Sips of Happy

It’s official, both of the Finks are back in the states.  David arrived into town yesterday afternoon, bringing with him small treasures from our trip.  I can’t wait to crack open that liter of pumpkin seed oil and hand out those bottles of wine to friends.  We’re slowly adjusting to life at home. We were met with a freezer door that somehow froze over and now we can’t open it, a month’s worth of junk mail to throw away and a DVR full of our favorite shows. To be honest, it’s a bit overwhelming, there’s so much TV to get caught up on.  Do I find out what’s happening with Olivia Pope and Fitz or maybe I should check on Mindy and the gang to see how they’re doing? 

In honor of our return, we enjoyed an American classic, cheeseburgers and fries from one of our favorite burger joints.  Mine tasted just as good as I hoped it would be.   So far, I’ve had Chinese, Mexican, Thai and Burgers.  All that remains on my Foods I Must Eat list is sushi and a steak dinner.

For me, the adjustments has been filled with wonderful times and some moments that I would prefer to forget.  To start with the good stuff, I spent lots of time with my family and close friends over this past weekend.  The younger crowd enjoyed a makeshift tailgate and fantastic seats to watch our team defeat a division rival.

After, we joined the rest of the family to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday, where I got to hold my sweet baby cousin who is absolutely adorable. The baby was so sleepy and was yawning and wiggling in my arms as I held him; so precious. 

My sweet cousin yawning...so cute!

My sweet cousin yawning…so cute!

I’ve managed to survive my first few days  back in the office.  Let me just say, my first day was awful.  It wasn’t bad because of a certain incident, honestly the day was practically uneventful. What made it so unpleasant was the overall feeling on the floor.  When I swiped my badge and opened the door, it was as if I was hit with a thick cloud of doom and gloom.  Dark clouds of depression hung over everyone as they sat at their desks.  Even though the sentiment has not been outright expressed, you can see the hopelessness in my coworker’s eyes.  Fortunately, each day going forward has been a bit better and I’ve managed to start every day with a  good attitude. 

Despite the ugliness that surrounds me, I commit to doing my best to maintain my Croatian state of mind.  This isn’t my forever or even close to being my everything.  I’ve got an incredible man for that.  This is a blip on my radar that will pass.  My focus will be on the good times, those moments that warm up my heart and remind me that life is still good. Or as I like to call them, sips of happy.

A sip of happy- Enjoying the changing leaves in Atlanta.

A sip of happy- Enjoying the changing leaves in Atlanta.

Cheers to You, Croatia!

I’m ending this month long adventure the way I started it, with a Donna Summer dance party. She has definitely perked up the mood from a little mellow to downright upbeat.  I’m dancing around and finishing packing up my things.  It’s a little weird seeing my life shoved into four suitcases.

I took care of the essentials today; worked out, sipped some coffee while doing a little people watching and I got a manicure.  Mirna killed it this afternoon with my nails; I’m absolutely in love with them.  With my new paint job and Donna singing Bad Girls, I’m feeling a little sassy.

I’ve realized that I’ve done everything that I wanted this month and very little I planned.  Pre-Croatia Nikki probably would have freaked out over this; but it actually feels good.   I’ve had the trip of a lifetime and experienced more than I ever imagined I could in a month.  For whatever reason, I thought I would come out of this experience feeling more settled down but if anything I’m left with an even greater appetite to explore and discover.  Thankfully, David and I are on the same page.  We’ve got dinner tonight to toast to this opportunity and to our future.  I’m happy, we’re happy, life is good.

So, what’s next? That’s what I’ve been asking myself. Quite honestly, I’m not sure yet.  I know in the immediate future I have a flight out to Frankfurt that is obscenely early and this weekend is homecoming, so there will be football, family and friends.  This should definitely lighten the harsh blow of reality.  As far as my next international adventure, I’m sure I’ll stumble into something, but that doesn’t mean everything will go dark.  Now that I’ve discovered the pleasures of blogging, I don’t plan on stopping. I’ve got a lot to say.  There are untold Croatia stories that I need to share and I know I’ll have plenty of tales to tell from the trouble I get into back home.

