Wednesday, September 30, 2009
We flew RyanAir which has strict requirements about take-on luggage. Everyone in Europe knows these requirements. RyanAir allows each passenger to bring 1 carry-on (this includes purse or laptop bag - 1 means 1) weighing a max. of 10kilo, and it has to be smaller than certain dimensions. If you go over, the gate attendants will require you to pay a 30EUR fee and check the bag at the gate (they get commision for every bag they catch which is over).
At this point I boarded. Then 10 min later she re-appeared on the flight and decided to sit next to me (I should have said no). Next steps: she threw her kid on the seat and then took-off 4 (FOUR) pairs of pants, 4 (FOUR) shirt, and 1 coat. In an effort to make her largest bag fit within weight restricitions, she took out all her clothes and put them on. Turns out she had 3 bags + 1 purse + 1 stroller + 1 child, none of which she checked ahead of time. The largest bag wasn't able to fit under the seat or in an overhead bin. She placed it in the aisle between our seats instead. What was she thinking?!
During this entire ordeal, her ~1 yr old baby was trying to get to the floor, hitting the tray table, and throwing things from her purse. The only things she brought for her baby (that I saw) were a pacifer, an empty bottle and a bunch of diapers which she tossed all over the seat midway through the flight when she decided to change the baby on the seats (YUCK!!). When packing up the diaper bag, she put the baby on the ground where it fell over and hit it's head on the bottom of the seat. During landing, she was more interested in the conversation with her new friends across the aisle than making sure her baby was sitting down in her lap.
People like this should not be travelling with kids, or perhaps not even have kids.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The Guaja Valley forest is absolutely gorgeous. It's a long valley with a river running through the middle (a perfect canoeing & camping spot... anyone want to go next year?). Pine and aspen trees are everywhere. Caves are also a frequent site. And medieval ruins are scattered throughout the valley. The E. European & Baltic forests are the most gorgeous that I've encountered in Europe.
It was the perfect day for an outdoor adventure... warm weather, sunny skies, and the leaves just starting to change colors (it looked like a Monet would if painted in fall). I was really looking forward to some hiking. However, it seems Latvians have the same view on hiking as Croatians... paved paths and high heels are the preferred option. There are even paved paths and stairs to nowhere (like the 200 stairs I climbed to get to a platform overlooking nothing... my legs & butt thanked me though). Off-road hiking and canoeing would be the best way to see the valley.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Fly with China Airlines.
Before June 2001, I had no problems with flying. Then in June 2001, my family took a trip to China, flying with China Airlines. The seat belt sign remained on for the entire 10+ hour flight to China due to extreme turbulence. We were able to look out the window and see the wings bending with the turbulence bumps. And the pilots decided that the best take-offs and landings involved the plane going straight up and straight down. If you looked around on this plane flight, everyone was gripping the arm rests with white knuckles and was praying. This flight description is on par with the rest of the flights that we took within China on Chinese Airlines were the same. I’m very happy we survived.
Now I'm fine with flying, until turbulence hits. When this happens, I immediately start to panic and think of this incident.
Thus, my flight this weekend to Riga, Latvia was not a pleasant one as the RyanAir pilots seem to have the same opinion as the Chinese Air pilots that a straight up and straight-down landings are the best approach. Also, for some reason they keep alternating between 1) going sharply up (or down) + engines roaring, then 2) leveling out + engines going quiet, then repeat. It was so extreme that the teenagers on the flight going to Riga actually started cheering whenever our stomach would drop from a sharp up or down (like on an amusement park ride).
Is this normal? If yes, I need to find a good coping mechanism for turbulence. Any ideas?
I originally had low expectations for Zagreb for a couple reasons... Our trip to Zagreb was set for a Sunday. Sundays in Western Europe usually involved everything being closed and people staying at home. In addition, we’d found the in-land cities to be more industrial and not tourist friendly. And I was tired from all the traveling.
