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Archive for October, 2009

Let’s Ride

This is a quick blog entry for all my fellow motorcyclists out there, specifically my fellow GS riders.  You know who you are.  And I’m jumping ahead a bit, as we haven’t gotten to Istanbul on our blog yet, but some things are just too vital to pass up.

Don and John, this blog is for you.  For every time I talk with you one of the first things you say to me is, “Let’s ride!”  And I always reply, “Let’s do it.”

We were sitting at dinner a few nights ago and I shot out of my chair as I watched a fully loaded, fully equipped 1200GS ride by, the rider obviously on a long journey and Istanbul close to the end of it.  I looked immediately at Cara and she smiled back saying, “Man, did your eyes light up.  It’s obvious you want to be that guy.”  What a trip that would be.  It didn’t take me long to be dreaming of riding from Calais, France to Istanbul, Turkey on my GS.  Anyone up for joining me?

Then today as we were taking a taxi across town to the football match, a 1200GS – same year as mine – buzzed by us, threading through traffic: the rider wearing a jacket that said, “Trafik Polis.”  Which means in Turkish (of course), “Traffic Police.”  The traffic cops ride GSs.  How fabulous is that?!

I knew there was another reason I liked this place.  Let’s do it.

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Do Not Pass GO

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When I was really young I loved to play Monopoly.  Moving the miniature metal car or boot around the board, landing on a railroad, buying properties, accumulating enough wealth to financially (and emotionally) crush your opponents – something about it resonated deep with the worst of human nature – and there was something fun about that.  Certainly holding $52,000 in your hands is a bit heady for a seven year old.  I mean, think about how many Stretch Armstrongs I could get with that.  But embedded in the very design of the game was a philosophical framework – a way of understanding money – that was definitely less than noble.  This was no “social capitalism” or the creative utilization of excess wealth to improve a community/city/society.  No, this was about literally impoverishing those who shared the board with you and running it as a tyrant bent on nothing else than total financial superiority.  Karl Marx’s worst-case scenario comes alive in a board game.  And I can tell you from personal experience that there are few places you’ll find the worst of human nature more than when playing Monopoly with your siblings.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my sisters and brother, and I can honestly say I really like them as people too.  But when you’re the littlest in the family (that is, until your little brother comes along much later) games take on seriousness that at times can feel like life-or-death.  In my case, you already get the beat-down from your older sisters, so the only real level playing field is on a game board.  Or so I once thought.

More often than not when I played Monopoly with my sisters I would end up impoverished, crying, or both.  There’s nothing like landing on your sister’s Park Place (that she just put a hotel on) and watching her gloat as you count out your last $50.  On very – and I mean very – few occasions when the dice would roll my way, I would come out on top and gloat so ostentatiously that ultimately I would end up on the wrong side of a headlock: and then enter the crying.  As you can see I was somewhat scarred by the painful results when capitalism meets Lord of the Flies.

One of the places on the Monopoly board that you didn’t want to land on was Jail.  Whenever you did land on Jail (or got the card that sent you there) it says in big, bold letters, Do Not Pass GO.  GO was that place that rewarded you for making it around the board still intact, and for passing GO you got $450.  Often it was GO that saved my bacon, but as I said above, I’d end up giving it to my sisters anyway.

When we arrived into Athens from Croatia we had a Do Not Pass GO experience, resulting from a lost Lonely Planet guidebook, two hours waiting for nothing, and a night spent huddled together on airport benches.  But the experience made it into the blog, so that means it’s a memory worth having.

When you deplane from a long flight, you’re not necessarily thinking straight.  I know this is often the case that is why before landing I ensure whatever possessions I have in the seat-back pocket I make sure I have stowed in my bag.  I was literally looking at the Greece guidebook when the “please remain seated” light dinged on, and thought to myself, “Don’t forget that is there when we land.”  Which of course I completely forgot.  My system had been developed over many years and hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel and I had honed it down until it worked flawlessly.  Except for when I broke from routine (there’s a life lesson in there somewhere…).

When I remembered I had forgotten our Lonely Planet guide in the seat pocket we had taken just about 30 steps off the plane.  The airport personnel had watched me walk by but when I turned around and came back to try and get our guidebook they stopped me.  Due to security reasons I couldn’t get back on.  Seriously?!  I mean, I was just there – you saw me walk by you ten seconds ago!  Here’s my boarding pass.  As you can imagine my pleading was to no avail.  It was a ridiculous policy but I was forced to capitulate.  There was no going back.  So we turned and headed down the jetway, stunned.  Do Not Pass GO.

Our Lonely Planet guidebooks serve as our map and compass.  Without them we are, to us, walking blind.  They show us how to get around, where to stay, where to go, how to get around, and the little tidbits of information that make traveling through a strange place a bit more manageable.  So when I left our Greece guidebook on the plane it was a big deal.  So we waited.  And waited.  Waiting for the promised, “I will tell the flight crew to get it for you and bring it to Lost and Found.”  A lot of good that was.  In the end, after numerous times of inquiry we were curtly told, “No book” and waved off.  Expecting any real service from chain-smoking baggage control women at 12:30 am is pointless.  So we trudged off, having wasted valuable time for getting into Athens and finding accommodation.  Do Not Pass GO.

