Sunday, June 27, 2010

Samara Mission Tour

This weekend was awesome. I am sleep-deprived, malnourished, and have no clean laundry, but am so content. Here’s the play-by-play:

We left Friday night at 5:08 PM. We were running late (as usual) because we were at the world sand volleyball championships at Парк Победы. It was pretty cool, we sat right in front of Misty Mays when we watched the American Men’s pair roll up the Germans. It was pretty cool, even if it was freezing and raining. I pulled the tarp out of my backpack and sat on it so I didn’t have to deal with a wet butt. Anyway, we went to lunch and a produkty after that to get stuff for dinner on the train.

We were running to get on the train, it was basically pulling out of the station when we got on the car (or course ours was the very last car on the train). We had dinner, told a lot of stories (well, I mostly listened to stories, the mission nostalgia type), and had a good time. We got ready for bed, made our beds, etc, and then started transformers. We got about half way through when we decided it was time for bed. The next morning we woke up, got into normal clothes after taking a “towel shower” (with water from the train’s holding tank… eeeew) and got off the train in Samara.

The city I had heard so much about was different than what I expected. I have heard since I got to Moscow that Moscow is not really Russia. I didn’t really think too much of it until I got to Samara. The city has a single metro line, but plenty of tramvajs and busses. We met a member at the train station, Jenny went off to Togliatti, and we went over to the member’s house. The whole family are members and good friends of Chris’ so they had a good catch up. We went down to Stalin’s bunker, which was pretty sweet. We took pictures at his desk and Cam even got one on his toilet. Awesome. Afterwards we went down to the Volga, Chris put his feet in the water after all these years, and we гулять-ed for a while, then went back to the Blinkov’s. They had lunch for us, which was great. We took naps/chatted/checked email until about 8, when we went down to MacDac to meet Jenny and Kostya, our ride.

Let me just talk about our ride for a second. Lada was one of the main car manufacturers during the Soviet era and I think may have been the only car available for a long time. There are still a lot of them. Not quite as crappy as Yugos, but up there. Anyway, we had a 2-door. It was AWEFUL. Chris, Cam and I were in the back seat. Chris and I went to Balikovo (4.5 hours away) Cam to Marks (5.5 hours away) and Jenny to Saratov (7 hours away). It was a long night. It was pretty fun, we had some good conversation, even if Kostya did get lost… twice. We finally made it to Balikovo around 2 AM. It was pretty crappy. We got to the hotel, which lost our reservations, and we got one of the only rooms available (which didn’t have the AC we ordered). The hotel was pretty nice, nevertheless. After a long night, we finally fell asleep in Balikovo.

The next day we went to church. Everyone was happy to see Chris, and was really nice to me. I was really impressed with the spirit in the branch there. The building itself was right on the Volga, out in the middle of nowhere, basically. It was pretty nice, though. It was hotter than Hades, but it was nice to see the church is the same no matter where you go. After lots of pictures and reminiscing, We went back to the hotel, ordered a taxi to Saratov through Marks, and set off.

We went through Marks to pick up Cam. Marks consists of about 3 major streets (pretty well paved ones, since they have only in the last 2 years been paved) and a lot of old people. Cam had a blast at church from the sounds of it. That’s all there is to say about Marks. Oh, and the amazing bread Cam bought for us. Delicious. Another side note: our driver took a shower out of a 5 liter bottle while we were waiting for Cam. It was pretty funny. We got to Saratov a little late for the Bennet’s farewell fireside. Apparently in Russia, people give the gifts of their talents (especially when they don’t have money for actual gifts). There were a few really good ones (a hilarious guy and a funny guitar song, a saucy 16 year old playing the accordion) and some really, REALLY bad ones (an old lady singing 25 verses of some old folk song and a really nervous lady singing a Russian tone-deaf version of “Be Still, My Soul”). After the fireside, there were lots and lots of refreshments, lots of conversations, lots of “Where did you serve?” and the like. I finally got to meet the famous Bennets. President Bennet is not the angry yelling super intense guy everyone has made him out to be, but I understand that I’m not a missionary and that 3 years can change a mission president a lot. After the fireside, we went with Mike, an English teacher and one of Chris’ good friends from Мясокоминат (meat factory… or Приволшкий), a suburb of Saratov, to his house for dinner and to spend the night. The bad thing was, his food was awful, his apartment was outrageously hot and stuffy, and there were 1000 mosquitoes. Oh yeah, not to mention the fact that there were 3 cats, and Cam is allergic to them. The missionaries came over for a little while, then they went home and Mike and his wife went over to his parents’ house to spend the night, so we could have the apartment to ourselves. We also happened to be there during the hot water outage, so the only thing we got were FREEZING cold showers. We went to bed around 11 PM. We all rolled around until 2 AM, Cam wheezing, me sweating, and Chris swatting mosquitoes when Chris decided we should get out of the house and get some air (mostly for Cam’s sake). We got dressed (gym shorts and flip flops… very Russian) and wandered the streets of the small town. We saw some characters. Lots of drunks, lots of ребята, and a diskoteka in what appeared to me to be the town hall, but what do I know. We miraculously found a 24-hour produkti and grabbed a huge bottle of water (Mike had none, just sugary cheap sok), some siroki, and a 2 liter of some generic crappy orange soda. We found a bus stop and sat down at the benches. We had become ребята. We sat there drinking and eating our siroki until 4:15 or so, when we went back to Mikes to get ready for the day. The Bennets were driving us back up to Samara and they were leaving at 5 AM. We took freezing cold showers, changed into clean clothes, and got the H out of that apartment. Pardon my French, but I have never had a night where I literally could not sleep from being so uncomfortable. The night in the Florida KOA with Uncle Vince is a close second… but this place took the cake.

