Saturday, September 29, 2012

The End of Ultimate?

It’s looking like UF is done for the year, and I think it’s been a pretty poor year. Not that many people showed up, and while we were away, I get a sense that JM showed up to paltry, if any, crowds. I understand his frustration, it takes a lot to bring all the stuff over and take the lead in promoting the game, and when nobody shows up, that’s not only disheartening, but discouraging.

We showed up this past weekend and we were the only ones there until our friend EM showed up with two of his kids. We played a small game of 3 on 3, and then did the Family Feud match, and it was fun, but you got the sense that UF was winding down. I saw B at the market and inquired, and she said JM felt like the season was done. She mentioned he had come to several UF days and nobody showed up, so he decided it was done, or at least he was done. I can’t say I blame him, though it’s sad because last year we went out with a bang and nobody wanted to see it end. Times have changed.

Maybe it’s not a bad thing, because now we can focus on hockey, which is right around the corner.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Eccentric Photography for the pic.

New Era of Cat Care

I just wanted to mention that we are in a new era of cat care, and I have to say, it’s a better situation overall. First off, our friends and neighbors are enthusiastic about wanting to watch our cats, even though I feel bad about asking them. It’s a good example of letting your friends do nice things for you when they want to, even though you feel it’s a huge burden. The reality is, just like I want to help out our friends, they in turn want to help us out, so I should just relax and let them. It’s complicated.

Either way, it’s a lot cheaper, as well. PV is expensive, and this was our longest trip, yet, so that was welcome. Finally, I really felt like PV did a poor job last time. I’m guessing she was busy, but it seemed like she was in and out, the cat litter was a mess, and it just gave me a bad impression.

This time around, we had two people come at two different times of the day, and I think it worked out better. The friends we asked were very conscientious and seemed to spend more time with our cats, so I think they were happier, in the end.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to ARL and NRL for the pic.

Clearing the Garden

Our first foray into the community garden went fairly well, in my opinion. Sure, we missed out on a bounty of tomatoes because of our trip, but it worked out nicely because the Es got a boatload of tomatoes and they froze the ones that I wanted to freeze. They had a garden going but lost all of their tomatoes to blight, so this way, everyone wins, though I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to eat as many fresh tomatoes that we grew, but not too disappointed. After all, we got to eat fresh tomatoes in Italy, and it’s just a garden. You can’t put your life on hold for a few tomatoes.

Now that the garden is done and over, I’m guessing I need to go and clean the plot out. That means pulling up the plants and composting them, then harvesting the potatoes that I didn’t even plant, and then feeding the soil. It’s kind of nice because I think I can finally make some use of the compost that we’ve been creating since we moved in. Compost is amazing, it starts off as this foul, disgusting mess, then turns into soil. Beautiful stuff. Plus, our current compost bin is getting rather full, so I can empty one, put it on the garden, then start with an empty compost bin.

It’s been raining for the past few days, but at the first break in the weather, I’ll head on over and clean things up. Not completely looking forward to it, but it’ll be nice when it’s all done.

Until then, thanks for reading.

New Plow Man

Now that KB and family have moved closer to Hanover, we no longer have a plow man to do our driveway, which is a bummer on a number of levels. Not only was he a family friend, but he gave us an amazing deal because of it. I felt sort of bad because he didn’t have to do us any favors, but I don’t deny that it was nice getting such a good rate.

I asked around for a referral for a plowman, and was given the name of a neighbor, TP, whom I’d never met, and he lives just around the corner. He came over and quoted me a price that was higher than KB’s, keeping in mind that KB’s price was unrealistically low, though R sometimes commented that he seemed to plow more than he needed to. I wasn’t sure if you can bargain with these guys and just went with it, but did ask another guy his rate and his was even higher. Oh well, it might be time to get a snow plow.

The nice thing about TP is that he lives really close, and I learned that he’s the son of NP, who is a friend. Small world up here. They say it’s going to snow a lot this year, which could be wishful thinking, but I’m included in that camp. We’ll see.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to ironmike9 for the pic.

Hockey Scheduling

The whole hockey scheduling thing has been a bit crazy, and the learning curve a bit steep. It seems like I spent the entire month of September trying to learn the drill. The previous scheduler did a great job and wanted to continue, but because of personal and political reasons, it wasn’t meant to be, so I was given the task. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and in the end, didn’t want to do it, but DF seemed to think I was the man for the job, and I want to help where I can. This, of course, gets me into trouble all the time.

It didn’t help that we were going away on vacation to a far off land. In fact, we were supposed to take off around 4:00PM on Saturday, when the phone rang around noon. It was the scheduler for Rutland, and he said he was ready to schedule some games. My first thought was, “No way, man, I’m leaving in a couple of hours!” Then I realized that I had a little time, and this was a program that we wanted to get some games against.

but that didn’t seem to be such a huge deal. I was able to continue scheduling while I was in Italy and Croatia, if you can believe that. The beauty of the internet, I don’t think the people I was communicating with had any idea about my situation, which is kind of cool. It didn’t take a huge amount of time on any given day, just about half an hour in the morning and I was done, but I did have to communicate fairly regularly. In the end, I got a lot done while I was over there, so the schedule was fairly complete by the time the big meeting came around, for which I could not attend because I was away. I couldn’t pull that one off on the computer.

I’ve been told that as the season progresses, the schedule will have to modified and things will not work out and will need to be amended, which can be a pain because that means changing things on the fly, but such is the life of a hockey scheduler. I’m not sure why DF thought I was the man for the job, but I’d prefer not to let the guy down.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to rossMania for the pic.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our Little Engineer

We are having clock issues... actually, I’m constantly having issues, but that’s another story. Either way, in addition to other assorted appliances, our clock died on the day of our big departure. I figured it was just a battery issue, but when we got back, I put new batteries in and it didn’t work. Something was wrong. Now we could have taken the thing apart and fiddled with it until it worked, but honestly, I wasn’t sure where to begin.

