Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Balkans Days 23-29: Sarajevo The Past

When people asked us, "Why Croatia and Bosnia?" before we left, we had a variety of reasons to share. We'd heard many say that Croatia is such a beautiful country (which is definitely true), Erin is always looking for some beach time, Craig lovely tiling and architecture (which we both got), and there was the undeniable appeal that Bosnia is more off-the-tourist track than any location we've visited since our "big trip." We really wanted to learn more about the recent history of the two countries in a deeper and more personal way than a textbook (or Wikipedia site) could manage. We're glad that we took the time to learn a bit of how the disolution of Yugoslavia impacted the cities we visited as the experience of each city and its citizens were quite different.

A Sarajevo Rose is painted on the ground
where people died from an attack.
In the three weeks leading up to our arrival in Sarajevo, our knowledge of the events here grew. We saw photos and read recounts in various museums in Dubrovnik and Mostar. We read the book The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. We were reminded of information we already knew through media, news, etc when talking with locals and tourists. It was great to have that base knowledge before entering and it was interesting to see how our perception of the city was different from reality once we were here.

The valley was tighter, the river narrower, and the hills, where snipers and artillery were once perched, were so much closer than in our minds. It was unbelievable to think that civilians could cross the bridges so widely out in the open carrying containers of water, balancing on whatever rails were left after bombings. Shrapnel wounds frame windows and some buildings remain a hallow shell. The city has found ways to heal yet still honour its past by filling in the craters left by mortar attacks that murdered civilians with a red resin, called a Sarajevo Rose.

We joined a walking tour that focused on the Siege of Sarajevo and enhanced our understanding of what life was like here in the 44 months when daily shellings rained down on a city cutoff from itself and the outside world. Our guide, Nemo, was only a child at the time (ages 7-11). He openly shared with us his perspective of the events along with the historical facts. As we wound our way through the city, many locals stopped to listen in on what he was saying. He shared that sometimes people will yell at him as he talks, uncomfortable with his openness of his experience or worried that the facts he's sharing are coloured. We felt that he did a great job presenting things, often addressing how his experience affects the way he views the war and the current state of the country but recognizing that for others, and especially those in different cities, their experience was very different than his. It was powerful to see people our age on the street and think of what they went through while we were busy listening to walkmans, wearing scrunchies, and watching Jurassic Park.

The 1984 Olympic bobsled run
There was lots of time for quiet reflection in Sarajevo. Twice we hiked up one of the surrounding hills to reach views of the city below and the surrounding countryside, once to the Yellow Fort, and once to the Olympic bobsled and luge run. Looking out, it's hard to believe that such a tragedy took place in such a beautiful, peaceful place.

We were reminded often this week of the time we spent in another recently war-torn country, Rwanda. How was the world able to stand by and let such massacres occur? Were we unaware? Were we unsure of whether to get involved in another country's internal strife? (The Bosnia war was not a civil war as both Serbia and Croatia were involved). During our tour Nemo said that the goal of the Siege of Sarajevo was to make the living conditions within the city so bad, to create such fear and indignity, that the citizens would surrender. The tactic was carefully designed to skirt the edge of killing some people every day but not attacking so strongly that the international community would intervene. If this is true, it doesn't say a lot about us. What atrocities are going on currently that we're turning a blind eye to?

In Dubrovnik, part of the War Photograph Museum included a rotating exhibit on current conflicts and acts of human rights abuses. We saw photos of the civil war going on right now in Yemen. The numbers were staggering. In the past two years, over 10,000 civilians have been killed by this war. Civilians. In 2015 it was estimated that 850,000 CHILDREN were starving. 13 million civilians did not have access to clean water. Unicef and WHO believe that as of June 2017, a person an hour dies of cholera in Yemen. What are we doing to help? This is, of course, only one example of many.

