Monday, June 25, 2012

Live-in Nanny Insanity

I came to the south of France with visions of croissants and lavender dancing in my head, but in reality, I've become a live-in nanny... in the middle of nowhere... with 3 kids. How did this happen?

Perhaps it was our mistake. We assumed that we'd have some overlap with the homeowners to give us a chance to learn about their home, dog, and property. I guess we thought that it'd only be for a week. Turns out, we'll be living together for 3 weeks.

Jim and I are staying in a cottage that's attached to the rear of the house. It's very bright and spacious, with picturesque views of  fields and vineyards. We've got our own kitchen, satellite TV, and bathroom. It's quite homey and we're feeling really comfortable here.

Our French cottage
But it's been a rather difficult transition since our time in Zadar. First, Jim lost his computer in a drowning accident, forcing us to share our remaining laptop. Then, we moved from a walkable city of 75,000 to a rural area with nary a village nor neighbor in sight. And last Wednesday, we got the biggest whammy of all: school ended, leaving 3 energetic kids running around with nothing to do... until they found us. Our cottage has become the hangout spot for the kids. The youngest, who's only 4, is at our doorstep as soon as she rolls out of bed.

While the situation is a bit unexpected, everything is well and good except for the fact that Jim and I are struggling to get our work done. We also don't have any time alone together. Is this what parenting is all about? If so, I'm ready to be permanently sterilized.

I have also confirmed that country living is not for me. It feels like we are living in an Impressionist painting, meaning that it's beautiful to look at, but there ain't much going on. Well, unless you like to paint the wheat fields while sipping rose. (I hear that's pretty popular here in Provence.)

View from our kitchen window
So friends, I'm looking to you for some guidance. Do any of you work from home with kiddos around? How can I keep the 3 kids entertained while maintaining my sanity? What kinds of things should I do to enjoy the countryside? Please send me your suggestions and any positive energy that you can spare. We still have 2 more weeks to go before the housesit begins!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Le Grim Reaper

Bonjour, mes amis! It has been a few days since we arrived in France and we're slowly setting in to our new accommodations. The homeowners, M and Mme R, are here with some of their extended family from the UK. It's a very full house, with 8 adults, 3 kids, and 1 dog!

Jim and I have been entertaining ourselves by relaxing poolside, going for extended walks in the countryside, and exploring the local village.
The pool was formerly a water trough for farm animals.
Walking trail behind our house.
Windows in the village.
We've been suffering from an unfortunate string of bad luck lately. In fact, I'm beginning to think that Jim is the Grim Reaper of Electronics. The first victim was his camera, which mysteriously died while he was hiking at Paklenica. (I think it jumped off a cliff... or was it pushed?!)
Just like the good ol' days, taking pics with a view finder and "developing" your photos later.
Next came our GPS, which was subjected to an unhealthy dose of UV radiation:
Who knew you weren't supposed to use it outside?
And, last but not least, his laptop was drowned in a cup of coffee:
Just before it exploded, coffee was pouring out of the USB ports.
So please forgive us, dear friends, for not posting as much lately. We've been struggling to get by with only one laptop. A replacement laptop is on order, but won't arrive for a couple more weeks. In the meantime, we are collecting photos and stories to share with you once we're up-and-running at full capacity.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bonjour from France!

Bonjour! Jim and I have bid adieu to Croatia and will be spending the next 3 months in France as housesitters. It was a very scenic plane ride as we skirted the Mediterranean coast to Marseille.

We were greeted at the airport by the witty and charming Monsieur R ("M R"), the homeowner. He and Jim quickly took bonded over their distaste for cold and rainy weather in Old and New England, respectively.