In the meantime, we were constantly looking at the empty space where the clock used to be, so I figured I’d get a replacement. I found one for $4 at the Dollar Store. When we got it home, however, the arms were broken and spun aimlessly around. I was so bummed, and was ready to take it back when N said he thought he could fix it. I didn’t want it more damaged because I wanted to get our money back, but he seemed pretty sure of himself, and I figured the worst that could happen is that we’d be out $4. I told him to go for it, and let him do his thing.

He took a screwdriver, took the thing apart, then secured the arms and put it back together. Sure enough, the thing works and is on our wall. How cool is that? Got to give him credit, he was confident enough to take a chance and go for it. Even if it didn’t work out, kudos to him for having the wherewithal to try. Fortunately, it did. I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Progress on the Wood Pile

Every year, it’s the same old song and dance, but one I sure do love to chronicle. I’ve totally slacked off on the woodpile, which seems to be a regular occurrence every year. Since the weather is nicer, I’m more motivated to tackle the job, and I have to say, with cooler temps, the job is once again fun. Heat just seems to suck the fun out of everything that doesn’t involve water. We didn’t order any log lengths this year, and I was a little concerned that losing touch with TB, our wood man, but after talking to him, he didn’t seem to care one way or another. Besides, he was last in bringing this load, and even said he wouldn’t be offended or surprised if I had obtained our wood from somebody else. Whatever be the case, he told me anytime we needed wood, give him a call. Fair enough.

The wood is cut into blocks, I just need to move, split and stack. I think I’m about 1/3 done, maybe 1/4, but it’s a start. Plus, the weather has been beautiful, and it’s something that the kids, mostly N, enjoy helping me with. It’s nice to hang with them and work outside. It makes me feel like a father.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Dormer Maintenance

I did some extensive work on the dormers last year, at least extensive for a real-man in training like myself. I replaced several clapboards, more than I had intended, but being the novice that I am, I ended up destroying more than I wanted to initially replace. Either way, the wood trim was rotting, so I replaced several of the boards, and then painted the trim white.

One of the issues we run into with the layout of our house is that the front faces north, which means that it gets little to no sunshine. The upside is that the back of the house, where there are two bedrooms, gets tons of sun, and is thus the warmest part of the house. Since the front is in the shade most of the year, it gets mossy and moldy. The moss was a huge problem with the roof shingles, and getting the metal roof solved that. I did notice, however, that the trim on the dormers looked like it was getting a little moldy. Have to check with my Mentor about that one.

Either way, it didn’t look good, so I decided to paint it. In retrospect, it would have been better to have done it over summer, when it was hot, but man do I suffer in the heat. The weather right now is perfect for working outdoors, so I’ve set up the ladder and am in the process of touching up the trim. N said to me that while I was up there, I should paint the clapboards, as well, so I did it. Note the absence of white primer on the clapboards, replaced by a uniform shade of plum.

Nothing like taking care of business, when there’s business to be done. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Good Timing for Lawn Care

I had planned on mowing the lawn before our departure but ran out of time, and when we returned, it was a bit of a mess. Now that it’s fall, I don’t need to mow as much, but three weeks is a long time, and I have all sorts of issues and hang up about having an unkempt yard, at least to some degree.

The plan in fall is to spread grass seeds that will sit under the snow all winter then sprout in the spring, when I will seed again. Thus far it’s been working fairly well. We’ve had a decently lush lawn without the use of fertilizers or herbicides. Anyway, I mowed the lawn, spread the seeds, and then it rained for what seemed like 24 hours. Perfect timing, I love when that happens. Now all I have to do is take care of the blueberries, and we’re ready for some snow.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hockey Confusion

Hockey season is looming on the horizon, and though the season doesn’t officially start until late October, there are opportunities to skate, and even practice hockey. Campion has ice, and they are holding fall skating clinics to help kids and adults get ready for the season.

I had heard that they were holding a hockey “boot camp” to polish up your skills on the ice, and thought it would be good for the kids to prepare for the season. The time was 10:50AM, and I kept wondering how the kids were going to manage to make it. I packed up their gear, drove over, only to learn that the clinic was for adults! Duh, how else could they hold it in the middle of the day? Total bummer, though I got to thinking that maybe I should take the clinic.

We ended up leaving and coming back for the public skate, which was fun, but at some point the kids get bored with it. They can’t appreciate the opportunity to fine tune their skating, which will help them as players. Oh well, you can lead to horse to water and all that good stuff.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to maddy3m for the pic.

Hearing From My Mom

When we were in Florence, the TV was on in the breakfast room and there was a news story, of all things, about wildfires in a section of LA where my mom lives. I thought, whoa, that’s kind of heavy if it’s being reported in Europe. I emailed her and asked if everything was okay, and as usual, she didn’t reply.

It was our last day in Europe, so I called her when I got home, expecting the usual cold shoulder and unpleasant conversation, but it was actually fairly civil. Sure, she had to jab me a few times, but I even told her I wasn’t going to fight with her, which always angers her and inspires her to hang up the phone, but we managed to weather that storm. It required that I suck up my pride and not engage. It worked out fine, and she even said she was going to send us something in the mail. The end of the cold war, perhaps? Too soon to tell.

Anyway, when I went to get the mail, it turns out that she had already sent me some information from my alma mater regarding the alumni association. When I graduated my parents got me a liftetime membership the alumni association, and about ten years ago they informed me that they had raised the dues and if I wanted to remain in the association, I had to pay. I told them to thanks, but no thanks.

I’m guessing my mom took care of it. Thanks to her, and yes, I did thank her. I’m not sure what to make of all this good will, but it’s better than being in the dog house, isn’t it?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to polarkreisthiele for the pic.