Like I told my friends here, I’m not saying any goodbyes.  So, I’ll see you soon.

Life’s Balancing Act

I went to bed last night in a bad mood, I felt anxiety creeping up from my stomach and into my throat.  My days in Croatia are few and I was starting to freak out.  I thought I would wake up this morning and write a long, dramatic entry of how I wasn’t ready to leave, but I’ll save myself the embarrassment. I do feel like I’m not ready to go yet;  there’s so much still to explore and many relationships that I would like to continue to cultivate.  But honestly, who would be ready to leave behind an adventure.   Longing to stay is almost the best way to go.  It gives me more of a reason to come back.  I would hate to be the exact opposite, pissed off at a country and damning it to anyone who would listen.

My biggest fear or the thing that has been hiding in the shadows of my mind, ready to pounce when I was the most vulnerable, was not that this amazingly wonderful opportunity would be ending but that when I return, I will revert back to being the person that I was before I left.  Pre Croatia,  I was a woman  who was crazy stressed-out, anxious and unhappy the majority of the time.  Think of any character Katherine Heigl has played, and that was me.  I hated the way I was leading my life and the person who I had become because I knew that wasn’t me.  Being able to come here  was an opportunity for me to reset and come out refreshed with a clear mind.   And my time here has been just that.  There is a noticeable difference in who I am today and what I was then.  And as cheesy as it sounds, Croatia has led me to remember what it was to enjoy life and how to be happy.  The last thing I want to do is to lose that feeling and be that neurotic lady again.

My bible study this morning was titled “It’s OK to Enjoy Your Life”.  I think the title alone is a lesson in itself.  With everything that most people have going on, we do sometimes need to be reminded that life was meant to be enjoyed.  It went on to say that there is a time for accomplishment and there is a time for enjoyment. We can’t lead a life worth living if we have one without the other.  Life is a constant balancing act between two.   Today’s lesson, which I think is probably the major lesson of my journey, has dramatically changed my outlook on my impending return.   It’s time to tip the balance back towards the middle.  As I start one of my final mornings in Varaždin (at least for the time being), I refuse to be sad. I’ve got a 12 hour trip home for that.  Besides, there’s far too much life to enjoy today.

Croatian Football Feast

I woke up this morning stuffed from last night’s feast.  I was a little dehydrated but no headache; I would call that a victory.  Yesterday evening, we drove over to the neighboring town of Novi Marof to visit friends.  You may recall my last visit to Novi Marof was for the Croatian Barbeque.  This evening had a similar spirit but with a slight twist. Instead of going to the family compound, we headed to the hills to their cabin where we had gemišt, delicious food and we watched a little football Americano.

We made our way up the winding hillside and found ourselves surrounded by darkness.  Željko flagged us down and then guided us inside to the chilly one room cabin.  In it, there was a small bed, a table with a few chairs, a sink and a wood burning  oven.  Nikola was bringing in firewood to get the fire going and Željko pulled out small bottles of homemade liquors and glasses to help warm us up a little more quickly.  It was lovely.

Nikola tending the wood burning oven

Nikola tending the wood burning oven

Nikola and Željko started preparing the food, you got to love men that can cook.  To get us started, Nikola served up sausages (dried and cured by the Croatian wind), smoked bacon, onions picked from their fields, which he sprinkled with salt and bread.

Sausage, bacon and onions

Sausage, bacon and onions

As we were noshing, Željko began to heat a pot full of food over the oven and started peeling a bowl of potatoes.  We were in for a traditional peasant meal.

 Željko man handling those spuds.

Željko man handling those spuds.

Once thoroughly heated, Nikola sat the pot before us and revealed what was inside…stuffed cabbage.  I’m not really a cabbage kind of girl but it smelled so tasty.  It was generously stuffed with pork, rice and spices and then delicately rolled and cooked in some sort of broth.  I’m guessing there was probably some  wine in it.  Last night was the night that I became a cabbage loving kind of girl. This dish was so good!

