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Europe #9 - Cres Island, Croatia - September 15-16, 2009

May. 1st, 2011 | 10:48 am

* View all of Bethany's Photos of Cres
* View a selection of Dan's Photos of Cres

Our ferry arrived at the ferry port of Porozina on the island of Cres (pronounced "Tsres"), we disembarked and started off down the main road from the port. To get to our destination, Beli, we had to drive seven miles South-SouthEast and then practically make a U-turn and drive another five miles North. (See the extreme V on the map above. It's even better if you click the terrain button, to get an idea of the topology of the island.)

The main road we were on lead down the West side of the North-South running "spine" of the island. To the right of the road was a sheer cliff and to the left a rocky hill. The island certainly seemed undiscovered. We saw no development, the vegetation was sparse & scrubby and the land was littered with stones. When we stopped half way through our drive to look around, it seemed like we're on top of the world. The air smelled fantastic and I so wished for a way I could bottle it to bring back and share. It was clean, herbal and spicy. I'd never experienced such a spectacular scent.
view from turnoff to belibeli from afar

View fromTurnoff to Beli

Beli from Afar

The only traffic we encountered was a flock of sheep, though we did have a couple of cars following us (including an RV full of young Americans who humorously shouted "Get out of the road, sheep!" We found and parked near our lodging: Gostionica Beli. In Croatian, gostionica can mean inn or restaurant. Gostionica Beli was both-- a restaurant downstairs and rooms above. It made me think of fantasy (or historic) novels in which the characters are traveling, come upon a restaurant and ask for lodging for the night.

After securing our room we went on a walk of the town to acquaint ourselves, and, we were hoping, to change money since we were very low on Croatian currency, the kuna. (Fun fact, kuna is also the Croatian word for marten. It became the name for the currency because marten skins were used for money during medieval times.) The town was very small and isolated. The winter population of Beli is very small, about 30 people. The town looks as if it could hold many more, some of the buildings must have been empty. The loudest sound in the town were the sheep we heard baaing on the surrounding hillsides. It was almost eerie, as if the town were deserted. The only signs of human presence were the sounds of a few TVs and a group of women chanting in a church. The women chanting reminded me strongly of the monks we saw chanting in temples in Southeast Asia.
gostionica beli placematlambbrauten

Gostionica Beli Placemat


Unfortunately, we didn't find a place to change our money, so we returned to the gostionica. When we explained our situation to the waiter he surprised us by saying, "Euros, dollars, kuna, they're all the same-- I'll take anything!" He mentioned that many Beli and Cres expatriates have settled in the United States and that there are 2000 Cres-ians (?) in Chicago alone! We ordered the lambbrauten because we'd read that lamb is divine on these islands due to the sheep "marinating since birth" by eating the herbal shrubbery. (That must have been what we smelled on our way in!) Our laumbbrauten was very tasty-- tender lamb falling off the bone, served in a gravy and complemented by crispy potatoes, polenta and two raquetball-sized cheesy dumplings. When the waiter brought us the račun (check) he also brought two complimentary glasses of homemade šlivo (short for for šlivovica, a type of plum brandy), with a little chunk of fig in each. It was a drink to put hair on your chest!
Beli Harbor beli beach

Beli Harbor

Beli Beach

The next morning when I went to go take a shower there was no hot water. Not sure if that was a temporary problem or if they lack a hot water heater, but it made me appreciate how easy I have it at home, where I take hot showers every morning. We had coffee at the gostionica (no breakfast served), packed and got back on the road. Our destination was the Eko-Centar Caput Insulae, but we accidentally headed the wrong way. Instead we ended up at Beli's marina, located in a scenic cove with a campground/RV park next to it. Since there was a store we used this opportunity to buy a 'breakfast' of bread, grapes and cheese. We headed back the way we came and found the Eko-Centar.
dan's wingspan vs. the griffon vultures' Bethany at Eko-Centar Caput Insulae

