Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Paradise on Hvar and Hell's Islands

We've been quite busy the past week or so. We went to the Island Hvar on Tuesday of last week and stayed two nights. The Island is just off the coast from Split and is a two hour ferry ride away. Vedran's Godfather has a summer place on the island, so we were able to stay with he and his family. Our first day we bummed around in Stari Grad (Old City) and swam on one of the less cramped beaches. Hvar is packed with tourists at this time of year.

I blatantly stole this aerial shot of Stari Grad from this Croatian Travel Blog that is no longer being maintained. I'm sure they won't mind. (I have become quite bad at keeping up with taking photos) So, as I said, we went swimming near the town on the first day and, for dinner, enjoyed pizza on the riva (the boardwalk around the walk...every town in Croatia has one...I'm not sure why Stari Grad's riva resembles a cock and balls, but it does) After dinner we hung out in the main square (located at the tip of the penis) and listened to live music. One of the cafes in the square was celebrating its 25th anniversary and were serving up grilled anchovies and bread.

The next day we I got up early and waited for Vedran to get his butt out of bed. Then we headed for Hvar (the town) in a Buba (pronounced BOOBa) What they call Bubas, we call VW Beetles. Vedran's godfather rents these out, so we were able to get one free of charge. Most of them are cabriolets, but the only one left was one of the regular ones.

Boy did this bring back memories. I remember my Dad's old VW Beetle. I can recall the horendous vibrating sound of the engine. When I was a kid I used to sit at home and listen to my Dad driving away in the Beetle and then I would go to my bedroom and play with the springy door stop behind my bedroom door. When I flicked it, it sounded just like the Beetle changing gears and accelerating. I know, I'm weird!

Anyhow, we drove in the old clunker down to Hvar and strolled around for a bit. We enjoyed a coffee on the riva (I told you...EVERY town) After coffee we climbed aboard a ferry and made our way out to sea. It was a private little jobby...nothing like BC ferries.

Our destination was the Pakleni Otoci (Hell's Islands). Sounds like a nasty place I know, but it's paradise. Pakleni Otoci are a series of islands off the south-western coast of Hvar. We were on one of the smaller ones. The picture below was pillaged from this website.

The waters are crystal, crystal clear. Some of the clearest I have seen in Croatia, and that is saying something. All of the water in Croatia sparkles. I mean, just look at it. Tell me you don't want to be in here right now? Oh, and it is oooooh so warm.

The other thing I particularly liked about the Islands were that they seemed to be clothing optional. I say seemed to be because there is no official nudist designation for the beach, but half the people were naked. Since coming to Croatia I have learned how to be naked most of the time when I am on the beach. When we were swimming near Stari Grad on the first day I had to wear my swimming trunks and it just felt so strange. I'm going to be a full blown nudist by the time I come back to Canada I'm sure of it. Here are a few pictures of the view we had from the Island (I hope this man doesn't mind his bum being in the picture...better his than mine I say)

Remember, you can click on any of these pictures to view the full size image. We spent nearly six hours on the beach here. It was nice because there were lots of trees to provide shade, but the beach was not sandy and finding a comfortable spot to lay was a bit of a challenge. 

On our last day on the island, we headed out to the beach again, but this time we stayed on Hvar. We found a nice semi-secluded spot along the north coast of Hvar near Vrboska. We were lucky enough to get our hands on another Buba, and this time it was a cabrio. 

That was it for our trip to Hvar. After swimming, we caught the ferry back to Split. Over the weekend, we ended up going to Zagreb and to Istra, just on an overnight trip. I didn't manage to get any photos, but we had a nice time. Istra is beautiful; I will make sure to pull out the camera next time we are there.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Goodbye TEFL Dreams

With summer here, I have been hitting the beach every day since I got home. I am happy to report that I am starting to brown up nicely. At this rate I will be a negro in no time. The time spent at the beach has proven to be an excellent opportunity to get ahead on my reading, so my time at home can be spent writing reviews and other bookish material for my new book blog.

