Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Air Blog

Coming at you from row 25, seat H on Lufthansa's flight - we are somewhere over the Atlantic right now. I love the in-flight hot spot. It's so awesome, we paid the $5 for two hours to get online.

The end of the trip was amazing. I'll be posting pictures by the end of this week. We definitely have more stories to share than the few blogs that I posted. I'll be sure to update the photos with those stories.

Interesting thing happened in the airport this morning. My fun bag was searched and one of my gifts was confiscated. I bought a 20MM shell casing in Bosnia which had been used most likely during the war. It had been decorated with some Turkish motif and the city name, MOSTAR, inscribed on the side. It was bought at the Old Turkish market where a store had numerous sizes of this particular item. It was a very cool, and highly unusual item. The people at the second security gate claimed that it could not be taken onto the plane because I could fill it with explosives. I was a little fired up and asked how would I have explosives in my bag and you didn't see them? That logic didn't work and I don't have the shell casing. Frank also purchased one so we'll see if it made it through the luggage.

Overall, three weeks of vacation is the best. You realize how much you can see and experience without feeling denied of more time. Of course, I could keep traveling, but duty and responsibility calls. We'll be back to work in short time.

Hvala, Danke, and Thank you for all your support while we were gone.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Cheese and Ham, Croatia style

Cro'atz'sky, Croatia, Hvarstka...

After leaving the country today here are a few words about visiting Croatia. First, not unlike other European countries, their fast food is a ham and cheese sandwich. I didn't get that it was fast food until I realized that I had eaten at least one meal with ham and cheese every day since being in Croatia. In fact, I think that ham and cheese is a universal language. There isn't even a Croatian translation for it...

Except for this one day, when we decided that we were going to cut across the country side to head east towards Plitvice. We stopped at a corner store which had a deli. Knowing that the woman behind the counter did not speak English, I brought my guidebook in to assist with my sandwich order. At this point, it was at least 6 days into ham and cheese, so I was ordering some salami and cheese to keep it fresh. I ordered the "sendvich" and waited for it to be made. Frank was skeptical, as I struggled to point at the certain type of cheese and meat that I wanted. In the meantime, another woman came in and had her sandwiches made. She paid before I did. I paid for mine, went out to the car, opened the sandwich to find only cheese on a 12 inch loaf. I was too frustrated to communicate again. I vowed to eat the whole sandwich. mmm....cheese.

So, the next day, we drove through Bosnia for the first time. As we approached the border of Croatia and Bosnia, there were many land mine signs which showed the still-healing wounds of the war during the early 1990's. The signs bore the skull and cross bones in red with a warning statement below. Upon entering Bosnia, we headed towards the first town, Bihoc (Bee-hoj). We had no map to guide us through the area, but we went for it. We arrived at 1 p.m. which is when the Muslim prayers began from the mosques. All over town people were going about their business and the prayers just sang from the speakers high above the city. This was my first time in a predominantly Muslim country - and I was the minority. My reaction took me by surprise as I panicked on not knowing how to leave the country since we had no maps and the city center gave us three options for driving through it. We ended up pulling over to get help at a gas station, where four people, none of whom spoke English, helped Frank figure out how to get back to Croatia via the other direction we wanted to go. Frank drew pictograms inside for directions while I took photos outside of the buildings that were being rebuilt from UN and US aid relief.

Bosnia had appeared more war torn than Croatia. Upon my second visit back to Bosnia, I went to Mostar, which was completely bombed in the war. I learned that upon rebuilding Bosnia, there were no regulations on construction. Many houses were in the process of being built right next door to the house that was nearly in a pile of rubble. All around the houses would be gardens, beautiful and lush - yet admist a wound of a house once standing proud as the symbol of the family. We took a few photos of these places and even found some stretches of land that were marked with either monuments of a battle lost on that field from the 90's or WWII. We soon left that country to continue back into Croatia.

After a hot and cicada-laden night of sleep in Kastela, a town south of Split, Frank and I boarded a ferry for Vis. We were to stay with a friend's, friends' grandmother, who boarded us for 10 Euro a night. Upon arriving at the port in any Croatian town, you are approached by various people of different ages, offering accommodations (zimmers, cameres, sobes), for fairly cheap prices. Since we had Grandma waiting, it was good to walk through that onslaught of pitches.

