Category Archives: Travelling

Copenhagen for the Weekend

I am leaving once again. This time I’m off to Copenhagen to meet up with one of my oldest friends from Michigan. The weather forecast looks gloomy but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Jessica (she just got her PhD, so it’s Dr. Jessica now!) and being in Scandinavia for the first time. We might even take the train to Sweden to visit Malmö, but I’m sure there is plenty to do and see in København alone.

I will upload lots of photos and realia for learning dansk as soon as I get back on Monday. In the meantime, don’t forget to vote for Jennie in France in the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2010 at Lexiophiles! Tak!

The Croatian Vacation in Split & Dubrovnik

Our Croatian vacation began in Split, the 2nd largest city. We rented a studio apartment inside of Diocletian’s Palace for only 220 kuna / 30€ per night. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site and about 1,700 years old, but it’s not a closed tourist attraction that you have to pay to enter – it’s a part of the city where people live and work. Most of the stone and marble used to construct it came from the nearby island of Brač, which we also visited, and whose marble was used in constructing buildings in Budapest, Vienna, and even the White House in Washington, D.C.

We only had two full days in Split before heading to Dubrovnik, but I wish we could have stayed longer. We did walk along the water around the peninsula and take a ferry to Brač for 28 kn, but I would love to explore the islands more (such as Korčula and Hvar) and go back to Trogir, another UNESCO site next to the airport, about 30 minutes from Split. We actually went there on the last day before heading to the airport and it was such a nice place. I definitely recommend it as a day trip from Split and the local buses run there so it’s quite easy to reach.

We took a bus to Dubrovnik (there are no trains that go that far south) for 109 kn but I wish we could have taken the ferry, even if it does take all day. Unfortunately for us, Jadrolinija has suspended the Split-Dubrovnik route until May 30 so we didn’t have much of a choice. We bought the bus tickets the day before, which was a good idea since the seats are assigned and we were lucky enough to be in the front row and on the right side so we could look at the coast the entire way. We arrived more than 5 hours later (normally it should take 4.5 hours) even though the driver was constantly speeding because he made so many stops at random places, including 20 minutes in Bosnia. For some reason, you are not allowed to use the bathroom on the bus, but there are three 5 minute stops at other bus stations in Makarska, Ploče, and Metković, but you do have to pay to use their bathrooms (2 or 3 kn).

Passing through Bosnia & Herzegovina was interesting. If you look closely at a map of southern Croatia, you will see that it is actually cut into two so that Bosnia can have access to the water. There are customs on both borders so you have to get your passports out and but they don’t actually stamp them. There is one Bosnian city on the coast, Neum, but it still feels like Croatia since they take kunas (Bosnia uses the convertible mark) and the stores sell Croatian souvenirs and nothing that says Bosnia & Herzegovina on it. The majority of the people who live there are also Croats rather than Bosnians or Serbs.

When we finally arrived in Dubrovnik, it took us forever to get to our hotel because the bus station is on the western edge of the city and the local buses don’t go directly to the area with the hotels, which is a peninsula to the south. Plus the old town is on the eastern side of the city, so we walked a lot though we could have taken a local bus for 10 kn. Luckily it wasn’t very hot yet so it wasn’t a problem, but I wasn’t expecting the hotels to be so far away from the main tourist attraction. There are only a few hotels in and around the old town and they are mostly 5 star hotels like the Hilton, so if you want to stay near the old town, you have to book private accommodation. It is really common in Croatia for people to rent out rooms (sobe) or apartments (apartmani), and they even hang out at the bus station trying to get customers as soon as they get off the bus.

Dubrovnik’s old town, another UNESCO World Heritage site, was just as beautiful as the pictures I had seen, but it is really crowded with tour groups and people from cruise ships. It costs 70 kn to walk around the town on the walls that completely surround it and it is definitely worth it. Other than the old town, we also walked along the water on the peninsula by the hotels and took a day trip to Cavtat, a gorgeous town on the water even further south. It is less touristy and crowded, and there are plenty of places to sit on the rocks next to the water (sandy beaches are kind of rare in Croatia). It wasn’t warm enough to go swimming but the beautiful turquoise water made me want to stay there longer. Plus it only cost 12 kn to take the bus there.

