European Farmer’s Markets

One thing I really miss about Europe (besides the food, and coffee, and culture, and people, and scenery, and so many other things) are all of the wonderful farmer’s markets. It feels like every few blocks there would be another neighborhood market with local’s selling colorful fruits and vegetables, beautiful flowers and freshly baked bread and pastries. I hate going to the grocery store, but grabbing a few things from the market down the street makes cooking so much easier and fresher.

When my Mom and I were in Modena, we walked through Mercato Albinelli, a huge daily market that’s been around since the early 1900s. The produce was so colorful it made you want to pick it up and eat it.

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My Mom pointed out that she bets it’s a lot easier to get kids to eat vegetables if they can help pick it out in an environment like this.

The other thing that blows my mind is how cheap all of the fresh produce and food is at these farmer’s markets. You could get half a loaf of fresh bread for the equivalent of $0.50. Or a pint of strawberries for $0.75. And the best part, you were supporting the local family businesses.

Right outside of our office in Prague was an incredible little market on the side of a park. It was always crowded with locals, getting lunch, grabbing a few things for dinner or just buying a beer and enjoying the sunshine.

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I spy Jillian.

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I can’t even keep track of how many farmer’s markets I went to throughout the summer, but I loved them all just the same.

Prague:

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Barcelona:

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Croatia:

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My 15-Minutes of Fame

While I was in Italy, I was asked if I’d like to participate in an article for Apartment Therapy about participating in The Remote Experience. I answered a few questions, sent in a couple of photos and last week, heard from the writer that the article was posted. The next day, it was highlighted in their daily email…with my photo featured! It was actually pretty cool seeing it in my inbox.

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Here’s a link to the article if you’d like to read about my trip with The Remote Experience, Jessica with Terminal 3 and Dana with Remote Year.

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/remote-work-experience-3-women-took-their-office-global-this-year-235033

The writer actually asked quite a few questions and significantly pared down my answers. Several were interesting questions, and things that we’ve talked about amongst ourselves frequently. So if you’re interested, here are a few:

What advice would you give someone who is interested in/will be participating in a similar program? There will be times that parts of the program annoy or frustrate you. But don’t lose sight of why you chose to be a part of The Remote Experience. Yes, you could have done this by yourself, and yes, for a lot cheaper. But would you have? Knowing you have an instant community, that you’re not flying off to some unknown country by yourself, was a huge comfort for me. And having a company focused on ensuring that I have the ability to work uninterrupted was a big seller for getting my company on board. After two months with The Remote Experience, I feel I can easily do this on my own in the future, that I would feel comfortable being an independent digital nomad. But there’s no way I would have ever gotten to this point without them.

What do you wish you had known before starting this program? That European summers are hot. Like, really, really hot. And AC isn’t used. So be prepared to sweat. A lot. I studied abroad in the fall and spent two weeks in Italy last year in the spring, so I haven’t been here in the heart of summer since I was 11. And I was not prepared for the heat, or the fact that you don’t really get a break from it since AC isn’t common in most stores, restaurants or apartments. On a more practical note, I bought an international cell phone plan through my phone carrier. It’s significantly more expensive than simply getting a new SIM card in each country. I wish I had realized how easy it is to switch out your SIM cards and saved myself a lot of money.

Is there anything that you thought would be hard about this process that turned about to be easy, or vice versa? To be honest, my biggest worry was about working – that others would be here solely to party or recreate their study abroad experience rather than as a professional. Luckily, that hasn’t been the case at all. My other worry was about the people. I was essentially going on a 4-month trip with a group of strangers. So while I knew that I would be living and working with everyone, I had basically prepared myself to be exploring and traveling Europe by myself in case I didn’t click with anyone. And thankfully, the complete opposite happened. Our group is varied in terms of backgrounds, interests and age, but we all share the same adventurous spirit. I feel so fortunate to be sharing this experience with them, to have made 15 friends that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise.

