Ciao Croatia!

31 July 2014

Knowing that we were planning on taking an early afternoon train to our next destination of Ljubljana we got an early start on the morning to go out and explore Zagreb. We first made our way to the nearby train station to pick up our tickets and some breakfast at a nearby bakery we quickly set off to wander the downtown area.

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We soon found our way to the Zagreb Cathedral and explored the church as well as the surrounding squares.

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We luckily stumbled across a nearby produce market where we decided it would be a good place to spend our remaining Kuna so we didn’t have anything left to convert. We picked up some local produce and some homemade cookies. The produce was only ok, but the cookies were delicious so I guess we made out pretty good.

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We then stumbled across a burger place called Yellow Submarine that we thought looked pretty decent so we popped in for a quick lunch before we had to catch our train. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made as the burger craving that I’ve randomly be having over the past few months was finally satisfied.

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The burgers here were easily some of the best that we have ever had and I don’t think our In-and-Out deprivation has anything to do with that statement. If you do find yourself in Zagreb with a burger craving I can’t recommend coming here enough.

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After filling our stomachs we made our way to the train station to start our ride to Ljubljana. On the train ride the view from the windows turned from rolling foothills and corn fields to a story book like mountain ranges and valleys with church steeples standing tall above the valley floor but in the shadows of the mountain tops in the near distance.

We arrived at the border where we took a pause as immigration boarded and stamped us back into the EU. Croatia’s borders aren’t completely secure so unlike other countries in the EU where you pass freely without anyone even caring if you have a passport, when leaving Croatia they do, which is great for us because if it was we would have had to apply for a different visa to stay more than 90 days in the EU countries under the Schengen treaty. Once this was all completed the train started up again and we were soon rolling through the Slovenian countryside. The difference was stark as gone were houses with red tile roofs (pretty much every house in Croatia has this) to be replaced with alpine looking residences so that it felt like we were all of a sudden transported to a large alpine village.

We arrived in Ljubljana and walked a few quick blocks to our hotel. Once in our room, we heard loud chants and were curious about their origin. So we took a little walk up the street and found a small protest happening in front of what appeared to be some government building. We have officially arrived, rain and a protest, it is what we bring to almost every city we visit.

In Ljublijana we walked around a portion of the city center including the area where the Friday market was held and the dragon bridge. As we wandered we couldn’t help but feel that this is one of the most quintessential Europe towns. After about 5 minutes we had almost walked the entire city center, which of course was closed off to cars, so we could walk slow, snap pictures and just look up at the building design while completely relaxed.

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While there were a handful of tourist, the city didn’t have the feeling like it was overrun with tourists and that most people were out and about going about their business and meeting with friends and as a travelers we didn’t feel like businesses were out to capture our attention. I guess that is what added to so the easy going feel of this city and why we instantly felt right and home. There is much in town in terms of sightseeing but there is a whole lot of charm plus with the endless amount of cafes/bars this is a place where you could sit and watch the world go by for days.

Today’s Travel: We walked around Zagreb before taking the train to Ljubljana. Once in Ljubljana we strolled around a few sections of the city center.

Accommodations: Ginger Rooms. By far this is one of the best budget accommodations we have found. Located almost precisely between the city center and the train station the location could have not been more perfect. After we checked in and received information on the sites and recommendations on where to eat from reception we quickly settled into our room. There was plenty of space to place our clothes in the closet along with room to store our back packs. The bed was as per usual two twin mattresses within a single frame to create a ‘king’ sized bed which was very comfortable. Included in the room was a bigger than average mini fridge along with a TV much larger than the one we have at home with endless English language channels. This is a place I would recommend to any type of travelers. I only wish they had more properties around Europe.

And the rain, rain, rain, came down, down, down

30 July 2014

Knowing that we would be wandering around outside all day and that Plitvice Lakes is best seen with sunshine, we had checked the weather almost every day for the last week and unfortunately knew the odds that we would have a rain free day were not in our favor. However we have lost a lot of faith in both weather.com and the weather app on the iPhone during our travels as they have predicted days of sunshine where we experienced rain and days of rain with 60-100% chance of rain throughout the day where we only saw a few clouds.

