Posts Tagged With: Air BnB

Enjoying Mar Del Plata

Choosing to come to Mar Del Plata as an end to our trip around the world was a fantastic idea.  We have enjoyed our time relaxing, doing some “re-entry” work, and literally taking long walks along the beach.  No, we aren’t placing a singles ad or anything, but the coastline here stretches for miles and it is wonderful that we have time to simply walk.  Like many other beach towns, there are dozens of runners, roller bladers, power walkers and skaters moving about and enjoying the sunshine and ocean breeze.  The beach is noticeably busier on the weekends and the atmosphere is charged with energy and excitement.

Determined to take advantage of the awesome apartment where we are staying, we wandered half way across town to find a better grocery store in order to make dinner for ourselves.  Though this Toledo store is the same brand as the other, its much more expansive aisles and wider selection made this one far superior.  We could actually identify vegetables through the mud caked on them, unlike our previous Toledo visit.  The floors were also level, allowing us to let go of our cart without it racing to the other end of the store and crashing into a wall.  What a refreshing change!  We bought all the fixins for a truly delicious homemade dinner.  Once preparations began, we found ourselves faced with a challenge.  Now, bear in mind we have cooked using a gas stove and oven for years–this is what we are used to.  Also know that our Air BnB host, Carlos, demonstrated how to use the oven on the first day we arrived.  None of that made any difference.  On this stove, the pilot light for the oven has to bit lit manually using a match.  Simple enough, but we had the hardest time finding the right combination.  Light the match, push in the dial, spin until you hear the gas release, then release and set the temperature.  Each time we tried the last step, the flame disappeared.  In fact, every time I had the stupid thing lit, the flame would die if I made any moves with the dial.  I wasn’t too keen on sitting with my hand on the dial for the entire time and not only did my frustration began to build, but my fear that we were going to blow up this apartment in our efforts.  Phil took over and had similar issues.  Match after match, we lit the flame to see it almost immediately die out.  As soon as we were about to change the menu from oven-roasted carrots to sautéed carrots, Phil saved the day and figured it out.  It took us at least 15 matches and I’m not sure we’ll be able to do it again, but at least we were able to roast those carrots and enjoy a delicious homemade dinner.

After dinner, Phil was excited to check out the casino.  I was feeling much more comfy and cozy inside and managed to talk him into staying home and just hanging on the couch.  As Phil mentioned in his last post, one thing we have been doing is watching a fair amount of television, which we haven’t done much of on the whole trip. Now, almost every channel we get has the shows dubbed over in Spanish, but there are a few reliable channels that merely have Spanish subtitles and we can actually watch the programming.  We don’t really get many typical American networks–no NBC, CBS, or ABC.  We do get FOX, but it is some different version and of course there is AXN, with its endless episodes of CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds and Castle.  However, even with our limited choices, we have managed to discover 2 new shows which we think are part of the new fall schedule (though we aren’t sure, because here they were shown on Cinemax).  These shows are Arrow and Revolution.  Both on in marathon format (though Revolution was only 2 episodes), we watched from pilot to current episode and really enjoyed them both.  Are they high quality shows?  Maybe, but we have been starved for such television, and it was fun to indulge and watch for hours.  There is a 75% chance we won’t ever watch these once we return to the States, but I’m glad we caught them here.

We should have known. It doesn’t even look fun or inviting from the outside.

After much begging, pleading and arm twisting, we finally found ourselves at the Casino Central the following day.  Okay, so maybe Phil and I love casinos and we have found it interesting to see some of the differences between the ones we are used to in Las Vegas and those around the world. Set in an old hotel, this casino was said to be a fun time and the best of a few of these establishments in Mar Del Plata.  It may be the best one, but think our standards might be too high.  As we walked in, I got the distinct feeling that we were in an old hotel convention floor which is hosting a casino night.  All the games were concentrated in one area with the corners and edges of the room largely empty.  There isn’t much different from one slot machine to another, although we did see one of our Vegas favorites called Milked Money that involved racing cows and more fun.  However,  when we played electronic roulette, we couldn’t determine how to cash out our winnings.  We hit all the buttons and read the whole screen (in Spanish), but no ticket printed.  Finally we asked the attendant and he showed us this ridiculously obscure multi-step process of cashing out.  Great, at least it was possible to actually get the money out.  We weren’t ready to leave, so I went to put the ticket back in the machine and keep playing, but unlike most casinos, the tickets can’t be used at cash in this electronic game.  Argh, what a pain.  Finally, we settled in an played for a bit.  The minimum bet was 1 peso, which is a little less than 25 US cents, so we weren’t exactly risking our life savings, just having some fun.  Once we ran out of pesos, we headed for the door.  The only thing this trip to the casino really did was give us the itch to go back to Las Vegas.