Dan at Eko-Centar Caput Insulae

Bethany at Eko-Centar Caput Insulae

The center seemed deserted save one man in the courtyard smoking a cigarette. We asked him if we could eat our makeshift breakfast at the picnic table in the courtyard. He said "Sure" and offered to get us some coffee. We took him up on it and ended up drinking and talking with him for awhile. His name was "Wolfie" (short for Wolfgang) and he looked a little like Gerard Depardieu. He told us he's been volunteering here twice a year for about ten years. Before that he volunteered with turtles in Mallorca for 10 years. We asked whether he'll keep coming here to volunteer & he shrugged and said "Who knows?" When not volunteering he lives in Austria and works as a model for painters. Wolfie seemed to have mastered living in the moment in a way I was envious of.
griffon vultures Sheep Skull

Griffon Vultures

Sheep Skull

After coffee with Wolfie, we visited the center itself. The Eko-Centar Caput Insulae works to preserve griffon vultures. These vultures are endangered over most of their range. They live on Cres but are threatened by the poisoned bait farmers put out to kill foxes that prey on the sheep. The poison doesn't kill the vultures, but does make them sick; when they're found in that state, they're brought to the center and nursed back to health. We watched the currently-recovering griffon vultures through one-way glass. They are majestic brown birds, it would be a treat to see them fly. After we'd exhausted the center itself, we took one of the trails the center had built through the surrounding forestland. The forest seemed enchanted-- the trees were small & delicate and we looked down through them over the cliffs into the Adriatic. There were no people and no noise. Like our first day, the air smelled delicious. Occasionally we saw piles of sheep bones from carcasses that had been put out to supplement the wild griffin vulture's diets.
fairy forest sheep on trail

Fairy Forest

Sheep on Trail

When we returned to the center, it had been taken over by a group of kids from the American School in Zagreb. They were there to learn about the vultures and do volunteer work around the center. After we talked with the teachers and kids we fantasized for a bit about moving to Croatia and Dan getting a job with the American School in Zagreb, but alas, we haven't followed through with that fantasy (yet :).

After the Eko-Centar, we headed off the island and to our next destination, the Julian Alps of Slovenia.

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Europe #8 - Zagreb, Croatia -> Ljubljana, Slovenia -> Istria, Croatia - September 12-15 2009

Apr. 3rd, 2011 | 12:06 pm

* Bethany's Photos of Istria
* Dan's Photos of Istria

Saturday morning we boarded the train to Ljubljana and luckily found an empty window booth. Later we were joined by a retired Canadian soldier from Newfoundland. He had been part of the Canadian contingent in the UN peacekeeping efforts in the Balkan war and was now married to a Croatian woman and living there permanently. He talked to us about how complicated politics in the Balkans is. Sounds like the war allowed old wounds to fester and people took revenge for long-held grudges. He'd also fought in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Since Canada didn't send troops to the Iraq war he'd gone as a freelancer (I guess that's a mercenary?) He thought it was a shame Canada didn't participate in the Iraq war and wished Canada would use their military more frequently. We also learned from him that Newfoundland had only become part of Canada relative recently, in 1949. Before that it had been part of Britain. He seemed to take some pride in that fact and had a memorable tattoo on his left arm of a Union Jack with a caribou and the word Newfoundland. He wasn't headed all the way into Ljubljana, just over the border into Slovenia to pick up some Blistex for his wife. I guess Blistex is easier to buy in the EU than in Croatia? We said goodbye to him and enjoyed the rest of the ride into Ljubljana.

Dan with Coffee on Patio of Coffee Bar Bruno

Dan with Coffee on the Patio of Coffee Bar Bruno

To save money, we had taken the train from Zagreb, Croatia to Ljubljana, Slovenia (our first EU country!) In Ljubljana we rented a car and immediately drove back into Croatia to visit the Istrian Peninsula. From there we went South onto the island of Cres, then North into the Julian Alps, and eventually wound back up in Ljubljana. It was hundreds of dollars cheaper to rent & return a car in Ljubljana than it was to rent in Zagreb and return in Ljubljana. You can see our route from Zagreb to Ljubljana and the Istrian peninsula:

View Zagreb -> Ljubljana -> Istria in a larger map

When we arrived in Ljubljana we needed two things: a new currency (the Euro) and lunch. We found both in the city center: we got some Euros from a "bankomat" (Slovenian for ATM) and lunch at "the best Mexican restaurant in the former Yugoslavia": Joe Peña's. After lunch we rented a car and drove a somewhat scenic route along Slovenia's coast (tiny) & Croatia's coast (endless) to Rovinj. Rovinj was our home base for exploring Istria, the triangular peninsula in the Northwest of Croatia. Istria has been juggled back & forth between countries, most recently belonging to Italy from 1919-1947, Yugoslavia from 1947-1991 and to Croatia since 1991. Many people there still speak Italian as a second language and some elders speak it as a first language. It's a beautiful region, resembling Tuscany-- hillside villages, Roman ruins, truffles (fungi, not chocolate) but with the bonus addition of charming seaside towns.

