On our last full day, I left the schedule wide open. We slept in ( as much as we could. I seem to be waking up around 630am anymore, no matter where I am or how late I stayed up the night before), ate a leisurely breakfast, and hung at the beach and pool.
We also got to hang with our favorite new critter friends: lots of lizards and Freddy, the neighbor dog we thought was a stray, but wasn’t.
Captured a few moments of Drummer Boy and Singer Girl:
HWSNBN took it upon himself to go snorkeling — way too far out for my liking. The bay we were on was sandy smooth and clear, which was great for wading and splashing, but not good for marine life sightings. So he swam out — and disappeared. After 45 minutes of having no idea where he was, I asked folks at the neighboring villa if they had seen him when they were out swimming and canoeing. Nope. So one of teh guys took a boat back out and found him; I could see them talking from teh beach, and can only imagine the conversation:
“Dude, your wife is stressing.”
“She can’t see you. I think you better get back. You might be in trouble, man.”
So he came back. I gave him the stink eye, explained calmly that if the kids or I had done that he would have lost his ever-loving mind. He agreed, kind of sheepishly. I gave him another look, then left to get ready for dinner.
That night we went out to an amazing restaurant — Scotchies in Falmouth (http://scotchies.restaurantsnapshot.com/). As we all wondered what to have, the waitress just took away the menus and said. “I’ll take care of you, mon.” And she did. Jerk chicken and pork, sausage, ribs, steak, and sides. Our fave new food in Jamaica had to be festival, a kind of semi-sweet dense doughy breadstick. Incredible! And the margaritas at Scotchies were amazing as well! We sat outside and it was very pretty — thanks to Andrew for suggesting it!
After dinner, it was time for our last adventure: swimming at Glistening Waters, one of only 4 bioluminescent bays in the world (http://www.glisteningwaters.com/luminous-lagoon-tour/). Once again, Andrew hooked us up: we were the last ones there for the night, so went out in a boat solo and got to swim. The waters glow when they are disturbed, so we treaded (trod?) water with wild abandon to make the magic happen!
The bay was bath water warm, and if you ever go heed the call for water shoes because that is some squishy stuff on the bottom (don’t ask, don’t tell). But what a fun last adventure!
well, not quite the last one!
When we got back to the house, we resumed a marathon activity that Sailor Boy had been planning for us: a game of Dungeons and Dragons. For weeks leading up to the trip, he helped the D and D virgins (me, HWSNBN and Singer Girl) create characters, and gave us YouTube videos to watch. It didn’t help. I spent my teen years avoiding this game, sure that it would ruin my social standing if I played the “game of nerds.” Well, having happily raised a proud nerd, it was inevitable that I would have to come to the dark side eventually. We played the game over a span of three days and nights — and ultimately had to speed through the end or we would still be there at the table, me baffled at what I was supposed to do. My son was in his element, and we were all bonding with wild abandon.
It was awful.
It was awesome.
I’d do it all again tomorrow!
On day three we donned water shoes and hiked through the Jamaican jungle to climb up — and jump off of — waterfalls.
I had originally planned to visit the famous Dunn’s River Falls, but Andrew reassured me that the Blue Hole area was actually more enjoyable, according to the other folks he had driven around. Again, Andrew did not steer us wrong!
There were little falls and big ones. Tiny shallow pools and great big deep ones. Lots of blue water and green foliage. It was beautiful, and it was so fun! We actually got some great pictures, too! I don’t usually buy the CDs that the professional photographers hawk, but these were worth it!
After all our time in teh ocean, the fresh water was incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating. As tourist attractions go, it was about as far from American as you could get: pot brownies sold at stands as you climbed, Rastafarians selling Red Stripe beer out of coolers, and very few safety rules.
always be wary of what’s happening behind you…
The last jump was the biggie: about a 40 foot drop!
After that (and after we had to reinsert Drummer Boy’s arm shoulder back into its socket), we did a short zip line into a pond!
All in all, a stellar experience!
That evening, back at the villa, Chappie, the house caretaker, made a bonfire on the beach!
HWSNBN couldn’t resist helping:
A great ending to a great day!
I have never made a formal bucket list (note to self: good blog topic), but I already know some of the things on it, and am working my way through it. Last year, I danced on teh Champs Elysees for my birthday. This summer I will go skydiving. And last week, I rode a horse on a beach!
When I broached the subject with the Jamaica-bound crew only Singer Girl was an immediate and emphatic yes vote. The others came and to the idea (except for one. He chose to sleep in and hang out poolside at the villa. Not a bad choice!).
