Licorice, Tivoli Gardens and Freetown Christiana

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This picture taken in Freetown Christiana is one of the places where photos are allowed. The unique autonomous anarchist community frowns upon photos in most areas.

Licorice, Tivoli Gardens and Freetown Christiana.   What do these three vastly different things have in common? Well, they are all located in Copenhagen, so there is that. But like the multitude of bike riders that roll through the Danish city each day, each offers a distinctly unique version of the Danish lifestyle, so I thought I would lump them together for my post today.

Lakrids, Lakrids Everywhere!

The word lakrids strangely conjures up images of water bugs to me, but it is actually the Danish word for “licorice.”  Since Carolyn is a huge fan of this bittersweet root candy, when we saw some beautiful hard candies in The Viking Museum that the cashier said were licorice, she jumped at the chance to try some.  Since I’m not a big licorice fan, I passed when she offered me one the first time, and her comment when she tasted them were that they were “different.”

Heads up.  This ain’t your grandma’s licorice.

Later she offered Mike one and I decided to take the plunge with him.  The taste was very, very different. Salty, weirdly so, with a strong bitter licorice flavor that was almost medicinal.  Mike promptly spit his out of the car window and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t finish that.”  I tried to be more polite and sucked mine to the end, but it was difficult. I vacillated between wanting to spit mine out and silently judging Mike for not seeing his through to the end.

According the the official Danish website, Denmark produces some of the strongest liquorices in the world. “Salty liquorice is a speciality in Denmark and contains a large amount of ammonium chloride (salmiac),” the website states. “The brand Ga-Jol is Denmark’s most popular liquorice candy, with the Danes consuming over 600 million each year.”  That’s a lot of licorice.

There is even a two-day festival each year in Copenhagen devoted to, you guessed it, licorice.

They also put it in just about everything: beer, fudge, even ice cream.

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The store Lakrids by Johan Bülow in Tivoli Gardens specializes in all things licorice.

When we visited Tivoli Gardens, there was a whole store devoted to just licorice. I was definitely a little scared after the whole hard candy incident at the museum, but when Carolyn pushed forward into the licorice store at Tivoli, I followed her in.  I mean, how often do you get to visit a licorice store? When we walked in, the sales clerk was handing out samples and because the licorice was covered in chocolate, I decided to give it a second chance.

It turned out to be incredibly delicious, and I was so impressed that between Carolyn and I sampling so many of the candies, I think we upset the sales clerk.  But then Carolyn bought three packages of them, and I bought a pack at the airport on the way home, so I think we balanced out their losses.

Back at our Airbnb the next morning, I went to go throw out the coffee grounds, and I saw the trash was sprinkled throughout with the beautiful little hard licorice candies Carolyn had bought at the museum. I looked around for the guilty party. “Who threw the licorice away?” James, who hadn’t been at the museum with us, very matter-of-factly said, “I did. Those were nasty.”

And that was that.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens is an old amusement park right in the center of Copenhagen and offers another unique attribute to this wonderful city.  Copenhagen’s beautiful buildings tower over this charming vintage amusement park and harken back to the era of simpler entertainment and family fun.  According to the Visit Denmark website, the park opened on August 15, 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world.

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Mike and James at the entrance to Tivoli Gardens.

The beautiful place was like taking a step back in time, very charming and nostalgic, but I think it is probably a much prettier place in the spring once the weather is a little warmer, and the trees and flowers are in bloom.  I can definitely see why they shut down in the winter.  We went on the opening night of the park on a rather frigid March evening, and the crowds were a little sparse at first and it was freezing cold. Still, Danish children ran around with cotton candy (was it licorice flavored?) and thrill-seekers rode the Dæmon (The Demon) rollercoaster screaming their heads off as they flipped upside down and every which way.

Tivoli Gardens also has the world’s oldest wooden roller coaster that is still in operation called the Rutschebanen that was built in 1914. It is also called the Bjergbanen (The Mountain Coaster) because it travels around a small mountain.  All in all, I think Tivoli Gardens is a must-see, especially since it is said to have inspired Walt Disney, but only if you like theme-parks. And definitely wait until the weather is warmer…

Freetown  Christiana

One of the most unique places in Copenhagen has to be Freetown Christiana, an “autonomous anarchist” community where people live a green-life without cars or property ownership.  According to the Visit Denmark website, it was established in 1971 “by a group of hippies who occupied some abandoned military barracks on the site and developed their own set of society rules, completely independent of the Danish government.”

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It was a pretty crazy place to visit with wooden booths set up in one area called Pusher St. where merchants sat selling large chunks of hash and other marijuana items. Just a few people were stoned when we walked through and it felt pretty safe overall, but we visited in the morning hours. The night hours could be different, so be careful.

As we ambled around, I felt like I was in a time warp although I enjoyed looking at the different houses and buildings; some had artwork painted on them, and some had cool mosaics like the one above.  One home was built into a hill like a bunker and it’s door was so small it looked like a hobbit house.