Rovinj Apartment

Our Apartment in Rovinj

Rovinj, one of the most charming seaside towns, has a medieval core which is almost untouched and car-free. We stashed the car on a hillside and walked our luggage down to our apartment & settled in. That night we ate an open-air Italian dinner in a square near our apartment. We watched as kids frolicked around a demonstration fishing boat (out of the water, on the square). Afterwards, we strolled up the cobblestone "streets" to St. Euphemia's Church at the top of the hill where we gazed out on the small town and sea, pinching ourselves.

Cheesy Smile

Bethany at Golden Hour with Cheesy Smile

The next day, Sunday, we had designated as a rest day. We felt like we'd been going non-stop for awhile, and the excitement of Zagreb had put us right over the top; we needed recuperation. We started the morning with coffee from "Coffee Bar Bruno" complete with free wifi and a pleasant patio to sit on. The friendly proprietress seemed authentically old-style Croatian: hairy armpits, hairy chin and all. We spent most of the rest of the day in the apartment, alternately napping and doing laundry. During the golden hour, we escaped the apartment and walked around town snapping photographs. Somehow we ended up at St. Euphemia's Church again, maybe all paths in Rovinj lead to the church? We followed our photography session with dinner at a pizzeria near the marina, where we were accompanied by stray cats and seagulls.

Boats and birds

We planned to visit the interior of the Istrian peninsula on Monday, even though it had started raining. We set off northward first to Motovun, Mario Andretti's birthplace. (Though when he was born the town was named "Montana d'Istria" and it was Italian. His family migrated away from Istria, as did many other ethnic Italians, when it became part of Yugoslavia-- the Istrian Exodus.) The approach to Motovun is sort of magical, the hilltop village is so picturesque. Unfortunately, we weren't as thrilled while touring the village itself. Many people remark on the superb views from Motovun, but on this day, due to thunderstorms, the views were hazy and indistinct. We soon left Motovun and headed for another hilltop village, Grožnjan, which had been mostly abandoned by the 1960s but has since been repopulated by artists. We had more fun walking around Grožnjan, ducking into little art galleries and saying hello to random cats.

Comfortable Cats

Comfortable Cats

Impulsively we decided to have lunch in another village, Livade, at a restaurant known for their truffle-centric menu. It had started raining in earnest now and we drove carefully to the restaurant: Zigante Tartufi. When we arrived they seated us near a roaring fire which soon had us feeling nice and comfy. The service was great and the food, fantastic. This was Dan's first experience with truffles and happily he enjoyed them as much as I did.



From lunch, we headed East towards Hum, "the smallest town in the world", with only 20 permanent residents. Though the rain was really coming down, we traipsed around the small town under our umbrella and bought some mistletoe grappa that Hum is famous for. We stopped in the gift shop, but the power had gone out, so we didn't stay long. By the time we left, the thunderstorm had increased in intensity. We looked at the map and improvised a route home to Rovinj. Our route took us up on a small road to an isolated ridge top with driving rain, thunder and lightning. It felt like the end of the world. We kept following the road as it went down into a valley and dead-ended at a farm. As we started to turn around & go back the way we came, the farmer & his wife came out onto their porch to look at us, bewildered. I doubt they get many visitors, especially not in a crazy thunderstorm. This time we managed to find the right road, made it back to the freeway and back to Rovinj. After such an intense day we stayed in that night, eating leftovers for dinner.

