Lots of cucumbers in Croatia (plus Italy and Slovenia)

We apologise for the long space since our last post. We thought our computer was broken. Luke sat on it, and it now looks like a banana (J/k, but it is bent). It wouldn’t turn on, so we couldn’t use it for several days. We took it into a computer repair shop in Zadar, Croatia, where we pressed the “on” button and it turned on and worked. We thanked the computer man for “fixing” the computer (he said it was the “positivity” in the shop), and now I can write the blog.

This was not the first time we have looked like idiots in Croatia. We realized one day that we had not seen one of our credit cards in a couple days (horrible sinking feeling, right?). We traced back our steps to a petrol station we had stopped at two days before. We drove 20 minutes back to it. The moment we entered, the fellow at the front counter threw his hands in the air and dove into a drawer under his front counter, retrieving our card. We had left it in the freaking card machine. (I say “we” so as not to implicate any individuals in this mistake.) This fellow was so relieved to see us. He said he had called after us, whistling. He had called his friend at the next petrol station down the road, who came out to the street and flagged us down with waving arms. (Clearly we did not see him.) He even called the frickin police, and told them to stop any blue Mitsubishi Shoguns they saw. Clearly they didn’t. We like to laugh at what we would have done if the Croatian police had pulled us over, said something about a credit card, and made us follow them 20 minutes back down the road. We would have found the first available hiding space in the forest. Anyway, hooray for this super upstanding and law-abiding Croatian petrol station worker.

Croatia is insanely overrun with tourists in most places. Example: Plitvice Lakes National Park. Just look at the photos, it is actually the prettiest place in the history of ever. What I didn’t take pictures of was the tourists, clogging the paths and stopping abruptly for photos (like the ones here on this blog). Luke and I were weaving through the hordes, jumping over puddles and squeezing through tight spaces between tourists, because we like to MOVE IT MOVE IT. There was a duo of young French guys who we enjoyed competing with to see who could dodge other tourists the fastest. At one point one of them yelled “WE DID IT!!” after passing a particularly sluggish group. Of course, as you’ll see from the photos, it was well worth the tourist-dodging.

I mean, just look at it. Would you dodge tourists for this?
I mean, just look at it. Would you dodge tourists for this?

As much as our last blog post showed contrasts in the natural settings we visited, this blog post shows incredible contrast in the touristiness of the places we’ve visited. Examples:

10/10 on the touristy scale: Pompeii

Very well preserved paintings in someone's house in Herculaneum.
Very well preserved paintings in someone’s house in Herculaneum.

I have been to Pompeii twice before this, and I was thrilled to go back. Luke was unsure. Because I was aware that Pompeii itself would be heaving with our fellow sight-seers, I decided to start with Herculaneum, a smaller town about 20 km away from Pompeii. Herculaneum was destroyed more quickly than Pompeii. The culprit was the pyroclastic flow – hot and dry ash, gasses, and bits of rock. It’s actually way better preserved because of how it was covered. There is an intact 2nd floor wooden balcony over a street, for example. And – bonus – way, way, way fewer visitors. All the photos we have are from Herculaneum.

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The setting of my historical fiction daydreams.

We did also go to Pompeii, which I loved despite the 10 bajillion people. I listened to ALL OF THE THINGS on the audioguide, including the extra information sections not attached to sites. Did you know that they washed clothes in a process involving urine and clay? I was an annoying student in grade school, yes. However, one thing to note about Pompeii, if you haven’t been there, is that it is a full city. There are busy streets (like the one with the brothel, of course), and there are empty streets where you can just go into empty restaurants and pretend you are a Roman craftsperson taking a break from your day of doing mosaics in the atrium of a house belonging to a local person of prominence, while in a country not far away the apostle Paul was writing some of his letters. That’s what I did.

0/10 on the touristy scale: Salvatore’s place

We did a lot of extra driving to get down to Pompeii, and we had to stop somewhere easy over night on the way to Venice. We found, on google maps, a campground in the countryside in Campania. When we pulled up past a small farm into the campground, it was seemingly empty. A young guy (19, it turns out) came out to meet our car. He said we could camp, and asked where we were from. When we said Australia/America, he got so excited. “WOW! WOW! AUSTRALIA!”. After paying for the night and talking about us having Kangaroos as indoor pets (jokes), Luke went to the car to get him one of the Australia-themed tea towels we brought. He, in turn, held the tea towel with two hands as if he was holding a gold medal from the Olympics, he seemed blown away. What a nice guy.

