Cro “yay!” tia

I have had my sights set on spending eight glorious days on the tiny island of Vis for seven months, and it finally happened!  We have taken quite the hiatus from traveling over the last year, deciding only to go to places nearby on train and in the UK.  We were looking for a vacation that didn’t involve sightseeing or cities, plus one of us doesn’t like sitting on the beach (hint: it isn’t me) and so we went this island to have a different kind of experience.

The Food

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Of course I just assumed I was going to get food poisoning, since I got it 2 out of the last 4 times whilst traveling south of the English Channel.  So I decided to try and combat my fears and just ignore everything and eat anywhere.  Would Croatia’s hygiene standards outperform that of Greece and one particular restaurant (Bobbyland) in Malta?

The answer is yes!  From home-tinned fish to deep fried sardines to octopus cooked over five hours under a domed lid, we had some of the best eating experiences in Croatia that we’ve had traveling.  On the third night, we were picked up by van and taken to a Vineyard called Roki’s.  There they have courtyard dining in a beautiful setting.  We got there early and so the chef showed us how he had prepared out meal.  (This is not the greatest photo because the fire was so hot I could barely take a picture!)

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Another amazing food experience was the Fisherman’s Festival, which happened on the second to last night of our visit.  They were selling wine for the equivalent of £1 per glass and they were giving away FREE fried anchovy sandwiches!  Here a picture of the event getting set up.

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The Car

Renting a car for one day cost the equivalent of £40.  We were able to drive all around the island and hike from the road down to some pretty amazing beaches.  The one that really stood out for me was Stiniva, voted Europe’s best beach of the year.  Basically, it is a little cove surrounded by high limestone walls and it’s tiny beach is speckled with many tourists.  There are also many people swimming to the beach from their yachts.  However, by the time we got there, it was 5pm and the beach was in the shade.  People were leaving.  By 6:30 we were the last people there and we had the beach all to ourselves!

Another touristy spot that we had to hit was The Green Cave.  We were reluctant to go to this, given that the guidebook said it was crowded, but for £20 we got a ride out to the cave and we’re glad we did:

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The pictures don’t do it justice, but that’s me swimming and the water is bluish green.

Vis Town

The best thing about Vis is where we stayed.  We were at a airBNB for seven nights and it was comfortable.  Our host, Miro cooked us a very fresh and amazing dinner one night while we chatted about many things.  We had his homemade wine from his vineyard and for dessert, Ustipci.  Ustipci are fried dough balls that we just called “Balls of Vis” when we were there because we could not read, understand, or pronounce any Croatian.  But our hosts thought that was really funny.

The Kayak

I have never been so close to real exhaustion and dehydration as I was on the day we rented kayaks.  First of all, kayaks are kind of gross.  You sit in a pool of water all day and risk getting swamp butt.  The paddles are double sided and you get splashed in the face by others kayaking around you.  They’re so heavy you need two people to lift them.  You can flip apparently, but why would you want to?  I am still 100% on the side of canoes.  I want to stay relatively dry and I like sitting up and getting lots of power from my strokes…but that’s for another time.

Kayaking in Croatia was cool!  If you look at the map below and find Komiza, we kayaked south of there, around the tip and to where it says Bili Rat.

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Bili Rat is amazing.  It was by far the best beach that I’ve been to.  It had rocks for climbing, a cave to swim to, and beautiful water.  I have no pictures from there because I was having so much fun.  Notice how there are no roads?  That allowed for us to be pretty much alone, except for a kayak guide and his 30 charges who pulled into the beach shortly after us.  You might think it was annoying, but it wasn’t.  He was very concerned about us paddling against the wind and current on the way back, to the point where he left us his outrageously long phone number to call him just in case we needed to paddle to the other town and get picked up.

I’m here to tell you that we did paddle back against the wind.  At times it was totally manageable.  We sang sea shanties and were able to paddle back at a nice pace.  Then we ran out of water.  Then it got really hot.  Then there were lots of waves.  We could see the town in view, but it was so far.  It was like paddling on a treadmill.  It also felt really urgent because of the gathering of storm clouds coming over the mountain.  At one point I started laughing hysterically for no reason.  I think I was on the brink of dehydration.

