September 12, 2017

Croatia's Dalmatian Coast: A Travel Guide

It seems that everyone is going to Croatia right now. When we decided to go, a mere 5 days before we left, almost everyone we told mentioned they were either going to Croatia this summer or knew someone who had just gotten back or was headed there shortly.

This was really surprising because I had always thought of Croatia as a somewhat off-the-beaten-path destination. In 2011, when I traveled to Bosnia and Serbia, I remember people being utterly confused not only at why I wanted to travel to those places but why I lamented the fact that my trip wouldn't give me time to visit Croatia.



It seems like Game of Thrones has really changed that. I know people who have never left the country who say that Croatia is first on their bucket list because of the show. Because of that, I've decided to write this travel guide before diving into the details of how we spent our trip! 

Croatia was wildly different from what I expected. Having traveled to the region before, I expected it to be similar to Bosnia and Serbia. While I know that Croatia is a different country, that has only been the case for about 20 years so I was surprised to see just how different they were!

For example, in both Bosnia and Serbia, all of the signs everywhere are written in Cyrillic, where as Croatia uses the Roman alphabet! In Croatia, English was widely-spoken, whereas the language barrier definitely posed a challenge when I was in Sarajevo and Belgrade! There were other differences, which I'll share below.

I really enjoyed our trip to Croatia but it wasn't quite the trip I was expecting. Today, I'm sharing some tips so that you know exactly what to expect if you're planning a trip there.


Where We Went
We started our Croatian adventure in Dubrovnik and ended in Trogir. We chose to rent a car for the day to drive from Dubrovnik to Split. Typically, this drive takes about 3 hours but we took our time and made a few stops along the way, including on the Peljesac Peninsula (an absolute must if you like oysters) and Krka National Park. 



We opted to stay in Trogir instead of Split for a few reasons: it was less expensive, a bit more off the beaten path and therefore quieter, and close enough to Split to allow us time to visit.

Where We Stayed
When The Pilot and I travel, it's almost always a pretty last minute decision. Croatia is not a destination I would recommend for last minute travel. Hotel prices were astronomical so we turned to Airbnb. When we looked at our options in Dubrovnik, Split, and Trogir, there were only about 12-15 available places remaining in each city for the dates we were traveling and all of them had wildly strict cancellation policies. This really came to bite us when we didn't make our connection from Munich and lost a day in Dubrovnik. Because of the unpredictability of the way we travel (flying standby), we've always preferred hotels or Airbnbs that are a bit more forgiving with changing travel plans. In hindsight, part of me wishes we had opted out of Croatia so that we didn't lose money and chosen to go at a time when more was available so that we could book places with flexible travel policies.

What We Ate
One of my favorite restaurants in DC is a Balkan restaurant that brings back all of the flavors and tastes that I enjoyed so much in Bosnia and Serbia. I couldn't wait to get back to the Balkans and get my fill of one of my favorite cuisines. Croatian food, however, is wildly different from what I ate in Bosnia or Serbia. It's funny...I know that Croatia is a different country but less than 25 years ago, it wasn't and I expected there to be a lot more similarities but there weren't any.

This was not the easiest dish I've ever consumed. They still had eyes! And I accidentally chopped off one of their heads and it flew at my husband. Oops.
Where the food in Bosnia and Serbia offers bread, pasta, meat, and pastries filled with vegetables and spices, Croatia had an interesting mix of Mediterranean and Italian flavors with a ton of seafood. I absolutely loved it. I was very happy to find a Bosnian restaurant in Dubrovnik though to get my fill of the Balkan food I expected!

A Note about the Beaches
I had read that the beaches in Croatia are pebble beaches. I've been on pebble beaches before and liked them. Smooth, black pebbles that are a little warm to walk on but are otherwise fine.

Croatia does not have pebble beaches. Croatia has jagged, rocky beaches that are wildly painful to step on without water shoes. The beaches were so rocky, in fact, that a lot of people carried yoga mats to lay out on, as they offered a little bit more protection from the rocky beaches than towels.


We had planned to bring water shoes but forgot them which really put us at a disadvantage. And the one day we tried to go to the beach, the water was so breathtakingly cold, I couldn't stand it.

