Stream of consciousness XI
Sat Nov 30, 2013 23:28 (UTC -8)
Haven’t done one of these in a while. In fact, I haven’t written very much in a while, which is a funny thing. Occasionally I’ll have an idea for something to write about, and then when it gets to be so long and I haven’t written anything, I blank out. Some people keep a sketchbook or notepad around to keep track of their ideas; that might have to be something I try.
Thanksgiving was Thursday, and most of my friends were out of town. I met up with a friend and had dinner at my favorite restaurant, the Five Point Cafe, one of the relatively few restaurants that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s been my Thanksgiving tradition for the past few years, but I’ll be glad for it to change as my sister moves here in the next few months.
And it’s the holidays. I’m fortunate to be living in a place that doesn’t get much snow—it doesn’t sound very pleasant to have to live in. You know, being buried in it and all. Maybe literally. But anyway, I can’t say that it feels like the holiday season just yet, maybe because it’s still November (although just barely). The Christmas lights are up on the Space Needle, and it might actually snow on Monday, so that might be enough.
I don’t know what it is—it could be the long nights, or the lack of people around, but I feel kind of bored. I would love to meet up with people who have common interests, and I am subscribed to some Meetup groups, but I never go to them. It seems that most of the groups aren’t for me, and the ones that might be for me probably aren’t very interesting. Maybe I need to stop making excuses and show up at one of them once, but I can’t decide which one or ones to go to.
But I have the holidays to look forward to. I haven’t been to my beloved Florida in almost a year, and I’ll be going there again for Christmas. How I miss it. Really, it’ll be good to have a vacation and relax and all that good stuff. I don’t even know what I’m going to do since I’ll be there for almost two weeks, but I guess that’s part of the fun. And I’ll be with my family, so whatever happens, I’ll have a good time.
And then, after the holidays, the days will be getting longer again. The thing about Seattle weather is that it never lasts very long. The chilliness lasts long, but I get used to it. Very hot and very cold temperatures are fleeting; summer is over before you know it, and the dog days especially so. One day you want to buy an air conditioner, and the next, you’ve forgotten about it, and you’ll keep forgetting about it until that one hot day next year. The long days don’t last long, and neither do the long nights.
And, as I alluded to earlier, my sister and her husband will be here soon. That’ll shake things up pretty considerably. A lot of people joke that they’re twins, but we’re literally twins. We’re like this. And by the way, she’s about to graduate from grad school, making her a double-grad, so congratulations, sis! Congratulations in advance.
For the adventurous travelers: The 25 Least Visited Countries in the World. (Via Kottke)
Thu Oct 31, 2013 23:55 (UTC -7)
“The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” —Isaac Asimov
Hey, it’s (the very, very end of) October, and that means it’s almost election season.
I’ve only lived here in Washington state a few years, but during that time there have been a number of notable ballot initiatives. Two years ago, voters privatized alcohol sales. Last year, we legalized marijuana and same-sex marriage. This year, the most controversial initiative is about whether to label “genetically modified” foods.
I used quotes there, so you may be able to tell what’s coming. Still, it seems that not all voters in Washington get this, so I’ll make it clear. Everything we eat has been genetically modified by humans. If you’ve ever had a banana or an orange carrot, you’ve eaten something that didn’t exist before people started this whole agriculture thing. And in fact, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale are all genetically modified versions of the same plant, Brassica oleracea. Modifying genes can give us some pretty cool stuff.
The proponents of this initiative are trying to make a distinction between food that’s been genetically modified by traditional means and food that’s been genetically modified with modern technology. Even with a lack of evidence that the latter is harmful (or different, really), they want producers to segregate the two during production in addition to labeling the latter kind. I’ve heard that 70% of products would carry the label. Yes, you’ve eaten that much “genetically modified” food every day for years, and yet you do not die.
The local news coverage I’ve seen has been biased: “Do you have the right to know what’s in your food?” But nothing different is in your food. It’s not the “what” that’s the issue, it’s the “how,” especially since modern genetic engineering techniques are often just used to make crops easier to grow. We don’t make farmers tell us what kind of machinery they use. As we say in the software biz, that’s an implementation detail. The FDA and the USDA can make sure the food is safe; that’s what we pay them for, and that’s what they’ve been doing for a long time.