And now we find we have come to our last full day of the trip.  True, we don’t leave until Tuesday, but that we mostly be spent traveling.  So, we will continue to soak up the sun, reflect on this amazing journey and prepare to establish ourselves back into the world of work, family and friends.  It may surprise you to hear that this is actually something we are really looking forward to. But first, we will enjoy Mar Del Plata–the beach, the sun, the seafood–for just a little while longer.

–Brooke

The bigger, better grocery store also has these crazy peanuts we ate at a restaurant. They are battered and fried. And delicious!

During the high season, it is almost impossible to find a spot on the beach. That won’t happen until late December and January.

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Categories: Argentina, At Night, Casino, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Mar Del Plata, Reflections, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

More from Mar De Plata

Endless Ocean!Good morning again from beautiful Mar Del Plata, Argentina! We could rave at length about the endless amount of great features of this beautiful seaside city. But one thing particularly worth noting is just how relaxing it has been. Our time in this rented apartment has given us some of the best sleep we’ve gotten on this trip. Ranks way above the unbearable discomfort of the Reino Inn in Hiroshima and about on par with our time at the Hanoi Moment in Vietnam. All kinds of sleep from sun drenched naps on the couch with a subtle sea breeze or a long night in an oh-so-comfortable bed punctuated with the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks fourteen stories below. Probably sounds odd that I’m boasting about how rested we are, but we’ve spent so much of our travels up early, running around all day and then worn out by nightfall, that this is a good way to wind down the trip.

Cuidado!All of this makes it even more striking that we were woken yesterday morning by the booming sound of shattering glass. A quick look out the window confirmed that a car had sped directly into the glass bus stop directly across the street. No one was hurt, but that’s a hell of a way to start your day. Later when walking along the main road, we observed that a highly suspicious number of bus stops no longer seemed to have their glass siding. Driving and, for that matter, riding in cars down here tends to be a guaranteed white knuckle adventure. Given the examples of bad driving we’ve seen again and again down here, I’m going to start referring to waking up in that manner as an Argentine Alarm Clock.

Lovely Seaside Brooke!

Reckless motoring aside, it’s not hard to see why Mar Del Plata is a booming vacation spot during the summer. Even though its early in the season, the main walkway along the beach is teeming with joggers, casual walkers, groups sipping maté, rollerbladers and more. I’ll make the bold leap and say that you could draw comparisons between this town and parts of Florida. Seaside walks, hundreds of hotels and compact blocks loaded with shops, storefronts and charming homes. We’ve had a couple of surprisingly windy days and nights, so the beaches are somewhat empty but there is a steady crowd of aspiring surfers just off the coast. As Brooke mentioned, the view from our window brings us the ocean falling over the horizon during the day, the unfamiliar stars of the southern window at night and everything ranging from large group of bicyclists to racing cars a la Fast and The Furious on the street below. It’s been fun just to watch out the window.

Brooke and I have also been using some of this time prepping for re-entry back into a day-to-day life in the states and, more importantly, taking some early steps to settle into our new city of Louisville, KY. There is much to be done and much of it is exciting. Its easy to frame our next steps as a completely new type of adventure. In upcoming weeks, we need to find a car, a place to live and, probably most importantly, jobs. Between a slew of e-mails to potential Jefferson County school employers and some buffering and polishing of LinkedIn profiles, we feel proud of the head start we’ve gotten. Never under estimate the power of a strong WiFi connection. We plan to hit the ground running when we get back, but a little work in advance goes a long way. Once again, having our ASUS Tablet and keyboard on this trip has been a lifesaver.

Or Lobo Del Marina is you so choseBut don’t be fooled. We’re spending a lot of time enjoying all the Mar Del Plata has to offer. This city and weather combine to provide the perfect atmosphere for long walks. We’ve headed north, south and west outside our front door and found worthwhile treks in each direction. Throughout this trip, I’ve always enjoyed venturing down a new street for the first time. I dig the initial voyage combined with the exciting philosophy of “who knows what we’ll see!” Occasionally, you discover zip but other times you see Sea Lions. As was the case yesterday when we walked down to the main port. Sure enough, at the edge of the docks mingling among fishing boats, was a large pack of Sea Lions. A few were somewhat active almost clamoring for attention from camera-toting human guests, while others were just lazy bastards. If I didn’t know better, I would presume I was looking at two dozen beached Sea Lions. It was quite cool to see and hear these giant creatures up close; when they “bark”, they actually sound a bit like lions. Fun fact: Argentines calls Sea Lions “Lobos Del Mar” which actually translates as “WOLVES of the sea.” Along with serving as a vacation sport, this city has a very active port including scores of small fishing boats. I don’t think Brooke ever has to worry about losing me to the sea; days on a fishing boat looks like a rough way to make a living.  After a long walk out, we ended with a small victory as a local bus and the equivalent of 75 cents gave us a ride back directly to the aforementioned smashed bus stop just outside our building.

