Last Day in Croatia

So, I took the snorkel and the Kodak PlaySport out today and here was some of what I saw.  According to the Weather Channel forecast, the day was supposed to be a total washout; in fact, we all ended up with slight sunburns.  Good to know that USG employees aren’t the only ones who can go to the office, perform poorly and not get fired.

Next time you hear from me, I’ll probably be a working stiff again.  Thanks for watching.

Thoughts on Soccer, Independence Day and Some Good Advice

I am no soccer fan, but I had a World Cup moment today.  It was during the match between Germany and Argentina.  The game was on as we were walking back to the apartment having spent the sunny, 85 degree day on the beach.

There was no one on the street.  However, each cafe we passed was full of patrons.  Except, none of them were facing the beautiful sea views of Rovinj.  Instead, the were all turned inward, eyes firmly affixed to the ubiquitous wide-screen TV now present in every European cafe, bar and restaurant that hopes to have some sort of business.  The World Cup was on and folks had put aside summer fever for a few minutes in order to concentrate on World Cup fever.

As we continued our walk, it was silent.  Then, all at once, this sleepy seaside town erupted with cheers and even a few jeers.  Germany had scored again and we were treated to a very cool surround-sound confirmation of that fact.  All around the harbor, the noise circled and one guy even blew one of those darn horns.  I’d consider that a sort of a cultural event.  (So, too the throngs of drunken, celebrating Germans that are streaming out of the bars as I write this post.)

I’m not a soccer fan, but I take pride in the fact that my own countrymen will be cheering with the same enthusiasm tomorrow night as 4th of July fireworks delight all across our great nation.

Which reminds me, a great man once told me, “Don’t forget to buy a fifth for the Fourth on the third.”  Sage advice. Especially since tomorrow also happens to be a Sunday.

Happy birthday, America.

Ferry from Hvar to Korčula, Croatia

Post originally written June 26th.

We’ve become serious ferry patrons in the last few months.  We were on two in Sardegna and we’re on our second this trip with one more to go before all is said and done.  Ferry travel lends another layer of intrigue to an already interesting trip.

I’m notoriously early to everything and our first ferry with the car in Italy was no exception.  We were several hours early, and actually planned to be, accounting for traffic and delays after a four-hour drive from the Amalfi Coast to Rome.  But when we arrived, we were first in line with no idea what to do.

Lucky for us, it was simple.  Hand the guy your ticket, engage in some “where are you from” banter and then shove off.  If you’re booked in a cabin, wind your way through the parked cars and go up to the reception and check in.  Just like a hotel with lifejackets.

For this particular ferry, Mrs. NH picked up the ticket a day in advance in Hvar from some travel office.  Our hotel concierge knew nothing about this ferry but Mrs. NH did.  Go figure.

Ferry’s are kind of like bus depots, airports and casinos all rolled in one.  Some people even roll out their own sleeping mats and sleeping bags on the top deck and conk out for the night.  That would be much easier without a 3-year-old in tow.

Kind of a backpackers heaven, too.  Seating in the lounges is open and people are on their laptops, iPods, and phones.  Card games are all around.  Right now, Little NH is taking an early morning shot at a masterpiece with some dry-erase markers and her mother is into some sort of book that mom’s read.

I’m just writing this and people watching.  Oh, that and seeing the coast of Hvar fly past outside the windows of the ferry.  If it was a little later in the day, a beer on the top deck would be a must.  But now I’ll just sit here, safe in the knowledge that in about 2.5 hours, we’ll be on Korčula (the birthplace of Marco Polo) and we’ll again board my 10-year-old VW Jetta and set off for some other place unknown.

I hear Marco Polo liked boats, too.

Burek in Korčula, Croatia

One of the treats of getting a little deeper into Croatia is traditional Balkan food.  First and foremost of these crossroads of cultures foods is Burek.

Imagine a crispy pastry filled with succulent, herb-spiked meat.  The Nebraskans among you would instantly classify it as a “Runza” in a slightly crispy pastry.  Others, not born and raised to know “The Good Life” would probably call it a meat empanada.  Others, a meat pie.

I just call it delicious.

Mrs. NH was converted as well.  She had many bites of mine and one of her own later in the day.  The next day, she discovered the cherry burek.  Much more of a morning pastry but no less delicious.  It was crispy outside, gooey inside and just tart enough to get the taste buds engaged.

I didn’t have cheese burek this trip.  I’ll have to save that for my next trip to Sarajevo.

I Worked Today

Believe it or not, I worked today.  As a matter of fact, I’ve worked just about every day on this trip.  Usually, it is from a mobile phone in my hand or a computer on my lap.  Never a full day, but enough.

It is a crazy, connected world.  Which leads me to the point of this post.  It is nice to unplug, but also, if you take as much leave as I have in the last couple months, it is nice to be in touch.  It’s like you’re away, but not completely in another universe.

That way, when I do get back to the office, I should only be pummeled by a brick or two instead of an entire load, all at once.  That’s the plan, at least.

But it was strange.  I was working out a management problem with a runaway co-worker in the States as I stood on a pier, overlooking the Rovinj, Croatia harbor.  Would the old, unconnected way be better?  In some cases, most definitely.  But this way also helps ward off the boogeyman of “What is waiting for me in the office?”  Not to mention, the view from here is eminently better than the one from my office window.