I think the people who are behind the initiative know all this. Their main arguments, namely “You should have the right to know” and “Other countries are doing it,” should each make us ask: Why? There are no rational answers. A traditionally genetically modified tomato and a modern genetically modified tomato could have the same genes, and neither you, nor I, nor the tomatoes, nor a scientist with a microscope would be able to tell the two apart.
No, this initiative lies on a foundation of fear, uncertainty, and doubt; it’s FUD all the way down. And I won’t pay extra at the grocery store because some people are afraid of science. People who really worry about this can already buy products advertised as having only traditionally genetically modified ingredients. But I don’t expect those to be around forever. Eventually, we’ll all have realized that the GMO monster under the bed is nothing to be afraid of.
Any colour you like
Thu Sep 19, 2013 23:05 (UTC -7)
Back in April, on The World of Stuff’s 10th anniversary, I wrote that
I’ve given the site a new design. It is a work in progress, and I hope to polish it a bit over the coming weeks. By then you’ll probably have found the surprises that it holds.
Remember how, back then, the background was kinda purplish, and now it’s kinda greenish?
As you’ve probably figured out, in the background is a photo of the Seattle skyline. Every day (Seattle time), the background colors change a little bit according to the season. (Only seeing one color? You’re probably using Internet Explorer 8. Upgrade your browser!)
If you’ve been here quite a bit, you’ll have seen that there’s rain in the background on some days. As in the real Seattle, it rains less in the summer and more in the winter. About 40% of days have rain, which is very close to the actual percentage (41%).
Whenever I redesign the site, I like to include something dynamic and fun, and this is my favorite little gimmick so far. I hope I don’t get tired of it in six months.
Speaking of things that come in weird colors, here’s an oddly detailed article about the genesis of Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos. Apparently they represent quite a feat of engineering.
No security anymore?
Mon Sep 16, 2013 22:53 (UTC -7)
The revelations of the NSA’s underhanded activities have been mind-blowing in number and in scope. I was deeply disturbed by them even before they had a direct effect on me.
The day before I left for Canada, the email service I’d been using for several years shut down for good. Turns out that Edward Snowden was also a Lavabit user, and our government approached Lavabit’s owner with a secret order that he bravely refused to comply with.
When I returned home, I searched for a replacement from this list of Privacy-Conscious Email Services. I ended up choosing Neomailbox because I can use my domain name with their service and because they seem willing and able to protect their users’ privacy. They keep only limited logs, strip IP addresses from outgoing messages, and have up-to-date SSL support; also, they’re outside the US and the EU in a country with strong privacy laws (Switzerland).
Aside: At the same time, I decided to see whether IMAP was right for me, since people are fond of hating on POP. (Don’t believe me? One pro-IMAP site portrays POP users as subhuman.) I had a heck of a time trying to make my email client download messages from an IMAP server and delete them from said server—in other words, to make it behave just like POP. As everyone ought to know, and as that anti-POP site reluctantly admits, there is no advantage of IMAP that can be expressed without the phrase “all of your devices.” Since I typically read and send emails on only one computer, which I back up regularly, I’m the ideal POP user. More to the point of security, I don’t want my messages to stay on someone else’s server forever. I want to own my data.
In addition, I’ve once again started using PGP (read all about it in a previous post). I’ve used encryption with every PGP user I’ve written to (which is no one so far). I’m also signing each outgoing email, so that the recipient can verify that it was (probably) written by me and hasn’t been tampered with. In case anyone is interested, my new PGP key’s fingerprint is 1528 6D07 192A 0F45 D6D6 72FD A6E7 1F37 4940 7812 (or 49407812 for short).
I hear a lot of people saying that caring about their privacy is a waste of time, that they have nothing to hide. I invite these people to send me all of their saved emails and phone records for me to analyze and keep indefinitely.
Others realize that what the NSA is doing is wrong, but say there’s nothing we can do about it. “We can’t do anything about it” is not a resolution, it’s a problem that must be solved. If “we can’t do anything about it,” our democracy is broken.
Encrypting our communications and using services based outside the US will make it a little harder for us to be targets of mass surveillance, but they don’t prevent it from happening in the first place. For that, I’m not aware of what we can do besides donating to organizations that are fighting for our rights (such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and, of course, contacting our representatives.
The last time I was sitting around in an airport waiting for a flight, I wondered if anyone had come up with an optimal way to get people onto an airplane. Now Wired delivers: Airlines Still Trying to Make Passenger Boarding Less Annoying.