On another walk, we discovered the closest thing to a diner that we’ve seen in a long time. Manolo restaurant is apparently a Mar Del Plata institution and was recommended highly by our Air BnB host. Complete with massive menu, indifferent waiters and reasonable prices, it was a place where the selection is endless want but it’s unlikely that any of it is going to be outstanding. Following the “When in Rome” ideology, I ordered the house chicken burger which came with a ham, cheese, egg, olives, tomatoes and lettuce. Oh my. On the taste scale, it fell somewhere between interesting and delicious. Also, since every single person in the joint had at least one churro on the plate in front of them, I ordered one as well. I’m sure its part of a relatively small universe, but that was hands down the best churro I’ve had in my life.

Brooke and I have also spent some time in front of the boob tube. The best part? The commercials. I leave you with this strange, gem that had us bewildered when we first saw it. I’ve watched it 15 times since but I’m still scratching my head. Trust us, this is worth clicking on link to see this strange mishmash:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_sfTz2BTfY

-Phil

Another car that ran off the road. Keep in mind this is different than the one that ran into the bus stop- same day, 2 KM down the road. Yikes.

Sea Lions hanging out under the pier. There were tons of them! They sometimes fought and they reeked.

We’ve seen tons of these “Living Statues” street performers all around the world. This Angel outside a church in Mar Del Plata was hands down the best. He went all out! Click to enlarge to see the detail.

Good living in Mar Del Plata

Good living in Mar Del Plata

Categories: Argentina, Beach, Diversions, Driving Abroad, Eating, Mar Del Plata, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mendoza and the 14-Hour Bus Ride

Phil's long, gangly arms go a long wayAfter spending a few days in Buenos Aires, we were really ready to get out of the bustling city and into another region of Argentina. So, we boarded the 14-hour bus to the Mendoza province – wine country!

Now, you may be thinking that a 14-hour bus ride sounds like pure torture, and generally speaking, I would agree. But the coach buses here run the gamut from your basic Greyhound style (complete with 50 people crammed together and a smelly bathroom) to luxury coaches fit for a rock star. We found ourselves somewhere in the middle of the spectrum having chosen the Andesmar Ejecutivo class of service. We boarded a double decker bus and headed to our assigned seats on the top floor. Immediately impressed by their size, we found them to be more comfortable and spacious than Business Class Seats on an airplane. Because we were traveling overnight, it was important to us that we get some decent sleep. This was part of the reason for choosing this bus–the Ejecutivo seats recline to a 160 degree angle, so they lie almost completely flat. They come with a footrest, a small blanket and a pillow. Overall, they were quite comfortable. However, it wasn’t only the seats that made this bus ride bearable. We also had the luxury of having an on-board attendant, much like an airplane. He served us both dinner and breakfast, made sure the bathroom was clean and generally ensured everyone was comfortable. But the best part? Bingo! That’s right. Our trip had only just begun when he offered us all bingo cards and began calling out numbers. Phil was only one number away from winning, but the man seated in front of us beat him to it. The prize? What else on a bus to Mendoza but a bottle of wine. Overall, the whole trip was really easy and definitely the way to go when taking such a long ride. We think the U.S. could really benefit from these types of buses. If we can’t convince people to expand the rail network in our country, maybe we can encourage public transportation in this way. I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but you never know.

Once we arrived in Mendoza, we had a bit of a misadventure finding our latest Air BnB stay. The bus we were told to take kicked us off at the last stop and we seemed to be nowhere on the map which was given to us. After being reassured that we were on the correct bus, we waited and boarded it going the other direction. This did not look promising either, as we appeared to simply be headed back to the place we started. We finally decided to jump off and ask someone for directions. We found some very nice people in a party supply store and managed through our broken Spanish to determine that we were far off the map and about six kilometers from where we needed to be. This was way too far to walk with luggage. Not to mention, this journey had already taken us about an hour, it was hot and we were tired from our 14-hour bus ride. After warning us to be careful of a taxi scamming us, our helpers sent us on our way. Luckily, we got an honest, albeit reckless, driver. He barely missed sideswiping another car in an intersection, though in retrospect we realize it wasn’t entirely his fault. Many of the intersections here have no stop lights or street signs. Nothing to indicate who should give way to whom. I imagine that could be quite confusing (and dangerous) for drivers. It is hard enough as pedestrians.