Dead Microwaves

We seem to be on a bad luck groove with appliances. First our wall clock went out, now our microwave isn’t working. What’s next? The microwave is old, no question, and it still functions in some capacity. What happens is when we program the time and hit start, the microwave light goes on and the timer counts down, but the actual cooking part doesn’t work. It’s silent, you can’t hear the whirring motor. If my father in law, RR, were here, he could fix it. I’ll need to do some research and maybe try to troubleshoot. Otherwise, we will probably start shopping around for a new one, which is always good for a story or two. This could get interesting.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to cherylagames for the pic.

On Principle

Our wall clocked died, and it’s a complete mystery as to what exactly happened. It actually kicked out the day of our departure, which is oddly coincidental, don’t you think? It even contributed to the stress of our departure because it stopped at 2:00PM, and we were getting picked up at 4:00 by my Mentor. R kept looking at the clock and seeing that it was 2:00, so she felt like she had plenty of time, when in fact, the clock was ticking.

We left it at that and went on our trip, but when we got back, I replaced the battery and it still didn’t work. Total bummer. We toyed with it a bit, but I’m no clock expert, so we decided to get a replacement. I found one at the Listen Center for $1.00, though I had my doubts. The guy didn’t have a battery to test it, but said if it didn’t work, they would credit me the dollar. Sure enough, when we got home, the piece of junk didn’t work. My bad, I should never have bought a used clock. The question was, do I return it for a measly $1.00? I decided that on principile, I had to. Besides, we were out there anyway, so I did it, and got my credit.

Sometimes you have to fight to stand by your principles, even if it’s a complete waste of time and money.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to kampang for the pic.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hit the Ground Running

Boy, we sure didn’t waste time getting back in the swing of things. We had a day or rest on Sunday, but once Monday hit, we were off and running. Not a bad thing, mind you, but no rest for the weary, as they say. Sunday was actually nice because we could lounge around the house and get back into home mode. Our friends stopped by to say hi, and the kids said no to ultimate frisbee because of jet-lag, though I think N secretly wanted to play. For the record, HH and her girls went by the field before visiting us, and they said nobody was there.

Come Monday, life began as usual. Again, this is not a bad thing. First off, I had a physical therapy appointment on Monday morning, which I canceled because I didn’t want to deal with it, and my back is functioning fairly well at this point. Then again, it could be that I’m just accustomed to the pain and dealing with it, like a real man. Since we were back, we needed food, which meant trips to the store for vittles, then taking our recycling to the dump. I also had a karate test that evening and needed to practice, and since we were out and about, I needed to get my eyeglasses repaired (they broke on the flight home). I also managed to finish mowing the lawn, which I started on Sunday and wanted to get completed for the big rain forecast on Tue. More on this later, but the plan was to seed the grass before the storm.

The karate test went fine, I was in a bit of a daze, and right before the test, I had this massive wave of fatigue hit me. Man was I bummed, but once you get to class and start warming up, the blood starts flowing and your body just takes over. Plus, when you spar, there’s an element of fearing for your life that does wonders for your energy level.

Tuesday was an even busier day. The kids had book club, and I had to meet with DF at UA. To facilitate this process, I asked CH to take the kids earlier in the day, then take them over to book club while I had my meeting. After the meeting, I went to meet up with everyone, and DE brought me our tomatoes that he kindly harvested and froze for us. There was a lot. After book club, A had after school video class, which went for two hours. This meant N and I had to kill two hours, and it was pouring rain all day. We dealt with a few practical issues, and then Lebanon library, where I thought he might be able to work on the computer, but instead he picked out a book and sat and read it for half an hour. Warms my heart, that boy. In the end, however, I think it was a bit of a bore for him, and in the future, we may have to come up with a more engaging activity.

Wednesday was busy as well, but I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that it’s good to be home, but we’re too busy to bask in it. Just cooking and cleaning is a full time job, forget about the other stuff.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to jaeger43 for the pic.

Dedicated Hockey Parent

How’s this for dedication to hockey - while we were in Italy and Croatia, I was still scheduling hockey games, all through email. The people I was in contact with probably had no clue where I was. Doing it through email was a lot simpler than sitting down for a face to face, and it worked our nicely. In fact, I managed to get a lot of the games scheduled and out of the way so it was that much easier come the big meeting, all while I was having a croissant and cafe au lait, watching the waves lap onto the coast of Croatia. Funny how that works.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to spcbrass for the pic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back to Being a Karate Man

How’s this for crazy? I knew when we left for our trip three weeks ago that there was going to be a karate test when I got back, on Monday. That meant we would land on Saturday, get home on Sunday, and then I’d have to test on Monday. Normally this wouldn’t a be a problem because I can practice anywhere there’s enough room for me to move around, but I was going to have to perform a kata that I had just learned, and in a jet-lagged state, no less.

I had missed about two months of karate because summer was a little nuts and there was just too much going on. When I returned, I was told there was going to be a test, and I was going to have to know a new kata. I had been taught it several times, but it was still new, and I was going to have to learn it correctly before the test. I had only one class to go over it before we left, so there was the possibility I was going to learn it wrong.

I arranged to meet with PC and his son on the Friday before our departure. We were leaving on Saturday, so PC said he’d be at the farmer’s market. We met and stood behind the library and practiced the kata, and then we took off. I practiced throughout Italy and Croatia, which was kind of cool. When we returned from our trip, I met with PC on Sunday afternoon and ran through it one last time with him, and then on Monday, it was show time.

The test was fine, though I was in a jet-lagged daze from the get-go. The fatigue really caught up with me right before class, but once you start stretching and doing drills, you get energized. The class was small, but the energy good, and I felt relaxed and ready.

Now that it’s over, I’m one step away from my black belt. Master H wants to test again in the next few months, maybe before the new year, so this should be interesting.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to sarahbakes1 for the pic.

Our Return Trip Home and Breakfast Thoughts

The return trip always seems faster and a little easier, and things sort of fell into place for us. I love when that happens. Plus, I think R planned the return perfectly, which is something you don’t realize makes a huge difference. Usually I just want to get home, but a little thought and planning makes the return that much more bearable.

