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Archive for March, 2007

Today I visited the Zagreb construction fair; I went to this same fair last year as well so I was curious to compare the two as well as progress in general.

building-fair-zg07hr-jw.pngIf there was one word to describe this fair this year it would be “quite” and I think there was two factors that contributed to it. First that it is scheduled all week (Tuesday- Saturday) instead of Fri-Sunday that it was last year and that it coincides with the week after Easter and the Croatia Boat fair in Split. While I do not think it will affect the presenters that much as they are running their staff anyways and prospective buyers and dealmakers are going to go there anyways but the little guys who rely on the general public will really feel the pinch, it might pick up on the weekend but it is really boring to see just suits running around making big deals and everyone else just twiddling their thumbs for a week. Commercialism is here to stay but so does the divide of haves and have not-so-much even in this micro cosmos of building materials and trade.

One other noticeable difference was that the amount of money companies are starting to spend, the laptop displays are replaced with large plasma TVs and advertisers that were passing out flyers on roller-blades last year are now equipped with Segways. This may still be Eastern Europe and forever will be geographically but with all the building boom that is taking place this is starting to look like a gold rush from local, regional and international companies all trying to get a bite of this pie that it is kind of reminding me of the southeast Asian boom years of the 1990’s when I was over in Thailand, though it is here on a somewhat smaller scale given this market size and population is incredibly smaller.

zg-old-and-new-jw.jpgThe growing number of construction cranes in the Zagreb skyline and new houses being built are a good idea of the growing demand for building materials. I used to be mocked when I first came here 8 years ago and would tell people here that the best was just to come and Croatian was a “buy stock” so to speak, now it is very obvious by the amount of SUVs in the parking and international presence at fairs like this one that Croatia is an important market and the growing amount of “haves” want the best and are willing to pay top dollar for it.

Money can’t buy you happiness, it’s true, but it can buy you a new home and as a new country I feel that there are still people who are looking for that, sire there are those who just want a bigger and better one for no reason but there are still enough people without the basics that I feel this fair serves a good purpose in that it drives competition and prices down so that the hard working man can get a “better bang for his buck” or should I say “kuča for his kuna”. The amount of window companies and roofing tiles are just one example, from the traditional clay tiles to recycled plastic to stamped out coated sheet tin, in every shape and color imaginable you almost think we are talking about luxury goods but it is just roofing that every house needs, there are so many types and prices and dealers that you really need take your time but in the end this provides a fabulous place to find killer deals for every imaginable housing need without having to call and visit all the dealers individually and I do not see why there are not more private people here looking, I guess they are all at work being a weekday, and that is the unfortunate truth. Only the rich survive, and get good deals.

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8_autoslalom-1-ri07hr-jw.jpgToday I found out that there was an auto slalom event happening in Prilok, a small area on the outskirts of Rijeka. I finally decided to go down there and see what is was like, I heard there were a bunch of old cars racing so that was all I needed to walk down the hill and experience the event with a friend.

The key to this race being small and fast most of the cars were modified miniature cars from the 80’s among them the local Zastava 750, the VW Golf I, Ford Fiesta, Honda CR-X and the newer Ford Focus and others as you’ll see by the pictures and video clip. They closed this portion of the road off that is normally very busy despite its narrow and dated planning it serves to link Rijeka’s north side to Opatija via the seafront area called Prilok.

8_autoslalom-3-ri07hr-jw.jpgFrom what I saw most of the cars came from or belonged to car repair shops and garages or car enthusiasts that follow this circuit, they are street cars but must not registered and all striped out inside except for a bucket seat and roll bar, and a helmeted diver though I really think most of it is just for show or safety and that they really would not roll over or be in a high speed collision at least on this type of race. Engine-wise they are little modified and just in good running order and not drag cars or hotrods with NOS, just good clean fun driving.

8_autoslalom-5-ri07hr-jw.jpgWe were just in time for one of the heats and I took different video clips from different vantage points along the track. This was a slalom race meaning that like in skiing slalom they leave the gate one at a time and race the clock with judges at the different slalom points to mark if they knocked down cones etc. The race we saw was eventful in itself including one stalling and nearly hitting me when I was doing the curb angle low shots and another having to be towed back having died somewhere down the track causing the car behind him to have to re-drive his lap again and the retired diver getting cheers and applause from the audience while being towed back, wish I’d had filmed that too. Here are some pictures and my video clip.

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The starting line from above the hill that started the seaside windy drive, in summer it is a popular campground.

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The starting gate from the ground with the hills and old stone house in the background.

Here is the video with just a little bit of editing.

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Well the morning came way too soon for me today as I had agreed to accompany a friend on a trip to Crkvinica, a small town about an hour drive south of Rijeka.