We watched the Denver vs. San Diego game from the night before while we drank gemišt and Željko finished up with the potatoes and started to prepared the mulled wine.  The potatoes were laid out on the baking sheet and he was adding in the “love”,  meaning,  a pad of butter on each potato topped off with a slice of bacon.  Paula Dean would be proud.

Potatoes with "love"

Potatoes with “love”

Denver continued to lead over San Diego and we all sat around enjoying the mulled wine  and gemišt.  Nikola tended the oven, making sure the fire was fed, while Željko prepared the special sauce for the potatoes as the baked.  Once ready, the crispy potatoes were set before us with the sauce by its side.  We learned that the sauce would make Paula Dean even more proud,  it was browned onions in butter!  And of course, they were amazing.

Until the early morning, we enjoyed the warmth of the cabin and the taste of wine.  We built toilets, witnessed the durability of a Nokia phone and got a little weird with the camera. I learned that just like a true southern kitchen, pork and butter are the Croatian ingredients used to add little “love” to a dish.

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Thank you again to the friendliest family around, it was another night well spent.

Here we are feasting

Here we are feasting

Klipići | A Varaždin Tradition

Yesterday was a cold, rainy day in Varaždin, one where you don’t want to step outside, not even to get food. Fall has definitely arrived.  It seems that after weeks of the people willing it to be cold by wearing coats and scarves in about 70 degree weather, the season finally caught up with their mindset. I for one am so happy that cooler weather is here because that means I can finally wear the other half of my wardrobe. Oh, sweater weather.  On a nasty day like this, Iva and I could only think of one thing to do…bake! Iva and her mother have been telling me about Klipići (kleepeechee), a Varaždin tradition, and how they had to show me how to make it before I return home.

Iva knows the recipe by heart or I guess I should say, Iva knows how to make Klipićis so well that she doesn’t need a recipe. I quickly learned that Klipići is one of those things that almost everyone in the town knows how to make. A doughy treat that has been passed down from mother to child for years.

She starts preparing everything and I start asking questions. I know I’ve seen people eating them in the streets but I found out that a lot of cafés pair Klipići with coffee in the morning. I also learned that the main hotel in Varaždin, Hotel Turist, is the unofficial keeper of the recipe and of the traditional technique for preparing the bread.

As she continues to pull the ingredients together, I realize that not only is she cooking without a recipe but she’s not really measuring either. Klipići is the third thing she learned how to prepare as a child. First she mastered potatoes, then a meat dish, followed up by Klipići.

When Iva travels to other regions of Croatia and requests Klipici, they don’t know what she’s referring to. This pastry doesn’t really exist outside of the Varaždin region. There are similar pastries, like Kiflice, but they are often sweet and shaped differently.

Klipići Dough

I’m watching her mix and add milk and oil to the dough.   She knows just how much to add and of what. Using feeling alone, she’s able to get the right consistency. Then she begins the kneading process.

Kneading

The elders in Varaždin say you have to knead the dough like you’re mad at someone. I asked her if there was a fear of overworking the dough. For certain types of pastries and breads, yes but for Klipićii the more you knead it, the softer it will be once it’s baked. Ideally, the dough is kneaded for 15 minutes but she claims to not have the arm strength for that. Once the dough was well kneaded, Iva floured a bowl and placed the ball of dough inside for it to warm up and rise. For an extra boost of warmth, she placed the bowl on the radiator.

As we waited, Iva shared some Klipići history with me.   Klipići dates back to when Varaždin was the capital of Croatia, that was way back in the 18th century. I love that this bread has been a staple in this town for so long. It’s believed that Klipići may have stemmed from Vienna when present-day Croatia was under Habsburg Monarchy rule. They also suspect that it’s a simpler version of the Viennese Kiflice.

IMG_1410

We began pinching off pieces of the risen dough and forming small balls. Then I got my first lesson in the proper dough rolling technique. The trick is to spread or stretch the dough as you roll it up. I wasn’t too bad. Then we added a level of complexity by spreading cream cheese on the sheets of dough prior to rolling them up. That proved to be a bit more challenging and my dough babies were a little fat and ugly. We let them rise again, then brushed them with egg wash and added seeds.  We used pumpkin and cumin.  Often times, sesame is used but any type of seed will work.