What has surprised you most about this experience? The welcomed flexibility of being social or taking some time for yourself. Most of us had been working remotely prior to coming to Europe. And many of us lived alone in our various cities. So we’re used to a certain level of independence. To be living and working with 10-15 others was a big change. But everyone seems to share the same mentality that if you want to do things with others, great, send a message out and see who is available. But if you need some alone time, everyone understands and there is no judgment; go have lunch by yourself or take a weekend away and meet up with everyone when you’re ready.

Would you like to continue working abroad or are you looking forward to being home again? Would you consider doing it again sometime in the future if not right away? This is a tricky question! Hypothetically, yes, I’d love to continue living abroad. But if I’m being truly honest with myself, it’s probably not a long-term reality at this point in my life. I moved to Chicago 10-months before leaving and am eager to continue to explore the city; at times I feel I know Split or Turin better than I know Chicago! And while my company was very supportive of my going to Europe for 4-months to realize a personal dream, I’m not sure they’d be on board to let me continue this living/working situation indefinitely. All of that being said, I can absolutely see myself living abroad again, possibly for longer than a few months. I’ll just have to see what doors open in the future.

Before I left for a 6-week solo trip to Europe, a friend gave me a card that had a quote inside that really stuck with me, and I think about it all the time when I travel—b/c traveling is amazing, but it’s not always easy—it said: “We don’t remember days, we remember moments.” What has been your favorite moment of the trip so far? I started writing about a solo-trip I took to Zermatt, Switzerland where I skied in the Swiss Alps on July 24th. While that was pretty incredible, I actually think my favorite moment is much more low-key. Our first night in Torino, we met our local ambassador, Chiara, who invited us over to her apartment to watch the Italy-Germany Euro Cup quarterfinal game. A few of us joined her and about 20 of her neighbors and friends in their apartment courtyard where they were projecting the game onto a wall. I looked around and couldn’t believe how lucky I was, not just to be in Europe, but to be so welcomed by these strangers into their everyday lives. Skiing in the middle of summer in the Alps is simply amazing, but anyone can plan a trip like that. Joining a group of friends to watch a game at their home isn’t something you can ever plan or organize, it’s an experience I never would have had if I weren’t on The Remote Experience. The program provides the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the local culture, experiencing it as if you live in these cities rather than just visiting.

Doviđenja Split, Ciao Torino

I’m clearly a little behind with my blog, but we made it to Turin, Italy (scratch that, Torino, Italy – trying to be a local!)

We left Split last Saturday morning, July 2. Told you I was behind.

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One last look over the harbor, right before we boarded the mini-bus to the airport.

I had very mixed feelings – I loved our time in Croatia and really fell in love with Split, but I couldn’t wait to get back to Italy after having such a wonderful two weeks here with my mom last year.

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We got to the airport early for our flight, which turned out to be lucky. I don’t think the Split airport has caught up with the influx of tourists – their check-in process was atrocious, security took forever and the terminal was packed with people. But it was an easy 1-hour flight to Milan and we were met by a personal bus to take us to Torino.

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Is it even a trip to Italy if you don’t eat gelato?

After quickly unpacking, a refreshing shower and a hasty lunch, we all met at the co-working space, Spazio19, where we met a lot of our local “coworkers” as well as our local ambassador, Chiara.

Everyone was so nice! Chiara put together a wonderful presentation about Torino – the history, highlights of what to see, where to eat and local tips. I immediately felt like one month won’t be enough time to see and do everything!

Our new “coworkers” brought some snacks and made us espresso (gosh, I love Italian coffee) as we chatted with everyone, getting to know each other. We then headed out with Chiara for a walking tour of the city. It took me a week or so to warm up to Split; I fell immediately in love with Torino. With it’s portico walkways, large squares piazze and endless palaces palazzi, I was quickly reminded why I adore Italy so much.

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Chiara introduced us to apericena – happy hour on steroids. Essentially, you buy a drink and get an endless, delicious Italian buffet for free. Think prosciutto, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, bruschetta, pasta and roasted veggies. She showed us to a cute, amazing place in her neighborhood, San Salvario (according to Sarah and Jillian, a lot like the East Village in NYC)

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My face shows how excited I am to be in Italy!