When our 7am alarm went off I peeked out the window and saw a cloud filled sky with one or two small patches of blue sky. While most of the clouds were a light gray I was highly optimistic, plus the weather app was only showing a 60% chance of rain which would start later in the afternoon. Just after 9 we arrived at the ticket booth and bought our tickets and wouldn’t you know it a light drizzle began, once on the tram to the top about half way up the downpour began. As we made it off the packed bus trying to quickly make it by the crowds to cover, our plan was to wait out the rain. So we bought an espresso and took a seat to wait it out. After about 30 minutes we realized it probably was not going to clear and this rain was here to stay. We did have our umbrella and dressed appropriately unlikely many of the people we saw walk by in shorts and tank tops, did they not look outside? Or does 18 feel like a warm summer day to so many but us?

The rain while slightly annoying didn’t take much away from these beauty lakes. As we walked down the well-established path there were a few respites from the heavy downpour including a few seconds when the rain actually stopped. It did make it a slight challenge to take photos as I had to take on the role of umbrella holder over the camera which led to me getting wet, but it wasn’t so bad, at first. When we arrived at the first main lake, today’s rain plus the rain of the last week or so, began to blur the line between the path and the lake.

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Just some random flooding, nothing to worry about here

Just some random flooding, nothing to worry about here

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After walking along the slippery, narrow, rocky boarder created between the lake and the path, I decided it was much safer to stomp thru the ankle deep water on what was once a path than fall into the lake. I thought it might only be for a few meters of having to walk in ankle deep water, but we realized that a good portion of the trails around the big lakes were completely flooded. However here and there the park had set up some temporary raised platforms which provided a good laugh as you would walk through a good distance of ankle deep water to reach a raised platform which went on for a short distance before you stepped off again into the water.

See, it's just long enough to allow the water to drain out of your shoes before you have to hop back in.

See, it’s just long enough to allow the water to drain out of your shoes before you have to hop back in.

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Good luck keeping your feet dry

As we neared the section of the of the park where we were to catch the ferry to station three, the skies really decided to unleash, and the thunder I heard in the distance was getting a little too close, I could now see lighting, and holding a nice lighting rod known as my umbrella was not making me feel any better. All I could think about was playing lacrosse in high school and learning that when you hear thunder you drop your stick and run for cover. But nope, not today, here we were still taking the last few photos, before the rain became too much and we started to power walk to make it to the ferry.

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The last bit of calm before the hours long downpour

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I am not sure if everyone else knew that I was in a hurry but it sure felt like everyone else on the path decided to walk slower and three or four across, I felt like it was the start of a race and I was weaving thru the crowd. I didn’t even care that Adam had the umbrella and was behind me, I could now feel water running down my back as my water resistant jacket isn’t water proof and my pants were soaked. And even though we were walking under the cover of a very dense tree canopy, there was so much rain that it no longer provided any protection. We made it to the ferry dock just as it was approaching and made it on. As we sat on the ferry for the 25 minute ride we were beginning to contemplate whether or not we should just leave. We have just power walked a section of the park and it really wasn’t fun anymore. At this point the novelty of rain had completely worn off and I was over it. We decided we should just get lunch and wait it out before we made any decisions. It was about 12:15 when we got lunch at hung out inside the restaurant until 1:41, the mythical time Adam had predicted the rain would stop. Well it didn’t but freezing cold, as there was no heater, we saw a fire pit across the way and headed over to warm up. The rain started to let up and we stopped into the gift shop to buy some ponchos. If we were going to stay, they were a must as we had barely dried off. Maybe we had lost or minds or we had just really embraced the rain, but it was once again fun walking along the path.

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That and the waterfalls from lake to lake were becoming even more impressive. The load roar of the water and some sections was almost deafening and there were now some rouge waterfalls along the raised wooden platforms and the dirty pathways.

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And just as we were making our way to the big waterfall the rain finally stopped. It was almost 3:30 and since 9:30 we had been out in the rain. You would have thought we won the lotto with how excited we were to see blue skies and not feel and constant barrage of rain drops. While I had thought we had seen some amazing shades of blue in the waters all day, the sun really provided the jaw dropping shades of blue. Plus it highlighted all of the grasses under the various shades of teals and blues. At the big waterfall it once again felt like it was raining as the massive waterfalls created their own weather patterns.