We had a late afternoon flight out of Florence, and this enabled us to spend some time in the city, which was really nice because we were more relaxed and not as rushed to see all the sights. It made the time there much more enjoyable. Plus, it seemed less crowded, and the weather was perfect, around 70 F and sunny with a breeze. You just can’t beat that. It also gave us a chance to stay at the Hotel Casci, which we loved because it was really nice, and the people who run it are so warm and friendly. I was glad to get to see them again.

After my final huge Euro breakfast (it’s such an American thing), we spent the day getting some last minute souvenirs, which worked our beautifully. We even got some original water color prints from an artist we got to watch paint them. Then we headed off to the airport around 1:00 caught our connecting flight to Paris. The Florence airport is pretty small, but they had a nice wine shop where the woman let us sample the selections. She also gave an in-depth explanation of the wines and the regions where the grapes came from. She might as well have been speaking Italian to me (actually, she might have been), because I know nothing about wine. However, there was one R and I both liked, so we got a few bottles for friends and ourselves, which is nice because it’s regional Tuscan wine. How cool is that?

The flight to Paris was about two hours, and then we had about an hour layover, which isn’t much when you’re dealing with a huge airport like De Gaulle. It’s massive, and since we were on a small airplane, we landed way out in the middle of nowhere. We had to catch a bus over the main terminal and then get on the big 747 home. Needless to say, we were a little pressed for time, especially when the stupid bus took awhile to show up. You could see people starting to stress, myself included. Then again, the return trip is always less stressful.

At De Gaulle, we lucked out again when we arrived at the gate. We were scrambling to get there on time, but for whatever reason, we didn’t need to go through security. I was a little concerned about taking the wine through, but we breezed pass. When we got to the gate, there were hundreds of people waiting to board. The plane was huge, and it was full. Luck shined on us, however, because they started boarding people on the other end, where we happened to be standing, so we were some of the first ones to get on. I don’t think this unreasonable when you’re with young kids, but that’s just me.

The flight home from Paris is a long one, about 7.5 hours, but the new trans-Atlantic planes are comfortable and equipped with TV screens at every seat. This is a fabulous thing when you’re traveling with kids. We flew over on an Airbus which had it, and I was hoping for an Airbus on the way home, but it was a Boeing. I was so bummed, but my disappointment was unfounded because the 747 has the screens, as well. My bad.

I think R wanted the kids to get some sleep before we landed, but with a TV screen in front of them with movies, TV shows, and even video games, fat chance of that happening. The kids had a blast, and didn’t want to sleep for a moment. We both relaxed a little about our home policy of no video games and let them enjoy their last hurrah. It worked out well. We landed in Boston, walked to the hotel (the Hilton is connected to the airport), and were asleep before our heads hit the pillows.

The next morning we all woke up early, around 5:00AM, but felt rested after a good night’s sleep. We went downstairs and scored another good trip vibe at the restaurant, where they told us the kids eat free at the breakfast buffet. Woo-hoo! Life is good. Now breakfast buffets in America are nothing like the ones you get in Europe, at least at the smaller hotels. We’ve eaten breakfast buffets in bigger hotels in Barcelona and Amsterdam, where the spreads were amazing with everything you can imagine, and more. When you stay in smaller places, however, the selection is smaller and more European, with more stuff like baked goods (pastries, croissants), fresh fruit, and yogurt. You don’t get the piles of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and pancakes/French toast that you get in American breakfasts.

The Europeans tend to eat accordingly. They just don’t seem to be breakfast eaters, usually opting for a croissant and cappuccino, followed by a cigarette, even when they have the option to eat a feast. Now I tend to pork out at breakfast buffets, I can’t help it. Free refills beckon me, and it’s a little embarrassing being the hungry American, but what are you going to do?

Either way, now that we were back in the US, it was time to eat like an American, and the breakfast buffet at the Hilton is fabulous. Plus, as I mentioned, the kids ate free, so there was no question we were eating there. It was sure nice to be back home, or at least back in the America.

After breakfast, since we had a fair amount of time, the kids wanted to get one last swim in the pool, and I sat and did a quick workout in the gym, which is connected to the pool. Then it was onto the bus and to our home. One thing I love about the return trip is when you enter Vermont, you just know you’re home. It’s a great feeling, and the weather thus far has been perfect.

My Mentor was waiting for us at the bus depot to take us home, and it was nice chatting with him on the ride back. In addition to being a Renaissance Man and a real manly man, my Mentor is well traveled and is a great story teller, so we sat and enjoyed listening to his tales of his travels in Europe. He’s been to Croatia, but he went 20 years ago, when it was still Eastern bloc. That’s a serious adventure.

It sure is good to be back home. The cats seemed happy to see us, and as I mentioned, the weather has been great. Fall is in the air, which makes it easier to do work outside and on the house. HH stopped by with the girls to say hi, and we all hit the sack early, exhausted, but thrilled to be back.

This was a great trip, perhaps our best ever. Thanks to mom for planning it out. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC, lesleychoa and _gem_ for the pics.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy Homecoming

What a nice surprise from our good friend, HH, who also happened to be watching our cats and watering our plants. We got home in the afternoon and she had left us some flowers from her garden to welcome us home. All was well, the cats were happy to see us, probably because it meant freedom to hunt voles and squirrels, and it was sure nice to be home.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Loving Venice

We're in Venice, and the city is really something else. You have to really experience it to appreciate how cool it is. What's interesting is that you think of it as solely a tourist destination, but it's a fully functioning city that just has to deal with tourists all the time.

We had a blast in Korcula, the apartment was beautiful, located right in front of the water, and we enjoyed swimming, once again. I have to confess, though, that I liked Hvar a little better, it was more low key and we had a great situation with the beach right there and lots of good food and people. Korcula is amazing, as well, it's just that we somehow enjoyed Hvar a little more.