The rest of us hopped in the car with driver Andrew and headed to Braco Stables (http://bracostables.com.jm/).
After donning the requisite headgear, we saddled up!
Soon we wandering fields and beaches, passing abandoned drug airstrips and banana trees, enjoying the flowers and the wildlife. Occasionally our horses had minds of their own — especially mine, who wanted to keep nibbling the tall grass as we passed. We all secretly hoped we’d get a chance to pick up speed, but the guides really frowned on that. Every now and then I’d hear Drummer Boy call out “Yah!” to his horse. I think he may have had the most fun of all of us!
Then it was time to get in the water (after a beer break, of course!)
Then we hopped back on the horses and rode back.
What a glorious day! So many laughs, and such huge smiles on everyone’s faces! And the scenery! Whatever could we do the next day to top it?
As we were planning the trip, I gave the crew a list of adventure options. Some were universal yeses, some were met with a “no thanks” and some were in the middle. We started the trip strong, with a unanimous choice: scuba diving.
HWSNBN and I have been certified for decades (took our classes in a YMCA swimming pool in Fargo in the dead of winter), and Sailor Boy and Singer Girl have gone twice before, in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. But since they aren’t certified, they were required to do a “how to” crash course along with scuba virgins Drummer Boy and Mojo Jojo. Andrew brought us to Garfield Diving in Ocho Rios (http://garfielddiving.com/) and we all suited up. HWSNBN and I went out for a dive while they took classes, meeting up with three other divers from Germany.
Every time we dive, I know I am going to get a wee bit panicky at first. The human body is not supposed to breathe underwater, and, as an overthinker, I always have to work through that first time. But once I start to swim a bit, I get distracted by the beauty and wonder of the underwater world.
When the kids were done and ready, our boat met up with theirs. We dove in and waited at the bottom for the rest of the group. A couple came right down, but two took a while, as one was experiencing the same panic I get. The dive master from Garfield was patient and understanding and helped him through his nerves, and soon we were all swimming with the fishes!
As always, I am humbled when I am under water. The vastness, the sense of peace and beauty and wonder — all combine to make me slow down, relax, and enjoy the moment. I did see a lot of dying coral, which was heart-wrenching. It is hard to see the environment failing because we have failed it. Before we went down, our dive master told us to be on teh lookout for lionfish, an invasive species dangerous to fish and humans. They prey on baby fish and are contributing to the destruction of the reef. During our dives, we found (and he killed — that was hard to watch but necessary) four of them.
Once killed, he trimmed them of their dangerous spikes and fed them to sea anemones, so the circle of life was fulfilled!
Here is a slide show of some of the amazing sea life we experienced:
As always, we came away knowing we HAD to do this again — and my kids are determined to be certified! After diving, it was time for some grubbing, so Andrew drove us to Olympic runner and Jamaican legend Usain Bolt’s restaurant (https://tracksandrecords.com/) where we replenished our stores, then headed back to the villa, reminiscing about today, and looking forward to the next adventure!
The last time our family took a vacation — all four of us — was in 2015, when Sailor Boy was a senior in high school. We spent spring break in Puerto Rico that time, knowing that in a few obtsh he would belong to the US Navy and we didn’t know when we’d get him again. Here are a few pics from taht trip:
Flash forward 4 years and here we are. Last week the four of us, plus Singer Girl’s BF Drummer Boy, and Sailor Boy’s bestie, Mojo Jojo, went to Jamaica. We all needed this trip, for various reasons. As a family, we needed to reconnect. HWSNBN had just lost his wonderful father the week before. I had spent much of the last 4 months recovering from my ice fall and helping my mom through an epic battle with the kidney stone to end all kidney stones (3 inches long it was, and after 6 procedures we think it’s gone). The four young ‘uns were knee deep in school, either starting a new semester or heading into finals. And 7 of us had just survived a Minnesota winter for teh ages. So we were DUE.
I booked a house in a community called Bengal Beach, in Trelawny Parish, Jamaica. We were about an hour east of Montego Bay, and 40 minutes west of Ocho Rios. I thought about staying in a big hotel in a big city — but I didn’t want to lose my kids to swim up bars and nightclubs. Plus, I know from traveling experience that communal space is key to good family time. So the house was perfect –especially since it had a staff of 3 to keep the party humming (ie: I didn’t have to cook or clean. Halle-freaking-lujiah.). I also booked a driver named Andrew at the suggestion of the VRBO owner. We all agreed he MADE the trip! He was making great suggestions for us from teh minute we got in the van on the way to the villa!
