Dubrovnik • Croatia | The Pearl of the Adriatic Sea

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And what a pearl it is. The final stop on our Croatian tour, which seemed appropriate because as the adage goes: save the best for last. This city truly is a dream.

Ah Dubrovnik, how we long to come back.

It was early July when we landed in Dubrovnik and already the temperatures were up around 32°C, but it felt significantly warmer (a side effect of living in Brussels I think – how quickly we have adjusted to our cooler year round temps). We had two days to explore and enjoy Dubrovnik.

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Welcome to Old Town.

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Built snug against the sea, once you pass through the gates and head down into the heart of the town, you will immediately feel as though you’ve been transported back in time. The buildings and paved walkways all gleam a brilliant white in the afternoon sun. Gelato shops can be found almost every few paces, which was a necessity for this group in beating the heat. Wander up and down the narrow, stepped alleyways and stumble upon tucked away restaurants and shops outside of the main tourist fare. This city begs to be explored.

After a tour through the city, do as we did and walk the city walls. At 100 Kuna (approximately €13 or $17) it is on the more expensive side as far as sights go, but trust, it does not disappoint. Once you climb up a couple of flights of stairs you are immediately welcomed with the most glorious views of the city which alone are worth the price of admission. The views below will look very familiar to our fellow Game of Thrones fans – I imagine George R. R. Martin wrote his descriptions of Kings Landing with this very city in mind. These walls, over 1,940 meters in length, are the reason this city was able to thrive and survive various sieges over the years.

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Fair warning. It can get quite warm up on the walls – do as we did and stop at one of the various cafes along the way for a quick beverage to get out of the heat and recharge before tackling the rest of the wall. It can also get quite crowded as the cruise ships or tour buses will descend upon the city. Aim to do the walls either early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and the heat.

To get an even more birds-eye view of the city, head up to the tippy-top of the Srd Hill. Given the heat and our tired legs we opted for the easy route and grabbed the cable car. If you’re feeling motivated and looking to stretch your legs, there is a path up the hill if you prefer to save a few bucks and walk.

Perfection.

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The rest of our time when not spent indulging in scoop after scoop of gelato (when in Croatia?), was spent enjoying what has become our infatuation with Croatia: the clear blue gorgeous waters. Our first attempt was to try and find the hidden beach that Rick Steves recommended called St. Jakov. We clearly missed our mark, but we found some steps leading down to a rocky outcrop below that proved to have the best views of Old Town.

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I’ve said it before, but one of my favorite things about Croatia and these coastal towns is that there are ladders leading down into the ocean. Here, the ocean is your water playground. Hours were spent alternating sunning on the rocks and going for dips in the ocean. We couldn’t have asked for more.

When we walked through the city the first day, we walked by Cafe Buza which is a little cliff bar hanging right on the outside of the city wall. It was recommended by some friends that had previously passed through the city years ago. A suggestion was also made – one I never intended to follow, but it got Jared pretty jazzed. Where else would you get the opportunity to jump off the wall of a city into the ocean far below. We scoped the scene the first day, watching one Australian after another take the plunge. Some took the leap without hesitation, probably assuming any moment wasted would lead to reconsideration, and some needed some friendly encouragement or ribbing from their friends waiting down in the water below. Our thought that day – damn that jump is high.

Our last day in Dubrovnik, it was decided, would be THE day. Jared and Dylan would brave the jump. Bre and I would be cheerleaders/photographers. As Bre and I settled ourselves into the best photo position, the boys navigated the hazardously path out to the jump point. Dylan leaped first, then Jared followed.

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Jared did a little time-lapse video editing to created these nifty little photos – Dylan’s jump on the left. Jared’s jump on the right. Guess whose butt was more black and blue the following day. It may not look too bad, but it’s about a 20 meter (60 feet) high jump. Enough to give even the most adventurous person a moment’s pause.

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Post jump:

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Was it safe? Eh. The boys assured us that there was never any danger of hitting the rocks below; however, the walk to the jump point was pretty treacherous and should be carefully crossed. Would Jared do it again? Most decidedly no. This falls in the one and done category.

Our final night was lowkey. An impromptu happy hour down at the cliffs. Hours spent rehashing the trip and discussing the highlights of Croatia. And hopeful plans for another trip – and soon – in the future. We have some pretty awesome friends.

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This place has won a piece of our hearts and while absence makes the heart grow fonder, I don’t think it’ll be long before we find ourselves in Dubrovnik or Croatia again.

 

33 Candles

Today is this boy’s birthday.

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He’s turning a young and spry 33.

There are the all-important birthday milestones we hit along the way: 16, because you get your driver’s license; 18, because you are officially an “adult” (whether you act like one or not); 21, because it’s now legal to drink (woo – toss out the fake ID!); and 30, because leaving your 20s is beyond tragic. After 30, the panic attacks that accompany getting another year older seem to fade. Gone are the insecurities of our youth. Being in your 30s is cool. Sure we don’t seem to bounce back quite as easily after a night of drinking as we did in our 20s, but now that we’re a mature 30+ we have had years of experience and know our limits… right? After 30, birthdays become purely a day of celebration.

