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Fantasy Island

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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:

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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!

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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.

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Up the Down Staircase in Dubrovnik

Let me just remind you I was in a boot. IMG_1843

 

We arrived in Dubrovnik late — like after midnight. It was rough on some folks, and another airport nap was in order.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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!

 

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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!

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Voyage a Paris Days 1-3 (I think)

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!

 

 

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