I have to give the abbreviated version because we're off to Florence today. From Korcula, we had to take an early morning bus that boarded a ferry and then drove to the Dubrovnik. It was rough, and we had no food or drink in our stomachs and we got car sick. The roads were windy and mountainous. Once we were in Dubrovnik, we had to catch public transportation to the old city, and from there, we had to find our apartment. Dubrovik is such a cool city, so happening and vibrant, and filled with beautiful people. We found out flat, and it was amazing, like all the others. This one was perhaps the nicest.

We enjoyed Dubrovnik a lot, we ate killer vegetarian food, and had just an overall great time. Even though it's more urban, we managed to find access to the water and get some swimming in, even if we had to jump in with our clothes on. From Dubrovnik, we had a 7:00AM flight to Venice, with a layover in Frankfort. That meant getting up around 4:30 to catch a 5:30 cab to the airport. Brutal. When we landed in Venice, we had to figure out the water public transportation, which is a load of fun. We had a blast taking the water bus, and found our hotel in the middle of town.

As I said, Venice is fabulous, hard to put into words. We're going to enjoy our last day and then head to Florence. Until then, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Moving On To Korcula

You know a trip is going well when you sadly leave on place and then love the next place even more, or at least equally. We really loved being in Hvar, but Korcula was amazing, as well. It's a little quieter and not as young and hip as Hvar. Not as many young people half-naked walking around, but more like the Monte Carlo of the Adriatic, older and more moneyed. As I mentioned, the Russian billionaire was docked in the bay, his boat was as long as a football field, talk about crazy.

We took the evening ferry to Korcula and landed around 9:00. We met the landlord who took us to our room, which for the record, was really nice. These apartments seem to be the way to go, people rent out rooms in their house or rooms they own, and they do a fabulous job of decorating them. The landlord was really cool, as well, because he gave me a Euro adapter for my computer. It's the little things in life that make it nice.

We walked around a bit and let me tell you, the town is really beautiful, like a walled in fortress that has been converted to a city, not unlike Siena or Pienza, except newer and nicer. You don't realize it, but this part of the world was engaged in a vicious war about 20 years ago, the Croatian War of Independence. The city of Debrovnik was bombed extensively.

We also learned that Korcula was where Marco Polo was born, and where he started his famous voyage. That's a cool homeschool fact. There are stores and wonderful bakeries on the island, where we got to try out local delights, especially burek, which we chowed on for breakfast. In the morning after breakfast, we walked across the street and down to the shore and found a nice beach to swim off of. It was really warm, so we were able to swim for several hours and watched the ships coming in and out of the bay. The boats would create wakes that sent waves to our little beach, which were essentially ripples, but we had fun with them.

Afterward, we went up to the main drag and had lunch, then kicked back until our next adventure, which happened later that day when we took a water taxi to another island, Badija, where we did some snorkeling and swam, but what we enjoyed the most was the boat ride. There is also a native deer population on the island, and they're really tame and come right up to you looking for handouts. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but it's kind of cool, either way.

More on Badija later. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Reflections on Hvar - Best Meal and More Good Vibes

We are currently in the capital of Croatia, Dubrovnik, and it's a pretty happening town, though we miss the sleepier little islands of Hvar and Korcula. Mind you, it's not that sleepy, but smaller than the big city in Dubrovnik.

Before I get too into the capital, I just wanted to mention how much we loved staying in Hvar, it was such a cool place, though I have to confess, a bit too Daytona Beach for me, at least in this stage of my life. I can understand being young and single and wanting to be where all the beautiful young people are, but now that I'm a parent, I just want a nice beach where we can all swim, a clean bed, and some good local food. We sure found that in Hvar.

The beach was a bit of a trek down this amazing staircase to the water, but there, we found plenty of small, rocky beaches where we could lay our towel and jump into the Adriatic. As I mentioned, the swimming here is fabulous, the water is so clear, and it's just the right temperature for a hot day. When it's cool and breezy, it can be a bit cool for my blood, but on those hot days, it's just right, and we have been swimming like crazy. A swims like a fish, she was born to be in the water, but N tends to be a bit more pensive, understandably. Swimming in the ocean is daunting, too, with the current, waves, and deep, dark water. A&N, however, have been undaunted, and they have been swimming in really deep water, as long as R or I is nearby. It's too cool for words, and I think it's magical for the kids to be able to dive really deep down and see the sea life. They're like little seals, and they love it. When we get cold, all it takes is a few minutes on the rocks and you're warmed up and ready for more.

Hvar is actually a big island and we took a cab to one of the other beaches and ate at this restaurant in Milna called Kod Barba Bozjeg. That's easy for you to say. It came highly recommended by TripAdvisor, and let me tell you, the food was amazing. Best meal I've had on this trip, and reasonably priced. The beach in Milna was actually nice, and we swam for a couple of hours and had a blast. Then we dried off and walked to the restaurant and ate like royalty. We had the bruschetta (not so special) and grilled vegetables, then I ate the Ribeye Steak, R got the seafood and spaghetti, A got the grilled squid, and N had the prawns. The seafood was amazing, as was the steak. The seafood pasta was filled with muscles and clams, which we learned the kids love. They wolfed them down. A's squid was excellent, though she was not as thrilled as I was, and N loved his prawns. Personally, I'm lukewarm when it comes to shrimp, but he loved it.

The guy who grills the food was so cool, he even let N help out with the grilling. I love when people are nice to the kids, it changes everything. After supper, we had the chocolate crepe, then walked around until the cab came to pick us up. We arranged for him to return to get us at 8:00, and sure enough, he showed up on the dot. He was a really nice kid, and asked us how our meal was and if we enjoyed our time in Milna. I love this place.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Arriving in Korcula

We spent a couple of days on our second Croatian island, Korcula, and as sad as it was to leave Hvar, I have to say, Korcula is pretty amazing, as well. I might even go as far as to say I like it better, thought they're both awesome. This is the view from our terrace.