There’s one other thing to consider.  I’ve had more time to think on this trip than I’ve had in years.  Idle time gives your noodle a good way to work on those problems in the background that would otherwise go completely unacknowledged.  You can think about things like, “Why is the guy in Stinkadonia so difficult to work with,” as you’re focusing on the important stuff like, “what am I going to order after this beer,” and “Is Croatia really better than Italy?”

Well, I’ve figured the last question.  Connected or not, it’s a resounding “Yes.”

Dubrovnik, Croatia

It is Tuesday morning here and Mrs. NH is out walking the wall around town and I am having coffee while Little NH catches up on some cartoons via the Zune.  We figured Little NH would have no patience for a 2 hour walk around a wall so I opted to sleep while she rested up. 

Dubrovnik is really a beautiful city.  With all the gear we are carrying, it was tough to park and get into, but once you are in it, it is a feast for the eyes.  As a matter of fact, all of Croatia has been wonderful.  So much so, that I keep chiding Mrs. NH that Italy better “step up its game” or risk losing top status in our book.  Seriously.  Everything from the service, sheer beauty of the locales, right down to thick toilet paper in the hotels.  It is all really nice.  And it is very affordable.  We had a good meal, right on the harbor last night for a little over $30.  Incredible.

I liken this country to a late bloomer girl who does not yet know how beautiful she is.  Consequently, she is not hung up on herself but just concentrates on being the best she can be.  I can only tell you, in the case of Croatia, she is a real sweetheart.

Pitve-Zavala Tunnel – Hvar, Croatia

I suppose this is what birth would look like if you had headlights and U2’s “Walk On” as a soundtrack.

This was the skinniest tunnel I have ever been through.  It’s on the island of Hvar, Croatia between Pitve and Zavala and man, is it skinny.  A stoplight is at either end of the tunnel as it can only (barely) handle one lane at a time.  The whole thing only lasts about a minute but I can imagine that would be the longest minute ever for someone that is claustrophobic.

Getting to the other side was definitely worth it.  There was a fresh calamari lunch as well as some of the island’s delicious wines.  We didn’t have too much, though because it’s hard to cover one eye and drive back through such a small tunnel.

Joking, folks.  Joking.  We let Little NH drive.

Father’s Day and Anniversary in Brela

Post originally written June 21.

There are days when things just seem to break your way.  Days when all of those, “Am I where I should be?” type of questions seem to get answered.  Sure, there are the still those days in between to contend with but today was one of those days that you really live for.

I woke up this morning, not knowing that yesterday was Father’s day.  I had sent my dad a Father’s day gift before I left and wished him a happy one in absentia, but nobody wished me a happy Father’s day yesterday and I completely spaced it off.  (Hello, free pass on forgotten anniversary in the future!)  I’m not mad, just setting up the story…  But this morning I got up and there were a bunch of missed calls on my mobile phone, all forwarded from Skype.  Father’s day wishes, I presume.  It’s my 4th Father’s day and I still cant’ get used to the fact that it’s a holiday for me.  Funny, seems Mrs. NH can’t either.

But I digress.  Today, everything clicked into place.  It was a rainy morning, but just after a late lunch, the sun broke out of the clouds and the sea shone like a plate of glass.  We were all ready to hit it with gusto.  We strapped Little NH into her swim vest (a 21st Century version of floaties) and set off into the surf.  She walked around in the shallows for a minute and then, all by herself, said she wanted to float on her own.

An hour and a half later, we got out of the water.  She went from the shallows to the deep with the grace of a walrus and courage of a lion.  Waves and splashes proved no deterrent and she just kept swimming.  I had to remind myself to keep my agape mouth closed so it didn’t fill with water.  Proud?  You bet.

Yeah, my wife and daughter totally forgot Father’s Day.  But I don’t mind.  Late deliveries are always welcome.  Did I mention that today is Mrs. NH and my 13th wedding anniversary?

Things just keep breaking my way.

Brela – Day 2

Post originally written June 20th…

After rising early yesterday, we had a great night’s sleep, with the windows open and the churn of the sea as our lullaby.  I haven’t slept with windows open to the ocean since family vacations in Mexico when I was a little boy, so this was a real treat.

We hit the ground this morning and set forth working in the kitchen.  Toast, soft-boiled eggs, yogurt, fresh cherries, coffee and cappuccino were the order of the day.  It was the perfect base for a late morning breakfast that gave way to an excellent day on the beach.

We spent the day a 20 minute walk from our apartment, at Punta Rata.  There were no rats to be seen but the beach was great.  No pretense, just lots of small rocks, light surf and partly cloudy skies.  We enjoyed swimming with little NH there.  The water is lots warmer here than anything we experienced in Italy last month. The afternoon was interrupted by a quick rain shower, but we sought shelter in the caves in the rocks behind the beach.  10 minutes later, we were back enjoying the sun and wondering what we ever did to get this lucky.

Finally, as I’m writing this, my belly is warm with sour cherry liqueur (Visnjak) and delicious Croatian grappa.  Silva knocked on our door shortly after we got back from the beach to check and see how everything was going.  She then invited us for the aforementioned toddies.  Yum, yum, yum.  And what a neat lady.  These trips always teach you something.  Who knew I’d see a little bit of myself in a Grandmother born in Croatia.