Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not surprisingly, when we landed at London Gatwick, the weather was "lovely" (translation from Brittish:  60 degrees and drizzly).  Again, not surprisingly, we were trying to make a train connection that was a wee bit tight.  Our plane landed at 4:20 and we had hopes of making a 5:03 trains.  Possible, but tough, because Brittish passport control takes awhile.  We sprinted off the plane, passing many people en route to the passport line.  Then, we stood in line for 15 minutes and got approved to enter the country.  Sprinted to baggage claim, to wait 15 more minutes for them to post which claim belt our bags would be on.  Sprinted to the belt, grabbed Sue's bag, and waited and waited for Janna's.  4:55, but still hoping.  Sprinted to the train that connected North terminal (where we were) to South Terminal (where the trains were).  Hopped on, disembarked at South Terminal still sprinting (and sweating now).  At 4:59 we were buying our ticket- "platform 3" says the ticket man, and "be careful!", we took off down the escalator, onto the platform and onto the waiting train.  It was 5:02.  Put our bags on the luggage rack, and began to get comfy.  We were a bit surprised that no one else was on the train.  And then a nice Brittish man got on and told us this train was out of service, and our train was on the next track.  To get to the next track, you need to go up and over.  We flew up the stairs, across the station, and down the stairs, just in time to see our train pulling away.  Bloody Brittish and their train punctuality.  We would have made the train with an hour to spare in Sarajevo. 

To console ourselves for our miserable hour long wait, we shopped for delicious food at Marks and Spencer (a department store that has mastered healthy, fresh food).  We arrive at J's at about 8:00 pm, enough time to eat delicious homemade lasagna, enjoy some Brittish tea and settle in for the night.

The next morning, as expected, the weather was dreary.  We packed our raincoats, and then unpacked them.  If J and Tilly didn't need raincoats, why did we?

Took a morning train (well....11:00 am) to Oxford, a beautiful historical town/ university (perhaps you have heard of it?).

Luckily, we arrived just in time for the downpour. 

Lots of beautiful buildings here.

In fact, the architecture all around is so amazing, it is hard for just one thing to stand out.

Sue enjoying the weather at the University green with cows in the background.

More stunning architecture....

Hey, what is that beneath the clouds?

Enjoying the sheep on our train ride home. 
Honestly, we had a lovely day in Oxford.  Other than the initial rainstorm, it was cloudy but not too cold and wet (nothing like Stonehenge!).  We shopped, we ate lunch at a lovely Brittish pub, went to an adorable candy store, saw beautiful buildings and appreciated all of the English and our tour guides (slightly Hungarian and Irish).

For dinner, we cooked J french toast (her favorite!) and eggs...but sadly never got to make her chocolate chip cookies (she loves some American foods....).

The next day we were going on a further journey, to the town of Brighton on the Southern coast.  The train ride was long (1.5 hrs) but we had a lot of trashy Brittish magazines and newspapers to pass the time.  You never knew there could be so many articles on cricket!

Upon arrival, we could tell the town was happy and festive, and the weather (for England!) was quite good- 70ish and mix of sun and clouds.

Sue's dream job.

Walking toward the ocean.

Yay- the English Channel!  This is an award winning beach.  If you don't believe us...there are signs all over.  It really is quite clean and the rocks are soft and people are enjoying laying out in their sweatshirts.

The boardwalk right off of the beach.

Fish and chips- American style (with 16 packets of ketchup at 5 pence each- J and Tilly had to explain that we were American when they asked for that much ketchup).
We were so close to the beach that we could hear the waves and smell the salt.

We found our most favorite, delicious Hungarian desert at a street fair here.  J helped us order from the Hungarians and got us a deal.  It was amazing...everything the remembered.  Best food on the whole trip?

Not the Taj Mahal....but impressive!

We were all exhausted when we got on the train to head back, and when we got to the house at 9 pm, we were knackered.  Had some tea and biscuits (took a Microbiology test, just for fun) an headed to bed.

As if we were not reluctant enough to leave....we woke up and started traveling at 8 am GMT and because of a delayed on the runway for two hours flight, were not home until 5:30 pm Eastern time....about a 15 hour journey....whew.....we were lucky to stay up until 7:30 last night and by 4 am we were both wide awake today. 

Tonight we are pushing to stay up until 8:00.  Wish us luck.

It was a really fabulous and wonderful sad to be over....Look for one last blog...we have a few more tidbits to share!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

We had our hearts set on going to Montenegro. We couldn't find a rental car, and public transportation would have left us with 30 minutes in Kotor, so we relented and took a tour. All things considered, the day was very nice, and although we may not have a full taste of Montenegro, it was like walking into a bakery and smelling the wonderful bread, but leaving before you get to taste a piece.
Despite being on the Euro, food was really inexpensive.  Here is Janna with her gas station snack.  A Diet Coke, water, a candy bar, and a back of salty snacks ~$1.70.