While Croatia seems like a far-off and exotic destination, as I've said, it's the place to be for European and Eurasian travelers, especially the jet-set with money. Case in point, when we pulled into the bay at Korcula, there was the biggest private yacht I'd ever seen. The thing was as big as a football field, and the guy who met us at the dock said it belonged to Abramovich. I wasn't sure what he was talking about, but after some research, I found out the guy is Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire, and his boat even has a name - it's called Vibrant Curiosity and it is in fact about 300 feet long. Is that crazy, or what? Even more crazy is that his boat is docked in Korcula.

I also learned that Korcula is where Marco Polo was born, and where he set off on his great adventure at the age of 17. Cool historical fact. Our apartment in Korcula is amazing, very beautifully done, and stylish and clean. Best of all, the location is great, facing the ocean with a view, right above the main drag.

More on Korcula later, I have to run. Until the next time, thanks for reading, thanks to RIC for the pics.

Good Vibes in Hvar

We stayed on one of the islands in Croatia, Hvar, and it's beautiful here. The people are super nice, and they all speak English, on some level, which is good because I don't know a work of Croatian. I'd like to learn, however,

We developed a pattern of life on the island where we would go to the local store and pick up bread, fruit, juice and coffee, and start our day out slowly on the deck. Then we'd go swimming, walk around the island, have a killer lunch, then swim some more. The ocean here is amazing, the best ocean swimming I've ever done. The water is crystal clear, a nice cool temperature, and it's hot and dry on land. A good combination to swim. Plus, the Adriatic is pretty calm, so we can swim reasonably far out. A&N are having a blast because they can swim and see fish and coral and all that good stuff. They both swim like fish, and they go pretty far out into the deep water. A is fine by herself, but either R or I swim near N so he can use us as a flotilla now and then. It's still pretty amazing that he's swimming in such deep water. I think they love diving deep down and seeing the marine life.

One great thing about our place is that there is a washing machine, and we were able to do some laundry, which we needed to do. I tend to pack lightly, and when you can do some laundry at some point in your journey, it makes it all the more possible. Plus, since we're in Europe, we have to maintain our proper Euro sense of style... yeah, right.

On our last day in Hvar, we had to catch an evening ferry to Korcula, but checkout at the apartment was 10:00 AM. I asked if we could stay until the afternoon, and was willing to pay for it, but they declined the money and said it was fine because nobody was coming until the next day. Glorious. They also gave us a ride, even though the guy was sleeping. He interrupted his nap to get us to the ferry landing. Such nice people, and such good vibes.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

We Love Croatia

You know, a few years ago if you'd told me that I'd love visiting Croatia, I would have told you that you were crazy. I've always had this image of Croatia being cold and Cold War, with gray buildings and former KGB agents trying to sell me black market nuclear arms, but it's nothing like that. In fact, it's amazingly beautiful, very much like the Greek Islands, though I might go as far as to say that I like Croatia better. It's definitely cheaper because it's not EU, but it's also pretty hip and the Adriatic Sea is so beautiful. Like Greece, the people are very friendly, and we've been welcomed with open arms, though we are tourists and we are their bread and butter.

Whatever be the case, the people are very warm and friendly, they speak English for the most, and the dollar still has some power over the Kuna, so things are definitely cheaper. Much cheaper than the Euro, that's for sure.

One thing about being in Croatia is that we are definitely in vacation mode (this is the view from our terrace), which means relaxing in the warm weather, swimming frequently in the beautiful, crystal clear Adriatic, and eating amazing food, especially the seafood. I've said this before, but I didn't realize that Croatia is such a destination. I think amongst the jet-set and Europeans, Croatia is the place to go. Even the touristy areas are more enjoyable than the ones you see in Athens or Rome, they're just more cheerful and easygoing.

I can't say enough about how much we're enjoying our time here, and the kids are loving it because not only do they get to swim all day, but they're loving the food. A&N are being very adventurous with their food choices, and I think A is at the age where the young, hip and happening singles scene holds at least a little interest for her. How can you not be intrigued by young beautiful people dressed stylishly (or not at all) and dancing and having fun. Kind of scary from a parental POV, but what are you going to do?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Explorning Split in Croatia

Who names a town Split? I know, it's Croatian, and I should look on the bright side, it's a lot easier (at least for me) than pronouncing 90% of the Italian towns. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

We arrived in Split on the morning Thursday, September 6, I think. I've lost track of the days (this is a good thing when you're on vacation). When we first got off the boat, I was not only exhausted, but it is always strange walking around a foreign land where you assume nobody speaks English, especially a port town where tourists are aplenty. It didn't help that it was 7:00AM, and my POV was heavily biased by all the stupid Hollywood movies I'd seen about Eastern Bloc intrigue.

As it turns out, my anxieties, as they often are, were completely unfounded. Sure, people were tired and weary (it was the crack of dawn, for crying out loud), but the people we asked for help were all very friendly and helpful, even the ones that looked like characters out of a LeCarre novel. Most of them spoke English, as well, and at one point, we were standing there totally clueless and lost, looking like sitting duck targets for a scammer, when an elderly woman walked over and asked us if we were looking for the ticketing booth (we were). She then kindly explained to us where we needed to go, and we were on our way.

The reality is, Split is a fairly booming tourist port, and along with it's rich history, caters to the jet-set crowd. You don't get a sense of this back home, but Croatia, particularly the coast and islands, are the hot destination for European travelers, especially the young and the beautiful, as well as the jet-set travelers with money. You see this last part on the islands, where huge yachts tend to dock. Now my first impression of Split when we got off the boat was clouded by gray skies and fatigue, but as the sun began to rise and the day got started, we began to realize that Split was a very cool town. Not only was it clean and filled with interesting shops and restaurants, but it was hopping with tourists, especially the Brits. They were there in full force, they practically owned the place.

