Monday, March 30, 2015

The Tale of Two Worlds, Part 2

As we drove away from Rovinj I wondered if there could possibly be another town as lovely and charming down the road.  Had we hit the jackpot first and now everything else was going to be a let down?  The drive was long....4 hours.  The roads in Croatia are surprisingly good!  No kidding, they are wonderful, easy to drive and well maintained.  There are many toll roads but paying $10 for two hours on a beautiful road is a small price in my book.
Time flies when the view looks like this!
I seriously hoped I had not built up this Sea Organ in my mind only to be disappointed when I saw it.  I wanted the iconic sunset with the music of the organ in the background.  I wanted the tour book experience!  I wanted to be impressed!  I wanted the fact that my husband drove 3 hours to matter and to be worth it!

We found the "nearby" parking and our apartment.  This one was next door to a local bar and owned by the bar owner.  We met our new best friend in Zadar, Joe the Bartender, and he showed us our studio apartment.  Once again, better than the Internet representation!  I admit, I was a bit concerned about noise and smoke since it was on top of the bar but no noise was heard and the air was clear!  Joe was very helpful and hospitable and invited us down to the bar for a drink "on the house".  I love this place already!  After our drink we made our way to sunset central.
I'm so easily entertained!
The Sea Organ.
The waves hit the holes in the steps which have pipes in them and it sounds like an organ

It was a bit windy!  Hopefully you can hear the organ sounds over the wind!
Happy.....and cold!

Zadar was the city I was looking forward to the most.  I just knew it would be a great place.  It happens to be a university town which meant that we weren't the only people in town for a change.  We may have been some of the older people in town, but who cares?  There were more cafes and restaurants open for business and the city was much more lively at night.  Our new best friend, Joe the Bartender, was always ready to chat and have a drink with us. He would just pop out of the bar to say hello every time I went back to the apartment.  It was nice to have such a friendly person around!  Zadar was also more commercial than any of the other towns we visited, there were real stores there!  It was nice to visit a place that has a life outside of the tourist season, especially since we weren't there during tourist season.

Greeting To The Sun

The Greeting To The Sun   at night.
Glass tiles that light up randomly at night near the Sea Organ.  Very cool!

Five Wells
St. Donatus Church
We were only going to spend one night in Zadar, our plan was to play the next day by ear.  We had a couple of options and decided we liked Zadar so much we would just "stay on" another night.  I've always wanted to have the option to "stay on" someplace.  Of course, I wanted to "stay on" for weeks instead of hours but I'll take what I can get.  Having an extra day to do whatever we wanted, or nothing at all, was a luxury.  I chose to explore the town a bit more while TJ chose to catch up on some work and sleep.

I went in search of the Hitch Bar (Alfred) and a bit of inspiration.  I found it on the beach and was unimpressed.  I'm sure on a sunny, warm, summer day this place is full of bikini clad tourists sipping tropical beverages but today there were about 4 people wearing jackets and sipping hot coffee.  I really need to come back to this country when it is warmer!  I could also tell this was a prime place to watch sunset on a sunny day, but that day was not today.
Thanks for nothing sunset and little inspiration
Our last supper in Croatia was a first.  TJ and I were the ONLY people in the restaurant.  We were waited on diligently and served a delicious meal but it was very weird to be the only people there!  We were also running out of things to talk about at this point.  This was our fifth day alone together.  We usually travel with friends or family.  We usually meet people and strike up random conversations.  We usually have more distractions!  Our wish was granted when we got back to our apartment and Joe the Bartender popped out of the bar and invited us in to meet the original owner of the bar and his son, who runs it now.  We braved the small, smokey bar for a nightcap....or two.  It is amazing what one will do to have a little human interaction, cough, cough.  I'm sure we took a few hours off our lives from all the second hand smoke we inhaled that night.  It's been a long time since we hung out in a smokey bar!  Ahhhh, the good 'ole days.

In the morning we wiped the dust of Zadar off our shoes and headed to the airport in Zagreb, another 3 hour drive.  Once again our trip looked like this....
We left sunny skies and headed into that cloud bank on the left, through the mountains again.....

It was much colder on the other side.....
And yes, it was snowing!   Time to leave Croatia!
Time to wake up to sunshine and the Persian Gulf in the distance.
Some final observations about Croatia, because this post isn't long enough...