It felt like stepping back to what I would imagine a 70s hippie commune would be like, so if you want to see a really “far out” place in Copenhagen, walk through Christiana.

Just don’t take pictures because apparently “what happens in Christiana, stays in Christiana.”  It’s drug activities are illegal elsewhere in Copenhagen as well as Denmark.

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!)

Off on a Pig Trail (or What’s the Buzz?)

The weather’s been on and off around the Pula area the past few weeks with rain and cold days interspersed with beautiful sunny days that hint of the warm weather to come. On one sunny morning Carolyn and I decided to go explore the area that surrounds our new home. Our apartment is in a neighborhood called Pješčana Uvala which means “sandy cove” in English.  IMG_9103It sits next to the Soline Forest Park, a protected forest of holm or holly oaks, that skirts the shores of the Adriatic. These holm oaks are a native species in the Mediterranean and are one of the top three trees used in the establishment of truffle orchards.  They also produce edible acorns that wild pigs like to eat.

So you didn’t sign up to this blog for a natural science lesson, right? The reason I’m giving you this information is that our landlord had just been telling us the evening before that the forest next to us had a lot of wild pigs and not to go out at night into the forest as they could be aggressive, but he said during the day was fine. In fact, Soline Park has a well-marked path throughout the forest with educational kiosks for families with kids, so I don’t think it is a dangerous place to go. Still knowing about the overabundance of wild pigs did get our attention, especially coming from South Louisiana where my two brothers-in-law are always relaying tales of wild pigs in the marshes and how mad they get when you encounter them with their babies.

As we walked along the trail beside the beautiful clear Adriatic waters, we noticed in a few places the mud looked stirred up like something had been rooting through it.  The path went deeper into the forest and got a little darker as the vegetation got thicker and areas of the stirred up mud got more frequent.  We joked that these wild pigs must be everywhere.

Being the adventurous women that we are, we saw a path up the hill that was filled with limestone rocks and was wider, almost like a small road, so we decided to climb up it to get a view of the whole area. The holm oak forest sits on Soline Hill.

 

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The view from atop Soline Hill looking over Soline Park and back toward our home in Pjescana Uvala.

As we ascended the hill, we saw old abandoned houses and huge rosemary bushes in bloom and were marveling at the abandoned beauty of the trail when we heard something strange. A buzzing sound. Not just a little buzzing though. A loud buzzing. I looked at Carolyn perplexed. “Do you hear that?” I said. Her eyes got wide and she said, “Yes, what is it?” We walked a little further and we came upon this sight. IMG_9112

So what does an old truck in the middle of nowhere have to do with the buzzing sound? Take a closer look.

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It’s a truck full of bee hives!

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Besides olive oil, wine, and truffles, Croatia is also known for its honey or “med” as it is called in Croatian. As luck would have it, we had stumbled upon a mobile apiary out in the middle of the Soline Forest area alive with a huge number of bees buzzing around it. The early blooming rosemary plants are one of the places you can find honeybees this early in the season in Croatia. So the rosemary bushes we had passed in the area may have been the reason the apiary was sitting there buzzing with hundreds of honeybees.  There is even a rosemary honey that is sold in Croatia, so I am interested in tasting it now.

But you are probably wondering why I made such a big deal about the wild pigs at this point. What about the pigs?

As we began to walk past the mobile apiary and take a picture of the view from the top of the hill I looked down and saw hoof prints. Hoof prints from wild pigs.  Walking a little further we came upon some brush and heard a low, deep growling sound. Whatever it was growling, it wasn’t happy with us. And it wasn’t a dog growling, I know what that sounds like. At this point, I have to admit, I was a little scared.  I’m pretty sure Carolyn was, too.  So we took off walking very fast back down the hill until we met up with the regular park path. We didn’t wait to see if it was a wild mama pig, or a wild daddy pig for that matter.  We had had enough excitement for one day.

 

The Place where Cookie Monster lives

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.

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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. pexels-photo-774316He 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.

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A Croatian boy skips along a stone bench in Pula with a New York Yankees cap on. Many Croatian children on the Istrian Peninsula learn English at a young age and most adults speak some English.

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.

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Carolyn and I with our new landlord, Edvard, holding the roses he gave us on International Women’s Day. He is another example of the kind people we have met in our short time in Pula.

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.

Searching for a Home in Croatia

 

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As we walked along the cobblestone sidewalks of Rome, I became obsessed with the massive and unique doors that faced the centuries-old streets. Some were brown and heavy with brass knockers; some were heavy black iron; some painted, peeling, and solid, while some were newly varnished and clean. One thing that they all had in common was that they made passersby curious as to what was behind them, and most importantly, who the many people were that had walked through their entrances throughout the years.

The doors became a symbol for me of our new adventure in Croatia and the difference sizes and shapes made me think of the choices that are available to us in our lives. Time and again, we try to open doors that are closed to us, and we hope the right one will open when we want it to.