Also, I thought I might offer an update on my TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course. For those of you who aren't aware, before I met Vedran and made plans to come to Croatia, I had signed up to take a TEFL course in Alexandria, Egypt. After I met Vedran, I pushed the date for it back by six months. When that time ran out they told me I was going to lose my deposit if I didn't take the course. I worked out a compromise with them in which they held my deposit over for another year, providing I agreed to take the course at their main teaching facility in Phuket, Thailand. (That's pronounced poo-ket, not fuck-it for anyone who's not up on these things) I received another email from the TEFL people the other day informing me that my course is scheduled to start next month. Boy time flys!! I somehow don't think I'm going to be hauling my butt over to Thailand next month. I simply have neither the means nor the motivation anymore to go through with the course, so it looks like I am going to have to suck it up and forfeit my deposit ($400 I think it was) Ahhh...the things we do for love!!

I had a really awful experience with a Leonard Cohen book yesterday, you can read all about it on the book blog. I have been publishing stuff all week, so have a boo at some of the archived posts too.

And lastly, just a quick note. My friend Andre has started a new movement called Defying Gravity to advocate the rights of person living with disabilities. If anyone you know lives with a physical disability, has difficulty getting out of the house and isn't satisfied with the assistance they are getting from the Canadian Government please pass on this link to them.Check it out yourselves for that matter.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hey, it's good to be back home again...

I need to feel at least a little shameful I suppose. It has been a full month since I last posted, but I have excuses though, good ones too, I promise.

I'm sure glad to be out of Yellowknife and back home in Croatia. Yellowknife was fine while I was working for Chris, but as soon as I finished my last day I had an overwhelming urge to get the heck out. I had some fun times while I was there; I went out mudding with Es and Dave in Es's pride and joy, Juliette (yes, she is one of these people who names her cars and yes...I KNOW...I'm enabling her by using the name myself) Mostly by the end of my stay, I was sitting around the flat reading and trying to pass the time until I left. Theoretically this was time that could have been well spent blogging, but, honestly, I was so down after spending nearly three weeks in the north that I didn't have anything positive to say. Last thing I need is people to stop following me because they think I'm just some sad-sack.

Finally, I left Yellowknife on June 27th and headed down to Edmonton to stay with Em and Greg for another two nights before hopping on the plane back to Croatia. I tell ya, I thought the flight TO Canada was bad because the in-flight entertainment system was down, but the flight back was far worse. They loaded us into the plane just in time for a huge thunderstorm to sweep in. We spent over two hours in the plane on the tarmac waiting for the storm to subside. When it did and we finally got in the air, the pilot then felt it was safe to tell us that the in-flight entertainment system was not working on this flight either. I got to London exhausted and then got put through the ringer by the female border guard. The only reason I was passing through immigration was because I needed to change airports, but my gosh, she just kept hammering me with questions. I'm used to the border guards being curious, but this one was really going overboard. I was starting to wonder if she was going to drag me into one of those little rooms in the back and strip search me. That might even have been refreshing after a nine hour flight.

I have been home since the beginning of the month, but we have only just managed to get back online these past few days. We have moved into a new flat for July and August, because Vedran's Grandparents rent the flat we were living at in Podstrana on a day-to-day basis to tourists through the summer. If everything goes according to plan, we should be able to move back in September. Also, I'm sure I told you already, but I will tell you again: we are planning a trip in September to Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. I'm really excited about this. I love being able to make new additions to my list of countries visited. The beaches in Montenegro and Albania are beautiful and September is the prime time to visit because it is still really hot, but it is outisde of the high season.

Some other big news I have to share, I have started another blog...please...stop laughing. I have been following a great many book blogs this past year and with all the reading I do myself, it only seemed to make sense to start my own. It too is called Pink Sheep Cafe and will focus on book reviews and all things literary. It is being hosted over at Wordpress, which I have discovered is a far superior blogging site. Check it out here.

It feels great to get an update on here and start posting again. I can promise you that posts will be far more frequent now that I am back home. Thanks for checking in.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

London Town Part II

I have a whole lot more to write about Yellowknife, but I didn't have much luck sleeping through the day today and I am incredibly tired. As you might imagine, I am not feeling terribly inspired at the moment. I still have quite a few photos of my London trip to post, so I thought I would take care of that today.

This is a view of the Thames looking west, taken from the London Eye. The bridge in the foreground is Lambeth Bridge where the Queen's Walk promenade starts on the South Bank.

I hadn't realized before just how close everything is in the centre of London. Buckingham Palace is just a five minute walk from the River Thames and Westminster Palace. Stretching before it is the twenty three hectare St. James Park.