-A lot of people smoke!  They have not gotten the memo it is bad for your health.
-they love coffee!  Every day the cafes are full of people sitting outside, regardless of the weather, sipping coffee and smoking.  Around 5 they shift from coffee to beer.
-Everyone speaks English and they speak it well.
-the roads are excellent!
-they love visitors!
-the wine is excellent....and very affordable!
-the food in the northern part of the country is more hearty and near the coast is more Mediterranean and it is all very good.
-Croatia is a beautiful country, full of history....go visit!

Next on the agenda, Dubai.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Tale of Two Worlds, Part 1

Our trip to Croatia and Dubai was the tale of two very different cultures, several different climates, two different economic conditions, and two very different worlds...the old world and the new world.  There are things to love about each world and maybe a few negatives about each.  Here is my attempt to entertain, educate and re-live.

A room with a view, Croatia.

 We arrived in Croatia "early".  Not early, as in 7 o'clock instead of 8 o'clock, but early as in March instead of June!  The streets were empty!  Many restaurants were closed for the season.  The wind blew and the temperatures were cool and sometimes cold.  In spite of the cool weather and empty streets Croatia was absolutely beautiful and fascinating!  One other bonus for us was that our dollar bought a lot in Croatia!  Dinner every night was cheap, the delicious wine was cheap, hotels were cheap.  Our rental car was $65....not per day, per week!
A room with a view, Dubai

We started our Croatian adventure in Zagreb, the capitol and largest city.  I had done a lot of research about Croatia and was ready to explore.  After looking at pictures on the Internet I wanted to see it all in living color.  We were blessed with beautiful weather.  Planning a trip these days is so easy and I sometimes wonder if it takes some of the surprise and excitement out of the trip because you can see all the sights from the comfort of your own kitchen table by looking at your computer.  I was almost a little afraid that all my research would backfire on me.  What if that cathedral wasn't set against the clear blue sky like it is on the pictures on the Internet?  What if the pictures of that hotel were not quite representative of the real thing?  What if those descriptions I read were mere embellishments?  What if that town is dingy and dirty and the the pictures on the Internet are featuring the only two highlights of the entire town?  Had I built it all up in my mind and set myself up for failure?  That is the question that ran through my head on our drive from the airport to our first stop in Zagreb.  Luckily, TJ did not do much research and it was all new to him, he had no expectations and for some reason trusts my planning skills.

Arriving at each new accommodation is like a box of chocolates, "you never know what you're gonna get".  We choose not to stay in high end luxurious hotels.  I like to mix it up and stay in a small boutique hotel or an apartment.  I like to "think" this gives us a more authentic experience.  Our first place was a small hotel.  Score major points for location on this one!  Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!  Parking in any European city is a challenge.  We were told they had parking "near" the hotel.  One way to shake off jet lag is to find an obscure parking lot in an unfamiliar city and then drag your roller bag four or five blocks over cobbled sidewalks to finally arrive at your hotel.  We did this same ritual at more than one of our stops.  Gotta love the loose definition of "parking nearby".

Even better than the pictures on the Internet!

After dropping our bags and freshening up we went to explore the city.  This is where the adrenaline kicks in!  Wandering around a new city, being awed at the beauty and amazed that it is even more beautiful than I expected.  We had no agenda we were just wandering.  Walk a bit, sit and have a drink, wander a bit more, take a million pictures, check out potential dinner spots, wander more.  We took refuge in church before dinner and went to mass.  No clue what the readings were or what the homily was about but we were there.  Our only bad dining choice was made that night.  I consider the fact that our server left the restaurant midway through our dinner and failed to inform anyone else a negative.  Can't say I recommend Baltazar wholeheartedly, the food was decent but not great and the service wasn't there.  I'll just blame our decision on jet lag.

St. Mark's Square

The Cathedral of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The next day I had scheduled a walking tour, I figured we would be wiped and needed someone to just point us in a direction and tell us what to do and what we were seeing.  Plus, we only had half a day to spend and wanted to use our time efficiently.  Our guide was knowledgeable and we now know more about Croatian history than we ever expected.  She was on a mission to educate us and impart her experiences.  It is interesting to talk to someone who has experienced so many political and economic changes in their short lifetime.  Makes me really appreciate our stable life here.
Louisiana food begins with "the trinity",
Croatian food begins with "the green bundle" sold in markets all around the country.

We left Zagreb and headed for the coast with hopes of making it to the shore before sunset.

