Since we got back to Zagreb, the skies have opened up. We were dreaming of spending happy afternoons walking everywhere in this fine city, enjoying beers and sandwiches in the parks here, newly greened under trees with their spring foliage, but were only able to do it once, thanks to the frequent showers. Despite that, however, it has been a joy to be back here in this city, which is blessedly flat in comparison to Dubrovnik. We even saw a corgi two days ago, which Steve and I both regard to be the height of auspicious signs.
To briefly illustrate our (mostly boring) activities this past week, we’ve been doing housekeeping and shopping, catching up on the things that we’ve been too busy to take care of these past months. I found a great art supply store half a block from our apartment and went on a shopping splurge, buying a real watercolor pad with heavy watercolor paper (the kind that’s 300 g/m^2), three brushes of varying sizes and shapes, and even blank watercolor postcards so I can draw some scenes for those at home. Price tag? $30 USD. Watercolors have turned out to be a great hobby to pick up — it appeals to my sense of creativity and the steep learning curve has taught me a lot, from how to mix colors to using perspective (something I haven’t done since Mr. Harris’s 8th grade art class) and how to hold a brush. But more importantly, since I find a lot of inspiration in our surroundings, it makes for a beautiful record of our time here. I have to thank Steve’s best friend Andrew, who is an awesome designer, for giving me a push and nudge in that direction! Continue reading Have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?→
Written on the ICN 522 Split – Zagreb, Croatia Saturday, April 19, 1:40 – 7:48 pm
Another country, another train.
This afternoon, we said goodbye to Split, Croatia’s second city. From the harbor, we could see Diocletian’s Palace, the Roman ruins that had captivated our attention for three days, as well as the large harbor, which boasted ferries to Brac, Havr, and other numerous islands in the Adriatic. On a clear day, from the Marjan Hill to the west of the city, you can see three or four islands on the horizon to the south, and a hundred miles or so beyond, the eastern shore of Italy.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back another edition of the truly classic terrible apartment photos. As some of you may recall, France was pretty bad, and Taiwan was the original enfant terrible, but Croatia has no shortage either of terrible photographers. Why are we here again? Well, since we have gotten to know and admire every inch of this skinny country along the Adriatic Sea, Steve and I have decided to overstay our original trip to Croatia. In two days, we wrap up our visit to Dubrovnik and journey up the coast to Split, in Dalmatia, before heading back to Zagreb for the rest of April. We just can’t get enough of this country! So to Airbnb it was again to find a new place to stay in Zagreb for two weeks. Along the way, I could not resist gathering a large quantity of truly terrible apartment photos for your viewing pleasure. Here are some photos that truly do not inspire you to visit this country!
The Classic What-Is-This Photo
Let’s start off with a good old fashioned example of a photo that in no way gives you any useful information. What is this? A doorway? A cabinet? How does this black space on the right of what seems like a doorframe change from being negative space against a red door to going right through the floor at the bottom? What am I looking at?? This is an utter waste of pixels and my bandwidth!
After our delicious pasta dinner last night in the Old City, we were raving about a particular spaghetti dish we had which used figs, a rare ingredient in our cooking, and I spent most of today nibbling on some with salty spreadable cheese while doing my Microeconomics reading, so it’s inevitable that we made a dish with pasta and figs for dinner as well. Steve liked it so much he said he could possibly eat it every night for a week, which I regard as being the height of compliments from this man. There’s no use not sharing it with you!
The spaghetti we had last night was called Spaghetti Dalmatica, Dalmatica being the region of Croatia just north of Dubrovnik. It had a tantalizing mix of prosciutto, which is smoked ham sliced very thinly, with bits of dried figs, and parmesan and parsley with almost too much olive oil. What we made is inspired by this dish, but includes more of the local ingredients we are enjoying in Dubrovnik. It’s also vegetarian, and depends mostly on the figs and cheese for its flavor, so don’t skimp on those! Keep some extra on hand to add flavor as needed. In general, it has a pretty subtle dish, but is really delicious.
Prep and cooking takes about 30 minutes. Serves two.
Two servings of spaghetti, angel hair, or any other thin pasta
2 large yellow Vidalia or French onions, halved along the equator and sliced thinly
1/2 kilo of green leafy vegetable (we used chard from the local farmer’s market, torn up into smaller pieces, but spinach or kale will do fine)
2 handfuls of walnuts, slightly chopped
4-6 dried figs, finely diced
Shaved parmesan or other strong cheese
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Toss the butter into a medium-sized saucepan, and when warmed up, slide in all your sliced onions. Take a good ten minutes to stir those onions around until they become translucent and begin to carmelize, taking on a light golden-brown color. Then put them aside into a medium-sized bowl.
At this point, fill another saucepan with water and put in your spaghetti to boil. I’m really bad at measuring spaghetti, but you can estimate about how much you and another person are likely to eat in one sitting, and put in less if you want a higher veggie to pasta ratio. Now, use the same saucepan you did the onions in (you don’t need to wipe it out or rinse) to cook the chard or spinach with a little bit of hot water, stirring it around until it wilts, which should take two or three minutes. Also put in the walnuts at this point. They only need a few minutes, so putting it with the greens is perfect. Definitely add some salt and pepper at this point to taste. When they’re done, put them in the same bowl as the carmelized onions. Your spaghetti should be close to done now.