And so here we are. My guy is turning 33, and special things have been planned. Things that can’t yet be mentioned because the birthday boy is a continent away at the moment. The big celebration will happen this coming weekend.

And so today, I toast the birthday boy from afar:

Happy Birthday baby. 32 was a rollercoaster of adventure with our big move overseas. It’s been a year of grand adventures and new experiences. A year of many firsts. It’s been a blessing and a privilege to be your wife and see you grow into the wonderful man you have become – so kind, generous, loving, and patient (even when I’m not). The kind of guy any woman would be proud to stand next to, but luckily you chose me. If the last two weeks have been any indication, I just do not work without you – you truly are the best part of me. And 33? If the next few months are any indication, this year is going to be an amazing one. Now hurry home to me so we can really celebrate in style!

 

Dinant • Belgium | The Bathtub Regatta

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When we first found out that we were moving overseas, Jared’s first order of business was researching unique European things. One of the first found and calendared was this: Dinant’s bathtub regatta. Each August 15th, people build boat floats and race (in theory) 1 km down the river Meuse. The race is open to anyone who wants to participate and the only caveats are that your boat 1) must incorporate a bathtub, and 2) it must be man-powered. Intrigued? So were we.

About 10 months later, having completely forgotten about the regatta, we were scrolling through our calendars and stumbled upon the entry we had put in there so long ago. Did we still want to go? Sure, why not. And so fresh off a red-eye flight back from the States, we hopped in our car and headed to Dinant to check it out. Turns out the regatta didn’t officially start until later that afternoon, so we did a mini tour of the city – Dinant’s big claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, creator of the saxophone – and grabbed some beers while we waited.

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Once the schedule start time arrived, we hunkered down along the river with the other folks and waited for the spectacle to begin. This year’s theme was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Adolphe Sax – some boats went all out and were floating dance parties, others were much simpler, and some chose to go with their own theme. The one lesson we learned that day is just because you are high and dry up on the river bank, doesn’t mean you’ll stay that way. Quite a few of the boats would cruise up along the edge and send some splashes of water up into the crowds with their paddles. Survived those? Then keep an eye open for the water balloons rocketing in.

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The best part of this one was actually the flip side. This is the float I’d want to be on!

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Learning French

Or rather (more appropriately) NOT learning French.

We arrived in Belgium at the end of October in 2013, geared up and ready to dominate this French language thing. Much to our dismay, the school year was already a couple of months in, so our preferred French language class was closed to us until the following school year. Not ideal, but okay. We’ll use duolingo and speak with the locals to try to learn until we can start the class.

So fast forward to now. Remember the plan to duolingo? Yeah, a few false starts, but it never happened (for me at least). And talking to the locals? Ha! This is the problem with working in an English-speaking office – no one speaks French to you. And really, as if I expected to osmosis that language in…

Now that registration is open for the new school year, I went to register myself for Level 1 and guess what? IT’S COMPLETELY FULL! So I am on a list, waiting with fingers crossed, that someone will either level up because they are much more proficient than they thought or someone decides they actually hate the French language and were crazy to sign up for the class.

Wish me luck!

LOVE: 5 YEARS

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Today we are celebrating 5 years.

11 years ago I swore I was going to buckle down. Focus more on school, focus less on boys. Sometimes things do not work out as you plan.

On my first day back in Los Angeles after returning from summer vacation, my best friend introduced me to a guy she befriended over the summer. He was a long-haired, Metallica-loving boy who was excitedly waving a guitar pic around his fraternity house. That guitar pic was a token keepsake caught while at the previous night’s Metallic concert – a pic personally thrown by James Hetfield. A house party a week later led to a night spent talking into the wee wee hours of the morning. The topics of conversation are long forgotten, but I do remember that although both of us struggled to keep our eyes open, neither wanted to be the one to end the night. And that’s where our story began.

11 years together. 5 years married.

In that time we have lived in three different cities and adventured through 14 countries. We expanded our little family by two and moved to a country on a whole different continent thousands of miles away from all those near and dear to us. We have shared a love of sour beers, epic nerd/fantasy novels, and Harry Potter. We learned that every marriage is put to the test at one point or another, and that you can’t take each other for granted. We come first. We realized that marriage is not 50/50 all the time – sometimes you have to give more than you get. We discovered (thankfully) that we can spend weeks together non-stop just the two of us without wanting to kill each other, and that we can miss each other like crazy after only a single night away. Most importantly, we learned that love really can conquer all.

I can’t imagine sharing this life, this love, and this adventure with anyone else.

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Brussels • Belgium | Flower Carpet 2014

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Last weekend was a big deal here in Brussels – something that only happens once for a very brief period of time every two years: the Flower Carpet.

For one long weekend in August of every even year, the Grand Place is completely transformed with almost the entirety of the square covered with one massive flower carpet. The flower carpet is about 75 meters in length and 25 meters in width. That’s about 1,800 square meters of flowers. It takes around 750,000 flowers and more than 120 volunteers to put the carpet together. The flowers are apparently packed in so tightly that no soil needs to be used and the wind won’t blow them away. It’s pretty crazy to think of all the work that goes into building this carpet and to have it gone again in the blink of an eye.