The drive was quick (Roman, the mission driver, is amazing) and enjoyable. While waiting for the Bennets at the side of the road, we met a drunk old man who punched me (playfully, of course, with a chuckle). Cam, Jenny and I were in the back, Chris up with Sister Bennet in the 2nd row, Pres up front, and Roman behind the wheel. We got back to Samara by 10 AM (2 hours faster than Kostya did it, PS) and went to the mission home. We were able to take showers in the general authority apartment (aka Elder Storer’s apartment) and a short nap. The Bennets made us PB&J’s and chips and salsa. They’ve stopped buying food, since they’re going home in less than a month. It was delicious, to say the least. Anyway I digress. After that, we had a last lap around Samara and took a bus to Ulyanovsk. We spent 5 hours in the bus, 2 hours in Ulyanovsk, and another 3 hours in a taxi up to Kazanj. We got to the Riviera Kazan, a super swanky hotel (we decided to treat ourselves at the end of the trip since this was the only “vacation” time we had) and got one of the best nights sleep ever. We woke up, had a delicious breakfast, got massages in the spa, and then went into the city to do the tourist thing. We went back to the hotel, and Chris, Cam and I went to the water park connected to the hotel. That was probably 50% of our motivation for going there, by the way. It was so much fun. It was mostly indoor, with a few outdoor areas. It was a blast, maybe ¼ the size of sunsplash, but we made it fun. After that, we took a taxi to the airport and flew back into Moscow. The flight landed at 11:15 PM, we caught the midnight train into the city, got there at 12:45, got on the metro as it was closing, and went home. I finally got home around 1:40AM. I crashed and was late the next day to school. All in all it was a great trip. I had so much fun and learned a lot. I got to see the “real” Russia. Samara mission tour: check.

Elder Perry Awesomeness

Sunday was pretty awesome. This past week a few times we had choir practice for district conference. It was extra special, because elder Perry came. He gave a good talk about what a young persons 4 cornerstones should be:

1. Jesus Christ

2. Testimony of JS and restoration

3. BOM

4. Testimony of living prophets and following their counsel.

It was great, and he also gave a challenge to draw up a plan for reading the book of Mormon over the summer. So there is a goal for me for this summer. Reading the book of Mormon before school starts. That means I have to read at least 3 chapters a day in order to get there. Good luck to me. I think that’s do-able, because I can read 3 chapters in the hour it takes me to get from home to school on the metro. Sweet. I also need to make some language goals, a language study plan or something. I am not using it constantly like a missionary would be, and I am less entitled to the gift of tongues this time around. Joj. Russian is hard. That is all. I need to be memorizing X words a day, reading out loud, and SYLing as much as possible. Chris came home with me after conference (it was at a hotel at ВДНХ so it was just 3 stops from me.) Нина had a guest over, and we had a good gospel discussion with him.

The group has also already formed its own little cliques. Chris, Cam, and myself generally are found together when not at work or school. There some good eggs, those two. We have a lot of fun.

Tonight Elder Perry had a great fireside. The main thing I got out of it was learning to make the best out of any situation in which you find yourself. I think that is very applicable right now, being in the position I am. He talked about Joseph (the Egypt one) and how he made the best out of bad situations. He was sold into slavery, but he made himself the most presentable slave he could. He was sold into the Captain guy’s house and decided to be the best servant he could. He got thrown in jail and decided to be the best prisoner he could, and was eventually made the pharaoh’s servant, became the best servant in the pharaoh’s house and eventually became his right-hand man. He gave us one main challenge: to live with more enthusiasm and spirit. He talked about how those things are a conscious choice. I remember talking to my mission president when I was a young missionary and telling him how in high school I decided to get up in the morning and decide to have a good day. I forget to do that at times, and the last little while I have forgotten more than usual. That talk was just what I needed as a reminder. Thanks, Tom.