When everything’s ready, prepare two wide bowls, and put in your spaghetti first. Next, divide the greens, onions, and walnuts between the two bowls. Then scatter your diced figs between the two bowls, and finally, put your shaved parmesan cheese over the whole thing. Drizzle a little olive oil on top. (This is an ideal photo-op moment, because you’re about to stir everything up.) Now, I suggest using two forks to combine well the whole bowl. Burying the cheese will help it to melt and spread more flavor throughout the dish. Enjoy with a good glass of red wine!
Spring has come to Croatia while we’ve been here, whiling away the hours in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. Trees are filling out, and the sun warms the air on the patio every morning despite the brisk chill, so that before long, we are ushered back into the shade of the kitchen. I absolutely love it. After hiding from the sun for so long, unconsciously burdened by the extreme humidity of Southeast Asia, it is a pure pleasure to be outside in this amazingly dry, sunny weather. It draws me out at all hours of the day, with a morning cup of tea or in the afternoon or to watch a bit of the sunset. And it has changed our appetite.
From the very first morning in Zagreb, Steve and I both found ourselves ravenous. Not content with a breakfast of muesli and yogurt, we made ourselves tomato and cheese sandwiches, which barely kept us until lunch. It seemed like we were eating every two hours, and the trend kept up for a week or two. Even now, we’re puzzling out only a few answers, reasoning that our bodies are trying to keep warm in this spring weather and keep up with the miles that we walk and climb every day. But I think it may well be that the sun and reviving world around us has awakened our appetite and energy. This morning, like most mornings this past week, I woke up at 9 am (so late!) and had a bit of breakfast on the terrace while writing a few postcards. Occasionally, bees have visited our terrace and ventured into our kitchen, perhaps drawn by the rosehip and hibiscus flower tea and plum jam on bread. (Note to self: eat breakfast inside next time.) After I showered and dressed, I left Steve to his programming and took the backpack as well as a Neil Gaiman book down with me to the supermarket about half an hour away. I came back almost an hour and a half later, out of breath and burdened with many groceries after a slow climb back. Since we live at the top of the hill that is Dubrovnik, everywhere we go is down and every trip back is a climb up, much to my chagrin.
I saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time yesterday, on the bus north to Dubrovnik from the airport. We were on a winding road, carved out of the side of a mountain. For anyone who has never seen or been to Croatia, the entire country is a comma flipped backwards, with its long trailing tail pointing east along the Mediterranean (and in this case, Adriatic) Sea. This straggling strip of coastline puzzled me until we got here. Here, it is obvious that the mountains divide Croatia from its neighbor of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other side. The mountain loom up right beside the sea, and the small clusters of white and orange-roofed buildings that make up Dubrovnik and surrounding towns all perch on the hillside as the mountains reach toward the water. On the hillside, on a clear day, you can see a quarter of the way to the coast of Italy, which is just a hundred miles away.
It is incredibly like a dream. Dubrovnik feels like the medieval city and town you have imagined yourself in a million times in your favorite (okay, my favorite) YA fantasy novels or Game of Thrones episodes. It has so many elements –glossy, worn cobblestones, towering churches, soaring city walls, winding streets, narrow stairways that descend a hundred feet— that proclaims its identity as an old, old European city. It’s enough to just look at for a long time, because it looks as beautiful under the sun as it does at night, judiciously lit by some very clever tourism bureau, which no doubt also mandates orange-colored tile or roofwork for everyone in town. It is also full of stairs and slopes, which are going to either be the death of me or bless me with amazing lower body strength by the end of this trip.
We have left Asia after six and a half months of living and travel. The change to living in Croatia is quite a shock for both our minds and bodies. We’ve been adapting rather quickly to living in a European country, as both of us have traveled in Central and Western Europe before, but I have a feeling we’ll be digesting the differences from Asia for a long time. We are turning on the heat in the mornings and at night and apply more lotion to our suddenly dry and chapped skin. We pick up the bread basket at the restaurants we go to, marveling at the fact that we haven’t had good real cooked bread in months. Up and down the streets of central Zagreb, there are grocery stores galore, with everything from cucumbers to Milka to wine. And when we cross the street, we must look left again first after spending more than two months in countries where we had learned to do the opposite (Thailand, Malaysia, India). And nobody is honking! What a relief!
Essentially, Zagreb has been really wonderful so far. The more that Steve and I see, the more we like this city, which has a charming and wonderful old town that is every bit as beautiful and historic but better preserved and less touristy than Prague. There are people and dogs about in the parks, the pedestrian streets that criss-cross its historic center, sitting at roadside cafés, enjoying breakfast and beers and coffee. There are deciduous trees here, which look exotic to us after months of coconut palms, and the pale, early spring is persuading them throwing out small green buds, coaxing life into austere but elegant streets framed with concrete and stone buildings. On our first night here, it was a brisk 8 degrees Centigrade last night or 47 Fahrenheit. (I know, I know, I haven’t been in Chicago this whole winter! But you’d find it cold too if you’d been in Kochi!)