Perhaps the most emotional stop on our guided tour of Sarajevo was at the Children's Memorial. You can tell that great thought went into this monument. A statue has been erected depicting a parent shielding their child from shelling and sniper attacks. The water bubbling beneath them represents the tears fallen for their lost children. The base of the structure is made from melted down shrapnel and casings and it's imprinted with the footprints of surviving children who lost young friends and family members during the war. The statue itself is made from 1600 layers of glass, one for each child who was murdered in the siege. A plaque off to the side shares their names from youngest to oldest. It is a beautiful piece set at the foot of a lush park. Families were gathered there to enjoy the late afternoon sun, kids chasing each other around it, riding on scooters... the perfect place for such a monument. But it shouldn't be there. It shouldn't have needed to be built at all.

At the Srebrenica Gallery, stunning black and white photos share the events that unfolded in Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia when more than 8000 Muslim Bosniaks were murdered in ethnic cleansing in June 1995. The room, nearly silent with tourists reflecting on this event, the atmosphere heavy with grief, was brightened by our baby content to walk in circles holding on to the stroller, so close to walking consistently independently. An odd scene but one that truly shows the feeling that life moves on. We'll take what we learned and felt here back home with us, and try to find ways to make the world a better place in whatever way we can.

If you're interested in learning more about the Siege of Sarajevo or the genocide in Srebrenica, here are two books we read that helped us gain a more personal understanding of the events:
- The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
- Bone Woman by Clea Koff

Balkans Days 23-29: Sarajevo The Present

Big backpack? Check! Baby? Check!
Bring on the 106 stairs!
We learned more and more about Sarajevo before our arrival and with each piece, our anticipation of the city grew. Arriving after an incredibly long private transfer with a driver set on delivering practically all of Mostar's mail to Sarajevo before dropping us off, left us less than impressed with our situation. Like Mostar, there wasn't time that evening to go out and explore, so looking from above at the streets below showed a town that looked nice enough. It wasn't until we ventured out the next morning that we truly began to appreciate the city.

Inside the gorgeous City Hall
Sarajevo is captivating. The old part of town consists of a number of pedestrian-only streets that stretch a great distance. Austro-Hungarian architecture blends with Ottoman influences, then with trendy and modern styles. The multicultural aspect of Bosnia's capital is felt in the variety of clothing, food, and the various places of worship (catholic and orthodox churches, mosques, and synagogues).

It was the first time on our trip that we truly felt a part of the city. This was mainly due to the fact that its oldtown area is not just one giant tourist trap. Locals live here. It's expected that you can communicate without using English. The patios of cafes, hookah bars, and restaurants are bursting with groups of Bosnians enjoying the fall weather and their beautiful surroundings and window sills and store fronts are a perfect place for a game backgammon. It didn't take long for us to realize that we loved it. It was also the first place that we felt like our frumpy travel clothes really stood out against the local fashion. Sarajevans are so stylish. Even during the siege it's recorded that women went out in their furs and heels and hair dressers did cuts for free to help people maintain their sense of dignity when they had such little control of their lives. This sense of resiliency was noticeable.

We had enough time to lesiurely take in the sights, first wandering, and then planning little exursions to get a better sense of the city, its past, and its present. We ate out more partly because the food was so tasty and affordable but also to enjoy the culture we felt we'd been missing at the many tourist restaurants we'd been affronted with in other towns. (It was also nice to not have to carry many groceries up the 106 stairs to our penthouse suite!) We visited churches, mosques, museums, the yellow fort, the Olympic bobsled track, and brandy stores. :) We stood at the corner that started World War One where the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated. We caught spectacular views of the sunset from our windows and took in the smells of incense, wood-fired stoves, and leather. Although we were ready to go home after four weeks abroad, we were sad to say goodbye to such a charming city. If you're looking for a European destination with flair, flavour, and that isn't teeming with tourists, Sarajevo is the place for you!

Balkans Days 20-22: Mostar

The drive to Mostar from Split was stunning. Absolutely breathtaking. We hadn't really thought much about it beforehand. We'd originally planned to take a train, then discovered we couldn't and settled on a bus. A much less direct route but it was what it was.

What it was turned out to be a road that first hugged the Croatian coastline taking us by secluded bays, white pebble beaches, and a town squished between the water and a sheer mountainous facade. Then onwards into the Bosnian valleys with lolling hills and ample pastures. Our border crossing was smooth; in fact, our entire journey was very, very easy. The only difficult part was that Baby would NOT take her nap. When we finally rolled in to Mostar two and a half hours past her usual time to go down, she was barely keeping it together. But we'd made it.

Our host generously met us at the bus station and helped us with our ridiculous amount of baggage. She guided us to her parents home fondly called "The Old Lady" because they have left it intact from when her husband's grandmother used to live there. We wondered if they displayed the many heirlooms out of pride, gratitude that these little treasures had survived the war, or relief that they didn't have to store any of it in their home. The house was unique in design (at least for us Canadians). There was a private inner courtyard (that was outside) that separated the kitchen from the rest of the house. Our host looked at us sceptically, repeatedly asking us if we were cold and letting us know that there had been flurries the evening before. We tried to reassure her that we were prepared - "We're from Canada. We're ready for snow."

The inside of the main mosque in the Old Town.
We climbed to the top of its miniaret for a fantastic
view of the bridge, river, and surrounding area.
The chill in the air was just one thing that felt different from Croatia. Mostar was a little grungier, less affluent, and more authentic-feeling, if that makes any sense. Dubrovnik, for example, seems very regulated. Buildings have been upkept and repaired in strict fashion to keep the mood and style of the town the same. The damage you see there can be difficult to discern whether it's wear and tear over time or specifically from the recent war. In Mostar; however, the shelling and sniper wounds on buildings were quite visible. Houses stand abandonded, sometimes only the exteriors left now with trees growing inside. We saw many people begging, usually mothers with their small children. The air hung heavier, often filled with inscense or wood-fired stoves and the call to prayer echoed in the distance.

It was too late in the day to go exploring so we attempted to settle in, comfort Baby, and have dinner. The only heater in the house was located on the first floor, with the bedrooms being above, so after many sleepless hours and lots of crying, we rearranged ourselves with Baby in the downstairs living room in case it was the coolness and not her teeth or overtiredness that were causing all the discomfort. We were able to get a few hours of sleep before she absolutely refused to be put back down at 5:30 am. We shrugged and decided to make the most of it. Bundled up more than we had been in seven months, we headed out to see the old town.

Mostar is home to the icnonic bridge that is the most recognizable Bosnian landmark. As we set out to find it, we had to thank Baby for getting us up this early. With the shops that line the cobblestone pedestrian lane leading to the bridge still shut up tight, we could better appreciate the history and architecture of the town. Only a few souls joined us that early, cameras in hand, capturing the early light on the bridge and the surrounding hillsides. We walked across and back, marvelling in its height and the fact that men dive off it into the icy river below multiple times a day for money, then headed home for breakfast.

Cevapi: traditional Bosnia food
Our next two days consisted of us trudging back and forth to the main street and bridge to admire its views, wait expectently to see a dive, eat gelato, and torture Baby with the amount of time she needed to spend in the carrier (Mostar is NOT stroller friendly!). Baby had her own goals for our time in Motar: she perfected her pronunciation of "Hi" and used it on every passing person (and pigeon and kitten) within earshot, much to the delight of the shopkeepers and tourists (and maybe the pigeons?), and accomplished a series of independent steps when she was distracted enough to not notice that she was actually walking independently.

If you zoom in really far,
you can see Craig and Baby at the top!
We never did see a dive off the bridge. We were in the vicinity multiple times and even sitting and eating lunch watching it once but both missed it while concentrating on feeding Baby and admiring the surrounding views. The whole thing is a bunch of B.S. if you ask us. Men collect money, prance around on the edge as if they're going to jump, raise their arms up like Olympic divers, clap their hands, stretch, then get back down and go into their little hut leaving their donors to either wait or give up and leave. When they finally feel they have earned enough money or when the wind feels right, or whatever their sign is, over they'll go with no notice or working of the crowd. More than once we heard a diver bereating tourists walking by, calling out racist remarks, trying to get money from them. It was a huge disappointment and could easily be improved to still gather the funds these gentlement need (and deserve for their stunt), but also leave the viewer feeling much more satisfied.

But enough about that. After many trips down to the bridge that seemed to pull us so greatly, time spent examining the various museums about the history of the bridge and Mostar and the Ottoman and Hungarian empires, we pulled ourselves away and headed to our last and much-anticipated destination: Sarajevo.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tips for Travelling with a Baby (6-12 months)

Mostar, Bosnia
We were so excited to embark on another family adventure and to introduce Adventure Baby to Europe. We spent four weeks travelling internationally with our 9.5-10.5 month old. Here are some things we learned that were different from our previous trip with her as a non-mover (for our 0-6 month-old tips, click here). We'll once again note that every baby is different and every couple has their own unique travel style, parenting philosophy, and and priorities. This is what worked for us on the road, so we hope you find something useful that fits with your adventures! Happy Travelling!

Tough critic...unimpressed with the falls in Krka

Packing List for Baby
We are notorious over-packers. For our previous trip with Baby, we took WAY too many clothes and toys. We promised ourselves that we were going to pair things down especially since we wanted our load to be hands-free for this journey (big backpacks, here we come!). For the most part, we accomplished our goal, and were thankful with our decision come travel days.

How much to bring is dependent a lot on your laundry plans. We stayed in rental properties, some of which had laundry facilities. We pre-booked all of our accommodation before our trip so we knew ahead of time that we would be doing laundry every 7 days. Our baby isn't very messy and rarely has a diaper explosion, so we didn't need a lot of clothes for her. We spent the first half of our trip in Croatia where it was warm (20-25 degrees most days) and the second half in Bosnia where it was cooler (12-20 degrees).

*A side note about laundry...we brought a little ziploc bag filled with our detergent from home. This way, all of Baby's clothes and crib sheets would smell like home, hopefully giving her more of a sense of security and comfort especially at night.

Taking a dip outside Dubrovnik
3 short-sleeve onesies
1 t-shirt, 1 romper, 1 dress
3 long-sleeve onesies
2 long-sleeved shirts (one was a very lightweight white one that was good on hot days for sun protection)
1 lightweight sweater, 1 heavy sweater
3 pairs of pants
1 footless sleeper
2 sleepers with feet
1 fleece sleeper with feet
1 bathing suit and swim diaper
1 sun bonnet, 1 headscarf, 1 toque
3 pairs of socks
1 pair of watershoes (great for the pebbly beaches in Croatia)
1 pair of softsole shoes

Strolling the harbourfront of Korcula
2 bibs (Kushie's washables that dry quick)
8 washcloths
2 sheets for the Pack n Play
1 change pad
Travel wipes container
Pack n Play
Nursing Pillow
Inflatable bathtub & pump
Baby carrier
Travel high chair (see review below)
Wet/dry bag
Hand sanitizer
Cloth collapsible cooler bag
Medical supplies: d-drops, Baby Tylenol, saline drops, nail clippers, etc.
Simple baby-proofing supplies: elastic bands, pipe cleaners, plug covers for the country you're going to, etc. (in practice there were too many hazards so we just kept a close eye on Baby constantly rather than use any of these supplies)
Diapers (we are big advocates of bringing as many diapers as you can from home that are the right size for your baby because when you travel internationally, you have to be prepared that diapers will fit differently even if the brands are the same as at home).

We did not take a car seat for this trip. When we rented a car, we rented a car seat with it. We were even able to request a car seat for our day trip to Montenegro from Dubrovnik, which was very awesome to have!

Loving her chair
(there is a tray that attaches)
For feeding baby, we used the Summer Infant Pop 'n' Sit. We really liked this chair for travelling because it folds up small, is lightweight, durable, and can easily be attached to the outside of your backpack in the space where sleeping bags are meant to go. It's made of a lightweight fabric that does absorb liquids and smells so it needed to be washed weekly (more than just a wipe-down). But it was very easy to give it a quick scrub with soapy water and leave to dry on a deck or balcony. You could probably also take the cover off and throw it in the washing machine but we never tried that.

