Split: Rain and Bed Bugs

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Split, Croatia, is a balmy, picturesque tourist haven in the summer months.

What Split looks like in summer, not that I would know.
Photo via Cunard

Unfortunately, Pete and I travelled there on our honeymoon in late October and got drenched.

We got a lot of use out of our raingear

We arrived at the tail-end of the tourist season.  Many museums and attractions were shutting down a few days later.  So we expected to have cooler temperatures.  The rain put a damper on our time in Split, but we enjoyed the town nonetheless.

Inside Diocletian’s Palace

The main attraction in the city is Diocletian’s Palace.  In the fourth century, Roman Emperor Diocletian built himself a very large and very fancy palace in Split.  Today, the site takes up a large part of downtown Split, with restaurants, shops, and apartments inside the walls of what was once a massive pleasure palace.

Via Wikipedia

Our first night in Split, we stayed in a little stucco hut that was in the old part of town, just outside of Diocletian’s Palace.  To get there, we had to wander around labyrinthine streets and alleys occupied by packs of feral cats.  Our hut had a bedroom, a kitchenette and a bathroom only separated from the living quarters by a shower curtain.  Romance.

I had trouble sleeping that night.  At one point, when I was lying in bed trying to read, I noticed a little black speck running across the mattress.  We had bed bugs.  I didn’t know much about bed bugs at this point but I knew they were evil little bloodsuckers who were nearly impossible to eradicate.  I woke Pete up in a panic and showed him the bed bug I had squished.  There were little specks of blood.  Ew ew ew.

Via Wikipedia

We moved out the next morning and found a nicer (albeit teeny tiny) place to stay.  We did our best to de-infest our luggage before moving and hoped we hadn’t brought the bugs with us.  We did our first (of many) mattress checks in our new hotel.

Via howtodetectbedbugs.org

We spent the rest of our trip periodically worrying about the bed bugs.  When we arrived home, we left all of our luggage and clothes outside before going in.  Yes, all of our clothes.  Our neighbours got quite the show.

After consulting the internet we put nearly everything in the washing machine and dried all of our clothes at the hottest temperatures our poor, old dryer could muster.  We left a suitcase outside in our shed for the entire winter, hoping that the cold temperatures would kill any bugs we couldn’t launder to death.

Even though we avoided an infestation, we’re now completely bed bug phobic.  Check out this highly scientific map of bed bug presence in North America:

Via bedbugregistry.com
AHH! They’re everywhere!

We’re now completely paranoid whenever we go to hotels.  We do systematic bed bug checks.  I would suggest that you do the same, if, deep-down, I didn’t think that these checks are kind of futile.  They’re going to get to us eventually.

Despite this icky turn of events,  we do have some fond memories of Split and we would definitely go back, *in summer*.  The city is beautiful, historic, and charming.

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“She’s Going to Be a Manhunter!”

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Babies attract a lot of attention.  They’re little, they’re cute, they’re (usually) smiley, and they toddle around in unpredictable ways.  They’re fun to watch.  Usually, the kind of attention C gets while out in public is pretty standard.

How old is she? (Or he, since she’s follically challenged)

Is she walking yet?

She’s chatty!

That type of comment is pretty typical.  However, Pete and I took C with us to an appointment at Toronto General Hospital and as I was waiting to go into a washroom with little C, an Eastern European woman in her early ’70s stopped me and began firing questions at me:

Is it a boy or a girl?

How old is she?

Is she your first?

Nothing out of the ordinary here, but then she says: “She’s going to be a manhunter!” And I sort of stopped, stared at the woman, and replied “oh, well, I don’t know.”  But the woman insisted “Oh yes, she is going to be a manhunter!  A manhunter!”

Uh, okay.  I have to get on with my day here.

I told Pete what the old woman had said and he seemed equally confused.

I asked, “does that lady think C’s going to track people down in the desert using only her cunning? Like the show where people are dropped off in the middle of nowhere and have to outrun that intense, cowboy-hatted guy?”

Pete replied: “You’re thinking of Mantracker.  I don’t think that lady means C’s going to be a mantracker.”

Via rogersmediatv.ca

Surely she wasn’t referring to the first Hannibal Lecter movie.  C isn’t going to hunt down serial killers by collaborating with other serial killers.  That’s just ludicrous.

Via horrordvds.com

“I think she meant that C is going to be boy crazy, ” I said to Pete.

Ugh, I think I prefer the first two scenarios.

Concerts in a Small Town

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Pete and I have been to a few concerts in and around our small town lately.  We like getting out when we can, and live music is always enjoyable.  Pete doesn’t like going to movies, I think because he loves popcorn, can smell the popcorn, but refuses to pay $7 for said popcorn.  So live music it is.