The final day we rented a car to return to the airport in Split because I did not want to take the 5 hour bus again.  Our bus driver was constantly talking on his cell phone and smoking while driving (illegal in Croatia) and I really didn’t want to get motion sick on a bus that wouldn’t let me use the bathroom. It took probably 3.5 hours to get back because it is just one road along the coast (the highway doesn’t go all the way down to Dubrovnik yet) and we stopped again in Neum in Bosnia to have lunch at Hotel Orka. It was the cheapest meal we ever had. Less than 14€ for two drinks, two main dishes and two sides of fries.  Croatia was cheaper than France too, of course, but it is getting more and more touristy so I’m sure prices will continue to rise.

Croatia is supposed to be the next country to join the European Union in (probably) 2012 and I will also hopefully become an EU citizen within 2 years since I can start applying for French citizenship at the end of this year. I would love to be able to live and work there, but I really hope they keep the kuna for as long as possible since the expensive euro screws up everything .  I wonder if it will become more difficult to drive through Bosnia though once Schengen space laws are enforced.

In short, I loved loved loved Croatia and want to go back very badly. The small towns along the coast were so beautiful and I would like to explore the northern regions too, especially around Plitvice Lakes and Pula. Everyone was extremely nice to us and spoke English very well. (They put my students to shame!) Anglophone shows and movies are subtitled and not dubbed on TV, which I’m sure helps a lot. We also heard a lot of German and some Italian, but less French and almost no Spanish. The Croatian language has always interested me and will certainly be helpful for traveling around Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro someday when I finally learn enough to communicate. If we had had more time, we would have done some excursions to Mostar and the Bay of Kotor since they’re both an hour or two from Dubrovnik. I’ve always wanted to see Sarajevo too and learn more about the history of the Balkan wars. But that’s another trip for another day…

More photos: View the full Croatia photo album and check out some Croatian realia so you can see how the language is used in everyday life (menus, signs, receipts, etc.)

Off to Croatia / Hrvatska

David and I are going on vacation to Split & Dubrovnik, Croatia, this week. I’ve been wanting to see Croatia since I was a teenager and I’m already planning another trip to the Balkans for next year. Our round-trip plane tickets from Geneva were only 37€ each and our accommodation is only 15-25€ per person per night (with a kitchen and free internet) so I am already loving this vacation and we haven’t even left yet.

I’m going to try to update the Croatian tutorial later this summer so I plan on collecting lots of resources for the Realia page as well as taking lots of photos, of course.

Vidimo se kasnije!

Looking Ahead to 2010

Winter seems to be over already. Those 3 days of cold and snow were enough. Now it’s rainy and nearly 50 F, which is fine by me since I only like winter in North America. One good thing about not going home for Christmas is not getting stuck at airports or train stations like so many people did this past weekend. So it’s a good thing we stayed in France this year (I keep telling myself…)

I’ve decided I would really like to travel – hopefully to a warmer place – during winter break in February. I’m looking into Madrid and Lisbon for a few days, but I’m not sure if David can come with me and I really hate traveling alone.

My university has its spring break in mid-April, and then one more week of classes, which I think is quite stupid. I should finish my classes on April 22 and since I have no exams to administer for the second semester, I will be on vacation! I’m already planning a trip to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Germany (with quick stops across the border in Lille & Strasbourg) with Michelle for June. Then David & I are planning on going to Quebec in July.

I was thinking about Croatia for May. Plane tickets from Geneva to Split are only 25€!!! Anybody wanna be my travel buddy??

Thinking about traveling seems to cheer me up a little. Countries are so close together in Europe and plane tickets can be so cheap. I haven’t left France (or even Rhône-Alpes) in four months and I’m getting a bit too restless. I’m tired of just sitting around in Chambéry feeling bored because the weather is crap and there’s not much to do. It’s still my goal to visit at least 3 new countries every year, so let’s see if I actually make it to Portugal and Croatia (Luxembourg is definite, at least).

Someone Else’s Tour du Monde

David’s friends Max and Pauline are currently on their “tour du monde” – trip around the world. I still don’t think I would like to to do one long trip around the world, but I sure do miss traveling.  I haven’t left the country since August. Three whole months!