On the lawn in Parliament Square, a group of squatters had set up a camp, Freedom Village. These two fellas insisted I take their photo. The one of the left was clearly homeless, but we weren't so sure about the other guy. He looked quite snazzy done up in his suit, but a little later on we saw him wandering in circles talking to himself.

Of course, being tourists we had to get a photo in a phone booth. I wonder if they all smell like urine?

I got some terrific shots of the animals in St. James Park. There is quite a wide range of birds and other animals. Around each of the lakes in the park, there is an perimeter of ten metres or so that is reserved solely for the wildlife.

St. James park was, by far, my favorite part of my visit to London. The beautiful gardens and the diverse array of wildlife made it a wonderful treat, even on grey day.

This was the view of Buckingham Palace from inside the park.

This is one of eighty-nine individual plaques that mark the way along the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. The eleven kilometre walking trail passes through St. James Park and Kensington Gardens.

Looking back towards the the Thames from the far side of the park.

Buckingham Palace was our last stop for the day. It was less exciting than I had imagined it to be.

It is no longer possible to get up close and personal with the palace guards. Apparently, two or three years ago, one of the famously unflappable soldiers kicked an annoying tourist in the shin. Undoubtedly she deserved it, but after the incident the guards were moved inside the palace gates.

That's it for London. Thank goodness, I was starting to wonder if I would ever get these photos posted. I'll try and get my photos from Edmonton up soon. Emily and I went to Fort Edmonton Park while I was in town and I got some terrific shots there.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Return to the North

Flying into Yellowknife on Tuesday afternoon was a memorable experience. I had previously only flown into the city during the fall and I recall it being remarkably unremarkable. Coming in during the summer is a much different experience. The lakes surrounding the capital region are countless and watching them sparkle in the brilliant sunlight, stretching to every horizon was almost breathtaking. If I didn't know better, I might have been fooled by this ruse.

Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories (NWT)  in general have a tenacious and unyielding seductive power. Anyone who were to visit in June or July would be awestruck by the all at once rugged, rocky and lush landscapes surrounding the seemingly limitless lakes of one of Canada's most unscathed regions. The area  around Yellowknife is considered to be mostly boreal forest, but it looks a heck of a lot like the sub-arctic tundra that lies not far north.

The North is notorious for its bait and switch tactics. People come here in the late spring or early summer and are wooed by the gorgeous weather and undeniable beauty. They are fooled only long enough to settle in and become established; as soon as September comes, the temperatures begin to drop and by early October the snow has begun to stay. Ahead is a brutal winter that lasts a solid seven months. I recall leaving Yellowknife during the final week of May last year and thinking to myself that it was the last time I would ever have to bare witness to snow cover so late in Spring. But even now, as I sit here writing, I feel guilt creeping up on me. I look out my window and see the alders and the cedars blowing in a gentle breeze against the back drop of Great Slave Lake in all it's majestic beauty. How can I be spouting such poisonous filth about such a remarkable land. One woman reads on her driveway, sprawled in a deck chair, dressed in nothing more than her bathing-suit. Her next-door-neighbor, shielding herself from the freshness of the breeze with a fleece sweater, nurtures a basket of freshly planted annuals. They are calling for a fifteen degree high today, but it seems there is still some debate, even among neighbors, as to whether or not summer is indeed upon them.

Getting off the plane yesterday I felt a sneaking sense of dread creeping into my mind. I was pleased to be returning to visit the many great friends I had left behind, but something in the back of my mind was telling me that returning to this city, which for so long I loathed, was inherently wrong. I am all too aware that permanently returning to the knife, would be a significant step backwards in life; but, until now, I was unable to fully articulate the untoward state of mind that sent me careening from Yellowknife last year. I am uncertain whether it was the time away to ponder the strife of life in this city or whether it was the return to this fruitless corner of Canada that provided the catalyst for the revelation, but today I am able to articulate those feelings.

The disproportionate level of substance abuse and homelessness, predominantly among the native community, not only left me disheartened and discouraged, but it left me feeling like a horribly intolerant, bigoted and dare I say racist person. I was starting to take on some of the qualities that I so abhorred in others. In all my arrogance I had never considered that I could ever be one of those people. The more time I spent in Yellowknife, the more I began to think that the cultural values of Native communities were fundamentally incompatible with those of my own culture. I left Yellowknife after two years with a numbness that penetrated far deeper than any winter night the North could ever have thrown at me. In living with that numbness over the past year I have only ever taken time to reflect on Yellowknife as the uninspiring place I saw it to be.

