Category Archives: Croatia

Lokrum, the Bewitchingly Beautiful Island

Island hopping in Croatia is like visiting different enchantingly beautiful women. Each island is beautiful in her own unique way.  Each island has a very distinct personality, as if the island’s spirit breaths from the core of her island and intoxicates its inhabitants with her ways.  As we travel from island to island, Claudia and I are the same people.  However, each island evokes a different mood from us and castes her own unique spell on us.

Lokrum: The Bewitchingly Beautiful Island

Lokrum, the cursed island, is only available to receive visitors during the day.  A short boat ride from the old City Harbor near the Ploce Gate in Dubrovnik, we buy our tickets from a stand in front of the boat.  Lorkum rises above the sea with a sheer wall of tan colored rocks topped by a layer of green trees.  The island is surrounded by rocks fitted with ladders that descend to the clear, cool Adriatic sea. From the small pier on the island, paths branch out with signs pointing to a cafe, botanical garden, beaches and the ruins of the monastery.

Claudia in LokrumClaudia sitting on the Lokrum pier

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From Sea to Sdr – 360 Degrees of Beauty in Dubrovnik

It is already 88 degrees in Dubrovnik and it is only 10:30 in the morning.  We are standing at King’s Landing in the Old City of Dubrovnik.  In front of us, workers are loading a dark brown pirate ship with explosives.  They will blow the ship to smitherines in a few days as part of a historic film.  Behind the ship are the towers of the wall and large jagged rocks.  We are about to circumnavigate the island of Lorkum in sea kayaks with Adventure Dubrovnik.

Kayaking is a lot harder than it looks.  In a few strokes, Claudia and I are in last place.  Claudia is sitting in the back as the “engine” and I am in front as the captain.  Kayaking takes great cooperation, something that is sometimes difficult for mothers and adult daughters to do.  We glide out towards the island.  The breeze from the Adriatic and the cool water splashing into the kayak finally stops the stream of sweat that has been pouring off my body for the past twenty-four hours.

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Lorkum rises above the sea with a sheer wall of tan colored rocks topped by a layer of green trees.  Darijo, our guide, stops us when we reach the island and tells us of its curse. The Benedict Monks had a monastary on the island.  One day, Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand of Habsburg came to the island and fell in love with it.   The spoiled Archduke ordered the monks to leave.  On the last night, the monks walked around the island three times with their candles held upside down so that the wax dropped on the ground.  They cursed the island so that anyone who acquired the island for their own personal pleasure would meet personal and financial doom.  After Maximilian moved his family onto the island, he was assasinated in Mexico, his wife driven insane and his son bankrupt.  Now the people believe that anyone who spends more than three nights on the island will suffer a similar fate.  Today,  the only creatures that live on the island are the peacocks and the bunnies.  The island is covered with them as well as tourists and naked sun bathers during the day who come to visit the gardens and the ruins.

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Heat, Heights and Heaven in Dubrovnik

It is the hottest day of the year and we decide to ascend the steep stone stairs so we can walk the walls that surround Dubrovnik’s Old Town.  It is just past one o’oclock at the hottest time of the day.  It is 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  At the top, the narrow walkway is almost deserted.  Only a few panting tourists cling to small slivers of shade in the corners of the winding way.  The heat is merciless.

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From the top of the wall, the view is as spectacular as the heat is ruthless.   Sweat pours down my back, soaking me shirt.  Claudia’s shorts have a “v” outlined in water just below her waist. We cannot rush this promenade.  Every few feet, there is a photo begging to be taken.  The domes, the orange tile roofs and the grey granite stone creates new intricate puzzle piece mosaics below as the Adriatic sparkles beyond the walls.  Dubrovnik is magical.  Walking through the gates is like walking through a time portal.

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And We Are Off – Virgin Flight on Virgin Atlantic

A British accent just makes everyone seem so polite.  It softens the jagged edges of the two-hour delay.  Even when the flight attendant is telling us to get back in our seats because of the turbulence, she says very politely “Do return to your seats please.” In America, the flight attendant would have said, “What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you see the sign? Get back in your seat, now!”  Well maybe not that harsh, but the tone would have been seeping with annoyance, not dripping with honey.

The flight attendants glow with pleasant expressions, their hair and make-up done up to look like 1950’s pin-up models. Their voices sooth as they drop hot towels into our outstretched hands or pull complimentary bottles of wine from their carts.

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Branka the Brilliant Croatian Tutor’s Travel Advice

Finding a Croatian tutor was a challenge.  Unlike more popular languages like Spanish, French or Mandarin, there are no language schools for Croatian in San Francisco.   There is no Alliance Française de San Francisco or Casa Hispana were lessons and tutors abound.  Rosetta Stone and Duolingo do not have a Croatian course.  I look through all of the Meet Ups and cannot find one for Croatian Language Lovers.   Finally, I stumble on a website, UniversityTutor.com.  I fill out a questionnaire, enter my contact information and wait.  In less than two days, I am contacted by Branka.

Branka and I speak on the phone and she agrees to tutor me once a week.  She also graciously agrees to come to my office.  At the first meeting, she arrives early.  Branka is smartly dressed in a rose colored twin set and pearls, her dark hair cut short and stylish.  I soon realize that Branka is brilliant.  Each lesson is a mini cultural lesson filled with wonderful advice and tips for my upcoming trip to Croatia.  Her zest for life and her fiery spirit make me feel like I have found a kindred spirit.  Each lesson, I make notes for my upcoming trip.  I have put together a list of her advice.  Here are Branka’s top nine travel tips for a visit to Croatia.

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Croatian Line Dancing on Valentine’s Day

“Please don’t make me go, please don’t make me go.”  It is Valentine’s Day.   I have on a bright red blouse to match the red purse my husband Frank gave me this morning.  My eight year old son is in the back seat of our Mazda.  We are arriving at the Croatian Cultural Center on Onondaga Avenue just at the corner of Alemany Boulevard in San Francisco.

This neighborhood is old San Francisco.  It is a neighborhood filled with small, compact, single family homes.  The living rooms perch on top of the garages, peering out at the street through their wide windows.  The driveways divide up the street inefficiently, not leaving enough room for street parking between the dipped curbs.  The colors of the house looks like a crayon box on Easter, pastel blue, peach and pink.  An outlier has painted one house bright blue like the dome roofs of Santorini.  This neighborhood remains untouched by San Francisco’s tech explosion.  There are no throngs of twenty somethings, beer gardens, overpriced lattes or fishbowl condos.  In this untouched corner lies the heart of San Francisco’s Croatian culture. Today is the Tamburitza Festival at the Croatian Cultural Center.

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How Learning a New Language Can Set Your Theme for 2016

Every year, I make New Year’s resolutions.  Resolutions to exercise more, pay off my debt, watch what I eat and save more money.  I know some people who make resolutions and some who do  not.  But at the end of the day, don’t these resolutions end up sounding pretty generic? They are more like declarations of values versus something new and exciting.  Last year’s resolutions blur into the previous year’s.

So instead of making resolutions, why not pick a Theme for the year.  Project Based Learning is all the rage now in early education.  PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.  Cool.  Here’s how you pick your 2016 Theme PBL style.   Pick a country where they do not speak your language, pick a language and plan a trip.  There you go, you have a theme.  For me, my theme for 2016 is half Croatian/ half Vietnamese.  Kinda sounds like a San Francisco food truck.  The plan is Croatia in June and then Vietnam next year.

So now that you have a theme, here are all the fun things that you can spend your year doing.

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