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Archive for the ‘Europe 2012’ Category

The London I

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Tomorrow, after seven weeks in the UK and Ireland, I head back to France then Italy.  Then home.

Right now I am in London.  And let me tell you, I am totally and completely enthralled with this place.  Because London is expensive it never made it into my plans, but now that I have been here, I don’t see how I cannot come back really soon.

I love cities.  Love them.  I love small cities, I love big cities, I love kind of beat up cities, I love cities that look like fairy tales.  So I knew I would love London, but what I didn’t know is I would be walking around for five straight days with my mouth hanging open from the awesomeness of it all.  London is an all-beat-up fairy tale.  Peter Pan meets Bomb Damage.  Yes, it is awesome all right.

I have walked.  Walked and walked and walked.  Yes London is quite spread out but I have this weird tic where I think I can walk everywhere.  So my first two days, Saturday and Sunday, I walked myself out.  I must have walked at least ten miles each day, maybe more.  Later in the week I got a little lazy and only walked five miles a day or so. I went to the National Portrait Gallery where I looked at paintings of the Tudors and also the Olympic athletes and even the people who are putting the Olympics on – like the caterers.  Really cool photos of caterers.  The National Portrait Gallery is so big that I couldn’t see everything in one day – I had to go back.  But that is OK and you know why?  It is because ALL THE MUSEUMS IN LONDON ARE FREE.  FREE.  I love, love, LOVE when the museums are free because I truly believe that art is for the people and if the museum is free, obviously more people are gonna see the art.  I would gladly pay more taxes for free museums.  Plus all the museums have really great bars in them, where you can get a glass of wine looking out over the rooftops…

I’ve eaten LA street tacos in a hip place called Wahaca, while trying not to tell the couple next to me you don’t eat tacos with a knife and fork.  I listened to Big Ben ring 5 o’clock, and the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral which rang like there was a royal wedding or something, and for what seemed like hours.  I tried to stand completely still for five minutes in a room full of Rothkos at the Tate Modern, but failed.  I’ve walked in crowds where I thought I would go crazy and alone down medieval streets in the old Roman part of town.  I drank in the oldest pub in London and at the top of a tower.  I looked up a lot, at the architectural styles of several centuries, sometimes on one single city block. I am even entranced by the ugliest post-war architecture here, which means that we are still in the honeymoon phase.  “Wow, that is really ugly!” I say to myself happily, skipping down the street trying not to run into someone texting in front of me.

St. Paul’s, viewed from bar at the Oxo Tower, is surrounded by this ugly/beautiful architecture.  I could not take my eyes off it.  A shaft of light broke through scattered clouds and St. Paul’s lit up in the most glorious way imaginable, shining like some kind of rosy colored beacon in the middle of all these drab office buildings.  Hundreds of people work down there and they also drink down there because the all the pubs – and there are a ton of them, let me tell you – are all packed at 5 PM.

The paralympics are going on, and there was a real circus at Piccadilly Circus on Sunday.  Acrobats, tightropers, kids dancing around on balls, a woman floating around under a giant balloon.  London has done a fantastic job with lots of free events, like the circus and also many places to watch the games on giant screens around town.  And if you are trying to figure out how to get somewhere, there are legions of helpers in pink vests who are there to point you in the right direction.  I can’t stand and stare at a metro map for more than 20 seconds before someone in a pink vest approaches me to ask if I need help.  Even if I could figure it out on my own, how awesome is it that someone is there to help?

There are so many museums here, so many parks, so many pubs, so many perches to sit and watch people walk by.  I had five days but I need five weeks, maybe five months.  So, its on the radar – a longer stay here, in this most amazing of cities.

A week in Ljubljana

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Slovenia is not on most people’s travel wish list, and I arrived there a month ago with little understanding of what was in store.  I met up with my friends Deborah and Dan there, and Deborah did most of the planning.  So I showed up not really knowing what to expect.  My first stop (not theirs, they spent time in other parts of Slovenia before meeting up with me) was the capital city of Ljubljana.

Our apartment was in a huge building with wide hallways.  The hallway leading to our apartment was eclectically furnished with various statues, wine making equipment, old newspapers, dog bowls, and many other items.  Our landlady is an actress, and the apartment had a lot of cool stuff in it.  It didn’t feel like a rental – it felt like staying in the San Francisco apartment of a really hip friend.  Only in Ljubljana, where the wine is way cheaper.  This statue was in our hallway:

We arrived during the hottest week of the year, and this hallway was like an oven, until late in the week when two days of constant thunderstorms and rain cooled it down.

Our first night we went out and walked along the river, which is lined with cafes and bars.  Every single cafe, every single bar, was packed.  It was Saturday night and it seemed like every person in Slovenia, much less Ljubljana, was out that night.  The next day we went to an antique market and to the castle on top of the hill. When we were at the castle, we went to the restaurant up there for a drink, and saw what others were eating.  I was sure it would be expensive, but after checking out more of the castle and realizing we were starving we went back there to eat something. It was not expensive – it was, in fact, pretty cheap. We ate a local fresh cheese with chopped up fresh herbs on top, local sausages, a tasty homemade ravioli, and some crepes.  WIth wine and beer it was something like forty dollars for three of us. Our waiter was very young, and served us because the regular waiters were all finished with their shift.  He was so sweet and personable.  I will never forget him or that lunch.