They’ve been posting beautiful photographs, most recently of Lebanon and Jordan, on their blog: D’ouest en est

So many places to see, so little time money…

Le retour en France

I arrived back in France at 6 AM Saturday morning, a full hour ahead of schedule. I guess the pilot flew really fast? I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I did not have to pay $50 for my second checked bag, though I still don’t know why. The kiosk screen at check-in clearly said I could only have one bag free, but when I entered 2, it still said free, so that was awesome. In addition to the shorter than expected flight, I got to watch both Wolverine and Star Trek in English and the food was not terrible. Not having to go through passport control and security again at every connection was also quite nice. I miss flying within the US.

Obviously I cannot sleep now as it is 4 AM here. I can never sleep on planes, or in cars, or anywhere that isn’t my bed for that matter, so now I feel exhausted and awake at the same time. I hate how almost all flights to Europe are overnight flights. What a horrible idea. I lounged around for most of the day because I felt like a zombie, and I keep having this weird muscle cramp in my leg. I suppose I should try to sleep during the night so I can get back on a regular schedule. But playing with my new desktop computer and eating chocolate mousse sounded like a better idea.

Washington, D.C.

I finally saw the nation’s capital on Monday. I had been wanting to see D.C. for a very long time and since we were going to be close by (well, close enough) after the wedding, I talked my parents into stopping for the day. So for eight hours we wandered around the Mall and Arlington Cemetery, taking picture after picture and learning about the history of the presidents from our Tourmobile guides.

Here are just a few photos. I will upload the rest to a photo album on my Travel Photos page when I get back to France.

Lincoln Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial

WWII Memorial

Washington Monument

White House

Capitol Building

Arlington Cemetery

View of D.C. from Arlington House

I will definitely go back to D.C. someday. I could spend days in the Smithsonian museums, and I love that they are free. I’ve always liked American history, and especially military history, and there is so much to learn and experience in that city. And I’m glad we were in Lexington before Arlington since Robert E. Lee had a strong presence in both places and I knew exactly what the guides were talking about. But I had no idea he (technically, his wife’s family) had owned Arlington House before the Civil War.

I gave all of my history books to my brother (along with the bookcase since there were so many) when I moved to France, but now I feel like reading up on the Civil War again. I know David has a few history books, but reading them in French just isn’t the same.

Back to the USA

I go back to the US tomorrow for 3 weeks. I’m so excited, but dreading the long day of traveling on three different flights. I need to get up in 6 hours to start getting ready though, so maybe I should go to bed now. Next post will be from Michigan!

A plus !

Why I hate Delta, reason #743

It’s probably no secret that I absolutely abhor flying. Normally it’s random people in the airport who drive me insane because they are too stupid to not wear a belt or put coins and keys in their pockets when they KNOW they will be going through a metal detector. And don’t even get me started on people who don’t know they have to take their laptops out of their carry-ons. TSA’s liquid ban also makes me want to punch the person who thought that would somehow make us all safer. But what I hate most is how the airlines treat you like crap – and the airline that has always been the worst is Delta.

It’s bad enough they bought out my beloved Northwest (best airline ever. period. RIP.) and left me stranded in Kentucky with a $50 hotel fee a few summers ago, but now I have to fly with them again in order to go home for my sister’s wedding. Even buying the ticket was a nightmare since their website sucks and my ticket was confirmed, but yet not actually approved. I tried getting help from their online chat, but was instructed to call a number that didn’t work. I tried two other customer service numbers that got me nowhere or simply hung up on me. Finally my mom had to call them from Michigan! Not only that, they tacked on a $20 fee to the overall price and did not explain why.

Then today I discover that Delta is now the first major US airline* to start charging a fee for the 2nd checked bag on an international flight, for tickets bought on or after May 23 with travel on or after July 1st. Oh lucky me, I bought my ticket June 1st! So I get to pay an extra $50 when I come back to France in August because there is no way all of my American goodies are going to fit in one suitcase.

If only sea travel weren’t so much more expensive and longer than air travel…

*Unfortunately, Northwest is also charging this fee since they are now technically Delta. Stupid merger. At least the other SkyTeam partners haven’t started charging yet though.

The Beauty of Istanbul

Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia)

Blue Mosque

Basilica Cistern

Istiklal Caddesi when it’s not busy

Shopping on Istiklal

Grand Bazaar

Spice Market

New Mosque across the Bosphorous

Galata Tower

Random adorable cat # 2,547

French Quarter

Çay (Tea)

Hope to see you again someday, Turkey!