Please weigh in, agree or disagree, thoughtfully and respectfully. Ferocity and passion are encouraged; disrespect is not. Thank you for reading, and seeing this as a conversation rather than a monologue.

August 15, 2010

Revised itinerary

And so I have come to Berlin. This wasn't planned, but it seems to be a good place to have landed. I am waiting, at a small cafe called Butter, for a potential German language instructor who answered my ad on Craig's List. Somewhere along the line, before I even landed here, I decided that I would stay as long as I could, get to know a great city well, and try to resurrect my high school German. I am staying with my friend John, an old neighbor from Oakland, who lives here half of the year. He has been kind enough to offer me the use of his flat while he is gone for the next three weeks. So I have time and opportunity to settle in, see the sights, and see what it's like to live here. And I can consider what this long, strange trip is about anyway.

One of the first things I have noticed and liked is that a LOT of Berliners ride bicycles here - a fact that is best substantiated by being on a sidewalk around 5 PM when work gets out. The other thing I like is that I have yet to see a single bicyclist wearing anything other than street clothes. No special equipment or clothing is necessary. Makes me a little embarrassed by my biking wardrobe.

Another thing I like is how well-organized the mass transit systems are. In contrast to every other city I have visited on this trip, in Berlin you never have to guess at which stop you are arriving. If it is not announced verbally or on a lightboard on the train or bus, there are large signs at every station. There are also color-coded maps listing every stop and connection for the train system, and the maps of Berlin that are for sale do a good job of showing the same. In short, whether you are a visitor coming here for the first time or a Berliner going to a new part of the city, the uncertainties are kept to a minimum. And if you ARE unsure of something, Berliners are happy - happy! - to be of help if they can.

My only minor complaint is the difficulty in finding a place to log on. My Lonely Planet guide said WiFi is everywhere, but I have not found that to be the case. When I DO find it, it is either not free or requires a code, which means sitting at the coffee shop or restaurant, ordering something, and then asking for the code. That gets expensive, so I am going to investigate the cost of a mini SIM card and a monthlong subscription so my iPad and I are always connected.

The church bell ringing goes on forever here on Sunday morning! The weather has been cool and fresh since I arrived, and I have slept with the window open every night, only reaching for a blanket the last two nights.whether rain or church bells, everything sounds good coming with fresh air through an open window.

August 1, 2010


I have to say that, so far, I'm not feeling the love.

There are exceptions, of course. The young folks at Daily Fresh this morning were quite pleasant and seemed to have good senses of humor. But as I was walking down the avenue, from the main square (trg in Croatian - take THAT, spell check!) to the train station, I walked past one woman whose look translated as, "what are YOU doing here, you fuckin' fuck?", and another who pressed her lips togeher and shook her head as I walked by, as if she KNEW there were times when I returned my library book late and forgiveness of the debt - indeed, even payment of the debt - would never remove the blight I had visited on the world just by being here.

These encounters are common here in Croatia, and even more common in Bosnia. Perhaps Balkan folks are just kind of . . . curdled. Perhaps it is the result of the troubles they have endured in the last three decades. It isn't only a generational thing: I was sneered at by a clerk in a bakery in Sarajevo.

Regardless, these encounters make the good encounters much more satisfying, like working up a serious thirst before slaking it. The van driver who took me from Plitvice back to Zagreb - who resembled George Clooney in profile, by the way - was great fun as he explained places we were passing and complained about other drivers in his rudimentary English. He showed me a picture of his family, and as he referred to his wife or girlfriend he called her, with unself-conscious sincerity, his "darling."

The architecture oozes Zagreb's long and difficult history, the cafes are comfortable aeries to watch people move through their lives. But I cant say that I'm getting much in the way of warm fuzzies. And let's not even start with the weirdness at the Catholic cathedral yesterday (Jesus is apparently deeply offended by the appearance of womens' deltoids.). But the grilled calamari with marigolds made it all mostly worthwhile, except for this morning's sourpusses. Tomorrow, off to Belgrade, Serbia.

- John

Location:Pavla Radića,City of Zagreb,Croatia

Because I Need to Know If McAndrew Is Full Of It