Tag Archives: croatia

Kindness #indie30

Another prompt from BootsnAll’s 30 day indie writing project: kindness.

I have encountered so much kindness on my travels…

1 – After spending a day hiking the Petito Moreno Glacier, I busted my knee but good. Self diagnosis: Knee brace! So that evening, the owners of the b&b where we were staying no only gave me several ice packs but taught me the word for knee in Spanish. At the pharmacy, the lovely ladies kicked the male pharmacist out of the back room and they patiently helped fit me.

Yes, I was in the back of the pharmacy with no pants on as these women were checking to see which brace would fit me best. They also helped me walk around the pharmacy which was probably no bigger than a small New York City studio apartment to ensure that I purchased the right medicine…thankfully the spelling of ibuprofen in Spanish is very similar to that in English. The pink liquid with the cartoon on front was the dead giveaway that it was for kids…just what I needed.

2 – I did need the ibuprofen and knee brace for the horse back riding we would be doing later that day. I had never ridden a horse before, and certainly never attempted to ride a horse with a busted knee. I was very nervous and I asked one of the women at the b&b if I fell or hurt myself that she would join us in the ER. She agreed. Thankfully she didn’t need to and I survived. Just knowing that we would have back up in the ER for my Spanish made me feel a little better.

3 – In Croatia, we were heading to hike Plitvice Lakes National Park on the only rainy day of our trip.

We met a couple at breakfast in the kitchen of the b&b who had hiked the park the prior day and were heading out to their next destination. The boyfriend and I had not even thought about raincoats, and this couple easily handed over their plastic ponchos to us.

The unexpected kindness that one encounters on travels certainly adds to the experience and the memories. Sure, we still got soaked, and yes, I was still petrified of landing in an Argentinian emergency room but the unexpected kindness that one experiences is never forgotten, as it becomes part of the story from the adventure.

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Mistakes #indie30

And so I continue the BootsnAll 30 day writing challenge…prompt four, mistakes.

Arriving on the Croatian island of Hvar on an early morning catamaran from Korcula, our minds weren’t thinking straight. Nor did we realize what a small and friendly island we were on.

The boyfriend and I arrived on the island of Hvar early and tired and a bit discombobulated. We couldn’t locate the printout that had the name of the b&b and the owner’s name and phone number where we were scheduled to stay for two nights.

We knew it was just stored in an email and we stopped at an internet cafe but couldn’t log onto the particular email account where the info was stored. Every other website in the world seemed to work except the one we needed.

Thinking we could wait it out to see if we could get back online, we decided to get our bearings with breakfast at a small cafe on the waterfront. The fresh air and the views helped us forget our ‘problems.’

(Since we were too tired and just enjoyed the views from the cafe, this photo below was taken on an afternoon hike our second day on the island. that U shape as you look down below from the stone walls that surrounds the water is the main square of town with restaurants, bars and shops lining that U shape. The water taxis are lined on the left, the catamarans from the larger islands dropped us off at the end of the left, the sailboats on the right were mostly privately owned. And you can follow the path in either direction for a beautiful walk along the water.)

Filled with exhaustion, deliriousness, excitement and the urge to explore and not wanting to carry our bags around all day, we stopped into a hotel – which was so far out of our budget, we laughed. We then found another hotel that was more within our budget, and in the center of town.

We stopped back at the internet cafe just to see if we could pull up the email with the information, with no luck. We checked the review of the hotel on TripAdvisor and the reviews were ‘good enough.’ Oops.

We walked back to the hotel, made a reservation for one night, dropped our bags and were hopeful that would be able to log on and  get in touch with the b&b for night number two. As it was only now about 8am, I told you these catamarans left early!,we couldn’t get into our room until lunchtime.

To make the most of our morning, we walked around the harbor, walked through a park, swang on swings in a playground and ate an early lunch at the Hvar morning market (which we went back to on day 2 just for the cheese stall lady). We also made a reservation with a sailing trip for later in the day.

We checked in to the hotel, changed into bathing suits and headed out for the sailing tour, were told to wait on the pier in the wrong place, our mistake probably, but in any case we missed the sailing trip and got our money back. We then headed out to the water taxi line, and found out that the taxis could take you to even smaller islands for hiking, sunbathing and food and drink. We chose not to get off on the popular island that everyone else did, and headed to a smaller, and less touristed island that our captain told us was his personal favorite.