Here are a few pics from the house!
If you’d like to learn more about the Seahorse Villa, go to https://www.vrbo.com/824324?arrival=2019-08-26&departure=2019-08-30&adultsCount=6.
As you’ll see in the upcoming blog posts (and probably have discerned from previous ones), I don’t find sitting still day in and day out very fun. I realized this time that while some folks like coming back from vacation refreshed. Personally, I want to feel invigorated. Don’t get me wrong: sitting in teh sun with a good book is way up there for me on the happy scale (and my book on this vacation was The Velveteen Daughter, by Laurel Davis Huber. So good!). But I can sit on the couch anywhere. When I travel, I want to do it all! In this trip, we did a lot, as you will see!
I don’t know why this place captivated me so, but it surely did. The only thing that would’ve made it better were folks in immaculate white suits handing me a cocktail as we arrived. But maybe if we had come in on zee plane…
We had heard of Lokrum, just a 20 minute boat ride from Dubrovnik. We had seen it from afar. It didn’t look spectacular, but everyone said if you have the time, it’s a must. It’s also cursed.
The island was home to a Benedictine monastery, which founded in 1038. According to legend, Richard the Lion Hearted shipwrecked there, and vowed to build a church — which he did. Centuries later, the French decided they wanted it, so told the monks they had to leave. They fought it, but lost. So the night before they were evicted, they all lined up with candles, and walked the whole island three times, chanting and pouring wax. Thus came the curse: “Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure shall be damned!”
Three Dubrovnik aristocrats forced the move. One jumped out of a window, one drowned, and the third was killed by a servant.
Another shipwreck brought Archduke Maximilian to its stunning shores. Captivated, and more greedy than grateful, he decided to buy it. Max moved in, built a mansion, and thought all was great. Then he went to Mexico, to be Emperor. He was soon executed there. His wife Charlotte moved back to Lokrum. She went insane.
Over the successive centuries, people died, were financially and socially ruined, and on and on until finally, after the last owners were assassinated in an act that actually kicked off World War I, it became a park. And that is what we visited.
Our original goal was to find the salt lake, which was supposed to have healing properties due to the higher-than-the-ocean concentration of salt in the water. That took us awhile, so we made a detour to the botanical gardens. We met some English guy in a huff — he was unhappy with the state of the gardens. Not quite up to British snuff, evidently. Yeah, they weren’t manicured or lush (hello, desert environment…). But: they had wild peacocks and bunnies galore. That were tame. And ATE FROM your HAND!!!
I wonder if random peacock sightings aren’t unusual in this part of the world, like they are in the US. Some people just glanced and walked on. But us? We were like Australians on tour in the midwest, freaking out over every squirrel (hi Kim).
We were also fascinated by the cactus displays. Again: yeah, I knew it was more arid than tropical here (although palm trees were everywhere in Split and Dubrovnik), but I didn’t expect such a Wild West display of fauna. If the peacocks were the Croatian Road Runner, did that make the bunnies Wile E Coyote? I am so confused.
We wandered some more, and just couldn’t find the salt lake. I was getting tired, as the paths were very uneven. We were getting frustrated, and started backtracking. Eventually we figured out the not-so-helpful map system, and got pointed in the correct direction. On the way we passed a place to get massages (Fantasy Island! I’m tellin’ ya!) and fish pedicures, which we discussed, 2/3rds of us excitedly, one not so much (if I were still an English major, my highlighter would’ve marked this last sentence and written “foreshadoing”in teh margins…)
Before we reached the lake, we stumbled upon a big soccer field, flocked with our furry and feathered friends. So, naturally, we needed to detour yet again.
The following three pictures are indicative of the types of relationships the three of us had with the critters:
Finally we found the salt lake, and the girl was IN THE WATER. So was my foot, and, briefly, HWSNBN. I mostly took pictures, though!
After our respite, it was time to wander back to the boat launch. Of course, critter ADD set in when we saw a mama peahen and her babies. We assumed she would shuffle her babies away from us, but no. She basically pushed them aside to eat our proffered snacks.
Ok, ok. You get it. The critters were cool. Yawn.
Fine: the scenery, sans fauna, was amazing everywhere we went
We hopped back on the boat, and pointed towards our walled home town, Dubrovnik, eager to enjoy our last night there.
Let me just remind you I was in a boot.
We arrived in Dubrovnik late — like after midnight. It was rough on some folks, and another airport nap was in order.