When we returned to town and told people what we had done, no one could believe it!  People were abhorred and concerned we were going to lose weight while on holiday.  I mean it was hard, but it wasn’t that bad.  Is no one on this island in shape enough to do anything?  I mean, we also rented bikes one day and everyone told us it was “not possible” to ride outside of the harbor area because it was too steep.  I’m not even kidding that Andrew biked over the mountain in like ten minutes.

Rainbow Roundup

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Drink RED wine from the region.  There are several vineyards on Vis and they’re all very different.  Get in the car and taste them out!

 

citroenRent an ORANGE car.  No one cares what kind of damage you do to these cars.  I can testify to this as Andrew rammed ours into a cement wall leaving two huge marks, which none even cared about or noticed for that matter.  They’re beat up, but they will get you from place to place.

ustipciTry the Balls of Vis!  YELLOWish fried dough balls + plus powdered sugar +Nutella=midnight snack under the stars.

Check out the GREEN Cave.  Charter a little boat or if you are a masochist, hire a kayak.  You can go swimming in the cave.  But quick!  Take pictures before too many boats come in!

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Spend time skinny dipping in the BLUE waters of the FKKs.  Croatia has so many nude beaches, you might as well drop trow and jump in!

Drive to the top of the hill and watch the PURPLE sunset.

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🌈  Steph

 

 

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Jetlag

 

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No jet lag!

Jetlag:  It’s the one thing standing between you and enjoying a glorious French dinner in Paris, or twirling on the dance floor until 2am at your best friend’s wedding.  Jetlag can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, vertigo, and crazy circadian rhythm mess-ups causing you to wake up and crave a steak at 3am.  Here are some tips on how to adjust to the new transatlantic time zone (tried and tested):

Before the flight

  1.  Schedule a flight time that allows you to get a full night’s rest before.  I’ve heard the opposite: that one should stay up the whole night before a flight to ensure sleep on the plane.   All I know is that if I do that, and then I can’t sleep on the plane for one reason or another, I’ve set myself up for worse jetlag.
  2. Eat a good meal before the flight and stock up on snacks. I make sure to have a big breakfast before I leave the house and then when I get to the airport, I usually eat a small breakfast, such as tea and a bagel.  The night before, I go to the grocery store and buy granola bars.  I put two in my carry-on and two in my suitcase.  I also take a banana and nuts.  I try to avoid bringing sandwiches or takeaway foods that will get soggy or smelly.
  3. Start a good book before the flight so you’re fully engrossed before takeoff.  With nerves and distractions in the airport and boarding the flight, if you already care about the book you’re reading, the time between boarding and takeoff will fly by faster if you’re looking forward to getting into the book.  Note: I’ve read books start to finish from the time I arrived at the airport to the time the plane took off, so make sure to have a back up!

During the flight

  1.  Never look at how much time you have left in the flight.  No matter what!  Looking at that screen that shows the airplane moving across the earth is always disappointing.  “What?!  It has only been two hours?!”
  2. Pretend you’re already in the future time zone the moment you get on the plane and do activities and meals accordingly.  This is a tip I picked up from a magazine, but it really works.  If it’s two o’clock in the afternoon where you’re going, don’t start binge-watching movies.  If you wouldn’t normally have a cup of coffee at 3am, don’t start now.
  3. It’s OK to fall asleep.  The one exception to rule # 2 is napping.  When you feel tired and your eyes closing, try to take advantage of this by sleeping a bit.  It’s not going to offset the amount of jetleg you experience from traveling across eight time zones.  For example, if you’re flying from London to San Francisco and you sleep for two hours of the flight, the likelihood that you’ll be able to fall asleep at night SF time probably won’t change.

After the flight

Flying East to West is much easier.  When you do this, most often you land in the late afternoon and therefore are only faced with staying up for a few more hours.  Until then, have a good meal at the regular meal time and if you can, spend some time in the moonlight before bed.  Chances are you’ll get a second wind, so try to stay away from eating sugar and drinking caffeine or alcohol at this point.  My mom booked us a facial and a pedicure upon arrival: that sure didn’t hurt!!!