We saw Joel Plaskett in Collingwood, Ontario (where we live) and again in Meaford, which is an even smaller town half an hour west of us.  I love Joel Plaskett, and he put on a great show, but he seemed a bit off.  His usual banter was muted, and he seemed a bit awkward.  He also seemed completely baffled that he was in Meaford, Ontario.

Photo via joelplaskett.com

We didn’t think much of it at the time, because, again, Joel Plaskett’s music is incredible and he put on a great show.  But then we saw another East Coast act, Sloan, and they explained it all.

The lead singer also seemed weirded out to be in Meaford, and asked questions about it.  How is Meaford pronounced?  What do you do here?  Do you know who we are?

Photo via sloanmusic.com

Then he explained that, usually, when they play small towns, about 25% of the audience are fans of the band.  Another 25% recognize some of their songs from the radio (thanks to CanCon) and enjoy some of the big hits.  And the other 50% have no idea who they are and are just there because that was the only thing going on in town that night.  And those people often sit with arms crossed, staring at the band, making said band feel very uncomfortable.

That explained so much!  Thanks, informative members of Sloan.

Pete and I have since seen 54-40 in concert in Meaford, and they also asked how the town’s name is pronounced (it’s Mee-ford, very straightforward).  They completely acknowledged the weirdness of the situation and had fun with it.  Maybe it’s that laid-back British Columbia attitude.  Or the fact that they’ve been playing together since 1981.  Who knows?

Photo via 5440.com

Dubrovnik in October

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I’m continuing to blog about past travels because Pete is steadfast in his refusal to travel with a baby.  This is my method for dealing with my travel bug.

We went to Croatia on our honeymoon in October of 2010.  We chose Croatia because:

a) I wanted to go to Europe

b) we wanted to go somewhere warmish

c) we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before.

Croatia was an easy decision.  I had always wanted to see Dubrovnik, and Pete had been to neighbouring Slovenia and really liked it.  We had a winner!

Croatia was an easy decision. Look at the gorgeousness.

We travelled the last week of October because I was teaching college at the time, and that was my Reading Week.  We spent a week there, and saw as much of the country as we could in that very short time.

After a three-hour layover in Vienna where we ate some chewy airport strudel and attempted to nap, we landed in Dubrovnik.

Airport strudel is never a good choice

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  We had left snow behind in Canada and arrived to temperatures in the mid-twenties.  Just warm enough for short sleeves without being too hot.  Heavenly.

T-shirt weather! In late October!

We had made arrangements to stay in private accommodations we found through our Lonely Planet guidebook.  Our host, Marija, was warm and friendly, and took us to her home on the side of the hill overlooking the walled city.  Her house was similar to a B&B, but we had a separate entrance and we had the use of her gardenside outdoor kitchen.  Note to self: our next house must have an outdoor kitchen.

That first day we wandered (in our jet-lagged stupor) around the city and enjoyed some beer on a patio, which was outside Dubrovnik’s city walls, overlooking the Adriatic.

Beer on a patio overlooking the Adriatic

As we soaked up the sun and the view, we saw a cruise ship* begin to pass.  We patio-dwellers were snapping photos of it while the cruisers were snapping photos of us.

The Costa Serena sailing toward Italy

The next day, Pete and I woke up to much colder temperatures, cloudy skies, and drizzle.  Not a big deal, except that this weather stuck around for the rest of the trip.  Bye bye t-shirts!  Thanks, sister, for lending me your rain pants!

Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street

Despite the weather, we really enjoyed exploring Dubrovnik.  What really struck me about the city is that although it is a picture-perfect walled city, it is a living city.  Often, cities this beautiful are full of tourists but few residents, due to the cost of living, or to inconvenience (think Venice).  But Dubrovnik is a vibrant place.  Walking along the city walls, you can see into apartments and rooftop terraces.  There are schools, playgrounds and soccer fields for the children.

Basketball court within Dubrovnik’s city walls

Dubrovnik’s vitality is all the more stunning considering how badly it was shelled during the civil war.

A photo displaying the damage Dubrovnik suffered during the civil war

I won’t linger too long on the topic of the civil war here, because it has been well covered elsewhere, but Pete and I did visit museums detailing the impact of the war.  I highly recommend War Photo Limited, a war photography museum in the old city.  It is curated by a former photojournalist and it is excellent.  It is a difficult museum to visit, but it is moving and will leave you impressed by the strength and resilience of the Croatian people.