We had a few hours to pass, so we wandered about the place, and really enjoyed it. There were open air markets where we got some amazing peaches and grapes, we scored a SIM card for the cell phone and the guy at the luggage claim explained to us how to use it in perfect English. Finally, we were able to get ferry tickets to Hvar, and they were cheap. One thing really nice about Croatia is that they are not part of the European Union, so they operate on their own currency, the Kuna. Prices are very reasonable, not quite dirt cheap, but much cheaper than the EU. We experienced a similar situation in Turkey.

All in all, it was a really nice time, and I for one would not have minded spending more time in Split, except that we were bound for better things in Hvar. The ferry ride was pleasant, about an hour, and the boat was nice and cool with the air-conditioning on. Even still, weary world travelers can have a ripe smell to them. Such is life.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, September 7, 2012

An Interesting Ferry Ride to Croatia

You don't really give it much thought, but the Adriatic Sea is bigger than you realize. Then again, who in this world ever gives much thought to the Adriatic? Quick, ask yourself this question: where exactly is the Adriatic Sea located? Yeah, I figured as much.

The reason this is even coming up is because we had to take a ferry across the Adriatic Sea to get to Croatia. For whatever reason, we couldn't get a direct flight from Italy to Croatia. Apparently this is not unusual, and in order to fly there, we would have had to have flown to Frankfurt, then to Croatia. I've heard you can get direct flights from Rome or Milan. We didn't have the option, and instead opted to take a ferry over. We've taken several ferries, some as short as half an hour, others that lasted 4-5 hours, and they are fun because it's always nice to be on a boat. This ferry ride, however, was going to 10 hours, and we were going to spend the night on it.

The ferry itself wasn't so bad on the outside, but once you got on, it was a little run down. The reality is, ferries are not usually designed for luxury and comfort, it's really all about getting from point A to B. They try to make it as nice as possible, but it ain't the Love Boat. It didn't help that I was reading a book about the struggle to survive on a lifeboat that was from a ship that had caught fire and sunk. It was grim and brutal, a la Titanic.

It is nonetheless exciting boarding a ship, especially big ones that seem like fortresses. As with all ferry's I've been on, you board the ship in the cargo hold, and then walk up a series of steps to get to the deck, where you can enjoy the ride in the fresh, briny air. When we checked in, the steward led us back down those very steps into the belly of the ship, where our room was. I kept think, "Oh man, we're in steerage." Those are the rooms that fill up first when the ship goes down, and I kept thinking of where our escape route was going to be. It ain't easy being neurotic and paranoid.

It was wishful thinking on my part to think that we were going to get a window, and our cabin was small and dark, but it was comfortable, and we were all together. AND, we had beds, for all that's worth. Most of the other passengers slept up in the coach cabin, which might not have been that bad except for the hundreds of other people, not to mention the lights and noise. The best thing about having a room is that you have a place to leave your bags, which can be a burden when you're in transition. The kids were excited about sleeping in the cabin, it reminded them of a submarine.

R purchased a hot supper with our ticket, so we headed up the restaurant and had a nice meal. Then again, I'm not picky, and like airline food. It was a big, four course deal, complete with appetizer, salad, spaghetti with meat sauce (ragu), steak frites, and dessert. I, for one, enjoyed it, though R thought it was way too much food, and we even told the waiter to give us only three entrees. During our meal, the boat was still docked at the port, so we weren't moving. When we finished, we headed to the top deck to watch the launch.

The boat took off around 9:00, and it's always fun to watch the port fade in the distance. What's amazing is when you think about how fast (or slow) the boat is going, and how much distance it has to cover, it sort of boggles your mind. After about an hour, we retired to our cabin to try to get some sleep. As I mentioned, the cabin was tiny, but cozy, and we cleaned up and got ready. The bathrooms weren't the most pristine, even by my lax standards, but the ones upstairs were nicer, so we cleaned up and went to bad. It was pitch black in the cabin.

At some point, maybe around 4:00AM, there was this horrendous noise, and it became clear that not only was our room close to the cargo hold, but it was adjacent to the engine. I'm guessing the put the peddle to the metal to make better time. It was so noisy in our room, and I couldn't sleep from that point onward. I don't think I was alone.

The go around and wake people up at 6:00AM for breakfast, but we were all dressed up and ready to go by 5:00. The steward was surprised to see us. We went up for breakfast in zombie mode, we were all so tired, but it was a nice morning, and I was just happy to have arrived in Split, which I may have mentioned the palace of the Emperor Diocletian of Rome is located. We got off the boat at 7:00AM and had to catch another ferry to Hvar, but had several hours to pass before our departure.

It was hard to function properly with so little sleep, and we were in a foreign port where they didn't speak English. We had to find a place to leave our bags, get some food/coffee, get a SIM card for our cell phone so we could call the hotel to pick us up in Hvar, and finally, get our ferry tickets to Hvar. Piece cake, right?

Well, as it turns out, functioning in Split was a lot easier than we anticipated. People are very friendly, most of them speak some level of English, the town is really cool. I mean really cool. It didn't hurt that the weather was beautiful, but more on this later.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Adventures in Driving in Italy

One aspect of travel that you don't always get to experience are the everyday things that you have to deal with at home. Case in point, driving a car, and all it entails. We rented a car in Italy just outside of Florence, and let me tell you, driving in a foreign country is always an adventure. Then again, we live for adventure, though I have the easy job of simply driving. R has to navigate, which she excels at, but it's a tough job, especially when all the towns are in Italian and the road signs leave a lot to be desired.

