On our first day walking around the city of Pula we wandered through the ancient streets in awe. It’s not just a beautiful city, but a historic one as well. According to one source, archeological remains show evidence that the city of Pula goes back from 400,000 to a million years B.C. That’s pretty old, especially by U.S. standards. One of the first things that strikes you when you drive into town is the Pula Arena, one of the best preserved Roman Amphitheaters in the world that was built in the first century B.C.
Its imposing presence stands above modern day streets and buildings, and the fact that you can drive your car using Google Maps on your iPhone in front of a place where ancient Roman gladiators fought to the death is a pretty surreal experience. Not to mention that the ancient arena holds concerts for its citizens’ enjoyment throughout the year.
If any city had a reason to have a good opinion of itself, it was Pula, which is the largest city on the Istrian Peninsula. Ancient history, incredible wine, delicious olive oil, rich soil that produces a multitude of beautiful fruits and vegetables, and it’s surrounded by crystal clear waters and boasts a temperate climate. Think California with Roman roots and better beaches.
Imagine our surprise when we stopped into a store in the city center and a Croatian lady approached us with a young boy around five or six to ask if he could talk to us. Why? Because he loved America and loved speaking English. Sure, we said, we would love to talk with him. He was quite the little gentleman, and he said hello and answered all of our questions politely and without any traces of a Croatian accent. If only we could speak Croatian so well, we told him. Besides saying hello, goodbye, where is the bathroom and thank you, we hadn’t been very prolific with our use of Croatian, but wanted to learn more.
We were pleasantly surprised that our first encounter out and about city center had been so positive. Carolyn and I talked for a while with the young mother and learned that the little boy had learned a lot of what he knew from American television.
Earlier in the week we had gone grocery shopping at Konzum and got some things for our apartment at a German version of Home Depot called Bauhaus, and all of the Croatian cashiers had been very friendly and nice, so we knew the people were kind and receptive to foreign guests. In fact, one cashier even told me, “Bravo!” when I said, “dovidenja,” which means “good-bye.” I was so proud that she could actually understand me. When people are that encouraging, it makes you want to learn more.
And it hasn’t just been the cashiers that have been kind to us in our short time here. Waiters, waitresses, store clerks, and even people on the street have gone out of their way to help us. One day my stomach was upset, and I went into a grocery store for Tums and the cashier pointed me towards a “ljekarna,” or pharmacy, as they don’t sell any types of drugs, even non-prescription ones, in the grocery. I walked out of the grocery, still disoriented from jet lag and trying to find my way in a new city, and totally forgot which way she had told me to go. I felt a tap on the shoulder and an older lady who had stood behind me in the grocery line said, “You go that way,” and pointed to the left. “Hvala,” I replied (thanks!) feeling fortunate that someone had been paying attention.
When people are that encouraging, it makes you want to learn more.
When I got to the pharmacy I was in for another surprise; everything was behind the counter except for a few items like vitamins and lotions. So I go up to the counter and ask in English for something like Tums or Rolaids for an upset stomach. The pharmacist was very sympathetic and gave me an option of Tums or something more potent like Prilosec. It was strange, but I felt comforted by her advice and concern. It’s the little things like that when you are far from home and not feeling well.
Yesterday we went back to the city center and were having lunch when a woman with a little girl sat at the table next to us with her elderly parents. She looked over and started talking to us and when she realized we were Americans, she told her daughter excitedly, “These people are from the place where Cookie Monster lives!” The little girl smiled shyly. She was only five, but her mother said she spoke better in English than she did in Croatian. We couldn’t tell because she was too shy to speak to us, although she did take off her jacket and show us her cute butterfly dress.
Anyway we are glad to be living in a city where the people are friendly and kind like the people we left behind in Southern Louisiana. And we are glad they like Americans because we definitely like them and their beautiful city.