(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)
Monday, September 3rd.
Back home in Canada, it’s Labour Day.
I meet Sanj and Karen at around 10 a.m. for our final wandering expedition around Dubrovnik’s old town.
First stop: the old Franciscan monastery.
It’s got a lovely, lush cloister/courtyard that provides a bit of cover from the bright sun and the heat.
It also has the third-oldest functioning pharmacy in Europe. No, seriously. Karen takes advantage of this handy fact to pick up some allergy medication.
Nearby, a small gallery of artefacts from the pharmacy’s earlier incarnation is on display – jugs, mortars and pestles, and other books, tools and such – in addition to other relics and religious iconography that adorn the monastery.
The last thing I remember seeing before leaving is the wall damage left by a missile, which hit the monastery on December 6, 1991. The casing is sitting on the floor, directly beneath the crater and the information plaque. Another haunting reminder of a more volatile time.
Karen, Sanj and I trek through the side streets to find Café Bar Buža, down by the rocks near the water, for some cold mid-morning drinks.
In addition to taking in the view, we watch a small gang of teenage boys – and one brave older man – throwing caution to the wind and launching themselves off a nearby rock face, into the blue waters below.
Just watching some of them as they work up the courage to do something so care-free (and, to some, a bit foolhardy, since there’s a sign which clearly reads, “ACCESS DENIED – DANGER TO LIFE”) is entertaining. The sounds of splashing as bodies make contact with the water below adds to the laid-back seaside soundtrack.
Following a brief lunch, we make the climb back up to the apartments to meet the others for departure.
We’re taken by minivan to the port town of Orebić, over an hour’s drive outside of Dubrovnik. Livia peppers our extremely knowledgeable driver with questions about the countryside and local agriculture, relaying the facts to us through a microphone.
At Orebić, we grab a ferry across to our destination, the island (and town) of Korčula. During the ride, we become more acquainted with my fellow Torontonian, Richard. According to his story, he and Rob ended up on this tour as part of a grand prize they won at a fundraising triathalon.
Funnier still, Richard says he kept telling friends they would win the trip. Behold the power of positive thinking!
Upon reaching dry land, we’re assigned our rooms (but not without some last minute confusion and re-assignments).
My trip roommate, Jennifer, wants to get settled relatively soon so she can walk around and get a feel for the town. I completely understand this – she told me earlier in the trip that she’s directionally-challenged. But for some reason, as we mount the stairs towards our accommodation, this new setting has given her some cause for consternation.
Jennifer’s slight anxiety leaves me puzzled. Compared to Dubrovnik – where I really felt unsure which end was up - Korčula looks (and feels) dead easy to navigate. And this is coming from someone who herself is a bit directionally-challenged.
For starters, Korčula town is a fraction of the size of Dubrovnik. As well – and most interestingly – urban planners of years past smartly designed the old town (which runs north to south) in the shape of a fishbone. In fact, it’s said that the “ribs” were arranged to reduce the effects of wind and the sun, providing some comfort for residents.
Most of us are staying at the “top” of the town, above the pizzeria in St. Mark’s Square – across from the cathedral. The highlight? The bells ringing with precision approximately every 15 minutes or so – not including the chimes at the top of the hour.
Another small dilemma arises when we reach our room: Jennifer and I have been given one key to share … which would be all right, except that while Jennifer plans to spend the evening indoors, I’m going with most of the group to go see the traditional Moreška at the nearby cultural centre. We ask Livia to investigate this on our behalf.
Livia gives the group an orientation of the town, followed by dinner. Tonight’s restaurant – a fish-and-seafood establishment – sits along one of the streets (which actually feels more like a large corridor with seemingly infinite steps) just off the “spine” of Korčula town. We sit, four to a table – except for Aussies Jackie and Julia, who initially join us, then leave to find somewhere else to eat.
