Shannon’s Super Sexy Blog. Music. Travel. Randomness. And a Lot of Wine.

Eclairs and Burgundy

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

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

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

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

–   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.

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

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

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.


Rovinj Dream

Rovinj, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

I landed here – well arrived by bus from Italy, actually – last Monday, after almost a month in Venice.  It is my first time in Croatia, and what a place to start.  I am head over heals in love with this town.

Rovinj was a Venetian outpost back in the days of the Republic, and Venice is everywhere.  In the architecture, in the language, in the food.  The locals even drink Spritz Aperols at cocktail hour. But this is Croatia, and there are a lot of differences.  For one thing, I can actually understand the Italian here.  I understand and am understood.  I think it is because they speak a lot slower, and also because they aren’t speaking dialect.  For another, the locals, all of whom seem to be selling or serving something to tourists, haven’t quite got to that point where they are totally over it and/or aggravated.  However, I understand that after August, the locals won’t be feeling so relaxed.  They’ll be too exhausted.

I am lucky to have arrived before the season starts.  There are tourists here, but not too many.  I am staying in an apartment looking out over the rooftops (which remind me of Venice) and onto the campanile at the church of St. Euphemia (which also reminds me of Venice.)  My landlady and her family live in the house in the back.  Her name is Izadora and she left me cake when I first got here and one night brought me part of a loaf of fresh baked bread, still hot from the oven, which I slathered with butter and ate in one sitting.  She has a 12 year old, a 3 year old, and a 3 month old, her husband works in a restaurant and they are renovating the house they live in, which belonged to the husband’s grandmother.  Someone else lives on the other side, a man who whenever he clears his throat (which is often) it sounds like he is laughing at something really hilarious.  And there are swallows.  Another thing that reminds me of Venice.  The sky is full of swallows.

Rovinj is impossibly, insanely picturesque. I have been to many beautiful places, but Rovinj lands firmly in my top five, and that is saying a lot.  Around every corner there is another stunning view or charming courtyard or atmospheric street.

Also, Rovinj is swimming in cafes, bars and restaurants, many perched on rocks above the sea, some in cool stone cul de sacs and still others overlooking the harbor.  Given the opportunity to be totally lazy, and to not really do anything besides sitting in various cafes staring out at the sea and checking out the local color, I will usually take it.  This can be dangerous in a place as beautiful as Rovinj.  In almost a week here, I never went to Pula to see the Roman Amphitheatre, never went to the hill towns of Istria to eat pasta with truffles, never went anywhere.  Except to various bars and cafes, where the price of a glass of white wine varies wildly.

First off, you’ve got to get use to dealing with the Croatian kuna, which takes some time to get used to.  10 kuna is about $1.65 at the moment.  There is a bar by my apartment, looking over the harbor, that only charges 7 kuna for a glass of wine! The name of the bar is Buzz, needless to say I have been back there a few times.

But this place, on the rocks and with pink umbrellas, charged an insane SEVENTY FIVE kuna for a spritz.  It was kind of neat there, but at a 10-1 ratio in terms of price/value, I will stick with the Buzz bar.

Prices can even vary wildly at the SAME bar.  One place I have been going to, right smack up against the corner of the harbor and the sea, has two servers – one who charges me 16 kuna for a huge pour, and another one that charges 23 kuna (the menu price) for a regular one.  I have a picture of my preferred server’s huge pour in my camera – will post that later.  Love her.

Today is my last day here.  In an attempt to get myself off my lazy butt, I booked an all day boat trip today, going around the islands and eating a “fish picnic.”  More later….

Ready to go Home. When can I come back?

It is the eternal question for the traveler.  Or for me, anyway.  I want to go home.  But how long before I can come back?  Anyway, at the moment I really have no home.  I just spend my last 16 lira on a glass of white wine at the Istanbul airport.  But there is more lira where that came from.

My last few days – with the exception of Saturday – were quite full.  I did the things I wanted to do.

At the Grand Bazaar, I bought my nephews Aladdin slippers.   I got hit up a lot more the second time, without Ugur, but it was all good.  The guys in there were not quite as intense as the ones that followed me around the streets outside the Hagia Sophia.  I got a lot of compliments and I bought what I went for.  One kind of funny thing: I went into a shop in the book and art part of the Grand Bazaar to have a look.  The guy in there started telling me about this woman he had in Soho New York.  She was rich, Jewish and wanted to have sex all the time.  She was a bunny, a dog, a monkey in bed.  I have absolutely no clue why this guy was telling me all this.  I asked him if he goes back and he said “no she took all my energy already.”  On that note, I said sayonara.  You should have heard the way he went on about this woman.  Craziness.

I love the Grand Bazaar.  There are all these trippy nooks and crannies.  I would love to really get in there and explore one day.  But you have to be in the right frame of mind to tackle something like that.

I sat in a lot of cafes.  I walked and walked.  I walked to Ortikoy one day and then hopped on a ferry not really knowing where it was going.  It took me to the Asian side.  Then I hopped on another one, kind of knowing where it was going.  The ferries are only two lira a ride – a little over a dollar.  So it is easy to just hop on them and ride around.  I loved being on the Bosphoros with those magnificent views of the Galata tower on one side and all the mosques and craziness on the other side.  Yesterday I hopped on another ferry to go to the Chora church, it is a church with a lot of Byzantine mosaics and some medieval frescoes.  It was not so easy to get up there – and coming back, I walked and walked (this seems to be the story around here.) But it was worth it to see the mosaics.

Speaking of mosaics.  This whole time in Istanbul I have been searching for anything Theodora.  Theodora was the wife of the emperor Justinian here, in the 6th century.  She is one of my favorite people in history so I wanted to find a copy of the mosaic of her that is in Ravenna or SOMETHING Theodora.  But there is nothing.  They don’t even know who she is here, it seems.  I did see a hotel Theodora and found a paperback novel based on her in the Virgin Megastore, but the book looked really dumb so I did not buy it.  I guess I will have to go back to Ravenna to get my Theodora fix.

Over the weekend, in my neighborhood just down from Taksim Square and also, over by the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, there were so many people out.  Just massive quantities of bodies.  It was akin to when I was at the Vatican the day after the Pope died.  I would stand against a wall and just watch the people walk by as the call to prayer sounded.  It seems, that I can be invisible again, which makes me very happy.

One day I saw a girl in a white full-on burka with a bit of a raised skirt and white Converse high-tops.  I left my Converse sneakers here.  It was time to let them go.  I put them by the garbage and I hope some homeless person can use them.

This was such a different kind of trip.  Everything was so full on in my face sensory wise.  Even quiet Cappadocia.  I’ll even remember the dogs howling outside the Elif Star caves.  I’ll remember that I never turned on a TV (though, I did watch Project Runway Season 1on my laptop.)  I’ll remember how I got used to the precariousness of it all.  Most of all, I will remember the people I met.  They are unforgettable.

I’ll post some pictures when I get back. I can’t tell you how weird it will be to be at the Four Points Sheraton at LAX tonight. But, Onward.