Grandma's house was just off the main drag in town. She opened the door just enough to ask who was there and peek her eyes out. We were told that her place was "rough but clean. You'll get the top floor. Speak slowly to her because her English was OK." After explaining who we were welcomed inside and taken to choose our rooms. The house was at least 200 or so years old and each room was just a bed and a place to put our stuff. It was perfect - and there was a terrace where the shower room and bathroom existed. We plunked down our stuff, asked where the beach was, and took off to explore the island.

Vis was a blast. We rented scooters and explored the entire island. It was our plan to hit as many of the best snorkeling beaches throughout the day. Truly, Vis was our favorite part of the trip so far...

more later.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pula, Foola

Arriving in Crotia via ferry last night was amazing since the first thing that we saw upon disembarking was the Roman Ampitheatre, which was lit up against the twilight sky. A crew is furiously working on setting up for the Pula Film Festival which starts the day we leave...of course. thank you lisa and frank...

Pula is a town on the Istrian Peninsula, and still boasts an amazing Venetian fortress built in the 19th century. Other notable monuments include a Roman Forum and the Temple of Augustus, built in 2 AD. Officially, that's the oldest building I've ever laid eyes on. We walked all around town since arriving last night, and finished up with a bus ride out to the beach. Beaches here are very beautiful because they are made of rock, not sand. It's customary to swim with your tevas on and a snorkeling mask. We're purchasing those tonight.

So, speaking of purchases, the knock-off items here are sold in many stores. On the main tourist drag in Old Town, I was offered Puma shoes, a Cartier watch, and a Gucci handbag all for the price of $200 US. So, it may be knock-off, but the price isn't. I'm not much for bargaining yet. But I'm working on it. I look up how to say something in my guide book, practice with Frank, and agree that's the way to say it. Upon entering the store, I kindly ask how much, and they answer me. Oops...big problem when you don't understand the price. Finally, the exasperated sales woman types in the price on her cell phone to me. I read the display, talk her down, and then we agree. Oh the love of the phone...

One final odd note, paper products here come in all colors. In the U.S., toilet paper is white, paper towels are white, and paper napkins are white - except for the bargain priced 100 napkins in multicolors at Big Lots. In Croatia, it's been yellow toilet paper, pink napkins, blue hand napkins in the bathroom and green toilet paper in the restaurants. I realize the oddity in this...but hey, I'm in Pula, Foola...

Tomorrow, we rent a car and drive to Plitvice National Park.

Do Vidjena,

Monday, July 10, 2006

eee-tal-YA! eee-tal-YA!

Viva Italia! Frank and I are in Venice for this leg of the trip. We watched the first half of the game eating pizza and drinking prosecco. At the half, we walked around looking for some hoopla. What we found was a lot of tourists watching the game on a small, fuzzy screened television. Most of the people that work here, live on the adjacent islands. Those few folks that do live here were watching from their homes. We watched the penalty kicks with the following individuals - the restaurant owner who wouldn't provide me something to drink, a highly-spirited East Coaster in a red shirt with a sunburnt face to match, his wife, who said to me, "yes, we've been here the WHOLE time," their daughter engrossed in her PSP, an Italian-American from NYC, and his SUPER EXCITED wife = who yelled "ITALIA, ITALIA...order the Dom Perignon now...for everyone." This proclamation of excitement filled the allies all around. While Italy won, we don't know if she got her champagne...but she got to take home her Italian. We went to another cafe to watch the bartenders spraying everyone with their water hoses, jumping up and down...chanting "eee-tal-YA! eee-tal-YA!" The team kissed their trophy and everyone waved their flags, yelled, and kissed each other. Finally, to top off the true Italian spirit, we walked along the grand canal, eating gelato, and listened to speakers pumping, "We are the champions, we are the champions...of the world..." Typical Italian scenario, right?

In other Venitian highlights, our first day we did a good job of meandering. Despite what the maps look like, the island of Venice is quite small, and doesn't smell like I worried about - except on trash day. We hit the Rialto markets for some fresh produce, stumbled upon a cafe in a remote area, and then we discovered we had walked pretty far. It's fun to just get lost here. It's also less stressful than discussing just exactly where on the map we are and which way we should go. eh-hem...That night we went out for a typical Venice meal, which I might add is super salty and translated incorrectly on the menu (sea food rice = risotto with clams or squid and spaghetti = black squid juice with spaghetti and olive oil). Although we are game for many things, the lights weren't dim enough in this joint to allow for the exploration of gastronimic delights. We capped off the night watching the Germans take third place in the World Cup at Bacaro Bar, where you leave your bra and you get a free drink. "Thanks for the offer, but I packed light and could actually use my undergarments. How much for my three drinks?"

Those three drinks cost me a little bit of an attitude adjustment in the hot weather on Murano the next morning. We were provided a free boat ride over to the glass making island, and had a tour of the grounds with a salesman from the Furnace factory, Mauro Gallo - a distant cousin, perhaps? Pieces on the island were beautiful beyond words, and expensive beyond words. $1000 Euro (1250 American) for a vase. "oh, but we give you discount, and ship for free." OK...can you ship me back for free too?

Today, we went to the Lido Island, rented bikes and explored. On this island, there are private beaches. In America, a private beach means clothing optional. In Italy, it means, please pay us E10 to rent a chair, E10 to rent a towel, and E40 to rent a cabana - oh, and clothing is optional. Luckily, the hotel owner lives on Lido and gave us the inside scoop on the public beaches. We found those beaches, brought our own towels, and enjoyed the sun. We rode around the entire island searching for other beaches, but instead found a sunburn. Vacation in Venice...

Tonight the gondola awaits us, and the slew of other tourists searching for a traditional ride. Pictures will arrive in a few days. We head to Croatia tomorrow afternoon.
Ciao, Ciao.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Danke, Deutchland

Fourth of July was spent at the Munich Fan Fest for the World Cup game last night. It was at the Olympic Park Stadium which was built for the 1972 Games. Maybe you heard about that movie....

Anyhow, I only saw one man dressed in a printed button down shirt which had a repeating pattern of hotdogs, BBQ, American flag, and a dog. I could hear English speakers here and there, but having just arrived from America, it didn't strike me as odd until I realized that I was the foreigner. The Olympic Park aired the World Cup game live that night, but we just went for the festivities during the day. Festivities included a dance-off, where the mullet was the hairstyle of choice. Fans chanted German songs, which at any given time, a multitude of people would join in, saying things like, "See you in Berlin, Berlin, Berlin..." That's where the finals are. Here is a taste of the fanatics...

The day of mourning for Deutchland - as last night, in the last 5 minutes of overtime, Italy scored two goals in the World Cup. It was mayhem on Leopoldstrasse, which is the University area in Munich. The polize were present and in full force. While some bottles were broken, it was mostly the German spirit that hit the ground. Italians began jumping on each other, screaming "ITALIA" while running with their pointer finger in the air. Italian flags waved in the air and the street filled with elated fans. No one could believe it - but the Italians were floored. "Good times, people...good times." So, I'll be in Italy this weekend as they take on tonight's winner in the last semi-final.

VIVA Italia!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Long time, new lens

Now that my commencement commenced, I'm hitting the plane to rediscover who I am in the face of three different languages. what? I'm traveling to Europe with Frank on Sunday, July 2. We're headed to Munich for some World Cup action. I'm wondering if the Germans tailgate like the Americans do? Then we're going to Venice for some stinky canal fun. Finally, we'll discover Croatia by traveling from the tip of the Istrian Peninsula to the Old Town of Dubrovnik. I'll keep you posted on the discoveries.

I bought a Canon Lens - 28mm - 135mm/ f3.5-5.6 IS. I took it on a walk this morning to work. It has a great macro feature, and a strong enough zoom that I'm able to take from a distance, in low light and the IS, image stabilization feature, accounts for my shake. I am going to try that out tonight.