We got to talking with him. Through some sort of language-related misunderstanding, he thought, at one point, that I had asked to see his horse. He cheerfully said, “OK! 5 minutes!” and ran away. 5 minutes, here comes Salvatore and horse Marta up to our car. We gave her a pat – calmest, sweetest horse ever.

Next, after we started discussing chickens, he asks if we want to go to his Grandma’s house to meet her and the animals. Um, YES!!! So over we go, down the country lane, to Grandma’s house, who is a delightful old Italian lady. Uncle is there too. They take us around the house, introducing us to:

IMG_7393
Om nom nom nom
  • the chickens: there are dozens, roaming free around the farm, eating fresh wheat grains harvested meters away
  • the free-range pig: Uncle throws a melon from a wheelbarrow to the sow. She shows off her powerful jaws by splitting it open in one bite and chomps blissfully.
  • the kitten: Grandma disappears around the corner of the house and comes back with a tiny kitten, whose eyes had just opened, and handing it to Luke for a cuddle.

Before we left, we bought a few eggs from them, and they gave us some cucumbers growing by the side of the house. We kissed Grandma and said goodbye, obviously gushing about how we love this place SO MUCH.

IMG_7401Later, as we were munching on our delicious cucumbers at our campsite (just olive oil and salt, as Uncle said), who walked up, but Salvatore and Grandma. She’s brought more cucumbers for us. She grasped my face with both hands and told us we are beautiful. She came back the next morning too, with our final batch of cucumbers, to say goodbye. We ate every one of those cucumbers.

A meal comprised entirely of gifts from benevolent strangers
A meal comprised entirely of gifts from benevolent strangers

At this same campground, there was a couple who were setting up for a group of scouts to arrive the next day. They were staying in a cabin not far from our site. We said hello to them, and they smiled. They didn’t have any English, I don’t think. But they brought us dinner! Out of nowhere, the guy just walked over with a plate of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, smiled, and left. No word. It was the best pasta we had in Italy, too.

Honourable mention: Pitigliano

A farmstay in Tuscany. When we asked the owner for wine, he gave us a jug from the cask.
A farmstay in Tuscany. When we asked the owner for wine, he gave us a jug from the cask.

I should also give an honourable mention in the non-touristy category to our farmstay near Pitigliano, in Tuscany. We were the only campers here, too. Upon arrival, the owner took us inside and made us 20 minutes of photo montages of the local area on his TV, while explaining the history and sites to us in Italian, broken French, and a few words of English. His pride was justified. Look at the pictures of Pitiliagno (AKA Little Jerusalem) and the nearby natural, public hot springs. I’ll save the descriptions for the captions. Suffice to say, it’s spectacular and it’s locals only. Cheers to a Florentine fellow at a campground in France who told us to go there.

Somewhere in the middle: The Sea Organ

Luke enjoys the seaside next to the Sea Organ
Luke enjoys the seaside next to the Sea Organ

This is a neat thing. In Zadar, a coastal city in northern Croatia, there is a thing called the Sea Organ. It’s stairs, which lead into the crystal clear Adriatic at the foot of the town. There are holes in the stairs, and pipes underneath. The waves pump through the pipes, creating ethereal, ever-changing music. Locals jump off the stairs into the water and dangle their feet in the waves, while a few tourists sit and listen. It’s beautiful.

And just a really good place: Slovenia

Slovenia was a hit. We only spent two nights, sadly, but we’ll be going back with my parents in a week or so. The campground was the first that was so fabulous, it inspired me to write a TripAdvisor review (Dujcevi Domaciji). For the first time on this trip, we got to have a fire, which was excellent in and of itself. Not to mention the Slovenian (read: potato-based) meal cooked up by the owner’s mother for dinner.

Luke in his element. Alcohol, fire, and a sharp axe. (This has ever disturbed me before, until I wrote caption)
Luke in his element. Wine, large fire, and a sharp axe. (This has ever disturbed me before, until I wrote caption)

Skocjan Caves: If you are ever in Slovenia, go there. If you would like to see a real-life Balrog habitat, go there. If you are terrified of heights and/or not seeing the sunlight, don’t go there. It’s an underground river, which includes an underground bridge perched 60 metres above the river. No photos are allowed inside, so if you’re curious you’ll just have to look on the internets.