Flying West to East is the worst.  What are you supposed to do?!  The only thing I have found that works is to book a very late flight that leaves at 9pm or later and hope you get a row to yourself so you can sleep the whole way back.  If you’re coming from the West coast USA though, you’re screwed.  It will simply just take days to recover.

Despite the above, I am here in California, still suffering from jetlag five days after landing.  I woke up at 1am wide awake, 3am to eat, and now it’s 6 in the morning and I’m writing a blog post.  So really, the moral is that we’re not made for flying.   Train, anyone?

Does anyone out there have any other good tips?  Happy travels!

Packing in the Fall

I have taken many Fall trips in my life and the above packing list is what I have dwindled down after practicing over and over again.  Of course this always depends on what your plans are, but if you’re going on a standard weekend to week-long trip, this is really all you need to start with.  If you’re going on a long trip, you might want to throw in one more tee and one more sweater, but that’s it.

I like having two pairs of shoes on trips, especially if I’m going to be walking.  That way, if my feet get sore in my sneakers, I can wear my other shoes the next day.  These lace up flats from El-Naturalista are the most versatile shoes I own.  I can wear them to work with dresses or pants, and on the weekends with jeans.  I can wear them with tall socks or no-show socks.  They rock!  I highly recommend all of El Naturalista’s shoes and I own two pairs so far.

I recently added a trench or rain coat to the fall packing list because it’s really miserable to be out traveling without the appropriate rain gear.  I made that mistake in Dijon and I had to wait hours before my clothes dried.

Remember these tips:

  1.  Always check the weather
  2. Make sure everything goes with everything else
  3. don’t try to make up outfits or wear things that you wouldn’t wear in “real” life

Love,

Steph

“If I only had a train”

photo by Alan Mitchell

As many of you know, we hate flying.  The stress and hassles of packing, getting to the airport, delays, turbulence, terror, etc, can actually end up being the thing I remember most about a trip. At first I thought that this was my fault, but then someone told be this old Arabic saying: the soul travels at the speed of a camel.  When I heard that I thought, No wonder I hate flying.  I’ve been traveling without my soul!

Now, when we take the train somewhere, I usually do a huge jolting movement about a day after we have arrived and exclaim, “My soul just caught up with me!”  But in all seriousness, the jarring disorientation caused by plane travel simply doesn’t happen with train travel.  Twice in the past six months we have taken a train all the way to Denmark, the second time adding a ferry and bus to get to the small island of Bornholm.  For me there is time to relax, read, watch birds in fields, journal, talk to Andrew, eat real meals, stay hydrated, meet new people, and wonder.

Our best friend during our train travels has been The Man in Seat 61 who has shown us it is possible to get almost anywhere in Europe by train in 24 hours.

You can watch a really boring video of what it’s like to take the train all of the way to Copenhagen and back, with some exciting moments here and there of Andrew and I getting stuck on a rollercoaster and also taking the world’s tiniest train here.

Top reasons why trains are awesome: (click on gallery to scroll through)

A list of the top five (weird, interesting, creepy, and noteworthy) things that have happened to us on trains:

1.  Not understanding how to use the Danish train bathroom and the automated door opening mid-stream.

2.  Sitting next to a guy from Iran that seemed cool at first, but then started preaching white supremacy.

3.  The train driving onto a ferry!

4.  The train accidentally pulling onto the wrong tracks and stopping one track away from the platform announcing to passengers getting off in Calais that they could not in fact get off here, because, “We missed the platform.”

5.  The train driving off the ferry, breaking down in the middle of nowhere, and telling us that the train is terminated.

Waiting Time

I have always hated waited for things.  it’s not that I’m impatient, I just don’t understand why you have to hurry up and get to the airport, only to wait hours to board the plane.  Or why do you have to check out of your hotel so early when your flight doesn’t leave until 3 or 4 in the afternoon?  Well, after travelling a ton, I have found ways to make the most out of what I am going to call “Waiting Time.”