Again, I had arranged transportation, so again we had someone waiting there to whisk us away. Again: we were immensely grateful. We each had carry-ons and checked bags, and Dubrovnik, like Split, is an ancient area with no cars allowed. We were dropped off at the Pile gate (pronounced pee-lah: the city is walled, which we will get to later), and basically walked across a drawbridge to enter the amazing city. If we hadn’t had our guide we would NEVER have found our way. Dubrovnik is a warren of alleys and stairwells. How many stairs? According to a study, there are 5,423 steps in Dubrovnik. On a daily basis we essentially SLAYED the Fitbit.
The city reminded me a bit of San Francisco, with steep staircases instead of streets. And the little shops and residences tucked into every square inch reminded me of that as well. Upon arrival, we wandered down the Stradun, an awe-inspiring marble main street, with centuries old buildings rising on either side (featured on lists worldwide as a street you have to walk before you die). It was about 1am, and people were celebrating life. In a weird way, it reminded me of Vegas — but like under the Venetian on the Strip, where it’s so cool but it’s fake. This was real. It was like everything Disneyland, Epcot and Vegas wish they could be.
Our VRBO host had a porter with him, who skillfully took all three of our checked pieces of luggage and disappeared into the night. Somehow he made it to the apartment before us — and our luggage was waiting. The apartment had two beds and one bath, like our last place, but oh my the terrace! And the windows and the steps we climbed hinted at what the view would be like in the morning. And oh. Oh wow. Take a peek at the VRBO listing here and see what I mean: https://www.vrbo.com/868272ha?unitId=1211599
When we woke, here were the views we saw out the windows:
Sunday, our first full day in Dubrovnik. We wandered a little bit, finding some pastries on which to nosh, and getting a general lay of the land.
Then Singer Girl wanted to hit the beach — of course. Again: no sandy beaches nearby, but this walled city is right on the Adriatic, and there are two famous “beaches” cut into the wall: Buza 1 and Buza 2. We wandered a few minutes from our apartment (which itself is built into the ancient wall) and climbed down precarious stairs to find a flat section of rock. I relaxed (and watched lizards cavort) while my travelling companions took to the water.
After a nap and a shower, it was off to the famed cable car of Dubrovnik. We sailed to the top, and the view was spectacular. How did we not know more aout this incredible place? The Adriatic was dotted with islands, and the orange roofed houses of the walled city below us just radiated charm.
We had another fun activity planned, but first it was time to absorb some more “recent” history.
Some background: the Soviet block dissoved in the late 80s, which was in the long run a good thing. But in the short term, it meant countries had to find ther way again. The communist country of Yugoslavia fell apart in 1990 when Croatia declared its independence. A new war broke out. In 1991, the Yugoslav army attacked Dubrovnik, which had been thought safe due to its coastal location. But it was an important seaport, and the city ended up being under attack and isolated for seven months until international peace talks settled things.
Beside the incredible view at the top of the mountain, there is a great museum about the war and the siege. It is hard to separate the breathtaking landscape from the bullet hole riddled fort at the top. During our time in Dubrovnik, we met many people wo lived through the siege, being evacuated to refugee camps as children. It was sobering.
After we were through with the museum, we made a radical shift: we were going to drive dune buggies. Actually, HWSNBN and Singer Girl drove: I was a passenger. It was so fun — and we were nice and mud splattered by the end. But along the way we got to see an amazing sunset!
Afterwards we went to dinner, then climbed up and down the many stairs to our apartment, ready to rest up for a full day of guided tours in the morning!
It’s hard to know how to count the days of a vacation when you leave on one day but arrive on the next…got into Paris yesterday about 4pm, so I guess we have technically been here less than a day? So far so good, with only minor glitches.
MSP airport was totally empty, which was weird. We arrived with HWSNBN on the defensive though, and irritated because for some reason Delta wouldn’t recognize him (don’t you know who I am?) online and wouldn’t give us free bags or pre-check. So had to line up and ask — and they were so helpful (a theme so far on this trip). Made sure we were getting our miles, and fixed everything up so his feathers were unruffled. Flew through security (thank you Clear) and settled into a bar seat. Beer in hand, we said goodbye to to do lists and hello to “what should we do next?” lists.
Tried to sleep but failed completely (fitbit clocked me at 1 1/2 hours total). I seriously think I am getting restless leg syndrome, and a tight airplane seat for 7 plus hours did not help.
Our Amsterdam layover was pretty short, so we were hustlin’ not shufflin’ from gate to gate. Did a quick self transfer, and it said we had missed our flight — which wasn’t scheduled to take off for an hour and a half. A quick check with the friendly airplane staff (in their cute bright blue uniforms) and they smiled at us and said you are fine! Your gate is right over here! Another grumpy HWSNBN moment suppressed.