I share a “booth” with Rob, Richard and Karen for dinner, which consists of delicious grilled vegetables and three types of fish. It also is great to finally hang out with different members of the tour and be immersed in such good conversation.
We then head over to the local theatre for the Moreška performance. There are all sorts of people there, from different tours all over the place. Our hostess/MC for this evening’s show is either a super-talented polyglot or simply well-rehearsed, as she makes her introductory remarks in five languages.
The evening starts off with a folk singing group (in the Moreška style, native to Korčula), followed by the dance itself. I can only imagine how physically taxing it is for the dancers – a lot of them young guys – especially during one segment of dance, where the dancers are clanging swords so hard, the friction creates sparks!
(My only quibble about that performance is the number of people who refuse to STOP TALKING. It seriously grinds my gears.)
After the show, Rob and Richard disappear into the night – as is their trademark – while the rest of us look around for a bar to grab drinks. It’s all in vain, though. We meet up with Jennifer and end up at the pizzeria below our hotel rooms.
The end of the night is a bit sedate. But some of us intend to make up for it tomorrow – with a trip to the beach!
(*Image of map, courtesy of http://www.behance.net.*)
(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current one.)
Sunday, September 2nd.
Our day starts with a fantastic breakfast – cereal, dates, fresh fruit, cheese, ham, eggs, bread … It’s all there, and much more than I’m expecting.
Our trip leader, Livia, gives us an overview of the Old Town, its architecture, and the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. It’s actually somewhat hard to fathom that it’s been about 20 years since this very town was shelled in that conflict – and that isn’t all that long ago.
Walking along the wall, we’re treated to a spectacular view of the water and the town skyline. But I’m already sweating profusely – I’m convinced I will absolutely melt into a puddle of skin, and concerned my sunscreen won’t do its job.
After the walk, we take a much-needed shade-and-drinks break. Sitting with Jennifer, Sanj and Livia, we get to chatting and learn a bit more about Livia – her travels, aspirations and projects in the works (including hopes of one day running her own specialized tours in Budapest).
Our group splits off into smaller groups, heading in separate directions for the afternoon. Jennifer, Karen (the lone Kiwi on the trip, and a hell of a traveller), Sanj, Rob and Richard (the Torontonians) and I opt to take the cable car up Srd Hill – location of probably the best views of Dubrovnik’s Old City.
Despite the stuffy, cramped car ride on the way up, the perspective is nice as advertised.
We wander around the gigantic cross and flagpole at the top of the hill. The scenery behind the visitors’ centre is rugged, rocky, and dry. It reminds me very much of some of the landscape I saw in Morocco three years prior.
Karen opts to walk down the hill, while the rest of us take the cable car (this time, much less crowded) to the bottom. Rob and Richard take off soon afterwards; Sanj, Jennifer and I opt to wander around a bit, then grab lunch.
Later, we head to the war photo gallery. It’s a visual eyeopener into the conflicts which gripped the Balkans during the 1990s. The images of people with looks of despair on their faces, of men readying themselves for armed skirmish, even the photos of Dubrovnik’s deserted main streets, and night shots of the town aflame amidst the shelling, are simply arresting. Just looking at them feels surreal. As I’ve said before, it’s almost impossible for me – as a stranger from another country – to fully understand what took place in this region - even with visual proof as vivid as this.
Determined to embrace the seafood culture of the Dalmatian coast (and not to eat meat too early on), I order scampi – another dish I’ve never had! – along with some mussels. The scampi, while decent, is too much work for my novice fingers; the “salad” (which includes pâté that simply melts on my tongue!) and the mussels are much better.
On our post-dinner stroll, the group again breaks up and go separate ways. Karen, Sanj, Jackie and Julia – an Australian couple – and I walk around in search of somewhere to grab a drink or two. Jackie and Julia aren’t with us very long – they go back to the apartments after our first bar stop.
The rest of us stay where we are, trapped in a square on a patio between one venue playing live music and another blasting Euro-beats. We eventually leave, grabbing gelato on the way back.