Getting to the Airport or train station early 

This is the worst.  My goal in life is to show up to the airport, wait in security, and arrive at the gate and be the last one to board the plane, never once needing to sit at the gate or stand in line to board.  I don’t need to walk up and down the airport buying magazines, gum, and snacks for no reason.  I don’t need to eat a meal at the airport.  I don’t need to get a massage at the airport.  I want to spend as little time as possible in the airport.  Am I alone? Everyone always says something like, “I’ll just feel a whole lot better if we get there early so we can relax,” but I have yet to discover how to relax in a busy airport with no place to sit and with a heavy rollie suitcase towing behind.  This is an unfortunate side effect of air travel, but I think I have some tips to minimize your time at the airport:

1.  Travel by Train whenever possible.  The benefits to the environment, your own health, and stress levels are too numerous to count.  You can get anywhere in Europe, even Moscow, within 24 hours by train.  And what’s more, you only need to show up minutes before it’s ready to leave.  The Man in Seat 61

2.  Don’t assume the worst.  For some reason, when people think about getting to the airport on time, they think, “What if there’s traffic at 5:30am on a Saturday?” or “What if the train gets stuck in the middle of the tracks?” or “What if the cab driver gets lost?”  Think about the frequency with which these things occur when you’re on your way to anywhere else.  If your answer is never or hardly ever, don’t leave an extra hour earlier than you normally would.  Google map it or City Mapper it.  If it says it’s going to take 1 hour to get there, allow yourself an hour.  City Mapper

3.  Catch up on your correspondence.  How often do you sit down and write a post card anymore?  Do this at the airport, because chances are, you aren’t going to take my first two pieces of advice and you’ll still end up waiting 2 hours to board, so you might as well be productive.

Downtime between Check-out and departure

Just like waiting at an airport, the other cause of unnessary waiting time is the time period between the time you must vacate your hotel and the time that your flight or your train leaves.  Why is it always that checkout seems to be at 11am, but your flight or train doesn’t leave until 3pm?  That leaves kind of an awkward amount of time to be hauling your baggage around with you.  Here is our £1 travel tip:

Use Lockers!  In almost every European city there is some type of art museum near the train station.  In these art museums are luggage lockers that cost £1 or 1 Euro to rent and leave your stuff indefinitely.  Go there first, drop off your stuff, either look around the museum or go have lunch.  Convenient lockers:

1) Rene Magritte Museum: This is only a few minutes walk from Brussels Midi, so if you have a long connection on the Eurostar or if for some reason you’ve decided to have a trip in Belgium, this is a very convenient option. 2 Euros for a large locker.

2)  Scottish National Gallery: This is a whopping 6 minute walk from not only Waverley Station, Edinburgh, but also from amazing restaurants and shops.  £2 for large lockers £1 for small.

3) Gare du Nord:  It is quite frustrating that a city with all of its museums is lacking in luggage lockers near Gare du Nord.  The good news is that you can shell out 7.50 Euros for one in the station and then go on your way.

4) British Library: Minutes from St. Pancras/ National Gallery: Free cloakroom access, 17 min by tube

Please note, policies on large luggage change all of the time, so please call ahead to confirm.  Some museums such as the British Museum and Musee D’Orsay have size limits on the luggage which is why I did not include them here.

The World’s Best Souvenirs

It is sort of disappointing that you can buy anything via the internet nowadays.  Our friends just told us this story about how they bought special biscuits in France, hauled them for 15 days around the world, only to find out upon returning to New York that they were available at the new shop near their home.

As difficult as it is, I think we’ve found some souvenirs that are fun, practical, useable, and special that you can’t just pick up at the corner store:

Used Books.  I think it’s great to buy used books as a souvenir for so many reasons; One of the best is that you’ll find something that you would never find at your local used book shop.  We found this guide to being Polish in Krakow, and thought it would be the perfect thing to read at the bar and on the plane ride home.   Also, if you read in the language of the country you’re visiting, seize the opportunity to grab some books in that language.