Once we got settled in, we decided to take a stroll through Mendoza. We were happy to see that this town is vastly different from Buenos Aires. A surprisingly big city in its own right, Mendoza has none of the broken sidewalks, graffiti and overall downtrodden feel of Buenos Aires. The streets were bustling with activity, sidewalk cafes were teeming with people sipping espresso and the air was actually fresh. They should rechristen Buenos Aires to “Malo Aires”and rename Mendoza to the more fitting “Buenos Aires”. The downtown area has a number of vibrant public squares with five right in the center of town. They are set up with the giant, most central square, Plaza Independencia, in the middle complete with fountain, green space, vendors and four satellite neighboring squares equidistant from one another. The happy-go-lucky vibe of Plaza Independencia reinforced that we were not in Buenos Aires anymore. Shanty towns and homeless people had been replaced by families playing soccer, lovers cuddling in the grass, and skateboarders attempting new tricks.

For dinner, we looked over the wide variety of dining options available around town and decided the Ocho Cepas (translated as eight strains) was the place for us. Set slightly apart from the main touristy streets, it boasts a large menu with several wine options. Phil was experiencing almost immediate order envy with he tasted my delicious filet mignon. While it might not take top honors for the best meal of the trip, the romantic atmosphere, tasty dishes and friendly staff made it a wonderful evening out. Now off to more rural wine country so we can see the vineyards up close!

-Brooke

Notice anything odd about this busy Mendoza intersection? There isn’t a single stoplight, stop sign, yield sign or cross walk on any corner! This is (amazingly) somewhat common.

Phil smiling because we’re lost once again on a city bus. Not the first time it’s happened this trip and likely won’t be the last.

In the rooms in Argentina where we have cable television, this is how we’ve been polishing up on our Spanish! Ah, gustamos Los Dos y Medio Hombres

Quilmes – The major local brew in Argentina. While be trading these in for bottles of Malbecs for a while…

Categories: Argentina, Destinations, Driving Abroad, Hotels, Mendoza | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Glasgow, Scotland

GlasgowWhen we told people we would be heading to Glasgow, almost all of them asked, “Will you got to Edinburgh?”  Time after time people told us there isn’t much to do in Glasgow and we shouldn’t spend too much time here.  After spending the day exploring this city, we are so chock-full of things we want to do that we are considering extending our stay one more day.  Filled with great food and culture, Glasgow appears to be a wonderful city with tons for us to see and do.

We began our day the way anyone should while in Scotland–with a traditional breakfast. Pulled in by the sign that said “Scottish Breakfast £2.99”, we sat down in Wetherspoons.  I went for the breakfast wrap, but Phil is in full Scottish mode and ordered the Traditional Breakfast.  When his plate came, it was a feast of all things protein:  fried egg, fried sausage, bacon, and beans on toast.  Figuring this to be the perfect way to start our day in Scotland, we cleared our plates and then headed into the city.

As you have seen if you’ve read other blog posts, we really enjoy the Hop-on/Hop-off City Sightseeing bus tours.  Doing this upon arrival to a new city really helps to understand the layout and what it has to offer.  In the past, we have always had the pre-recorded tours.  This allows for greater flexibility as the tours can be given in several different languages.  This company also has that option, but the bus we got on had a live tour guide.  It didn’t take us long to realize how much better a live tour is than a pre-recorded one.  Having grown up in Glasgow, this gentleman could speak to the way things were when he was a boy compared to today.  He kept us updated on current events regarding construction projects and city news.  Most importantly, he was much more entertaining than a recording.  His dry sense of humor had us questioning a few times whether he was joking or not.  On the tour, we explored the city’s centre, west end and river front.  We were unaware of Glasgow’s rich ship building history and learned that the town still engages in this trade today.