We drove through the snow banked highway,
and tunneled through the mountains

until we found this on the other side!

From this point on my heart started beating very fast and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.  The water was so blue and the towns were so picturesque.  We both needed a kick of adrenaline to get us through the next hour.  We made it to Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula just in time!  We found the "nearby" parking with only one phone call to our host and drug our bags to our apartment.  After meeting our very nice host who told us the best place to see the sunset, we headed to the top of the city.
The best view is from the church at the top of the city.....and it's a steep city!
All the way to the top!

We made it!
The sidewalk to sunset

Totally worth a 3 hour drive followed by a climb to to top of the city!
Luckily, our host gave us the name of the 3! restaurants open in the off season.  We chose one and made our way there.  We chose well!  The chef at the restaurant was none other than the Croatian Master Chef my good friend Anthony Bourdain fished, cooked and ate with on his trip to this fine city.  Needless to say, dinner was delicious!  We were two of about 10 people there that night and were treated to live music in addition to the fine meal.
We fought our way home through the crowded streets....

to our brightly lit apartment, where we slept fitfully that night.
Yes, this was the night our jet lag caught up with us.  The cute windows with the sheer curtains and bright street lights outside kept us up much of the night.  It didn't matter though because our next day was probably one of the best travel days we've ever had together.  We drove to the town of Porec, about an hour away.  I'm not sure what we were searching for we just wanted to see if we could find some good wine and some truffles.  We found both!

Rovinj in the morning!

outside an ancient church in Porec

We left Porec and headed to Motovun.  I heard it was famous for truffles and was a small town perched on top of a mountain.  There is nothing I like more than going to the top of places with great views!  TJ on the other hand is not big on heights.  Our drive was lovely and when we turned the corner at the little cafe and saw our destination in the distance we were both giddy like kids.  It lived up to the its reputation!

but first a cup of espresso at the cafe for our driver

You always get a great view from the top!  Climb those hills!
One of us is not too crazy about being at the top!

The day was a success and we were back in Rovinj in time for another chilly sunset.  We were thinking of just going back to our favorite restaurant again for dinner but found it was closed on Monday and Tuesdays.  We patted ourselves on the backs for our excellent decision to eat there last night and had pizza for dinner, we were tired and done making decisions for the day!  Sometimes you just have to eat pizza.  TJ was very proud of his solution to the brightly lit bedroom.....
We slept like babies!
More of Rovinj

I loved this place, it was stunning!
I want to come here in the warmer season
 and sit outside at this cafe and sip wine all afternoon!
Goodbye Rovinj with your friendly trees, until we meet again!

We said goodbye to Rovinj the next morning and headed south.  We first stopped in Pula.  One of the things it is famous for is its ancient coliseum.  We did not explore much of the city past the coliseum.
You've seen one Coliseum......

After Pula we had to make time!  I was on yet another sunset mission.  We were heading to Zadar, home of the famous Sea Organ and Alfred Hitchcock's favorite sunsets.  We drove through mountains and plains and a few more climates.  I am still amazed that in one day we went from the sea shore through the mountains and snow and to the sea shore again.  You really can have it all in Croatia!

That's all for now, I'm going to drag this out for at least two or three more posts.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Waiting is Over

You plan for a trip months in advance, at least we do.  You make flight reservations, hotel reservations....for the most part, spend some time researching the destination.... and wait because the trip is still months away!  I have a love hate relationship with the waiting part. Waiting gives me time to cruise the Internet and study my destination and look at pictures like this....and dream away the gloomy winter days.

Croatian sunset
Sunset in Dubai
You probably all know by now that I just love sunset, it's my favorite time of the day.  I could sit anywhere and watch the sunset and it would be like watching the best movie ever or looking at the most beautiful work of art in the world.  Sunset is a magical time of day to me.  I really hope conditions are favorable for beautiful sunsets!  One city on our itinerary is there solely because of it's famed sunsets.  According to Alfred Hitchcock, “The sunset of Zadar is the world’s most beautiful and incomparably better than in Key West, Florida.”  I've never been to Key West, FL but I do know there are some pretty spectacular sunsets in Nova Scotia so they have some tough competition.  I'm not sure Alfred Hitchcock ever saw sunset at the farmhouse.  I am going to make it my job to see if the sunsets in Dubai and Croatia are close to the ones in Nova Scotia!  Stay tuned...Carmen Sandiego is going on the road.

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