A stop on the way there along the fjord.

We had an ~ 2 hour drive to get to Kotor. The drive was magnificent coastline. The mountains dropped into the sea. The bay of Kotor is actually the most southern fjord in Europe. We only had 1.5 hours total there, so we chose to head up the city walls (if there is climbing to do, sign us up). It was nice and charming and not nearly as excruciating as the guide book led us to believe. We climbed for about 40 minutes, sweating, taking pictures and talking to our new friend Gretchen. (More about her later)
The view from the top.  Unbelievable scenery.
A view of some of the extensive walls winding above the city.  At some places more than 50 feet thick.  They successfully defended the city against both ancient and modern threats.
More of what is left of the fortifications.

The view was wonderful, and there was even a nice breeze we were lucky enough to catch. We headed back down quite quickly hoping to catch the tour down in the town, but it wasn't meant to be. We got gelato, some cold water, and hopped back on the bus. It was heard to be bus and off again for the Budva Riviera. We had barely had time to see anything in the charming little old town.

Part of our run through the old town to get to the walls.

Our first glimpse of the Budva Riveria from the bus.

We buzzed up and over the peninsula to the Budva Riviera and saw a unique little hotel/island called St. Stevens. At one point is was a luxury hotel island and attracted quite a few visitors. It fell into some disrepair, but is back up and running. The best shot we got was the photo-op from the road.

St. Stevens.
By the time we arrived at the beach and the old town, we were starving, but we only had two hours and felt like we wanted to see all there was to see. So, we headed into the old town to grab some to-go snacks and then planned to see the beach there. First the old town.

An island near the beach.  The only island in Montenegro (i think).  Our guide said that the locals called Hawaii.

It was wonderful. Narrow little walking lanes that turned you in circles with surprised around every corner. We tried a slice of pizza from a bakery. We couldn't quite put our finger on why, but it just tasted very plain and odd. Rather than risk our luck with another piece of pizza, we ordered a crepe with nutella, nuts and bananas. The young girl who made it was quite a trip. First she told us we couldn't order. Then she made a crepe and proudly asked us to try it. It was amazing. She asked us if we spoke any Serbian (you should note hear that all the former Yugoslavian countries speak different dialects of the same language (like the difference between someone from Britain and America). You hear an accent but you use basically most of the same words. But they insist on calling it by different names. So, no, we also didn't speak much Serbian, but we did say thank you. She thought we had ordered two crepes, so we politely took and ate both (what a burden in the name of good will.) While we were waiting for our crepes, we realized why our pizza tasted a little odd. At the pizza place next door, we watched a woman serving pizza, and as each slice got handed out, she squirted a generous amount of ketchup on top of it. Some people asked for more and she kindly obliged. Perhaps there is ketchup under the cheese too.....They say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, but sometimes, when in Montenegro, eat crepes instead of ketchup pizza.


While you are at it, have some hot dog chips with your pizza covered ketsup.

Sue right outside the old town trying to finish her crepe.

Now we were definitely ready for the beach. It was a far different scene than we were used to, but obviously, half the population of Montenegro and Serbia had found what they were looking for. The beach area is very very large, but the 25 meters between the ocean and the brick walkway were PACKED with people relaxing on towels and chairs and with umbrellas. Literally, packed. The only space left was on cigarette butt piles next to the trash can. Disco music was blaring, lots of fast food along the board walk, boats to rent all over. A very intense beach scene. The water was not clear like we were used to on the Adriatic and ropes tried to keep the jet skis from running over the swimmers. Intense.

People grabbing gelato by the beach.

Well, we braved the scene and we swam because it was very hot and we wanted to see whether everyone's pilgrimage to the "greatest beach town in Montenegro" was all about.

Just behind the beach, some people chose to relax on the "grass".

Shot from the ferry on the way back.  Isn't it so striking how the moutains come right out of the ocean?

What we found out was: the scenery is breathtaking. Gorgeous ocean joined up next to gigantic mountains. There is a beautiful long beach, underneath a thick layer of oil plastered people. I guess we prefer the quainter, lay on the rocks in a cove scene that this. Glad that we can still find that in many many places (and some we passed in Montenegro even).