After the tour, we stopped for a warm bowl of soup to warm us up because let me tell you–it is cold here.  Maybe 45 degrees today, everyone seemed cheered that at least the sun was shining.  Our tour guide joked that we were all baking in the hot sun at the top of the bus and added that maybe the sun would come out again in another 3 years.  In fact, all day we heard joke after joke about the gray, rainy, cold weather which is commonplace here.  We realize we might be very lucky to be graced by sunshine today and we should enjoy it while we can. (The weather for the rest of the week looks like a lot of rain.)  Once sufficiently warmed by some sweet corn chowder, we ventured back into the cold only briefly to head to the City Chambers, the headquarters of Glasgow’s City Council.  This beautiful old building is situated in the center of the city, just off George Square.  When we heard they offered free tours of the interior, we figured it would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the city’s history.  The building was completed in 1888 and is a display of decadence and wealth.  It has two staircases, the white and the black, so named for the material which was used in building them.  In days of old, only the wealthy nobility and royals were allowed to use the white marble staircase.  The other was reserved for servants and working class visitors. On our tour we visited the banquet hall, the council chamber and the art gallery, where each Lord Provost throughout history has a portrait hanging.  All in all, our tour was really interesting and a good start in helping us to understand the Scottish brogue (I swear, sometimes it sounds like a totally foreign language).

After switching our luggage from our previous night’s hotel to our new Air BnB stay, we went looking for our first pint of the day.  We discovered The Grove, an old man bar if ever there was one.  With horse racing on the TV screen and talk of the Scotland v. Belgium football game tomorrow, it was a great place for a drink.  Phil opted for a Guinness while I tried a Belhaven, all for a mere £5.  At this price, I imagine we’ll be back here again tomorrow! From here, we went to a place called Neighborhood Bar to take advantage of their 2-for-1 deal on dinner.  Then, we headed to the famed King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut for some live music.  We haven’t really caught too many live shows on the trip yet, and King Tut’s is known for having all kinds of different bands each night of the week. (Their claim to fame is being the bar where Oasis was discovered.)  The lineup tonight consisted of bands we have never heard of, but that is half the fun of going to a show like this anyway.  The first act, Jonny Jack, was a young rock band.  Well rehearsed, they played together tightly, but their music wasn’t terribly original.  The lead singer’s voice reminded us of Rob Thomas from his Matchbox 20 days.  Next was a solo artist named Luke Sital-Singh, who played slow, sad songs on his guitar that would have been perfect if we were terribly depressed.  His voice was great, but the songs started to all sound the same after a while.  The headlining act, Fossil Collective, seems to have been around a while since they definitely had some regular fans there to catch the show.  Following the footsteps of many other modern bands, they have a multi-vocal, full harmonic sound along with their many guitars.  They sound a bit similar to Grizzly Bear with a voice like My Morning Jacket.

But the gem of the night was Cherry Grove.  We knew we were in for a treat when they began setting up their stage.  Instruments include your basic keyboard and guitar, but then they also had a violin, harp and accordion.  These incredibly talented musicians played a great set.  Sometimes with vocals, sometimes only instruments, they modernized traditional music and instruments in a creative and innovative way.  They seemed to genuinely have fun on stage, and you got the sense that they probably all met at a music conservatory because they have mastered their instruments.  They were releasing their first EP tonight, and it was clear to see that much of the audience came to see them.  The show would have been worth it even if Cherry Grove was the only band we saw.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has a midnight curfew to respect their neighbors, so once the bands were done we walked home, huddled together to keep warm.  We are so pleased with our first day in Glasgow and we can’t wait for all that we have in store for tomorrow.  We will do a nice variety of museums, exploration, and sport.  As long as we don’t freeze first!

–Brooke

Beautiful view of the Clyde River.

Phil in the City Chambers.

Brooke always wants to be in charge.

One Lord Provost chose to have his portrait done by an artist with a very unique style. It is very intriguing.

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eating, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Music, Scotland, Tours | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Delightful Dubrovnik

Croatian BeautyHello from Dubrovnik, Croatia! Our traveling crew has temporarily expanded to four once again. Brooke and I were joined by our good friend Jack from NYC and his buddy Jon. Both have been traveling in Turkey for the last 10 days and we had planned in advance a rendezvous in Croatia. And now we find ourselves soaking up Dubrovnik. This seaside town is packed so full of amazing beauties that I’m really at a loss of where to begin today. From walking over the ancient city walls to enjoying beers at a bar directly on the Adriatic to watching the sunset from the top of Mt. Srd, this gem of a place is simply sensational. In the short time we’ve been here so far, we’ve chalked up a number of incredible experiences. I know that this may sound like I’m being glib or just plain lazy, but words and photos can’t really do this place justice. To say that we have been swept off our feet by this city is an understatement.

After visiting a variety of European capitals from Bucharest to Budapest over the last few weeks, Dubrovnik was a departure for the size and scene of the town alone. But we didn’t fully know what we were getting into before arriving. I’ve never quite seen a place like Dubrovnik before in the sense that you have a small range of tall mountains which just roll almost right down into the sea. Along the way, the sloping hills are dotted with houses and roads. And at the bottom of these hills, beaches and harbors spit out directly into a bay dotted with islands. This area has geography that is unique and striking.

Delightful DubrovnikBut the real highlight is the historic, walled old city that sits directly between the foot of the mountains and the coast of the sea. We’re not talking some random, partial ruins of walls from an era past. No, this is a compact city of hundreds of building surrounded by a massive intact wall. The impact of it all is amazing. The old city makes for the perfect setting for a slow amble through the pedestrian only, marble streets allowing us to gawk and stare at each new storefront, set of stairs or building entrance. It would also make the perfect setting for the ultimate game of hide and seek, capture the flag or even paintball (if you don’t mind ruining the beautiful, clean walls). More accurately, the low roofs, sloping tiles and endless stairs are the perfect playground for cats. Which neatly explains the number of stray cats at every turn. We’re pretty sure that one cat made its way to Zagreb years ago and started saying to other feline friends, “Dude, you have got to check out this place down the coast.” Hey, better stray cats than stray dogs.

Old City, and the rest of the area, is apparently an incredibly popular vacation destination although it seems to be off the radar for many Americans like Brooke and me. The town does tend to get swallowed by cruise ship passengers during the mid-morning and afternoons. A waiter told us that a couple of years ago, Dubrovnik had a day in which nine cruise ships were docked at once. Apparently, the increasing number of visitors has caused some issues, but there seems to be plenty of bars, restaurants,shops, museums and room enough for all. However, given the sometime geriatric nature of cruise passengers, the endless steps scattered throughout the city could pose a challenge for anyone who can’t hang with hiking up 100-200 steps in a given afternoon.

Walking along the best part of DubrovnikAmong the “can’t miss” activities is forking over a few Croatian kuna to walk the entire circumference of the outside city wall that towers above the rest of the city center. It took the four of us a couple of hours to walk all the way around as we made sure to check out every nook and cranny along the way. The one-way walk around the wall, turrets and towers easily makes our list of one of the most beautiful sights on the trip so far. Talk about meeting and exceeding all expectations. Each new turn or set of stairs gave us another view and another angle to snap some photos (our cameras have gotten a lot of work over the last couple of days). Parts of the walls were built as far back as the 15th century but more recently the walls took a pounding during the Croatian War for Independence in the early 90’s. What’s even more remarkable is that while the old city endured three months of bombing virtually all of the damage has been replaced or repaired. In fact, our visit coincided with Croatia’s Independence Day (the same day as America’s Columbus Day), but aside from the sound of a distant marching band and some closed shops, you really would not have known today was a national holiday.

Sign found in the Old City leading us to the perfect barI’m not one for hyperbole or exaggeration, and maybe it’s the insanely perfect weather or full days, but I’m pretty sure that Dubrovnik is a strong contender for  being the most scenic, beautiful and awe-inspiring place  I’ve ever visited. Brooke would agree. Today was an excellent reminder of why we took this trip in the first place. Sometimes it’s all about trying your best to do what you want to be doing with your life. Who knows? You might find yourself at the perfect back drinking on the Adriatic.

-Phil

This is Happiness

Sights like this are common! Easy to spend hours just meandering and getting lost in old city.

Phil hanging out in Old City

Hands down, a bar with one of the most beautiful views in the world

The narrow streets behind the walls of Old City

Categories: Bars, City Visits, Croatia, Europe, Friends, Self Guided Tours, Surprises, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From Bulgaria to Serbia

This morning, we packed up our bags and left scenic Sofia just before sunrise. We took one last tram ride to the bus station where we prepared to trade in one Eastern European capital for another. We’re pumped to see Belgrade, Serbia and learn all about the former Yugoslavia republic. What do we know so far? Belgrade has a long history with several episodes of conflict that include three months of Nato bombing not so far back in 1999. Serbia is home to the top ranked tennis pro whose name I can never say or pronounce correctly. And also home to electric innovator Nicolai Tesla. To get here, we boarded a 7:30 coach bound for Nis, Serbia and then a quick change would take us onward to our next destination: Belgrade. Since the buses we’ve seen in Bulgaria and Romania have ranged widely in age and quality (and that’s being polite), we sighed in relief when our particular bus pulled into the station: Comfy, clean and modern. Nevertheless, a universal truth is that traveling a good seven hours by bus is rarely boring. Or routine. Or lacks a good story for our blog.

During the ride, we battled mightily (and lost) to keep our eyes open to enjoy the scenic countryside.  At the rare awake moment, we met Katarina – a native Serbian student who was just returning from a study program in Siberia. Katarina was full of insight and some solid general information about our next stop. Also an enthusiastic traveler, she’s part of a team that runs this great community website: Serbia Travelers Club.  We are already using it as a resource and it’s worth checking out.  We had a quick set of dual border checks that gave us two shiny new passport stamps as we exited Bulgaria and entered Serbia. It was when we landed in Nis that things got interesting. Initially we thought that we could stay on the bus to continue to Belgrade. It was only after everyone else exited that we realized we had to transfer our old ticket to a new one and get on a new bus. Our Serbian is jussst a bit rusty, but we managed to muddle through interactions with the ticket clerk to find out that our next bus that was scheduled to depart in ten minutes. As a bonus, without knowing it, we had lost an hour and experienced a time change at the border. Hmmm..it might be wise for us to look at a time-zone map in detail since throughout this trip we’ve never been quite sure when and where the time changes. That might eventually bite us in the rear.

The kicker at the Nis station was the bathroom. The three hour bus ride thus far left both of us with the need to use the restroom. No problem. But it is a small, busted up station that looks stuck in the 1950’s and the only facilities are pay toilets. This wasn’t too surprising, except the clerk at the pay toilet only accepts Serbian Dinars. Which we did’t have. And the bus was leaving in five minutes. And there was no toilet on the next bus. A glimmer of hope lay on the horizon where we spotted a currency exchange, With deft speed and a full bladder, Brooke set off to convert some leftover Bulgarian Leva to Dinar. Amazingly, the stern, unyielding change maven refused to accept the paper bills from the bordering country. While I wasn’t there personally to witness the exchange regarding the exchange, I’m told there was begging, pleading and a request for sympathy. At the last moment, Brooke found an American dollar stuffed somewhere in her wallet and the conversion bought us a pair of trips to the toilet. Quite a way to spend your first Serbian Dinar! Soon, the bus pulled out of the station and all was well. Needless to say, our brief time in Nis did not leave us with the most positive impression. But its all part of the joys of traveling.

Our travel reward and pay off awaited in Belgrade in the form of our next AirB’nB stay located right in the middle of town. Brooke did it again and found us a phenomenal place to stay. We have a full, private apartment to ourselves for the next four days with bedroom, bathroom, clothes washer, kitchen and living room. Even a welcome bottle of wine. It’s the nicest, roomiest accommodations we’ve had in quite a while. I know it sounds minor, but a place like this during a four month trip is rejuvenating, comfortable and does wonders for your state of mind. Plus, we have the greatest variety of cable television since…well…perhaps ever on this trip.

Our somewhat final European itinerary as planned at a Sofia cafe a few days back. Flexibility is a great thing.

We went for a short walk around the neighborhood to get some groceries, snacks and dinner for the evening. It is warm in Belgrade and the city is lined with small cars and pedestrians moving from place to place in a hurry. We were once again reminded that just because a cross walk signal says that you CAN cross the street, doesn’t always mean you should. Some European drivers have interesting interpretations of pedestrian rights and can be bullies. But we’re saving most of our Belgrade discovering for tomorrow. Today, we have passed an official resolution that we’re not going to do much of anything. We broke out some  Baileys (the official drink of relaxation and comfort) that we had picked up in Sofia and settled in. A nice dinner around the corner, some e-mails sent, some pre-research on this new country and then an early bedtime to catch up on some sleep. Kind of a non Day. How did I end it? By enjoying some New York Mets baseball shown through ESPN America where I watched R.A. Dickey punch out 13 to become the Mets first 20 game winner since 1991, and to top it off, it was their last home game of the season. Quite the taste of home. Awesome. Just awesome.

-Phil

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Eastern Europe, Hotels, Reflections, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Carlsberg, Christiana, and Copenhagen

Hello again from Copenhagen! We’ve been lucky enough to enjoy three full days of absorbing Danish culture, food, sights, fun and history. And now that we get into these older European town, there is more than enough history to go around. In keeping with one of the goals of this trip, we continue to see, learn and grow just a bit more each day. For example, we know now that the Danish flag employs one of the oldest flag designs in the world. And, finally, we’re back in a part of the world that has paper towels in the bathroom. Also, I’m slowly becoming able to sort out the distinct differences between the three Scandavian countries: Denmark, Sweeden and Norway. Until now, all three unfortunately ran a bit together like a jumbled mess in my mind.

