Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Split to Dubrovnik - Um Yeah & Certain Level of Fitness Required

Hello all! So many things are happening! It is so hard to find some time to just sit and write it all down! I know I say that a lot but really! I am living a jam packed life! Even as I write these I am shocked at how many things happen before lunch!

Thanks all for reading too! Also, a friend of mine shared a link with me for his new album and I wanted to post it here too. Check it out! Wake Up

Recap! We're in Split, Croatia, the weather is terrible, but we are having fun.

All I can say was this day was a real turning point in our trip. Slovenia was the slow time, a time to recoup, but things were about to speed up. Attention to the word up. There have been a few days where at the end of the day we are both like, "Wow! Did we really just do that!" Today was one of those times. 

Get ready, I hope that I do it justice. 

So, it's morning in Split and much to our chagrin, it is raining. But what are you going to do. We have had amazing weather on this trip and if we have to take some clouds, I guess that Split would be a fine place to have them.

Not that Split isn't great, it is pretty, has some neat history, but there is not a lot going on here. However, it is our job to find the cool stuff, so out we went.

Here is the entrance to our hostel. I didn't mention this yesterday but it was a bit odd. The hostel was located in an apartment building, which was okay by me as I have staying in a place like this before, but Brandon was a bit confused. Either way, like I said yesterday, the place was great. Small but great. 

First things first, we went to check on the car. Remember, we had parked it on the street to avoid paying by the hour. Thankfully, parking it next to the garbage has proved successful and the car was fine. Whew!

So off into Split we went. The main deal with Split is that was initially commissioned by Dioclesian as his retirement home. Not a bad place. A good portion of the city is his "palace."

So ruins. Actually this place is pretty old.

We grabbed some pastries for breakfast, again, Brandon liked his and I was less than thrilled. By this time it had really started to rain so we decided to buy the Palace Pass (that is not what it was called but I am naming it that) and check the place out. The pass gave us entry to 5 places, the treasury, the chapel, the cave, Jupiter's something, and the tower.

Our course just as we walked in so did three large tour groups. Like that has never happened before. At this point we should really learn our lesson. There is no need to buy an entrance ticket to anything. Just sneak in with a tour group. But I digress.

We checked out the treasury, it was cool. A couple of relics. Next we headed into the chapel. The chapel was really pretty but something that I did think was cool were these doors. I "joined" a tour group and learned that these doors are a replica of the original ones in Florence. It was cool because I have seen the actual doors in Florence last time I was there.

After the chapel we did the cave with was a bit underwhelming but we did it with about 30 Italian school kids which made it more interesting. One thing we have learned about the Italian tourists, and this is secondary knowledge not firsthand i'll add, is that they love to throw coins into water.

So here we are in the cave and what do we see but 30 Italians throwing coins into a small pool in the center. Nice. Firsthand knowledge now.

Brandon wanted to go in and get some to pay for lunch. He didn't.

After the cave, we headed out of the palace to check out the street market. Tons of vendors but many of them had similar stuff. Not tpo much jit, mostly food, which was great. The best part of it all... the amazingly beautiful strawberries that people were selling!

They were stunning and to be honest, they were the best strawberries that I have ever tasted! I have even tried in season ones from the side of the road in California and these were better. Delicious!

In addition to the strawberries, we got a Buret. This thing was not great. I thought Brandon has said it was a delicacy of Croatia but in fact he has said Slovenia. I was a country behind. Basically its phylo dough with some gritty cheese inside. Yet another Croatian pastry that I didn't like. Why do I keep trying these things. I ended up taking a few bites and then throwing mine out. Brandon finished his. Yuck!

Here are the strawberries! Wow! Amazing! Enorme!

Back to the palace.

We followed a tour group into Jupiter's something, what was that called? It was fine but the cool part was the box tomb thing in the middle. There was no water in it, but it was filled with coins. Brandon was gonna go in for some....

But then the man taking tickets came in and spotted us. Bummer. I guess it is best this way. So instead of stealing from Jupiter and Diocletian in one fail swoop, I decided to instead mimic the statues. They get really pissed if you do this in France but apparently in Croatia, they don't care.

So that was cool. It was getting close to noon and we were supposed to drive 5 hours to Dubrovnik that afternoon, there are bunch of small towns on the way and we wanted to have plenty of time to see everything, so it seemed reasonable to head out. We were about 15 seconds out of the palace when Brandon realized that we didn't do the tower.

Now, I had "conveniently" forgotten that "the tower" was on our "palace pass." Not sure if you have gotten this from me yet, but I am freaking scared of heights. I don't do well. Half the time I force myself to climb, ascend, right, go up, etc things. But really, no, hate it, not me. The night before Brandon had been reading about the tower and people were saying things like....