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Finally tried an aperol spritz, which my mom and I saw everywhere last year. It was good, but really sweet, which shouldn’t be surprising given it’s neon orange color. 

A few of us took Chiara up on her invitation to watch the Italy-Germany game with her and some of her friends and neighbors. They had the game projected onto a wall in the courtyard of their apartment building.

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Sarah captured everyone’s reaction when Italy scored, bringing the score up to 2-1. Unfortunately, they lost during penalty kicks.

Definitely a pinch-me moment! We were in Italy less than 24-hours and we were watching a huge game with a group of locals, having the best time. Chiara and all of her friends were so nice – made us feel very welcome and I loved getting to know them all. They also work at such cool companies: Ferrero (makers of Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, Kinder and Tic Tac to name a few) and Fiat.

I can already tell this is going to be a wonderful month.

A “Locals” Guide to Split Croatia

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I might be using the term ‘local’ loosely, but I feel after a month in Split, I definitely have a good sense of what to do, where to eat and where to go. So if you’re visiting the area, here is what I’d recommend:

What To Do In Split:

Walk around Diocletian’s Palace: This is kind of a given, but there’s nothing like getting lost in the old streets, discovering small shops and remote corners. See it

Climb to the top of the Bell Tower: For a spectacular view of Split, head up the stairs to the top of the tower. But beware; if there are cruise ships in the harbor, you’ll have to fight the crowds. It’s still wroth it though. Read more

People watch from the Riva: I discovered this is an activity tourists and locals alike enjoy. Grab a seat at any of the cafes and linger over an espresso, cappuccino or beer and enjoy the wide variety of people you’ll see walking along the waterfront. See it

Wander around the Green Market: Behind the tourist market is Split’s gigantic, local farmer’s market. You have everything from large fruit vendors to little, old women selling their day’s fresh spinach and tomatoes, to cheese vendors to florists to nut stands. They weigh everything with an old fashioned scale, the food is delicious and watching everyone talk over their stalls makes you feel like you’re hearing the latest neighborhood gossip. Read more

Visit Marjan Park: When the heat and tourists become too much, escape to Marjan Park. I’d recommend entering on the Northeast side and walking along the path, seeing the Adriatic peak through the forest, on your way to Bene Beach. While you can do a full loop, ending back up in Old Town, the second half of the walk is exposed to the sun and on the road, so it’s not as pleasant as the beginning. See it

Hike to the Flag on Marjan Hill: For another beautiful view, walk to the top of Marjan Hill, where you’ll see the Croatian flag waving proudly. Stop at Vidilica Café for lunch or a drink to enjoy a great view of the city. Read more

Visit a few Beaches; While Basvice Beach is the most famous beach in Split, it’s definitely not the best. My favorites were Joe’s Beach and Bene Beach but there were quite a few that we never made it to. Read more

Where To Eat In Split:

Brasserie on Seven: Located right on the Riva, you get an excellent combination of people watching, a wonderful view of the harbor and good food. The menu leans more towards American food than Croatian, but everything is fresh and has a unique twist that you don’t see at home. And definitely save room for dessert! 

Villa Spiza: I only ate at two good Croatian restaurants the entire month, and this is the first. It’s is a tiny little restaurant with a handwritten, daily menu, changing based on what they have on hand. There are only a handful of tables so be prepared to wait. Or visit for a late-lunch or early-dinner to avoid the crowd. Read more

Zinfandel: And this is the second. Zinfandel is consistently rated the top restaurant in Split. It’s a little pricier than other places, but definitely worth it. Plus the wine list is extensive, which improves everything! There is a live musician at night, which makes for good ambiance, unless you’re seated right next to him.

F De Mar: Simply call this The Remote Experience’s second office. There would routinely be at least one person working at F De Mar every day of the week. It’s located to the West of the Riva so it’s not as crowded. And with the comfortable outdoor furniture, delicious Greek salad, strong WiFi and the waiter’s willingness to bring out an extension cord, this was the dream spot. Remote working aside, F De Mar is a wonderful place to grab a coffee or lunch.