I’m still trying to figure out how to load pictures on here, since every time I try it tells me I have an error or something. Boo. For now, check out the Russia album on facebook. That’s all for now.

The Rest of the Week

This week was pretty good, actually. After setting stuff up with the European and American Medical Centers, I called the American center, and got put on hold, then told I would be called back later, and then never got called back. I’ll go in on Monday and drop off my resume. On Friday morning, I went into the EMC and was met by an assistant, instructed to change into scrubs, given plastic slippers, a cap and a mask. We had 3 surgeries. 2 arthroscopic ones in the morning, doing some basic repair stuff on meniscus and acl stuff. The afternoon surgery was sah-weet, though. The champion tae-kwan-do of all of Russia had torn his ACL and PCL, and they did a transplant reconstruction. They took tendons from some small lesser used unimportant muscles in this guys legs, scraped off all of the muscle tissue, took the “new ligaments” and got them the right thickness, length, etc. They then screwed and plugged them into where the old ligaments were. Ta-dah! New knee. Medicine is so cool! Esp. surgery. The guys there were pretty cool, too. They showed me around, and completely overestimated my medical knowledge… and my Russian knowledge. Yikes. I’ll definitely learn a lot while I’m there, though.

Saturday we went to the WWII museum. It was sweet. They had an exhibit on an American soldier who ended up fighting with the soviets during WWII. His son is now the American ambassador to Russia. He was on a video talking about his dad, and I didn’t realize he was American. I want my Russian to be like that some day. PLEASE!?!?!?!

The Most Productive Day of my Moscow-Based Life

Today is Monday. In the earlier years of my long and distinguished life, that meant going back to school after an all-too short weekend, back to 4 hour football practices and AP classes, Mario Andretti-style racing to make it to lunch and back in time, and the ever present feeling that I had one more thing to do. This Monday, I am content. I had the energy to get out of bed early enough to get a quick run in this morning. I had all my homework for the day done last Thursday, so that wasn’t a worry. I went to class till 12:30 and after class the internship coordinator for the Academy told me the internship with the American Medical Center she told me about was impossible. Lame. I was pretty bummed because the only other option was the Russian Childrens Clinical Hospital, where we weren’t even sure if I could do anything medically related or if I would just be fingerpainting with the terminal patients. After that, I got onto the internet (instead of listening to the weekly culture and history lecture) and researched the European Medical Center. After finding the address and memorizing the map that showed where the place was located in relation to the metro stop (which was on the way home, as luck would have it) I set off to go home, take a nap, and do some reading. We got to the stop where the EMC was located, and in a spur of the moment decision, as the doors were closing, I somehow dodged my way through the rush hour mob crowding the metro car I was in and barely made it past the guillotine doors with which each Russian metro car is so charmingly equipped. I got out to the surface, looked around and set off. The big give-away was the Olympic center (two huge stadiums… but I don’t remember there being an Olympiad in Moscow ever… anyone else know for sure?). Once I found that, it was just first alleyway to the right and straight on till morning. Or at least that’s how far it felt. I finally found the place, sweaty and gross in my standard-issue American jeans (read: not skin tight, bedazzled, full of random patches, seams, hems, or designes, etc) and my favorite ASU shirt. I went up to the reception desk and asked if they had any information about internships or volunteer opportunities at their facility. They sent me to the 3rd floor to the European Clinic for Sports Trauma and Orthopedics (translation: pre-med heaven). I talked to the reception desk there, and was asked to take a seat. After about 20 minutes I was led into the office of the Medical Director’s office for the entire clinic. He didn’t really understand what I wanted to do (the system is different in Europe) but in the end agreed, and told me to be there Friday morning at 8:30 AM. What?!?! I came in off the street just looking for information, and ended up setting up a shadowing gig for the whole summer, basically. AWESOME! Then, on my way back to the metro I decided to stop in at Mickey D’s to check email and have a celebratory strawberry milkshake. While surfing, I decided to research the American Medical Center, and ended up talking with the medical director there. He said he might be able to work something out where I could be a nurse’s assistant or something (I think they change diapers in rest homes in the states, but who knows) Also awesome. Мне повезло. It was, needless to say, a very good day.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Week 2