About 30 minutes later we arrived at the spectacular rental home that we'll be caring for this summer. It's located in the countryside, about 10 miles from Aix-en-Provence. Here we met M R's vibrant wife, Madame R ("Mme R"), and their bouncy, happy-go-lucky spaniel, Hermes.
Our new French friend, Hermes
We enjoyed a nice lunch on the patio as we got to know one another:

Then retired to our apartment with a nice bottle of rosé:

It sure was a rough day of traveling! I think we're going to like it here. À bientôt!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Zadar

Zadar and I broke up today. It was a whirlwind 5-week romance that unfortunately ended just as abruptly as it started. We said our goodbyes at the same place where we first met: the airport.

I spent most of the day moping about the fact that we were leaving Croatia. I really loved living here and wasn't ready to leave yet. It was crushing to think of all the newly-established rituals that were coming to an end: walking along the Riva, eating fresh pastries on the steps of the pekarna (bakery), even toting our groceries back from the supermarket. They were all done. Chances are, I didn't even realize that it was the last time I was going to do these things while they were happening.

View from the Old Town Hostel. This was our very first day in Zadar!
Jim and I had quickly acclimated to life in Zadar. Now, as we packed up our belongings, we were amazed at how much our apartment had started to feel like home. We had been there long enough to get used to having our own place to cook, watch TV, do laundry, and work. Even though we left Croatia with the same amount of stuff that we brought, packing it all up sure didn't seem any easier this go round. It still took us several hours to load everything into our backpacks.

We thought that a fitting way to end our adventure in Croatia would be to share a few highlights of our trip. Enjoy!

Favorite Neighborhood: Puntamika
Puntamika is a leafy residential neighborhood in Zadar. It's known by the locals as the "tourist area," since every house on the block has an apartman (apartment) or sobe (room) to rent.
Put Dikla, the main street in Puntamika
Favorite Beer: Ožujsko
This is one of the most popular brands of Croatian pivo. The only problem? It's really hard to order when you can't pronounce its name!
This photo is brought to you by the makers of Ožujsko!
Favorite Fast Food: Pizza cut
Slices of pizza are cheap and plentiful here. I've sampled them all, and this one's the best! Mushrooms, olives, and pršut (prosciutto) for only 5 kuna ($0.84).
Pandas bake the best pizza!
Best What-the-What? Moment: Metalfest invades Borik
One long weekend in May, the sleepy, family-friendly Borik campground was overrun with long hair, black t-shirts, and Doc Martens. They were all here for Metalfest, a super rockin' music festival on the beach, headlined by none other than Megadeth.
Symphony of destruction at camp.
Cutest Warning Sign: Britva!!!
I'm pretty sure this sign says, "Warning! Killer dog lives here."
According to Google translate, "Britva" means "razor." Huh?
Favorite Im Promptu Photo: How much is that doggy in the window?
I captured this shot while we were dining at Bruschetta in Old Town. I think he was eyeing my pizza!

Best Boat Trip: Riding in the bridge with Darko
Our landlord Darko is a Captain on the local ferry. Here's a picture of the Capt'n in action on our way to Sali on Dugi Otok.

Favorite Way to Spend the Day: Wandering around an island.
Our MO is to find something that looks like a trail and go exploring... in flip flops.

Top 3 Reasons Why I Love Zadar : Mountains, islands, and old towns.
Even better when you can get all three in the same photo!

Our time in Zadar is done for now, but we plan to come back someday. Next time, we'll be sure to stay for more than 5 weeks!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cruisin' to the Kornati Islands

This is how I started my trip to the Kornati islands:

We were welcomed aboard the Barba Ive (our ship) with a shot of the local fire water... at 8:30 in the morning. I have no idea what we drank, but as you can tell from the photo, it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience. Jim handled it equally well:

Kornati National Park contains 150 islands, most of which are uninhabited. According to our guide, only people born on the islands have the right to own property there. It's not the most convenient place to live, as there's no electricity, no water supply, few plants, and no connections to the mainland. To get there, you have to own a boat or join a tourist excursion.
Map of the Kornati islands
It took us more than three hours to get to the islands (longer than I expected, but this gave me ample time for a nap!) They fed us some tasty lunch along the way:
Mmm....more grilled fish.
Unfortunately, lunch left me feeling pretty hungry, as I have a slight aversion to fish. But Jim was a trooper, eating most of his!
His expression clearly says, "I'm lovin' it."
(Jim edit: I'm more of a fish and chips type. I guess it was good if you like that kind of thing.)
Being in a confined space with so many gills, fins, and eyeballs made me a wee bit nauseous, so I stepped out to get some fresh air and snap a few photos:
Seagulls drafting our boat.