It wildly hot in Croatia. The temperatures were only in the high 80s but being that much closer to the equator really had an impact. I'm someone that usually loves hot, summer weather. I've gone on 20-mile runs in 90-degree heat and it hasn't phased me but Croatia was a different story. Every day by 2 pm, we were completely drained from the heat and I wanted nothing more than to dive into the water and cool off but, with the beaches too unpleasant to walk on and the water too cold to enjoy, I really regretted not booking a hotel with a pool. It would have been really nice to take an afternoon dip every day and then go out in the evenings when things cooled off. So, every afternoon, we would climb back up to our Airbnb and sit in the A.C. for a few hours to cool off. 

We did manage to find one beach that was a true pebble beach, just outside Trogir but we only had about one afternoon to spend there by the time we found it.

If you're traveling to Croatia in the middle of the summer and you're looking for some beach time, do not forget to bring water shoes. But if you aren't a fan of ice cold water, try your luck at a hotel that has a pool!

On Currency
As of writing this post, Croatia's currency is the kuna. Croatia will be switching to the euro in 2018 and from what we learned, Croatia has mixed feelings about this. All over Dubrovnik, shop windows featured signs with the euro symbol and an x through it. We saw a few encounters of tourists trying to pay in euro and being vehemently denied. 

Interestingly, in Split and Trogir, they welcomed the euro! We actually ran into a few instances where we were quoted prices in euro and had to calculate the exchange rate into kuna in order to pay. Everywhere we went, you can only take kuna out of the ATMs, so it was a little bit confusing to find places that only accepted euro. 

One other note about currency, carry small change! The smallest bill you can take out of an ATM is 200 kuna and most shops won't accept bills that large so I recommend finding a way to make change either at a restaurant with a larger meal or with a larger purchase. Trying to buy ice cream for 10 kuna with a 200 kuna bill won't cut it.

Final Thoughts
I know this post might lean toward the negative but I really did love Croatia. The whole time we were there, The Pilot and I kept talking about what we would do when we came back. I did love it but it wasn't what I expected and, had I known about a lot of the things I've just shared, I might have planned this trip at a different time.

I wanted to share this post for anyone who might go into planning a trip to Croatia with the same thoughts I did. I was looking for a beach trip in a European destination where I could balance sightseeing with relaxing on the beach. This wasn't that trip. We definitely did a lot of sightseeing but this wasn't a beach destination. 

I absolutely recommend traveling to Croatia but I think you should know what to expect before you go because I certainly didn't!

Stay tuned for more about our trip to Croatia including how we spent our time in Dubrovnik, our road trip to Trogir and visit to Krka National Park, and what we did in Trogir and Split!

Have a great week!

September 11, 2017

Life Lately.

Hi. (Waves sheepishly.) Remember me? 

I can't believe it has been six weeks since I last posted. 


Ever since I started my current job last year, I've had less time for this blog. Most days, I sit at my computer and write. My work is thought-provoking, engaging, challenging, and incredibly demanding. I thought, at first, that I would enjoy switching gears before or after work to write about things that are fun but the reality is that by the time I shut down for the day, I just can't bring myself to sit in front of a computer and keep writing. It doesn't help that I work from home most days so I don't even have that period of commuting to unwind and give myself a break. On days that I am in the office, my bus commute takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 depending on the traffic and I'm usually pretty exhausted by the time I get home.

DC buses feel like some sort of punishment loop. Seriously.

This time around, work hasn't been the sole reason I've stayed away from my blog and reading all of yours. This year has been hard. I usually roll my eyes at the people who always say, "I can't believe it's already September" but this time, I feel like September has rolled around and I can't catch a break. I can't believe it's already September and that for the last four months, I feel like I've been spiraling downward. I know, I'm being really vague and I'm sorry. I really am. One day, I definitely plan to share what's been going on but right now, I'm too busy trying to keep my head on straight to open up about everything. 

