home sweet (home away from) home again!

I arrived in Zagreb on Tuesday, and spent some time sightseeing as well as meeting with people from the American Embassy (regarding Fulbright benefits/expectations) and from RIT’s campus in Zagreb. On Friday, I flew from Zagreb down to Dubrovnik. Because it was a domestic flight on Croatia Airlines, where I don’t (yet) have mileage status, the excess baggage fees would have been prohibitive–and it turned out that for less than the cost of the baggage fees, I could book a first class ticket and bring my bags at no charge. No-brainer. It wasn’t particularly luxurious; it’s only a 45-minute flight, the first class seats in Croatia Airlines plans are exactly like the ones in coach, and the only obvious difference was that they served me my Coke Zero in a glass rather than a plastic cup. As promised, RIT had sent their usual taxi driver to meet me, so that I’d pay their standard (much lower) fare, and the driver would already know what address to go to and have the landlady’s phone number.

Steps Up From ApartmentMy biggest fear about my arrival was that I’d need to lug my two 50-pound suitcases down the ~75 concrete steps from the high road to my apartment by myself in pouring rain. (The picture to the left is looking up from my apartment door.) But I’d forgotten how gracious and generous people here can be. I started by offering to double the fare if the taxi driver would help, but he refused to take more than a modest tip, saying that of course he would help. Then my landlady’s husband came up to meet us, and insisted on taking one of the heavy bags down himself. So I ended up having to carry only my computer bag down the stairs (and, as an added bonus, it wasn’t raining!).

The apartment is exactly as I remembered it, and I am so very glad that I was able to come back here. The sense of familiarity and home-away-from-homeness is helping enormously in combating the homesickness and loneliness that I can feel creeping up around the edges. Last time I was here both the boys were here, too, and I wasn’t in a relationship–this time I’ve left behind a lot of people that I love, and that’s going to take a bit of a toll. Being able to text and video chat with Scott helps a little, but I miss his presence terribly.

Because it was still early afternoon, and my landlady wasn’t scheduled to come home and greet me until 4pm, I ventured down the nearly 500 steps from my apartment to campus, and said hello to the familiar faces there. I also picked up my office keys and some important paperwork, unpacked my boxes of game design supplies (which I’d shipped via diplomatic pouch, a nice perk of being a Fulbright). The desk that I chose in the office I’ll be sharing with Zack Butler (from RIT’s computer science department) was occupied last semester by IT professor Debbie LaBelle. The funny thing about that is that when we moved to Rochester back in 1997, it was her house that we rented and then later purchased. I’m hoping that’s a good omen, and that my temporary occupation of her desk here will lead to a long and happy connection with RIT Croatia!

After I left campus, I stopped by the nearby Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, which has a nice gym and pool, and which offers a three month membership for 1100 kuna (~$160). Since my apartment has a tub but no shower (and a very small hot water tank), I’ll have some incentive in the morning to head to the gym first, get in a workout with the weights, and then take a long, hot shower before heading off to class.

First Dubrovnik GroceriesThen it was back to the apartment…by bus, because I wasn’t yet ready to tackle the long climb up! Gordana was home, and offered to take me on an initial grocery shopping trip by car, which I gratefully accepted. She’d done the same thing in 2013, but this time the store was familiar and not overwhelming! I also had a good sense of what I’d need for the first few days, and was able to easily pack it all into two handheld shopping bags to carry back down the stairs to the apartment. What’s on my necessity list? It’s all right there in the picture. (Not shown are the things Gordana had left for me in the apartment, including bottled water, bread, and butter.)

I had a light dinner of delicious salami and bread, with wine to wash it down (and a few spoonfuls of the local nutella-style spread for dessert), and slept better than I’d expected to. (It’s been hard adjusting to sleeping alone…)

first-morning

On Saturday, I woke to sunshine, and this view from my bedroom. Rather than the cold, gloomy, wet weather I’d braced myself for, I had sunshine and temperatures near 60 degrees for the day. I had a leisurely morning with the Dunkin’ donuts coffee I’d brought from home, and music streamed over Spotify to my little Logitech mini-boom speaker. Then I headed out to run errands. First stop was a bank near my favorite grocery store. As a Fulbright scholar, I will receive a monthly living allowance from the Croatian government, but it must be received as a direct deposit to a Croatian bank account. Setting one up as a foreigner is a non-trivial process. Happily, RIT Croatia had already taken care of some of the initial paperwork necessary, including my Croatian identification number. It still took quite a long time to set everything up, and the amount of paperwork was staggering (though not surprising, given what I know of Croatian bureaucracy). From there, I walked along Gruž harbor down to the Dubrovnik bus station, where I bought a 20-ride pass (150kn, a big improvement over the tourist cost of 15kn/ride or 30kn/day). I anticipated pushback on purchasing the pass, since it’s intended for residents only–so I planned ahead and had gotten a letter from RIT (in Croatian) explaining that I would be teaching here for five months. They still said no at first, but I’ve learned to be persistent, and eventually they sold me the pass! I mostly try to take the stairs to and from the apartment, both because it’s quicker and because it’s healthier. But when it’s pouring down rain, those steps home turn into a veritable waterfall, and on days like that taking the bus home seems reasonable!

Then I headed to the closest thing Dubrovnik has to a department store, where I picked up a few items for my kitchen. (Because there’s a lot of tourist turnover in the apartment over the summer, many things I’d bought two years ago have already disappeared–including wine glasses, a dish drying rack, and a muffin tin). Finally, I stopped at RIT to pick up some of the books I need for course prep this weekend, and to take advantage of the higher-quality internet connection to have a video chat with Scott. Then I climbed the steps home, arriving just in time to see the sunset that’s at the top of this post!

I spent a little time triaging email, and then headed back out to the Old Town to meet the two sign language interpeters who are here this semester for dinner. We ate at one of my favorite restaurants (and one of the few open in the off season), Taj Mahal. (It’s not an Indian restaurant, despite the name–it features Bosnian cuisine.) We had a wonderful meal, and spent several hours eating, drinking, and talking. My first meal out in Dubrovnik two years ago was also at Taj Mahal, with RIT colleagues who’d been to Dubrovnik before, and it was nice this time to be the one giving tips and advice!  After dinner I’d planned to take the bus home, but I missed it by 5 minutes, which meant it would be nearly an hour until the next bus, and then 15 minutes on the bus to get home. So instead I climbed the stairs again, making it home in less than 20 minutes, and nearly guaranteeing a good night’s sleep! (It’s a good thing I packed those smaller clothes, too, because I suspect I’ll need them sooner rather than later…)

Today isn’t quite as warm and sunny, and nearly all the shops will be closed, so I’m spending the day at home, getting ready for this week’s classes and enjoying coffee, music, and the beautiful view through the glass doors in my living room. If it warms up this afternoon, some of my work might even happen out on the balcony. And tomorrow, the teaching begins!

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