That night was the Euro cup final, so it is a good thing we loaded up on food, because we were in for a night of drinking at a local pub with a lot of Spanish students and maybe five Italy fans.  We had made a reservation, which was a good thing because the place was totally packed.  It was also insanely smoky in there.  Slovenians, like Croatians, smoke like chimneys.  I am such a woos when it comes to smoke these days but I managed to make it through and Spain whooped Italy’s ass which made 90% of the 200 people in the room very happy.  And our bar bill – for a lot of beers and glasses of wine over the three hours were there – was only 14 euro.  Crazy.

The rest of the week I did a bit of sightseeing with Deborah and Dan and took care of some business while they went off on their own.  One day I wandered in the afternoon by myself.  Llubljana is not a big town (at least the old part) and it is very lovely.  You do have to watch out for bikers, because they will mow you down if you are not careful.  This woman was walking peacefully with her bike, which I appreciated.

Llubjlana is full of nooks and crannies like this one just down the street from our apartment.

And cool cafes that look like cafes from long ago.  Or ARE cafes from long ago.

The river is a quiet and peaceful one though on our first night, we saw some tempting “booze cruise” action – a barge with a bar and a throbbing beat.  But, there isn’t too far to go so I think it went back and forth a few times. That’s a bar down there under those awnings!

Speaking of nightlife Ljubljana was ALWAYS hopping in the evening.  We went out once on a Tuesday and it was not that easy to find am outside table to sit and drink at.  Finally, we ran into our awesome server from the pub we went to the night of the Euro Cup – she ALSO worked at a wine bar.  Our wine bar tab was far from 14 euros though, mostly because Dan kept ordering a beer for every wine I got, only the beers were way bigger, forcing me to order another wine because he had half a beer left.  But then he would order another beer.  It went on this way for some time.

A full moon, people hanging out in the moonlight:

There was a lot of public drinking by youngsters at the river’s edge.  We are talking whole bottles of whiskey drunk in one sitting by three teenage girls, not just a couple of beers.  A bit worrisome, to be honest, but hopefully they will all grow out of it, or move on to fine wine like I did in my later years.

In our week in Ljubljana. I also witnessed two insane, also really long, thunderstorms.  One was on a day when Deborah and Dan went out for the day and I stayed home to get some work done.  The storm raged, with thunder and lightening and heavy rain, for three straight hours.  Another day – our last – we left the apartment to go to Tivoli Park and immediately it started to rain and it continued for, you got it, three hours.  We spent some time in a cafe and then got out when the rain stopped briefly, only to be forced to a really weird bar overlooking an indoor swimming pool.  I am scared of lightening, and I was scared both days.  Yes, I am a woos.  Also, why we did not bring our umbrellas out that day is a mystery to me.  Here’s the park after one of the rainstorms – it is huge and has lots of empty space.  Lovely.

At the end of that day though, we happened upon a Serbian orthodox church, and when we went in their was a mass going on.  That was very memorable.  Young priests with incense, Byzantine looking paintings everywhere, it was pretty cool.

I loved Ljubljana and would like to go back and live there for a month sometime.  The people were so friendly, and it is a fun, clean, easy to move around in town.  After that we headed north.  I’ll try to get a bit more caught up soon…

Eclairs and Burgundy

Friday, June 29th, 2012

I just wrote a bunch of stuff, decided it was boring, erased it and decided to go the minimalist route on this posting.

It is my last day in Paris, had a wonderful three day visit to Collioure down on the Spanish border, ate a lot, worked a lot, watched some soccer, had one crazy day at the Hard Rock Cafe with some tourists from Toronto and England.  Anyway.

Does it get any better than Paris?  Answer: no, pretty much.

The weather has not been great in my time here.  Cloudy, sometimes rainy, humid, just kind of icky.  Not the gorgeous California-like weather I had when I was here last year.  Hence, I actually got quite a bit of work done.  A long train ride got me to Perpignan where Nancy and David picked me up and then we spend three days in and Collioure eating a lot of fantastic picnics. Picnic # 1, actually a sort of cocktail hour picnic before the real dinner:

Collioure is wonderful.  On the Mediterranean, close to the Spanish border, a tourist destination but still a real town where real people live and they have real markets with really killer food.  I loved it there. There is a fortified castle right in the center of town, surrounded by clean streets full of cafes and restaurants.

Sunday afternoon sunbathing:

We drove into Spain one day so that Nancy and David could go to Dali’s house in Portlligat.  It was wonderful to get back to Spain, even if for such a short period.  We also visited Castelnou, a cute village with a totally cool medieval castle you can visit at the top of the town.  (We paid an entry fee so that we could have a picnic on the castle grounds, then also enjoyed our tour of the castle. It was kind of all about the picnic, though.)

Then it was back to Paris for me.  Back to this:

OK – so the French aren’t perfect.  You knew that, right?

A store full of movie stars – how I would love to bring my nephews here!

A store where you could buy wedding cake toppers, with two guys, two girls, mixed race, even just one woman, in case, I guess, she was celebrating… marrying herself? Dunno.  Whatever I said about the French not being perfect before – scratch that.

The saints of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois looking down on me, no one else around, even though this church is next door to the Louvre….

And finally, I can have as much Burgundy and eclairs as I want to.  I tell myself I should only have eclairs on the weekend, but… I don’t have a lot of self control.

Tomorrow, Slovenia.

Walking the Walls

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

I’m in France now and ready to finish up my last days in Dubrovnik, and Croatia.