It was a rocky island with lots of opportunities to hike and relax. There was one outdoor restaurant on the island, and everyone seemed to know each other. Instead of lounge chairs, there were big sandbags thrown on the rocks that replaced lounge chairs. From personal experience, I can say they are so much more sleep friendly than your regular lounge chair.

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and we were picked up by b&b woman and her husband. Once there, I was sad to realize that we’d only have one night with this family. Not only were they lovely, our room and bathroom were immaculate with amazing views from above the island. Not so from the ‘hotel.’

On top of that, the wife told us we should have gone to the information center (which we did in order to get a map) and asked for her phone number (she worked there). Duh!

Smack self in head — small island, info center, locally owned b&b…<smack>.

While this wasn’t a horrible mistake, it was still a regret. When I do get back to the island of Hvar, I know where I will (and won’t) be staying.

Another ‘mistake’ where hindsight is 20/20. If you are choose to island hop throughout Croatia — travel from the north to the south, not reversed. And then double check those schedules to know what you’re signing up for! The catamarans heading north (which we were) depart once a day in the wee hours of the morning. If you travel north to south the catamarans leave late afternoon. Waking up early to catch the only boat of the day adds a fair amount of stress to vacationing! But in exchange for those early wake ups, seeing the sunrises from the Adriatic Sea during our three early morning rises were absolutely and utterly stunning.

Even though I saw these as ‘mistakes’ it’s really insignificant and important to put things in perspective. If we had checked in upon arrival, we may have not met the cheese lady. If we didn’t take the early morning catamarans, we wouldn’t have seen the sunrises. If we took the sailing tour, we wouldn’t have found the undiscovered island with the great lunch and the sandbag filled lounge chairs. And if we didn’t stay in the ‘hotel’ before the b&b, well, um, no, that was definitely a mistake!


BootsnAll Indie Travel Project #indie30 Music

I have been following along BootsnAll’s 30 days of Indie Travel Project. I’m hopping in a little late but I am going to start with day three – music! Here goes:

There were several men dressed alike who were making beautiful music in Split, Croatia. The crowd enjoying their music grew and grew and one of the guys pulled me from out of the crowd and started to serenade me!

The music echoed off the walls that surrounded part of the town. We bought their CD and when we listen to it, it brings us back to a warm and sunny September day in the ancient Roman city of Split.


Passport pages

I have a beef with the newest passports. I recognize this is not a problem in the grand scheme of the world, but since it’s my blog, I just want to point out something that the printers should fix in the next go-round.

While I think the photos on the pages are beautiful and representative of the United States of America, the pictures are too dark.

Some of the stamps I have received are so very light. It’s not that  haven’t thought about asking a customs agent to please ensure they refresh the stamp with a hit on their inkpad, it’s just that I would never do it. But something like my Bosnia-Hercegovina stamp is something really cool to me, and the darn thing is just barely visible.

Granted how and where* I got the stamp is a cooler memory than some ink on a page, but still. WAAAH!

* Our guide was driving us from Dubrovnik into Bosnia-Hercegovina to visit a town called Mostar, with a few stops at smaller towns along the way. We were crossing the border from Croatia into Bosnia-Hercegovina with a local, two Americans and two British passport holders. It was a lovely country road with beautiful scenery on either side.

As we approached the non-descript border we noticed a little shed on the side of the road. The border agents came out, our guide explained in one of those languages that his passengers wanted stamps. Our driver and the border agents all had a laugh and the border agent left for some time and came back with four stamped passports. Obviously mine was stamped first or last because it had the least ink. Not really a situation (I don’t think there is any situation where this would be appropriate) where I can ask him to restamp it please.

Just before we had arrived at the border, one of our travel mates had to ask the driver to pull over on the side of the road to vomit. The roads were winding and she got carsick. We had a laugh a little later, because had she timed it right, she probably could have puked on the border. No passport stamp could be more memorable than that!


The Haimish Line

I had never heard of a Haimish Line before reading this New York Times article but after reading about it, I totally understand it.

