Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Croatia - The Ocean is Ganz Blue!


Ciaran was a welcome site, for a change, after traveling for 15 hours. We had taken the night bus across Turkey from Ephesus to Istanbul, taken a small commuter bus to Istanbul airport (which we had no idea if we were on the right one until it pulled into Ataturk Airport), a flight from Istanbul to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and after a two hour delay yet another flight from Zagreb to Split, Croatia. We saw Ciaran from the tarmac through the window of the tiny Split airport and couldn't be happier to be grounded and see a friendly face. Being picked up at the airport was something neither of us had had the pleasure of in quite a while, and seeing friends/family as soon as we stepped off the plane and were on the tarmac was something neither of had seen since 9/11 changed the way airport pickups happen.
From the moment we landed we were in love with Croatia. It helped that we drove directly to the small town of Mimice where Danka's aunt's beautiful vacation home overlooking the Adriatic Sea waited for us. We were given the gift of spending a wonderful 4 days with Ciaran, Danka, their 2 adorable kids who we had spent time with in Munich a few weeks before and Danka's incredibly welcoming parents, Walter and Anka. I hadn't seen Walter and Anka since Ciaran and Danka's wedding at least 6 years ago, but the first thing Walter noticed was that my hair was different... little things like this go a long way in making you feel welcomed and endeared as a close friend, and now that I'm a godfather to Liona, family. What was even more special was that they treated Hannah like family also.

The pace in Mimice was slow, the beautiful rocky beach was a two minute walk from the door, and each meal on the outside terrace overlooking the sea was an event. Walter, Anka, and Danka took great pride in each meal, sometimes preparing all day. Ciaran was great at opening beers. The food in Croatia was pure, the fish and meat always fresh and local, and day old bread was avoided whenever possible. Breakfast was simple and always fresh with bread, cheese, salami, local Croatian prosciutto, fresh fruit, yogurt, and fresh brewed Turkish coffee. Dinners were a long, relaxed affair, sharing a nice meal homemade meal on the terrace followed by wine and conversation until we decided it was time to call it quits or the winds got too strong and made the decision for us. Walter and Anka's love of Croatia and its pristine beauty really shone with the meals they prepared and how excited they were to share it with us.
Walter with the Flaschar masterpiece...and this was just lunch!

We spent each day taking trips to the water, dressing Liona and Finian up in their beach clothes and when Hannah was lucky Liona went naked.
Quick, Hannah, steal that baby!
Finian continuously enthralled us with his mastery of the Germish language. He loved sitting with Hannah and I for long stretches and speaking to us in a moderately undecipherable combination of German and English. His use of the German word "Ganz", which I think means "totally", before every adjective made his stories more exciting and engaging...such as "Ganz cool shirt" or "I'm wearing Ganz Blue".
Ganz Blue!

One evening we did the only thing we could to show our appreciation by taking the family out to a delicious meal at one of Mimice's only restaurants. We all feasted on fresh fish and other Croatian specialities...who wouldn't love hand cut french fries, fresh salads, Croatian meatball kebabs, and local wines.
Where's Waldo?

After dinner Ciaran, Danka, Hannah, and I went out for a beer which ended for the girls around 2am, but the "last beer" that Ciaran and I were finishing turned into another Ciaran and Jon special event. We managed to get into heated conversations with the owner of the bar at 2:30am over NBA Basketball and Irish and English soccer, 2 things Ciaran and I should know much more than a couple of Croatians about, but it turns out we just embarrassed ourselves by spouting off incorrect stats and proving our sports ignorance. This worked to our advantage though because the owner seemed to enjoy proving his superior sports knowledge and kept us there by feeding us beer until 5am. The next afternoon Ciaran and I had to take a stroll into town to talk to Mario to ensure that we had actually paid the bill....we had.

Hvar Island

After a few awesome days with the Murphys and Flaschars Hannah and I ventured off to Hvar Island, an hour ferry from Split. Hvar Island is surrounded by several islands seperated by beautiful bays and waterways and Hvar City is a beautiful old city on the main island. Our guesthouse was perfect, simple, and easy, right in the center of the Hvar old city. The marble streets wind around with endless cafes, restaurants, and shops and steep staircases leading to the top of the island where the castle sits. The crowd at Hvar is a mixture of young partiers, which we tried to indentify with....but realized around 12am that we were a bit aged out, and the older clientele, which we of course did not identify with at all, but assumed they wanted to identify with us.
We spent the next couple of days enjoying the semi-private rocky beaches all over the island, going for runs (read 1 run) in the morning, and having nice dinners of fresh seafood in the romantic old city.
Unfortunately for our fitness level but fortunate for our eating and drinking schedule the running path ended after 2 miles.
Then we had a smoothie to get back to our comfort level - calorie positive.

The highlights of our time in Hvar included spending Hannah's 33rd birthday (read 27) laying on the rocky beaches and taking long breaks to swim across the bay. Add to that an unexpected visit from Ciaran and Danka who were granted a night away by Danka's parents, Walter and Anka, who took on parental duties for a night. We had a great dinner out together in Hvar City...the dinner was good but the company couldn't have been better. I even attempted to smoke a cigar, which Hannah enjoyed thoroughly....it was a terrible idea.
Goldberg's and Murphy's, together again.

The following morning we rented a speedboat and cruised all day around the random islands in the Hvar Island vicinity. When I say speedboat, I actually mean a 5 horse power garage door opener powered dingy but for the 4 of us we felt like we had a yacht all to ourselves.
I really wish we had something cool to say about this photo, but I think the picture says enough.

Perfect 10!

Parking the boat was a challenge and at least one restuarant owner on an island voiced extreme concern at our docking abilities. We managed to make the docking happen, but I had to swim, anchor in hand, to drop it.....I'm not sure that was the most efficient method of dropping an anchor.
We swam, relaxed, and lounged in oversized beanbags on the beach at a tiny, lesser known island recommended to us by Walter. This recommendation has turned out to be a highlight of our trip so far. The island really was just a single restaurant serving local fresh fish, so local that we watched the waiters clean and gut the fish right beside the dock where we parked our dingy.

That night we decided to go for it and get a real fish dinner in Hvar City, and we accomplished the mission, having the most spectacular experience and meal we had the entire time in Hvar. We picked our dinner from a tray of options and I filleted, and served up a great catch.

After a week in complete and utter paradise, it was time to continue our paradisacal world tour with a little place that many consider the epicenter of paradise and vacation....Moscow!

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