The last two days I was in Dubrovnik I moved to an apartment outside the city walls, run by the same people.  Stijepo, the owner, came and moved most of my stuff across town.  The guy is like an ox.  The new apartment was really cute and check out the view from the terrace –

I had to work most of the day, so the next day I went out to do the stuff I had not done, mainly walk the city wall.  Before I went into the old town to do that, I saw an insanely good exhibition of Steve McCurry’s photography right down the street from the apartment.  Steve McCurry is well known for the photo of the young Afghan girl on the cover of National Geographic back in the 1980’s.  That portrait, and so much more was on exhibition and it was probably the most extraordinary exhibition of a single photographer’s photographs I have ever seen.  You can see his work here: Steve McCurry Photographs.

I left there and it was HOT.  I set out to find the museum of war photographs but ended up in a different room of photographs – a memorial for those who died in the siege of Dubrovnik in 1991/1992.  It was haunting to look at all these photographs of people, many of them young men who would have been the same age as me.

After the photos of Steve McCurry, and the memorial, I was not sure I could handle another intense photo session, in fact I was on the edge of crying looking at these photos.  So I went to try to eat some lunch, but every single table in Dubrovnik was taken.  I am not joking.  Every single table.  Well, at least at any of the places I wanted to eat.  I can’t believe how many people were around.  So I went and drank a glass of wine in a bar then eventually managed to get a table at Taj Mahal, a Bosnian restaurant.  It was really good though they were slammed and it took forever.  I had a direct view of the kitchen, which had two woman cooking in it which I thought was really cool.  At one point one of the chefs came out and gave me this look like “holy shit, is this ever going to stop.”  As in, she was slammed.  I know the look and can relate. We had a “moment of understanding” that transcends any language barrier.  I love those moments and wished I could go in and help her.

After that it was time to talk the walls.  Dubrovnik’s old center is fully fortified and you can walk around the entire old town high above on the city wall.  Everyone says you have to do it, and everyone is right.  It is amazing up there.  You not only see the incredible views of the city and the sea, you also see gardens, locals socializing, kids playing soccer, all the stuff you don’t see too much of down in the tourist part (well, not in the day, anyway.)  You even see the Fedex guy.

When you are up on the walls, you really get a sense of Dubrovnik’s history and relationship with the sea.

If there were cruise ships, they would be here.  In the past, I guess there were other kinds of ships in the same spot.

Rooftops.  Many of them new since the war.

The massive city well.  And of course, the Buza Bar:

Can you imagine the lookout guys throughout many centuries, watching for pirates from this same spot?

It was pretty awesome up there, let me tell you.  And I am so glad I had several days to experience Dubrovnik.  Later that day I went back for one final glass of wine at D’Vino and the next morning, at 5 AM, I was in a cab to the airport.  Now I am in Paris, my favorite city, and I miss Croatia.  (All I have to do to cure that one is to get into my walking shoes, however.)

It was an extraordinary journey traveling to Croatia by myself, one that I will never forget.  I will remember the wonderful people who I rented apartments from – Izadora and Fausto in Rovinj, and all the special treats Izadora brought me (cake, fresh bread, frittele!), Ante in Trogir who picked me up from the airport at ONE A.M. when my flight was delayed, his dad who gave me a bottle of his homemade wine and his little boy who ran up to me every morning and said “Good Morning!”  Andro at the Komazin apartments in Hvar Town who was always around to give advice and rides down the hill and also brought special homemade treats to the door.  And finally Stijepo who lugged 30 kilos of stuff all over Dubrovnik for me.  All these people were so hospitable and welcoming and, well, just insanely NICE.  I’ll never forget the girl of the good pour in Rovinj, the cute waiter in Split, the juggling bartender at the Hula Hula bar in Hvar Town, or Sasha and his crew at the D’Vino wine bar in Dubrovnik.  Besides the people I will never forget the insane beauty, the Venetian architecture, the HISTORY.  The intense feelings I had looking down at Hvar Town from the fort above, or how happy I was when I was on that island.  The color of the sea, all manner of blues.  Once again I am sort of on the edge of crying, just thinking about it all.  And I will go back.

Thank you, Croatia.

And thank YOU, beautiful 14th century Madonna on the wall of the Pula Airport.  Something about your smile sums it all up for me.


A Perfect Day in Dubrovnik

Monday, June 11th, 2012

OK, except for the pizza I ate for dinner.  But the rest was perfect.

I got out early with the intent of seeing some museums and stuff.  But before I get into that, let me do a little photo that shows a bit of the “Venice-ness” of Dubrovnik – in the tourist sense.

You know how if you are on the main route from Piazza San Marco to Rialto, and it is insane but then you step off into some calle or campo just off of it there are just a couple of locals there?  Same here, but there are two reasons – stairs, and a lot of the people go back to their cruise ship and leave the night to the locals.

Check it out.

Tourist Street #1 – the Stradun:

Tourist street #2 – the street that runs parallel to the Stradun:

This woman appears to be pointing the “way out” for me and you – to the steps they, and most people, will never go up:

The “way out” of the tourist throng:

Not to mention the obvious butt and thigh tightening benefits of climbing this baby on a regular basis.  This is (or was – I am moving today) my street, and I am at the top:

Don’t you love the urban garden on the right? That apartment also has some interesting looking fermentation experiments going on in jars on the windowsill.  I do hear tourists walk by occasionally, and they always sound like they are about to keel over or even stop breathing from overexertion.  They are probably looking for the Buza Bar, which is close to the top of the stairs.  (The wrong Buza Bar.  More on that later.)