We placed them in the oven and then came the hard part, waiting for them to be done. Soon, the yummy smells of freshly baked bread starting fill up the house and I rushed to the oven to check on my babies. They had started to turn a lovely shade of brown, but still not quite done.   The smell was becoming so intoxicating it was making me crazy. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too much longer for them to be ready.

Klipići

Once they had cooled down, I grabbed one straight from the cookie sheet. The roll was so soft to the touch and my first bite was warm and heavenly. As I continued to eat, that’s when I discovered the cream cheese, which took these Klipićis to another level. Those warm doughy bites were more than what I expected and they were so easy to make. This is definitely a recipe I’m taking home with me and one Iva is willing to share with you all.

Klipići

Klipići Recipe

Ingredients:

500 mL of Milk

300 mL of Oil

900g of Flour

2 (literal) teaspoons of Salt

40g of Fresh Active Yeast

2 (literal) teaspoons of Sugar

1 (literal) teaspoon of Flour

2 Egg Yolks

Pinch of Salt

Directions:

Preparing the Yeast

      1. Warm 100mL of the 500mL of Milk until it’s warm to the touch
      2. While warming the milk, place 1 (literal) teaspoon of Flour in a small bowl. Add the 2 (literal) teaspoons of sugar to the flour. Take the 40g of Fresh Active Yeast and crumble into the Flour Sugar mixture
      3. Add 100mL of warm Milk to the Flour, Sugar and Yeast mixture and set aside for it to rise

Preparing the Dough

      1. Pour 900g of Flour into a large mixing bowl.
      2. Add 2 (literal) teaspoons of Salt to the Flour and mix the two together
      3. Once Yeast has risen enough, gently fold the Yeast into the Flour and Salt mixture
      4. Once Yeast is folded in, begin to add a little milk and oil to the mixture and blend with your hands. Continue to add milk and oil (little by little) and mixing with your hands until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers. You may have milk and oil left over
      5. Form the dough into a ball and begin to knead “like you hate it” for a few minutes
      6. After kneading, lightly flour a bowl and add the dough. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest in a warm place until it doubles in size

Shaping the Dough and Baking

      1. After the dough has risen, pinch off small pieces and form balls (18-20 balls of dough)
      2. Roll out individual dough balls until they are thin sheets
      3. Optional- Spread cream cheese and/or add meats on top of the thin sheet of dough
      4. At the smallest end on the bottom of the sheet begin to roll the dough upwards. Try to stretch the dough while rolling upwards to create length. Continue with remaining balls of dough
      5. Place finished rolled dough on the baking sheet and cover with a cloth and let it rise for about 30 minutes.
      6. Heat oven to 220°C or 450° F
      7. Create yolk egg wash by separating two yolks from egg whites. Add a pinch of salt to the yolks and gently beat
      8. After the rolls have risen, brush egg wash on each roll.
      9. Add seeds on top of each roll. We used Pumpkin and Cumin but any kind will work
      10. Place Klipići in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until beautifully browned
      11. Let cool and then enjoy!

One Lovely Blog Award | My Beauty Queen Moment

One Lovely Blog Award

All I can say is that it feels good to get some love from a fellow blogger. Thank you so much The Phraser for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Though I’ve been traveling for years, this is first time that I’ve ever blogged about my experiences . I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous to expose myself but I’ve realized that this is something that I really do enjoy. And it’s a great  to know that others enjoy my craziness too.

Now for the dirty details…

The One Lovely Blog Award is chosen by a fellow blogger to promote and broaden the audience of other blogs. It also recognizes blogs considered to be “Lovely” by the blogger that has nominated them.  I know I was walking around with a goofy smile on my face when I received my nomination and I hope those that I nominate feel the same way.