Since day one, we’ve been resting our head in a variety of different hotels and hostels, but we’ve also had some terrific luck trying out Air BnB- a handy webstie that helps travelers find paid homestays. Currenty, we’re hosted by an incredibly gracious and friendly Dane named Thais who lives a short bus ride from central Copenhagen. We’re staying in his small, airplane-themed flat for three days; Thais has been a stellar host. His dream is to live in an old airplane, but since he is currently unable to do that, he brought the airplane to his apartment. Complete with a safety card that has important information, genuine airplane seats and an overhead compartment for storage, it is clear that he is a bit obsessed with airplanes. It is certainly the biggest theme home we’ve seen in a long time, but it works really well for him! In part, because he is a writer for several European flight magazines, reviewing aircraft, airports and all things aeronautics related. Thais has provided directions, suggestions and even pointed us to a nearby park, Utterslev Mose, where we were run in the morning. Our stay at “The Aerohotel” here has been great and we are glad the weather is finally cool enough (55-65 degrees) for us to run again.

Today we began with a tour of the Carlsberg Brewhouse and Museum. Until about a week ago, I though that Carlsberg (along with Heineken) was a Netherlands based beer. Wrong again, Phil. Turns out that not only is Carsberg one of Denmark’s biggest exports and industries, they are also the world’s 4th largest brewing company with over 500 brands including acquisitions of other European beers. While not that big in America, bottles and tap heads were common throughout Asia. The self-guided eleven dollar tour of Carlsberg (the etymology of the beer’s name is the combination of the name of the owner’s son and the Danish word for hill) was well worth it. The fact that the price of admission included a few beers didn’t hurt. While most of the main brewing facilities have been moved to the Jutland area of Denmark (just don’t ask us to point it out on the map), the company headquarters go back over a hundred years with plenty of well-perserved buildings that show off an interesting history.

I found some of the exhibits on the well-organized Carlsberg tour more interesting than some at the National Museum. The tour took us through that stables that are home to the company’s remaining Jutland Horses. This stout, large and somewhat rare breed, which resemble the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, were historically used to pull beer carts throughout the city and are still used in ceremonies today. The museum also houses a collection of 22,000 unopened beer bottles from the last couple of hundred years! 22,000 glass bottles, many donated from one Dane’s private collection, placed carefully on glass shelves in one room! Good thing we’re not in an area prone to earthquakes. They also really have kept their original buildings in wonderful shape to illustrate the brewing life back around 1900. The trip out there was worth it alone to see the entry gates complete with giant elephants and to watch the modern day brewing of small batch Jacobsen’s Ale while perched from an upstairs bar.

From Carlsberg, we took a trip to the famous Freetown Christiana: an area of Copenhagen that has been occupied by squatters on an old set of military barracks for more than 40 years. Christiana is intended to be an open commune where anyone can live and designed to encourage artists and foster free thought. But our reality was that it looked more like a bunch of burned out hippies sitting among sub-par graffiti art splattered across random buildings. The central draw is the Greenlight district or Pusher Street where they sell weed- lots of weed – openly. Just don’t take out your camera while nearby. Christiana residents declare themselves as not part of the E.U and eschew taxes, but they still receive city services such as mail, electricity and water. It has a long, complicated history and apparently the city officials conduct pre-announced raids from time to time. But for the most part, everyone is allowed to just occupy this space without much resistance. Visitors are welcome and a happy community of about 900 live carefree and proud of their little neck of the woods. It’s…odd. After a worthwhile visit, we left with more quetions then answers. We have determined that squatting is handy when you have an entire complex of well kept old buildings to live in and no one is going to kick you out, but even with understanding some of the turbulent past and issues, were still surprised that this large chunk of land is just allowed to be occupied unpaid by a collective mass.

As we wrap up Denmark for now, note that starting tomorrow Brooke and I are embarking on the most luxurious and relaxing part of our round the world trip- a nine-day Baltic Capitals cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Whilst we sail the open seas, we’ll have considerably limited internet access. For the next little bit, our blog posts may be intermittent as wifi becomes available. Off to Germany, Estonia, Russisa and beyond courtesy of the Norwegian Sun!

–Phil

So many bottles at Carlsberg!

Another photo from Thais’ Aerohotel!

Phil is showing his Denmark Pride (on Flag Day, nonetheless)

Categories: Beer, City Visits, Copenhagen, Differences, Hotels, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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