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Still wearing the poncho even though it stopped raining

Still wearing the poncho even though it stopped raining

We then started our walk back up the hill towards the main road. At this point I think a few tour buses had arrived as we started to see more and more perfectly dry people which led us to declare that there was no way they were able to appreciate it as much as we were as we had just suffered through some 6 hours of water torture to appreciate the beautiful views.

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The teal-blue water

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Earlier in the day all I could think of was a nice hot shower and just staying the night again here in Plitvice, but now that we were drier and knew that if we stayed we would just have a much longer travel day tomorrow, we checked the bus schedule at the park entrance and noticed there were just two more buses leaving town tonight and we had to book it to try to catch the second to last one. It was perfectly sunny now and the walk from the park to the guesthouse to thru the forested path was even more beautiful. Earlier it was foggy and beautiful in its own way, but now the sun was making its way thru the leaves creating some of the most perfect lighting. Too bad we couldn’t stop to snap pictures and enjoy it longer.

We got back to the guesthouse just before 5:30 to pick up our bags and say a quick goodbye to the owner. We had a good laugh as I had to make a joke about rain in July in Croatia and he gave a now standard response we have heard from so many, “It’s not usually like this.” But he did add, “well I guess everything is changing,” which could not be more appropriate.

We waited patiently for the bus but soon worried that maybe we had missed the last bus somehow.

Waiting to flag down the bus

Waiting to flag down the bus

It was 6:30 and the last bus was scheduled to arrive at 6:05. Having been at the bus stop since about 5:45 I didn’t think we would have missed a bus, but maybe not all of these buses make a stop at this stop. But when I saw a bus finally appear from around the curve I threw my hand up like I was hailing a cab and we were on our way. At the next stop we had one of the best laughs. We could hear from outside the bus a girl, who sounded American, complain that the 5:45 bus was almost an hour late. We could only shake our heads and laugh that someone most likely on vacation even cared that the bus was late. Afterall it was raining all day and I am sure traffic was awful, but I guess some people really like to complain even it if the person they are complaining to have no control over the situation. Once everyone was on board those of us who had just got on had to pay the fare, that included the very upset passenger, who at this point I guess did not want to pay. So within a few minutes the guy collecting payment shouted something up to the driver and we were pulling over and the girl was walking off the bus. I thought I have seen lots of crazy stuff on public transportation, but this takes the cake. I guess that girl will now be very late to wherever she had to go and hopefully that 6:05 bus would show up.

The scenic bus ride was a nice distraction from my still wet feet. The endless views of corn fields with small villages scattered about almost made it feel like I was back on the road driving between Madison and Milwaukee; it was just the rolling foothills and old stone buildings that you clearly knew you weren’t in Kansas. After a 3 hour ride or so we arrived in the capital of Croatia Zagreb. We hopped on the tram to get downtown and wandered around to a few hostels and hotels to find somewhere that had availability and wasn’t overly expensive. We soon found a youth hostel, grabbed a private room and settled in for the night.

Today’s Travel: From our hotel we took the path across the street just behind the ski resort to the second park entrance for Plitvice Lakes. After our day at the lakes we hopped on the bus from the Mukinje stop to Zagreb. Once in Zagreb we took the tram to the train station, and then walked up the block to find a room.

Accommodations: YHA Zegrab. We needed a place to sleep and take a hot shower for the night and this hostel fit the bill. We did attempt to get a room at the Best Western next door but they want 84 Euro for the night for a single!

A traveling we go

29 July 2014

Today was a long day of travel. We got on the 7:15am ferry and arrived at our hotel just before 3pm. It was filled with lots of naps, snacks and watching big and little towns go by. We left Vis on the early morning ferry towards Split were we had a quick stopover to grab some breakfast before we jumped on the bus to make our way up to Plitvice Lakes which was about a 4 hour ride north.

About an hour from our destination we were greeted by our old familiar friend, rain and he brought his buddies thunder and lighting. I just hope that tomorrow we will have some sun, otherwise the lakes might not be as pretty as what the postcards show.

Upon arrival the rainstorm was in full swing and luckily for us the bus stop was just around the corner from where we were staying. We quickly settled in and caught up on reading and writing while enjoying the lighting storm outside. The novelty of them has yet to wear off.

That evening once the rain stopped we took a walk around the small little neighborhood and realized that this was also a ski resort. Before we realized that the giant sign pointing to the restaurant had a skier on it we took a walk to the small market and all of the apartments looked like we could have been walking around Lake Tahoe. While the mountains here are more like bunny hills the cool crisp air and smells are reminders of fall, something that is a welcome change (well maybe not the cold).