"We visited the bell tower at a cost of 10 kuna and it was definately worthwhile, if somewhat unnerving! There are no health and safety precautions and it is the first time I have felt nervous looking up. You just have to remind yourself the staircase has been here for ages and keep going, the views are fantastic and going down is much easier! There are some narrow, deep, enclosed steps with nothing to hang on to which are tricky if, like me, you have short legs, but you just have to take your time. I would not recommend taking children up here..."


"Treasury & the Bell Tower. It's a short though tough-ish climb but VERY narrow & windy at the top. Just an open metal staircase & wobbly hand rails made several people turn back from reaching the top. Also quite nervy when passing people going the other way who were sticking to the walls."

There are tons more, I could go on... in fact here's the link.

Anyway, this is in my mind, it is raining, it's windy, it's cloudy so you really can't see anything. I have absolutely no desire to go up. But Brandon had other ideas.

I am still not sure why I went, but I did. And my god, it was scary! So basically this thing is an old bell tower that was never meant to have people climb it. Then someone got the idea to put some metal stairs going all the way to the top. The bell tower is completely open on all sides, the stairs of floating all the way up, it's windy, high, and the only thing keeping your from falling is some 2 inch metal piping that they are calling a handrail. Wonderful.

Here's what I saw.

Please kill me.

So I get up, we are standing on this metal platform. Great. So I take my pictures, in fact, my memory card was full, so I am trying to delete stuff, my hands are shaking. Finally I get the ones you saw, I am trying to go down, and this Japanese couple intercepts me and asks me to take a picture of them! And it wasn't just one picture. They wanted like 5! From various angles! I was shaking so bad I could barely push the button down.

Brandon was just laughing.

Finally, after all of that, I got to go down. Of course, the whole climb down, I am freaking out and describing what just happened. Just as I emerge from the gate on the bottom, I finish up with, "Yeah, because there are no walls and you can fall out!" At the same time, a woman from Texas is passing me to go up. She stops, turns around and says, "You can fall out!"


After that, thank the Lord it is over, we went to get a coffee. Okay, wow. At this point my heart is still racing. But I feel good. I overcame my fear. Who knows how long this high will last. Right now it is affecting my flying mindset. Do I really need to come home? I mean Europe is nice, no need to fly home right? Ah!

View from coffee seat.

No more false hope, we are now really heading out. We have done, climbed, and seen most of's about time we Split too. Not before hitting the grocery store first.

Here is the milk selection.

And into the car we went. I forget why, but somehow I was driving again. This is important for later on in the story. I think that we agreed that I would drive for an hour but then I ended up doing the whole trip. Which is okay too because Brandon has to navigate because that is way more challenging than driving in these countries.The weather was terrible, not a lot of places to chance, Brandon was sleeping.

But first let me reiterate that these roads were treacherous. Totally fun to drive in the sun, still dangerous but fun, but in the wind and rain, exhausting and stressful. We have at least 30mph winds on wet twisting roads on sheer cliffs. Love it!

After being assulted, sorry, I mean tailed by a bus driver, we made it to the Bosnian border. To get to Southern Croatia without taking a ferry, you have to drive through Bosnia. I can't imagine taking a ferry today! (If we hadn't taken a car we would have been on a ferry!)

Bosnian border and the attacking bus on the left!

Wow, okay, so I put the pictures up first and then I write about them. Well going from the Bosnian bus picture to the one above made me laugh. So many things happened between those two photos. Here we go.

The drive the Dubronik as I said above was treacherous but finally, we saw the sign and the bridge and then end was in sight. We drove into the city and we had a pretty good idea of where our place was. In Croatia, hotels are super expensive and so what you do, what everyone does, it rent out a room in someones house. We were going to be staying with Nina. We had her address, phone number, and directions.

However one thing that we did not account for was Dubrovnik.

Did you know that Dubrovnik has hills, the narrowist streets that I have even seen, tons of cars, hills, rain, hills, and I was in a manual transmission.

We drove in at 5:30pm, rush hour, this place is really not that big, so there are cars and hills everywhere. 

We come to a fork and go left. That was really wrong. So here we are driving. I'm stressed because I am driving on STEEP hills in the RAIN. Brandon is upset because we are lost and at this point have been lost for a long time. Finally, coming up on about 45 minutes on diving in circles, which is more or less forced by the heavy traffic, I pull over next to a cafe so we can get wifi. 

We use my iphone to reorient, we have the blue dot, and head off. And apparently miss our turn. Now, we are on a hilly road, surpise, and it is a dead end with another huge hill on one side and houses and cars on the other. That was a fun turn around. 