We slept in the Athens International Airport by a large illuminated billboard for fashion jeans.  The armrests were bolted onto the chairs and there was no respite from the hard, compressed plastic seats.  We hunkered down the best we could and I really wondered how hardcore my wife really was: how up for this little ‘adventure’ was she?  Almost in answer to my inward question she just smiled, pulled out her travel pillow and did the best she could to get her body prone across the seat and her luggage.  She covered her face with the hood of her jacket, got as horizontal as the seat would allow, and cling onto her little travel pillow for dear life.  I have to say, she rode that night out the best as can be expected.

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Yes, Cara is under there somewhere.

I could go on.  I could tell of the stranded couple two rows behind us with whom we would exchange forlorn glances throughout the night, or of the airport custodial crew that would bang the nearby trash cans so loudly it sounded like a convoy of buses hitting the terminal.

But what I will end on is a happy ending.  One, we knew we were having an experience that we would always remember and one that was so part of our RTW trip.  Of course we were going to have to have a forced bivouac in some random airport somewhere.  Second, I learned that my awesome wife can roll with just about anything and is the easiest, most enjoyable travel mate I have ever had.  Lucky me.  And lastly, I booked us a five star hotel for the next night, complete with clean sheets and fluffy towels – and all that for half price.  Get Out of Jail card.  “Proceed Directly to GO.”

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On the metro to our hotel.

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Reflections on Hrvatska

Post Ballet Downpour

Our time in Croatia was, simply put, fabulous.  Granted, it had its moments.  Like when we walked out of the ballet last night to an absolute downpour.  But then again, as you noticed from the above comment, we were at a ballet.  So certainly not much to complain about.  And that’s how the trip has been so far: the glass could be half empty, but it’s way more half-full (or all the way full, as the case may be).

We fell in love with Istria.  The region of Istria is in the far north west of Croatia and about as close to the Italian countryside as you can get without actually being in the Italian countryside (if that wasn’t already obvious).  The small fa

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Pigs on the run

rm we stayed at was perched atop the highest hill in the area and had a commanding view of the entire region.  And not only that but it was a working farm where they grew their own food, made their own wine and olive oil (and jams), and had two pet pigs that roamed the property, keeping the place clean – and the family busy keeping them out of the gardens. The gardens.  The rows of vegetables growing in rows between the olive trees!  Fabulous.  And the vineyards, olive orchards, pigs wandering around.  Glorious.

So, naturally, Cara and I want our own slice of Istria.  If not the real thing, then a version of it back home.  I’m already dreaming of 10 acres of olives, vines, fruit trees, and animals all around.  Throw in a woodshop and I’m in bliss.

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I hope to have time to write more about it later, but for the now I’m racing against the time-allotment I have here in Gatwick airport as we get ready to head on to Athens.  Athens will be a flash in the pan – we have only one full day to see the Acropolis, etc – but hey, who wouldn’t take the opportunity to see the birthplace of Western civilization?  The flight to Athens just posted on the billboard.  Off we go.

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Freedom

Our country is known as the Land of the Free, and we American’s highly value the many liberties we have:  The freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the freedom to bear arms – to name just a few. Casey and I quit our jobs, liquidated some money and chose to enjoy the freedom of adventure and the unknown.  So we feel incredibly free in maSloveniaking the break and just doing this.  But as we have begun to plan our travel-as-we-go (and I really mean this – we have no hotels booked, no transportation or tours planned in most of the countries) there becomes some barriers to just having plain freedom to do whatever whenever, when there are logistics involved.  Sometimes the weather doesn’t work with you.  Sometimes you can’t communicate with others.  Sometimes you have no place to put your luggage and no idea where to go.  Sometimes you get lost.

So we allowed ourselves to be very American: we rented a car.  The freedom we have found with the ability to throw our luggage in the trunk, open up a map, and just plain adventure, has completely changed the atmosphere of this country visit for us.  As William Wallace in Braveheart yelled…”Freedom!”  Okay, a bit dramatic, but you catch my drift.

Italia

While in the northern region of Croatia, we took our Volkswagon Golf rental car and did a fun day trip.  We drove through the wine and olive fields, through country of Slovenia and grabbed lunch in Italy.  Yes, Italy.  The coastal town of Trieste.  We had our first authentic Italian pizza, browsedthe town square and had a quick hot chocolate before heading back home.

There are a few countries that Casey and I have decided NOT to add on this RTW trip.  They are places that we both want to see, but feel as if they are countries that might do better as a trip on their own.  Countries that we’d like to stay longer and use as a holiday (vacation) some day in the future.  Italy was one of these countries (along with India and China).  So it was a crazy treat for us to get the opportunity to visit ITALY on a whim!  Blessed we are.

In some ways we wished that we were able to rent an old VW van and just drive across Europe and Asia, sleep inside, and get to know those we meet along the way.  Or actually, we’d like to do this in our own country.  Hmmm, maybe for our next adventure?

