A Visit from the Policija and Komplikacije (Complications)

April 5, 2018

I interrupt this series of posts to announce we have just had our first official visit from the Croatian policija.  Yes, you heard right. We were woken up early this morning with a knock on our door from our landlord Edvard.  Since we were still in bed because we both had insomnia the night before, we jumped up and Mike ran to the door. It was almost 8 a.m.

“The policija are here,” Edvard said apologetically. “They are downstairs waiting for you.”

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Stormy weather beckons outside of the window of our Pjescana Uvala apartment.

Bleary-eyed and disheveled, we hurriedly got dressed. I donned a baseball cap to hide my bedhead, and we both ran down the four flights of steps to our landlords apartment.

Sitting on a chair with a notebook in her hand was the cutest policewoman I think I have ever seen. She looked like she was about 25 years old and had a ponytail sticking out from behind her official police cap. She looked like she was playing police because she was so unlike the image of what I had imagined the Croatian police would look like.

Carolyn and James were already sitting on the sofa talking with her. I took a deep breath and sat down.

The police visit is just one of the steps the Croatian government takes to approve your visa for a one-year stay.  They do it to insure you are living at the place you say you are living at, and it makes sense if you think about it. Still, it is a little unnerving because you know they have the power to reject your stay and at this point we have invested a lot of time and money by prepaying our year’s rent and moving here. We really want to stay.

So we answered a few questions the police woman asked and that was that. She told us we would receive a card in the mail in a few weeks and we were finished. I think the whole interview process took less than five minutes. So for now we will wait for our cards in the mail and see what happens.

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James waits for his turn in line at the police station to turn in his original visa application.

 

 

 

April 9, 2018

8:30 am: We are sitting in the Policija station waiting for our number to be called.  On Friday we received word through the mail ( “a blue envelope” is what Edvard called it) that there was a problem with our health insurance submission for our visa application, so we are at the police station waiting our turn. It is our second time at the police station since we arrived.  The first time was to apply for our visa.

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Mike at our first visit to the police station to apply for our year long visa.

Edvard is singing, “Stranci in the night,” to the tune of “Strangers in the Night.” “Stranci” means strangers or foreigners in Croatian. “Stranci” is what it says at the counter where we need to talk someone about our visa. He is trying to break the tension because he knows we are nervous.  He is being very silly.  It works. I can’t stop laughing.

Finally our number is called, but the person we need to speak to is not available. We will have to come back at 2 p.m.

2 p.m.:   We are back at the station waiting for the person we need to speak to.  Edvard is back as well, and we feel bad that we have taken more time out of his day to be our intermediary.  He is a not only a very conscientious landlord, but a busy real estate broker who speaks three or four languages. We hate to waste his time.  Ten minutes after 2 p.m. a lady says it will be five more minutes.  A half an hour later, we are called into the office.  We are learning about Croatian time, Edvard jokes, although he is always very punctual.

As we make our way into the small office, the lady tells Edvard curtly he is not needed, and he can wait outside if we have any questions.  I swallow hard.  I know she speaks English, but it is broken and these are complicated discussions.  And our Croatian is abysmal. Still, Edvard is ushered outside as we sit down and wait to hear what the issue is with our visa.

She then tells us our insurance from home is not valid here.  We insist that our insurance company said it was. She explains, then reads us rules and tells us to sign things.  They are in Croatian.  I ask her some questions because she doesn’t say why our insurance isn’t valid. She appears to get agitated after explaining a few times, although she is not really answering the questions I ask.  “Do I understand?” she says impatiently.  “Yes,” I say, but I don’t really.  Mike says he understands as well, but he doesn’t either.

Mike says he understands as well, but he doesn’t either.

We are then told we need to visit the Croatian Health Insurance office to speak with them. So we need to go there. That we understand. Why we need to go there is another matter. We have no idea. At this point we think they might approve our health insurance or maybe we need to get their health insurance. And she gives us her telephone number to give to Edvard if we have any questions for her (go figure!) and we are on our way.

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The Croatian Healthcare Insurance System Office in Pula is where foreigners must go to sign up for the countries healthcare once they are approved for a year long visa.

April 10, 2018

3 p.m.  We are on our way to the Croatian Health Care System office with Edvard.  Mike and I are arguing over whether we should get Edvard to call the lady at the police department before we head to the office or after. Edvard laughs and says the woman is always right, so we are on our way to the office.

Passing through the streets of Pula, I am again struck by its beauty.  Its thick wooden shutters with peeling paint on pale plastered buildings with terra cotta roofs. The rustic iron gates and the olive trees that line the driveways. The hilly terrain and deep green grass that contrasts with the dark rust soil that makes the area so fertile.