Upon arrival, we found a cute Italian restaurant in the basement of a random building in old town. This was obviously the place to be as it appeared many groups had spent their entire evening there, based on the bottles of wine. Sunday was spent taking a foot walking tour through the many, pretty old buildings and monuments. The best part was visiting all the parks that Zagreb is known for. Each park in this city has a different theme: old English park with walking trails, lake & tea garden, botanical gardens full of unique flowers, and manicured parks. This town is so dog friendly - we even saw a guy taking a posing his dog in front of a fountain, taking a pic, then rewarding the dog (pic below).
There was a "Nike" festival happening in town when we were there to celebrate the opening of the new store. They were raffling off this cute little Nike car. I was hoping to win the contest, but soon realized I had no chance - especially compared to the 10 yr olds who were much better able to kick the ball in all the holes.
Going to Plitvicka Jetzera National Park almost made up for missing the Grand Tetons.
The drive to the park was entertaining. We encountered some of the windiest conditions that I’ve ever seen. When parked at a tourist info store on a ridge near the park, the car door literally almost blew off when I opened it (it definitely didn't shut fully after that). Many of the visitors to this station were not physically able to walk to their car by themselves.
On this trip, I learned that “hiking” in Croatia is actually equivalent to the US phrase "taking a Sunday stroll.” At the beginning of the hike, we noticed that we were quite out-of-place in our hiking clothes, especially compared to the women in high heels. All the paths to the ravine were paved or wooded (for those going across water). And trams and ferries transport visitors to the beginning of the walks, ensuring nothing too strenuous. I was slightly disappointed as I was looking forward to some serious hiking.
On this trip, we were lucky enough to be in a small walking group with 3 very cute, Italian soccer players. All in all, a very worthwhile trip.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Split & Trogir left a lot to be desired. This impression could have been caused by the extreme heat, the lack of sleep (we had to get up at 4am to catch our ferry to Split), or the fact that there wasn't much to do (they're both more "industrial" towns, so not as much fun for tourists).
They both have charming old city centers with castles, churches, squares, and huge, vibrant markets. Trogir is even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. But the tourist stuff took only 2 hours to do. At which point, we were so overwhelmed by the number of tourists and the heat that we headed to the beach.
The beach (i.e. concrete deck around the bay) was my favorite part of the days. Croatians play this random water hackeysack/soccer/acrobatics game. Many of the moves are very impressive, like the black flip, half twist, kick with foot in air before a wave comes.
Must see's in Split & Trogir: 1. Flower growing on every balcony. It's like a giant garden.
2. Little kids selling their school books in the town square. So much for centralized book sellers, it's all about bargaining here.
Must NOT See's in Split & Trogir:
3. Unsafe metal & cement staircases and decks. Building safety codes are not up to standard. In Split, I climbed a 8 flights of metal stairs to the top of the bell tower. During the entire climb, the stairs wouldn't stop shaking due to two little boys stomping up them ahead of me. I thought they'd break away from the wall. It also didn't help that there were often waist high windows, with no safety bars, on the climb up which would be easy to fall out of. During the walk, I kept telling myself to turn around for safety reasons. Ironally the next morning, there was a news segment showing an apt deck that collapsed and crashed into a car below. I passed on climbing the next bell tower.
Pic1 (above): Split from the ferry
Pic2 (above): food & flower market in Split
Pic3 (above): church tower at castle (which had the dangerous steps)
Pic4 (above): sunset on the waterfront in Split
Pic5 (above): young entrepreneurs (i.e. students) sell their school books
Pic6 (below): Trogir waterfront
Pic7 (below): balconies with flowers
Pic8 (below): unsafe stairway in church
Pic9 (below): little kid who is very proud of his seashell collection. He pushed another kid out of the pic so that it was just him.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
(Day 5 of vacation)
Vis, a small island just west of Split, was my favorite of all the places we visited in Croatia & Bosnia.
Until the 1990's, Vis was a military outpost. The island had a few forts, but was largely left untouched. Now as a public island, Vis (the island and city) is small & quant. There are 2 parts of the village, the old and new city center, which are within 10 min walking distance of each other. Old stone buildings make up the majority of houses. People walk or bike to get around (there are not streets for cars). Both city centers are situated right on the water and have docks for boats. All in all, it's a quant, sleepy island. The pace in Vis is much slower and very relaxing.
