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.

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.

I Just Dropped My Phone…

…five stories off the hotel balcony.  Believe it or not, I was working.  I was on my laptop and my mobile was in my lap.  I stood up to try to get a better wi-fi signal and bloop!  Off it went.

It fell down, through some bushes and onto a pile of leaves and soft ground.  Little NH was napping inside so I had to wait an excruciating hour to go retrieve it.  It was worth the wait, though.  The bushes broke its fall and the leaves and dirt brought it to a safe landing.

Not a scratch on the thing.  Whew!

One of my faithful readers might remember a similar story with his phone in Spain.    Somewhere in Spain, there’s a pigeon dead from trying to pass a “pearl” he gobbled up from a shattered Blackberry.  Heh.

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.

Brela – Day 1

Post originally written June 19th…

This time yesterday, I was sitting in the office working.  Now, 20 hours after leaving Prague, I’m sitting on a balcony, overlooking the Adriatic.  I’ve been through four countries, one time zone, a few downpours and lots of chatter from the back seat.  But we all made it.

We were greeted by the matriarch of the apartment, “Silva”, who had prepared a Dalmatian prosciutto and Pag cheese plate.  To wash it all down she left us a delicious decanter of her home-made red wine.  I’ve been here an hour, folks, and it’s already one of my favorite places on earth.  Sardegna, eat your heart out.

Grilled Truffle Pizza

I slayed another demon in the kitchen and on the grill last night.  My wife and I travel to Croatia every year and love the truffle pizzas they serve in Istria and especially ones they serve in the little Slovenian coastal town of Piran.  As a matter of fact, we stop in this town each year to get one of the pizzas before we hit the beach.

Last night, I felt like I was in Piran.  We had tried to make this pizza once before and made a decent pizza but it didn’t match the flavor we were trying to achieve.  The problem was in the sauce.  We never had a good pizza sauce before.  We tried combinations of puree’s, tomato paste and all sorts of spices and we never got what we wanted.  It was always too acidic, too heavy.

I recently found a recipe online that said to use peeled canned tomatos, chop them up, add salt and pepper and a little olive oil and let them simmer down.  It makes a perfect pizza sauce.  It adds just the right moisture quotient to the pizza and a little zip of flavor but only to compliment the main ingredient that you want to stand out.  If I’m making a margherita pizza, I add some fresh basil right at the end.

Cheese was another hurdle in making this pizza.  This time, we used a combination of grated edam and fresh mozzarella.  It worked perfectly.  As the cheese melted and the mozzarella started to give off water, I just “drained” the pizza on the grill by lifting up one side.

The final touch was to sprinkle a few drops of white truffle oil on the pizza right before serving.  Perfection.

Grilled Truffle Pizza
Grilled Truffle Pizza