Today’s Travel: The high speed boat from Vis to Split with a stop in Hvar. It was then on to the bus to the Mukinje stop just outside Plitvice.

Accommodations: House Katja. A nice place nestled among a long street of guesthouses near the national park, the room was great for our one night stay. The room had a balcony, a comfortable bed and decent storage. The only downside was the bathroom was across the hall, while it was just us using it an ensuite is always preferred.

Beach Exploration

28 July 2014

With the rain stopping fairly early this morning we decided to ignore any chance that it may start back up and went to rent a motorbike to explore the island. We soon set off splashing through the remaining puddles to explore the island. We got a quick realization just how small the island was as about 15 minutes into our drive we had already made a good amount of progress across the island. We soon decided to try and find a small cove to make our way down to and settled upon one that seemed like it would be decent. However after winding our way on a rutted dirt and boulder strewn road for about 20 minutes and still not being that close to the beach we decided to turn around and find an alternative cove.

Not too much fun on a motorbike

Not too much fun on a motorbike

It turned out to be a good choice as we ended up finding one of the prettier beaches we’ve yet to see. We pulled into the turnoff for Stiniva cove and soon were making our way down the walking path towards the cove.

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As we took the first few steps down towards the beach I had to laugh that this was the day I decided not to wear shoes, as the path was full of small rocks. But looking up and out at the horizon I could quickly see that this was going to be a great beach day in a beautiful location.

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While the clouds overhead looked pretty ominous I was really hoping that the pattern of morning rain and afternoon sun would continue so that we would be in the clear and not have to sprint up this hill to get out of the rain. Continuing our descent we could finally see the small cove, but that paled in comparison to the carved out rocks that were in front and to the side of us. It was like someone had scooped out a section of the earth leaving small looking caves and lines along the hill. And the scale was just so massive. Soon enough we were at the beach and about 20 minutes later the clouds had cleared and the cool Adriatic Sea sounded appealing. I carefully traversed the rocky beach and water’s edge before diving in. Without water shoes most of Croatia’s beaches are a bit tricky to navigate so there is no slowly getting into the cool waters.

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After about 2 hours of relaxation we decided it was time to explore some more of the island and made our way back up the hill to our motorbike. Walking back up the hill was much easier but a killer leg work out and I was secretly hoping that the cloud cover would return as there were only a few sections of shade walking up this hillside.

Back on our bike we continued to take the road east towards the town of Komiza which is the other main town on Vis. On the way the scenery kept changing from vineyards, to olive orchards to rocky coastline and then back again as the road weaved through the island.

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Remnants from the old military base on the island

Remnants from the old military base on the island

Once in Komiza we parked the bike and wandered the promenade before grabbing some ice cream to enjoy on the waterfront.

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Our journey back to the town of Vis was just as enjoyable as the ride out and with it being such a quick ride we were able to squeeze in another stop at a beach before it got too cold with the sun lowering in the horizion.

Today’s Travel: From Vis towards Milna and at the split in the road went towards Komiza, we took a small detour towards Srebena beach but when the dirt road became too much we turned around and went to Stiniva beach to Komiza back around the island to a small beach just past Milna

Accommodations: Apartmani Safic

Rain, I love you, but you can stop now

27 July 2014

The morning brought lots of rain, lighting and thunderstorms which were fun to watch for a while, but we were becoming restless. I guess the universe just wants us to get our fill of rain and lighting before we make our way back to drought stricken CA.

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Just after 12 the rain finally decided to stop and the sun began to peak thru the clouds. While it was still windy we decided to head out and check out the town. There was just too much wind to make it a beach day, but that didn’t stop many others. We walked out to the peninsula to see up close the bell tower that woke me just after six and every hour just goes on for what feels like ten minutes. And no walk thru a small village in Croatia would be complete without passing by a handful of churches.

Warming up after the rain

Warming up after the rain

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We found a fruit stand and adjacent to that was a cheese stand. With goat cheese being the specialty here I was excited to try some samples. We settled on the Paski Sir (a local specialty in Croatia, its sheep’s milk cheese that is made extra delicious as the sheep eat a lot of lavender that has been coated with a layer of salt from the sea) and some grapes. On our way back home we picked up some beer to enjoy and afternoon picnic on patio. As we sat looking out at the bay eating some of the best cheese we have ever had, we were once again reminded how great this adventure continues to be.