He did keep trying to be grumpy — every line made him irritated. He kept looking at his phone, cantankerously commenting on how no one would leave him alone (I reminded him that if he didn’t look at it he wouldn’t know, to which I received the patented HWSNBN side eye.)
The airport in Master dam reminded me of an Ikea store. Every time I tried to read a sign I felt the urge to grab an allen wrench. Other highlights: a darling tea shop where you sat in replica Delft tea cups (I wondered if they spun a la Disneyland), a Bombay Sapphire booth that made me think of mom, and a tulip shop that made me giddy with thoughts of spring (yes, I know, supposed to get several more inches of snow in Minnesota this weekend. But a girl can dream!
The flight to Paris was 45 minutes — passed the time trying to read French magazines and listening to Rick Steves’ recordings. AND THEN WE WERE IN FRANCE!
Within minutes I saw someone in a beret, so that was cool. Bags in hand, we passed through the easiest customs check everywhere — no looking at passports, just a quick Bon Jour! Where are you from and how long will you be staying and we were on our way to the metro. The chill attitude toward security in this country is ironically juxtaposed with all the army folks toting automatic weapons. Today my bag was going through a security check, but the guy was chatting the whole time with the next person in line. Never even looked at the screen.
Some advice: I asked to buy a week long metro pass. I got one, but it started 2 days prior. So I am guessing they run Mon-Mon, but I think we were only charged for 5 days. I think. And it was totally reasonable — like $25 for unlimited metro rides. But if you are coming here and plan to get a metro pass, bring a passport picture, as you have to have one on your pass. Had to wait in line a bit at a kiosk to obtain one — and let me tell ya: you do NOT want a photo of yourself after being up all night on two planes and haven’t slept for about 30 hours…
We helped an English family who didn’t have change for the machine, then HWSNBN was thrilled to be able to use is Spanish to help a Spanish couple understand how the passes work. (he keeps trying to speak Spanish instead of French. If we thought the Italians didn’t appreciate years ago, the French find it even less amusing).
I had a handy-dandy metro app that gets us easily from point A to B –when the trains are working. We hit a glitch when you couldn’t transfer where we wanted to. And oh yeah: no elevators or escalators in most metros, so lugging big suitcases kinda sucked.
We were late to check in to our apartment, so the guy meeting us told us he’d be back after helping another client. HWSNBN had serious frown lines at this point, so I suggested a bar we had passed. It was one that I had already learned about during my trip research — Hoppy Corner( https://www.facebook.com/hoppycorner/) Had a great IPA called the Denis Hopper (get it?). Before we finished that the bartender brought is over a sample of another beer, and a bowl of barley (that was different) to snack on. People told me service here sucked: I have yet to see that. very bar/restaurant we have been to they have brought s extras without us mentioning it — a taste of this, a sample of that. Very cool.
(BTW: the man bun is flourishing in Paris. Thought they were ahead of the times stylistically, but guess not!)
Finally got into our apartment, a one bed, 1 1/2 bath place in the 2nd Arrondisement. Comfy bed, old creaky floors, what more can a gal want (a second electrical adapter, because someone only brought one…) http://www.parislondonapartments.com/rentals/allrentals/paris-2nd-arrondissement-aboukir/
Quick shower and change and we were off to dinner. We ate at a neighborhood place called Bistrot Richelieu (http://bistrotrichelieu.com/en/home/). First for me was onion soup (funny, they don’t call it French here…), then a duck breast in plum sauce while HWSNBN had roasted lamb. So yummy!
Then we wandered…this city is stunning. It is everything I wanted it to be — people carrying baguettes, wrought iron balconies on vanilla covered balconies, saucy dogs being walked by people in scarves, a museum on every corner…
Exhausted as we were, I couldn’t crash yet. I pointed out another bar/restaurant I had researched, right next door to our place, the Lockwood. (http://www.lockwoodparis.com/bar/) Gotta love a plce that hangs it’s liquor bottles from the ceiling with bungee cords. (HWSNBN liked it for it’s full page of gin and tonic options). I had a funky version of a Margarita, made with mezcal. I could drink that all day — smoky, refreshing, delicious. Chatted with the waitress about it and she brought us a sample of just the mezcal — that was it for us. We were done.
Slept well that night!
I was going to talk about today, but I have to go get ready for dinner. Guess it’ll have to wait for another day — bon soir!