Since it has been so long and summer is coming to a close, I'll share a few details of what I have been up to:
  • The Pilot and I went to Dublin. It was a wildly impromptu trip but The Pilot whisked me away to the land of Guinness and stew. I was desperate to get away somewhere and that trip was just what I needed. I could use another weekend like that right about now.
  • I went to a wedding in San Francisco with one of my girlfriends. I also took my first trip to wine country.
  • The Pilot and I went to Croatia and got stuck in Munich on the way there. Croatia wasn't what I expected. I'm hoping to get those posts up in the next week or two so you can see why.
While it may all sound like fun and travel, I can assure you that it hasn't been. Every single one of those trips was taken because I desperately needed to get away and take my mind off of things. They definitely served their purpose but now I'm dealing with some other things that have popped up since Croatia and I could use another trip. Running away has always been my favorite solution. It gives me a chance to reset, refocus, and feel better. 
  • I can probably count on both hands the number of times I've gone for a run since April. Remember when I went to Dubai for 4 days and ran 3 out of the 4? Yea. I miss that kind of commitment and I'm desperate to get back to it. It's amazing how hard it is to get back into running when I haven't run in so long. I planned to run just 2 miles four times this past week and I only did that once. I've got a long road ahead of me if I'm struggling to find time for two miles.
  • I've read 25 books this year, a decent number but I think I've only liked 3 of them.
  • My house is a mess. I haven't even unpacked from our trip to Croatia. We've been back for two months. I wish I was joking.
I'm desperate to get back to a place of prioritizing the things that make me happy - running, blogging, and traveling (and blogging about traveling). I need to start doing these things for my own peace of mind and well-being. This year has been absolute hell for me and I feel like I haven't had anything to fall back on so it's been a lot harder than I think it could have been if I was able to have time for the things that make me happy. We do have a few exciting things looming: 
  • Two of my friends are getting married this month so wedding season has officially kicked off in our household.
  • Wednesday is our 3rd wedding anniversary and, while we normally jet off somewhere fun to celebrate (see last year's trip to Australia and the previous year's trip to Hawaii), we took our anniversary trip early this year (Croatia) because of The Pilot's schedule. That doesn't mean that either of us isn't itching to jet off somewhere this week but sadly, we'll be spending our anniversary apart this year. 
Right now at work, I'm in the midst of planning for the next quarter of the year and I feel like it's a good time to plan out the quarter for myself too. What do I want the end of this year to look like? I want to run another half-marathon and possibly start training for a full. We'll see about that though. I want to get back to writing regularly. I desperately want to get back to writing regularly. I'll be taking the next few weeks to make some changes to my blog and share some thoughts about what you can see moving forward. And yes, I'll definitely get those Croatia posts up!

Thanks for reading. For those of you who have reached out because you've noticed my absence, it means the world to me. I spent some time catching up on all of your blogs this weekend but I'd love to hear what everyone has been up to.

Do you have any fun plans for fall?
What books have you absolutely loved lately? I'm desperate for a good read!


August 2, 2017

Two Ways to Spend a Layover in Munich

When The Pilot and I planned our trip to Croatia, we did so with a Layover in Munich. We couldn't fly direct to Croatia from the states and, from Munich, the flights to Dubrovnik looked good for pass travel (how we refer to our flight benefits, also called non-revving).

When we checked into our Lufthansa flight 24 hours prior to departure, before we had even left the states, we had already been given seat assignments, something that doesn't usually happen until 10 minutes prior to departure.

With only one flight per day from Munich to Dubrovnik, we were going to have exactly 6 hours from the time we landed to the time we took off again, which is a long time to spend in an airport. It's a manageable layover but why sit in an airport when you can go out and explore!


I started looking at what are options to get to Munich would be and learned that Munich is about a 45 minute train ride from the airport, not nearly enough time to get into Munich with enough time to actually see anything but when I learned that the small university town of Freising was only 10km from the airport, we decided to spend our layover exploring a bit of Germany.

Our flight landed at 8:30 am and we immediately saw signs for the 635 bus to Freising upon clearing Immigration.

If you're flying from the US, you will likely have bags too big to carry on to your final destination. European baggage rules are different but with most airlines that codeshare with the major American legacy carriers, they know this and don't charge for baggage. We didn't want to carry our luggage so we headed to the other terminal to check out bags and then made our way to the bus stop.

