Monday, August 29, 2011

Also Seen

In the airport, on the way to Croatia. What does it mean? Area reserved for handicapped, blind, and deaf, of course, but what's the second picture? Reserved for bi-racial couples? For thespians? It's a mystery. Please weigh in with votes/alternate suggestions.  That's what the comment box is for!

The theme song for this vacation, discovered at the beginning of the trip, is "Grace Kelly" by Mika. No, it has nothing to do with Croatia, other than we first heard it here and have been playing or singing it obsessively throughout our trip. Play the video if you want a boppy little pick-me up!

Found in Zagreb. I was wandering alone, at the time, because I was too pissed at Anthony for letting G get hurt playing on the gym equipment.

 I just like this restaurant name. Reminds me of all that wonderfully awful English used in Asia.

Proposal for Croatia's official motto: Not Known for Our Cafés, But We Should Be!  This country makes France pale in comparison.  First of all, there are cafés everywhere, even more than on the streets of Paris.  Ironically, sometimes it is actually hard to find food, because entire cafés just serve coffees, beers/wines, and soft drinks.  We particularly love seeing 70 year old ladies with enormous steins of beer.  I couldn't drink a whole pint at one sitting unless you time warped me back to college (and paid me -- I never did like beer!) , but here it's the purview of every schnook and granny.  (I know.  After that one, you need a big beer...)  But even more amazing, to us at least, is the seating.  Truly, you have never seen such beautiful café seating anywhere in the world.  About 90% of the cafés look like they've been staged for a Restoration Hardware catalog.  The other 10% look like Pottery Barn. 

Hoteliers take note: All you need to appeal to the younger crowd is a breakfast buffet and a hot-chocolate dispenser.


Am I the only one immature enough to think this looks like the "Hotel Saliva Spit?"

Speaking of maturity: This is what happens when cameras are left in the hands of 6 year olds...

The one Croatian word we all learn and enjoy saying can be seen on every exit sign in the country.  "If ever a wonderful iz there was, the izlaz is one because because..."


And with that, we izlaz Croatia and head back to Paris? over to Paris? Well, anyway, we head to Paris to start our new life there. More about that at

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Husband Makes Me Want to Throw Up, and Other Thoughts

My Husband Makes Me Want to Throw Up.  Literally, that is. When faced with an island offshore to Dubrovnik, Anthony decides we will all kayak out there. He really lays it on thick: This is the one things he wants for himself in this vacation -- physical exertion and adventure, so how can I refuse? We pair me with Pippa, under the assumption that even though Gigi would be a stronger paddler, they will both be nearly useless out there, and Pippa is lighter for me to cart around in the double kayak. Anthony enjoys himself tremendously, but I am unable to go far enough around to get to the port, so we just pull up at a small dock and swim instead. I find it a slog and am feeling a bit woozy, though not as sea-sick as Gigi.  It really does not look far, but it turns out to be a bit choppy, against current (both ways? is that possible?), and not so easy.  For me, and for 6 and 7 year olds, at least. For Anthony, it's a breeze. Still, there are moments even I can appreciate, looking up to the fortress walls on the cliffs. Very impressive.

(An aside: Some of you may remember the story about when Anthony and I were dating, and we went sea-kayaking outside of Monterey Bay on a whale watching trip. I got horribly seasick and ended up vomiting in my own lap, mostly because I knew for a fact that if I turned sideways and aimed into the sea, Anthony would take a picture of me. How was I so sure he would do that? One of Anthony's prized photos -- up on his refrigerator, and taken by his brother Jeremy -- showed him in mid-stream, projectile vomiting off a boat in rough seas. We saw no whales in the open waters. But as soon as we re-entered the calm bay, my stomach settled immediately and a huge gray whale surfaced just meters from our little kayak, so close we could see the colors on his barnacles.)


I have come to realize that we are not so much a family as four people with drastically different motivations who all happen to sleep in the same hotel room. Anthony, as you know now, wants adventure and activity. I want cultural experiences and walking around villages. Pippa wants to eat treats and play. And Gigi wants to go into every souvenir shop and figure out what she can buy with her birthday money. The fact that we all enjoy our vacations together is rather startling.

Late this afternoon, we walk the ramparts of the Old Town of Dubrovnik. It's quite a hike for the girls, up and down the serpentine wall. In my mind, this is a near-perfect activity: it's cultural and architectural for me; there is running, playing, climbing, and hiding in the sentry posts for Pippa; it's a lot of stairs and resembles exercise for Anthony. All we need to do is buy a souvenir along the way, and it's a vacation hat-trick.


This place brings history to life. In the war in the 1990s, sentries stood guard up here, on these ancient, crenellated ramparts, to protect Dubrovnik, just as their ancestors did a thousand years ago. You can see the sections of new roofs, where the bombs took them out.  The canon in the photo, below, however, is of the much older variety.  And in other photos, you see what the generations do to each other when given the chance.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Of Sand and Sun

Fish Picnic day in the Elefati islands off the coast of Dubrovnik has its own unique charms.  The first island, Koločep, has boulder beaches, but just look at the photo: It's not about the beaches, it's about the water!  I should add that not only is it swimming-pool clear, it is also swimming-pool warm.

We also tour a quaint town on the island of Šipan.  We don't eat here, since we have just eaten fish picnic lunch, but we do, of course, snag some ice cream. 

And finally, we hike across Lopud island to see one of the country's more famous beaches -- famous because it has actual sand and is, therefore, what we could call a "real" beach.  After painfully walking over pebbles all week, we're all looking forward to it, but possibly not enough to justify what turns out to be a long, hilly walk across the island.  When we get there, the sand is practically invisible, as the thin strip is covered from water to wall with lounge chairs, which you must pay to use.  We would pay to use one, except that we have accidentally come on Fish Picnic day with almost no cash, and nobody on a remote beach in Lopud Island is going to take our plastic. 