So.  Yesterday it was, once again, very hot so I did not have anything on to cover my shoulders, hence, I did not enter any churches, though I did want to.  However, THIS woman entered a church, on a Sunday, looking like this:

She was one of many entering churches dressed inappropriately, despite signs everywhere forbidding this nonsense.  Have some RESPECT.  Here’s where many of these people appear to come from:

The bigger boat was so huge that it dwarfs the other one, but it left later in the day, and then the little one looked huge.  So that big one is a monster.  All day orange boats took people back and forth from the docks in Dubrovnik to the ships.  You know what?  I have friends and family that cruise and you know I love you all.  But these ships?  I am going to mimic those French kids from the other day in Jelsa.  I DON’T LIKE IT.  I DON’T LIKE IT.  I don’t like it in Venice, and I don’t like it here. I guess I don’t like it anywhere, even places I haven’t been to yet.

Anyhow.  Enough pictures for five seconds.  I checked out the Rectors Palace, where they have some art, some jail cells, some trunks with a lot of locks, and rooms with antique furniture, plus an exhibition on the patron saint of Dubrovnik, St. Blaise, who among other things managed to find Jesus’s diaper.  Then, because I had to buy a ticket for 70 kuna that included 3 musems when I only wanted to go to one, I checked out the Maritime museum and the folk museum.  Both good, not great museums and both almost completely empty which was pretty awesome.  I guess that making people pay for three museums is not really helping attendance any.  After that, I had a fun and interesting lunch of sushi, oysters tempura, and tuna tartare with capers.  The tartare was really salty! But I ate it anyway. The oysters were awesome and I may have to back for some more of those.

It just so happened that after lunch I knew I was close to what I thought might be the real Buza Bar.  This is the second bar I went to before, but since it is called something completely different (Bar “Bard”) I was unsure and I didn’t stay.  After five seconds of googling I found this blog which helped me in my quest.  OK, now I know what all the fuss is about.  Exhibit A:

Yes, this is what I was looking for.  Those are the city walls, that is the ocean, there is plenty of space to sit and relax in the sun.  Exhibit B:

A real wine glass! And it was 10 kuna less that the other Buza!

These two boats looked to be on a collusion course, but I think they were just messing with us tourists watching.

Pretty cool to just hang out there on a little perch that seemed made just for me, and check out all the action around.  I am so glad I found it, because even though I really like Dubrovnik, I would have been seriously bummed if I had only found the Other Buza.  Anyway.

The European Football Cup games are going on, so at 6 PM I went down to an Irish pub to watch the Spain/Italy match.  Ya’all know I love Spain and I love Italy, but in this regard I am firmly in the Spain camp; for one thing, they are a great team and for another, the Italian team are always falling down and carrying on like they have a severed artery or something.  Plus, sometimes they don’t play fair.  Fighting words, I know.  Anyway Spain is my team regardless of who they play.  The pub was not too crowded at the beginning but people started to pack the place by the time I left, due to the next match being Croatia and Ireland.  It was fun watching the Spain/Italy match (they tied) but what was REALLY fun was watching all the Croatians, and a few Irish people, during the Croatia/Ireland match.  I walked around for most of it, because many bars, cafes, and restaurants had put TVs outside, so that people could watch.  So I stopped at various places and watched too, only sitting down at a cafe for part of the second half.

I loved how people were hanging out on the steps watching the game on the narrow street:

And I loved how they were all decked out in those crazy picnic tablecloth outfits:

It was a lovely warm night.  Many of the tourists are gone, the ones are still around have dinner and drink and listen to music and walk up and down the Stradun with ice cream cones.  At night, Dubrovnik GLOWS.  It is so pretty.  It is a totally different place than during the day, and you see so much more, because there are no people there to get in the way.  And Croatia won, which was pretty awesome, because the locals were all really excited.  The town had, for the most part, got rid of all the visitors and was filled with happy local people.  I am glad I got to be a part of that.

I know I am telling most of this tale with photos instead of words, but I guess Dubrovnik didn’t get me all poetic like Hvar did.  It would, I think, at another time, another moment in my, and its, history.  I’ve got a couple more days…. maybe it will still happen, right now.  In the meantime, I am having a blast.

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

It was with great reluctance that I left Hvar Town.   My last day there, the on-off bus was still broken down (and they were not fibbing, I saw the bus in a mechanics yard later that day) so I took the public bus to the town of Jelsa.  Not a lot going on there – a very pretty little town, and I am sure there was a Hula Hula bar somewhere, but I didn’t see it.  I walked around, then had lunch – really good, grilled calamari on a bed of potatoes and swiss chard, which is a common side dish around here.

The owner of the place took a shine to me because when I asked for white wine he told me he made his own and won a medal (he showed me pictures of him winning and also, the medal) I said of course I have to try it!  Mostly we spoke in sign language.  Then I complimented him on his great white wine and ordered a second glass, just to add emphasis.  He was so sweet and brought me a dessert on the house.  In return I helped him deal with some customers.  There were two French youngsters there, and they got upset because of the cover charge on their bill.  This is normal here, and this guy’s cover charge was five kuna – basically, they were complaining about 65 euro-cents each.  The owner was trying to tell them it was normal and they just kept repeating over and over WE DON’T LIKE IT, WE DON’T LIKE IT. (In English, not French.)  So I helped the poor guy out and told them it is normal to have a cover charge, in Croatia, in Italy etc.  But they told me WE DON’T LIKE IT.  WE DON’T LIKE IT.  Yeah, I said, I get that you don’t like it, but IT IS NORMAL. IT IS NORMAL.  Then I pointed to the five kuna charge on the bill and said IS THIS WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT? IT IS. FIVE. KUNA. AND IT. IS NORMAL. But they continued to say they did not like it.