So I’m finally getting into the swing of things. We have class Monday through Thursday from 9 to 12:10. Mondays we have an additional “Culture and History” class Monday afternoon. We have “excursions” every Saturday (which have yet to keep my attention for more than 15 minutes) to interesting places with tours from less than interesting guides (at least thus far). Other than that, we have church on Sundays, and that is it for concrete schedules. I have come to the conclusion, with the help of a wise friend, that there is a decision to be made while here in Moscow. I can either spent 3 months here on an overpriced vacation with a little school on the side, or I can take advantage of the opportunities I have while I am here. Thus far, because of the whole “getting into the swing of things” I have been more on the first side of the fence. I need to get on the ball finding service opportunities or something. It’s also a great time to dive into the scriptures more and do a little self-evaluation and goal setting. Nothing like being in a completely foreign land and culture to help you realize what you really value. Anyway, school is interesting enough. We have a great professor that does a good job of teaching us the ropes of the Russian language and is pretty lenient as far as homework and stuff goes. That being said, I have come to realize that I am not going to learn Russian as well as I want to in these two months unless I put in some extra effort. Ok, a lot of extra effort. I am thinking of going missionary style and writing out a language study plan or something. I have plenty of experience with that stuff, haha, so I shouldn’t have too much trouble. Thursday right after class we ran down to Red Square to the Lenin Mausoleum (which holds outrageously strange and sporadic hours, 10-1, every day except Monday, Friday, weekends, holidays and all throughout May, and you’ll always be wrong no matter what you say!... Sorry, involuntary Brian Regan quote). It was creepy to see a guy who’s been dead for well over half a century. He is kind of plastic looking after all the years of chemicals used to preserve his body. It is also pretty creepy in my opinion to have a dictator and the start of communism on display when Russia is trying so hard to westernize… go figure. I’m learning more and more every day how… different Russians are and their mentality. It’s been fun with my landlady. She likes to talk, cooks pretty well, and is very concerned about my safety. It is a little annoying at times, but all in good fun. Anyway, week two has finished, and week three is here already. Bring it on.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

First Week and Playing Catch-Up

Check out all the posts from "Zone Conferences" for updates on the last 2 weeks. Good luck. Anyway... this week was crazy. We went to classes (in a classroom the size of a broom closet, PS), went to FHE and an activity at the central branch building, met some cool people (members, students at the academy, some crazy Russian guy who thought we were German and told us since we were Arian we were genetically superior to everyone else, Adam and Eve was a lie, and other interesting drunken rants not for young ears or the faint of heart), bought some man-purses (oh yeah… I went there), checked out a market or two, almost got E. Coli from shaurma on the street, had a boring tour of central Moscow with the group, and went to the International Branch. They tagged us right off the bat and want to give us callings. We (Cam Hardy, Chris Keneipp and I) told them we weren’t sure what branch we were going to be attending, so we couldn’t say. Anyway, crazy week, lots of random stuff, and learning and adjusting to the Russian way of life. I figure if I can manage to get a good picture or two a day, at the end of this all, I’ll have 90 good pictures. We’ll see how that ends up. Life is good, all in all. Stay tuned.

Back to school, back to school....

So Saturday, my babushka took me shopping, and to a park called BДHX (it’s an acronym, I don’t know what it stands for). We went to Metro, the Costco of Europe, and stocked up on some stuff. Sunday, we went to district conference for the Moscow West district, which was a cool experience. There were 850 ish members in attendance (way more than any district conference I ever had in Croatia, that’s for sure!). We went into red square and wandered around the center for a few hours, then headed home. The first day of classes consisted of a LONG orientation, a pre-test (one of the hardest tests I’ve ever taken, PS) and some gulyat-ing with some of the other members of the group. I think now that I have classes, this might become a weekly thing. Sorry, priorities. Anyway, stay tuned for the next episode of “Where in the world is Robbie Zimmerman?!” (cue theme music).

Paris to Moscow... with Love?

6 hours is plenty of time to see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the outside of the Louvre, shop for souveniers, and have quiche in a French bistro, and still make it back to the airport in time to check in and board with time to spare. I even got lost… twice. No biggie. It was amazing. I can’t wait till I have enough time to actually spend some time there. It was just enough to appreciate the beauty of the city, but definitely not enough to get much out of it. Pictures to follow. After my mad-capped tour of the first arrondissement, I flew to Moscow, my new home for the next 3 months. A cool Turkish guy who works with the Academy picked me up and took me to my apartment. My landlady is a very cheerful retired dentist, and was shocked when I spoke to her in Russian. Apparently none of her past students spoke any Russian when they came. I already have a leg up. Plus, she thinks I’m симпатычный. And who wouldn’t? Anyway, more on the first few days in Moscow later. Internet at McDonald’s is not the most convenient.

