Saturday, April 14, 2007


Rest Stop En Route to Dubrovnik

Split, Croatia

Trogir, Croatia

imagine the descent...

Greg on Driving in Europe

Ten days of driving through Europe. First day out was daunting, but manageable. Odd road signs, unpronounceable place names, and a dastardly driving culture. Making our way Southwest from Budapest to Slovenia, I lingered too long in the fast lane after passing a truck. An Audi appeared behind me, honking furiously, flashing lights. As he passed, the driver made an unfamiliar yet seemingly obscene gesture - knuckles out, all fingers up, the whole hand/arm arrangement pulsing in my direction. Assuming offense, I repeated the gesture back at him. Seeing this, the driver swerved his car sharply in front of mine and proceeded to throw two waves of garbage at us from out his window. First came parts of a newspaper and what looked like packaging from a bag of cookies. Then came the thin plastic cookie tray along with a few cookies and the contents of his ashtray.

People drive fast here. On highways, 130 kilometers per hour (about 80mph) is the speed limit, but many drive faster. Speedsters pull up a foot or two from your bumper until you get out of the way, then speed past in disgust. On the twisty-turny mountain roads cars accumulate behind slow moving trucks and farm equipment, then dash one by one into oncoming traffic to circumvent the stragglers, often blind to what waits just beyond the next turn. I've attempted this maneuver a few times, sometimes boldly, other times aborting mid pass. I don't have much stomach for it.

Road Work

We're in Dubrovnik now. We arrived a few days ago late in the afternoon, exhausted after a six hour trek from Trogir, much of it through construction. In this part of Europe, road crews set up portable traffic lights at either end of their site to control passage. Two lane roads are reduced to one, and the lights signal which direction of traffic gets to go. Near Neum, Bosnia's only port, I waited at the head of a construction site for the traffic to pass. The cars kept coming even after our light turned green. The driver behind me honked angrily, gesturing for me to go. I gestured back that there was nowhere to go, in spite of the green light. He repeated the gesture I saw on the road to Slovenia.

Parking in Dubrovnik

Street parking operates on the honor system. You park, find a machine which dispenses parking vouchers, then place the vouchers on the dash. Our first night in Dubrovnik our landlady gave me directions to a street about ten minutes from the Old City where I could park "for free". She assured me I needn't fear tickets since the authorities would never pursue out-of-country violations, at least not on that particular street. Driving alone and at night for the first time, I soon became completely lost, and found myself speeding away from the city on a one way mountain road with three or four angry speedsters tailing behind me, each probably making identical obscene gestures in my direction. I made my way back to the city, got lost again, then found myself beside an open space close to the Old City. I checked the guidebook map. There was a black, felt-tip dot at the precise spot, put there by the landlady a few hours before. A you-are-here guide foretold.

Checking my car the next morning, I saw a tow truck picking a silver, VW hatchback vertically out of its spot with a special kind of car-sized claw. It looked like the arm and fingers of a disembodied skeleton. We're driving a silver, Ford hatchback - indistinguishable at a distance. I immediately bought vouchers for the rest of the day, fourteen in all, and lined them along the dash. Later in the day, I quizzed a tourist information person about free parking I had heard about but couldn't confirm. In a moment of weakness, or distraction, he described a secret spot up a gravel path near the bus station where the locals go to park for free. He seemed to regret the revelation the moment he spoke, then ended my inquiries with a curt "good luck, goodbye." His slip up reminded me of keeping mum around tourists in Wellfleet about certain ponds reserved for locals.

Tomorrow, Mostar, then Sarajevo. Bracing myself for the hardest travel yet, driving-wise.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

I may have a new favorite city. Apparently, it was my step-grandmother, Oatie's favorite city, though I can't imagine that diminutive, feminine, elderly lady bumping through the Pile Gate with a bunch of cheapo wheeled luggage from Target and a fluorescent green nylon totebag filled with provisions (the salt and butter have been dogging us since Ptuj!) Back in the day, they probably had porters. Now, they have milling pleasure seekers in shorts, licking ice cream cones and purchasing Croatian flag football jerseys which Greg says we should refrain from acquiring, as we don't know the political implications. (Go Red Sox.)

We're staying in truly rarified accomodations, which we only lucked into because I Googled up the wrong link when my travel writing friend, Farley, tipped me off to his favorite place to stay in this wonderful town. He likes Karmen Apartments. We've taken over Carmen's (entire) House, 3 sweet, narrow floors, high up in the old walled city. Karmen's mom, Ericka, left 3 beers in the fridge for us! These are good people. The music school nearby provided a lovely cello soundtrack to the morning's dish washing. Speaking of washing, there's a tiny washing machine that can handle four kilograms of laundry at a time. We spent the morning walking the perimeter of Dubrovnik's walls, then I snuck back to hang our clean clothes on a line strung between our building and the neighbor's, tenement-style. For the life of me, I can't imagine why anyone would want to stay in a hotel when it's so much fun to play house.