A nice shot later that night back in Dubrovnik.
So, Gretchen, our new friend. Gretchen is a fascinating woman we met on the tour bus; the only other American, she introduced herself because she heard our accents. From Charlotte (but doesn't know Fred or Shelby - Sue's aunt and uncle), Gretchen has lived and traveled all over the world. We had literally hours of really nice conversation with her about places in the world and ways to travel and jobs and how to volunteer while traveling and safe places and fun places. She has convinced us to move Australia way up on our places to visit and encouraged us heartily to do good in the world through our travels. It's funny how friends spring up in the most unexpected places and ways.
This morning we woke up early to enjoy our last day of vacation (except for London....) Thunder woke us up, but the weather wasn't as bad as we originally feared. We ate a delicious Croatian donut and headed down to the water. We sought out a place we swam last year and had met a nice Australian man. Because of the clouds, we were the only ones down there, and to be honest, we had the most fun swimming we have had this whole trip. There was a rock about six feet up that you could jump in from, and the ocean was clear and deep and warm and wonderful. We were quite the gymnasts and played in the water for a good hour. By the time we got out and dried off some, the sun was out and our spot was filling up with tourists. Time for first lunch and last gelato in Croatia.

Just playing.

Sue taking the big leap.

Sue's 9.8 routine.  Notice the nice "tada" at the end.

The city starting to fill up.

Another thing to mention about Dubrovnik again is the cats. We found many (20 plus?) last night on our trek around town including 2 adorable calico kittens and a little black kitten (we fed them all- don't worry), and visited them again this morning. It was lovely.
Our favorite cat family in the old town.  There is actually another kitten here.  They were taking a nap.

Us playing with the more friendly one the next morning.

Sue with an expectant mother.

Our last goodbye to the kitties.

Somehow after our very nice morning we had to shower, pack and check out in less than 25 minutes. We did it successfully and walked our bags up the hill just as it got quite hot out. We said our last goodbyes and flew away to the magical sight of islands sprinkled in the Adriatic.

Last year we were so charmed by Croatia that we wanted to return and see more. We did have a chance to see more, and we couldn't have been more delighted by the secret treasures we found. It was a trip of a lifetime, that we hope to outdo next year. We have two more days in London, so the blog is not over. I am sure everyone is dying with anticipation to see what we get ourselves into on the island.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peggy and Shellee, thanks for the very funny comments!  They warmed our hearts (not that we needed warming since we are back in the HOT land of the Adriatic.

So, today we left Sarajevo with a 5:50 am wake up followed by a taxi and 9 hour bus ride (and it was HOT on the bus!!!!) so most of today's story will be in pictures.  But we will preface it with this:  we realized how far from the western civilization we know we had strayed when at the rest area this morning that there were 9 large animals roasting on spits (and 40 or 50 people chowing down) at 9:00 am and we were absolutely thrilled that the squatting toilet had toilet paper AND soap. 

Shellee:  A word about war torn countries:  not as bad as you would think.  There is no war going on.  There is not fighting and actually far less violence than most places in the US (especially Detroit says Janna).  The only time we felt even slightly nervous about our safety was when we first arrived in Mostar and we were wheeling our bags (looking like American tourists) past blocks of bombed out buildings.  Seriously, the cities are vibrant and fully functional and full of life.  Just because we think bathrooms should have toilet paper and soap is our ethnocentrism.

Peggy, about our suitcases.   Let's just say we acquired a LOT of sourvenirs in Bosnia (including tea!).  They were light and empty before, now they are exploding and quite heavy.  Good thing Bosnia was not our first stop.  We may not have made it up the hill to Plitvice if it had been.

Okay, so our day in pictures (Carol, we thought of you the whole time!):
Is it a goat, or is it a sheep?  You be the judge. Look closely at the head.  It is a big clue.

The view from the rest stop.  Honestly, this country is so beautiful it makes you cry.  Maybe another summer trip would be to hike the hills with a guide (too many land mines to stray off the pavement alone)  Safety first.

A view from the bus.  Impossible to capture how beautful and rich the landscape is.

A "typical" picture close to the Croatian border.  Notice a nice house next to a bombed house.

We will miss the road signs posted in both Roman and Cyrillic alphabets.

The last mosque we saw.  It was a two minaret mosque.

Oops.  Back in Mostar on our trip.

The Turkish markets had corn nuts "Kikos".  They are much better than I remember the ones at the school store.

Between BiH and Croatia.

Sue with cat food.  The poor white one had a dog bite off one of its back legs.  What a cutie.  Now we have two cats that we call "stumpy"
If you feed them, they will come.  Sue with the "white triplets" and "stripey".

Don't bite the hand that feeds you.  "Callie baby".

Taking a break from the cat rescue mission to enjoy the sunset on the pier.

Sue with "thumper", "yellow man", "doger", "roger", "blinkie", and "winkie".  (not pictured "little fuzzy", "scaredy man", and "wet nose".)