Zadar je u srcu mome...

Zadar. The land of awesomeness. I got in after a ridiculously long bus ride from Split (almost 4 hours, if I remember correctly. Beautiful drive along the coast, we passed through Trogir, Primosten, Biograd, and some other well known vacation spots). I met Sime Grzan in the old town of Zadar on poluotok. We went back to Anka’s place and had lunch along with the other missionaries in Zadar. After lunch, I went into the city, strolled around (I’m beginning to notice how much “strolling” goes on here) poluotok, went to English class, had ice cream at Sveti Donat with the missionaries (since some of them missed out on lunch) and had a great visit with the Plentaj family. It was a great time. I made it back up to Zagreb this morning after a great night’s sleep on Anka’s pull out couch, and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off all day. I visited the Stampar family, Marinka Kos one last time (she got my awesome cell phone/calculator as a gift for her husband who took a liking to it while I was visiting them), had dinner with Fatima, saw Marko Pazanin, and hung out with Kiki for one last time. Now I’m re-packing for Russia, and can hardly wait. I have a 6-ish hour layover in Paris and am going to try to get into the city for a few hours. I can’t imaging spending 6 hours in Charles de Gaulle… I’m getting hives just thinking about that God-forsaken place. Eeeeew.

Boot-scootin' with New Friends

So last night, we all got ready and headed into the city after the standard introductions and such. After the festival, lots of sweet Dalmatian 5-star cuisine (lamb, seafood galore, pasticada, veal, pasta, and anything in between, and some delicious and not-so-delicious desserts) and watching my newfound friends drink 10+ glasses of free Dalmatian wine, the crew wanted to find a club and continue the party. The only problem was that it was a Monday night. (Side note: while there were easily hundreds of bottles and jugs of wine at the festival, they were horribly under-stocked on water… I think I counted no more than 10 bottles in the entire place). Anyway, after quite a bit of searching, we found a kafic and parked it at a table. At the festival, we had acquired a few new friends from England staying at a nearby hostel. They joined us for the after party, and everyone ordered beers, vodka, or (in my case) Fanta. I was the designated walker-homer. I helped a girl in the group home. I found out this morning she had blacked out. She didn’t remember the night before after leaving the festival. Good thing I walked her home. Anyway, this morning we got up and rented scooters to “scoot” around the island. I really wanted to check out the Blue Grotto, a sweet underwater cave, but weather wasn’t on our side. It was cloudy and sprinkled on and off all day. We basically saw the entire western half of the island, stopping in any village we felt like, on the side of the road for scenic lookouts, and pretty much anywhere else we wanted. It was AWESOME! I want a scooter. Period. Anyway, lots of sah-weet pics from that and a video of perhaps the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ll post it later. The guy that came with me and I had lunch at a nice mom-and-pop place right on the sea and actually ended up having a great convorsation about the gospel. We’ll see if it goes anywhere. Now I’m getting ready for an early boat back to the mainland tomorrow and a bus to Zadar. The landlady’s husband asked me why I wanted to leave. He told me to stay, and he would find me a girl, then I could stay for good. I think I’ve made some new friends.

Dalmation Vacation

So here I am on Hvar on the balcony of my sweet pansion accommodation. I called the best rated “sobe” place listed on the internet, and found it wasn’t terribly expensive. I was really excited and ended up in the dorm room with 5 other really cool people. But first, Split. I got to Split at 7 am, before anything except for a few pekarnas was open. I got to stroll along the riva, do a little shopping, and even took a walking tour (the lady selling tickets was so surprised when I spoke to her in Croatian, she thought I was a native. Don’t mind me as I brush off my shoulder a few times. Anyway, I got a 50% discount, so I couldn’t turn down the offer. Plus, I don’t know anything about Split). The catamaran took off to the island of Hvar at 2 PM so I spent the rest of the time sipping at a sok, having some amazing pasticada (posh-ti-tsah-dah) at an old Split establishment (where the locals go, according to my tour guide) and helping some completely helpless American girls find the right boat to the island. When I checked in, the owner of the place LOVED that I spoke the language. I pretty much had an in from the beginning. I got the insider tip that theres a food and wine festival tonight with free food for all who come down in the city. I came out of my room after getting settled to see a group of 6 people sitting around a picnic table with a bottle of wine, 2 2-liter bottles of Croatian beer (Karlovacko, of course) and a stack of glasses for anyone who cared to join them. I sat down and struck up a conversation (while obviously abstaining from the repeated offers for drinks). I informed my fellow hostellers of the festival, and they were pretty excited.

