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.