The bus to Freising departs from both terminals every 20 minutes and takes about 15 minutes. We had just missed one when we got to the stop so we had a bit of a wait but the trip took no time and we were dropped off in Freising with abo it 2 1/2 hours to kill, less time than we wanted but we definitely took our time getting through the airport. 



First, we wandered through Freising to the Marienplatz, the central square in the town. Freising is so quaint and I loved that there were more bikes than people! In true German fashion, the Marienplatz has a large church and the street continues in either direction with shops, bakeries, and restaurants. We walked down the street, passing in and out of little shops and eyeing the German pastries from afar. 




After going back and forth on the idea for a bit, we decided to visit Freising's main tourist attraction, the Weihenstephaner Brewery, which has been in existence since the year 1040. 



I had known from my research that Weihenstephaner only does tours three days per week (Monday through Wednesday) but we decided to go anyway and have some drinks at the Braustuberl. We took a bus from Freising up the hill toward the university and then walked up to Weisenstephan. That hill is no joke and, by the time we got there, we were ready for some cold beer! 


We each ordered drinks and an appetizer of Oberlatz, a Bavarian camembert, to share. We were pleasantly surprised to see a basket of giant pretzels put on our table and equally disappointed to learn that free bread baskets aren't a thing in Germany, or at least at Weihenstephaner when we got our bill and were charged 4 euro for eating the pretzels! 

We left Weihenstephaner, trekked back down the hill, and hopped on the bus back to the bus station. We made it to the airport only to find that our flight had been delayed and we could have had more time in Freising but it was a great little side trip and a much better option than spending six hours in Munich's expensive airport!

Unfortunately, shortly after getting back to the airport, we learned that we hadn't been given seats on the flight. We always know that there's a risk with this since we fly standby but in this case, there actually had been seats but a broken crew seat derailed that for us. With only one flight per day to Dubrovnik, we were stuck in Munich for the night.

This time, we took the train into central Munich where we booked a hotel near the train station. By the time we checked in and freshened up (we had been traveling for 24 hours at this point and neither of us had slept on the transatlantic flight!), it was close to 7. Luckily, it stays dark in Munich pretty late so we headed out toward the Marienplatz to wander around.




I had been in Germany twice before - to Berlin and to Darmstadt, a small town outside Frankfurt, but this was my first time in Bavaria and between Freising and, now Munich, I fell in love with the German state. We walked through all of the streets in the Marienplatz and then made our way to the Hauptbanhaus for drinks. 



This place is insane. It is wildly overwhelming. Don't even think twice to stop and take in your surroundings lest you block the way of a server carrying no less than 2 dozen1-liter beers on a single tray.



The next morning, we headed back to the Marienplatz in search of a book store to add to our Harry Potter collection. After an unsuccessful attempt in Freising (they only had The Cursed Child, and Quidditch through the Ages...seriously?) we found a German copy at Hugendubel

Next, we headed up to the top of the New Town Hall to scope out the amazing views over Munich. We opted for this view since there's an elevator as opposed to climbing the tower at St. Peter's Church because we only had about two hours. 




We did duck into St. Peter's for a peek though we missed the bejeweled skeleton of St. Munditia (which I don't think I'm too bummed about!)



Just like that, it was 10:30 and time to head back to our hotel to check out and catch the train.

I loved both Freising and Munich! After a short time in both, I can say that Freising feels like a much smaller version of Munich and is the perfect stop in Germany for anyone with a short layover! As for Munich, we barely scratched the surface but with only about five waking hours in the city, and a desperate need to eat on arriving, I think we managed to see a good bit! We're already thinking about when we can go back and really see Munich! I'd love to visit the Residenz Palace and see the English Garden!

Have you ever been to Munich? 
Do you try to venture out during your layovers or do you prefer to stay at the airport?

July 31, 2017

July Recap

This July has felt like a blur. While it was great to get away to Croatia with The Pilot for awhile, this was the first vacation in awhile where I really felt like I needed a vacation from our vacation. I'll be sharing all of the details of our trip this week and while I loved it, this trip wasn't actually the vacation I think I needed this summer. I wouldn't have traded our trip for anything but there are a few things that I would have done differently to have it serve the purpose I needed it to serve.

When I came back, I a bad summer cold that really threw me out of commission. I didn't get off my couch last weekend except to walk Peyton. This past week at work has been unusually busy for the summer and I can't say that I really feel like I'm back into a routine since coming back. I haven't run or worked out since stepping foot off the plane and I think that's contributing to why I feel so off right now.


Here's a look at how this month went, with a heavy emphasis on some goals for August. I'm hoping you'll all help me stay accountable with those goals!

Miles Run: 11

  • Earlier this year, something happened and running just wasn't a priority for me anymore. I think that, after being injured for so long, I was so desperate to just be able to race again that I lost sight of what I loved about running. Before vacation, I was starting to get into a running groove again but then I didn't run while we were in Croatia and I haven't run since. For the next month, I want to get back to what I love about running, just being out there, putting one foot in front of the other. I definitely want to run a fall half but I'm not thinking about a full marathon right now and I don't need to start training for anything until early September so this is perfect timing to just reconnect with running.
Minutes of Yoga: 22
  • If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I'm a little bit obsessed with Yoga with Adriene. For the last three years, I've started every January with one of her 30-Day Yoga Challenges. Every month, she comes out with a calendar that links to a video a day. For August, I want to try to reconnect with yoga and practice every day. I might not strictly follow her calendar because I'd like to get some studio time as well, but I do like the flexibility of being able to practice at home because it helps me stick with something like a 30-day challenge. 
Books Read: 3 (Check out yesterday's recap here!)

Trips Taken: 1 fabulous trip to Croatia that accidentally landed us in Munich for a night! 

New Recipes Made: I didn't actually keep track but I've definitely started cooking again, which is great. 

Blog Posts Written: 6

The Month Ahead:
To try to get out of this little funk I've been in that really started in May and is now mixed with post-vacation blues, here are some things I'm committing to for the month of August:
  • Running 3-4 days/week
  • Yoga #everydamnday
  • Actually do all of those PT exercises I'm supposed to do to keep me from getting injured
  • Attempting homemade pasta with the pasta maker attachment I got for Christmas and still haven't used (sorry, Mom!)
  • Cross something off my 30 Before 30 list
We just got back from Croatia so I don't think we'll be traveling in August but then again, it's us and we never shy away from a spontaenous trip away! We'll see!
What are your plans for the month of August?

July 30, 2017

What I Read in July

This was another light reading month for me though it has been better than others. I'm still in a reading rut this year. I haven't read a single book this year that I loved. I'm hoping our pick for the August book club changes that. We're reading "Beartown" by Fredrik Backman, who has never steered me wrong either with "A Man Called Ove" or, "My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry."



Here's a look at everything I read this month: 

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - This book came out some years ago but I finally got around to reading it after a friend lent it to me. According to the back cover of this book, it's about how the lives of the two main characters intertwine. The biggest problem I had is that these two men's lives didn't actually intertwine. The book was about two men living in the same city at the same time whose lives at that time revolved around the World's Fair. While I found both stories to be fascinating, I felt that each could have been their own book and it was often confusing to go back and forth. I'm glad I read this because I found the lead up to the World's Fair fascinating but aside from that, I didn't really enjoy this book. I found out that Martin Scorsese is working on a film adaptation starring Leonardo Dicaprio so I would hold out for the film version of this one!


The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht- I've had this book on my shelf for awhile but I decided to start reading it right before we left for Croatia because it takes place in the former Yugoslavia during the war. I was really disappointed to see that this book got pretty terrible reviews but I really enjoyed it. It brings together all of the elements of old story telling that was so prominent in society until mainstream media came into play, with a healthy dose of magical realism. The book follows a young doctor on a journey to learn more about her grandfather. It's a little bit of a slow read but it reads like folk lore. It doesn't necessarily come to an end, something a lot of the negative reviews focused on, but it ends the way folk tales do...life goes on. I would definitely recommend it.


The Circle by Dave Eggers - I should start by saying that I did not want to read this book. I had no interest in the book or the movie but when we selected it for book club, I read it. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated by it. It definitely had me rethinking the time we spend on social media and what the Silicon Valley world is doing in our society. I highly recommend this book, but without giving any spoilers away, I wish it had ended differently. I was disappointed that things didn't come to light in a different way.