Today was a banner souvenir day for Inky and Milo. A married couple in Gunduliceva poljana, the square nearest our digs, sell funny looking fish they make out of palms. We've been talking a lot about the value, (moral, aesthetic, and economic) in purchasing handmade articles, rather than, say, a plastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask and weapon set that's too big to fit in the car. As soon as I saw these fish - and Milo's interest in them - I pledged that both children could get them, though not right away because we'd just scrounged up accommodation and had yet to haul in the gear from the expensive, tense parking situation just outside the gate. After eighteen hours of lobbying from the Palm Fish lobby, I finally made good on my promise, though I nearly dropped dead from the price. Remember, most of my travels have been in the lands where carved frog masks go for a couple of bucks. "Arky" the Octopus, and "Dinah" the Fish Skeleton cost the same as a night's lodging in Lobran, but then, I thought about how I like to get paid a reasonable wage for my labors, and supporting the arts, and the possibility that Arky might follow his owner to a dorm room and voila - money well spent. Also, they've provided at least 45 minutes of playtime fun and have no known political implications.

(Good thing the ATM card's working again.)

One of my favorite things about Dubrovnik are Onofrio's fountains near either entry to the walled city. It's always good to wash one's hands, rather than risk giving one's hosts the plague.

Also digging on the frequent church bells, unlike the neighbor's str

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

India addresses her classmates

Okay jack. notes on sweets. Ice cream!! And the ice cream here is much better then New York ice cream. here are some flavors.

ice cream flavors
cookie dogh

and more!

Daisy. I have not seen any dances yet.

Mo. I've seen many little lizards, but no clue of flying monkeys!

now, to all. Most of you want me to bring back some food for you to try out.
a terrific market is near my apartment (I've only stayed in one hotel. the room was terrible. (Milo ended up sleeping in a crib, with ABC sheets.) but the food was GREAT!!!!!!!!!!
Hear is what I had for breakfast: a chocolate cresant, two buns, buttered and also had chocolate, pudding, warm milk, orange juice and toast.
have to go back now.

Opatijia, Croatia

We stayed 5 km away in Lovran, and enjoyed the Adriatic promenade to flashier, bigger, more touristed Opatijia, once a playground for wealthy Austro-Hungarians with tuberculosis. I doubt they had more fun than we did.

Stanjel, Slovenia

The three bears were displaced so we could live here for a day.

Milo was dubbed the sovereign of Tiny Island (right off the Venetian Bridge in the Ferrara Gardens). His majesty cried bitter tears when his elderly advisers forced him to quit these lands, but was cheered fifteen minutes later by the unexpected discovery of a rustic goat pen off the beaten path.

The decadent child rulers of Ptuj Castle, Slovenia

A lazy day in Trogir, Croatia

Watched fit looking specimens in blue and white striped t-shirts hopping on and off of sailboats.

Bought Milo a ball instead of a hotly desired pair of red, white and blue boxing gloves that were stamped "USA" across the wrists.

Inky bought a pair of dangling earrings from the naughty-underwear lady in the market.

There is a lot of pizza in Croatia. It is nearly single handedly keeping the children from starving, though they do pretty well with the chocolate filled buns from Konzum, the ubiquitous supermarket chain.

We've been staying in apartments, a much better value than our one nasty hotel room in Sezana, Slovenia (though Milo was thrilled to take a crack at the old wooden crib the management provided on his behalf.)

The one in Ptuj had an espresso machine, vaulted ceilings, and terry cloth sheets. It was who knows how many zillions of years old and overlooked the river.

The three bears would have loved the one in Stanjel. I know we did. One tiny window overlooked the rocketship spire of St Daniel's, the other the shell of a limestone house bombed in WW II. It had a stovetop espresso maker and a wooden loft where the kids slept.

The one in Lobran had a terrace with a view of the Adriatic, and no dish rack. I washed our filthy laundry in the sink and festooned that terrace like a gypsy caravan. Our cousins joined us, the boys in particular whooping it up, to the suspected dismay of the childless Austrian outdoorsman whose misfortune it was to be staying in the apartment next door.

Now we're in the old medieval town section of Trogir. We have one steak knife and no dish towel, pretty orange coverlets, and friendly workman installing a red tile roof right outside our window. Lots of sidewalk cafes. Narrow, cobbled streets worthy of Romeo and Juliet (which Inky seems to think is a comedy, albeit a very dark one.) A jaw-dropping view from the bell tower of the old cathedral in the town square, and a hair raising descent on backless metal steps with one shaky wooden rail the only thing between us and an unthinkable, permanent splat. (Hi, Granny!)

Time to apply the steak knife to some chicken from Konzum. Greg and I exacted a promise from the kids that we're eating elsewhere than a pizzeria tonight. Not wanting to waste our hard-won kuna on untouched entrees, we'll feed them at home, then tank them up on chocolate crepes and comic books while we dine on something wonderful. (Bought some "wine" from a pleasant old lady in the market. She'd bottled it herself in a re-purposed seltzer bottle. It's a bit corrosive, but might be better on a full stomach and a bottle of something with notes less automotive in nature.

Thank you all for your comments! Internet connection is a bit of a challenge here, complicated by kids, funky flash drives, my lack of interest in hanging out in Internet cafes, and y's in the place of American keyboards' z's.

Tomorrow, we're off to Dubrovnik, and from thence, to Mostar, Bosnia.