First off let's start with me getting to Croatia. I had 2 layovers and a day in London before I finally made it. Along the way I got to have breakfast with the wonderful Natalie Thorsen, which was grand. I was about 2 hours late for our appointment, and I had no means of contacting her, so I was a little worried. She was a lot worried. I finally made it to Liverpool Street Station and we ran around the city for a bit before sitting down for a nice (overpriced) breakfast. I didn't have too much time, but we got to see the tower of London from afar and have a good chat.
Then I got on a train out to Stansted airport, had a mad-dash taxi ride to drop my bags off at the Hitlon with only 40 minutes before my flight took off, and got on the plane to Slovenia.
Slovenia was beautiful. I never served there, so I feel very much like a tourist while I'm there. I have vague memories of certain parts of the city, and especially the mission home (RIP, since it's now in Zagreb). Anyway, we ran around and met people Priest new while he was there, had some good ice cream, and I was introduced to the mlekomat. Let me just tell you about this thing real fast. Apparently the dairy farmers in Slovenia were mad that they weren't getting enough for their milk from the buyer dudes. They decided to cut out the middle man to increase revenue, so they put up these mlekomats--milk dispensing machines--all over the city. The cool thing is, the milk is fresh every day, and since each machine is a different dairy, they all taste different. It was the best milk I think I've ever tasted. Amazing. Here's a pic of the amazingness:
Anyway, we stopped in and chatted with President Hill and his wife for a few hours and talked about how the mission is progressing. It's amazing how different the work is from when I was there! With Pres. Roe (the new mission pres that started in July) there will be a new era of the mission, hopefully marked with huge success! We eventually got on a train and headed down to Zagreb.
As soon as we got there, we went to Tony's Kebap, only the best food in town:
and I called Kristijan and Kiki to meet up with them. As it so happened, Kristijan was showing the BYU folk dance team around the city and they had in impromptu performance out on Cvjetni Trg. It was pretty strange, I even saw a friend from high school who was in the band... ha ha. Anyway, there were a bunch of missionaries there to work the crowd, so I got to see a lot of my children in action. Brought a tear to my eye to see them speaking Croatian and contacting like pros... *sniff*. Kiki found us, and we went to Nocturno for dinner #2 and wandered around the city, catching up and just hanging out. Kiki is one of my few true friends I made on my mission who was a native Croat. He's great. I'd go back just to see him. Srsly. Anyway, it got late and wee took the train to Karlovac (hereafter K-town) where Marinka was waiting for us at the train station.
K-town was relaxing. We chatted with Markina, went to Baka's house, got to see our old apartment (Priest and I both spent a substantial time in K-town), and saw some members out at the new church farm. It was altogether enjoyable. After a day in K-town, we took a bus down to Zadar for church and all-around Dalmatian revelry. I got to see Anka and Šime
After wandering around the old town and buying a sweet painting of Poluotok (the peninsula), we hopped on a bus to a random Dalmatian coastal village... Primošten.
I remembered seeing this town on billboards along the highway while I was on my mission. They were still there this time, so I figured it might be worth trying. After finally getting there, getting Gypped by the tourist office on the price of our room for the night (the owner said it was 40 Euros, the office charged us 50), we saw why the billboards suggested "Svi u Primošten!" (Everyone to Primošten!). It was awesome. Apparently it was an island with a small gap between it and the mainland spanned by a bridge back in the day. Eventually the fishermen in the town decided to fill it in, and now there's about a 20 meter wide connection to a sweet peninsula with a church on top of the hill, quiet alleyways, and a riva definitely worth strolling on. Also, we had the best crepes ever created in the old town there. We may have eaten 3. Anyway, we hung around for a jazz festival thing on the town square, ate our second crepe from the amazing crepe-mobile, and just had a good time relaxing. The next day we woke up and went to the beach. We lounged and swam for a few hours, soaking in the European beachiness and much needed vitamin D boost. We discovered the next day we got a little too much vitamin D.
Note to self: sunburns when you are carrying all your worldly posessions on your back are much less convenient than normal.