Right now, I'm reading "Songs of Willow Frost" by Jamie Ford, which is moving a lot slower than I would have hoped. 

What have you been reading? 
Did you read "The Circle" with Carolann and Me?

Note: Links are affiliate links through Amazon Associates.


July 21, 2017

Currently...

I'm back from a fabulous trip to Croatia (and Munich, which wasn't planned!) and I'm recovering from jet lag, fighting a cold, and sorting through all of my pictures. I can't wait to share all of the details from our trip! In the mean time, here's what's going on:


Feeling... under the weather. I've had a sore throat since we got back and it's been a long week at work. I'm hoping to take the weekend to recover.

Reading... "Songs of Willow Frost" by Jamie Ford. Ford's book, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is one of my favorite books of all time and I'm excited to read his next book. I picked this up in the Clearance section at Barnes & Noble, so I hope it's good!

Thinking about... my fall race schedule.

Watching... "Friends from College." The Pilot and I started watching this when we got back. It's pretty funny.

Working on... uploading all of my pictures and pulling my blog posts together. Croatia was incredible and I'm so excited to relive the trip through my posts!

Needing... to go for a run. I didn't run the whole time we were in Croatia. I couldn't believe how hot it was there. It was definitely the hottest place I've visited in summer, beating both West Africa and India! By 8 am every morning, it was already over 90 with high humidity and with slippery streets and major hills, I decided not to risk it.

Wanting... to go to yoga this weekend. I'm hoping I can fight this cold and get on the mat.

Loving... how much fun we had on vacation. This may have been our most fun vacation yet!

What's on your list?
If you're waiting for my Croatia posts, you can check out my Instagram to hold you over!
Don't forget to link up for next week's book club to discuss "The Cirlce!" 


July 10, 2017

Exploring Dubai's Al Fahidi Historic Neighorhood

Last week, I shared with you all of the details for our latest trip to Dubai, well, almost all of the details! When I stumbled on the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, I absolutely fell in love!


Al Fahidi is located in Bur Dubai, Dubai's Old City and is a complex that, from the outside, really doesn't look like much, but once you start wandering down the laneways in and out of the shops and galleries, the entire place comes to life!

Every time I thought I had seen everything, another door literally opened. At one point, I tried working in a partially opened door and the shopkeeper rushed over to me and welcomed me in. He explained that everyone had their doors closed to keep the air conditioning in but to please, open any door I wished!





One of my favorite places in Al Fahidi was the Majlis Gallery which, among many other things, featured works by a Syrian calligraphy painter, Khaled Al Saai whose work was mesmerizing. I would have loved to have become a true collector in that moment and purchased one of his pieces but at 120,000 AED (roughly $32,000 USD) that just wasn't going to happen!


I had set out for my day, not in search of Al Fahidi, but in search of the Dubai Coffee Museum, which I eventually did find but didn't spend much time there. It's more of an experiential coffee house where you can sit and have a conversation and learn about the history of coffee. I was getting hungry so I just browsed all of the old percolators and inhaled the fresh aroma of coffee beans and made my way to lunch!


We happened to be in Dubai during the Sikka Art Festival, which runs every March and had started the week we arrived. The Art Fair features live music, works of art, performances, and films by local Emirati artists. 


I loved exploring all of the galleries in the festival! The works of art were incredible!

We actually bought one of these pieces! Aren't they incredible?!


If you're in Al Fahidi,  you absolutely shouldn't miss the Arabian Tea House where I cooled off with Morrocan Mint Tea, a grilled halloumi sandwich, and out-of-this-world date cake.


Another spot not to be missed is the AlSerkal Cultural Foundation, an art gallery, cafe, workshop (where you can learn crafts from local artisans), bookstore, and shop, where you can cool off with some tea or camel's milk ice cream.

Exploring Al Fahidi was the absolute highlight of our Dubai trip and I couldn't say enough things about how much I loved this area! I think I could go back to Dubai a dozen more times and never tire of all of the sights and sounds in this wonderful area!

If you go to Dubai, definitely prioritize this spot and come back and tell me all about it!

July 7, 2017

Next Stop: Croatia!