Enjoying the view (and lunch!) in Mostar

Inside Sarajevo's City Hall


At this age we found that Baby's best entertainment came from two things: people and food. She was most interested and happy when given the opportunity to look at and interact with strangers. On the plane, that meant playing a lot of peek-a-boo with whomever in our vicinity was willing, walking up and down the aisles, and waving to flight attendants. We kept her preoccupied before flights by walking her around the airport visiting friendly travellers. On buses and in the stroller we would encourage waving at people, birds, cats, trees...anything. She learned the perfect pronunciation for both "hi" and "hey" and used them amply to charm people on the street. We rarely took toys with us when we went out.

Sharing a chacuterie plate with Mom and Dad
on our balcony in Lumbarda
What we did take was FOOD. Now, our baby loves to eat and she's young enough that it still takes her a really long time. We used this to our advantage and tried the best we could to plan travel days around her meal times. We kept her favourites on hand (bananas, cut fruit, mushrooms, yogurt, etc), tried to choose things that take a while to eat (peas, cherrios, halved blueberries, etc), and always carried an emergency pouch from home that we knew she liked, a small container of just-add-water oatmeal, a spoon, and a package of crackers. An easy go-to recipe we used countless times for travel meals for her were chia seed pancakes. They're 1 egg, 1 mashed banana, and 1 cup of chia seeds. You can add blueberries if you'd like, but that's the basic recipe. So easy, so simple to find those ingredients, and virtually mess-free when eating (and they are GREAT for alieviating constipation!). We fed her when we wanted to sit out at a restaurant and have a drink, when we did our walking tour...basically any time we wanted to keep her happy and non-moving.

We went for small, lightweight, and diverse
So for actual toys, we did bring along a few things that came in handy. We tried to set up a little play area at each place we stayed with a few comfort items from home and things she hadn't seen before. What we hadn't thought of in advance is that most rental properties have tile or hardwood floors to enhance the noise of every toy dropped, thrown, or used in an impromptu drum solo. We wished we'd brought a few more softer toys and a few less hard plastic ones when considering our downstairs neighbours. The best choices were the three building blocks we found that we could squish down and elastic tightly together to save space when travelling, a couple of squirt toys that squished and she loved playing with outside of the bath, and the 1-2-3 Baby Einstein keyboard that she hadn't seen before. She spent the entire four weeks figuring out how to work it and was so pleased with herself when she finally did. :) We also brought a handful of thin paperback story books for bedtime (not pictured) including Sleep Tight Little Mouse, her before bed book since she was born, and her stuffed bunny who she sleeps with. (Shh..don't tell her but we also brought a back-up bunny just in case Bunny got lost somewhere!)

Walking along the sandbar in Lumbarda
People told us ahead of time not to worry about taking any toys at all and we'd probably pass along the same advice. At this age, the babies we know seem most interested in playing with the things you use. So cups, wooden spoons and pots, clothespegs, java jackets, water bottles, cell phones...all those everyday items that you'll find in your surroundings became her favourite toys. If you want to have some back-up items for the plane, a common idea is to get a bunch of little dollar-store items and wrap them individually ahead of time. Hand one out each hour on your flight or as needed and hope that the fun of unwrapping each thing draws out the enjoyment of the toy. Long haul flight can admittedly be stressful. Just remind yourself that the flight will end eventually. Nowadays, people are so plugged in to their devices that a crying baby isn't as annoying as it used to be. Planes are noisy...it's really only the immediate people around you who will notice if your baby is being fussy and nearly everyone is understandable.

Accommodation & Pace
Adventure Baby takes over Split!
We loved our trip to New Zealand and Australia when Baby was 3.5-5.5 months old but it was tiring! We spent a lot of time on the road, saw a lot from the car, and stayed in many beautiful locations. This worked because she was still young enough that she spent a lot of time sleeping and was happy to sleep in the car seat or stroller. Going into the trip we knew we were going to have to plan our days around her two naps as ever since sleep training our baby only wants to sleep in her crib.  We KNOW... "don't plan your life around your baby." But her sleeping well is crutial to us enjoying ourselves so except for a few special occassions, we trudged ourselves back to our accomodations for each of her naps.