Magazines.  It’s the cheapest souvenir you can buy, but also really fun.  I never go through Gare du Nord without picking up at least two magazines in French so I can practice my French until the next time I return.  Magazines are actually not that border-crossing, even larger magazines like Vogue and Cosmo have different editions for different countries, so it can be really fun to get the different versions.  I buy Martha when I go to the US, because you can’t get her here.

Posters.  Posters are one of those things that you can buy online, but it is difficult and expensive to ship because of the odd packaging.  Also, you can’t buy particular posters online, such as ones advertising a particular art exhibit or event you attend while on vacation.  What better way to commemorate your trip then by hanging a framed poster on the wall?  If you’re wall space is all taken up, get postcards instead!

Beer and wine.  Yes you can also buy this locally and online, but we have found that London is very expensive for alcohol, so we will stock up when we go to Belgium or France.  I’m not joking, we will just go to the grocery store in the train station and stuff our suitcases because it’s half the price and the variety of local beers and wines is plentiful.  You also can’t beat going straight to the source by visiting some wineries or breweries and buying there.  (Note: this option is only cost effective when you’re travelling by train or car)

Local treats.  This is actually a bit more challenging to do. When we were in Edinburgh, we ended up at a local organic cafe type place with a shop attached to it.  Our friend bought a beautiful chocolate bar with dried raspberries on top.  I had never seen this brand before.  Upon examining the packaging, it was in fact made in Scotland.  No, it’s not worth lugging chocolates or biscuits around with you most of the time, but when you find something like this that’s not available at home (yet), get it!

Mustards, Chutneys, Teas.  Same as above, just be careful.  I know you can get Edmond Faillot Mustard here, but I haven’t seem them in the cute little bottles.  Plus it’s fun to go to the factory and taste all of the different kinds.  So basically, when your souvenir shopping is an experience, it can be fun to buy, even if it’s available at home.

Functional decor.  I love Danish stuff!  I loved every single little item in every home in all of Denmark!  I loved the home goods shops and could spend hours in there.  We ended up with the two items pictured, plus three other items and spent more than we ever have on “things” while travelling.  But it was worth every cent.  Danish design is a very big part of the experience of being in Denmark, so we thought we’d copy  join the Danes in creating a cosy living room with our purchases.

Tokens.  These Swedish napkins have Swedish drinking songs on them.  Although they look like they’re from Ikea, I have confirmed they are not.  As we were sitting at a long dinner table under the full moon, still light out at 9pm, and drinking Aquavit and singing these songs, I slipped a paper napkin into my pocket to take home with me to put in the scrap book.  For you it might be a ticket stub, a program, a box of matches, or coaster.  Sometimes these freebies are the most fun to look back on!

Packing lightly for ten days in the Spring

It’s really all you need!  You can may way more than 10 outfits with the above pieces or your variation on colors and style.  It’s always satisfying to unpack at the end of a trip and know that you wore every item of clothing that you brought.  If you’ve ever been backpacking, or read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, you’ll know that every little extra thing in your suitcase adds up and there’s no point in carrying around extra.  Pack lightly, because after all:  “He he would travel happily, must travel light.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Packing lightly for 3-10 days in Winter

Travelling in the winter is complicated for a lot of reasons, but mainly because you’re constantly switching from hot to cold environments.  I have found that the best thing one can do when packing for a trip, whether it’s three days or ten, is to follow this one simple rule: Don’t pack outfits, just make sure everything you bring goes together!  The items above are what I brought with us on our ten day adventure to Denmark.  Follow this packing list and you’ll be travelling lightly and dressing heavily!

3 pairs of trousers (wear one on the day you leave)
3 long sleeve light shirts (wear one the day you travel)
1 cardigan
1 sweater (wear the day you travel)
1 warm pair of PJ bottoms
1 warm cosy long sleeve shirt for bed
1 hat, gloves, and scarf (I like to not wear these the day I travel so that I don’t overheat!)
5 pair of wool socks (yes you can wear more than once!)
10 pair underwear
1 set longjohns
and the shoes on your feet!