Paradox: A charcuterie paradise. Choose from a wide selection of meats, cheeses, accouterments and wines, with a very heavy emphasis on Croatian varieties. While not exactly typical Croatian cuisine (read, not fish), Paradox is a great way to feel like you’re eating local while still enjoying your meal.

Rizzo: A fancy version of subway. Except with good ingredients. And good bread. This is the best place to grab a quick meal or pick up a sandwich to bring with you on your adventures. Warning, be careful with the sauces, they’re very heavy-handed.

 Luka: The best gelato in all of Split. Honestly, don’t even try any other place. There is always a line, but it goes quickly. And the flavors are fresh, unusual and rotated throughout the day.

Kokolo: A juice bar right in the middle of Old Town. For 25 kuna ($3.70) you can get a refreshing green or fruit juice.

Where To Go Around Split:

Sailing Trip: Booking a sailing trip for the day is a little on the pricey side, but worth every penny. It’s an all day activity with plenty of food and an open bar. You get the opportunity to relax on the open water, see an island or two and swim in the Adriatic. Simply put, it’s paradise. Read more

Island Hop: An alternative to sailing (or if you have the time, in addition) is to visit different islands by ferry. You’ll get to the islands much quicker for more time to enjoy the towns, but getting there won’t be quite as memorable. Hvar is very popular, especially from Split. While I didn’t actually go, Brač is a local favorite. And if you have the time for an overnight trip, I heard Vis is a great island as well.

Krka Waterfalls: As soon as you start researching Croatia, you start hearing about the waterfalls. While Plitvice Lakes is definitely the more famous, it’s a long drive from Split. I would recommend Krka – still stunning and only an hour and a half away. You can easily book an all day tour, but if you have the ability to rent a car and drive yourself, I’d recommend going that route. Read more

Trogir: Get our of Split for the morning and head to Trogir, a quaint town just north. It’s much smaller but has the same old-time charm without the tourists. Spend a few hours wandering through the cobbled streets, relaxing with a coffee on their Riva or enjoying lunch. The ferry is only 2 kuna more than the bus and they both take an hour, so enjoy your transit time and opt for the ferry. But be warned that you will need to walk a half-mile or so from Old Town to the port in Trogir. See it

Croatian Hinterland: I really enjoyed the tour that our local ambassador, Ante, took us on. It was informative, I enjoyed seeing other parts of Croatia and the village/meal is something you’ll never forget. Or replicate! Here’s a link to Ante’s website, we did the Imotski Dalmatian Hinterland Tour. Read more

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (almost)

Apologies in advance for another long post!

Dubrovnik has been a topic of conversation since we got to Croatia. We had all heard it was a great place and we have several Game of Thrones fans in our group. What we hadn’t realized was just how far it was from Split. There’s both a bus and ferry available, but they take 4-6 hours so it seemed a weekend trip was our only option. However, all of our weekends were already full with other activities, so it didn’t seem likely that Dubrovnik would happen this trip.

But then we looked into the seaplane. European Coastal Airlines just launched this route a few months ago and it takes 45 minutes to fly to Dubrovnik. And it’s a freaking seaplane! It’s definitely more expensive, but we figured any other mode of transportation would require us to stay the night in Dubrovnik, which would basically negate the cost difference. And again, it’s a freaking seaplane!

So Catherine, Jillian, Sarah and I booked a one-way ticket and decided to simply take the ferry back – making for a long day, but enabling us to check out Dubrovnik.

We had to be down at the ports, checked in by 7:30am so it was an early morning wake-up after our epic sailing trip the day before. But we were all excited so I don’t think any of us minded too much. We enjoyed an Americano while watching two seaplanes come into the dock. They looked tiny compared to the huge ferries next to them and the pilot would signal and talk to the men on the dock through his open window.

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An American couple got into this seaplane and took off very quickly for either a private tour or a private flight – fancy, fancy. They checked in with us and when asked for their passport, they shook their heads. When asked for a license they shook their heads again. Rather than get turned away, the receptionist simply told them to make sure they brought some kind of identification next time and checked them in. Only in Croatia. And only Americans.Dubrovnik 18

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Our florescent companion is from Greece, accompanying his 9-year-old son to a tennis tournament in Dubrovnik. Apparently he’s the top U10 tennis player in Greece and is hoping to play at Indian Wells. For you Southern California tennis players, check out Chris Spyrou next year!