IMG_0913The imposing  Roman Arch of Sergi that rises above the limestone streets and alleyways. The fact that we have have a chance to live in such an ancient and beautiful city is a dream come true. Will that be in jeopardy today because of health insurance?

We arrive at the office, and I’m very nervous.  Edvard is joking as usual, and Mike and I feel fortunate that we have such an interesting and humorous advocate here in Croatia. We enter the building and Mike decides he should call the lady at the police station before we go into the office.  IMG_0922We stand in a cold, dark hallway.  Edvard points at a door and says, “This is us,” he says. “See, it says here, ‘complications (komplikacije).’ That’s what we have, “complications,” he laughs. I immediately think that is the office we are supposed to go into.

Then he calls the police station.  He launches into a long and what sounds like a very heated discussion with the lady from the police station.  He is very loud and paces up and down the cold hallway.  I am freezing and thinking that she must be telling him we are not approved for our visa and have to go home. This conversation seems to go on forever. Yes, komplikacije alright.

Finally he is off the phone.  He is aggravated and says we are probably going to have to enroll in the Croatian Healthcare System.  Plus we will have to pay a large fee to enter the system, about 5500 kunas (around $900 USD) per person. The entrance fee is a little steep, I’ll admit, but what will it cost per month after we enroll?  That’s why we are at this office, he says.

So we pass up the door with the “Komplikacije” sign and enter another set of double doors.  Edvard is aggravated more on our behalf, and he begins to talk to the ladies at the healthcare system office.  Again a series of Croatian sentences I don’t understand and it sounds very heated like before. Back and forth it goes. Edvard argues endlessly with the ladies, and Mike and I just stand there like American statues. The words are flying around like the seagulls around our apartment. Are we getting kicked out? Is it going to be a million kunas? What is going on?

Finally, they stop and explain that yes, we have to sign up for Croatian health care and it is 5500 kunas per person.  The cost per month for both of us to have complete care for both doctor’s visits, prescriptions and hospitalization is…drumroll, please….A million kunas? Ten thousand kunas? Nope, 1000 kunas or about $170 per month. For both of us. Sigh, I think we can do that.

So while it is not the best news that we will have to pay for additional insurance, we will be covered completely for any emergencies in Croatia.  And we have still have our insurance in the US for when we return home. I asked Edvard how much his insurance costs as a Croatian citizen: a whopping $150 per year. So he was furious that we would have to pay such a high “penalty” (that’s what he called the fee) for staying in the country for a year. I’m sure it would be higher and more difficult for “stranci” to get insurance in our country.

Oh, and I found out what the office was that Edvard was pointing to that said, “Komplikacije.” It was for Croatian Pregnancy Complications and Maternal and Parental Care. I guess we should have realized that when we saw a Croatian father push a stroller into the office.

Let’s hope our visa is approved and there are no more “complications.” The best lesson through all of this as well as through life itself is to maintain your sense of humor.  It’s the best medicine for “komplikacije.”

 

 

 

The Viking Museum at Roskilde

IMG_0915Just a short day trip from Copenhagen is a place that was a must-see for my seafaring husband, and I have to admit, I was pretty excited to go there as well. That place was the Viking Museum (or Vikingeskibs Museet) in Roskilde, Denmark, which houses five original sailing vessels from the 11th century.

If you think of what that means,  these boats, which were dug up in the fjord near Roskilde in 1962, were used, touched, and sailed by the actual Vikings!! So grab your Viking spangenhelm (helmet) and come along with us!

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Mike rocking a spangenhelm. (photo by Carolyn Stewart)

As you enter the parking lot for the museum, you notice the museum itself is not just one building but a group of buildings complete with an area near the harbor which is lined with many different types of Scandinavian sailing vessels, both large and small. The buildings house workshops where students are able to learn how to do various types of shipbuilding, woodworking and sailing related crafts like rope-making and sail-making.

On the day we visited, we saw a group of college-age students doing woodworking with traditional tools from the Viking period. In the indoor workshop, the students worked to plane a rudder scraping and sanding it with primitive tools.  All of the work done on the grounds is done with period tools including the felling of trees, splitting of the wood and actually constructing the boats.

It was freezing outside because we were there on a rather cold March day, so there were not many people visiting the museum, but I’m sure in the warmer months the place must be bustling with action. But in true Viking style, Mike, Carolyn and I braved the cold weather, donned our Viking garb and set forth to see the sailing vessels.

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Mike knows it’s serious business being a Viking, but I’m just happy to be along for the ride. (photo by Carolyn Stewart)

The main reason for our visit were the actual longships and sailing vessels that were inside the large Viking Ship Hall.  These five vessels were actually sunk on purpose a thousand years ago in order to make a defense barrier in the fjord as an underwater obstacle to thwart invaders.

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This ship was found in 1962 and was pieced together after the restoration process was complete. In the background, Mike admires the actual prow of the sailing vessel.

It’s truly incredible to come so close to a piece of history and to imagine the men who built the vessel and sailed it.  Thinking of what their lives must have been like, the harsh conditions they faced, their pagan beliefs and perseverance really makes you wonder how you would have survived in such an environment.

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Learning about the excavation process for the ships was just as interesting as seeing the ships themselves. The archeologists had to rope off an area of the fjord and drain it to begin mapping out the wreck site. The thick planks of wood which make up the vessels had been underwater for so long that they had to devise a way to keep the wood from shrinking and disintegrating when they took it out of the water. The wood had to be kept moist as it was dug up, and then placed in a chemical solution for a long period of time until the wood was preserved enough for it to be freeze-dried.

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A close up of the thousand year old planks that make up the Viking vessels.

While the museum collection is based on these five Viking ships that were excavated at Skuldelev in Roskilde Fjord in 1962, it also has a working boatyard where it has made replicas of the five ships and other Scandinavian longships. In the summertime, visitors are able to take cruises on a longship and help row it across the fjord and set the sails.

IMG_0915“From the museum’s own harbour, you can cruise around the beautiful Roskilde fjord and admire the museum’s large collection of traditional Nordic boats,” according to the Visit Copenhagen website.

It is incredible that the remains of these ships have survived so many years.  I highly recommend a visit here if you find yourself in the Copenhagen area.  It is an easy day trip as it’s only 1/2 hour away from the city, and you can also visit the Roskilde Cathedral while you are there, which is another fascinating destination full of history that is worth the trip to Roskilde alone.

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Carolyn tips her pink cap as she steers the Viking vessel away from the Vikingeskibbit Museet.

 

 

 

There’s Nothing Rotten in Denmark

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“Hej” from Copenhagen!! (That’s hello in Danish and it’s pronounce “hi” with a little upward lilt at the end).  We wandered off from Pula on March 20 and spent the last week of March in the beautiful city of Copenhagen in Denmark.   From my time here I have come to the anti-Shakespearian conclusion which is the title of my blog today:  “There is nothing rotten in Denmark!”  It was an incredible place, and I wish we had been able to spend more than just a week there.

fullsizeoutput_3dffYou could argue the weather was a little rotten because it was so bitterly cold (below freezing for most days we were there), and a little dreary on some days, but by traveling in such inclement weather you get a good indication of what the Danish people are made of, and it is actually quite good stuff.

We rented an Airbnb in a little area right outside of the Copenhagen city limits and enjoyed the quiet streets and beautiful house we made our home for a week.  The owner Jesper was fantastic and made us feel very welcome even though he towered above us like a NBA player.  His height and friendly demeanor were quite common among the Danish, who were seen in freezing rain or sleet and snow, on bikes and pushing baby carriages through the bustling city of Copenhagen.

It was remarkable to us Southern folks who would be bundled up in front of a fireplace in weather like this to see hoards of people on bicycles everywhere in the city.  They carried babies in snowsuits on the front of their bikes with just their faces exposed, or zipped them tightly into baby carriages as the mothers leisurely strolled along the streets.  The moms shopped, they strolled, they stopped in the many cafes for coffee, and guess where many of them left their strollers (with the babies inside them!) ?— prepare yourself —- outside on the sidewalk.

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A Danish mom strolls along the streets of Copenhagen with baby in tow. Although sunny, it was 32 degrees on this beautiful day.

I’m told this is a common occurrence and nothing to be alarmed about (there is an extremely low crime rate and almost non-existent kidnap rate).  Several factors play into this custom but the main ones are: 1) Again, it is extremely safe in Copenhagen and 2) Danish (and many Nordic) mothers believe the fresh (albeit cold) air is good for babies and strengthens their immune system.  I did notice the large prams which held the babies were parked in front of large windows, so I’m sure a Danish mom or two would be checking to make sure the prams stayed put while they were in the cafe. Still though, it’s an extremely different custom than we are used to both weather-wise and safety-wise.

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A Danish dad brings young children to nursery school by bike on a blustery March day in Copenhagen.

Our host Jesper said his 12- year old can ride her bike home from the city at midnight and he has no fear for her safety.  Coming from New Orleans, this feeling of safety was quite surprising and reassuring at the same time.  Most of the bikes we saw that were not being used were sitting leisurely by the side of the street or leaned up against a fence without locks on them. What a great testament to safety to be able to leave your bike without fear of it being stolen.  The country on the whole has an extremely low crime rate with most of the crime taking place during the summer months when hoards of tourists descend on the beautiful city.

 

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Bikes sit unused by bus stops and against building walls throughout Copenhagen with no locks showing the trust Danish citizens have in their fellow citizens not to take them without permission.

The safety of the city and heartiness of the people are just two of the reasons I believe there is “nothing rotten” in this beautiful city.  I’ll have quite a few more posts on Denmark in the coming days as there is much to tell about this lovely country.  I’ll leave you with a picture of some of the delicious food I came across in Copenhagen to whet your appetite for my next post, “Is the Danish really Danish?”

 

 

Hej Hej for now!!! (That’s good-bye in Danish.) Now if only the rest of the Danish language was that simple.

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A sailboat frozen in place in the Kastrup Strandpark harbor in Oresund Sound on the day we arrived in Copenhagen.

Making Groceries the Croatian Way

If you grow up in New Orleans, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “making groceries” from someone in your family.  For those who live in other parts of the country or the world, the term doesn’t mean a person is going to physically produce some edible product on the spot, but that you are going to the grocery store to buy something to eat.

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My husband Mike after “making groceries” at Konzum, a Croatian grocery chain.

The phrase comes from “faire le marchè” ( The literal translation is “to make the market”) which New Orleanians took from our Louisiana French heritage and transformed to “making groceries.”

Although we have only been living in Croatia a few short weeks so far, we have already been “making groceries” by going to many different grocery stores and outdoor food markets in order to stock our new Croatian pantry. We’ve been to the Konzum, Plodine, Market Grga (all Croatian grocery chains), Lidl (a German chain), and to the “tržnica” or fresh produce market in the center of Pula. We also been to several small corner groceries for a fresh loaf of bread or a quick snack.

” Na tržnicuna tržnicu, prodati debelu svinju… ” –To market, to market, to sell a fat pig…

Two things I’ve noticed right away (besides everything being in Croatian which is more confusing than you might imagine!) are that 1) the Croatians eat a lot of pasta and 2) they also love a huge variety of ham and pork. For example, there is literally one whole aisle of pasta in the Konzum and it’s long and it’s full of delicious variations of pasta on both sides.  They’ve got your fazoli, pljukanci, fusilli, your vermicelli, your tagliatelle con spinach, and many, many, many more that I can’t pronounce. Oh, and that’s just the dry pasta.

There is also fresh pasta in the refrigerated case. Of course there is.  The Fioli brand on the shelf above is a Croatian brand, and the price of 9.99 kunas looks expensive, but is only about $1.45 USD, so it’s very reasonable price-wise for delicious local pasta. So if you like pasta, you will love it here.

For those thinking pasta is an Italian thing, it is. However, besides being very close to Italy (about a 1 1/2  hour car ride), the Istrian peninsula (which includes Pula) was once a part of Italy, so it makes sense that the cuisine would be similar.

The second thing that is very obvious in the grocery stores is the ham (including pršut which we know by the name prosciutto) and other dried and cured meats like salami and sausages. Whole aisles and cases of it with people lined up to the deli counter to buy it.

I got a little intimidated by the girl behind the deli counter when ordering my slices of ham in the Grga (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) and accidentally wound up getting the most delicious smoked ham for our sandwiches. Combined with the slices of freshly sliced gouda cheese and the fresh Croatian bread, Mike and I felt like we were eating gourmet sandwiches for lunch. I’ll do another post on the making of the pršut because it is a very big deal here (They have contests for it like we do for our boiled crawfish and chili), but for now, just know there are multitudes of different salamis, hams, sausages and cured meats, and they are very delicious.

 

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One case of ham in the Croatian grocery Konzum shows a little portion of the vast assortment of hams and salami in Pula. (photo by Carolyn Stewart)

The deli counter below is a popular place for people ordering ham and cheese and sausages, although it was pretty slow mid-morning on a weekday when the photo was taken.

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This case shows the large selection of ham and pršut in the Croatian grocery Konzum. That’s our friend James with the backpack on pulling his grocery basket (photo by Carolyn Stewart).

Besides ham and pasta, the grocery stores all have fresh bread counters similar to those we have in the states. The difference, however is there are no breads on the shelves like our Bunny Bread and Nature’s Own brands. The Croatians, like those in many other European countries, eat only fresh baked bread which is prepared daily and has a very short shelf life because of the lack of preservatives.

Since it is so good, it doesn’t need a long shelf life because you eat it so fast! And it is addictive. I remember my Hungarian foreign exchange student Dorka saying how much she missed the bread from home while she was in the US. It’s easy to see why when you get used to eating fresh bread daily. Lucky I am walking so much here as I gobbled up a loaf of the bread below in a couple of days (with Mike’s help, of course).

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Fresh bread and cured ham make for a delicious Croatian lunch.

There are many other things besides fresh breads that I found that were interesting at the grocery stores. The wafers below were available on the baking aisle for filling. Think soft serve ice cream cones and that is the type of wafer available. (Thanks, Marlene, for the suggestion of filling them with Nutella. I will try that soon.) Oh, the possibilities!

 

I have already found some other favorite products that I really love here that are not available in the U.S., but since this post is getting long, I will start another one for those items.  Also, the tžnica or fresh market has a whole different assortment of vegetables and products from the grocery stores.  The people seem to use the fresh market just as much as the grocery, so I will dedicate still another post to the magic of those markets another day.  Thanks for sharing in my adventures “making groceries” the Croatian way. Vidimo se kasnije! (See you later!)

Crossing the Bridge to a New Adventure

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We found this beautiful bridge in Venice when we went on a scouting mission to find an apartment in Croatia.

By Cindy Gelpi

Few things affect a person’s outlook on life more than the death of someone they love. Watching a family member suffer through a long illness or the sudden death of a friend  destroy our perception that there is time to do all the things we want to accomplish in our short lives. Confronting these situations as we enter our fifties or sixties can have even more of a catalytic effect on our decisions because we realize there is a window of opportunity that may not be there as we age.  Whether it be moving abroad or starting a new career, goals become more time sensitive.

Watching my 82-year old father die slowly from vascular dementia and congestive heart failure was the impetus for me to begin taking actions towards fulfilling my dream to live abroad in Europe. I knew my father had always wanted to visit there, but circumstances had prevented him from achieving that goal. After helping to nurse him through his illness and grieving his passing, then watching two of my daughters leave Louisiana to fulfill their dreams of living in California, I realized the time had come for my husband and I to pursue our goals.

In order to pursue goals later in life, planning ahead of time is not only necessary but crucial. When we are trying to accomplish something on the brink of our senior years, we must not only plan for the goal itself, but think about our later years as well. “Can we afford this?” is probably the common concern that my husband and I both shared when making this decision. Healthcare expenses tend to multiply as we age and were a major factor in our decision-making.

“Should we sell our home or rent it?” was another question we considered as we planned to only live abroad for a year or so. “What do we do with all of the things we have accumulated over our lives?” Tackling these questions head on was the only way forward. Researching options and finding solutions became our mission.

Putting a plan into place is key to getting to the point where you want to be. Start living like the goal is in play. Make a concrete budget and stick with it. Sell things that are extraneous to accomplishing your goal. Don’t make large purchases that don’t contribute to it. Pay down your debt as much as possible. Question your expenses. Cut back on those not crucial to your quality of life, but you pay out of habit. For us it was our cable bill, as we found we used wireless more than cable. For others, it may be an unused health club membership or frequent visits to a shopping mall or restaurants. Live below your means as much as possible without jeopardizing your quality of life. Put anything you save towards your goal.

Also look for creative options to reach your goal. Sometimes the answers appear unexpectedly. For us, we decided we would rent our house because we wanted a place to return to after our year abroad. We were clearing our house and selling unneeded possessions when my youngest daughter decided to move back to Slidell. Her and her husband needed a place to live, so we decided to rent our home to them.

While that solution may not work if you have younger children, there may be other solutions. Maybe you don’t want to live abroad, you want to pack everything up in a camper in the U.S. or you want to do something less ambitious like take a course or learn a new language; look determinedly for ways to accomplish what you want to achieve. Don’t let anything be an excuse not to do it. Let it be a problem to be solved to get where you want to be!

After over a year of research and planning we have finally reached the point of seeing our dream become a reality. We left on Feb. 27 to begin our adventure in Pula, Croatia. In this blog, I will be posting the stages of our journey and our future exploits in Europe. I encourage everyone out there to pursue their goals whatever they may be. And in the coming months, I will share my experiences throughout Croatia and the rest of Europe.

Are you ready to make a mid-life change? Start planning today. We can take the journey together!