To receive this award, the blogger must do the following:

  • Thank the person who has nominated you and provide the link to his or her blog
  • List the rules and display the award image
  • Include seven facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 (or as many as you can think of) bloggers and let them know that they have been nominated

Seven Facts About The Bourgie Traveler

  1. I attended a Swiss Boarding School for two years.  I was actually a day student and not a boarder but I still like to say boarding school, it sounds cooler.
  2. As a child, I thought Red Wine by UB40 was a Christmas song.
  3. I secretly wish that Whitney Houston’s voice could be reincarnated into my body.
  4. My husband and I are college sweethearts.
  5. Mars Bars are hands down the best candy bar ever made!
  6. I’m a true sucker for Christmas movies. I’m talking the Lifetime and Hallmark kind, the sappier the better!
  7. I have a B.S. in Engineering

Now for the nominees…in no real order

Below are a few blogs that I’ve stumbled across and have enjoyed discovering. Not all of them relate to travel but that’s okay. They’re all perfectly awesome!

The Blonde Beyond

Nomadic Nabeel

Travels and Tomes: One Expat’s Amblings and Ramblings

Hair Full of Secrets

Adventures of Venus

Raw N’ Toned

Film Roles

Venice | My Other Love

Every time I go to Italy, it’s like I fall in love with the country over again. For me, Italy has everything I could ever want; food, wine, history, culture, fashion and most importantly, gelato.  Since being in Croatia, I have been strongly encouraging, or as some may call it, harassing, my husband to take me to Italy. With its proximity to our home away from home and David’s understanding of my deep passion for gelato, there should be no reason for us not to go. Thankfully, the encouraging helped and as a way to celebrate our recent third wedding anniversary, David booked a trip to Venice. Well played, sir.

We arrived in Venice in the afternoon and boldly jumped on the public transport boats with our suitcase to get to the hotel. The sea air filled my nose and I got tingles of excitement as the boat took off towards the main islands. As we hooked to the left around the gigantic ocean liners, I got my first real glimpses of the city; everything was so colorful and wonderfully old. I was falling in love.

View of Venice from the water bus.

View of Venice from the water bus.

After quickly checking in and admiring the beauty of the hotel, we headed straight to Piazza San Marco. The sun was just starting to turn that fierce shade of orange that makes everyone’s skin glow. It was all so stunning. The two of us maneuvered through the crowds of people and were met by even more people in the Piazza. Tourists were snapping photos of the Campanile, the Doges Palace and Basilica, as little ones chased pigeons and lovers enjoyed glasses of wine.

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In an attempt to escape the masses and those pesky vendors selling selfie sticks and fake Prada bags, we slipped into a narrow alley and got a little lost. We wandered the streets, walked over bridges and watched couples floating down the canals by gondola.

Eventually, we crossed over the Rialto Bridge and found the Cantina Do Spade booming with locals and a handful of tourists. We ordered Spritz (an Italian cocktail of Prosecco, Aperol or Campari with mineral water) and a plateful of cicchetti (think Italian styled tapas of fish, meats, deep fried balls of cheese and ham, stuffed squash blossoms…the list goes on) and found a seat on the bench outside to take it all in. This place was awesome from the atmosphere to the food and drinks. After another round, we were able to make our way inside, where we were invited to join a table with another couple. As the evening progressed, the four of us enjoyed more cicchetti and switched from Spritz to Cabernet to Prosecco as we discussed everything from American football to German healthcare. We got pulled deep into our conversations and cocktails and without realizing it, we ended up shutting down the place. Which sadly was considerably early compared to other major cities; in Venice, most establishments close by 10pm due to noise control. After parting ways, David and I stumbled through the quiet streets and found our way back to our hotel for the evening.

One of my favorite photos from our trip...a night view of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge.

One of my favorite photos from our trip…a night view of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge.

The next morning, we woke early, ready to explore more of the city. As soon as we hit Piazza San Marco, we got in line to tour St. Mark’s Basilica. Upon reaching the top of the stairs to enter the museum, the church bells began to ring and we heard the voices of angels singing. We stood there in awe of the golden mosaic ceilings while listening to the church choir. I like to pretend that this moment was just for me to enjoy. It was the perfect way to experience the basilica.