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The flight was so cool! (transportation mode #1) Takeoff was incredibly smooth and it actually took me a few seconds to realize we were already airborne. The views were spectacular, alternating between Croatia’s coastline and flying over the islands. It was a little hazy, the windows cast reflections and the propellers were in the way, so the pictures aren’t the best.

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We were all a little bummed that we didn’t land in the water; we flew into the Dubrovnik airport, had to take a bus to the terminal (transportation mode #2) then an Uber into the city (transportation mode #3). We were clued in by Katelyn and Chet to walk the city wall early in the morning before the crowds and heat. So we bought our tickets and did the grand walk.

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The buildings are spectacular and bordered by the blue Adriatic, it’s no wonder they film so much of Game of Thrones here. All of the red roofs in Dubrovnik are much nicer than in Split. Apparently, during the Homeland War in the 90s, the Yugoslav People’s Army tried to siege Dubrovnik and bombarded the city, hitting Old Town particularly hard. They had to repair most of the buildings in Dubrovnik post-war, so for being so old, the town looks very well preserved.

We were soaked with sweat, par-for-the-course in Croatia at this point, so we found our way to Buza Bar, a café bar built into the rocks, overlooking the sea that we had all heard about before. Can’t say any of us were very impressed – it wasn’t as picturesque as we were hoping, it was hot, no shade, no water, no restrooms, horrible service, overpriced and bad drinks.

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One of the few places in Croatia where the pictures are better than in person.

Still sweating, and now starving, we headed to the top of Old Town for lunch at Lady Pi-Pi, a restaurant recommended to both Catherine and Jillian. Luckily, this one didn’t disappoint. It had a great view of the city, a lovely (shaded!) terrace and good food and wine.

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Post-lunch, we made our way to the cable car (transportation mode #4). Upon arriving at the top of the hill, we realized quickly that this was a complete tourist trap. $18 for a 3-minute ride in a cable car, where you are packed in like sardines and every lookout point has an obscured view of the city. The views were about the same as from the highest point on the city wall.

We did, however, see a few people hop the wall and walk out to a nicer viewpoint. Given Croatia’s lax rules, we followed suit and Catherine got some excellent pictures of us. So we’ll chalk this up to a very expensive picture opp.

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At this point, we all just wanted to escape the crowds and heat, neither of which are options in Dubrovnik. We walked to Banje Beach, which was equally as crowded but at least we were able to sit under an umbrella at a café. Granted, we paid for it with another overpriced drink – a warm Coke Zero. Just what I wanted when I was overheated!

We stopped at a Konzum to stock up on snacks before hailing a taxi (transportation mode #5) to the ferry ports. Sitting down on the ferry (transportation mode #6), we were all thinking the 5 hour trip home wouldn’t be too bad – we had leather(ish) seats, a table and could walk onto the deck if we needed some fresh air.

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False. The seats gave us all permanent back problems and the deck was perfectly positioned behind the ferries’ exhaust pipes, so we were engulfed with smoke every time we went outside. We did, however, get to see a few cute island towns every time we picked up more passengers.

All-in-all, I’m very glad we went to Dubrovnik, but I’ll probably never go back. It’s so overrun with tourists so you pay for everything, it’s all overpriced and there are crowds everywhere. It did, however, make us all appreciate Split that much more. Split is a very livable tourist town – the locals and tourists coexist together so you never feel like you’re at Disneyland and it’s always easy to find a respite from the crowds.

Out to the Country

Last year, one of my mom and my favorite things about our trip to Italy was our Parma Food Tour. While we enjoyed delicious parmesan cheese, parma ham and balsamic vinegar, what we liked the most was learning about the culture and how these foods sustain the local economy.