Our apt in Vis was nice but slightly strange. The bedroom was upstairs and the kitchen & bathroom downstairs (we had to walk outside, through the courtyard, to get to them). In addition, there were pics of dead people - dead relatives to be exact - hanging on the walls of the bedroom - relatives of the owner. These were similar to the pics at the Haunted House in Disneyland. The owner of the house proudly told us the life story of all the dead relatives. As soon as she left, those promptly were removed from the walls along with the huge picture of the Virgin Mary hanging over the bed. Nightmares anyone?
Our first night in Vis, we arrived exhausted & hungry. Not wanting to walk far, we ended up at 1 of 4 restaurants near our apt in the old city center. We were told this would have vegetarian food (to appease the 2 vegetarians), however that was definitely not the case. We did a great job offending the host, and possibly owner, of the restaurant. First, we showed up in our travel clothes, which were definitely less stylish than the clothes of hte other partons (all who must have come from yachts). Second, we asked him for veggie food. His snooty reply: "this is a seafood restaurant." Yet when we contemplated moving restaurants, he did promise us that they could do veggie which didn't work out. Their idea of veggie was cooking the vegetables with fish, and then removing all large chunks of fish before serving it. So thirdly, he was annoyed that we didn't love the food. We'll be invited back there soon.
The rest of Vis was wonderful. The next day, IM & KS took a boat trip to the world-famous blue caves (Modra Spilja) on Bisevo. I went scuba diving at the green cave (Zelena Spilja) on Vis and also did a 2nd dive at under-water pyramid rock formations. For the first time in my life, I saw a thermocline. A thermocline is when the water changes temperature drastically in the course of 1-2 ft. Usually this is felt, not seen. However, the temperature switch was so extreme in water near Vis (went from 25 to 15 degrees Celsius), that we actually saw the thermocline. It looked like spilled oil in the water. The rest of the afternoon, I found a place all to myself on the side of the Vis harbor and relaxed (IM & KS were still on their outing).
That evening, we cooked a pasta dinner then went to an outdoor cinema. There is 1 theatre in Vis. It's located in a small courtyard right next to the water. Every night, a different, current film plays. We saw Angels & Demons. It was the perfect way to spend an evening.
The next morning we left bright & early on a 2 hour Catamaran. Before we left, we had to hang the dead people back up. Ugh. More nightmares.
Pic1: Boys fishing at the main street in Vis.
Pic2: The son of 1 of the divers who joined our trip; the captain promised him an icre cream cone upon return if he behaved well.
Pic3: My relaxing spot on the shore of Vis harbor; this type of stone slab is typical to find at the beaches in Croatia.
Despite spending hours checking online, calling & emailing transit authority, and double-checking the schedules of transit with the ticket office when we were in town, we still ran into problems. The main reason: all summer schedules become void on Sept. 1st when new schedules are posted to correspond with the shift from summer to fall. Unfortunately no one knows ahead of time what the new schedule will be. Also, no one that we spoke with seemed aware that the schedule changed on Sept. 1st.
(Day 4 of vacation) To travel from Dubrovnik to the island of Vis, we planned to take an 8-hour ferry on Sept 1st. Due to the Sept. 1st switch, there was a change of plans:
6:40am - arrive at ferry landing; learn that ferry will depart 1 hour later (due to Sept. 1st switch); have to wait 1 more to buy tickets
7:45am - try to buy ferry tickets; learn that ferry is going to another island destination & no ferries go to Vis today (due to Sept. 1st change)
8:00am - IM & I running back and forth for 30 min. (looking very clueless) between the ferry ticket office, bus ticket office, rental car agency, & tourist info determining how to figure out how to get to Vis; KS was the lucky one during this ordeal - she got to sit on a bench, eat breakfast, watch our bags, and be relaxed
8:45am - buy bus tickets to Split (learn bus is full and we'll have to squeeze on)
8:50am - board bus to Split (where hopefully we can get a ferry going to Split); bus was over-booked and we got stuck sitting next to old ladies try to use our foot space for their bags
1:00pm - arrive in Split; spend 30 min discussing with lady at ferry ticket office & learn that there are no ferries to Vis until tomorrow morn (due to Sept. 1st switch)
1:30pm - go to internet cafe; call travel agency in Vis; learn from travel agency in Vis that there is a 4pm ferry from Split to Vis today
2:00pm - purchase tickets for 4pm ferry to Vis from the same lady who told us that there were no ferries to Vis today
4:00pm - board ferry; sleep in sun on back of ferry
8:00pm - arrive in Vis (yeah!!!)