The reason the beach is sandy is that it faces just the right way in terms of wind and currents to have waves lapping up on shore.  You can see the difference in the photos above: "beach side" with waves, and "harbor side" completely calm.  So though the sandy beach is a bust, we make the most of the water.  The girls and Anthony try body surfing for a while, and I just bob up and down in the swell.  It's swell.  Sorry. 

People are staring at our family like we are aliens from outer space.  That is because it is a 97 degree heatwave, and we are wearing long-sleeves.  Those of you in the States, especially West Coast, will immediately realize that we are wearing SPF shirts.  The inverse/perverse porportion being that the hotter and sunnier it is outside, the more we cover up.  We have sunhats, too.  It's a real look, I tell you.  Meanwhile, the Croatians and other Europeans are topless, with skimpy bikini bottoms (yes, women and men).

We have saved our scant cash for the return across the island, having counted just enough to get a ride on the golf-cart taxis that ply the island's narrow pathways.  It's a real roller coaster, with P sitting on my lap, unbelted in the front seat, and is therefore especially fun because we know in the States, this would be overregulated, hypersafe, and completely devoid of the adventure of nearly falling out of the open side on a particularly sharp and fast turn.

Dirty Looks

Dubronik is where people from all over Europe want to go for beach-time, summer-time, and party-time, especially in August.  So besides the fact that everything is a good 50% more expensive than it would be in July or September, it's also not surprising that the Friday and Saturday night promenade along the waterfront is something of a scene.  Everybody else is decked out in dresses (women that is; the men are schlumps).  If the people here are shoe crazy on a normal day, you can imagine what Saturday night looks like.  One woman notices my Keen water sandals (see Shoes, Shoes Everywhere posting...) and gives me a dirty look.  Lady, you're offended by my comfortable footwear?  You're standing next to a woman who's 6 or 7 months pregnant, and chain smoking!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Oops! We're in Bosnia!

The bus ride to Dubrovnik is clean, cheap, efficient, and almost completely uneventful. Excellent for transportation, not so great for storytelling.   The only thing we find fascinating, is that we accidentally end up in Bosnia and Herzegevona, not realizing that there is one narrow strip of that country you must cross to get from northern to southern Croatia. Having no inkling that we would be entering or exiting nation-states, we have left our passports packed in our luggage, in the hold below. Fortunately, this border check is on the mild side. The guard hears our American accents, shrugs, and moves on to the next person. Too bad. I would have liked a stamp in my passport. 
Dubrovnik, our last stop of the trip, is probably also the most famous. We are actually staying in Lapad, out by the beaches (well, "beaches", as it were). We get there just in time for a swim at sunset, and to discover that the pebbles on this beach are perfectly polished and multi-hued. Quite lovely, and impossible not to pocket just a few of our favorites. Orange and green seem to be the most coveted.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cultural Enrichment of a Different Sort

Our last day in Trogir, and we make the most of it. We ferry over to a local beach (a.k.a.pebbles and cement docks, but with an awesome view). There, the girls discover the joys of the Banana Boat and Anthony, the joys of the jet-ski. It's sort of the antithesis of a day spent appreciating nature, or ancient history, but boy is it fun! The girls are screaming for joy the whole time, which makes it fun for everybody. We're all thrown off once (having requested the "get dunked" ride), but on one of the twisties, only little P gets thrown off the boat. Anthony and I are sitting there laughing, knowing she's OK, but a young Texan on the banana boat immediately jumps off the banana to help her. This act of chivalry is not lost on her, and not only is she not upset about being the only one thrown in, she seems quite pleased with the attention and really enjoys her "damsel in distress" rescue. And then, to top it off, on the ferry back to Trogir, the girls are invited to drive the boat -- and not just for the photo, but for a pretty big stretch of water (thankfully, not into the harbor itself...).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fish Picnic

One magical day in Trogir, we go for a "Fish Picnic" which is what they call a day spent on a boat, cruising around the islands, in the Adriatic, with a picnic lunch of fish.  It's large, fresh grilled sardines, with the bones still in.  The girls think the taste is OK, but hate picking out the spines, which makes sense if you're used to salmon steaks from a grocery store.  There is also the ubiquitous Croatia salad: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and something like a cole slaw/sauerkraut hybrid.  Let's call it sauerslaw.  It's not the most exciting salad, but at least it's vegetables.  Naturally, the kids try their best to avoid it. 

But it's not the picnic that's magical, it's the scenery.  Specifically, the water.  We are first dropped off for an hour or so at the beach of one of the islands close to Trogir.  The beach itself is, like virtually all Croatian beaches, not what we think of as a sand beach.  Rather, it's the idea of a beach: any place the water touches the land, it's a beach!  Even if, like here, it's made up of rather large pebbles.  Some would call them rocks.  Once you can get your tootsies past all the ouchiness, the water is bath temperature, calm, and crystal clear.  It's salty enough that I float pretty much vertically (internal marbled fat?  NFDs -- Natural Flotation Devices?), and I can clearly see my pedicured nail polish.  When I say crystal clear, I mean like a swimming pool.  Only better.  We spend most of our time on a trampoline docked out in deeper water, jumping, flipping, and diving, then scrambling back up and doing it again.


But the best part of Fish Picnic day is after lunch, when they anchor the boat out in water that is perfectly calm, warm, and azure.  We are allowed to jump off of the roof of the boat, probably 15 down into the water.  The girls cannot get enough of this, of course.  There is a moment when everybody is getting tired and has stopped jumping, they are all back on the boat, and I take a while just to swim out alone in the water.  I have the sun on my face, and I am utterly conscious of what a perfect moment and perfect day this is.