Tomorrow is another day – one with a change of scenery.
(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)
Saturday, September 1st.
The long voyage is finally over. I’ve made it to Dubrovnik!
Stepping off the plane, I’ve been bracing myself for some searing Croatian heat. But there’s a bit of a breeze, which makes it more bearable than expected. I glance at the rocky, hilly landscape as I cross the tarmac towards the main terminal.
The driver who picks me up in the departures lounge turns out to be the guy who runs the budget apartment complex I (and the tour group I’m meeting) happen to be staying at for the next couple of nights.
I have read in previous online reviews that he can be gruff; from our initial meeting, he seems pretty civil to me.
What isn’t cool is the fact the airline – in transit – has destroyed one of the arms of my backpack, making it impossible to evenly bare my load as we walk towards the hotel owner’s car.
Sitting in the back seat of the four-door sedan, I simply try to take in the scenery as we zip down the road – the cypress trees, the rugged hillside, and the red, clay roofs of homes and other buildings. The most breathtaking view, though, is of the Adriatic Sea below.
The hotel owner mentions it’s a bit misty today, which apparently isn’t common for Dubrovnik at this time of year. I don’t mind in the least.
When we arrive, I’m met by the owner’s daughter, Magdelena – a skinny, leggy girl, probably no more than 18 or 19, if that. She walks me to my accommodation, points out the tour group’s meeting spot with a languid, I-don’t-really-care gesture, lets me into the apartment, hands me the keys, points out the beds, and leaves.
While taking a pre-dinner shower, I hear my roommate-to-be’s voice greeting me through the bathroom door. When I do meet her face-to-face, I find out she’s Jennifer from Austin, Texas. I also meet some other fellow travellers, before finding out they’re with another tour group that’s headed for Albania.
Dang. False start. Take two.
I meet 12 more people who are actually part of my tour group. There’s a contingent from Australia (a brother-sister duo, a couple named Jackie and Julia, and two women probably a bit younger than me, travelling solo), a lone New Zealander who’s been travelling on her own for a number of weeks, and a couple – Rob and Richard – from Toronto! (Proof the world is, in some ways, smaller than we think.)
The last member of our group to arrive is a fellow from Bristol named Sanj, who’s just spent the better part of the day in transit. Travelling hell aside, he seems pretty easygoing and good to speak with. Finally, we meet our trip leader, Livia, who’s from Hungary.
After our introductory group meeting, we head down to dinner – except for my fellow Torontonians, who have gone ahead of us to find their own restaurant.
We pick a place in the Old City, where I have a seafood risotto, and prošek, a sweet dessert wine (very sweet, indeed). The dish itself is very tasty, but the portion’s huge; the prawns arrive at our dining table served in their entirety (feelers, eyes, legs and all). I don’t usually have prawns, period, never mind whole prawns. It doesn’t disturb me. It’s just … different.
After the meal – and some good introductory conversation – most folks turn in for the night. Livia, Jennifer, Sanj and I walk about for a look around, trying to find Jennifer something to eat (turns out she doesn’t eat seafood), and enjoying the remainder of our evening.
It’s a pretty laid-back start to our trip (which is just as well). Let’s see what the next day brings.
(Photo courtesy of Bed and Breakfast World.com.)
Once again, I’ve let my promise to you (to write more) lapse.
But just wanted to point out that seven years ago today was the first time I put fingertips to keyboard and clacked out my first-ever post.
Hmmmm, those were the days. Man, was I ever much chattier back then.
Perhaps I should dig deep and call on my past self for a little inspiration.
Talk to you soon!
(The following entry is from a previous trip – not the present day.)
Sunday, August 5.
I love big Sunday breakfasts.
Especially those involving pancakes and sausages or bacon.
Which is why this morning’s meal is making my mouth water in anticipation.