Well, as I am turning around this car starts honking at me. Wonderful. I wave and we press on. Then we turn down a road which apparently is a one way. I am going the other one way. Another car starts to honk at me. (I am still doing pretty well at this point holding it all together, ha!) Turns out this is the same honking lady.

She pulls up next to us and rolls how her window and says to me, "Your lost." No shit sherlock in here but how did she know that? Apparently she has seen us multiple times, haha, and has been trying to chase us down. She even tried to get us in that dead end and we escaped. It's pouring by the way. She told us to turn around, we're on a one way remember, and to meet her further up the hill.

This woman was from God and nuts. We both parked, she got out of her car, came to our car and asked where we were trying to go. She kind of knew where it was but instead of guessing proceed to walk around the neighborhood and ask people before calling a few friends to double check! She gave us directions and then told us to follow her for a while.

Wow! All I can say is wow! We followed her up several hills, turns around blind corners on hills, until we got back to that fork where we went left. We were supposed to go right. And in case you couldn't get this, none of the streets here are gridded. 

So we go right and I think that we are home free. We see the bakery that was on our directions, turn left...Ha! That was the easy part that first hour, now it was about to get hard. 

We go right at the fork and drive up a hill. We find the street and turn onto it. There are cars and people everywhere. It is still raining. We see what look like a road/driveway which Brandon thinks is the street that we are supposed to turn onto, but it is so narrow, there are two cars on it already, slipping. That can't be our street. So we keep driving. This was possibly the stupidest thing that we could have done.

I have no clue how to explain this or how bad it was. You know what... video time.

Finally, we back the car in. And it was over.

Nina was really confused at this point. All she could keep saying is, "But you are so young!" and "Wow, that is a really nice car." I would be confused to if two 22 year old Americans showed up at my house in a red Audi. Bizarre. We are lucky.

View from Nina's. Notice, this place is hilly!

To get to the old town, it's about a 30 minute walk from Nina's which may sound like a lot but after all the walking we have been doing, this is nothing.

So we are staving and attempting to destress and what better way to do that than eating! Where to? Well, we can thank Pastor Todd for this one! We went to Spaghetteria Toni! He went there with his family a few years ago and we were game to try it! After an attempt by an imposter, Spaghetteria something else, to bring us in, we found the real place and sat down!

It was awesome. The waiter was nice, we had some wine, huge portions which was good! It was a good evening after that terrible day!

This was good! Apparently, this is what Rick Steves ate when he came here.

Tiramisu. This was okay, a bit too much nescafe powder but who's complaining, it's tiramisu.

Yeah! Goodnight Dubrovnik. Excited to see what you have to offer tomorrow!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Making Our Way to Croatia

After yesterday, we were pretty tired. But there is no rest for the weary! The night before I had laid out my clothes for the next day. We were going south to Croatia = Warmer Weather. However, that was not what we found in the morning. 

In fact, when I woke up, it was the middle of a hurricane. No joke. The shorts and tank top that I had laid out before had to be repacked and then I had to dig out my pants and raincoat. I am so tired of these pants! And my legs are so "ripped," that they don't fit my other pants! No but really.

Here is the creepy hostel room. It turned out to be fine because no one else stayed there, again, so we had the whole place. And there was a TV. Ok, wait interjection. So you know how other countries know so much about America and we are like clueless to the rest of the world. Well it's because they watch our TV... in English. We got CNN, Fox, Discovery, TNT, shoot what else, anyway, a ton of American channels in English. 

We grabbed out stuff, checked out, the guy tried to charge us twice what we owed, Brandon accidentally left our lunch, the leftover pizza from the night before, and we headed out into the storm.

Oh my gosh, it was crazy! Wind! Rain! It was bad. Brandon almost blew over. We got to the train station and it was deserted. But I did see this poster, which is where we went the day before so that was cool.

There was no one at the station. We were like, "Do trains even come here anymore?" Finally, there was a board which said our train number. Okay, great. So outside, in the rain, we stood, waiting for this train.

To our surprise... it came! But literally, it stopped for 15 seconds. We ran to the door, jumped on, and before we knew it, we were moving again! Okay, good to know, board trains quickly in Slovenia.

And we were on our way to Croatia. Super pumped too because that means warmer weather and new passport stamps! Leaving the EU finally!

We made it to the border!

Slovenia exit stamp.

Bummer, wish I had taken a picture of the Croatia entry stamp. Anyway, here the real adventure begins.

So Croatia is really hard to do by train. They are slow, the country is incredibly long, and there are tons of small towns and things to explore that make it hard to do by train or bus. So we had decided to rent a car.