Boat with Sun

On Tuesday we left idyllic Rovinj, though before we did we stopped and bought a pretty tangerine-colored dress for me. We headed off to Pula, the biggest city on the Istrian peninsula (unless you count Trieste), to see the Roman "Amfiteatar" (amphitheater). Unfortunately, we ended up driving in circles in Pula, unable to find the amphitheater or a tourist information center. We assumed we would probably be able to see the amphitheater and navigate by sight, but the Communist-style high-rises kept it from our view. Finally we asked for directions at a lunch counter (where we learned that the locals call it the "Arena") and soon found what we were looking for. By this time we were hungry, so we grabbed a quick lunch at a good spot, populated by locals, then headed back to the Arena. The Arena was pretty magnificent and amazingly it's still used for concerts! It used to hold 20,000 people, but over the centuries so much stone was carted off that it can only seat 5,000 people now. Nonetheless, it seems like it would be very special to attend a concert in a Roman amphitheater.

Bethany at the Arena

Bethany at the Arena

After seeing the Arena, Dan navigated us northeast on little roads towards our intended destination: the ferry port of Brestova, where we could catch a ferry to the island Cres. Along the roads we saw kažuni, small, circular stone shelters with cone-shaped roofs. These were traditionally used for farmers and shepherds in the fields. As we neared the coast we saw a remarkable sight: a huge coal power plant sent in a gorgeous inlet, Plomin Bay. We stopped at an overlook & marveled at the intersection of nature and industry. We set off again and soon arrived in Brestova, where we paid our fee to get on the ferry and joined the long line of cars waiting for the ferry to arrive. While we waited we gazed out at the island Cres, which was so close it seemed swimmable. We bought some ice cream as a treat and looked in vain for a phone where we could call ahead and secure a reservation in Beli, the town we were headed to on Cres. After awhile the ferry came, we drove on and secured the car. Then we went up on top and enjoyed the view as we crossed, though the gray cloud cover made the world seem a bit grim.

Dan at the Arena

Dan at the Arena

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Europe #7 - Zagreb, Croatia, September 10-12 2009

Mar. 30th, 2011 | 10:45 pm

When last we left you, it was mid-afternoon Thursday, September 10th and we'd just departed from Plitvička Jezera and were headed to meet Dan's friend, Vjeran, in Zagreb. It was a little stressful trying to get there on time due to rain, rush hour traffic and an unfamiliar city, but we managed.


Vjeran with one of his zines

Dan knows Vjeran through his college years at the University of Arizona. Though they didn't meet at the university, they had mutual friends and shared a common interest-- making zines. Vjeran was born in Croatia but moved to Tucson with his professor parents at a young age. Vjeran ended up getting a graduate degree in Slovak studies at University of Washington and then moved to Zagreb, Croatia's capital and largest city, to do further research and teach. When we planned our trip to Croatia we hoped to visit with him and happily he offered to let us stay at his place and give us a tour of Zagreb.

Meet me at the Horse's Tail

"Meet me at the horse's tail."

After meeting up successfully, we put our stuff down at Vjeran's apartment, made some small talk, then headed out to meet up with some of his friends. We didn't take the direct route though, first we grabbed a slice of pizza, and then we stopped at an art gallery opening. Much of the art seemed to be related to the Yugoslav war. It was interesting to be in such a sophisticated, metropolitan crowd, but to feel like a rube because I could understand so little. After the art gallery we joined Vjeran's friends at a open-air cafe located in one of the many pedestrian-only public squares in the Zagreb. Dan and I really appreciated these car-free, people-centric zones.

Lovely Zagreb

Vjeran asked his friends to speak English so Dan & I could participate-- it made me feel uncomfortable to impose like that, but I appreciated being able to communicate. I spent most my time talking with Marina, who's lived in Zagreb her whole life. There seems to be much less mobility in Zagreb, perhaps due to conservative values and/or lack of money. Marina spoke about how it was semi-scandalous for her and a female platonic friend to move out of their parents' houses and in with each other when they were in their late 20's. I got the impression women were supposed to live with their parents until they got married, though I'm guessing that might be changing with time. We were all having a good time, but the cafe closed and some people left because they had to work in the morning. The rest of us walked to a bar, Caffe Bar Cica.