9:00pm - negotiate accomodation & site-seeing plans for next day (cave boat trips for friends, scuba diving in caves for me)
10:00pm - make it to our B&B
While we were waiting to get our ferry tickets in Dubrovnik, a couple younger folks got on a (very nice) yacht. I commented how we should get a ride with them. Next time - I will ask them for a ride instead of just commenting. My guess is that they would have made it to Vis much quicker (and in better style). Next year, it's all about the yacht.
I would like to thank my parents who spent years teaching me how to figure out stuff on my own, and how to deal with last-minute changes like the one above. :)
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
(Day 2 & 3 of vacation)
Dubrovnik was designed for women who love stilettos. The streets and buildings are made of a gorgeous pieces of white marble, which have no cracks or bumps in between them (so stilettos can be worn without getting stuck in the stones). The old town was rebuilt in the 1990's, after being destroyed in the war. This was a smart investment by Croatia as many tourists visit here. The end result is a sleek and stylish old city, which brings in lots of tourists.
Around the old city are the original fortress walls. Visitors can walk around the top of the old fortress walls and have a glimpse of the whole town and of all the yellow and orange rooftops (yellow = old roof, orange = newly re-roofed... see pic above). Hiding throughout the city are small, cute corners with restaurants, bars and fountains of fresh, drinking water. Pic 4 (above) shows an amazing location just on the outside of the fortress walls where people can sit, watch kids jump of the rocks into the water, and enjoy the sunset.
Ironically, there is a sign in the alleyway on the way to this bar saying "no nudists." Apparanetly nudism is a common theme in Dobrovnik.
There are 2 beaches in Dubrovnik: 1 sandy beach (sandy beaches are not common in Croatia) and 1 stone beach. As it was 100 degrees when we visited, we decided to go swimming. We were told by our hosts to visit the 2nd (stone) beach because it was cleaner, less crowded and also has a cave, with a fresh water spring, where people can swim. We were told to avoid the sand beach as it is dirty and gets too crowded. Taking the advice, we set-off by boat to a nearby island where the 2nd beach is located. When we got there, we learned why it is less crowded... it is a nudist beach. A nudist beach full of gay guys to be exact. Not wanting to miss out on swimming in the cave, and too lazy to walk back to the dock and wait for the next boat back to Dubrovnik, we set-up camp at the beach (or rock-slabs would more accurately describe the "beach"). This turned out to be a smart move. The water was great, the cave was cool (except for the dead fish where the salt and fresh water meet), our neighbors were very smart and interesting to talk with, and not once did anyone even look our way. From our spot on the rocks, we were able to overhear some very interesting discussions including the pro's of gay rights in Canada, 2 (Italian?) men - 1 older & big, 1 younger & in-shape, flirting vicariously with each other and discussing how they declined further comment during an interview, and modern European Architecture. Definitely an afternoon well-spent.
Natives to Dubrovnik are very nice. The owners of the B&B in which we stayed forever asked us if they could help us (and even brought up grapes and pomegranates fresh from their garden). The 20 yr old son of the owners spent much time trying to figure out if how old we were and if any of us are single. The whole family gave us great tips for places to see.
All in all, it was a very entertaining visit. One thing to note if you visit Dubrovnik in summer... find a place with A/C!
Pic1: Main street in the old town
Pic2: Famous "step" on side of wall... legend has it that the longer you can stand on this ledge, the better your luck will be (it is impossible for all but little kids to stand on this as the edge is so warn from people attempting to stand on it)
Pic3: rooftops within old city
Pic4: rocks outside the wall of the fortress where kids jump into water; also a happy hour bar
Pic5: cave & nudist beach from boat
*Click on pics to make bigger