Around noon, we arrived at Telašćica Nature Park, a secluded bay at the southern end of  Dugi Otok (Croatian for "Long Island.") It was great to get off the boat, stretch our legs, and do a little exploring:
Our ride
Telašćica bay
Wonder if this leads anywhere? (It did: to a parking lot!)
Mir, a  large salt lake in Telašćica
Telašćica Park is famous for its stene, which are rocky, 160-meter high cliffs facing the open sea. 

But for us, the highlight of the day was meeting some of the local residents!
"Do you think I can ride it?"

It's a rough life being a donkey!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old School Zadar

We are very, very bad bloggers... We've been in Zadar for more than a month and still haven't shown you any pictures of Old Town! It's one of our favorite places to visit. Best of all, it's only a 30 minute walk from our apartment in Borik.

Zadar's city center is over 2,700 years old. These days it is a walled, pedestrian-only zone:
The walls of Old Town.
There are four main gates. The most impressive is the Land Gate, constructed by the Venetians in 1543:
Can you see the winged lion of Venice over the main opening?
Here's an inner view of the Harbor Gate:
Notice the cars on the walls? Traffic is allowed up there!
Old Town's stone-lined streets are great for wandering:
Bird's eye view of Old Town Zadar.
Inside the Bridge Gate.
There's many great cafes and restaurants, too:
Dining al fresco at Stomorica restaurant.
Grabbing a gelato to go in Old Town.
Like any proper historical center, Zadar has several notable churches and towers. My favorite is the rotund Church of St. Donat, which I've affectionately dubbed St. Doughnut's Church. It was constructed in the 9th century by a Zadar bishop. Nowadays, it's used for musical performances.
St. Doughnut's Church and the Bell Tower of St. Anastasia.
St. Doughnut's and ruins of the Roman forum (1st to 3rd century).
Church of St. Mary (11th century).
Church spire at the Franciscan monastery.
Inside the Franciscan monastery.
Another sight is the Square of Five Wells (Trg Pet Bunara). The wells were Zadar's only water source until the late 19th century:
Square of the Five Wells
There's also a daily fruit and veggie market. While we've never seen it in action (it takes place during the early morning while we're still asleep!), we have seen the stands:
The daily farmers market.
Along the western side of Old Town there's a beautiful seaside promenade called the Riva. We love chilaxing on the waterfront. It's a great place for people watching:
The locals, sunning and swimming off a pier at the Riva.
And for happy-houring:
You don't need to work a 9-to-5 to appreciate a good happy hour.
And watching the sunset:
Another Hitchcock sunset in Zadar
One of the newest and coolest attractions along the Riva is the Sea Organ. It's a set of stairs along the waterfront that plays musical notes based on the waves. In my humble opinion, this is pure magic and completely fascinating to listen to. (If you would like a more technical description of how it works, please ask Jim.)

Listening to the Sea Organ.
The other "new" addition to the Riva is called Salutation to the Sun. It's a solar-powered LED display that puts on a dazzling light show at night. The display consists of a series of circular solar panels, representing the sun and planets, sized and spaced to scale. We borrowed a fellow tourist's video so that you can see it in action:
Mesmerizing, me thinks.
Wouldn't this be a great place for a Saturday Night Fever dance party?

If you're in Zadar after dark, a great place for a night cap is Garden. It's an open-air bar on top of the city walls. Word on the street is that this place is owned by the drummer from the band UB40 (remember them?) It was really challenging to get a good picture of this place at night since it only has ambient lighting. But, we did capture its best feature:
A bar with beds! Brilliant!