This article points out the exact reasoning of why I enjoy staying in locally owned bed and breakfasts, and try to partake in locally owned business for tours and activities. It’s all about the local experience and the truly familial feel.

Do the boyfriend and I remember Malania and her husband, the owners of  the B&B in Arenal, Costa Rica and their kindness? Do we remmber Malania’s husband, who spoke zero English, who kindly drove us to his favorite restaurant down the road from the B&B in the pouring rain (because we didn’t yet have a rental car)? Yes.

Do we remember Alejandro, Marta, Elda and Elda’s husband at the family run B&B in El Calafate, Argentina? They repeatedly brought me fresh ice for my knee after my glacier hike and told me the word for knee so I could get a brace for my aching knee. Do we remember how Elda kept telling me I would be fine when she was booking our horseback riding excursion, and not laughing when I asked her if she would come to the hospital if I happened to get hurt? Do we remember being dropped off by the Alejandro’s brother (Elda’s husband) at the airport, not just at the curb, but inside at check-in where there were hugs and handshakes and tears? Only my tears, but still. Of course we do.

What about having breakfast in the kitchen of the family, with the family, in Monteverde, Costa Rica where Reina, the mom, easily handed the boyfriend their baby daughter while she made our eggs…straight from their neighbor’s chickens. Again, yes.

What about Zoran who picked us up in Dubrovnik and drove us to Bosnia-Hercegovina, with one other couple from London in his family’s van? He took us to a local restaurant, did the ordering and introduced us to local Bosnian fare like burek (amazing doughy goodness stuffed with cheese or sausage or spinach) and cevapcici (spicy sausage sandwiches with a red pepper paste).

 

 

Zoran was our own personal guide and because we were such a small group, he was able to take us to see several towns along the way to Mostar. He spoke about the turbulent history from an extremely personal perspective (to be fair, everyone we met in Croatia that spoke about the war, had a very personal perspective). And as he handed over all of our passports at the border, he knew we all (well three of the four of us – guess who was indifferent) coveted a stamp from Bosnia, so he asked Border Patrol in the local language to stamp each of our passports, which they did.

What about Ana and Ralph at Delta Unplugged in Tigre, Argentina? We had an amazing day with them at their home and on their boat. In fact we are still penpals.

What about the feeling at some of the wineries on the Finger Lakes where they treat you like family, and not just another taster? Yes agains.

And what about Bube and her mother in Dubrovnik? Her mother, who spoke a few words of English, was the only one there to greet us after our 13 hour expedition to get from Newark, NJ to Dubrovnik, Croatia by way of a race through the airport in Frankfurt.

Bube’s mother showed us to our cottage where we dropped our bags, and then she brought us up to her roof, for an amazing view of Dubrovnik.

Once we realized that the walk up 300 or so steps (cars were not allowed where we were going) was absolutely, positively worth it, she asked us “Drink?”

After spending ten minutes with this lovely woman, we realized that her English vocabulary was limited. Wanting to make this as easy as possible I replied, “Water?”

She replied “Beer?”

And that was that! Yet another resounding yes.

These are just a few of these memories that make me smile. You don’t, typically, have these experiences in hotels where you are one of hundreds of guests. There are very few fond memories from my time staying in hotels. Do I remember the kindness and the hospitality they had? Yes, of course. But do I remember those memories as fondly as these truly personal touches of kindness and local hospitality? No, of course not.


Bear with Me

Good thing we had this rental car!

At Plitvice Lakes, (click the link to see a collection of Google Images – the place was seriously amazing), the boyfriend and I were staying at a small lodge. We had arrived a little on the late side and hadn’t eaten since lunch so we were starving.

We were told the nearest restaurant was about half a mile away. We were told it was walkable, and after being in the car for several hours, we had decided that it would be nice to walk.

What we didn’t realize that there weren’t any sidewalks and we had to walk on the side of the road all the way to the restaurant. This wouldn’t have been bad on its own but because this was a bit in the middle of nowhere, okay, it WAS the middle of nowhere, there were very few street lights (read: one or two for the duration of our walk) and we were certain that oncoming traffic would have a problem seeing us. There were lots of tall trees, making every little noise or animal movement that much more amplified.