After all that exchange over 1 euro and 30 cents, the owner told them they didn’t have to pay it.  He was so upset they were upset.  I just told him they were young and didn’t know any better.  Later I saw them eating ice cream, on my way back to the bus.

The next day I headed to Dubrovnik.  One thing about traveling here, is it takes a long time to get from place to place.  I had to take a ferry to Split, then a 4 1/2 hour bus ride.  Part of this is my bad planning.  Really, I should have stayed more in one spot (but then maybe I would have not been to Hvar.)  And coming to Dubrovnik – well, I had pondered with saving it for another trip.  But, and this is going to sound insane, I wanted to come here to go to the Buza Bar.  Mai Tai Tom, who’s writing I referred to over and over when planning this trip, loved the Buza Bar, and many many other people loved the Buza Bar.  It is a bar perched on the outside of the city walls, overlooking the sea.

More on that later.  I got off the bus and Stijepo, who I am renting a little apartment from, carried my stuff – and it is HEAVY – through the city walls, then on a slow tour of what to see while I am here, and then up many, many, MANY steps to the apartment.  I have to move to another one of his apartments tomorrow for my remaining two days, and he will come and move it all AGAIN.  I am so grateful – I would not have been able to do it, I don’t think, by myself.

So then I walked around a little.  And pretty quickly, ended up at the Buza Bar.  Only, I was kind of, well, extremely disappointed.  THIS is the Buza Bar?

I paid 38 kuna for a really bad glass of red wine, served in plastic, surrounded by cruise ship people from England or Australia or something, complaining about the plastic glass (I was too, she says, blushing) and the lack of public toilets in Dubrovnik.  Now, I can see how someone who maybe just got to Croatia might think this place is pretty cool.  But I just spent time in HVAR where the views kick the ass of the one here.  Seriously.

I understand there are two Buzas, and the other one is a little more striking, as in there are no railings.  I tried to find the other one, but I only found a bar not called Buza.  I did go back to this Buza and had white wine, and it was a little better and I tried to tune out all the people and it was better that time.  But, I have discovered a way better place and I discovered it on my first night after dinner.

I had seen a sign earlier for a place called D’Vino Wine Bar and, not seeing too many “wine bars” in Croatia to date I decided to check it out, sooner rather than later.  This is kind of embarrassing, but this place is so awesome that I have seen more of the inside of it then the inside of anything else in Dubrovnik.  Or, to be honest, Dubrovnik.  For one thing, it is very hot and for another, it is very crowded and finally, it is the kind of place where all of a sudden you have been there for four hours and you are like “huh?  What just happened?”  They have books to read about Croatian wine, very good books; they have KILLER music playing, and they have great wines by the glass.  Plus the owner, Sacha, and his staff are Way Cool.

I did get out and walk around a bit, mostly on Friday.  I learned a trick to get away from the tourists – simply climb up two flights of the giant steps they have everywhere here.  One flight won’t do it.  Has to be two.  Once you have done that, voila, no more tourists!  Well, only a few, maybe ten or something.  I walked around up there and ended up at the Buza Gate, one of three entrances into the walled city.  I was sort of just standing there plotting my next move when this restaurant guy asked me if I wanted to eat at his restaurant right there.  I said “hvala – no.”  (No thank you.) This is the rest of the conversation, which could be funny or freaky, depending on your mood.

Him: Oh, you speak Croatian?

Me: No, only two or three words.

Him: Where are you from?

Me: California.

Him: There are many Croatians in California.  You speak Croatian?

Me: No, just two or three words.

Him: You are here alone?  You went to Hvar?  (I was wearing a t-shirt that I bought in Hvar, not revealing at all, just a basic ladies T with a high neck.)  I like your shirt.  I like your BOOBS.

Me: (Thinking: Dude.  I can’t believe you just said that.) Um, OK thank you.

Him: Are they real?  I mean, I really love them.


The conversation went on with him trying to get me to go have a drink, me saying no a few times, and him bringing up my boobs a few more times.  Maybe this method works on some people, but I can’t even begin to imagine the scintillating conversation we would have had if I went to have a coffee with him.

Anyway.  Dubrovnik is beautiful, and today I am actually going to go out to See Some Stuff, plus try to find the other Buza.  More later, including pictures.

Sea Change

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

–   Be Yourself.  Nobody Else is Better Qualified.

Menu at the Hula Hula Bar, Hvar Town

It is difficult for me to get started on a post about a place that I feel is so magical that it transcends anything that I could possibly write about it.  Really difficult.  There are so many layers to this island, which I truly feel is a magical place.  I am, in the words of Evelyn Waugh, drowning in honey, stingless.

Its not that it is a place for everyone, this island.  It would not be for people who have a hard time sitting around staring at the sea, or for people that get irritated by tourists easily.  It would not be for people who can’t or don’t want to walk too much.  Maybe it would not be for people who get scared off by luxury yachts in the harbor, who don’t see just past the yacht the little dingy with the guy sorting out his fishing tackle and a golden retriever chilling at the stern.

But for me, Hvar is a place that is singing in its own voice, regardless of the tourists or the yachts or the happy hour specials.  Hvar has been around so long we that are here now are just a tiny blip on the radar.  Having said that, if I were a Venetian sailor coming through back in the 15th century, I might have stayed here.  I feel myths and legends all around me.  It is so amazing here.