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So I was really excited when an opportunity arose to go on a more cultural tour of Croatia. Our local ambassador, Ante, took Catherine, Iona, Jake and I around the Dalmatian Hinterland, which is the fancy way of saying the mountains surrounding Split. Ante was born in Australia to Croatian parents, moved here when he was 19 and has lived in Split since. He’s an ex-history professor and now owns his own tour guide company. He spent three days giving Rick Steves a private tour around Croatia!

We started off stopping at the same viewpoint above Omiš as we did after whitewater rafting. Except this time, we got a little background. The church is from 1200 and the table outside, where we scarfed down sapornik, is actually an election table. Candidates would stand around the table and citizens would place a rock in front of whomever they were voting for. The person with the most rocks was voted in. Too bad our presidential election isn’t quite so fast and easy.

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From there, we drove about a minute and half through a narrow tunnel, then parked on the side of the road, and walked to another viewpoint. It was super sketchy. But the statue was interesting, with a cool story behind it.

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In the 1500s, any marriage in the area was required to be “approved” by the Turkish Bey. However, even if he approved it, he had the authority to require the woman to spend the first night of wedded bliss with him instead of her husband. Such was the case with Mila Gojsalić. On that historic night, she went to spend the night with the Bey, but strapped herself with explosives. Although she died in the process, she also killed the Bey, many of his soldiers and their stockpile of ammunition.

We continued our tour of the Hinterland, coming within a ¼ mile of the Bosnian border. I wish we had brought our passports! Our next stop was the Green Lake.

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During Communist rule, should the government decide they wanted to build a new hydroelectric facility, they would simply notify a village that within a year, they would be flooding their home. The villagers would have a year to pack up and move out and they’d literally flood the area and build a hydroelectric plant. In times of droughts, you can apparently see the tops of old houses. A little eerie. And very sad.

Next up, the Red Lake.

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Pictures don’t do this lake justice. The walls, the origin of the lake’s name, were straight up and huge, jutting up to 241 meters (790 feet). The lake was a deep blue and completely still with a depth of 530 meters (1,740 feet). They only just discovered this depth a few years ago. They had to helicopter in a submarine to drop into the lake. The first attempt was a dud when the submarine got caught in such strong underwater currants that it could go no further. So they choppered in a bigger submarine and finally made it down to the bottom.

It’s worth noting that Croatia’s safety measures are far more lax than the US. Families were hiking up the sides of the cliffs, standing precariously close to the edge, with nothing stopping them from falling/jumping in.

Our final lake was the Blue Lake.

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Another gorgeous place, however, this one is swimmable, as long as you don’t mind a long hike in and out.

Opposite this lake, a wide-open field stretches in both directions. To the north, you can see a fortress. According to lore, the Turks and Venetians met at this fortress to determine their borders. They agreed on the north, west and south borders, but couldn’t come to a consensus for the east. They decided to roll up their largest cannon, shoot it off, and wherever it landed, that would be the border. To this day, the border between Croatia and Bosnia, and in fact, the border of the EU, is on this line, right in the middle of this field.

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Our final stop was Imotski, a tiny little village a few kilometers away from the Blue Lake. We enjoyed a home cooked meal at a local, Croatian bistro. Our chefs, a husband, wife and their three boys, knew no English and made everything fresh from their farm. The bistro was actually converted from their old house, where the husband grew up, and they now live across the street.

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He built the whole place, including this fireplace, by hand. He jokingly said it took more time to earn all of the money to build the fireplace than it did to actually make it.

We started with four welcome drinks of various flavors of grappa and slivovitz.

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Followed by homemade white and red wines. And thankfully, a lot of food: bread, cheese, prosciutto, olives, chicken and veal (prepared in the traditional “peka” style), potatoes, and doughnuts.

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That’s our peka chicken and veal. And something about him reminds me of Mikela’s dad, whose Yugoslavian. Perhaps I found his village!

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Just the first course.

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The bistro/farm is apparently the local hangout. As we ate, the men of the village wandered over to play bocce and cards and have a few drinks. We’re not exactly sure where the women were?

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At one point, we looked over and all of the older men were sitting in the same position, in the same outfit, all waiting for others to get there to play bocce.

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And a few of them posed for me as we were leaving.