So here I am waiting for the others to get ready for a night on the town in the super-faddish stomping grounds of Croatian and International big wigs alike. We’ll see how it goes. (Side note: the landlady’s husband asked me if I had found a girl yet. When I told him I hadn’t, he offered a few choice swear words [or a paragraph, as those of you familiar with Croatian will probably know well, something involving mater, neki dio zenskog tijela, i Bog… classic] and said he’d find me one. I said, “Ajde!”. Kidding of course. I don’t think he was, though.)

Zone Conferences

I attended Zone Conference for the first time in a year and a half. The best part was… I left after lunch! I didn’t have to stay for the whole thing. It was awesome. First off, Slovenia. Slovene ZC was sweet. I got up pretty early to get ready in time for the meeting and to finish up my talk. The meeting didn’t start until 10, so it wasn’t too bad. I finished up writing my talk on “What I’m glad I did to have a Successful Mission.” It went really well, I thought, and afterwards Pres. Hill had me sing “He is Jesus Christ.” It was a great experience. I had lunch with the missionaries, and afterward stayed for the remainder of the conference. After the meetings, we took pictures and all that fun stuff, and I went off to a place called the BTC. It’s pretty much a city disguised as a mall. Ridiculous is what it was. I took some time to stroll around the old town at night (an opportunity few missionaries have, except in the winters when it gets dark around 4:30) and it was great. I talked to a few natives in my broken Slovene and only after having properly butchered their language, they would proceed in English and we would have a pleasant conversation. I got lost, but luckily I’m an expert at getting lost, so it wasn’t a big deal (I was a missionary, after all). So anyway, I made it back to the mission home after getting off on the wrong stop and having to walk an extra kilometer or so. It was pleasant, though, walking through the quiet Slovenian countryside in the shadow of Smartna Gora (I think…). The next day, we drove down to croatia. For the first time, I got to see the chapel in Zagreb in its full completed glory. I was there for the groundbreaking over 3 years ago, and it was a bit of an emotional experience for me. Well, ZC in Zagreb was good as well, and I ate lunch with the missionaries. This time, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the missionaries I actually taught… all 16 of them (which is about half the country at this point). It was a cool experience. One of my personal favorite moments, however, was seeing one of my best friends, Kiki Mraz. After lunch I bailed on ZC and went to Kiki’s house on the other side of the city. I saw him from the bus and got a little giddy. It was so cool to see him again. He had invited the missionaries over for dinner, so we had dinner, and since his parents weren’t home, he asked me to spend the night over there. It was awesome to be able to spend time with him, hear about the mission I like to think I helped prepare him for, and just talk about whatever (oh, and watch TV). The rest of the time in Zagreb was pretty uneventful, some shopping, lots of visiting people, a couple of movies (Green Zone and Iron Man 2). It was cool to be able to do everyday things in a place where I used to fantasize about going to movies and hanging out with friends late at night. Weird. I went to church on today at the Zagreb chapel, and it was great. There were more people than usual and a lot of people didn’t know I was going to be in town. It was great to see how some people remembered me, and how I still felt comfortable there. I always wondered if the spirit I felt there was just from being a missionary. I found out today that the spirit is from the faithful members of the church. Priesthood meeting was as exciting as I remembered, complete with a certain unnamed member affirming that it is important for a person to go into marriage with sexual experience… (I never remembered it being that crazy, on second thought). The lesson was on chastity, and got a little… out of hand, we’ll say. In the end we ended up na zelenoj grani, so no worries. Tonight, I’m off to Split on an overnight train… it’s gonna be sah-weet. More later.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