Now I've found people in Europe drive a little fast, at least for my taste. This is complicated by the fact that we are driving on these small, winding mountain roads with little in the way of side barriers, so I drive even slower. For the record, Italy is very mountainous, though that's what makes it so beautiful and interesting. Either way, it wouldn't be so bad if we were all alone, but inevitably some driver pulls up behind me and isn't shy about letting me know that I'm driving too slow. They let me know this by pulling up right behind me and riding me. Talk about frustrating, though I can't complain, it's their country. They pull off these amazingly dangerous passes around blind turns and at night, it's pretty crazy. If there's a bright side to it, it's that I don't really have to do anything, they just go around me and take their own lives in their hands. It's disconcerting, but c'est la vie.

In fact, during the drive, the kids came up with a fun game (at least for them) of counting all the cars that passed us on the road. This was the most fun on the Autostrade, which is there big "interstate" highway system, and consequently, where people drive really fast. To make it all the more fun, we had a fair amount of rain during our last few days in Italy, and on some of the days, it poured, making driving all the more fun. I will say, however, that even though I was passed with reckless abandon in the early going of the trip, I did manage to storm back and restore the pass:get passed ratio to an even 1:1, i.e., I passed as many cars as had passed me. Does this make any sense? Since the kids are so cute, they made a little statistical sheet complete with pictures of each car involved in the analysis. Sometimes they're so cute it hurts.

Another fun challenge was getting gas, which is way more expensive in Europe, which is why everyone drives this little economy cars that get amazing gas mileage. The US should take note, they simply don't drive gas-guzzling SUVs out here. Gas is charged by the liter, as well, so it's even more painful. I'm not sure, but I think it costs about $200 to fill the tank, and the car is tiny. We had to return the car with the tank filled, so naturally there was no getting around the dreaded Euro gas station.

Now we passed these things throughout our trip, but never really gave much thought to actually using them, and it was kind of amusing. They have these self-service kiosks where you pay first and the pump, not completely different than what you see in America, though in the US, each pump has a pay slot, while out here in Italy, there's one central kiosk where you pay for all the pumps. Fortunately, there is an English option, but the darn thing wouldn't take our credit card. I tried my debit card, but no luck, either. I had to employ the assistance of one of our family computer/technical experts (i.e., our kids). In an ideal world, we would simply put in the card and fill the tank, but since it wouldn't take the card, we had to feed Euros into the machine and pump, then check the fuel level, and if need be, put in more Euros. We ended up doing this three times, and even then, I wasn't sure if it was completely filled up, but we went with it. As it turns out, we were fine, the rental car company didn't even check, they just asked us if we'd filled the tank.

The final piece of the puzzle was returning the car, and for this, we had to locate a small airport just outside of the port town of Ancona, where we were to catch a ferry to Croatia. We managed to get there but then had to figure out how to return a rental car. At American airports, they spell this out to you in big, clear letters, but here, it was not the case. Luckily, we'd rented from Hertz, so we managed to find Hertz signs and parked the car accordingly. Then we returned the documents and keys, the people spoke English, and we were on our way.

For the record, the rental car people were super friendly, and they were by far the busiest car rental. I was told this was because they were the nicest people, and I learned this from the Frenchman next to me with whom I conversed with in French. How cool is that? The conversation started because I thought he was trying to cut in front of me in line, but then we became buddies. I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks (merci) for reading, and merci de R pour les pics.

Reflections on Small Towns in Italy

Being the scared and apprehensive American tourist that I am, I tend to find comfort in the familiar, but who doesn't? That's why we eat at McDonalds in Europe and Appleby's in NYC. When we travel to a place that is completely foreign and unfamiliar, I am a bit on edge because I never know what to expect. Then again, that's what travel is all about, embracing the unknown while searching for adventure, and adventure is exactly what we love.

When R was planning this trip, which for the record she always does an amazing job, there were times when she was operating in the dark because she didn't know anything about the places where we were staying. TripAdvisor helped a great deal, but even with the internet, there were places that were obscure to the American tourist, i.e, these were places where only Italian tourists go, and we ended up in two of them.

We were caught a little off guard because our stay in Pienza (at Santo Pietro) was much easier, everyone spoke English, and it was filled with English speaking tourists. When we left (sadly) Pienza, we ended up driving through central Italy (Umbria) and ended up first in Saltar, which is in the province of Urbina, then from there, we traveled to Serrungarina, which is even smaller than Saltar, but only about 20 km away. What was really cool is that the proprietor of the casa, Casa Di Mi, said we were the first Americans to stay there. How cool is that?

Either way, it can be daunting traveling to a place where nobody speaks English, and they won't make any effort to. It really comes down to you trying to speak the native language or simply not communicate, but the process of trying is often highly entertaining. It helps when people are friendly (and the kids get a huge kick out of playing with the local cat/kitten population).

That was the case in both places, and as much as I was daunted at the prospect of trying to speak Italian, my incompetence was not an issue. They were very understanding. The two places we stayed were both small and family run, and even though they were in the process of trying to figure things out and maybe didn't quite have the drill down, they were so nice that you only wished the best for them. Plus, both the places, The San Martino Country House and Casa Di Mi, were clean and beautifully decorated. The fact that Italians like to go there and vacation is not a bad thing, kind of like ethnic restaurants where people of that ethnicity like to eat.

Both places were in small towns, and though it was a challenge communicating, it was a blast getting to know the locals and even attempting to talk to them. At Casa Di Mi, we were totally lost and couldn't find the B&B. I asked an elderly man for help and he stopped what he was doing, changed his shoes, and walked us to the center of town to help us find the place. Nobody knew where this place was, and recommended that we get back in our car and drive up the road. I ended up asking a guy across the street, and he said that we were at Casa Di Mi. It just so happened that his daughter spoke a bit of English, so we were saved. The food at Casa Di Mi was amazing.

All in all, we're getting the most of our authentic Italian adventure. Now I understand why people go to Disneyland or go on a cruise or do Club Med, everything is conveniently taken care of and there are no surprises or challenges, but you sure can't beat the local experience when it's beating you over the head. You just can't put a price on these moments, and it sure makes for a great story.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.