An (Unexpected) Beautiful View of Split

Rachel climbed up the Bell Tower one of our first days here and after seeing her pictures, Catherine and I had view-envy. So we met up one morning to grab coffee and climb to the top. I discovered a café that serves an almost-full-size cup of coffee. It’s actually more like a half-cup, but you can enjoy more than two sips of espresso so I take it as a win. After lingering over our coffee and trying to make it last as long as possible, we headed into Old Town . . . and were confronted with 5,358 other tourists.

There was not one, not two, but an unheard of THREE cruise ships docked in the harbor. But nonetheless, we braved the crowds and bought our 20 kuna ticket.

Now let me tell you, the Croatians are very easy going, very relaxed and rather lenient with citizen regulations. But I think they’d benefit from having a little order at the Bell Tower.

For the first half of the climb, you’re squeezed into a narrow stairway with incredibly large, incredibly steep steps. Which is not particularly pleasant by itself. But add in the fact that there are people fighting to go both up and down, my claustrophobic self was very close to freaking out.

After patiently (read: awkwardly) waiting at breaks in the stairs to let others slide by us, we fought our way to the top to enjoy the spectacular view.

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The edges of Diocletian’s Palace were very distinct and seeing it from above, it’s amazing to think 3,000 people still live within its walls. The terraces, balconies and verandahs remind you that these are actually people’s apartments and this view is just an everyday occurrence for them.

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After sweating through the Bell Tower, Catherine and I were ready for lunch, and to get as far away from all the tourists as possible. We fought our way through the crowd and over to the other side of the Riva, towards Marjan. We found a hidden staircase which we thought was just a small path to the street above.

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Several hundred stairs later, we popped out at the café in Marjan Park and figured this was a perfect place for lunch. And it didn’t disappoint. Look at this view!

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And thankfully, our salads were equally as amazing. Turned out to be a very luckily accident.

Krka National Park

When it comes to natural, Croatian beauty, most people think of the country’s picture-perfect coastline and dozens of islands. Turns out, inland is equally as beautiful.

There are two main waterfalls in the country: Krka National Park and Plitvice Lakes National Park. While both are national parks, Plitvice is definitely the more famous of the two. However, Krka is about an hour and half from Split while Plitvice is closer to four hours. So when we started talking about a visit, Krka quickly won.

We booked an all day tour and headed out one Saturday. We met at the Gregory of Nin statue (for some reason, a 20-foot tall wizard overlooks Diocletian’s palace) and soon realized we’d be going with a large group. They herded us to a bus stop a half-mile away and we settled in for an hour and a half ride.

The tour we chose touted “a ferry ride to the waterfalls.” Tourist trap! It was slow, crowded and had almost no view. Except of a group of baby swans cygnets (thanks Google)

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When we got off, we were all funneled through the ticket office, paid to go to the bathroom and wandered through some tourist-tchotchke stalls. The path opened up on the falls, which were gorgeous.

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But everyone was standing on a small bridge, trying to take the same picture. Suffice it to say, I was not overly impressed with the crowds nor was I sure what we’d do for the next 5 hours.

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But then the crowd starting dispersing and Rachel and I joined our tour guide for a guided walk around the national park and things turned around. Of the 70 people on our tour, only Rachel, myself, and a couple from Palm Springs of all places, walked around with the guide. It was interesting to hear more about the park, about Croatia itself and see all of the different viewpoints of the falls. While being right at the base of the falls is impressive, seeing it from up above was stunning.

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After our walk, we took a dip in the “pool” at the bottom of waterfalls. It was freezing, crowded, hard to move around because the rocks were so sharp and the undercurrent was STRONG. But once you made it to the buoys, it was actually quite nice.

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We probably didn’t need to spend a full day here, but the scenery was pretty incredible.

A Month of Waiting

We had a restaurant recommendation on our first full day in Split to eat at Villa Spiza. As a group, we walked over for lunch from our co-working space. We were propelled down an alley in Old Town by the delicious smells coming from a restaurant halfway down. We walked up, looked in, and disappointedly saw it was tiny inside…and had a long line waiting outside.