Yesterday, because it was way cooler and dryer out than the previous couple of days, I walked up to the fortress at the top of the town.  The Venetians watched out for invading Turks up there.  And later the Austrians had it.  Until now, I guess I didn’t really know the Austrians controlled a lot of the Adriatic sea after Napoleon.  Did you ever sort of go “what?” or “huh?” or even snigger a little when Maria Von Trapp’s captain was a Austrian naval hero?  Well snigger no more.  Anyway.

Walking up to the fort is almost better than being at the fort.  For one thing, there is that wind again – the most pleasurable wind I think I have ever known.  It is clean and warm, and somehow even managed to blow the oil out of my hair.  The path up the hill is all stairs at first but then changes into easy to traverse switchbacks lined with some pretty awesome flora and fauna.  Backyards at the top of the stairs have fig and orange trees and grapevines, above that surrounding the switchback paths are pine trees, olive trees, and a lot of cactus and succulents.  The air smells of pine.  It is most intoxicating up there.  In my mind I watched the Greeks arrive and then the Venetians on their large and colorful ships. Centuries of ships and of people watching them come in, just like I was doing.

It is at times like these when I really and truly love to be alone.  Mostly so people don’t think I am crazy.

By the time I got down the hill it was 3 PM and I was kind of hungry, but in a sort of haze so I went back to the Hula Hula bar, thinking I would eat something.  Once I got there – and I really, really, REALLY love that place – I didn’t want to eat anything.  Somehow bar food was going to totally wreck the vibe at that particular moment.

On the way to the Hula Hula bar I snuck around to the front of my Venetian ocean cottage. It is so beyond awesome, that I can’t fathom not staying there someday.  Check it out:

There is a sign that it is for rent, but no contact information.  But I will persevere. I thought to myself, I want to see the waves crashing, I want to be here when there are no people except the islanders, I want to watch a crazy storm cross the bay and hit the windows with force. Today, it looked like I would get my wish – it rained in the night and then was cloudy in the morning.  The beaches were deserted, but it was just as beautiful.

Later on, it cleared up and was, unbelievably, even more beautiful than before.  I had plans today to go on a hop on hop off bus that goes all over the island.  But the bus was broken today.  So instead I went to a place where nuns make lace out of the agave cactus that grows all over the island, and walked around some more, and went to the Hula Bar and then to a fantastic bar where I got my Don Draper photo:

It was hard for me to get myself off that couch. The fact that I could sit there as long as I did, and that the wine was something like $8.00 a glass.. I am surprised I am not STILL there.

I have one more day here, and hopefully the bus will run.  Then it is on to Dubrovnik.  In the meantime, more of Hvar Town:

But at this moment, I did not smell pine.  Instead, I smelled saltwater.

And the Wind. Screams. Promise.

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

I kind of knew it was going to happen.  I just didn’t know how awesome it would be.  I have landed in Hvar, vacation spot of, well, a lot of moneyed white people.  Even though I knew it, I also didn’t know how weird it would be, to land in this spot with so many Americans (and Brits, and Germans) after a couple of weeks of not seeing too many Americans (though I saw a lot of Germans and Brits.)

When I was up in Rovinj, there were two things that almost every single person I talked with said to me. The first was, when I said I did not want to leave, was “yes, everyone says that.”  The other, when I told people where I was from was, “Oh, there was another couple from California here yesterday.”  I think that couple preceded me just about every place I went.  Other than that we were the minority.

Not here.  I am not saying it is bad, to have all these Americans around.  It is just that sometimes I just wish I didn’t understand what they were saying.  It takes a lot to make me cringe, but here… I have cringed, watching my fellow countrymen carry on.  Here’s a tidbit from a conversation I was forced to eavesdrop on, today at lunch at a really wonderful restaurant – full of Americans except one guy, who was the one on the other end of the conversation.

Gay guy (I think) of possibly Croatian nationality: so you would not go back to the states?  Why?

American girl: I don’t like the lifestyle… I don’t like the attitude.  I don’t like the… (long pause) working.

GGCN: So, you don’t like working?

Non-working AG: They only let you have one week off a year! (Not in my world, honey.)

GGCN: How many days off per week?

NWAG: Two.

GGCN: So its the same then.  We work six days a week.

NWAG: (Is totally silent.  Bored.  Over it.)

Later, when they got the check, GGCN said “Ok it is 170 kuna.”  NWAG: “So how much do I owe?”  GGCN: “Um, 85 kuna.”  NWAG: “Really?  I owe that much?”  (We are talking about fourteen dollars for lunch with wine.) She took about 10 minutes to count out every kuna.  I wanted to throttle her.

Anyway.  Despite listening to this… I enjoyed my lunch immensely, looking out over this:

I just wished I had my ipod.

Now that I have pointed out the, er, annoying points of Hvar (and I did not tell you about the guy screaming into his IPad for an hour at a gorgeous rooftop bar yesterday, I will spare you that) lets get to the good stuff.

It is so. beautiful. here.  Yesterday, it was a long journey (bus, taxi, ferry, long walk with too much luggage in the heat) and I was exhausted but managed to get out and get groceries, then went down to the town for a drink at a rooftop bar then a truly stellar dinner at a place called Dalmatino.  At dinner last night I talked with the young server’s assistant (busboy, I guess) and he told me he comes from a little town outside Split but works in Hvar for the season – six days a week, for more hours than not per day.  But he has fun.  No wonder… a young, good looking guy like that and all these drunk chicks walking the streets every night… well.  But the men here seem gentlemanly and also, maybe not so interested in the day.  At night?  Who knows.