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From there, we pushed into the alleys to take a gelato break and find a gondola. For thirty minutes we glided down the canals as the water soothingly lapped around us and I enjoyed my cappuccino flavored treat.   We saw Marco Polo’s house and the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal and learned some history from our gondolier. Even in the late morning, this experience was surprisingly romantic and relaxing.

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In search of lunch, we wandered around until we reached the quiet neighborhood of Cannaregio. The couple from the night before recommended that we visit here to find peace. This area was practically tourist free and a great place to share a meal on such a beautiful afternoon. Along the canal, we sat outside and enjoyed fantastic plates of fresh pastas and salads and generous glasses of wine at a place called Ostaria da Rioba. At this point, I had completely fallen for this town.

Our final destination was the Galleria dell’Accademia so we could get a little artsy. We toured the large gallery and took in the beautiful art from the Early and High Renaissance. The size of the collection was quite impressive and as an added bonus, the crowds were small. After exploring, it was time for us to start making our way back to collect our things.

We had reached the moment that I had been dreading since I first laid eyes on this city, the time to say goodbye. I felt exactly as the young couple we saw waiting for the boat to come and carry one them away. They were savoring their final moments and held on for as long as they could, despite the inevitable. If only I had a few more hours here, maybe a day or hell, just one more gelato. As the sun set in front of us, I held on to David as the boat took us back to where we started twenty-four hours ago. I waved goodbye to the city and said a little prayer that one day I would return.

Sunset we saw as we were waiting for the boat to take us back to our car

Sunset we saw as we were waiting for the boat to take us back to our car

Vienna | The Beauty With Teeth

I had high hopes for Vienna, given its rich culture and history, the beautiful palaces and gardens and the raved about cuisine.  In certain ways, the city lived up to and even surpassed all expectations.  In other areas, it disappointed me.  Don’t get me wrong, I do plan on returning to this beautiful city to dive even deeper into it but I’ll be sure to do some things a little differently the next go around.

Saturday:

Waking up in Vienna was as I expected, there was a hum below us on the street from people starting their day and noises from the hallway from people making their way downstairs for breakfast.  We got off to a slow start but we eventually hit the streets hard and we were slammed by a sea of people who obviously started the day way earlier than us.  Making our way towards  St. Stephen’s Cathedral was intense, just masses of people moving and bumping into each other with their shopping bags.  While weaving our way through, I had to do a triple take.  I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.  Right there in the square was a Footlocker and a Claire’s.  I was so disappointed.  I’ve learned to expect that McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks have invaded many international cities but a Footlocker and Claire’s!  I had higher standards for you, Vienna; you’re too classy to accept these American brands.

Crowded streets in Vienna on the way to St. Stephan's Cathedral.

Crowded streets in Vienna on the way to St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

St. Stephan’s was gorgeous on the outside despite the construction. While proceeding to take as many photos as possible, we were accosted by a group of men in tights and Mozart-era garb, trying to get us to buy tickets for an orchestra.  The tights alone should have been a warning sign but we thought why not, it could be fun and he’s willing to give us a student price even though we’ve been out of college for almost 5 years.  After we paid the man, he disappeared and we made our way inside the cathedral.  Wow is the only accurate description.

We moved on from there to what would be the highlight of my day, The Belvedere Museum and Garden.  On the tram ride to there, I saw what was my last straw, a TGI Friday’s.  That was a complete shake my head moment and the Tyra Banks’  “I Was Rooting For You” rant came into my mind.  I was rooting for you, Vienna, we were all rooting for you!

Shortly, we arrived at the Belvedere and were completely blown away by the gardens.  In true Andrea & Nikki fashion, we had a photo shoot.

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The Belvedere is known for its extensive collections of Austrian artists.  I really wanted to see The Kiss by Gustav Klimt.  This piece of art exceeded my expectations; it was absolutely breathtaking in person but I fell completely in love with Klimt’s Judith.

Judith

Judith by Gustav Klimt

Judith isn’t usually a name for someone that society would find sexy but this Judith shattered that stereotype.  Judith looked like a hip, forward thinking girl, who knew what she was about and didn’t care what others thought about her.  Andrea and I were in love with her and walked around in a Judith funk for the remainder of our time there.  Everything was compared against her and she always won.