K-town and Beyond

I spent two wonderfully uneventful days in Karlovac. It was wonderful to see the great members there and see how the branch is doing. Unfortunately, the branch is exactly the same as when I left it almost 2 years ago. There are even fewer members coming regularly, actually. I tried to do my part and talk to some of the less active members I was friends with while I served there. I actually stayed with Marinka Kos, who doesn't come regularly to meetings anymore. I gave her a hard time about it, and hopefully the Karlovac branch will be graced by her presence again soon. I had lunch with the missionaries in K-town and probably "strolled" around the whole city 5 times (which isn't really saying much, honestly). It was a nice relaxing few days, and I think I'm finally catching up with the jet lag. Tuesday morning, Marinka took me up to Zagreb since she works there, and dropped me off at a train stop to ride into center to catch a train to Ljubljana. On the border, they gave me quite a hassle since I had so many stamps in my passport from that particular border crossing. Being a Zone Leader for 1/2 your mission makes for a very full passport, what with all the Mission Councils and AP exchanges in Slovenia. The guy on the Slovene side even radioed in my info and finally gave my passport back and went on his way. The rest of the ride was uneventful. I actually fell asleep for most of it. Then, before you knew it, I was in Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a beautiful city. Small, for sure, but beautiful. It was foggy and rainy, but that didn't stop me from seeing what there was to see. I walked around the old town for about 5 hours, seeing what there is to see (the Ljubljana Castle, the Three Bridges, the Dragon Bridge, etc.). I also made my way out of the city center to a small neighborhood nearby to check out the Archeology Museum. It was really a museum to a guy named Jože Plečnik, one of the most influential architects of his day and certainly the most influential in Ljubljana. Almost every single monument I had aadmired that day was his work. I got a guided tour (it ended up being a private tour, since no one else was there. It only cost 2 euro, too!) of his house and got to see more about how he worked. He loved juxtaposing two ideas or motifs to enhance both of them. It was a nice way to spend an hour outside of the rain. I went back into centar and found a nice restaurant to have lunch at, and did a little window shopping. When I was thoroughly soaked and starting to get shin splints from all the walking, I gave Pres. Hill a call (my mission president) and he came and picked me up. We had a good chat, and went back to the mission home. I am now preparing a talk to give in Zone Conference. Weird. I'm excited though. I'll let you know how it goes. Until then, Adio!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Limosines and Jet Lag

I woke up yesterday morning thinking I would get a ride down to the bus station and catch a bus to the costal city of Rijeka, my first of many destinations. My host was driving into the city (we were in a suburb of Zagreb called Zaprešić 15 km outside of the city) and said I could ride with him and one of his collegues. We got to his work (an autoškola), and he started explaining to me how to get to the bus stop closest to us so I could get to the bus station using public transit (I lived here for a year of my mission, so I know it pretty well). After chatting a little bit with some of his collegues, we found one of them was going to be passing the bus station, so he would give me a ride. I got in his car, and after a brief convorsation, ha asked me, ˝Where are you going?˝ I was confused. ˝To the bus station,˝ I replied (thinking, ˝Duh˝ in my head). He asked again, this time clarifying by asking to where I was taking the bus. After establishing that I was going to Rijeka, he said, ''Just a minute, let me make a call.'' He hung up the phone a minute later and said, ''You can come with me to Rijeka, I'm going there today.'' What luck! that's $30 I don't have to spend on a bus ticket. ''Will it be a problem if we go in a limo?'' I laughed, as Croats like to joke about stuff like that (me thinking he was talking about his own, slightly sub-standard car we were currently in). I said that was fine and off we went. We got dropped off a few minutes later in a shady back alley somewhere in the largest city of a country of 4.5 million people. It was pretty typical of any big-city shady back alleyway, complete with abandoned storage units, dead mice, and gruff-looking slavs puffing away on their $1 cigs. My newfound friend, ''Đimi'' (Jimmy) went into a warehouse and opened a huge sliding door. Behind the door, was a stretch hummer limo. Seriously. No, really, I'm not kidding. I'll post pictures later. Anyway, so instead of paying $30 for a smelly stuffy bus ride, I got limo service for free. Wud up.

I got to Rijeka after an uneventful ride (as uneventful as limo rides are, at least) and passing lots of curious drivers. When we got to Rijeka, we drove the limo right up onto the harbor next to a stuper trendy cafe and fired up the flat screen that rises up out of the trunk. It was to advertise for a Fatboy Slim concert coming to town some time in the near future. Anyway, I parted ways with Jimmy and the two other random Canadians who came with us and made my way to the church. It was very surreal to be walking around a city I served in without a companion, in street clothes, and without an appointment or something to do. I got to the church, and luckily, the elders were there waiting for an appointment. I had taught 2 of them, so it was a nice little reunion. After dropping off my stuff I ran to a store on the nearby Korzo (the main pedestrian shopping drag) to get the cheapest possible cell phone to use while I'm here. $25 later, I was connected. When I asked for the cheapest, most basic cell phone they had, they delivered. I'll post a picture of that later, too (my card reader isn't working, so I'll need to figure out some other way to upload my pictures).