Early morning walks in Sarajevo's Stari Grad
What this meant was that we needed to stay in places that were central to the sites we wanted to visit. We chose to pay a little bit more so that it was easy to just pop out the door and do something for an hour or two. We also chose to stay exclusively in rental properties (mainly AirBnBs). This meant that we had enough space to feel comfortable for the few days we would be there. We found 2 bedroom places if we could so that Baby could have her own room but we at least had one bedroom so that she could sleep undisturbed for her nap times and at night without cramping our style. We had much more freedom for doing our own thing than if we were in a hotel room.

For this trip we chose to stay in places longer and keep travel to a minimum. It worked really well for us with her at this age. She wanted to be crawling and moving around, not stuck in a car seat, carrier, or stroller. It's all about knowing your baby and what they are capable of. If they're unhappy, you're probably going to be unhappy, too.

A huge advantage to off-season travel is that places aren't booked up solid. At every place we stayed, we asked our host if we could have a late check-out and were granted it with no extra charge. That made our travel days so much easier because Baby could nap in her crib and then we'd get up and go. It never hurts to ask!


We outlined the basics of air and car travel on our 0-6 month post, so for a recap, click here.

What we'll add is that we really recommend paying in advance to get a bulkhead seat. Ideally, your baby will sleep in the bassinet provided. If not, you at least have more leg room, which is especially helpful if your baby isn't sleeping and wants to move around. We found this to be essential at this age.

The hottest topic on travelling with children blogs is jet lag. There are two camps: try to adjust your child's schedule to the time change before you fly or wait until you arrive at your destination. We are firm believers in waiting. For us, the journey is the hardest part. We want to be as well-rested going into it as possible (baby, too!) so that it's easier to survive. We have found that our child adjusts to the new time zone way faster than us. Maybe babies have an easier time because they are used to sleeping more throughout the day? Or maybe our baby is just a super-star international jet-setter. Whatever the reason it took her less than 48 hours both there and back (6 hour difference there, 8 hour difference back) to get back to her regular sleep routine. We feel that the number one thing you can do to help yourselves get onto the correct time, no matter how far your journey or how many time zones you leap over, is to arrive at your destination in the late afternoon. Our baby usually goes to bed around 6 pm. Landing at 4 pm local time was perfect. By the time we got our bags, cleared customs, transfered from the airport to our accommodation, set up her crib, gave her some food, ran through her bedtime routine, it was 6:00 pm local time. That meant we had a moment to shower, eat some take-out, and go to bed at 7:30 pm local time. You will be tired from the journey and you'll sleep. You might not wake up at exactly the right time, but with some water, exercise, sunlight, and hearty meals the next day at local meal times, it won't take you long to get back on track.

Selfie attempt at the top of Dubrovnik's old town walls
Above all, enjoy this amazing opportunity to spend time together as a family. Your baby might not remember the sites you saw or the borders you crossed, but she will hold on to the feeling of being with parents who are happy and excited by new places and experiences. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Balkans Day 18: Krka

The goal for this trip was to stay in only a few places, enjoy a more local-feel, give Baby time to play, and relax. 90% of the things we were doing were within a 20 minute walk of our accommodations. It was perfect for travel with a 9 month old. But there were a couple of sights that we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to see and one of them was Krka. We've already bragged about how gorgeous Croatia's coastline is, but its interior deserves serious praise. It was with great anticipation that we hit the road early one morning from Split in a rental car, ready for a full day of sight-seeing ahead.

Krka National Park is named after the river it encloses and is most famous for its series of waterfalls, Skradinski Buk. Boardwalks wind back and forth through the upper part of the falls not unlike the experience we had at Iguazu a number of years ago. There is lots of wildlife to be seen where water seems to come from every direction, the air filled with the sounds of rushing, trickling, and falling water. Many off-shoots and viewpoints dot the path, helping to spread out the tourists, featuring a variety of sizes of rapids and falls. We were disappointed when we arrived to notice a sign saying that the natural swimming pool at the bottom was closed due to high water levels. It was perhaps a good thing in the end as the sky had darkened and the temperature dropped with a chilly breeze around us.

When we finally made our way to the bottom, the forest opened up onto a grassy field and beyond was the sight we'd been waiting for.