After our homemade meal, we made our way back into town along the way stopping to take in some of the rustic charm of vis.

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It seemed like a completely different place at this hour. Almost all the shops were open, restaurants were near capacity, those staying on boats in the harbor made their way onto the boardwalk and tonight there was band setting up and fishermen setting up barbeques looking to grill up today’s catch. Sunday evenings in the summer are apparently a big deal. That or like most of Europe long summer nights are celebrated outside with friends and family and no one is sitting inside in front of a TV.

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Around 10pm the band starting playing and since sound travels up it was like we were there in the front row. They played a collection of what I can only describe as polka meets rock. I almost felt like we were in the Midwest with the polka inspired sounds. But the best was when the band would take breaks and we were treated to a best of Ike and Tina.

Today’s Travel: Around the city center

Accommodations: Apartmani Safic

Traveling logistics

26 July 2014

While the island of Vis is only about an hour away from Korcula, there is no direct route unless you have your own boat, to make it to the island. So we started the day bright and early, before the sun to make it on the 6am Catamaran ride to Spilt with a stop to let on off passengers in Hvar.

Korcula Harbor at Sunrise

Korcula Harbor at Sunrise

Let’s just say that tourism has taken over this island, and we only had a view from the port, so I am glad we never considered staying there.

Once we arrived at the port in Spilt, it was as if we had arrived in a completely new world. There were so many slips for large cruise ships and ferries, the bus stop and train station were just across the street which turned the walk ways into a vendors dream. You couldn’t even take a step without walking into a café with fast food or turn to the sidewalk without someone else trying to sell a t-shirt, hat, magnet or other typical tourist finds. Maybe it was the lack of sleep but I wasn’t too impressed with Spilt at this point. The main center of town is just two minute walk away, so we placed our bags in storage and set out to see what this town had to offer. We soon stumbled upon the green market (bakeries, fruits, vegetables, etc) and hopped in line at a small bakery. Eating our dessert, I mean morning snack, we enjoyed the people watching as the place was fairly crowded with locals and tourists alike. We then wandered through the old town taking in the sights of the castle and fortified walls which surrounded the city.

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After a few hours we were quite ready to get on the ferry to Vis and get back out to a non-touristy island. After a fairly short fair ride we pulled up at the dock in Vis and quickly found an older couple who were renting out a room. We got settled in, enjoying a nice welcome drink and some fruit before we made our way to the local market to pick up some supplies for dinner.

Today’s Travel: The Catamaran from Korcula to Split, wandering around Spilt then on a car ferry to Vis

Accommodations: Apartmani Safic. Once off the ferry we talked to a few apartment owners but once we found the owners of this apartment we decided to give the place a look. Situated just above the ferry terminal at the top of the hill it is close enough to everything you need but still far away. Plus the views from the balcony will mean that we will probably be spending some time here. The apartment was spacious with a fully dedicated space for a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. And just outside the entrance way was another patio area with plenty of places to relax.

Crusin’ around Korcula

25 July 2014

With no plans on the agenda we spent the morning on the patio and taking full advantage of the espresso maker that this room had. We did feel though, that we should take advantage of the nice weather and our motorbike. So just after lunch we set off towards the coastline. We started off towards the city center than stayed along the coast all the way to the roads end in Racisce about 30kms away. As we rode we made a few stops here and there to soak in the views and the sun. It was a little windy so it was nice to take a break every now and again.

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That evening we walked down the street to Malinas for another great meal. The bread they serve there is worth the trip to the island, its buttery and so light that we easily finished a basket of it along with our delicious meal.

Today’s Travel: We took a ride along the coast from Korcula to Racisce

Accommodations: Apartment Sirena

A little history

25 July 2014

We walked around the old town along the water and up and down the maze of stairs around the top of the small town. The main draw of course was the Marco Polo house (which was apparently built after his death) and St. Mark’s Cathedral.

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Winding up then back down the stairs made for a nice little work out (not really) so we had to make sure we balanced out the day with some relaxation which provided the perfect excuse to head to Lumbarda beach which was one of the sandier beaches we have found so far on Croatia. However because of this, it was packed with families as far as the eye could see so you probably wouldn’t be able to call it the most peaceful beach.