I made a few phone calls, and got an invite to lunch at the Kušen's for Frutti di Mare, my favorite (seafood risotto). After eating WAY too much, we went back down to the church for aktivnost (which flopped... just like the good old days!). Ema and I went to see Clash of the Titans in 3D, then strolled down the Korzo (which I had done many a time in my days as a missionary, but never at 11 PM). We saw a little different crowd than I was used to. It was a completely different world. Girls in mini skirts and 4 inch heels, guys that epitomize the Croatian word ''šminker'' (pretty boy, basically), and even a few ''ladies of the night''. It was quite the eye opener. We got home around midnight, and I crashed on the Kušen's couch bed in the living room. Now, it's 12:30 in the afternoon. I woke up about an hour ago (yes, I slept for almost 12 hours, I'm jet-lagged, get off my back). Today is Croatian Labor Day, so we're getting ready for a barbecue, and nothing is open. Lucky me. So far, the adventure is awesome.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Parentheses in Eccessive Amounts

SO... I get to Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix. After my Dad dropped me off at the curb (after having treated me to a delicious lunch at Chuckbox) I went in to check in to my United flight to London through Denver. I failed to read the fine print on my registration, however, that the flight was operated by a different carrier (what does that even mean?) and I had to check in in a different terminal. Luckily, I was 2 hours early like a good international traveller and had plenty of time. Next, I went to the check in counter, and gave the lady my passport, and the information for the connecting flight so my luggage would be checked all the way through. She informed me they didn't have luggage tags long enough for all of my connections and I would have to re-check bertha in London. After a few more little things, I was sitting at the gate waiting for my flight. This was only the beginning of my 22 hour flight/layover fest that awaited me.

The flight to Denver was like a roller coaster (and as the flight attendant said, "This is all a free bonus!"), but otherwise fine. The flight to London was outrageously long, but what overseas flight isn't? I sat next to a very pleasant girl from Montana off to visit her boyfriend in London. In London was where the REAL adventure began. After getting hassled by the border guard ("You're a student, are you? Isn't there another term after Easter?") and getting bertha, I went to check into my next flight. Yet again, I was in the wrong terminal. I was directed to take the intra-airport shuttle, the Heathrow Express, to terminal 4. Coming down the endless flights of stairs, I came to the train station at the center of the earth. I just missed my train and had to wait 20 minutes for the next one. At about minute 15, everyone on the platform was informed there was a fire in the outlying area and all train service would halt indefinitely. Of course it would, because I needed a train. "No matter," they say. "Take the tube." Easier said than done. After finding my way out of Dante's inferno and into the underground station, I bought a ticket to go down one stop to Hatton Cross, cross the platform, and get on a train coming back. A ticker for this (which would have been free, mind you) was £3.50 (aka $7.00!). Anyway, after finding my way, I got through security and had 2 hours left in my 4 hour layover.

After going through Paris, we transferred to a tic-tac with wings that would fly us in 2 hours to Croatia. I knew I was back in Europe, because the guy I was sitting next to was definitely NOT wearing Old Spice. More like, Eau de B.O. The combined smell of underarm "au naturale" from most of the occupants of my tic-tac invaded my nostrils like a blaring neon Welcome! sign that puts Las Vegas to shame. Anyway, after FINALLY making it to the Zagreb International Airport (which is probably smaller than either Falcon Field or the Provo Airfield), I found my ride and, after a stop at McDonalds (I know, I know, just save it), we made it home. Now here I am at 4 a.m. Croatia time after 6 hours of jet-lag sleep, and I'm wide awake. Translation: long, boring, and perhaps confusing or scatterbrained blog post. Enjoy!

Adventure part 2: Flying - check.

Day 1

Wednesday, April 28 2010:

I woke up on the day of my departure and started packing. Yes, I said starting. I know, I know... I procrastinate. So sue me (but not really). Anyway, I go through all of my stuff and decide what I can't live without, and pack it all away. After I was almost done, I decided it would probably be smart to see how much this behemoth of a bag weighed. After weighing it (which was in and of itself quite the task) I discovered I had 80 lbs of stuff and suitcase I couldn't live without. Unfortunately, most airlines force you to live with 50 lbs. Hm . . . that's a problem. So I throw out some stuff, zip bertha back up, and try again. 72 lbs. Crap. After a few more tries, I get her down to a slim 50 lbs.

Adventure, part one: packing - check

Monday, April 26, 2010

That is SO Provo of you...

So when I was setting up this blog, I had no idea what I was doing. I know lots of people blog, and I was always one of those "that's so gay" kind of people. Well, here's my foot in my mouth, I guess. This for you all who want to know about my crazy raucous adventures all over Europe this summer. I hereby relieve myself of any feelings of guilt for not keeping in touch with people by setting this up. You may be lucky enough to get a facebook message from me, or maybe if you're really special, a skype call (or if I need something). So here you go. 105 days starts Wednesday. Be excited. I am.