Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Halloween


Ended an amazing Halloween weekend by answering the age old question...

Yes! Zombies do enjoy Jumbo Slice.

The only thing that has always bothered me about jumbo slice is the fact that you wake up still feeling full from it. Kinda creepy and probably exceedingly unhealthy...

Finally! Finished Stairs


Started last December, and finally completely finished. A small victory in the battle with my house...

special thanks go to my father who helped with the base construction and to Charlie who's miter saw made the finishing touches a cakewalk :-)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Croatia and Montenegro Trip, part 2: Montenegro

Left Dubrovnik by bus and after a ride down the coast crossed over into Montenegro. Got my passport stamped and then my first sight of an authentic Montenegrin was a the woman herding cattle down the middle of the street, stopping traffic. The main road to Podgorica wound all along the coast and passes through many of the coastal towns before switch-backing its way up the mountains and inland to the capitol. I arrived well after dark and almost got off the bus at the wrong stop, but luckily made it safely to the main bus depot where Tim met me.

Tim and Lexi had an amazing apartment in the heart of the town, but we spent very little time there as we were too busy seeing the sights of the country. We went out in town and got a late dinner of the great Montenegrin delicacy of cheese wrapped in meant, smothered in cheese, rich and delicious, not very good for you but who cares on vacation.

Each day of the trip always began the same. A stop at the one and only indoor shopping mall to hit up Costa Coffee for Tim's coffee fix and my burgeoning mini-muffin obsession. Sometimes the chain stores are worthwhile after all.

The first full day in Montenegro we went to city of Cetinje. This was the original capitol of the country when it had a brief period as an independent kingdom. We walked around a bit and saw the old king's palace. It was a nice compact city and a good way to start the day.

We then drove into the nearby national park and drove to the top of Lovćen mountain. The views are spectacular and the top of the mountain has the crypt of Njegoš a famous Montenegrin poet and ruler. Even driving most of the way to the top there was still a significant staircase to be surmounted before reaching the pinnacle of the mountain. The picture to the left shows the view from the bottom of the stairs, and the path leading off the top of the parking area is actually the original Austrian road that was used to travel to the top of the mountain, and even to transport heavy equipment to the summit during times of war. The picture below shows the view from the top of the neighboring peak that is still used as an active military base.

Following this, we then drove over the ridge to the coast and visited the city of Kotor. Kotor, like many of the coastal towns still has the original walled city center intact. Had a good lunch there and then hiked up the old fortifications on the hillside behind the city. Was a great workout and well worth it for the views. Many, many steps, all protected as a world heritage site (like Dubrovnik). The ruins at the top are amazing, and well worth the climb. Overall it was an amazing day. We had perfect weather and traveled roads where we were eye level with the clouds and wound through dozens of switchbacks. The roads are a bit harrowing there and require some driving skill, but well worth it for the sights you see in the many pull offs along the way.


I couldn't resist taking a video of one of the switchbacks, thank goodness the Mini Cooper has excellent handling.

video

The next day we went to Kanjon Mrtvice (Canyon Death) for a day hike. This place was spectacular. We hiked into the canyon from a non-descript pull of of a country road. We hiked a distance in and had lunch by the stream side. Even in the height of Summer the water is ice cold as it comes directly from springs inside the mountains. Cold but delicious. We had a basic lunch and continued our hike further on. The trail runs on a ledge along the mountain side, and when that ledge runs out ambitious Serb engineers carved out a trail in the side of the cliff face. the mineral rich waters of the stream were the mos amazing blue-green color. The pictures barely capture how beautiful it was. (It is times like these that I wish I had Paul's camera and his expertise to work the digital SLR). The below picture is the view from the trail of one of the old Austrian roads that criss-cross the countryside and are still useful and beautiful.After the canyon we went back downtown and had an amazing Italian dinner, and went out on the town. The Europeans love to promenade (the best word I can think of for it), where they just walk in loops through the downtown through the evening on the weekends before settling on a place to spend the night. Seems similar to cruising Main St., but without the car. Provides for amazing people watching from the patios of the downtown cafes. The people of Montenegro love their glitter and sequins, I must say. We even had a few drinks at a cafe called Cheers, where it looks like they found the logo on the Internet and just photo-shopped it for their own purposes.