We dejectedly wandered around to find another lunch spot and we all vowed we’d go back. Well, different (smaller) groups of us have tried throughout the month and none of us succeeded. We continued to get recommendations from our yoga instructor, TripAdvisor and Kristine’s local date. It must be the best restaurant in all the land!

Today, on our second to last full day in Split, Michelle, Jillian, Sarah and I FINALLY tasted the wonders of Villa Spiza! And it was everything we had hoped for and more.

After browsing the local ethnographic museum, we were sitting on the Riva, enjoying a coffee, wondering where to go for lunch. We had the brilliant idea to check out Villa Spiza, just to see what the wait looked like. All of the tables were full, but we were the only ones waiting so we decided to go for it.

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The menu changes daily based on what they have and what’s in season. Hence the handwritten ‘menu du jour’. (French sounds a whole lot nicer than the Croatian translation: dnevni jelovnik)

After 20 minutes of waiting, one of the employees came out to offer us a drink. We asked if she knew Jenny (our yoga instructor) and we instantly had a connection. Another 15 minutes later, we were happily seated and chatting with the other two women cooking – who were also Jenny’s friends.

Jillian and I shared stuffed peppers and roasted eggplant and oh. my. gosh. They were both outstanding. My mom makes a mean stuffed red pepper but this one literally melted in your mouth (bet you didn’t know ground meat and rice could do that) This was hands down the best Dalmatian cuisine we’ve had. And it was cheap, with a good ambience and wonderful waiters/chefs. It was worth the wait!

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Sailing Into The Sunset

Saturday we had our second sponsored activity – sailing on a catamaran to Hvar. We’ve been talking about it all month and had high expectations. And I think it’s safe to say that the entire day surpassed everyone’s expectations. If anyone is coming to Split, I’d highly recommend doing the tour.

PSA: Camille took a lot of really fun, candid pictures, so this post will be picture overload.

We met on the Riva at 9:30am and walked to the ports to board our catamaran. Since we were by far the largest group, we snagged the front left side (ahem, the port bow) of the ship. We sailed under the bright sunshine for two hours, enjoying the open bar, prosciutto sandwiches and chicken salad, until we came to our first swimming spot.

I hadn’t really thought about what a “swimming hole” meant, but this was beyond what I imagined. We anchored in the most pristine, clear blue water and spent the next hour and a half jumping and flipping off the boat, floating and swimming around and lounging on hammocks over the water. There’s enough salt in the Adriatic that if you lay back, you completely float. That, along with the temperature and color of the water, has convinced me that the Adriatic > Pacific.

Most of you know that I was a longtime gymnast. I often get asked if I can still do anything. In my head, I can still do layout stepouts and aerials on beam, no problem. In actuality, I have no idea what I’m still capable of. I can now tell you, however, I am fully capable of doing front and back tucks off a catamaran. I was in ex-gymnast heaven!

I was a little bummed when the captain sounded the horn and I had to stop flipping off the side. However, our next stop was Hvar, so it was an ok trade.

Hvar Island itself is rather large. Although the port town of Hvar is quite small. A few people from our group went to grab lunch and the others went to the beach, but I decided to explore. The first side street I ventured down turned out to be residential and it popped me out on the road up to the fort. It was brutally hot so I was about to turn around and find my friends when I heard people speaking English. I joined up with some recent graduates from Canada and enjoyed hiking up to the fort and wondering around town with them for the next few hours.

After we were back on the boat, thankfully cooling off with the ocean breeze, we headed to our second swimming hole off the island of Brač. The water here was much shallower, even warmer and sparkling in the setting sun.

Returning home to Split was as picturesque as it comes – sun setting on the left, casting long shadows on the boat, relaxing with friends, tired from a day spent in the sunshine and sea.

We disembarked at 8:00pm and headed to a café to watch Croatia play Spain in the Euro Cup. They had a major upset, scoring their second goal right at the end. You could hear the entire city cheer. The win actually made The Press Enterprise in Riverside!

We’re almost done with our time in Split, which is rather hard to believe. But I think this sailing trip has been the highlight. I couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday.