Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Best Halloween costume goes to... the "German Shepard" :)
P.S. They offer dirndls too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Deep tissue massage for a sports injury - just say "no"

When I run, my knee sometimes hurts. This is caused by me running on the insole of my foot (for fear that if I run normal, I might sprain an ankle - seriously, this is my most re-occuring nightmare).

Friends of my family, the K's, inspired me to go to a chiropractor for (painless) help with my knee... However it seems the only way to fix a knee is to do lots of inner leg exercises and then have a chiropractor do a deep tissue/sports massage on the muscle. Btw - deep tissue/sports massage means ripping the quad muscles apart so that they can re-align. Imagine the joy of getting your muscles ripped apart every week for 15 min. Pain galore! Apparantely, the best fix is to dig the elbow into the part of the leg that is the most tense and ask the patient to flex their muscle. If that doesn't rip apart the muscle, then rolling your arm over the leg with max. pressure also rips apart the muscle (this sounds fun, huh?).

My chiropractor does a great job otherwise. However, my leg is sooo sore and I have 3 more weeks of it. Does this get better?

I highly recommend saying "no" to deep tissue massages.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dracula's castle: in needs of a new business plan

There is lots of hype around Dracula's castle (i.e. Bran castle), however it turned out to be a huge disappointment. It also is much in need of a new business plan or marketing campaign.

Background: The castle was built in medieval time (1377) as a fortress to defend the Transylvanian valley from the Ottoman Empire. It was built in the traditional Transylvanian style, which is much simplier than the well-known medieval architecture of W. Europe. In later years, the parts of the royal family spent summers there. Vlad Tepes (i.e. Vlad the Impaler or Dracula) never actually lived in the castle.

Nowadays: The castle is an imposing site from the outside. It's situated on a piece of rock on top of a hill. Inside it is quite a disappointment. The rooms are almost bare, with the exception of a 600 year old bed and matching cupboards. There are only a few placards telling of the castle's history. The legend of Dracula (the most famous aspect of the castle) is only mentioned in 1 room.

O& I decided the castle needed a better business or marketing plan. Here are our ideas:

1. (3rd place option) Change the marketing to manage (lower) expectations of tourists. State that the castle has little tie-in to Dracula. Dracula's castle website is very misleading.
2. (2nd place option) Change the marketing to manage expectations. Add tour guides to the castle to explain the history of the Transylvania and the castle. Include more furniture and "period pieces" in all the rooms, which should represent how life in the castle was lived.

3. (1st place option) Increase the Dracula image at the castle. Include tidbits from the book and life of Vlad the Impaler in all rooms. Include aspects about the life of peasants at this time. Bring in furniture to showcase what the castle would have looked like if the Dracula story was true. At the same time, redesign the town to make it more "dracula themed" and tourist friendly (currently, the only "Dracula-friendly" part of the town was a bar offering a haunted house). There are wonderful hiking trails around the castle - these should also be displayed. Lastly, the castle should have Halloween activities happening everyday in October. Neuschwanstein and Sleepy Hollow are examples of towns/castles who have done a wonderful job re-creating themselves to become a top tourist destination.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Destination: Bucharest & Transylvania, Romania

In May of last year, I visited a friend in the southern part of Romania. The trip was amazing - I met many great friends and returned with fabulous shoes. However, I didn't accomplish my 2 major goals in going to Romania: 1) to visit Dracula's castle and 2) to see where gymanstics was born (Bela's gym).

This last weekend, I returned to the northen part of Romania with goal #1 in sight. My friends O & M were excellent tour guides. We saw sites within Bucharest & I learned many random facts. We saw the 1st snow of the season at the King's summer palace (Castle Peles)! I bought amazing boots. Hanging out with O & M was wonderful. And we visited Dracula's castle. All in all, the weekend was great.

12 random facts about northern Romania:

1. The Parliament Building (pic above) is the 2nd largest building in the world after the Pentagon. It is built with only Romanian material.

2. In 1999, Donald Trump offered to purchase the Parliament building for $2B. He wanted to turn it into the world's largest casino. At the time it was valued at $4B, so the Romanian government turned him down even though the building is over 50% empty and costing taxpayers millions to maintain (it's only 95% finished).

3. Micheal Jackson was the only person to speak to a crowd while standing on the balcony in front of the Parliament house. He said "Good morning Budapest" instead of "Good morning Bucharest." Ironically, Madonna did the same at her concert 3 weeks ago.
4. Lifting the windshield wipers on cars and twisting them in an odd manner is the Bucharest way of saying "you did something wrong in parking." (see pic to the right)

5. Walking in Bucharest is like being in an obstacle course. Cars park in every spot possible, especially blocking the sidewalks. Stray dogs are everywhere. And there are huge puddles when it rains. Avoiding all 3 and keeping dry shoes in the rain is an adventure.

6. "Probably the best ever" - the slogan for Carlsberg beer - is branded on everything (see pic to the right). Who else hadn't heard of this slogan?
7. Romanian shoes are amazing, especially the high heels! Romanian women are impressive. They walk miles in their high heels.

8. The 1st King of Romania was German. The Romanians recruited him to be their king. He built his summer palace of all German material. His grandson is the now the King, but was exhiled when he was 16, during the Revolution. He grew up in France, and has now demanded his castles be returned to him.

9. Architecture in the Bucharest and mountain areas is very cute and distinct. There are lots of steeples on the houses and distintive wood-work (see pic to the left of Castle Peles).

10. When driving in the Transylvanian mountains, it is entirely possible to encounter: sheep, cows, horses, and dogs all crossing the road. They have the right-of-way and don't like moving.
11. Dracula's castle is over-rated and needs to be re-branded (more on that in another blog). Also, locals don't hang garlic outside their houses to keep vampires away.

12. Romania is composed of 3 parts: Transylvania (northwest), Maldiva (northeast), and the south. This is the 2nd time in history that the 3 parts have been combined into 1 country.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Saw my 1st snow of the season in Romania!

Pic = Castle Peles (King's summer home) in Transylvania, Romania. Temp = 1 degree Celsius.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Halloween has arrived!

Halloween is my favorite holiday! The history behind Halloween fascinates me. I also love the leaves changing colors, the crisp air & sunny days, and wearing fall clothes (wearing cute warm-weather clothes outside with freezing is possible).

Halloween is just now gaining popularity in Germany (most Germans celebrate Karnival instead). However, I'm guaranteed some trick 'r treaters as I live in a town which houses a US military base. Also, there is a huge Halloween party at Frankenstein's castle (1-hour from my apt). Tickets sell-out months in advance. I plan to go. Now I just need to find a costume...

Pic above shows the pumpkin display at the neighborhood supermarket.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A "one size fits all" approach to medicine

When I first moved to Germany, I dreaded going to a doctor because all the doctor's that I'd encountered had a "one size fits all" approach to medicine.

In 2007 during my 2nd month in here, I got sick. Doctor 1 diagnosed me with bronchitis, but could only give me 3 days worth (6 x 250mg) of amoxicillin. As a person who was born in the 1980's in the US when doctor's prescribed antibiotics for everything and caused immunity to them, this does nothing for me. However Doctor 1, by law, was not able to give me more meds. So I got better for a couple days, then got worse. Onto Doctor 2 - a specialist (the 1st doctor, a generalist, was not allowed to prescribe me more meds). Doctor 2 gave me the same meds. So again I got better then worse. I went back to Doctor 1, pleaded with him, and walked away with 5 days of meds... enough to get me back to the US where I could be treated. All in all, I was sick with bronchitis for 1 month and I'm sure that "treatment plan" upped my immunity to amoxicillin.

I definitely don't promote handing out medicine for every problem. But I also don't promote this "one size fits all" philosophy when applied to medicine. It is dangerous and can cause more harm than good from which comes my dread of going to the doctor here. The most frustrating thing is knowing a state-of-the-art US military hospital is less than 0.5 km from my apt. However, I'm not allowed to go there since I don't have access to the base.

Now I have a new doctor team (husband & wife). They take into consideration the advice of my US doctor, who knows my medical history, when treating me. I really appreciate this. Especially last week when I got sick. The new doctor understood how to treat me. All doctor's should follow suit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Walking in stilettos @ work

Hundreds of IT tickets are logged each day at my company asking for IT assistance. However recently, a colleague logged a "special" IT ticket requesting that IT fix the stairs in the car park because they are too difficult to walk up/down in stilettos.

These stairs should be absolutely no problem to walk up/down with the stilettos (I'm allowed to say this as I wear stilettos everyday to work). The metal grates occupy only the stairwell area of the garage. A practiced stiletto wearer would only walk on their toes when going up/down stairs so the stiletto part should not hit the floor, much less get caught in the grate. Plus, the holes are really small.

Below is the (rough) translation of her email exchange with IT.

IT Ticket Subject: Steel banister in parking building is dangerous
Description: This morning I almost had an accident again in our parking building in front of the MPS building due to the dangerous steel banister. For all people who wear high heels it is not possible to pass the banister due to the grates. Could you please cover these grates?

Reply from IT:
The metal grate flooring on the garage stairs are there to prevent ice from forming on the stairs in the winter. I suggest that you wear a 2nd pair of flat shoes to work and use these to walk up/down the garage stairs. If you still would like to request that the metal grate flooring be changed, please contact the building maintenance team.

Reply from lady:
In my opinion, the metal grates are not necessary for safety. Why can’t you install other flooring, as seen on ramps AB&C? The option of wearing a 2nd pair of flat shoes to work is unacceptable. In addition, all the parking places on the lower floor are taken by 7:45. So women are compelled to park on the upper floors. Perhaps you could create a certain number of parking places designated solely for women on the lower floor?

Reply from IT:
Ramps AB&C are closed in the winter as they become icy and are unsafe. Your idea of parking places for women was rejected by security.

Reply from lady:
I find this solution unacceptable and plan to notify the worker’s union. Hopefully they will take care of this situation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A line for the men's toilet... but not for the women's

Oktoberfest was the first time that I ever saw a line for the men's toilet, but not for the women's. This was very impressive!

Do you think this phenomenon happened because there are more women's toilets (nice work to the organizers!) or because men's lederhosen takes a while to undo or something else?

Check out my Dirndl!

After attending 3 Oktoberfests where I wished that I was wearing a dirndl, I finally got one! (see pic above). I received excellent advice in selecting one... I especially love the blue & pink colors.

Dirndls are very complicated, and take ~10 min to put on. There are 3 main parts:
1. the little shirt (which is a midrift stopping right below your chest)
2. the dirndl main part (which is zipped up, then has a lace-up part on the outside)
3. the apron

Really nice dirndls can cost between 700-1,000EUR*. Cheaper ones can be found at C&A or at Halloween stores in the US (although these aren't the real ones). There are strict "Bavarian drindl wearing" laws, which stipulate that dirndls can only be worn during Oktoberfest or on a religious holiday. No Halloween wearing is allowed. :( Although, I'm all for dress-up with them around the apartment!

*Lederhosen are even more expensive since they're made of soft leather and have gorgeous designs sewn into them. Apparantely ledershosen are even more complicated to put on. And "washing" them is done by brushing them with a brush (no water). The guys look very cute wearing them!

Oktoberfest with no injuries!

Apparantely many family & friends thought that I would get hurt at Oktoberfest. Or so I guessed this based on emails:
"...dont get glass smashed into your body this time!"
"...please let me know how Oktoberfest is, and of the disasters if any."
"...remember to bring a first aid kit for any injuries."
"...try to avoid the drunk Italians with steins!"

I really do appreciate all the concern expressed for my well-being during Oktoberfest. However, I don't understand why everyone seems to have the idea that I would get injured... Any ideas? :)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What happens if you 409 all the spiders?

The mosquito's invade.

My on-going battle with the spiders in my apt must have been succssful (largely due to the help of 409 spray). I haven't seen a spider in 1 week. Instead, huge mosquito's now live outside my apt and keep trying to get in. To ensure that none get into my apt, I have to play elaborate games with them to shoo them away before I open my door. I also can't open any windows.

Unfortunately, I don't seem to have the option to get rid of both. So now I need to decide what is worse - spiders or mosquitos?

Pic1: 3 mosquitos next to my window
Pic2: the hug insects... They're like 2 inch in diameter.

5K Race for the Cure

On Sunday, I ran the Susan G. Komen 5K Race for the Cure in Frankfurt. This is the 4th year in a row that I've run the race. It is one of my favorite because 1) it benefits a great cause - breast cancer research and 2) the attitude of the runners is great - everyone is there to run for a survivor (or victim) or to help raise awareness of breast cancer prevention. The entire crowd feels like we're united as 1 team.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among females (prostate cancer is the leading cancer of cancer deaths among men). It is estimated, the over 500,000 women die from it every year. I feel very lucky. None of my close friends or family members have been affected by the disease. But I have seen it in colleagues and friends of friends. It's not pretty. It can be prevented through preventitive screening, but not many are aware of this. So hopefully a cure will be found soon. Thus, I continue to support the cause.
FYI - the 5K Race for the Cure is happening in many cities globally right now. It'd be great to hear of others joining!

My time for the 5K was "officially" 34 min. Unofficially it was more like 32 (due to the fact that I was in the back of the start group and began almost 2 min after the clock started). I'm fairly impressed with my time, and have goal next time to be under 30 min.

Race day recap:
10:45 - Walkers begin.

11:00 - Runners begin. Spend the first 2.5 km darting around slower walkers and runners like in an obstacle course. Passing everyone is doing wonders for my ego... I keep thinking "wow, I must be a good runner" (which definitely isn't the case - I'm one of the slowest runners I know).
11:15 - Realize that I'm no longer passing anyone and that I'm being passed. Decide (stupidely)to pace myself with a group of faster runners so that I continue to pass people. This lasted 2 min before returning to normal pace. I finally accept that I've found the people who run at the same speed, and will be passed by faster runners. This brought my ego back to reality. The highlight was seeing (really in-shape) grannies pass me. this gave me hope - I plan to be still run the race when I'm there age.

11:20 - Cross the bridge to the other side of the river. Think I'm in the home stretch so sprint up the small hill and across the bridge. Learn that I'm still far away from the finish line and am now exhausted. More (in-shape) grannies pass me. Some little kids also pass... they have endless energy.

11:34 - Cross the finish line! (behind the in-shape grannies)

9:00pm - exhausted, watching a movie while icing my knee & ankle (after the race, I joined friends on a 3-hour hike to the top of a mountain near my place... probably not the smartest decision after a race, but fun... now I can't walk)

Some people should not travel with kids, or not have kids...

On my flight back from Riga, Latvia this weekend, I had the unfortunate luck to sit next to a young mom (approx. 20 yrs old) and her baby. I have never seen anyone so ill-prepared to travel with a kid, or to have a kid.

We flew RyanAir which has strict requirements about take-on luggage. Everyone in Europe knows these requirements. RyanAir allows each passenger to bring 1 carry-on (this includes purse or laptop bag - 1 means 1) weighing a max. of 10kilo, and it has to be smaller than certain dimensions. If you go over, the gate attendants will require you to pay a 30EUR fee and check the bag at the gate (they get commision for every bag they catch which is over).
When the gate attendants announced that they would weigh all bags, a young mom started lougly arguing with the gate attendant. After 5 min of arguing, she proceeded to plop her baby (roughly) on the floor, search through her bags, and then take baby & some things away from the gate. She left the majority of her luggage sitting at the gate.

At this point I boarded. Then 10 min later she re-appeared on the flight and decided to sit next to me (I should have said no). Next steps: she threw her kid on the seat and then took-off 4 (FOUR) pairs of pants, 4 (FOUR) shirt, and 1 coat. In an effort to make her largest bag fit within weight restricitions, she took out all her clothes and put them on. Turns out she had 3 bags + 1 purse + 1 stroller + 1 child, none of which she checked ahead of time. The largest bag wasn't able to fit under the seat or in an overhead bin. She placed it in the aisle between our seats instead. What was she thinking?!

During this entire ordeal, her ~1 yr old baby was trying to get to the floor, hitting the tray table, and throwing things from her purse. The only things she brought for her baby (that I saw) were a pacifer, an empty bottle and a bunch of diapers which she tossed all over the seat midway through the flight when she decided to change the baby on the seats (YUCK!!). When packing up the diaper bag, she put the baby on the ground where it fell over and hit it's head on the bottom of the seat. During landing, she was more interested in the conversation with her new friends across the aisle than making sure her baby was sitting down in her lap.

People like this should not be travelling with kids, or perhaps not even have kids.
Pic1: Random cloud foundations as seen out of the airplane window; the clouds looked like this both on the flight in and out of Riga.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Destination, Gauja Valley (East of Riga)

On my 2nd day in latvia, I decided to drive to the Guaja Valley forest. Another wonderful decision!

The Guaja Valley forest is absolutely gorgeous. It's a long valley with a river running through the middle (a perfect canoeing & camping spot... anyone want to go next year?). Pine and aspen trees are everywhere. Caves are also a frequent site. And medieval ruins are scattered throughout the valley. The E. European & Baltic forests are the most gorgeous that I've encountered in Europe.

It was the perfect day for an outdoor adventure... warm weather, sunny skies, and the leaves just starting to change colors (it looked like a Monet would if painted in fall). I was really looking forward to some hiking. However, it seems Latvians have the same view on hiking as Croatians... paved paths and high heels are the preferred option. There are even paved paths and stairs to nowhere (like the 200 stairs I climbed to get to a platform overlooking nothing... my legs & butt thanked me though). Off-road hiking and canoeing would be the best way to see the valley.

The medieval ruins were fun to explore. The castle in Sigulda, the 1st town I visited, was in great shape and packed with tourists. I was able to see the entire valley from the top of the tower. There random pieces of modern art sculptures (imagine the statues on Easter Island) on the castle lawn were a little weird. This was the place to be on a Sunday.

The castle in the Cesis, the 2nd town I visited, was falling apart. All tourists to the castle were given a lantern (a real lantern with a candle) at the entrance to light the way up the tower stairs (8 flights of stairs total in a small, windy staircase - 4 of the flights were climbed in pitch black because the candle wasn't light enough). It's not clear why they didn't give out flashlights or ask people to use the lights on their cell phone, or light the stairs. The little kids in the group in front of me loved that they got a real candle. There were 2 staircases going to the top of the tower, over 50% of them were crumbling and blocked off... not a good sign to see when you're stuck in a pitch black, windy staircase. Still my sense of adventure prevailed and I climbed to the top. At the end there was a small hole in the floor with a ladder inviting tourists to crawl down. Seriously, I wonder how many people have gotten hurt here. It was a pretty town.

The evening was spent the same way as the other 2 evenings... sitting in a center square in Riga, enjoying a drink and listening to music (Oktoberfest-themed songs & an incredible guitar player). It took a lot of effort to force myself onto the plane the next day. I want to go back.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Destination: Riga, Latvia

Last Thursday I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and booked a trip to Riga, Latvia for the weekend. My decision was spurred by 1) a need for a break after 2 long, stressful weeks of work and 2) my Dad's (great!) recommendation to visit the Baltic countries. This spontaneous decision turned out to be one of my better ones... Latvia was possibly the best weekend trip I've taken in Europe.

Day 1 was spent in Riga (the capital). The town is absolutely charming. Having only recently broken free from a Communist regime, I was expecting the cement "block-like" houses seen in other ex-Soviet countries. Instead, Riga is filled with gorgeous old & new buildings designed in completely different styles. There is everything from gingerbread house to fairytale castles to art nouveau styling (ex: one building has dogs as gargoyles, another has 3 men holding up a globe on top, another has statues, like those of Easter Island, carved in the side). Riga does a fantastic job preserving it's historical monuments and writing placards about the events that happened at each site, which is great for tourists.

The food options were just as diverse as the architecture. Riga is only the 2nd city in Europe which I've seen to have restaurants offering all types of food (even spicy food which is a rare find in mainland Europe) and do a wonderful job in cooking it. Most bars and restaurants have unique decorations which match to their cuisine. One restaurants looked like a doctor's office with operating beds as tables, another looked like the Bayou with crocodiles. All restaurants had live music. The best part about Riga was the evenings. At night everyone goes to the outdoor (and heated in winter) beer halls* in the center squares and listens to live music. Sitting in the square, enjoying the warm weather, having a drink, watching other people, and listening to live jazz was the perfect way to end the day.

*Latvia prides itself on it's beer. The beer halls in Riga serve all the micro-brews. Riga's beer halls are more like outdoor picnic areas with live music. It's a must-do for toursists.

Pics1-3: Blackhead's House; the 3rd pic is from a postcard - it looks amazing at Xmas time!
Pic4: "medical" restaurant
Pic5: beer halls in square around Riga Dome
Pic6: "Grocery store" for Riga. There are no grocery stores in Riga. Instead people sell produce at a central terminal with 5 huge halls (like at a convention center). Each hall has a different items (like fruit, veggies, bread, meat, etc).
Pic7: Amazing flowers that were sold on every street corner.
Pic8: Random sculpture in the town park; sculptures as unique as this are everywhere.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hasselhoff is huge here

In Germany, David Hasselhoff is a superstar. In addition to being a BayWatch character, everyone watched him 20 yrs ago on a show called "Night Rider." It seems he can also sing, and believes himself to be part of the reason that the Berlin wall fell. And he sells fragrances here. His marketing: "I smell so good, who wouldn't want to smell like me?"
Despite the many protests of my German friends that they do NOT like the "Hoff," it is still always one of the first questions that I'm asked when I meet new people.
Understanding this, it should come as no surprise that he was on the front page of the German Yahoo! news today (see above). I still don't understand the love affair with everything "Hoff." But I find it very amusing. Could someone please explain to me this love affair?

Monday, September 21, 2009

To develop a fear of flying...

Fly with China Airlines.

Before June 2001, I had no problems with flying. Then in June 2001, my family took a trip to China, flying with China Airlines. The seat belt sign remained on for the entire 10+ hour flight to China due to extreme turbulence. We were able to look out the window and see the wings bending with the turbulence bumps. And the pilots decided that the best take-offs and landings involved the plane going straight up and straight down. If you looked around on this plane flight, everyone was gripping the arm rests with white knuckles and was praying. This flight description is on par with the rest of the flights that we took within China on Chinese Airlines were the same. I’m very happy we survived.

Now I'm fine with flying, until turbulence hits. When this happens, I immediately start to panic and think of this incident.

Thus, my flight this weekend to Riga, Latvia was not a pleasant one as the RyanAir pilots seem to have the same opinion as the Chinese Air pilots that a straight up and straight-down landings are the best approach. Also, for some reason they keep alternating between 1) going sharply up (or down) + engines roaring, then 2) leveling out + engines going quiet, then repeat. It was so extreme that the teenagers on the flight going to Riga actually started cheering whenever our stomach would drop from a sharp up or down (like on an amusement park ride).

Is this normal? If yes, I need to find a good coping mechanism for turbulence. Any ideas?

Destination: Zagreb, Croatia

(Day 9) Zagreb was the surprising city of the trip. It greatly surpassed my original expectations of the city.

I originally had low expectations for Zagreb for a couple reasons... Our trip to Zagreb was set for a Sunday. Sundays in Western Europe usually involved everything being closed and people staying at home. In addition, we’d found the in-land cities to be more industrial and not tourist friendly. And I was tired from all the traveling.

Upon arrival, we found a cute Italian restaurant in the basement of a random building in old town. This was obviously the place to be as it appeared many groups had spent their entire evening there, based on the bottles of wine. Sunday was spent taking a foot walking tour through the many, pretty old buildings and monuments. The best part was visiting all the parks that Zagreb is known for. Each park in this city has a different theme: old English park with walking trails, lake & tea garden, botanical gardens full of unique flowers, and manicured parks. This town is so dog friendly - we even saw a guy taking a posing his dog in front of a fountain, taking a pic, then rewarding the dog (pic below).

There was a "Nike" festival happening in town when we were there to celebrate the opening of the new store. They were raffling off this cute little Nike car. I was hoping to win the contest, but soon realized I had no chance - especially compared to the 10 yr olds who were much better able to kick the ball in all the holes.
Even better, we found the best ice cream place of the entire trip in Zagreb. Ice cream is everywhere in Croatia, or appears to based on the number of ice cream parlors. Zagreb had the best!

Destination: Plitvicka Jetzera (Plitvice Lakes) National Park, Croatia

Going to Plitvicka Jetzera National Park almost made up for missing the Grand Tetons.

The drive to the park was entertaining. We encountered some of the windiest conditions that I’ve ever seen. When parked at a tourist info store on a ridge near the park, the car door literally almost blew off when I opened it (it definitely didn't shut fully after that). Many of the visitors to this station were not physically able to walk to their car by themselves.
On the outskirts of the park, the scenery reminded me of the western US. There were old towns with main stores made of wood and lots of farm land. Once inside the park, we saw the amazing ponds which glow bright blue in direct sunlight, due to the fluorescents which naturally occur in the water. Numerous waterfalls connect the ponds. And fish and birds are a frequent site. The water is so clear that it’s possible to see fallen trees up to 30 ft below. Instead of decaying and breaking apart, these trees remain in-tact and take on a white color (possibly due to the fluorescents?). The ends of the fallen trees which remain above water become the home for other plants to grow. All of this occurs in the deep in the middle of a ravine.

On this trip, I learned that “hiking” in Croatia is actually equivalent to the US phrase "taking a Sunday stroll.” At the beginning of the hike, we noticed that we were quite out-of-place in our hiking clothes, especially compared to the women in high heels. All the paths to the ravine were paved or wooded (for those going across water). And trams and ferries transport visitors to the beginning of the walks, ensuring nothing too strenuous. I was slightly disappointed as I was looking forward to some serious hiking.

On this trip, we were lucky enough to be in a small walking group with 3 very cute, Italian soccer players. All in all, a very worthwhile trip.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Destination: Split & Trogir, Croatia

(Days 6 & 7 of the vacation)

Split & Trogir left a lot to be desired. This impression could have been caused by the extreme heat, the lack of sleep (we had to get up at 4am to catch our ferry to Split), or the fact that there wasn't much to do (they're both more "industrial" towns, so not as much fun for tourists).

They both have charming old city centers with castles, churches, squares, and huge, vibrant markets. Trogir is even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. But the tourist stuff took only 2 hours to do. At which point, we were so overwhelmed by the number of tourists and the heat that we headed to the beach.

The beach (i.e. concrete deck around the bay) was my favorite part of the days. Croatians play this random water hackeysack/soccer/acrobatics game. Many of the moves are very impressive, like the black flip, half twist, kick with foot in air before a wave comes.

Must see's in Split & Trogir: 1. Flower growing on every balcony. It's like a giant garden.
2. Little kids selling their school books in the town square. So much for centralized book sellers, it's all about bargaining here.

Must NOT See's in Split & Trogir:
3. Unsafe metal & cement staircases and decks. Building safety codes are not up to standard. In Split, I climbed a 8 flights of metal stairs to the top of the bell tower. During the entire climb, the stairs wouldn't stop shaking due to two little boys stomping up them ahead of me. I thought they'd break away from the wall. It also didn't help that there were often waist high windows, with no safety bars, on the climb up which would be easy to fall out of. During the walk, I kept telling myself to turn around for safety reasons. Ironally the next morning, there was a news segment showing an apt deck that collapsed and crashed into a car below. I passed on climbing the next bell tower.

Pic1 (above): Split from the ferry
Pic2 (above): food & flower market in Split
Pic3 (above): church tower at castle (which had the dangerous steps)
Pic4 (above): sunset on the waterfront in Split
Pic5 (above): young entrepreneurs (i.e. students) sell their school books
Pic6 (below): Trogir waterfront
Pic7 (below): balconies with flowers
Pic8 (below): unsafe stairway in church
Pic9 (below): little kid who is very proud of his seashell collection. He pushed another kid out of the pic so that it was just him.