So as we left Rome inspired and motivated to find a place to lay our weary heads for a year in Europe, I wondered what doors would open ahead for us in Croatia.

Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” ― Joseph Campbell.

We took the train from Rome all the way to Trieste, Italy on our journey to Croatia. We were met by our friends James and Carolyn Stewart, who had arrived ahead of us in Rovinj, Croatia, and they drove us through the mountain roads filled with olive groves and vineyards.

When we made the decision to live abroad for a year, we found we had kindred spirits in our friends James and Carolyn, who at the same point in their lives were planning to move to Europe for a few years. They had been to Croatia the year before and had decided that Rovinj might be ideal for our plans if we could find an apartment to rent.

For those who don’t know where Croatia is, think of the boot of Italy on a map and hop across the Adriatic Sea and the coast along it is part of Croatia. We were looking for an apartment on the Istrian Peninsula which is up around the upper part of the back of the boot.  (See map below.)

 

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Rovinj is quaint town on the Istrian Peninsula and is a magnet for many Europeans during the summer season because of its clear blue waters and limestone lined streets.  While this makes it an incredible vacation spot, it also made it difficult for us to find someone to rent us apartments on a yearly basis, as most just offered vacation rentals. And the few we did find wanted a price that was beyond our modest budget.

 

 

Our second choice, Pula, although a larger city had advantages because of its airport and railway station for easy access to European destinations.  Mike and I had already been in contact with a man named Edvard from Pula, who was tired of the constant influx of people with vacation rentals and was looking for long-term renters.

It was a match made in heaven; he liked us because we were “old” and probably not late night partiers, lol, and we loved the apartments and their proximity to the beach and marina (a 3-minute walk down the street).  Plus, like many of the Croatians we have met,  he was just a really nice person. We stayed in the apartments for a few nights and put down our deposit on the spot.

A door had opened.

 

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Finding the Right Moment

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One day it happened that there were no more excuses. Our kids were grown, my husband, 57, had retired early, there were no grandkids on the horizon, our house was paid off and we had something that had been missing for a long time in our rushed and hectic lives — free time.

We had always wanted to live abroad and travel throughout Europe, but there had always been so much standing in the way of that dream. Now it felt strange to acknowledge that nothing really was. Surely somebody would come along and tell us that we have to plan “this” or attend “that” or watch their dog or something. Nope. Crickets.

A friend of ours told us he and his wife had just gone to Croatia and were thinking of moving there when he retired. My husband Mike was already retired, so I thought, what are we waiting for?

“Are we really going to do this?” my somewhat skeptical husband Mike asked. I translated that from husband-speak to, “Can we really afford this?” “Yes,” I said. “And we can afford it, too.”

Packing up and moving to Croatia was not an easy decision, and it has taken almost a year to get to the point where we are almost ready to leave. We’ve budgeted and planned with our financial advisor, sold many of our extraneous possessions, researched locations and expenses, and fixed up our home to lease. We even had gutters installed. Why gutters? Not sure, that was Mike’s idea.

We decided on Croatia for several reasons; it has a relatively low cost of living by European standards, and it’s very accessible by bus and train to many places throughout the EU. The third reason and probably the most important to my seafaring husband (aka Captain Mike) is the country borders the beautiful clear Adriatic Sea and is prime sailing territory.

Our goal for our year abroad is to stay in Croatia for three weeks out of every month and spend one week in Europe traveling to places we’ve always wanted to see. Low cost airlines, buses and trains will be our primary means of transportation.

An important benefit from living in Croatia is that it allows U.S. citizens to obtain a year long resident permit if: they have a valid passport, can prove they have income to support themselves, have medical insurance, and can pass a criminal background check. Having this residency permit is important since many countries in Europe only allow US citizens to visit the EU for 90 days and then they must return back to the US for 90 days. Airfare back and forth from the US to Europe could bust many budgets, so it is an important consideration.

After the decision to live in Croatia was made, we realized we needed to find an apartment. Many of the beautiful coastal towns in Croatia have become prime summer vacation territory for Europeans, so trying to find apartments there at a price that fit into our budget proved to be a little daunting via internet. If we wanted to be able to travel for one week of every month, affordable rent was a must.

We decided to take a scouting trip to find an apartment thinking the rental managers might take us more seriously if we were there in person. We could check out a few cities along the coast and go from there. And although we had been to Europe before, we had never been to Croatia, so yes, I guess we needed to make sure we even liked the place.

After finding a low airfare to Rome and Venice, we jumped at the opportunity to scout out our new home. It helps that Venice is just a short ferry ride across the Adriatic Sea to the ancient cities of Pula and Rovinj in Croatia, our two top choices to make our home base. Both place are easily accessible by train, boat and bus from Venice. Pula has the additional benefit of having its own airport, but it is a larger city and not as quaint as Rovinj.

So Captain Mike and I took off in October of 2017 on a scouting mission to find our new home in Croatia.