We finally made our way to Split that afternoon. We found our way to the hostel and chatted up the very friendly landlady (about 23 years old with a raspy smoker voice of an 85 year-old mob boss) who spoke very quickly with a heavy Dalmatian accent. It was a little difficult to understand her at times, but after a few hours surrounded by dalmatinski after so long, my ears started to adjust. We wandered, checked out the city beach, bought some crepes (none of which came even close to those from the magical crepe-mobile of awesomeness) and waited around for Andrea. She finally made it, we got her stuff back to the room, and went back out to check out the nightlife of Split. Not that we went to a club or anything, but just took in the Dalmatian "Đir" culture (sidenote: in Dalmatia they follow the typical Mediterranean schedule of long lunch, siesta, then stay up late. Part of the "stay up late" thing is going down to the center of town and walking along the riva--a promenade right along the water. They call this walk a "đir,"roughly translating to a "stroll." Anyway...). The next day we met Kristina, a member from Split, and she took us around and gave us an impromptu tour of the city. We went into some churches, climbed the bell tower in old town that afforded us some spectacular views, and all around had a good time. We then lunched and did some souvenir shopping. Basically just sight seeing, picture taking, and tourist-being. Awesome. We finally took off for Dubrovnik lat in the afternoon...
The bus took forever. Like over 4 hours I think. Boo. We did go through Bosnia and took a 20 minute rest stop in Neum, the only Bosnian city on the coast. It was pretty awesome. Mostly just because it was Bosnia. Then we continued on. When we finally made it to Dubrovnik and got to our room (which was at the top of a pretty epic set of stairs, by the way), we were pooped. But, being in Dubrovnik as we were, we sucked it up and went out on the town. We found ourselves a good restaurant and had dinner and then made our "đir." Dubrovnik is epic. I don't know how else to describe it. It was a powerful city-state in the Venetian empire if I'm not mistaken and was quite wealthy on its own regard. It is home to the second oldest pharmacy in Europe, is surrounded on all sides by an amazing set of walls, juts out into the clear blue Adriatic like a monument to Croatian willpower. It was bombed during the Croatian war of independence but was rebuilt and is now mostly back to its former glory. Anyway, we spent a day seeing the sights, walking the walls, eating seafood swimming in olive oil, and beaching. It was grand. That night we wandered into a folk dance concert that was quite entertaining, which happened to be free (though I suspect it wasn't supposed to be, we just accidentally snuck in). After a long day we found a car rental place and booked a car to go to Mostar, Bosnia the next day.
Mostar was awesome. Perhaps the most awesome part of it all was getting there. Being the smart people we are, Eli, Andrea and I decided to take a smaller road through Bosnia instead of taking the highway which crossed the Bosnia-Croatia border 3 times. Bad idea. You know how they will randomly make jokes in (most recently Social Network) about how they don't have roads in Bosnia? Well, they're only slightly exaggerating when they say that. The road was supposed to be two-lane, two-way. It was the equivalent of a small one-way street in the rest of Europe (yep, not American nice wide-sized roads, Europe's already-way-too-skinny-to-fit-a-real-car-so-they-all-drive-hotwheels-sized roads). We passed (or rather pulled over for) 2 semi trucks and several vans along the way, some which came at us from around blind corners on extremely windy mountain roads. Scary. This picture was taken right before we passed a cow and a herd of goats wandering on the road (not particularly exciting for us Lehi folk, but for most quite a funny experience):
Anyway, Mostar was awesome. It's this East-meets-west-meets-middle-east kind of place where in the same skyline you can see 3 minarets, a Catholic bell tower and the dome of an Orthodox church. It was cool. The bridge was the main attraction, a symbol of freedom and perseverance since it was destroyed in the war and then rebuilt by the citizens of Mostar. The old town was awesome and we had the best ćevapi I've ever had. Eli agrees:
On the way back we hit up an old Turkish fortress. NBD.
Finally, the day came for us to leave. We took an aweful overnight (10 hours. 9 PM to 7 AM) bus ride all the way back up to Zagreb and then a train up to Ljubljana. There, we met the Woodburys for lunch. Yay. Then we all eventually peeled off and made it back to the airport. I flew back to Stansted, headed to the airport Hilton, took the longest shower of my life, put on clean clothes for the first time in 4 days, and slept. Next stop: Cambridge!