Love and Mourning in Zagreb

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This will be the last post about our Croatian honeymoon in 2010.  I’m almost wistful about this.  It’s been so nice reliving the trip.

Pete and I had the good fortune of arriving in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, in time for All Souls’ Day.  We found out about this while waiting for a bus in Plitvice, when a park employee let us know that the next few days in the capital would likely be very busy due to the holiday.  This information would come in handy.

When we arrived in Zagreb we walked from the bus terminal to the train station (it’s a long story) and we were greeted by this amazing sign.

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Croats do not appreciate handguns or ice cream on their trains.  They are serious about this.

We spent a night in a hotel near Zagreb’s downtown core and the next morning we wandered into the city centre.  It was a stunning, sunny, 15-degree day.  This was such a relief after our chilly few days in Plitvice.

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We were told by the man in Plitvice that the Dolac fruit and vegetable market would be full of people buying flowers for their departed loved ones.  Everyone in Zagreb would then travel to Mirogoj cemetery, north of the city, to pay their respects together.

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We were also told that we should absolutely visit Mirogoj cemetery, which is often called the most beautiful in Europe, but that we should be prepared to walk, since the buses would be packed.  Again, invaluable advice.  There were long lineups for all the buses, which were all crammed full of people clutching flowers and candles.

So we walked there and we were not disappointed.  Mirogoj cemetery is breathtaking.

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It was also a much more celebratory atmosphere than what we had been expecting.  People were milling about, talking together, buying items to lay on gravestones and eating roasted chestnuts.  They were taking pictures, and even having picnics and lunches among the graves.

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In all, we spent three days exploring Zagreb.  Both of us were completely taken with it.  I’ve been to a lot of European capitals, and so has Pete.  Zagreb has a lot going for it.  It has a lot of what we were looking for in a European city without being enormous or completely crowded with tourists.

It has a gorgeous town square.

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It has a clean, efficient transit system.  In fact, tram rides within the city centre are free.

It has beautiful achitecture reminiscent of what you would find in Vienna.*

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It has an impressive art gallery, with a collection donated to the city by a very, very wealthy benefactor.

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A benefactor who had this incredibly creepy death mask made of himself.

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It has beautiful parks with equestrian statues.  There are a lot of really gorgeous green spaces that we really enjoyed, especially after being so cold for the previous few days.

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Zagreb also boasts St. Mark’s Church, a 13th century building with Zagreb’s coat of arms on its roof.

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And, nearby, there is the Museum of Broken Relationships.  A perfect place to visit on a honeymoon!

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Also, there are these impressive mutton chops.

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The world’s shortest funicular.

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Nikola Tesla.  I’m so sorry, Croatia, that I always thought Tesla was Czech.

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Europe’s tiniest bathroom.

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And last but not least, giant, delicious kebabs.

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So, Pete and I spent our last day soaking in these sights and wishing we had booked a longer honeymoon.  A week is definitely not enough time.

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We were thrilled to discover, after a few days of terrible food in the nearly-abandoned hotel we stayed at in Plitvice, a great little brew-pub in Zagreb’s old town.  If I could remember its name, I would share it with you.  But I can’t, for the life of me, remember what it was called.  I do know that it was on Tkalčićeva street, which is a very charming and chic part of town.  They had good food, at a very reasonable price, and their beer was so, so good.

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We ate there a few times, and made sure we sampled all their varieties of beer.  Just to be thorough.

On our last night, in a mostly empty restaurant near the airport, we drank mistletoe rakija and toasted to a wonderful trip.  If you ever get the chance to go to Croatia, then absolutely go.  But maybe skip the mistletoe rakija.

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*Please note: I know nothing about architecture.

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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.

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.

Happy Birthday, C!

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C turns 1 today, and I can’t believe how quickly the last year has flown by.

We’re throwing her a little party tomorrow with a few family members, and we’re keeping it low-key.  She’s too little to know what’s going on, and as long as my mom is there, she’ll be a happy girl.  We decided to forgo a birthday theme and just keep it simple.  Or, The Office-style, the theme is: It Is Your Birthday.

It’s been a wonderful, challenging whirlwind of a first year.  Happy birthday, little lady.

Challenges are Challenging

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That is the kind of insight you’re going to get around here at Bike, Banjo and Baby.  Challenges are challenging and water is wet; that sort of thing.

I’ve realized that although I’m a reasonably outdoorsy person who likes hiking and canoeing and camping and such, it’s actually quite difficult to get outside for half an hour every single day of a month when you have a little person with you at all times.  Even when the weather that month is unusually warm and dry, you still encounter days with torrential rain or gale-force winds.  Babies do not like being outside in torrential rain or gale-force winds.  Other days you just get busy with errands and baby art classes (that is messy, messy business, by the way) and laundry and cooking and you just run out of day.

For the most part, I’ve managed to keep up with the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30/30 Challenge.  I’ve taken photos (whenever I’ve remembered to pack the camera) to document our outdoor time .  Here are some highlights.

C enjoying our front garden from the comfort of her baby Muskoka chair.

C and Pete enjoying our friends’ rooftop patio (lovingly referred to as “Muscle Beach”).

Going for an evening paddle at my parents’ cottage in Cognashene. Bliss.

C’s first dip in Georgian Bay, showing off her splashing skills.

Unfortunately, I did forget the camera when C and I went to an outdoor baby yoga class, and again on Father’s Day when the three of us went for a hike on the Bruce Trail.  I’ll try to be more diligent for the second half of June.

In the meantime, check out David Suzuki’s Flickr group and all the gorgeous photos these outdoorsy Canadians have been posting.

The 30/30 Challenge

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I subscribe to David Suzuki’s Facebook updates.  I love, love, love The Nature of Things, I have tremendous respect for David Suzuki and I nearly voted for him for CBC’s The Greatest Canadian.   Unfortunately, David Suzuki’s Facebook and Twitter updates usually have the effect of terrifying me that everything in my house is toxic and will kill us all.  That’s probably true.  But I’m a worrier and often these updates just send me into a worry tailspin.  But once in a while, Suzuki cheers me up with an inspiring call to action, with some words of wisdom, or with a good old-fashioned photo challenge.

Earlier this month, I signed up for The David Suzuki Foundation’s 30/30 Challenge.  I felt a little lost after the adventure race was finished and decided that I needed another project to keep me occupied.  This one is considerably less time-consuming, thank goodness.

Simply, I pledged to spent at least 30 minutes a day outside “in nature” and to capture these moments in photos.  As part of the challenge, participants are encouraged to upload our photos to David Suzuki’s Flickr group.  There are prizes for the best shots.  I have an inexpensive camera that has been dropped a few times and very unimpressive photographic skills, so I’m not really in it for the competition.  June is a really lovely month to spend outdoors, and I figure it’s good to have a little reminder to get outside when life gets hectic.  And it’s been great for C.  She loves being outdoors, and she had a great time today at an outdoor baby yoga class.  It mainly consisted of her doing forward folds to reach for grass she wanted to eat.  But still.  Nature.

I’m not going to post all of the photos I’ve taken so far, because some of them are pretty terrible (the lack of camera skills sometimes lead to fuzzy, out-of-focus shots of our lilacs) and I don’t want to subject readers to that.  But I’ll post some of the highlights throughout the month of June.

C and me (not pictured: Pete) out for a stroll near our house.