Sunday was a welcome break from the constant hiking and climbing of the past several days. Instead it was my upper body that got the workout kayaking all day on Lake Skadar. The lake is on the border between Montenegro and Albania. From where we were you could just make out the distant mountains of Albania on the horizon. My camera didn't do so well with stitching the pictures on the water, but still the views were very impressive.The lake is one of the largest, healthy wetland environments in all of Europe and crucial for many migrating species on the way between Africa and Europe. I'm not much of a bird watcher so I just enjoyed the natural environment. The tour guide was awesome. He was a Scot who had lived and worked in southern California before picking up and heading to Montenegro. Since I was the only solo kayaker he hung out with me at the back made the trip amusing by telling me many the most hilarious stories (many of which might not have gone over well with some of the couples on the trip...). Once we were beyond the outskirts of the village where we put in, the natural environment ruled, with only a few isolated houses on that portion of the lake. Hopefully it will stay much the same as the whole region is protected wilderness. Finally, we had a small meal while watching the sunset in the farming village where the trip began and ended. It was a great weekend overall.

Sadly my last day in Montenegro arrived on Monday. We drove down to the cost and stopped in several more cities. We did a driving tour of Bar, where we saw a 2000+ year old olive tree. This is a little more of an industrial city, being the main port for the country, and not quite as touristy as most of the other places we went. Much of the city was rebuilt since World War II, and the old town portion is mostly a ruin as a result of earthquakes and neglect (we didn't have the time to visit the ruins unfortunately so it will have to wait for my next visit...).

Following Bar we drove up the coast to Budva. This is the touristy heart of the coast, and I would have loved to have spent a night here to sample the night life and the promenading locals. To appeal to the tourists the town has reconstructed the old town and its walls to a reasonable imitation of authenticity. We wandered the town, had some lunch, and did a little souvenir shopping in some of the tourists traps. Apparently Budva is usually packed with tourists, but luckily I was there in the off-season but just before the rainy season so still had some great weather. I especially loved the Costa Coffee here, it had an amazing, vine-covered courtyard.

The next morning I took off from the Montenegro airport. It is surprisingly nice, even if they do treat checking and boarding times as the same thing on your ticket (luckily I got there nice and early). This airport was my first stop outside America where I had an actual Jetway to the plane.

My biggest complaint from the whole trip was the airport induced starvation. European airports are all devoted to the duty free shops. Often the best you can do is a cold sandwich to eat. Maybe it is just their international terminals but the American airports have much better food.

Overall my trip was amazing and I hope you check out my pictures on flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/studentlohn/sets/72157622449491305/), where my "Best of Croatia and Montenegro" set is chronologically ordered so you can tell where many of the pictures are from base on this blog until I possibly put more captions on the pictures I have. I took many pictures so it is a slow process. The full size pics do a bit more justice to the beauty, sorry there are so many to flip through.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Croatia and Montenegro Trip, part 2: Montenegro

The remaining 5 days of my vacation coming soon...

Croatia and Montenegro Trip, part 1: Dubrovnik

Last month is made a trip to Eastern Europe to visit Tim before he and Lexi moved back to the States.

Getting There

Left my house, took Metro to L'Enfant, bussed to Dulles (always get this bus at L'Enfant and not Rosslyn, gets very crowded at Rosslyn), flew to Paris, transferred and flew to Zagreb (chill and damp outside transfer that involved a 20 minute bus ride from the terminal), Croatia, passport control and transfer to local jet to Dubrovnik, Croatia, bus from airport into town, cab to Hotel Kompas. Total travel time 24+ hours.

After a quick shower I was out to see the town. My hotel was pretty much built into a cliff. The Lobby was off the street entrance, on the 9th floor, my room was on the 5th floor (view from my window in the picture on the right), and the seafront promenade was on the 1st floor. The Hotel Kompas was as the end of a long pedestrian road lined with restaurants leading from the bus stop to the beach. Great stretch for people watching. Every table along the road has a swinging bench on the side of the table facing the street. In the evening these are full of couples sipping drinks and just observing the people walking. No real "beach" though, just pebble beaches in this area.


I walked down this stretch and hit up the ATM for a second time, the first ATM hit was completely spent on the bus and cab ride, half hour bus was 25 kuna and ten min cab was 75 kuna, I really should have looked up conversion rate before this (later found it was about 7 kuna to the dollar). Hopped on the bus and took my first trip into the walled city of old Dubrovnik.