View of the harbour from the city walls

After taking in the museums and historical sites, we spent time wandering around the city.  Although it was a cool evening, the city is absolutely breathtaking at night.  We got lost more than a few times in the labyrinthine alleys of the old town.

Our honeymoon was off to a lovely start.

Happy travels, everyone.

* I later realized that this ship was the Costa Serena, the sister ship of the ill-fated and now infamous Costa Concordia.

A Cabin in the Woods…With a Five-Month-Old…In February

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Last February, Pete convinced me to go on a cross-country ski excursion to a cabin in Quebec.  I say “convinced me” because I wasn’t ready, with a five-month-old, for a trip like that.  But looking back, I think it’s something I could do (with an older baby, of course) and I’m ready to share some of the lessons I learned on that adventure.

The cabin in Quebec’s Reserve faunique Papineau Labelle

Some backstory: Pete’s friends live in Ottawa, which is about a six-hour drive from us.  His friends, who had two little ones at the time, aged almost-four and eighteen months, had done this trip before and had made it an annual event.  Pete was really looking forward to seeing them and getting away for a long weekend.

Cross-country skiing across a lake in Quebec

The long drive to Ottawa was followed, a few days later, by another long drive to the park in Quebec, which was then followed by a long cross-country ski into the cabin.  It was only accessible by ski or snowmobile.  The park delivered some of our luggage by snowmobile (and a park warden stopped by once a day to check on us) but we towed some of our gear, and kids, by chariot.

The cabin was on a beautiful lake, and it was fairly remote.

C being towed behind Pete while cross-country skiing.

There was no hydro or running water.  We had water filters and propane for lights, so we weren’t roughing it too much.  There were wood stoves for heat.  And although I had to run out to the outhouse in the middle of the night (in February, in Quebec, brrr…) I will admit that I’ve never seen such beautiful stars as I did on those nights.

A beautiful February night

We stayed for two nights, and here are some of the lessons I learned:

1) Don’t push yourself.  This is a good, general parenting rule.  I’ve learned not to push myself too much.  Sometimes I try to do too much, and I always pay the price.  For new parents, it can be hard to accept your new limits, especially if you were very active or very social.  It can be hard to accept that you can’t travel as much or be as spontaneous as you once were.  But things change so quickly with little ones and soon you’ll be able to do more of those things again.

Snuggling in the cabin

2) Travel once your baby is eating solid food.  This is just a personal rule I’m going to follow myself, and it’s related to point number one.  I found it stressful to be the sole source of food for my baby on a trip like this.  I wasn’t ready for it.  I find, now that C eats snacks, that it is so easy to keep her happy and full in a pinch.

Pete filtering lake water while C sleeps in her baby carrier

3) Follow your own schedule.  As a new parent, I found routines comforting, and C depended on them.  Even at five months, our baby had a fairly regular routine.  By travelling with others, we really upset that routine and that meant that our baby (who was exclusively breastfed at the time) went too long without eating, and that stressed both me and her out.

All in all, I would say the trip was a success.  We all survived, Pete got to visit with some great friends, and we all learned to properly appreciate indoor plumbing.

Pete cooking our dinner over the campfire

This is Not a Banjo

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Pete and I went to a concert on Friday night and something happened that I feel compelled to post about.  Partway through the show, the lead guitarist pulled out a banjo-guitar (or banjitar) and people lost their minds.  I heard a lot of gasps of joy.  I heard people all around saying “oooh, a banjo!” and applauding.

I felt the need to tell Pete “that is not a banjo.”

Photo via Folk of the Wood

A banjitar looks a lot like banjo, with its round head.  It also sounds similar to a five-string banjo in some ways.  But it has the neck of a guitar and is strung like a guitar.  Anyone who plays the guitar can play the banjitar.

Pete could tell I was a little huffy about all this applause over a banjitar, and told me that people just like the sound of the banjo, even if it’s not quite the real thing.

5-String Banjo; photo via Deering Banjos

Point taken.  And the guitarist, who was amazing throughout the concert, was using the banjitar to enhance a song that, in the words of the lead singer was “fasty-folky.”  Fasty-folky music is all the rage right now.

If I seem a little defensive, it’s because I haven’t been playing much lately.  I’ve been trying to prioritize, and banjo-practice has fallen by the wayside.  My poor banjo has been neglected, and I almost feel as though I can’t properly call myself a banjo-player, since I haven’t played in months.

So I’ve decided that to combat this, I’m going to learn a new song once a month and post about it.  I’m hoping that someday I’ll even become technologically adept enough to record myself playing them.

In the meantime, here is a video of Steve Martin and the late, great Earl Scruggs playing one of my favourites:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrlqQ1_vZVE