An older friend of mine, a long time Yellowknifer, once told me that there was nothing like getting frost bite on his genitals to give him a proper respect for the North. Perhaps now that I am facing up to these abject and embarrassing revelations, I too can begin to pay this land the respect it deserves in a more forthright and less painful way. Already I can honestly say that Yellowknife is not as uninspiring as I had thought it to be. Today it inspired me to tell you this story of my personal shame.

Monday, June 7, 2010

London Town

Sorry for not posting the past several days. Between jet lag and everyone in Edmonton being sick, with both colds and the flu, it's been a very hectic week. I've been craving the opportunity to get back in front of the computer and show off some of my photos from London Town.

I  arrived in London last Monday (May 31) It was a decent flight, but you know how it is, by the time you deplane, go through immigration and collect your bags, you have some how wasted an extra two hours. After a quick stop at the hotel to check-in and change, I hit the streets with Nicole, a friend of mine from high-school. Nicole has a UK passport now, so she is living and working in Brighton which she tells me she is enjoying very much.

It took us some time to figure out the trains and the tube, but we managed to find our way down to Westminster Station, which is right on the river Thames downtown. The first thing we saw when emerging from the tube station...

Big Ben...well, actually, Big Ben is only the name of the bell inside the clock tower. Properly the tower is referred to as the Tower of Westminster Palace. Westminster Palace is the proper name for the parliament buildings. We got a great view of the palace and the rest of London from atop the London Eye.

The London Eye is truly enormous. I had seen pictures in the past and just thought it was another over sized ferris wheel, but it is humongous, standing some 135 meters. When it was constructed eleven years ago, it was the tallest ferris wheel in the world. Today it is surpassed only by the Star of Nanchang and the Singapore Flyer. The London Eye has thirty-two capsules all of which are air condition and can hold up to twenty-five people. The wheel never stops moving; it turns at a slow enough pace to allow rapid unloading and loading.

Along with Nicole and I inside of our capsule, there was a group of German tourists. Among them was one incredibly cute Arab guy. He was going around to all of the girls in the capsule saying, with his hilarious German accent "Hello, I am German. I have no friends. Will you take a photo with me?" After he finished with the girls, he came over to me and hesitated for a moment before repeating the same thing. I obliged both him and his somewhat less handsome friend.


It was somewhat difficult to get clear shots from the capsules because of the glare from the glass, but here are a few of the better ones.

A nice view of the Waterloo Bridge and the North Shore. The National Theatre is the hideous cement building on the South Shore.

This is a view of Whitehall (government administration) and part of central London.

Here you can see Westminster Abbey on the left just behind the clock tower, as well as Her Majesty's Treasury on the right behind Westminster Station.

More to come...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Uggh...Jet Lag

Boy oh boy, I am sure glad to be in Edmonton. I had a great time in London on Monday, but I had the worst flight from Gatwick to Edmonton the next day. Boarding was delayed by an hour because the custodians were late showing up to clean the plane. Once we finally boarded, the pilot got our spirits up by letting us know that an increased tail wind was going to allow us to get in on time before informing us that the in-flight entertainment system was on the fritz. Eight and a half hours without movies, music or television; it was brutal. They didn’t even have the little diagram showing you the progress of the airplane along its trajectory. On top of that, the airline food was even more appalling than usual. But who cares right? I’m in Canada now and that’s all that matters. I took over 400 photos while in London, so I will start trying to get some of those posted today.

Since arriving in Edmonton, I have been trying to sort out an appropriate sleep schedule. I am going to Yellowknife on June 8th to help a friend with his business and am going to need to be working nights for that. I thought somehow it would be easy for me to arrive in Edmonton and start sleeping through the day, but it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Em and I were hoping to do some cooking and baking while I am here. I wanted to prepare some Burek and other Croatian dishes for her and Greg and she was hoping to bake some rhubarb pies. As it is though, the flu seems to be going around here so I am hoping that doesn’t put a damper on our plans. Today we are going to go out and hit up West Edmonton Mall and some other small shops around the city. I’m looking forward to a little shopping therapy.

More soon...I promise...