This Rakija will Rock Ya'

Vjeran with rakija at Caffee Bar Cica

Caffe Bar Cica seemed very hip-- it was in an atmospheric alleyway in the old part of town. The tables were old washing machines that had been painted gold. Everyone was drinking rakija, a fruit-based liquor. I talked to Ivan, who had a summer home on the island Cres (pronounced "Tsres"). I'd been thinking about visiting Cres so I asked Ivan all sorts of questions, which he patiently answered. Eventually we wound down and Dan, Vjeran, Vjeran's friend Sasha and I headed for Vjeran's apartment. On the way, we heard all sorts of interesting facts from Sasha. He was arrested while protesting the renaming of the "Victims of Facism Square" to the "Croatian Heros Square" (they eventually prevailed and it is again the Victims of Facism Square). He was actively working on getting a street in Zagreb named for Charles Darwin. He told us that the Croatian government tithes money to the Catholic church in return for the church supporting the idea of a Croatian state. He also showed us the building his grandfather, who was the head of the glassmakers guild, built. Sasha was a fascinating character to me. After we'd split ways, Vjeran described Sasha as something of a dilettante; he said that Sasha doesn't have to work in order to live (inheritance?) and chooses to spend his time pursuing whatever activities interest him. What a life!

dan and kuna

Dan showing off his kuna (Croatian money) at the pastry shop

On Friday, Dan & I woke up before Vjeran and wandered out to a cute cafe where we enjoyed pastries and coffee. When we returned to the apartment Vjeran was up and ready to give us our tour of Zagreb. We saw official sites like the train station and foreign embassies, as well as informal sites like Vjeran's old apartment. :) After lunch we visited the old town, very picturesque and home to many of Croatia's government buildings. We walked up a hill to Gornji Grad, "Upper Town", where we gazed out at Novi Zagreb, "New Zagreb". Novi Zagreb seemed to be comprised of characterless concret apartment buildings that seemed emblematic of the socialist/Communist era. Next we toured through the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There were many worshippers and we were careful to be quiet as we walked around. Vjeran explained the different symbols and statues that decorated the church. We benefited from Vjeran's unique point of view-- he's an expert in Croatian history, but grew up American. He seemed like he could present both sides of every story or conflict. For example, many of the symbols and statues in the church represented Croatian nationalism. From what he told us it seems that Croatia's existence as a nation has been a tenuous proposition and a lot of the politics is about justifying itself as its own country.

Woman at Zagreb Cathedral

We returned to the apartment and split ways. After Dan & I had packed up to leave the next morning, we decided to visit Zagreb's famous cemetary, Mirogoj. We had to take a tram to the suburbs to get there so it was a little bit of a pain in the butt, but it was a beautiful cemetary. We strolled around admiring the graves (some of them in an Art Nouveau style (my favorite)) and took lots of pictures. As it grew darker we realized we needed to leave so we could find our way back. Unfortunately, somewhere we took a wrong turn and couldn't find the tram we had came in on. We started walking back on suburban roads towards the city and bickered about what we should do. At a cigarette stand we asked how to get back to the center and they kindly advised us to take the next bus. Whew! Crisis averted.

Wall at Mirogoj Cemetary

The wall that borders Mirogoj Cemetary

We got off in old town Zagreb and since we were hungry we considered eating at the first restaurant that we came to. As we were studying the menu, Sasha walked up out of nowhere, recognized us and said hello. He was on his way to pick up a newspaper for which he'd written an article for, so he could see how it turned out. He told us there were better restaurants down the street so we parted ways. Dan and I ended up eating dinner and people watching on the patio of a brewpub.


After dinner, we returned to Vjeran's apartment to pack up our stuff. A couple of Vjeran's friends, Katerina and Luka (male), came over and Vjeran asked if we all wanted to play a drinking game. I hemmed and hawed (didn't I quit playing drinking games years ago? :) but ended up joining in. We were soon all tipsy on Karlovacko beer, which came in a super-classy two liter bottle. Some of the best moments in the game were having to say "Oh yeah baby" while you drank, only being able to draw a card while holding 'Squeaker", the inflatable dolphin, wearing the redhead wig with braids and playing with a cloth Spiderman doll which sang songs. Though Vjeran & his friends went out to a bar after the game was done, Dan and I chose to go to bed instead, to be fresh for our travels in the morning. "Stanko", the inflatable moose head, watched over us as we slept.