The Old Town is very touristy, as I would discover later, but not too bad this first evening. Apparently in the off season they only get two cruise ships a day, but still enough to fill the town with plenty of day trippers. Tried to get a bite to eat, but refused to eat Mexican food or pizza after traveling halfway around the world. Of course I later found that pizza and pasta are as local as you get in Dubrovnik. The town is amazing, the streets are narrow and lined with restaurant tables. Many old buildings that had been repaired to authentic conditions, following centuries of war and earthquakes. Just spent the day exploring the streets and climbing the narrow stairways. Finally ended up at "cold drinks", the best place in the city to get a drink and watch the sunset. It is a small bar perched on a cliff outside the city wall. The only way to find it is to locate the small wooden signs with "cold drinks" painted on an arrow. The view is amazing, but eat something before. I hadn't eaten since that small breakfast on my Air France flight and the effect of three beers was substantial.

I spent several wonderful hours watching the sunset and sipping beers. I even met a nice couple from England who I shared my table with. After departing the bar I went in search of food, ran into the English couple again, and accepted their invitation to dinner as they were helping me find the correct bus back toward my hotel and realized they were going to dinner just down the street from it. They were older, 50s, and were meeting up with another couple as well, in their 60s, but it was a great dinner. The older couple was a Finnish husband and English wife. The grilled me on Obama-care since the health care debate is on the news there all the time but they didn't really understand how the American health care system worked. After dinner, much helped to sober up by the food, it was off to some much needed sleep.

The next day I slept till at least noon.

Spent this day walking the old town walls. The views were amazing, even if my fear of heights did arise from time to time.


After the wall hike I took a boat road over to the forest preserve island of Lokrum (the island at the top left of the above picture). The island is a park with an abandoned monastery, botanical gardens, and abandoned forts. All in the typical Mediterranean climate beauty. Grabbed lunch here as well as a large beer to set the proper mood for a long hike. I really enjoyed walking around the entire island. The views from the top of the old fort at the highest point of the island were breathtaking. There was also an abandoned dock and an old quarantine hospital.

Between the hiking and the morning on the city walls I had a nice workout. I returned to the old city and spent the evening chilling at Oliva pizza making notes on the trip, eating and drinking a few beers while people watching. The old town gets beautiful after sunset with the lights reflecting off the foot polished flagstones and the chirping of the bats flying all over the town and keeping the mosquitoes from existing in any numbers. Luckily I didn't notice my Mediterranean poison ivy equivalent rash that had broken out on my ankles from the day hike until the following day so had a fun evening. It was just amazing how many people live in the walled town and go about their day without the use of cars or even bikes to get around. A lifestyle to be envious of for sure.

I spent several of the evening hours walking around town when i noticed an Irish pub. I was excited to find this place where i could just chill in town for the evening. The people of the Balkans love their cafes for hanging out, but the whole concept of a bar/pub is completely lacking. So the Irish pub run by an Irishman was a nice find. I hung there for most of the evening and maid friends with a nice Irish couple my age. We had a lot of fun, even if they did drink me under the table. Those .5L beers really sneak up on you.

The next morning was my final day in Dubrovnik. Rather than waste time on the bus ride into the old town I spent my morning walking along a seaside trail near my hotel. Wonderful vistas and a relaxing way to spend my last morning. I then took a taxi to the bus station. The taxis here are really nice. Usually luxury cars that hide the time and distance meter behind the stereo faceplate when not in use. Why can't DC cabs get down with such things! The bus station has a complete lack of seating, 20 seats for 10 bus bays isn't enough, luckily my large suitcase makes significant seating for one.

Below is the view of the bus station being dwarfed by one of the many cruise ships that dock there on a regular basis. This was picture 244 of my trip so far, only a small selection of which are provided here. I have all 550 or so of them, the good and bad on flickr, but have made a "best of" set that takes a couple hundred off that, still a good bit of time to get through them all at http://www.flickr.com/photos/studentlohn/sets/72157622449491305/. And as always find all my pics at www.flickr.com/photos/studentlohn. Part two coming soon.

Back at it

finally going to post some new things since i've been up to something other than work lately. Of course noone reads this anymore so mainly blogging to myself...

Also i need something to keep me entertained when i can't sleep since i'm on steroids and antibiotics for my probably swine flu induced sinus/lung infection. I'm suffering all the fun side effects like sleeplessness, vertigo, headache, and indigestion. The swine flu isn't all that bad, but beware secondary infections (they say that is what kills people, not the flu necessarily).

Later all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Test

Testing and setup of mobile blogger
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry