Sunday, June 11, 2017

Croatia & Slovenia

Okay kids, gather 'round. It's time for your mind to wander and your eyes to glaze over as I show you a million photos from my trip to Croatia and Slovenia.
This was my first time in Europe. Years ago, before we had kids, Dale and I bought backpacks and a "Let's Go Europe" book and were planning to quit our jobs and wander around Europe. But then plans changed and we ended up in Japan instead. More than 25 years later, I finally made it to the motherland. Well, the mother continent at least. I only saw a snippet of Europe - and none of the really popular places - but I loved what I saw.
I have a half-written trip summary post that I'll add soon, but today it's mainly pictures and captions.

The seaside resort town of Opatija

Opatija. This path by the sea went on for a long way - perfect for a morning run before the tourists got up.

I couldn't get enough of the colour of the Adriatic Sea.

Did I already mention the water? It was SO clear.

Bombed out hotel on the roadside. You had to look close to find evidence of their turbulent years. I'm sure they cleaned up the tourist areas as quickly as they could.
The next few pictures are from Plitvice Lakes National Park. It was beautiful, but before the trip I'd heard rave reviews from a few people who had been there that said it was the most beautiful place they'd ever seen in their lives. If I'd had no expectations and stumbled upon this park, I would've been in awe. As it were, my expectations were too high, as was the number of tourists. I can't imagine the crowds during high season.

Proof that I was there

More clear water

Driving along the Adriatic coast was amazing. Every view around each new twist of the road was incredible. It's hard to believe a place like that actually exists.

A seaside town where we stopped for lunch

More evidence of the war

Next stop was Dubrovnik. This old city is like a like stepping into a medieval fairy tale, if that's a thing. Again, it was hard to comprehend that a place like this is real.



Walking on top of the city walls


The view from our hotel on the outskirts of Dubrovnik (above & below)

Had a magical romantic dinner with Doug & Lorie

During our stay in Dubrovnik, some of us took a day trip to Montenegro. It was only an hour or so away, but crossing the border was a hassle. When we got to the border, there was one bus ahead of us in one lane and two buses in the other lane. The single bus was from Albania and our guide said we did NOT want to wait behind them because the border guards always make the Albanians get out of the bus and they go through all their luggage, etc. So we chose the other line, which was a mistake. Six buses passed through the other lane before we did. The reason I know it was six is because there was a lady in our bus (not from our group) who was beside herself with impatience and outrage that we were waiting so long. I thought she was going to explode.

But eventually we made it through and drove to the Bay of Kotor. Montenegro is a place I'd love to go back to and explore on my own. It was a little less polished, a little less touristy, and felt like a diamond in the rough.

A church on an island in Montenegro
Kotor is a walled city - much smaller than Dubrovnik, but with lots of character.
There's an old stone pathway/steps that go high up the hill to a fortress. We didn't have enough time to climb them so it's on my list for next time.


On the way back to Croatia, we had another wait at the border, but this time we were entertained by watching four border officials search a guy's sports car. Eventually they let him go.

One night we had a special dinner at an old farmyard. Agro-tourism is a big thing here. That means everything they serve has to be grown on the premises, or very nearby. These guys entertained us and got everyone singing and clapping along.

Next we went to Split, another city in Croatia. We had a walking tour of Diocletian's Palace, spent a little free time walking around downtown, and then headed to our hotel.

The next day we drove to Slovenia, which I loved. The countryside was beautiful and Ljubljana was my favourite city of the trip.

A trip to Europe isn't complete without visiting a church or 10.

We took a little afternoon trip to Bled, where we took pletna boats across to an island with a church.


Back on the mainland in Bled, we tried their local specialty: a layered cream cake, which was light and delicious.

After Slovenia, we headed back to Croatia to the city of Zagreb.

In Zagreb, we had a few hours to ourselves so I went to the Museum of Broken Relationships. I'd read about it before; it started in Zagreb but now there's also one in Los Angeles. There's a description in the picture below, but basically it's stories and objects that represent broken relationships - romantic, parental, or whatever. There was everything from a vial of XTC pills left over from a relationship that went bad due to drugs to a suicide note left by a mom for her daughter. Those are some of the more extreme examples. You can check out some other examples here:

I like that sort of glimpse into people's lives so I found it pretty interesting.

On the final night, we had a five-course farewell dinner at a really nice restaurant.
Me with our guide and bus driver.

And then it was time to fly home. In Frankfurt, waiting for our connection, I was all excited to practice my German so I ordered my lunch in what I thought was decent German. Okay, I didn't know how to say "falafel" in German but otherwise I did my best. Either the lady at the counter didn't understand me or she was no fun because she answered me in English. Even when I said "danke," she answered with "you're welcome." She took the wind right out of my sails. I hate her.

We had a long layover both in Frankfurt and again in Toronto. My people were not happy. We'd been up for 30+ hours and no one was at their best. Luckily after a good sleep or two, the unpleasantness of the flight schedule faded and the good memories rose to the surface. And hopefully that's where they remain because it really was an awesome trip.

If you're still reading, I'm impressed and I applaud your attention span. If that wasn't enough pictures, I have hundreds more.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

End of an Era / Beginning of another

It’s June and the nostalgia is setting in. With three kids, there’s usually at least one kid experiencing the end of an era. Two years ago it was Spencer ending middle school, last year it was Chloe’s finishing grade 12, and this year is Neve’s last year at her elementary school.

As always, there are mixed feelings. I’m excited for her to move on to new experiences and challenges but I’m sad to leave our safe, awesome, community-oriented little school. We’ve had a connection to the school since Chloe started nursery there 15 years ago.  Even though the older kids only went there for a year or two, we’ve always felt like it was our school. A few of my closest friends are moms I met there. Some of Spencer’s current high school friends were his nursery school classmates (he doesn’t really remember them from nursery, but still!). I’ve walked the five blocks to and from school literally thousands of times, sometimes four times a day when Neve came home for lunch. I know all the staff and when Neve was in the younger grades, I used to know all the parents. Neve has had excellent teachers and built strong friendships. No school is perfect and there have been a few bumps along the way, but overall it’s been an idyllic elementary school experience. My wish was for Neve to grow up with strong community connections, which the older kids don’t have to the same degree. I’m sad that they didn’t get to experience it like Neve did, but the school was very different back when they were in nursery. Our decision to send them to private school was a tough one, but I think we made the right choice for them. They did well and were happy there; I just really wish they could have had the same local experience that Neve did. I loved having her close enough to walk home for lunch, especially when she was younger. I love that her school friends all live within blocks of us. I love walking to her concerts and events and meeting up with the other school families.

Even though we only have a few weeks left at our beloved little school, the connections will continue since we’re still in the neighbourhood.  Not only that, but Neve will be going to the nearby middle school next year which will expand and strengthen her community. Unless it goes terribly wrong and she hates it and gets bullied. Then I take back everything I just said.

(To be clear – I am definitely not against private schools. They have many advantages, which we have experienced firsthand. School decisions are hard and as parents, we do what we think is best for our kids. Also, we probably way over-think these decisions. I know I did. We are lucky to have so many good school options; the kids will be fine! I hope!)
All that reflecting just to say that we went to Neve’s last-ever school carnival last night. The carnival is a big deal. We’ve gone almost every year for the last 14 years, even when we had no kids in school there. We are always there from start to finish. Dale and I used to run around keeping an eye on the kids as they ran from bouncer to face paint station to karaoke, etc. When the kids got older and didn’t need supervision, we volunteered at different stations. Neve was in her glory yesterday; when you’re in grade six, you rule the school and all that comes with it. She was a face-painter (or leg painter) and she got to go in the dunk tank. I’m not sure being dunked in gross water is a bonus, but luckily some people think otherwise. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect evening to end our carnival years. Even Chloe and Spencer popped in briefly for a bite to eat. The best part of all was that we won TWO silent auction prize baskets! We buy tickets every single year and have only won once or twice in 14 years. But this was our night! We won a night & breakfast at the Inn at the Forks, gift certificates for the restaurant at The Fort Garry Hotel, Carne, and 529 Wellington, passes for bowling and the Manitoba Museum, Bath & Body products and more.
Maybe I spoke too soon about not going back to the carnival … we might go back next year just for the silent auction.

From the end of an era, let’s move on to new beginnings. We had a wedding shower for Bailey on Sunday. She was (well, still is) a beautiful bride-to-be and lots of people came to celebrate and eat and bring gifts. Here are a few pictures.
Chloe and I made a Jeopardy quiz game, which we were quite proud of. Each table had to answer questions in different categories. It may have gone on a touch too long, but it seemed to go over well. Focus less on my face and more on the Jeopardy board.
Things got crazy at the end:
I was unaware of these pictures being taken; when I looked at my pictures, I was pleasantly surprised to find the evidence of a photoshoot gone wild.
I'll leave you with a link to The Daily Bonnet, which usually makes me laugh. My favourite paragraph is the second-last one that ends with Taunte Lina saying "... it doesn't give such." Cheers to my Taunte Lina in heaven!