Waking up today I was STILL exhausted.  I don’t know if it is the heat, or getting old or what but I just can’t handle those long-ass transit days like I used to.  I walked around Hvar Town (which is NOT big) just feeling like I couldn’t even cope with sitting next to another person in a cafe, or even ordering.  But, my savior, white wine, came to the rescue.  What is it about that stuff?  I went into a place my landlord told me about, where the guy makes his own wine – a teensy little winery on the way up to the top of the town.  He poured me a glass of his homemade wine (only 8 kuna!) and it was like that V-8 commercial where the person is walking sideways until they have the V-8.  That was totally me today. Who needs a pharmacy?  Just get me to thee winery, molim vas.

Once restored, I had the energy to walk to, uh, the other part of Hvar Town.  The decidedly more upscale part.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my digs on the other side of the tracks, where I get a whole giant apartment with a sea-view balcony for 50 euros per night.  But I foresee a daily walk across Hvar Town to the other side where there are a bunch of truly killer spots to drink a cocktail or rent a lounger or eat a salad right on the rocks.

I loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED this:

It’s a little Venetian cottage by the sea, and you can RENT it.  It was all kinds of fabulous times infinity, on the outside.  I don’t care if it has a cot to sleep on inside, I WANT IT.

I kept going and passed by some high falutin cocktail lounges, just off the path, and a Las Vegasy hotel called the Hotel Amphora.

Don’t ask me why, but when I see stuff that reminds me of Las Vegas it makes me want to go have a drink at a bar, one that you can sit down at.  And though this place was indeed, kind of fabulous I had another place on my mind.  Another 200 meters to the Hula Hula bar, that my landlord told me about.  And there it was.  You can rent loungers on the rocks, and they will bring you cocktails in plastic cups.  Or you can sit at the bar, complete with disco ball and bartender that looks vaguely like a bald Adam Sandler.

I nursed my glass of wine (only 24 kuna!) for a long time.  I loved this place.  What’s not to like?

All day I walked, and all day the wind blew, a warm wind.  A lovely wind.  There are the people who come here and the people who live here, and maybe after a couple more days I’ll sort of get how it all works, between the islanders, and the people who come and drink and get sunburnt and eat fish and go on scuba diving excursions.  To me, this wind is kind of like a paradise wind, one that can be whatever kind of wind you want.  I can’t imagine one with money couldn’t get anything they wanted here.  Drugs, sex, champagne enemas.  For me, I just want that little Venetian cottage and that wind and a daily drink at the Hula Bar. Oh, and maybe I should not forget the IPod.

There is a lot more to see on this island besides the bars and the loungers.  My landlord wants to make sure I get on the bus and see more, the real part, not the rich people part.  And I will.  I would not be happy with myself if I let the rich white chick in me (joke) take over.

So, I’ll breathe in that wind and on that note, check out this sunset from my balcony…

Yes, I love it here.

History Tiramisu

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

It’s a hot Sunday on Hvar Island, the first Sunday of the “season.”  But I’ll get to Hvar later.  First I have to tackle Trogir and Split.

Trogir is a medieval hamlet, a UNESCO site, and a quaint and pretty tourist destination.  Split is a city.  When I was researching my trip, I read so many accounts where people did not really like Split.  Seriously, I cannot figure out why.  I LOVED Split and wish I would have based there instead of sleepy little Trogir.  Not that Trogir was horrible or anything – but Split was so cool.

What did I love about Split?  Let’s see… part of the city is built INSIDE a Roman palace.  And all around that Roman palace are other buildings from every possible century.  There are layers upon layers upon layers. Check out the Roman columns of the palace next to a Venetian building right next to it:

And I drank a glass of wine sitting on the steps on a red cushion.  So cool.

The Roman palace was Diocletian’s retirement home, and once he was gone future generations moved in and took over what was once his spectacular seafront estate.  They lived there, ate there, raised animals and grew vegetables there, and buried their garbage there.  And people STILL live there, hanging their towels out to dry next to millenia-old Roman walls.

Next to the old palace is the city market, which I also totally loved.  It seemed to me that people came in from whatever farm (or house with a garden) and plopped down all their produce on either part of long permanent tables, or on a card table.  There was SO much produce and SO much color.  There was no rhyme or reason, just a head of lettuce here and a pile of cherries there.  One lady had her table adorned with some spring onions, potatoes, a whole chicken, and three large slabs of a bacon like meat, among other things.  One stop shopping.  The original supermarket!  I wanted to take her picture, but I did not want to be rude.  I did get some pictures though. The market is huge – this just shows a little bit of it.

One of the card table stands – the guy standing at the back of it, sold eggs in plastic bags, without even having a table at all.

I went to Split twice, both times on the Bura Lines ferry which took one hour each way.  Both days, after walking around, I ate in a place called the “No Stress Cafe” in the main square in town.  I loved sitting there and watching the never ending stream of locals and tourists walking by.  Split is so clean.  And there are SO many bookstores.  My waiter at the No Stress Cafe was pretty awesome too.  He had an answer for everything – he called himself the “Nostradamous of Beverages” as he was able to figure out when a guy would want a big beer instead of a small one.  (Actually, based on recent observation, big beers are the norm for all guys EXCEPT Croatian.)

The No Stress Cafe, and my waiter off to the left.  Check out the awesome building it is part of.

And the vibrantly colored bookstore just opposite, one of many in Split:

Then back to Trogir.  Sigh.  It is a really sweet town.  I stayed in a tiny apartment with a wonderful family running it, but there was no there, there for me.  Sometimes a place calls out, and sometimes it does not.  Having said that… when I was planning this trip I was thinking about taking one of the gulet cruises that runs up and down the Croatian coast.  I decided not to, but in Trogir I sure did see a lot of these boats!