Saturday we woke up early, stopped at our pastry cafe from the previous morning, then walked to the train station and boarded a train for Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Stanko, Squeaker and Me

Stanko, Squeaker and I

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Europe #6 - Plitvička Jezera, Croatia, September 10 2009

Mar. 6th, 2011 | 08:04 pm

Though we were headed for Zagreb from Split in our rental car, we first had a stop to make: the gorgeous Nacionalni Park Plitvička Jezera (Plitvice Lakes in English). The road to Plitvička was pretty, but also stressful. I'm a scaredy-cat about passing into oncoming traffic and on these small European roads, it's often necessary. Dan kept encouraging me though and we made it there safe and in decent time.

sign to plitvice lakes national park

We ate lunch at a full service restaurant in the park. The food is good but service is slow & it's semi-expensive (captive audience). After lunch Dan called his friend Vern to find out what time we should meet him in Zagreb, our next destination. He wanted to meet around 6pm, so that didn't leave us much time in the park.

fish in water

So, we started off! What makes Plitvička Jezera amazing is the spectacular clear blue water of the lakes. It looks like a swimming pool! It also reminded us of our visit to Kuang Si Waterfall near Luang Prabang, where the water was also clear & glowing blue. Both the Kuang Si Falls and the lakes are caused by the deposit of travertine (a type of limestone) which build up into ledges & dams.

me at plitvice

We started hiking around the lower lakes-- I could see the individual scales on the fish. (No fishing allowed though!) The water seemed to be coming from everywhere, falling over multiple cliffs in tendrils. It was high tourist season, so there were many people on the paths. I desperately wanted to see the upper lakes, which Rick Steves says are even more beautiful than the lower, and I assumed less populated by tourists, but we ran out of time. I would love to go back sometime & stay at one of the hotels close by so we could take our time exploring.

fish in water

I was sad that we had to leave but Dan swooped in to comfort & calm me. My knight in shining armor. Soon we were back on the road to meet Vern in Zagreb!

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Europe #5 - Split, Croatia, September 8-10 2009

Jan. 31st, 2011 | 08:57 pm

Split! See all of my Split pics here & see all of Dan's Split pics here.

We boarded a mini-bus from Dubrovnik to Split. It's a long ride, sometimes beautiful. I remember getting nervous watching the Croatian driver jaw on his cell phone while he navigated the narrow two lane highway along the coast of Croatia.

Smartly, Dan had already secured an apartment in Split-- a small but serviceable place that included wifi. The woman who rented the apartment, Suzi, kindly picked us up from the bus station & drove us to the apartment. She brought her two little girls: Lorena & Laura; it was fun to try to make conversation as they didn't know much English and we knew hardly any Croatian!

After getting settled in we walked around Split, through the green market and along the Riva (a long promenade facing the ocean & a popular gathering place.) We found the restaurant we were looking for & waited for a seat. We ended up at a communal table next to a Quebecois man & two young Canadian women from Sudbury, North of Toronto (the women & the man were traveling separately). The Quebecois was interesting to talk to but extremely opinionated. After he left the Canadian women told us he's typical of Quebecers, whom they described as opinionated & brash. The ladies were in Croatia on a long weekend from London, they're working in London as "supply" teachers (substitute teachers to us Americans): I guess there's a shortage in London. They'd also visited Reykjavík earlier that year-- we loved how fun & adventurous they were.

The next morning whilst trying to make breakfast we found that the single serving "butter" we'd bought to fry eggs was actually a cube of coagulated oil/vinegar blend. Not our preferred morning flavor! We shook our heads at our mix-up & hard-boiled our eggs instead.

After breakfast, we went sight-seeing. Split is a nice seaside town, but the main reason we were there was to see Diocletian's Palace. The Roman emperor Diocletian built the palace as a summer home between 295 & 305. After Diocletian died, various owners came & went, but eventually the locals took it over. They converted the palace into apartments and businesses. Diocletian's mausoleum was converted into the Cathedral of St. Domnius and the Temple of Jupiter became the Baptistry. It's fascinating to see the layers of history built on top of each other and the re-use of structures (unlike our era where we often blow up old buildings & create new ones from scratch.)

dan and john the baptist
We'd played with the idea of trying to see one of the Dalmatian islands, but by the time we'd finished our stroll, it was too late. We salvaged the situation by taking a nap to catch up on sleep. :) After our nap we enjoyed a meal of (gulp!) pretty good fajitas & margaritas at the Black Cat Bistro. We entertained ourselves during dinner by eavesdropping on the expats' conversation next to us.

The next morning we negotiated a rental car from Hertz and headed towards Zagreb!

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Europe #4 - Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 6-8 2009

Jan. 20th, 2011 | 10:05 pm

Dubrovnik! Click here for my whole photo set. Click here for Dan's whole photo set.

In Mostar, we boarded the bus to Dubrovnik. There weren't any seats available because a group of seemingly well-off Belgian (or French?) teenage girls had commandeered two seats a piece so they could nap. We shamed them into giving up some seats so we could sit together. The coastal scenery was fantastic but the sun beating through the windows made the bus too hot to be comfortable.

Once we arrived in Dubrovnik, Dan maneuvered us onto the right city bus to get to Old Town (aka Gradske zidine).


Old Town is basically a walled city within Dubrovnik, surrounded on two sides by the Adriatic Sea and on another side by a mountain. The streets are paved with white stone and after centuries of being walked on the stones are fairly slick-- I wouldn't want to be there in the rainy season. Many of the residential areas, including our room, are built into the hillside & there are numerous narrow alleyways of steps that lead to them. No cars are allowed, which makes it feel idyllic. Though the number of tourists has skyrocketed compared to Bosnia, which was a small shock.

dan & i at buza

There was some stress upon arrival because we hadn't made any reservations for lodging. Luckily the tourist office came through and found us a great little room for a reasonable price. After our full day of travel & logistics, we wandered off to Cafe Buza to relax & watch the sunset. Every trip to Dubrovnik should include a visit to Cafe Buza. Cafe Buza was built on the outside of the city walls, clinging onto the rockface and hovering over the sea. You access it by finding the little wooden sign that says "Buza" and following it through an opening in the wall. There's no food, but plenty of booze & Euro-rock on the stereo. There's a platform for people to dive into the sea and we watched someone do it. The perfect way to spend an evening.

dan & i at beach

After a night of no sleep due to jetlag, we headed off the next day to the beach, which meant leaving Old Town. We had a great time swimming in the warm, clear water & people-watching. I even did as the Romans do and went topless like the other European women. The rest of our day we spent visiting a compelling photo gallery featuring war photojournalism (War Photo Limited) and strolling around the city at golden hour, taking pictures. Of course, we ended up at Buza again at sunset. :)

Another night of no sleep, but I doggedly got up early so that I could walk the city walls. Dan slept in as he had already walked the city walls on a previous trip to Dubrovnik. The walls offered great views, but I was a little ragged so I couldn't fully appreciate it.

After I returned, we packed up and headed back to the bus station to catch a bus to Split.


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Europe #3 - Mostar, Bosnia y Herzegovina, September 6 2009

Jan. 16th, 2011 | 12:05 pm

bombed out buildingWe woke up early Sunday to catch a train to Mostar. We ordered a taxi and piled our luggage in. Unfortunately, our taxi driver didn't speak a word of English and we could not find the word for train in Bosnian. We made fools of ourselves trying to mime trains and tooting "choo choo" which obviously did not translate. Eventually we got smart and found a map of the city & pointed to the train station & we were on our way. (I blame our slowness on the early morning & jetlag. :)

Many of the train cars were donated by other European countries-- we were in a car from Sweden. The train traveled through the Bosnian countryside and ran alongside the beautiful blue Neretva River which drains the Dinaric Alps. We saw many more bombed buildings and some entirely bombed out villages.