After stumbling out of bed at 5:30am and a good cup of coffee we were off taking the state roads that wind around the coastline like a ribbon. I’m no stranger to this as I traveled most of this coastline from Dubrovnik to Senj and all the windy roads around in between (before the pay toll express road was built) but that has been a few years with only a couple visits to the coastal towns of Zadar and Šibenik during summer visits since.

bakar5-ri07hr-jw.jpgThis was nice “uncharted territory” for me and though a short trip it was a nice little experience and one of the first times to “live blog” the Adriatic coast with these pictures since this blog kicked off last August.

The reason or trip started so early was that we had to be in Crkvinica by 7:00 am to acquire fresh fish when the fishing boats came in to harbor in the morning. I’m not a fish fan but I do appreciate it as part of the Adriatic experience and loving the sea so much I have acquired an appreciation for it’s creatures too and barbequed fish on a open grill on the seaside is not really a bad way to spend an afternoon.

bakar4-ri07hr-jw.jpgThis particular part of the coastline is full of coves, peninsulas, strands and bays all woven together into a fabulous and enchanting interknit treasure of natural beauty but unfortunately not spared the scars of modern development and pollution as the industrial revolution and development during the socialist period placed industry and factories near and around populated and natural resources often imperiling the heath of both man and nature at the same time. One such example is the oil refineries in the heart of the city of Rijeka and other oil depots and smelters near the town of Bakar that we passed by today. This particular smokestack can be see from across the bay of kavarner on a clear day even from Opatija, nearly the 30 kn away and a disturbing backdrop for the old and historic boat building town of Krajevica.

All in all it was a great trip and I hope to be able to visit and explore more of it during my stay in Rijeka.

Some more pictures from the day

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Poison in Paradise- notice the gray sky coming from the smokestack and refineries in contrast to the picturesque blue sky and beautiful harbor and castle.

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The devil loves candy strips, though it looks like a candy cane it’s not so sweet but just as deadly.

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The Dry docks of Kraljevica, since 1729, and said to have been Tito’s first job.

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The town of Bakar,with the white line in the hill being the main road we were on and only the guardrail in the foreground from taking an unwanted “drop down” to the town.

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opatija-3-ri07hr-jw.jpgOpatija, truly a gem in the jewel-studded Adriatic coast. With the city of Rijeka being the main port of Croatia (and previously a main port and shipping artery in the former Yugoslavia once Triest was handed over to the Italians after WWII) Opatija became the place where the rich and industrialists went for peace and quite, just 12 kilometers from Rijeka it has long provied this service among locals and tourists alike as a nice get-away town for weekends or just a walk by the sea and coffee at a seaside café. In some ways it reminded me of what Trogir is to the other main port town of Croatia, Split, thought they are very different apart from that they both serve their larger cities needs for peace and fine dining in their unique way and historical treasures and architecture.

opatija-4-ri07hr-jw.jpgA friend and I decided we could no longer just look out at the sea but we wanted to see and feel it and walked along the coast just to smell the sea air and hear the waves crashing would have been enough to make our 5 km walk worth it but we also found quant harbors and old villas and alleys starting in Volosko and on into Opatija along the seaside that really made it a wonderful Sunday afternoon walk just wonderful. We did not make it to the heart of town, though I’ve been there before and will defiantly visit there again this was just a nice seaside walk and yes, (as I’d have it) exploring old abandoned villas like ‘Villa Irena’ that tragically looks like it burned down quite some decades ago (no signs that I could tell that it was ever electrically wired as a modern home) and all three wooden floors collapsed inside of itself. Surly it must still be worth millions with the grounds and location and the owners or city are presumably just waiting for a good offer for it and it will be restored to its former glory or better and serving as a hotel or private estate like it once was complete with seaside access and roman yard sculptures.

opatija-9-ri07hr-jw.jpgThis part of the coast is doted with hotels and these villas dating and named after the various ones who happened to be occupying it at the time built, you see names suggesting Italian, Germanic (Austro-Hungarian) and even Russian (though they never occupied), we even found an Albert Einstein street, and much of the architecture follows a similar pattern thought it also includes the much less glorious socialist era and strictly convenience styles that are just ugly boxes and built with poor materials but thankfully this town was spared the worst of it and is balanced out with many, many artistically created structures of the early 1900’s like much of this area.

I’ll end this with pictures from today of this beautiful place.

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The main road through town.

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Villa Irena

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Another seaside villa

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A castle of a place, currently a hotel.

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Shoring up success, a new villa to be.

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Jogging memories

This morning I woke up before 7:00 and went for a jog with another volunteer friend around the small allays and hill roads around where we stay near Rijeka. It adds a new level of difficulty ascending hills but it is good exercise and works different muscles then opatija-from-hill-ri07hr-jw.jpgI’m used to when I used to regularly run flat areas of Čakovec but just part of the experience of this part of the country. There really is something special about seeing the sun rise and to have the sun and the sea and wide open sky is really just magical and I almost feel bad that I’ve missed this beauty the whole month I’ve been here so far, I’m sure it will not be the last and that I’ll make this jogging thing happen every few days or so and maybe take my camera once to show here, I really feel lucky to be here.

After a shower I went up to the kitchen and our Croatian friend made boiled eggs and sausage (a typical breakfast here). It reminded me of the year I spent much of my time visiting the Croatian islands and staying in small private guest houses (Pentions) or government hotels that would serve that in the morning too though usually with a spot of mustered as well. I have a lot of memories, and I hope many more to come, I wish everyone could be here and experience some of these simple pleasures of life in Croatia too.

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Today I went for the second time to a club run by a local NGO for drug users and those who are current users and those rehabilitated to come and talk and relax and or see the on hand psychiatrist to help them with the many struggles associated with addiction and staying clean. I’ve just gone there mainly to listen and here their stories and talk to the staff who are very dedicated to helping these ones without being critical and condemning as I realize as much as you might just want to say “you stupid, don’t do that” once they are into heroin or other hard drugs it really does not help as it has to be their own decision and determination to quite and want to do more with their lives. It is agonizing to see, but they are all adults and have made those choices for themselves and have to want to change in their mind first, and when they do they are here to help.

I really do not know much about this at this time but am quite interested in this program as drugs is one of the biggest social problems in Croatia and particularly in coastal towns like Rijeka and Split. Some of my friends and I volunteer there every two weeks now and just converse with them to give them understanding and learn about them, some come from broken homes and bad childhoods, are single parents etc. no one I’ve seen yet was a current user smacked-out at the time but I hear at night or weekends (as it is a 24 hour center) it gets hard users on hard drugs that can be real intense even for the trained staff but that is life and the awful truth even in this paradise.

I’d like to help more and maybe accompany the staff one night or go on a needle exchange field operation to have more first-hand understanding of this program to better relate to those that come from this and what they are up against here in this city.

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freeclimb-ri07hr-jw.jpgI just got back from having my life flash before my eyes – twice in one day!

It all began like many an ordinary weekend day off and my mind started planning to finish some carpentry project I’d started the other day or maybe a walk along the seaside or old villages on the outskirts of Rijeka, that would have been an ordinary day – today was not going to be one of those days.

Someone walked into my room and said “do you want to go free climbing?” I hummed and hawed but really could not find a good excuse fast enough so I was drafted as the fourth man and we were off.

I’d heard of their hobby of free climbing and seen pictures, it seemed to make sense or at least they seemed to tell it that way as they do it often and for years now, that is where I start to differ, at least for now.

We got to the Vela Draga area part of the Učka Mountain and pretected park area. It was just fantastically beautiful, I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon but this must be a smaller Croatian version as these cliffs just look like some great water rush left the and agape in a unique way kind of like the tide does on a beach when the tide is out.

There is something about being 10 meters up and hanging on with your fingertips and toes that send reason rushing to your brain and you ask yourself “why am I doing this?” why did I not think of that when I was still on the ground and not hugging a rock for dear life?

freeclimb-2-ri07hr-jw.jpgWell it was an experience, I do not mind the height that much (I did not go that high up) but there is something unnatural about it, it is not our element, kind of like swimming yet we as humans seem to have a need to try to conquer it none the less.

I understand and actually loved the technique part of it like harnesses, knots, clips, being safety and being lowered down etc, and I see the practical uses for them in survival or rescue or just mountain hiking but as a sport I really do not see the thrill or purpose in hugging various parts of a mountain for 10-15 minute climbs just to come right back down again and go up another. To me that seems like those who high-dive just to get out of the pool and dive back in over and over, I just don’t see the point. I like some risk but not just for the sake of it, perhaps it will grow on me if I do it more but I’d rather water ski, hike, mountain bike or a variety of other sports then this again, there just does not seem to have a proper build up, delivery or pay off. I think I mainly did it because I respect the opinions of those I was climbing with but that is really not a good enough reason to me, I do not believe in being a follower just to win approval or be in, and never have, and I know they understand.

Overall I’d rate this experience a 10 just for the nature aspect and the learning experience, but if you were not born a gecko, don’t feel bad, just experience this wonderful place anyways if you have the chance.

freeclimb-3-ri07hr-jw.jpgWe meet many others that day also climbing including from Slovenia; I thought they had plenty of mountains but I guess not like these or that they still were worth the trip. One instructor with another group of first-timers said he goes to Yosemite Park and climes 350 meter climbs in two days, how can you ever be worked up about finding a parking space or the things we worry about here in this world after something like that and worrying about hanging off mountains from your toes for two days and perching your tent off harnesses on the cliff etc. I’ve seen it before in magazines and I think I’ll stick to that version of things for now.

The location was just phenomenal though, I’d love to shoot a music video out there as it is just total wilderness, there is a highway and rail line but these big cliffs and rocks jutting out of the ground give it a real awe-inspiring feel that would be nice to capture on video.

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