We took our time enjoying the view and making our way back up to the top of the hill. Even without the chance to swim, we enjoyed the experience immensly and would highly recommend a visit.

With grumbling bellies, we got back on the road and made our way to Sibenik, a sea-side town with beautiful old buildings and a little harbour. We had lunch and took a wander, Craig most interested in the sites mentioned in the book he was reading, Through Bosnia and Herzegovina with a Paintbrush. The main cathedral towered above us as an impressive feat of architecture.

We had one more stop to make before heading back home. Trogir was another coastal town that our Air BnB host had recommended. We bundled up the best we could with the clothes we'd brought and ventured out into the windswept streets. A huge, arching pedestrian bridge took us from the parking lot over the small river and into the old town, which is on an island. It mirrored Dubrovnik and Kotor in its tiny alleyways perfect for exploring on an atmospherically blustery day. Although it was clearly a common tourist destination, Trogir certainly had maintained its original charm, having been inhabited for the past 2300 years. And similarly to the other cities we visited, as soon as we turned off the main tour group streets, the alleys were just as lovely and nearly completely empty.

A bit peckish and willing to push our luck, we got dinner in a restaurant which had set up shop in the ruins of an old home. Vines grew up partially crumbled walls, and trees sprouted up to the sky, thanks to the lack of a roof. This offered little protection from the biting wind but it was still an enjoyable experience even if the gluten-free cannolini did not live up to expectations.

Our pace quickened walking back to the car as the sky darkened and we knew we were on borrowed time with Baby. A quick 20 minutes (plus an extra 10 to circle back and fill up the tank) had us dropping off the car and walking back to the warmth of our home. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Balkans Days 16-19: Split

It was a two hour ferry ride from our island that brought us to Split. Experience had taught us that the front bench seats provided great views out the bow as well as enough space to rock an unwilling baby to sleep in her stroller. We arrived in port just after 8pm and were greeted by an enthusiastic and friendly guy our age more than willing to help us lug our belongings to his dad's apartment and give us a complimentary tour along the way. We were quite excited for this accommodation...we were staying IN the wall of the palace. How cool is that?!

We managed a quick transfer from stroller to crib with fairly little crying, then began sweeping up the many decorative flourishes in the flat that posed a significant risk to Baby (i.e. the piranha-like skull with many sharp teeth, sea urchin, heavy pottery from a shipwreck just within her reach, etc...You may have guessed that there was a nautical theme).

Look closely and you'll see Erin enjoying the view from our palace wall apartment!
Split had a very different feel from Dubrovnik or Korcula. In both of our previous stops much of the beauty came from a cohesive aesthetic that transports you to a specific'ish time and place. Split is an ode to adaptability and change, as evidenced by our modern apartment built into a 1500 year old Roman wall.

Whether it is an ancient Roman mosaic poking out from under a restaurant's wall, or one facade that shows seven different periods in which it was partially rebuilt with different stones, something different is waiting around every corner. Split's old town, centered around Diocletian's palace, is also frequented by locals in addition to the many tourists. While this was a welcome change, the groups of young men pre-drinking in and around the poorly-lit empty alleys by our place was a different vibe than gelato slurping toddlers. We were once again glad that we were visiting in the off-season so the hordes had lessened.

Making the most of an early-rising baby by getting out for a wander before the shops open
In our three days there, we hit up most of the main attractions. With rain threatening the short-term forecast, we took our first morning to climb up a big hill to Marjan park so we could achieve widespread views of the city and port. It felt so good to be in nature again after our long stint in Dubrovnik. We continued our workout by summiting the bell tower in the palace. The top was stunning but slightly nerve-racking with the high winds and open aired vestibule. Passing other visitors on the creaky staircase was definitely more than a little precarious. We visited a few temples and went in and out the four palace gates and mainly just enjoyed the architecture and atmosphere. Split has a lovely waterfront promenade, The Riva, for strolling, and there was, of course, gelato on offer. All in all, we enjoyed our time there but not quite as much as the warm and inviting streets of Dubrovnik that we'd left behind.