Later that evening we had time to swing by a wine bar before heading to our orchestra.  It was here where we encountered the most pretentious asshole to ever walk this earth.  Throughout the day, we picked up on the fact that the locals weren’t exactly friendly and we went in knowing that there was a coldness to Austrians but our waiter at the wine bar was on a different level.  He was rude, the exact opposite of  helpful and looked down on us with disgust as he essentially blew cigarette smoke in our faces.  The cure to such a horrible experience ended up being Viennese street meat.

Just a hundred feet away was an amazing sausage stand that melted our hearts.  So many types of sausage and so many different ways to eat it.  It was so good that we almost forgot about that jerk in the wine bar.  In that moment, I learned a few things, street meat in any country can be a true game changer and that mermen have legs.

We wandered the streets for almost 45 minutes trying to track down this orchestra, eventually we got there, turned over our tickets and were shown to our section.  This orchestra was so bootleg!  The setup reminded me of a middle school play performance, where there were large support beams disturbing the view and uncomfortable chairs to sit on.  Here I was thinking that we hustled them for student priced tickets, but we were really the ones that got played.  The actual performers weren’t bad, except for the male ballerina, or as I called him, ballerino, who couldn’t get his high kick right.  What made this production an embarrassment was classlessness that some of the audience demonstrated.  One lady was talking to her child and husband the entire time as if they were home watching tv.  Another group of big-haired  women dressed in tight clothes with exposed bosoms, which Andrea described as gypsies and David referred to as Jersey Shore wannabes, were constantly taking selfies in the middle of the performances.  It was a euro-ghetto hotmess and plain old tacky, so we left.

We hit up Café Central, a famous Viennese café where none other than Lenin, Trotsky,  Freud and even Hitler frequented.  There, we enjoyed hot chocolate and apfelstrudel to reset from all of the crazy we had just witnessed.

Sunday:

A new day was here and we were refreshed from the amazing sleep we got.  We were ready to execute on the  schedule we had laid out the night before.  We stepped outside and the sun was shining down on us, it was destined to be a fabulous day.  I have to note that Sunday morning in Vienna was beautiful.  It was relatively peaceful and we finally had room to breathe.  I loved it.

Our first stop was Schönbrunn Palace to tour the inside and explore the grounds.  This place was fantastic, there was so much history to discover and the grounds were so vast that we got caught up in it.  I honestly, could have spent half the day there just walking around in the gardens.  We raced around collecting snapshots from various angles until we realized we were late for our next stop.

We went across town to make the Spanish Riding School performance and arrived dripping in sweat and out of breath.  The show started, and I began to sneeze.  The horses were trotting around the arena, warming up for their performance and again, I sneezed.  I could feel my nose twitching in agitation and I sneezed again and again.  By the third riding sequence, I knew something wasn’t right; I was having some sort of allergic reaction.  As the horses jumped and pranced, my nose started to run  and I could feel my throat closing in.  Where was my SARS mask? In an effort to keep myself alive, I exited the performance. From this experience, I discovered that in addition to bunny allergies, I’m also allergic to dressage.

After that, all I wanted was fresh air and some food.  We found Café Sacher and ordered some traditional food and tasted their famous Sacher Torte before hitting the road back to Croatia.

Vienna is an ideal hunting ground for two women (along with my husband) who wanted to explore palaces and  cathedrals, take in the culture and eat well.  This city gave a little bit of sass, but that’s life.  From this adventure, we can take away a few things.

  1. You have to develop love affairs with the gardens, luxurious palaces and the delicious food and totally ignore the people.  The more you limit the human interactions that fall outside of your traveling party, the better.  Not everyone was bad, it was just rare when we found someone friendly.
  2. Accept that the maps and signs aren’t really going to be enough to help you navigate this city.  You will at some point get lost but enjoy it!  The architecture around this city is so gorgeous, almost everything is picture perfect.
  3. Stay away from the men in tights
  4. Enjoy Sunday morning in Vienna; it is by far the best time to explore the city.  The streets are quieter, there are fewer people to compete with for space and you’ll be able to take photos with fewer people messing up your shot.

