly to keep the tears from spilling over. I felt very overwhelmed, lucky, and happy to be there, and I didn't want to try and explain that the tears were from happiness. Since it was just Marin's father and I at that point, I thought that he would get worried and think something was wrong.
Next we went to another very decorated building on our way back to the car. Inside was a small exhibit of artwork and photographs from different theatre pieces. A lot of set design sketches, and some paintings and well. It was really interesting. There was some stuff from some Shakespeare plays, and from Bertolt Brecht as well. Those were the only two playwrights that I remember recognizing. We walked by a pretty park on the way here, that was filled with birch trees, I think. At least they had white bark that I equate with birch trees, but the trunks were a bit thicker than I think birch trees normally are. The rich colors of the leaves set against the stark white of the trunks was really stunning, and I'm afraid the pictures don't do them any justice.
We walked through the underground part that runs through most train stations I've been through in Europe, which are usually like mini malls. Marin's father really wanted to buy me a pair of boots. Expensive leather boots. Since I really didn't understand the conversion rate that well, and I had no idea how much they really were, I politely turned him down. I would have felt guilty, but I do admit, I kind of wanted to say yes! It was hard saying no several times too, ha. When we finally got back to the car, I was a bit happy. I was still feeling a bit anxious, for inexplicable reasons. When I got back, I felt quite a bit better. I was a bit tired, as I really hadn't slept that well on the train, and didn't have my normal 12 hours (haha, just kidding...kind of) of sleep. It doesn't take much to make me tired though..as I'm sure you're all well aware of. They gave me a new pair of jogging pants to wear because the bottoms of my jeans were soaking wet. Marin's mother also took my shoes and stuck them in the oven, so they wouldn't be wet. I found out then that they have a wood burning stove on their first floor! It was adorable.
Of course, they made me eat a ridiculous amount. For lunch we had strukli, which is kind of like a dumpling pocket filled with some sort cheese. There was the obligatory salami and cheese, and there was also some breaded turkey. They looked like little turkey fingers... those were yummy. The richness of the strukli was again overwhelming to me. I didn't think it was a bad taste, just nothing I had ever tried before. Marin's mother especially tried to get me to eat way more than was possible for me.
After lunch, I was able to meet Ivan, since he had been at school all day. It turns out that the little cowboy figurine I had gotten was a perfect fit; Marin told me that Ivan has been asking him for a horse. Ivan was more interested in showing off and doing his Tae Kwon Do moves that he's learned. Marina got in a bit on this too, and then even little Martina was trying to do kicks. Mostly she just walked up to Marin and kicked him in the shins. He took it rather well though, I think. The rest of the day, she would walk up to different members of the family, wait for them to stick their hand out, and then try to reach her kick high enough to touch it. Her stubby little uncoordinated legs were just too adorable. All three kids vied for my attention the rest of the day as well. If I showed interest in one, the other two were soon trying to get in my direct line of sight and steal the show. Ivan of course was also trying to be the little boy that he is and pretend that he also didn't want my attention at the same time. It was pretty funny.Also, after lunch, was when the real waterworks hit. First, Marin got out his notebook filled with all the emails that he had written back and forth from my dad, and then there were also a few from my mom, my aunt Linda, and my other aunt Melinda. He also had photos of our whole family, lots of old Easter photos, photos of Linda's grandchildren, photos of Marks three little girls. I had to point out a few people that he couldn't remember, (such as Jill's son Drew...he's getting huge now! I can't believe he's driving. I remember when I used to read animal books to him on Grandma's couch and he'd be wearing little footy pajamas. I suppose that makes me old too though...) I think he also thought that a picture dad had sent of Sam wrestling was a picture of dad when he was young.
Then Marin's dad when to get something. He came back with all the letters that had been written back and forth between Dad's grandmother Louisa, and her cousin that stayed in Croatia. There were lots of photos and Christmas cards. Even though it was all written in Croatian, and I of course couldn't understand what they said at all, it did not take long for the tears to come pouring out of my eyes. I was afraid it would be a little embarrassing, but it turns out the just took it in stride. Marin's father sat next to me and patted my back, but that happened before the waterworks came, so it didn't really make me feel uncomfortable. It just felt very surreal.. and I can't really describe it at all. But there I was, sitting at the table, tears sliding down my face. The kids looked at me with interest, but I'm not sure they really understood what was going on.
After I had some time to get over my crying outburst, we kind of just spent some time together at the house. Ana and I were to meet her cousin Ivica (pronounced Ivitsa) and go to a little restaurant down the street. The restaurant is owned by Bacurins as well, and I'm assuming they are cousins of Marin. They live just a few houses down. I think it was maybe grandpa's uncle who had bought a large area of land and then divided it between the Bacurins, so a lot of the Bacurins live very near each other.
Ivica came and picked us up in his car a little while later, which would have been completely unnecessary if it weren't for the rain. The owners of the restaurant came and sat with us for a little while, but neither spoke English, so I had to translate through Ivica and Ana. Ivica's English was really very good, although he thought it wasn't. Ana's English was also good, but I think her biggest hindrance was her embarrassment and reluctance. I can definitely relate to that though! Luckily I've finally gotten over that when I speak German.
Then, the mother of the owner of the restaurant came to sit down and meet me as well. It turns out that she had lived in München for thirty years, so that was extremely helpful!! It was even a bit easier to get my point across when I could speak to her in German. Earlier I had been trying to describe my parent's occupations, but I think that Ivica and Ana hadn't quite understood me, so later, when I told this woman ( is it bad that I don't remember her name? Actually, I don't think so..they had me meet SO MANY people..) what my parents do in German, then she translated in Croatian and then they understood. I feel a little bad because I think we kind of dominated the conversation with our German, but at least she was sure to translate. It made me feel on much more even ground to be able to speak with her, with a little more understanding than some of the other conversations I had had so far. She was very sweet, and I told her the story of how I misunderstood my hostgrandma on the day I was supposed to go for lunch. She told me just to tell grandma, I don't understand!! It was funny, I liked her a lot. She also later told me that if I wanted to come back to Zagreb, she would come and meet me in München, and then ride the bus back with me!!
Eventually it got rather late though, and we headed back to Marin's house. The kids were just finishing up their baths, and I sat on the floor and played Legos with Martina while Marina and Ivan were washing up. Martina occupied herself by stacking the lego blocks on my legs. She looked so adorable in her little jammies with her still slightly damp hair. Soon it was time for bed though, and I was happy for it. It was a long day.