That's right! This month, The Pilot and I are headed to sunny Croatia! I'm so excited. Croatia has been on my bucket list for years. I fell in love with the Balkans when I spent time in Bosnia and Serbia a few years ago and I'm so excited to explore more of the region, this time on the coast.


We'll be there just shy of a week and I thought I'd share some of what we have planned to hear your suggestions for anything else we should do and maybe even inspire you to take your own trip to Croatia!

We'll be staying in two cities, starting in Dubrovnik.

I've heard that Dubrovnik gets packed with tourists during the day from the cruise ships that dock each day, something that really made me dislike Santorini, but I've heard that the evenings are lovely and quiet so we'll try to save most of our sightseeing for after things have quieted down.

We're planning to rent a car and drive up the coast from Dubrovnik to Trogir, about a 3-hour drive. We made the hard decision not to go to Plitvice National Park while we're in Croatia because it's too far and I think we have about one less day than I think we would need to venture out that way. Instead, we're planning on taking a detour north on our drive to Trogir to stop at Krka National Park.

Trogir is just outside Split. We decided to base ourselves there because it's quieter and less expensive (from what I've heard) but we definitely want to take a day trip to Split to explore the city and check out Diocletian's Palace! We might also take the ferry out to Brac for a day to spend on the island and get in some beach time.


What I'm most looking forward to is delicious Balkan food and a lot of time relaxing on the beach. We might rent kayaks and explore either of the two cities from the water. Either way, I want to spend as much time in the sun as possible and I want to come back feeling wildly relaxed!

Have you been to Croatia?
What do you think of our itinerary? What would you add to this list?

July 5, 2017

3 More Days in Dubai

I'll be honest, I didn't love Dubai the first time we went there. To me, it felt like Vegas. I was this giant, cosmopolitan city in the middle of the dessert full of gorgeous hotels and shopping malls. The Pilot loved it. He had been trying to convince me to go back for awhile and earlier this year, I finally caved.


We landed at about 9pm on a Saturday night and by the time we got to our hotel and checked in, it was close to 11. My legs were stiff from the long haul flight, so I headed straight to the hotel gym for a quick run to shake out my legs. After a quick dinner in the hotel bar, it was time for bed. 

Day 1: 
Sunday morning, our first full morning in Dubai, we met up with some friends who had recently moved to Dubai for breakfast and coffee and a cute little spot called, The Sum of Us. After breakfast, we went down to the Marina and strolled along, browsing the little shops and stands and soaking up the sun. It was snowing in DC and I was very grateful to be in a place the locals already considered was getting too hot!


Our next stop was the Dubai Miracle Garden. I had wanted to go to DMG when we were in Dubai the year before but it had already closed for the season. (It's only open for a few months throughout the year). Lucky for us, it had just opened.


The DMG is located in this complex called Dubailand which was supposed to be a metropolis of amusement parks, think Ferrari World, Universal Studios, etc. all of which fell through in the aftermath of the financial crisis. It was pretty desolate aside from DMG and you could still see signs for where Universal was going to be.

The Miracle Garden was really cute. I absolutely loved the Emirates plane (so did The Pilot) and all of the little houses, plus, the flowered archways were gorgeous! We spent a few hours there strolling the grounds and looking at all of the flowers.



Day 2: 
I was up early again on Monday morning and a little bit at a loss for what to do. Eventually, I decided to head to the Al Fahidi neighborhood in search of a small coffee museum I had read about. I hopped on the metro and made my way to the furthest stop I could before getting out and walking through a neighborhood full of textile shops. On my way to Al Fahidi, I stumbled on the Dubai Museum and decided to stop in. It was a fascinating museum that shows you just how far Dubai has come in a remarkably short period of time. The Museum has artifacts dating all the way back to the first century!


I learned so much about Dubai! Dubai has always been a center of trade in the Middle East but preserved it's Bedouin tradition and reflected the "Old Arab" world until almost the 1960s when Dubai invited the British to trade and started the path toward becoming one of the world's most significant metropolitan areas in the world.


The museum is a really fascinating way to see that growth and change. It was really well done but I would caution against the giant tour groups that made the experience a bit less than enjoyable.

After the museum, I went in search of Al Fahidi. I had a hard time finding it at first because what I didn't realize is that, it isn't a neighborhood in the sense I'm used to. The Al Fahidi Historic District is more like a complex.