The Sweet Coastal Town of Pula

For Andrea’s last full day, I really wanted her to see the Croatian coast. She has seen pictures of the crazy blue water from my earlier trips but I really wanted her to experience it first hand. For some, this day trip was a bit too aggressive but we were two determined women, running on adrenaline and pure excitement. So, we packed up our bags and started our drive to the city of Pula.

We were almost out of Varaždin when I made a wrong turn in the roundabout. I slowed to make a left turn to turn around and then heard a loud thud. I immediately stopped the car and we both wondered out loud what that noise was. I looked in the rearview mirror and couldn’t see anything. I then opened my door and saw a man picking up his motorcycle of the road. My first thought was, “Oh dear God, did I injure this man?” Fortunately, he started telling me he was fine before I could even ask him and then he was up and gone. The two of us sat in the car for a good minute without moving, still in shock of what had happened. I would like to stress that we were hit by a motorcycle, we are the true victims and that the remainder of our journey was accident free.

Our drive to the coast was itself an experience, filled with plenty of oohhs and aahhs. We were climbing, descending and going through mountains. Twisting and curving around bends and valleys and then we finally saw the coast for the first time. Though it was a little cloudy, you could still see the small rays of sun reflecting off of the water; so gorgeous! Within an hour of our first sea spotting, we made it to the town of Pula and we pulled up to the Amphitheatre.

View of the Pula Amphitheatre

View of the Pula Amphitheatre

Honestly, this was our highlight of Pula. We were absolutely blown away at how well preserved it was and that we basically had the place to ourselves.

 

An almost empty amphitheater for us to enjoy.

An almost empty amphitheater for us to enjoy.

Throughout the rest of the city, you could see the Roman influences from the Roman Theatre to the Temple of Augustus.

This charming coastal town was the perfect place to go for a day trip while in Croatia. With the beautiful sea views, rich culture, fresh seafood and of course, gelato, the two of us were in heaven. And they said it couldn’t be done in a day!

Me enjoying the almost sunset in Pula.

Me enjoying the almost sunset in Pula.

Croatian Barbeque

This evening, we were invited to join a few of David’s friends for a Croatian Barbeque filled with family and fun.  We finally crossed the Croatian border and arrived in the town of Novi Morov close to 8. We walked into a room full of people, with a fantastic spread laid out for everyone to enjoy. We were greeted with warm smiles, handshakes and shots of homemade brandy from the matriarch of the family. When the mother of the house is laying down some shots as you walk through the door, its pretty clear how the night is going to be.

We approached the table like we hadn’t eaten in days; we served ourselves heaping helpings of meats, pastas, potatoes and bread. All so delicious but yet not filling enough, so we kept coming back for seconds and thirds. Man was that good; everything was homemade from the sausage to the wine.  Dražen, our gracious host, poured us our first gemišt. Gemišt is vino plus sparkling water. For whatever reason, I thought mixing wine and water would make a hydrating alcoholic beverage but as I continued to consume more, I began to question my original thought. Tomorrow’s trip to the coast may end up being a more painful drive than I expected, fingers crossed we’ll be hangover free. We continued on with noshing, drinking and laughing and then noshing and drinking more. We found out that on top of being extremely friendly, our new Croatian friends are expert instigators. Dražen kept our glasses full with gemišt even when we tried to hide them. Soon, our southern drawls came out and we had filmed a “Wish You Were Here” video for Andrea’s husband. Between cheers, or živjelis, we shared stories about Croatian History, American customs and our slight perplexity of the coldness we experienced in Austria.  It was well beyond time to get home, but we drank on.

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Tonight was the kind of night that you can’t plan but just happens, where the wine and company are so on point that it’s hard to believe it was real. Andrea and I were drunkenly standing at a sink slurring these very words. In the few days that she’s been here, we’ve been in three countries, shared some incredible experiences and still have one more day to go. It’s sad to think that my partner in crime will be leaving soon. I’m laying in bed now, still glowing in the pleasure of this evening and I’m so happy that I got to spend it with my favorite girl. To this night that we shared, živjeli!