We found a website called, Economy Car Rentals, and the prices were ridiculous, they were so cheap. It was so suspicious, but after reading a million online reviews, we decided to try it. We didn't really care what we got as long as it drove. Overall, for a seven day rental, it was to be 105 Euros. Doesn't that sound too good to be true!  It is like priceline almost, where you don't know what company you get, but after you commit they give you company info. We were given a company called Oryx, which when I looked it up looked totally legit! Perfect!

We were about to find out.

We got off the train in Rijeka, a port town in the Northern part of Croatia. It was still raining, the wind was howling but here we go. I had the address of the place, and had looked up walking directions so we were off. It wasn't supposed to be far, about 10 minutes.

So we make it to the address and find no car place but a really nice office building. We go inside, nothing, then we proceed to walk around for about 10 minutes, go to McDonalds to try to make a call in wifi, but we can't make the Croatian area codes work and the connection wasn't great. So back to the address we going inside. All we find is a lobby and a security desk.

Okay, so what should we do.

I'm like, "Well, there's a phone on the desk, let's use." So again, we try to make some calls, still with no clue how to get their area codes to work. There are security cameras everywhere, but whatever, the place is deserted! If someone would come out and find us that would be great!

So at this point, I am like, seriously, really, this sucks. Because I was really looking forward to the car. So walk outside, and now I am starting to ask people if they know the address. They knew the company, thank god, but the first guy I asked said they had moved offices, the second guy said it was in the building we were just in. Great! So we went back into the building one last time.

And there was a security guard there! Yes! The phones was still turned around, but we asked him and he called the number for us. Turned out they had moved across the street like the first guy had said, onto a pier.

Great! Back out into the wind and rain we went.

And we found it!

We walked in, it was totally legit, and the guy had Audi keys on the counter. We got our sick rate, full insurance for 12 euro per day, which apparently meant if we scratched the car, we should just total it. Turned out the smaller car we had selected was not available so we were getting a bigger one! Oh yeah!

Check out our car! I was freaking out! It is so cool! So cool! We get to drive this!

Oh yeah! So pumped! After figuring out how to put in in reverse... you push down.... we were off!

Isn't this awesome!

So the weather was terrible and something we learned about Croatia quickly is that their road aren't fully developed yet. They have roads.. just not tons. Anyway, we were immediately heading South, about halfway down the country to a town called Split. The weather was terrible but hopefully it would be better in Split. We jumped on the highway for all of five minutes only to find out that it was closed.

Great... ok now where. We didn't really have a map, Brandon had printed off directions for the highway, but not that it was closed.... However, what is great about Europe it that is it so well signed. We found a sign for Split and were off again, this time on the Coastal Road. Which would have be amazing, had it been sunny. But it was so windy and rainy, it was more treacherousness than anything.

One thing about Croatia, 80% of their roads have you driving switchbacks on sheer cliffs. High cliffs too! Add wind and rain to this. Wow! Okay.

There was so much wind that it was creating this cool mist storm over the water. It almost looked like it was steaming.

Another detour. Seriously, road construction EVERYWHERE! But is guess that is good. We were wondering if all the construction was in part to meet to the regulations for Croatia to join the EU. But we'll see if that even happens right.. go Greece.

Finally back on the highway.

And Brandon is sleeping. Thanks.

But we finally made it to Split. We checked into the hostel, found out they highway was closed because of the "Bora," pronounded boola, a Croatian wind, which is why we drove the "safer" costal road, and then went to find some street parking. We were parked in a lot that we had to pay for and after trying to exit through the entrance to avoid paying, we were off to scower the streets for a space. After me almost killing us in a high speed illegal u-turn, I have no clue how fast i'm going, it's in kilometeres, we found one. We parked and then walked around.

If you rub his toe you have 7 years of good luck. So I rubbed it.

He is very tall.

Then we went for dinner and oh my gosh, this was the worst meal of the trip. I ordered the mackerel and wanted to die. It looked gross when it came. Here it is.

It wasn't that the fish was bad of that it was prepared badly, although it was a big greasy, I just know now that I don't like mackerel. It's so oily! Brandon kept telling me it was good for my health. Insert the Claire Glare here! :)

The city had been not so great by day because of the weather, but after the sun set it was so pretty!

We got some pastries for dessert. Brandon really like the pastries in Split. I was not crazy about them.

By the way, our hostel was awesome. Big beds with curtains and good lockers. We talked to the owner, Filip for a long time, he is Croatian, raised in Germany, and then he moved back here. We told him our plans for the time in Croatian he recommended a place for us to eat.

Tomorrow, the plan was to explore the rest of Split, hopefully it would be sunny and then head South to Dubronik!