Surprisingly quiet and seemingly hidden, it looks like an area with a bunch of quiet, empty laneways until you discover that beneath every hidden door is a new gem waiting to be explored...art galleries, museums, artisan workshops. I got lost in here for hours, continually discovering more and more. I've decided to dedicate a whole post to Al Fahidi, which I'll share next week! (Promise! It's already written!)

Eventually, I got hungry and made my way to lunch before heading down Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street to explore the Hindi Market. This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. While walking through the market, the call to prayer sounded and men in dishdashas rushed out of nowhere to the nearest mosque to answer the call, scrambling to take their shoes off and stumbling up the steps to make it in time. Just behind the mosque, I stumbled one a celebration of Holi with celebrants laughing and throwing powdered paint at one another.


I spent some time wandering along the water and taking in all of the sites from Bur Dubai. This was a neighborhood I had walked through on our last trip to Dubai but hadn't explored at all and I loved it. This, to me, felt like the real Dubai - the preserved history hidden among the rising construction (which is everywhere!) - and tall, gleaming buildings make Dubai the fascinating place that it is.




For dinner, The Pilot and I headed to the Madinat Jumeirah Resort and took in the stunning view of the Burj am Arab changing color in the moonlight.


Day 3: 
Tuesday was our last day in Dubai but fortunately, our flight wasn't until after midnight.

Our first stop of the day was the Burj Khalifa. We had missed out on this last time we were in Dubai but decided not to skip it this time. It is very pricey ($55 during prime hours) and we only opted to go to "At the Top," the lower of two levels but the view was still incredible, not simply because it's the tallest building in the world but because you can truly see what Dubai has become in the middle of the desert. You can even see into one of the neighboring Emirates, Sharjah.



If you're wondering what the difference between "At the Top" versus "At the Top Sky" is, this photo below shows you just how much more of the building there is. We were on the 125th level. "At the Top Sky" takes you to the 148th.



Once again though, the experience was made somewhat less enjoyable by the buses of tourists with selfie sticks that unloaded as we had arrived, making it impossible to see anything without being hit in the face with a selfie stick. I recommend getting there as early as possible. We had booked "off-peak tickets," which I thought would prevent that, but apparently not!

We left the Burj Khalifa and wandered around the mall for a bit before heading back to Al Fahidi. We had planned a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding for one of their Cultural Meals. On our last trip to Dubai, we had done a mosque tour through the Center but I had been disappointed to miss the Cultural Meals. These include a traditional Emirati meal shared in a group with an Emirati host about the UAE's culture, traditions, and religion. It was fascinating. The food was wonderful and I loved the opportunity to learn about Dubai from a local. Our host was a Tunisian woman who has lived in Dubai for the last 20 years. It was so interesting to hear her thoughts on the ever-changing Dubai. Not to mention, the food was remarkable.


I hadn't realized this the day before but the Sheikh Mohammed Center is in Al Fahidi. We had learned the day before that Sikka, Dubai's Art Festival was going on but had been there too early in the day to experience it. It was just starting when we finished lunch, so we wandered in and out of galleries, exploring even more of Al Fahidi then we had seen the day before!



Our last stop of the day was a rooftop gallery/museum/bookstore/coffee shop that I loved, called the AlSerkal Cultural Foundation. We were the only ones up there and it was so quiet except for the mosques all ringing their calls to prayer, a sound that, Every time I travel to a Muslim country, I fall even more in love with.


Our plan was to take a ferry back to the Marina but as we were walking, it started raining and the ferry for canceled. I was really bummed because it had only rained for about 5 minutes but I guess it doesn't rain that often in Dubai so when it does, people are at a loss for what to do!

So that wrapped up our trip! We took the metro back to the hotel and packed, I got in a quick run, grabbed a quick bite, and then took a nap before heading to the airport to catch our flight!

I'm so glad I gave Dubai another chance. I really loved it this time around and it has really opened up the possibility for me to revisit some other places I haven't exactly loved. I would go back to Dubai again in a heartbeat, only this time, I'd like to explore some of the other Emirates too!

Have you been to Dubai?
If not, is it on your list? I hope it is now!
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