Tag Archives: Croatia

Winter: A Revelation

I’ve never been that fond of winter. For one thing, it’s cold. For another, I once lived where it occasionally got down to -30. I lived through the winter storms of 1978. One winter there was so much snow that my car was in the shop for five extra days because the body shop was snowed in. (The damage was caused when someone slid into my car in a parking lot.)

My husband and I occasionally travel in the winter, mostly for visits to relatives. (This led to my worst birthday ever, when my husband swore he’d get home for my birthday. In the evening of that day, my husband called from the middle of nowhere, from a hospital (he wasn’t actually hurt), saying that he had crashed his car. I had to drive to West Virginia to pick him up. Once we traveled to Illinois on Thanksgiving weekend, and the car’s heater went out on the trip back. We had to stop along the way to buy gloves and blankets. But I digress. At length.)

Our travels abroad have included Mexico in the sweltering season and Ireland in the rainy season (insofar as they actually have a separate season for rain). And when we went to Croatia, we went in the off-season, but not one that promised bad weather.

We had figured without the Dinaric Alps. Our tour included a national park known as Plitvice Lakes. The further our bus went up in the mountains, the colder it became. It began snowing by the time we got there. It was wet snow, the kind that sticks to everything. It looks very pretty when you’re inside and warm and don’t have to go out in it. It’s probably the very best snow for building snowpeople and snow forts – not that I do either anymore.

This photo shows what it was like when our guide took us out to the lakes. That is to say, it was cold. Most of us hadn’t figured on this weather and were bundled up in sweaters and light jackets. Our guide knew better. We followed him to the lakes. Actually, we had two guides. The other one was a small black cat who went ahead of us, trot-trot- trot, all the way to the lakes. (The guide who didn’t have four legs had a habit of saying “Once upon a time” when he talked about the history of the country, which I found charming. But I digress again.)

When we got to the lakes, it was magical. The snow enhanced it, and we forgot about how cold it was. Plitvice Lakes is an interconnected network of lakes, separated by rocky waterfalls. We were just at the right point in the season when the snow was all around, but the waterfalls were rushing with snowmelt. The glistening snow and the tumbling waterfalls were insanely beautiful. The waterfalls were flowing so strongly that some of the wooden walkways between the lakes were not usable and we had to take detours – cautiously. The guide didn’t want to lose any of us and managed not to.

The photo at the left shows one of the areas that the little black cat led us to.

Our visit to Croatia (and Venice, Slovenia, and Montenegro) was wonderfully memorable. (We had a banana split in Split, then split Split before we split our pants. But I digress yet again.) A small black kitten tried to climb into our souvenir bag in Dubrovnik, obviously begging to come home with us. Our stop in Montenegro impressed us so much that we’ve actually discussed retiring there.

I still don’t like winter. All of the things I said about it are still true. But I learned that winter has a beauty all its own.

It took Plitvice Lakes to convince me.

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Eating Around the World

My mother, my husband, and I (in different combinations) have had some amazing travel experiences. England. Brazil. Croatia. And, like good tourists, we largely ate and drank our way through the various countries. 

There was the trip that my mother and I took to Brazil. When we arrived at our Rio hotel, we were greeted by our guide, who offered us a complimentary local drink – a caipirinha. This is the national cocktail of Brazil, made from lime, sugar, and cachaca (a local spirit reminiscent of, but different from, rum). It’s a pretty potent combination. My mother, who would have the occasional Tom Collins or glass of Mogen David, did not care for it, so she gave it to me. I downed both hers and mine.

Then the other little old ladies who were on the tour (there were a fair number of them) had the same idea and all gave me their caipirinhas rather than let them go to waste. It’s a good thing we had arrived in the evening and had no other events planned for that night, as I sat in the hotel lobby and got thoroughly sozzled.

Mom was not with us when my husband and I went to England (though Dan’s mother was). We lunched at pubs and tried authentic fish and chips, but passed up an Australian restaurant because I insisted we weren’t in Australia. 

But the most interesting culinary attraction there was when I noticed “spotted dick” on the menu at the restaurant we had chosen. (Insert your favorite “spotted dick” joke here.) I had heard of spotted dick before, but never knew what it was, really. Apparently, it’s a dessert, because it was listed under “Puddings” on the menu. (As those of you who’ve seen Harry Potter know, “pudding” is generic British for “dessert.” It doesn’t mean actual pudding.)

Naturally, I couldn’t resist ordering it. I tried to muffle my chuckles, but no doubt the waiter was used to this sort of behavior from tourists. When he brought out the dessert, it was rather disappointingly a sort of spice cake with raisins in it, topped with a thin custard. (I think it might have been crême anglaise, but I didn’t know enough at the time to call it that.) Evidently, the raisins were the spots, though I don’t like to think what parted represented the dick. Especially with that custard sauce.

The best treat of all, though, was one my husband and I had when we were on a tour that featured Venice, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. There was interesting food and drink everywhere. In Slovenia, I ate Brussels sprouts just because they were served with the main dish, and discovered they were wonderful. (Unfortunately, I have not had them prepared the same way since. And I didn’t know how to ask for the recipe in Slovenian. I speak a little Russian, enough to order cabbage or buy books, but I didn’t think that would go over so well.  But I digress.)

In Istria (a peninsula that’s part of Croatia), a few of us from the tour stopped at a local tavern to get a hot buttered rum to ward off the chilly rain that was plaguing us that day. Dan and I, feeling a mite peckish, ordered a fish plate. We thought it might be something like a cheese plate, a small assortment of different kinds of samples.

But no. We were presented with an enormous platter featuring every kind of seafood you can imagine in vast quantities, including a huge, whole fish. Again, this was before Food Network, so I had to try to disassemble the fish without completely shredding it or leaving any treacherous bones. (I remember that I did it rather successfully, though that may just have been the rum punch talking.) Our tour-mates had to dig in to help us make a sizeable dent in all the fish, shellfish, and other marine life (think octopus), so as not to seem ungrateful.

But our best food encounter was on that same trip. In Croatia, there is a city named Split. (I was once trounced by a crossword puzzle that had the clue “Split country.” I thought of Korea or Vietnam, but neither one fit.) Near the end of the tour, Dan and I stopped in at a small restaurant to have a little something-something – not a full meal, just a nibble or a nosh.

There on the menu we saw it – a prosaic, all-American banana split! How could we possibly resist? We had to order one just so we could say, “We split a banana split in Split before we split Split. But we didn’t do the splits. We might have split our pants.” Opportunities like that don’t come along just every day.