On a recommendation from the front-desk staff at our hotel, Lori and I make our way over to a place with an enormous range of dishes on its menu – eggs, pancakes, sandwiches, you name it.
Our server is fantastic, as are his recommendations. Lori digs into peach cobbler crepes, while I savour my beloved pancakes - topped with peaches - and just the right amount of bacon. (I’m not sure if there is such a thing as “the right amount” of bacon, but it was for me.)
After our Sunday Breakfast of Sugary Triumph, we hop on the bus, make our way down to Millennium Park, and get on a trolley headed for Chicago’s South Side.
Our tour guide isn’t as gregarious as the one we had yesterday, but he’s equally as friendly, informative, and open to any questions we have.
We catch a glimpse of some of the cities’ museums during one of our stops. But because of time constraints, we don’t get off.
Our tour trolley passes by numerous neighbourhoods, including the leafy, tree-covered Hyde Park neighbourhood (which, if I remember correctly, is close to one of the universities). We even pass by the street the Obamas live (lived?) on – which is noticeable because of the metal barricades blocking off the street.
After the tour, we walk down to the river front, winding our way towards the offices where we buy our tickets for one of the city’s famed architectural tours.
After a bit of a wait for the arrival of the boat, our group and our guide – a volunteer from the architectural society – set off.
Despite being out on the water, the sun is HOT. I have to take cover in a seat under the boat’s awning, to be able to enjoy the tour.
But the view – while not exactly camera-friendly – is still stunning.
Glass-paned windows sparkle; concrete structures stand out. Even the functional criss-crossing of the steel-beamed bridges seem to be somewhat stylized. The guide who describes each major building of interest is a wealth of information – firing off names of architectural firms, styles, and eras with precision.
It is, arguably, the best money – and 90 minutes – spent, if you’ve got any interest in architecture, or even in seeing Chicago from another point of view.
After the tour, we head back down the riverfront, and stop by the lakefront restaurant for two heaping bowls of salad, to tide us over until we can grab dinner.
For our last evening meal in town, we head to a restaurant recommended by friends, called SUSHISAMBA – a Brazilian/Japanese/Peruvian fusion eatery (with six U.S. locations and a fifth in London).
Despite my initial reservations about the sushi portion of the menu (because of two previous unsuccessful outings involving sushi), I did order something I ended up liking very much. Lori orders some sashimi rolls and loves every bite.
Another thing we enjoy? Our waiter. Apart from being super helpful, he is easy on the eyes.
We top off our excellent meals with dessert, then decide to head out in search of some live music.
Relatively close to our hotel, is a little blues bar. We arrive and order drinks just before the band starts. They’re a lively group – they’re funny, friendly, and interact with small folks from the small crowd in attendance. And the music is pretty catchy.
But we only end up staying for an hour; Lori has to board a plane the following morning.
Despite the limited time, our taste of Chicago is brief, but it’s enough to consider a return trip. Probably just not during Lollapalooza.
So I realize that, with the advent of February, it was a new month … which was supposed to mean a backlog of posts from travels, etc., were supposed to be up here, for all of you to read.
And then – nothing.
There are a couple of explanations for that:
(1) Lack of motivation/laziness. Right after the
alcohol-induced exhilaration that comes with ringing in the New Year – and all those lists one starts to make in one’s mind of all the things one plans to accomplish – comes cold, harsh, winter. Which, naturally, wipes out any sort of (actual) sunlight or stimulus for about eight to ten weeks.
Usually, Vitamin D helps the former. But I’ve yet to find anything that helps with boosting the will to sit on my couch and write or type, even if I don’t feel like it. I have, however, mastered the art of staring at my journal. (Because as we all know, if you stare at something long enough, it will merely levitate and go in the direction that you will it to.)