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Pizza en Italia

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Mother of Bambi

Istria, the far northwest region of Croatia, is euro-renown for it’s gastronomical talent, exquisite olives, wine, oils, truffles (of mushroom variety) and its absolute breath-taking countryside.  Casey and I found our gem here.  It all started on Tuesday in Croatia…

After packing in a long morning of hiking in the Paklenica National Park, we strolled through the quaint island of Pag and were blessed with a few hours of sunlight (thank you Lord).  We roamed the town square of Pag and took in local life as we watched these three old men chatting it up on the bench.  They didn’t look so nice, but I still asked if I could take their photo.  They agreed, and then asked me if I was “Deutch” or “English.”  I replied “English,” and then after I clarified that we were from San Francisco rather than London, they all perked up and hollered “San Francisco!  Ahhh, San Francisco!” with large smiles on their faces.  It is pretty crazy how world renown that San Francisco is throughout the world, even in some of the remotest places. We couldn’t leave Pag Island without trying their Croatian specialty cheese that the island is known for, called  “Paski Sir” (Pag Cheese).  My husband and I have agreed: it is quite possibly the best cheese we have ever tasted.  We have the sheep that graze on fields that have been nurtured by Pag Island’s biggest industry – salt – to thank for this.

Angry Old Men (well, not so angry) - Pag Island

Angry Old Men (well, not so angry) - Pag Island

The best part of this Tuesday was when we decided to stay in a family-owned farm in the middle of the Istria region’s interior.  There were only a few of the farms in the region to choose from, and we of course decided on the one farm where the lady couldn’t speak an ounce of English on the phone, and was located in a village too small to be on the map!  However, we did know that the family had two friendly pigs that roamed their farm (for those of you who do not know, both Casey and I grew up on ranches where we raised pigs), so we were hooked.

We put in a long day of driving, so we didn’t arrive to the Istria region until dark.  Very dark.  Today we giggled as we reminisced at the feat of our finding this farm in the middle of the dark.  We essentially played dot-to-dot through a countryside that was lit up by castles on the distant hills and small farm house lights on.  We would drive through one small village (I can’t even call them towns) after another, and each had some type of small roman ruin, castle and always a beautiful stone church building. It was about 8:30 p.m. by the time we roamed around in the dark (with headlamps on) throughout a small village trying to find the farm that had the 2 pigs and a room to rent.

San Mauro is the name of the village.  It sits on the top of this crazy hillside that overlooks the Adriatic Sea to the west, borders the country of Slovenia a mere 4 km to the north (as well as Italy 25 km north), and breath-taking olive orchards and vineyards as far as you can see south and east.  We stayed at the Sinkovic family farm and winery.

View from our Croatian Villa ~                               Sinkovic Family Farm & Winery in Istria

View from our Croatian Villa ~ Sinkovic Family Farm & Winery in Istria

Our first meal was in one of the two San Mauro restaurants: Furia.  The owner could either have been Croatian or Italian, we weren’t sure, as Istria has been inhabited by Italians for so many years that all the signs and menus are written in both Croatian and Italian in this part of the country.  His English was almost perfect, but at some point during his translation of the menu for us, he could not remember the word for one of the meats on the menu.  In his cute accent, he informed us that it was “the mother of bambi.”  It gave us quite a giggle!


It was, and is, our little gem of Croatia.  We have many plans and excuses to return here…



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Insert Pout

Brrr!

Hiking the Bavarian Alps in Germany - Day 2

Hiking the Bavarian Alps in Germany - Day 2

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So it has turned out to be a bit colder than I had expected (insert pout)…


Cara pout

…but I am incredibly thankful.

Though the temp never made it above 53 degrees today in Croatia, I was blessed beyond measure.  I started my morning today with my lovely husband sitting in front of the Adriatic Sea eating bread and cheese and talking about life…  I awoke to the gorgeous bells of the churches around the palace this morning…  I met a sweet 90-year-old Croatian man who took the time to tell me stories…  we explored roman ruins of Diocletian’s Palace and Solin (Salona)… we proceeded to get lost trying to return to the City via local bus line…  and made a new friend, Dejan, who helped us get home safely.

On this trip thus far, I have yet to be warm.  Literally.  It snowed and rained in Munich and the wind has blown like crazy in Croatia.  For anyone who knows me: Cara does not do well when she is cold (insert smile).  Travel is not always comfortable, in so many ways.  My experience of past has already taught me this lesson, though it is taking the German and Croatian temperatures to remind me of it yet again.

I guess that is all I have to say tonight.  It is time now, for me to steal all the heat from my husband as I kindly slip into bed to shock him with my freezing cold hands and feet.  Oh the joys of loving Cara…

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Split, Croatia

After an early morning start in Munich, two flights and a bus ride, we are now in Split.  This is an amazing place.  Best known for being the site where Diocletian built his retirement palace in 295 AD, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most impressive Roman monuments.  It is pretty fabulous and we’ll share more about it in the coming days.  But for now I’m wiped out.

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