Our gracious hosts also did our laundry, we were looking for a place to take it and they offered. I really am going to miss this place. It has been so long since we felt so settled into a place and had a chance to spend time with a family. These last few weeks just have felt like we are moving so fast and we haven’t had a chance to meet many local people, I have felt like we have just been tourist. Which has been fine, but it just feels like there is something missing.

Today’s Travel: We took the motorbike into the main center of town and above town for the nice views, later in the afternoon we went to Lumbarda beach

Accommodations: Apartment Sirena. We added a few more days to our stay which meant we had to switch rooms, which is pretty much our normal. We moved upstairs to a much larger room which had a living room area, a bigger kitchen area and table and a closed off bedroom. It felt like we were living in an apartment again.

A two beach kind of a day

23 July 2014

Being located a little outside the city center and also wanting to explore the island we decided it would be a good idea to rent a motorbike for our time on Korcula. We walked down to a hotel that was close by where they had a rental office and went in to pick up a motorbike. Unfortunately they were all taken for the next few hours so we decided to head to the nearby beach to kill some time relaxing before we could pick up our bike. We made our way to the beach in front of Hotel Bon Repos which was in a nice cove and had a nice promenade to stroll along.

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Our favorite moment though came when the hotel activities director came out and started a water jazzercise class for all the hotel guests. It would be difficult to find a jazzercise class anywhere that has been led by anyone with more enthusiasm for their job than this guy had leading his class.

After a few hours we made our way back to the rental shop to pick up our scooter and soon were on our way across the island to Pupnatska Luka. This has got to be one of the prettier beaches we’ve seen on our travels. As you approach the beach from the windy hairpin turn filled road above you’re granted tiny glimpses of a narrow cove made up off tree lined slopes, shores of gray shale rocks and then filled with beautiful turquoise blue water.

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We spent a few hours enjoying the beautiful beach and nice water on a warm day before hopping back onto our scooter to drive the 45 minutes back to town.

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Today’s Travel: We walked to Hotel Bon Repos to rent a motorbike at the stand by the tennis court, walked to the front of the hotel to hang out on the beach then we were off on the motorbike to Pupnatska Luka

Accommodations: Apartment Sirena

I heart rain

22 July 2014

After a calm and uneventful fast boat ride from Mljet to Korcula we were meet at the ferry landing by our host family. From what I could deduce that also included the apartment owners grandson, who for the first few minutes was extremely shy, but once we made it to his home he was more than eager to show us around and of course play. And in the course of about 10 minutes I learned more Croatian than I had learned in the last week. Three year olds really are the best teachers. It was once again a good reminder that facial expressions, hand gestures and pointing will allow you to communicate with anyone anywhere and it is also a good way to learn a few words. Plus hanging out with a kid who speaks slowly and with just a few words, it was the easiest conversation to have.

About twenty minutes after we arrived at the apartment, a lighting storm and downpour began. I was just glad that we decided to head back to the apartment and not spend time in the center of town. It was quite enjoyable to sit on a covered patio with some coffee while watching the rain downpour and lighting strikes throughout the sky. It’s funny how not being on a motorbike in the pouring rain can make it so much more enjoyable.

Once the rain passed the temps quickly rose. With an empty kitchen, we made our way down the street to the local fruit stand and meat market to pick up the basics. As we walked down the street to our apartment the smells of the plants reminded of being a little kid running around the trails behind the house I grew up in. It was just so eerie to me that the smells of the plants were the exact same. It was like I instantaneously became a kid again.

Today’s Travel: Back on the Nona Ana this time the destination was Korcula where we were picked up and made our way to the apartment which was just a few hundred meters from Lumbarda

Accommodations: Apartment Sirena. About an hour into our stay here, hanging out on the patio drinking a beer and coffee we decided we would be staying longer than we had planned and we hadn’t even seen our room yet. We enjoyed that we were away from the tourist center and that we were staying in a room above a family’s home which is always a nice change of pace when traveling. After finishing a second beer and coffee our room was ready. It was a perfect size for two which a kitchen that included all the amenities we needed, it even had a microwave, a balcony and a TV. There was nothing more that we could have asked for in our time here as the family is extremely accommodating and helpful.