A final word: Yugoslavia’s war

Because I love to end things on a depressing note, let’s talk about war. Not long after crossing the surprisingly easy Croatian border, we drove through a small town with a bit of a town hall in the middle. It was boarded up, with roof collapsed in and the walls completed riddled on 3 sides with bullet holes. I didn’t take pictures because something inside me says that might not be respectful.

We read a short history of each country we enter as we drive. We have had to read about the Yugoslavian war, about which we knew shamefully little. (Despite my social justice-conscious mother giving me a book about a girl trapped in Sarajevo under siege – Zlata’s Diary, it’s fantastic). I just remember joining in on joking around “with” two kids in my high school, one Bosnian and one Serbian, about their hatred for each other. I realise now there were probably no jokes there at all.

It’s odd to think, as we float on our backs in the salty Adriatic surrounded by European kids jumping around on plastic inflatables, that this country was immersed in a war only a couple of decades ago. I’m guessing I’ll have more to say on this as we enter Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia, and the Eastern parts of Croatia and Slovenia in the coming days.

Until next time!

Florence and Siena

Country Tuscany: Pitigliano and surrounds

Herculaneum, Vesuvius, and Salvatore’s place (WARNING: Real skeletons)

Venice

Slovenia and Croatia

6 thoughts on “Lots of cucumbers in Croatia (plus Italy and Slovenia)”

  1. Phenomenal pictures – each one better than the last! Even with all of the breathtaking outdoor vistas, I love maybe the most the one with the old Italian wine jugs. See you soon! You both look so beautiful and happy, can hardly wait!

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  2. Again, LOVED your blog and the pictures are beautiful. Will you ever eat cucumbers again? So nice to meet such friendly people at your campsites. Keep having fun and I will be looking forward to the next blog.

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  3. I think this is one of your finest blog entries. I was especially interested in/excited about/saddened by Herculaneum, and really wish we had gone there (daughter was too sick!). I thought your point about the skeletons was quite appropriate. The well preserved ruins make it clear that those who died there were people much like us, who were trying to save their lives, which they valued as much as we value our lives. But in a way our treasuring their volcano-murdered city is paying respect to them-most of our cities are little preserved or remembered-but the place where they lived and died is and always will be a world heritage site that preserves evidence of their way of life forever.
    I was VERY PROUD of your upstanding intake of the ENTIRE AUDIOGUIDE, including all supplemental materials. I wish I had been with you, and that Eve and Mom were there while we did it, so we could watch them go insane with impatience as we dissect EVERYTHING that there is to know about the site. That would teach them to ditch us-REMEMBER THE UFFIZI!
    Love you both, and see you soon!
    Dad

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  4. You’re folks called on the way to the airport today. Love your writings and pics. I must get out my Siena and Florence pics and see if I see any of the same. I wasn’t out on any water , so I know the Venice ones wouldn’t be the same. Been really warm here , so I go out earlier in the day or water after the sun isn’t so hot. Went to Uncle Jim’s birthday party last week. I told your folks to give you both hugs from me, so be sure to collect. Love you so much, Grandma Shirley

    ________________________________

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  5. Hi again, I was writing away and hit the wrong thing and it was gone. I will look at my pics from 4 years ago and see if any of our pic jive from Siena of Florence. I know the ones from Venice wouldn’t be, because I wasn’t on the water there. Your mother sent me the schedule of their time there with you. I had forgotten you were going to Bad Haring. We had such a wonderful time with them. Matt and went to Salzburg. We went to the Abbey and a couple more of the Sound of Music places. I however did not get to twirl on the hill. Probably just as well . If I had fallen and rolled down the hill who knows where anyone would have found me. Back to Bad Haring. It was sad to leave. My favorite time of the trip was spending time with the family. Huberta is a Wonderful cook. Their granddaughter Stephie? probably has the cafe open. Matt is going to be so jealous. He got a little taste of the coffee and thought it was so good.

    Think it’s time to eat.

    Again I do love your bloggings, A word?

    Love you, Grandma Shirley

    ________________________________

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  6. I am assuming that is ok for me to write despite not being immediate family 😉
    It turns out that it is Luke the destroyer this time!!! With the atm was it one of those ones that ask if you want another transaction after it has given you the cash? I have almost left my card behind on numerous occasions because of this.
    Awesome post – looks like you guys are seeing some amazing things!

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