When we arrived in Mostar, we pur our luggage in a left luggage station & went to explore. We weren't sure if we wanted to stay a whole day there or not. The main site in Mostar is the "Stari Most" aka "Old Bridge", an awesome stone arch bridge over the Neretva River originally built in 1566. Sadly, the original bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the war. At the free museum you can watch a video of the the bridge falling. You see the bridge covered in netting and tires in an attempt to protect it, but the shells keep hitting it and eventually it crumbles and falls in the river. Watching the deliberate destruction of the bridge made me sad and misanthropic.

stari most

In 2004 the bridge was rebuilt and now you can walk across it (it's surprisingly slippery!) and watch young men dive from the bridge into the river (78 feet drop!) We wandered around town a little bit, and grabbed a bite to eat. One thing we noticed in Bosnia that reminded me of our experience in Southeast Asia: the silverware is suprisingly lightweight. I take our weighty silverware in stride, it's good to be reminded of our relative wealth/good luck by something so basic.

restroom signThe vibe of Mostar didn't invite us to stay so we went back to the bus station and bought a couple of tickets to Dubrovnik. This bathroom sign cracked me up-- it's so 80's businesswomen! The best part is that you have to pay to use the toilets and (like Southeast Asia), they are not Western-style sit-down toilets, they are porcelain squat toilets.

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Europe #2 - Sarajevo, Bosnia y Herzegovina, September 5 2009

Jan. 16th, 2011 | 10:31 am

* We arrived in Sarajevo safely after a hair-raising flight from Munich over the Alps, complete with thunderstorms. We arrived Friday night and spent Saturday sightseeing. View all of my Sarajevo pictures here: Sarajevo pics.

* We walked through Old Town in a rainstorm, which made it seem desolate. Many tchotckes for sale, some Communist era items, stuff with Tito on them and Nazi paraphenalia. Later, after the rainstorm ended, more people appeared and Old Town came alive.


* Lunch at Dveri: goulash with some fantastic salted bread. We watched kittens scamper around on the see-through roof above us.

* We see mosques and women with head scarves-- my first experience in a country with a sizable Muslim community. We also see scantily clad women, there's a lot of variation.

* The cemetaries are numerous & sobering. Some cover vast tracts of land and others look like someone converted their lawn into a graveyard. Most gravestones are dated 1993 - 1996, obviously from the siege of Sarajevo.

* We see many damaged buildings. Some buildings are under reconstruction but lots of buildings remain half-destroyed or at least display an "acne" of gunfire wounds across their faces.

* Dinner of cevappi: sausages, buttery cheese & sauteed onions all stuffed into a flatbread-- nom!

* People are friendly but also seem somewhat on edge. I wonder if the edginess comes from living through a fairly recent war.


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Europe September 2009 #1 - Introduction

Jan. 16th, 2011 | 10:19 am

In September of 2009, Dan and I took a trip to Europe starting in Bosnia, then through Croatia & Slovenia, visiting Venice and finally Munich. I've finally edited the pictures down to a reasonable amount (160 out of 1270) and want to share them.

I'd also like to share some notes about each place we visited-- not a real travelogue but just to give some of my thoughts. I'll be posting the pictures here: http://bethanyjane.smugmug.com/Travel/Europe-2009

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Bridezilla #3: A Week Out

Apr. 23rd, 2010 | 08:16 am
music: Birdsong

double rainbow at farmSorry it's been so long! We're a week out (basically) from the wedding and here's the latest:

* I have not yet received my wedding dress.
* It looks like it might rain on our outdoor farm wedding (fingers double mega-crossed that we manage to have sun or clouds, not rain).
* I'm working on a civil but direct email to a vendor I feel somewhat misled by.
* We have four DIY projects to complete before next Friday.
* It feels like there are still a thousand details to take care of.
* Dan just left for a four-day bachelor party in the desert. (Have fun Dan!!)

There's a lot of stress (good & bad) and potential for me to be a monster. Somehow, so far, I don't think that's happened.

* I'm overjoyed at the thought of getting married to Dan in a week.
* I'll be disappointed if we have to use our rain plan but I still love the venue we're getting married at and the date we'll be married on (May Day!).
* The way we've worked together as a team on this wedding makes me excited about and confident in our future marriage.
* I love our DIY projects and I think others will enjoy them too.
* One week and two days from now we'll be on the beach in Mexico (I wonder if it's raining there too? :)

Every blog post is better with a picture, so I'm including this one of a double rainbow at the farm. Credit & more info on photo here.

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