(2) Trying to do things worth writing about. I know I usually write a huge list of goals (under the guise of NOT calling them resolutions) at the start of each year. Within a few days before writing the posts, I normally have a rough idea in my mind what goals I’d like to strive for. And believe me, I had every intention of doing another one. But somehow, I just couldn’t fully formulate what I wanted to write about. And then I started telling myself it was going to be a lame list, and not worth writing. And then I just got lazy.
While that was all happening, I just started vocalizing to other people what I’d like to do. Like trying my hand at the ukelele, since I had been absolutely obsessed with it for about ten minutes. Or perhaps joining a choir, because spending my days around my apartment singing along with iTunes while cleaning wasn’t quite cutting it anymore. Or perhaps hoisting myself back up onto the exercise wagon, after so ungracefully letting myself fall off it several months before.
So, I vocalized my obsession with the ukelele on Facebook. A friend offered to lend hers to me to try it out, since she had her hands full with her newborn son. And I DID tune it using an online Web site, and tried to find a beginner’s YouTube video. But time is a tricky bastard, so I haven’t had a chance to try it again since.
Over Christmas/Hanukkah holidays, while at a friend’s party, she mentioned I should try joining a community choir, of which she was a member. I finally attended a couple sessions, at the beginning of February. But it’s been six weeks, and work has played a major role as to why I haven’t yet returned. I even managed to attend a couple of Sunday evening sessions of my friend’s new start-up choir, when my work schedule temporarily changed. But it’s now changed back, so no more of that.
And back in February, I finally made the decision to resume exercising. I felt like I was really neglecting my health – not really being active, and eating quite terribly. Plus, I’m now 36 years old. Sure, I’m still relatively young. And my body is retaining its shape – but barely. Age is starting to take its toll.
So, with the exception of a few days here and there (due to exercise-related soreness, or schedule changes), I have been trying to exercise in some form at least two to three times per week. Which is all right. With the opening of a new barre workout place within walking distance of my home, I’ve been attempting to do that as well, to bump up my physical activity. (As you can tell, that’s the only thing I’ve managed to stick with.)
(3) Work happened – in a good way. In January, I returned to my old job, after some discussion with my boss. It’s okay, for now. But I know I can’t allow this to become a permanent situation. So before Christmas, I started doing a bit of networking – talking to folks here and there. I continued my networking into January. And unexpectedly, it bore a bit of fruit! I just finished three weeks working in another area of the building.
Boy, was it ever different. It was challenging, a bit frustrating, a little intimidating, occasionally overwhelming, very humbling, and absolutely inspiring. Oh, and my brain hurts. I actually questioned whether I actually liked what I was doing. I had a bit of a feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I wasn’t really measuring up to the others I was working with. But when I had a feedback session with the woman who kindly took me on, she said I did really well. I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard that from someone. And that’s the kind of thing I need, to make me want to work even harder.
Will they take me on again, during the summer? Who knows? Maybe not. But maybe I’ll get another chance to work there later in the spring. That would be very nice. But if I could finagle a work situation that would allow me to try something new each month between now and, say, September – a week here, two weeks there – that would make this year much more enjoyable and would provide more incentive, rather than frustration.
So, there you have it. I’m FINALLY trying to change things for myself, instead of writing and complaining about them as I usually do.
But some other business on this blog remains unfinished. Namely, writing out those travel posts from last summer. Considering how much time has elapsed, they probably won’t be as fresh as they should be. But please forgive me for that. Hopefully I’ll be better about that this year.
Contrary to popular belief I am, in fact, alive and kicking.
I’ve just lacked motivation and/or inspiration to write lately, along with a generous dollop of laziness. (Okay, that might be an understatement.)
I will try and rectify that sooner, rather than later. I can’t guarantee my upcoming posts will be interesting or entertaining, but I will certainly try.
If any regular visitors are still dropping by, please be patient.
And, yes – I owe you a TONNE of travel posts and pictures. Plus one post that may require some unique suggestions, if you’re game.
P.S. Thanks for dropping by on my birthday last week – it was appreciated!