There must have been 20 of them the day before I left, just in Trogir alone.  Plus a lot of expensive yachts. Maybe next time.

After a LONG day of travel yesterday, I arrived on Hvar Island and it is another amazingly beautiful place. Stay tuned.

The Good, the Bad, and No Picnic

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Well, my boat trip yesterday didn’t exactly turn out like I expected.

Don’t ask me (Ms. “Book the show, but don’t book the dinner”) why I decided to buy a ticket for a 6.5 hour boat ride with a fish picnic on board.  I guess I just thought I had better do something besides work in my apartment, hang out at a perch on the sea, or sit in cafes drinking wine.  So when I walked by the girl selling the tickets for the boat, I already had in my mind that I would go the next day.  She gave me a 30 kuna discount without me even asking.  So it was only 220 kuna for the all day trip.  I knew that there was no way lunch would be too spectacular for that price.  But how bad could it be?

The answer: bad.

Let me backtrack a little, to put things into perspective.  Besides Monday night when I first got here, I ate every single meal in my apartment.  So on Saturday I decided to take myself out to a decadent lunch – something I like to do at home, too.  I went to a place called Puntalina.  My landlady had recommended it, and I had stopped in to their seaside bar one afternoon.  The guy who served me was painting a table blue, and another guy who worked there came down from time to time yelling out “Picasso! Picasso!” So I went back for lunch.

It was fantastic, this lunch.  I had a much needed green salad, delicious fresh fish with a sort of tomatoey sauce on it, and part of a bottle of Franc Arman Pinot Blanc – I bought a bottle, after asking my waiter if I could porta via the undrunk part out of there.  To which, of course, he gave me a hearty “Certo!” All of this I consumed on a pleasant balcony overlooking the sea:

So yesterday, one thought I had was, I hope it is not all Germans on the boat.  Now, I love Germans and I love Germany, but too many of one group on a boat tends to sort of take over the situation.  It would be much better to have a random assortment of nationalities on the boat.  As soon as the boat arrived, even though I was standing right next to the entry area, I was the last to get on.  Why?  Because twenty (I counted) Germans pushed their way to the front and boarded.  I was the last to get on, which was OK since the boat held something like 150 people, if it were full.

So me and the twenty Germans sailed off, and first we did a panorama cruise around some islands, which was nice.  Then it was 1:00 PM and we arrived back in the harbor of Rovinj, and pulled back up to the dock.  We had only been sailing around for one and a half hours.  A couple of people got off and the rest of the Germans clearly knew what was going on because they all went downstairs and sat at long tables already set up with bread and giant plastic bottles of oxidized white wine, water, and orange Fanta.  I tried to sit at my own giant table, because I wasn’t feeling like sitting at a table full of Germans who were in packs of four or six and not remotely interested in the weird single woman of unknown nationality.  But the guy serving the plates told me to move to a different posto – speaking in Italian, the way many do to me here, because I really don’t think they know what I am.  More on that later.

Anyhow I took my posto and I was like, seriously?  The picnic is on the boat, DOCKED?  In ROVINJ?  I guess I had envisioned being on an island or at least moored at sea somewhere, where a swarthy, maybe even shirtless Croatian guy would dish up platters of basic but tasty fish filets, and maybe some potatoes or something and everyone would have shots of grappa and other crazy Croatian liqueurs.

Nope.  We were docked at the harbor.  And then they served me this:

My first thought was: what the hell is that patty of mystery meat doing on my FISH PLATE and my second was: do I really have to stay on this boat for another five hours?  I mean, it just wasn’t really doing it for me. I started to pine for all my favorite haunts… my perch at the sea, my daily glass of Viognier at the Piassa Grande wine bar, the seven kuna glass of wine at the Buzz bar, and my favorite waitress the Riva bar, she of the Low Price and the Big Pour.  In the 4.5 minutes it took me to push some of the fish and the cabbage or whatever that stuff was around on my plate (and I admit, I even took a couple of bites -it would take a lot of wine to wash that taste out of my mouth. A LOT) I had made the decision.  I bailed.  Off the boat.  Sometimes you just have to suck up the loss of 220 kuna and carry on.

When I got off a guy that was selling tickets said the boat would sit there until 2 PM!  Then get more people for the rest of the day, when they go to some town and a fjord and a pirate cave.  I went to the Piassa Grande wine bar to hide out until the boat was safely out of sight, then I went to my perch.  This, my friends, is where I read most of Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.  I loved this book and I love my perch on the Adriatic sea.

And just so you have it, a photo of the big pour, where I went at 6 PM so I could see my boat coming back, all the Germans shooting photos of me and not even knowing it.

The boat, arriving after a long day of indigestion:

This afternoon, I leave Rovinj for Trogir.  I had planned to rent a car and drive to Plitvice Park and arrive in Trogir Wednesday, but the thought of navigating myself around made me change my mind.  But I forgot the reason I decided to do it that way, all those months ago – because it is a pain to get to Trogir without a car!  Somehow I got a one way flight for not very much money, but it takes hours.  Including five in the Zagreb airport.  I won’t get there till late tonight and will lose a whole day to travel, but it bees that way sometimes.

I will never forget the people I have met here – my wonderful landlady, who brought me four fresh frittelle this morning for breakfast, all the people in the bars and the restaurants, even the girl who sold me the ticket for the “fish picnic” was totally cool.  I will never forget the amazing beauty and laid back vibe of Rovinj.  I want to come back.  Soon.