What we didn’t anticipate was hearing the locals at dinner tell us about the prevalence of black bears in the area. We were in the land of mountains, forest, waterfalls and lakes, so it made sense.

At some point during dinner I had decided that there was no way I was walking back to the lodge. After going back and forth with conversation that was along the lines of … him: I’ll handle the bear, you just run and me: are you crazy?, the boyfriend told me that he would walk back alone, get the car and come back to pick me up.

When he left, what I didn’t anticipate was how nervous those few minutes would be. What if he got attacked by a bear? How long do I wait before I get worried? What the heck am I supposed to do? Then, more practical questions like , will they speak English at the hospital? What will our families say? How would I return the car?

Thankfully he made it back with the car in a reasonable amount of time, picked my scared ass up and we headed back to the lodge together, without a bear sighting.


Cruze-ing in Croatia

One of the great things about traveling overseas is discovering things before they come big in the States. Or, seeing something in the States that later gets introduced overseas.

This post is about the former.

While traveling throughout Croatia in September 2010, the boyfriend and I found ourselves in Split (ok, I had planned it that way). We had started our journey in Dubrovnik and were working our way north to fly home through Zagreb. Prior to arriving in Split we had already traveled on the Adriatic Sea on…

a Jadrolinija ferry (seen in the distance in this photo) that was like a no-frills cruise ship.

 

a Krilo Jet catamaran – seen here…

 

and various city buses, mini vans, car taxis, water taxis and our feet, thus far.

Now that we were heading inland, the boyfriend and I wanted to rent a car to get from Split to Zagreb. The Split-Zagreb leg could have been done by bus or train but we wanted to stop at Plitvice Lakes in the mountains where public transportation was spotty at best.

In fact, we were told that if at all possible, to avoid taking buses around that part of the country because service was unreliable, and missing one bus could leave you stranded for a day or two. If we did get stranded, there would be no car rental agencies in the Plitvice Lakes area so hitchhiking to Zagreb would be the only option. That option was immediately nixed by my boyfriend, so a rental car it would be.

We had arrived in Split (via the Krilo Jet catamaran) from the island of Hvar around 8am. We ate breakfast and before setting out to explore Split, we had to secure a car for later that afternoon. Mind you:

1 – we hadn’t made any reservations and this was only the start of shoulder season
2 – we would need to return it in Zagreb, making this a one-way rental – more difficult to secure at this time of year we were told
3 – we wanted to leave town around 4pm.

Either way, the world wasn’t going to end if we weren’t able to rent a car. We could have spent the night in Split to wait for a car, or rerouted ourselves for the last few days of our vacation. If it was that big of a deal, we would have made a reservation. This is why it’s called traveling on the fly! It’s fun, and it allows room for spontaneity. You just need to realize your ‘ideal’ plan may not come to fruition. But if it does (and this time for us it did), it feels like quite an accomplishment. Sometimes you have absolutely no control over the situation and you really just need to go with it.

Anyway, we wanted to try to see if we would be able to secure a car, so off we went. We showed up, unannounced, at a rental agency, expecting that this would be easy. After all it was the off-season, and we didn’t need it until later that afternoon. Um. Not so easy.

Our fifth, and final, stop happened to be the only rental car agency that had an available car, later that day, that could be used as a one-way rental. We signed the paperwork and said we’d be back in a few hours to pick up our wheels.

Fast forward. We return to the rental agency and the guy told us that he had a few cars from various carmakers on his lot, but thought it would be amusing to give his only American car, to the Americans.

I was slightly saddened that we wouldn’t get a European car. I had grandiose dreams of speeding down Croatian highways in a Fiat convertible because when in Rome, but whatever. We were lucky to even have a car at this point.

So we settled into our Chevy Cruze, which neither of us had ever heard of before, waved back to the guy who got us a car, and headed out on the highways of Croatia.

Months later, we see prominent billboard advertising for the Chevy Cruze in Times Square, and elsewhere.

We had enjoyed our ride, and clearly others, here in the States do too – as the Cruze was the best-selling compact car in the US in April 2011.

And we tried it first.