The first flower carpet to be laid was in 1971, and after a few more additional flower carpets over the years, the biennial installation began in 1986. Each year has a different theme, and prior themes have included garden “à la française”, Brussels’ lace, Mozart, and Versailles. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of a convention which allowed Turkish immigration into Brussels; therefore, the carpet this year celebrated that anniversary. The Grand Place’s flower carpet was fashioned into a pattern resembling a Turkish rug.

You can walk along the perimeter of the flower carpet and get a good look at how tightly packed those flowers are. To get the best view though, I recommend paying the small fee (€5/person for 2014) to go up into City Hall and get the bird’s-eye view from the balcony. It’s the best way to get a true appreciation for the size and the detail of the pattern. It does get fairly crowded, so I would aim to get there either early or late in the day.

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I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say you should travel here just for this, that is unless you are a super flower enthusiast. But if it sounds like something that interests you, and you’re planning a trip to Brussels in August of 2016, I’d mark it on your calendar.

Anything unique or fun your city does?

Mostar • Bosnia and Herzegovina

It’s been all quiet on the blog front these last few weeks. We’ve been busy. Busy celebrating THE event of the year: my little sister’s wedding. But more on that in the upcoming weeks. Back to our Croatia/Bosnia holiday recap.

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Occasionally you find a city that exceeds all expectations. That was Mostar for us. We decided to detour out to Mostar on our way from Split to Dubrovnik, and I’m so glad we did.  Mostar is a charming little town, and while it could be easily tackled in a day, I would recommend a day and a night to really get a true feel for the town. You can do as we did and catch a bus from Split or Dubrovnik out to Mostar. Or, if you only have one day to spare (and want a quick check-off on the countries visited list) you can catch one of the day tours offered out of Dubrovnik. Bosnia is definitely worth a visit if you are able to fit it in. We know we’ll be back again for sure.

Our evenings were spent exploring Mostar: we caught a collection of animated shorts, we ate döner kebaps and cevapcici, smoked some hookah, and drank some Bosnian craft beer. We strolled through the streets of Old Town eating gelato and perusing the market stall offerings. We took it real easy.

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Hvar • Croatia

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The last morning in Split, we braved the torrential rainstorm for the 25 minute walk down where we’d catch the ferry to Hvar. [sidenote: the streets in Split can be quite slippery when wet – flip-flops plus slippery stones leads to massive slipping and sliding action] With a weather forecast of rain, rain, and more rain, we sped away from Split towards Hvar and somehow left the rainstorms and grayness behind. We were welcomed to Hvar with sun and clear blue skies. The island averages over 2,700 hours of sunshine per year, so it’s not surprising that it promotes itself as the “sunniest spot in Europe.”

It could be that all the guide books chalked it up as overly touristy and expensive – even Rick Steves recommended spending just a day – but we hands down LOVED Hvar. We spent two blissful days in Hvar – swimming in the ocean, sunning on the rocks, unsuccessfully cheering on the USA against Belgium, exploring the fortress, and just being. Continue reading

Split • Croatia

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After the Plitvice Lakes, we hopped in the car and booked it out towards the coast – we had places to be and, more importantly, people to see. Waiting for us in Split were our good friends from San Diego, Bre and Dylan. Living in Belgium, we are so far away from friends and family, so we were really looking forward to having a bit of home in Europe. The schedule for the trip was open aside from the meeting point (Split) and the city of departure (back to life, back to reality) of Dubrovnik.

Split is the second largest city in Croatia.  Our time in the city was short – just about 36 hours – but we made the most of it. Continue reading

LIFE: World Cup

World Cup officially ended yesterday with a Germany victory over Argentina. I was rooting for Germany, but a part of me was hoping Messi would be able to pull it out.

These last few weeks, World Cup has been our life. Those first couple of weeks, games would air over here at 18:00, 21:00, and 00:00. We’ve gotten so used to staying up until 2:30AM for games that it now seems early to tuck in anytime before 2:00AM. Most games we watched at home while we worked, but when we could, we tried to get out and watch it with people. Europeans love them some football (or soccer for us Americans), and there is nothing better than getting to root for and cheer on your home team. At various points around the city big screens went up where you and hundreds of your fellow fans could drink some beers, and cheer on the boys.

Thankfully, Belgium and the U.S. were in separate groups so we could cheer on our home country and our new adopted country with equal fervor. Jared spent those weeks constantly trading between his U.S. jersey and his Belgian jersey (and he even rocked his 16 year old Italian jersey on the occasion). We were so proud of all our boys.  The U.S. far exceeded expectations and actually survived the so-called Group of Death. Belgium had a little bit of a slow start, but came through their Group without contest.

We hoped (quite unrealistically) that the U.S. would come out first in their Group, or Belgium would come in second. Anything to delay a U.S.-Belgium face-off. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be and too soon we found ourselves having to root against our beloved Belgium. Our friends back home questioned our allegiance, but we were rooting for the U.S. 100%. As proof, Jared brought his U.S. jersey to Croatia and rocked that baby all day while we explored Hvar:

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