By the wings of a gentle wind
Thu Sep 12, 2013 23:53 (UTC -7)
I spent late December and early January in Russia, but I haven’t written about it except in passing. Here’s what happened.
Katya and I had broken up, but we remained friends and wanted to see each other again. The last time I had visited her, two years earlier, she was staying with her parents in her hometown, hours away from St. Petersburg (and anywhere, really). But this time, she was housesitting at a friend’s apartment in St. Petersburg, so I stayed with her there.
Not surprisingly, when I arrived in Russia a few days after Christmas, it was bitterly cold. Katya and her friend Volodya picked me up at the airport. In the darkness, we rode down the wide, snowy boulevards toward an endless sea of apartment buildings as big as ships. And that’s what they were nicknamed, actually—the fact that they had lots of tiny apartments added to the perception.
We stayed inside a lot. Katya cooked hearty Russian meals that I never got tired of. We spent time watching movies and, of course, internetting. There was other entertainment, though: Katya was taking care of her friends’ cat and kittens. I’ve always been apprehensive around cats because my family had some mean ones when I was growing up. But I had nothing to worry about; the kittens played a lot and were fun to watch. And none of them tried to kill me.
We rang in the New Year the Russian way, by eating tangerines. It’s also a tradition to put on (and, optionally, listen to) the President’s speech, but we weren’t able to stream it. I like that the idea that everyone just tunes in to it because it’s what they’ve always done, and no one really cares about what he says. I have a feeling that there’s an American tradition that’s very similar, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Russians take New Year’s Eve much more seriously than Americans do. So much so that St. Petersburg’s fireworks show started several hours after midnight. I guess that was to give everyone time to come out and watch it after celebrating at home.
We walked to the nearest subway station and crammed into a train along with everyone else. People were laughing and shouting. One guy on the subway was drinking whiskey out of the bottle. When we got to our station, people were chanting, “S Novym Godom!“—”Happy New Year!” I’m quite used to the idea of people having a good time at New Year’s parties, but it was really unusual to see a horde of people just amped up about New Year’s in general.
We missed most of the fireworks, but we checked in on a concert in front of the Winter Palace and strolled around the city center. Walking down Nevsky Prospect (in the actual street, not on the sidewalk), I watched out for broken glass. And on the icy sidewalks I walked carefully, trying not to slip, although I did a few times. My general awkwardness must have made me look out of place, because at one point a passerby said “Happy New Year,” specifically to me, in English.
A few days later, Katya’s parents and sister were visiting, so we had a bit of a day out with them. We had some food and tea and did some sightseeing. They were nice to me, and I wished I could talk to them a bit more. I was glad they knew a little English.
Toward the end of my stay, Katya showed me some subway stations that had opened recently (very recently, as in, while I was there), in addition to some of her old favorites. For me, the notable ones were Pushkinskaya, with its statue of Pushkin; Narvskaya, with its hammers-and-sickles and reliefs of heroic-looking proletarians; Avtovo, which may be one of the most ornate subway stations in the world; and Bukharestskaya, which, despite being named after the capital of another formerly communist country, was one of the brand new ones. Apparently they had started working on it in the 1980s and found it more practical to keep the name they’d been using.
I got to spend a lot of time with Katya, but eventually, my time was up. Early one morning, she went with me to the airport. It was hard to say goodbye because I didn’t know when I’d see her again. But it was just something I had to get through.
In the months since, we’ve been in touch as ever. So, in a way, things haven’t changed much, and she’s still one of my best friends and very much a part of my life.
This post comes on Katya’s birthday—it’s already the 13th where she is. Katya, I hope your birthday is the best ever, and that you have a wonderful time. I wish I could be there.
Highway 61 visited
Sat Aug 31, 2013 19:17 (UTC -7)
Three weeks ago, I took the train to the airport. I could hardly remember the last time I had been so nervous. I was about to visit Natasha, my friend whom I’d met online and hadn’t seen in over three years. I knew we would get along well, as we always had, but I was still nervous. A good kind of nervous.
Ever since we started exchanging emails seven years ago, her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, had always been just an abstract idea in my mind. She had sent me photos of the local sights and had told me about the places in and around the city where she’d lived, worked, and gone to school. And every so often, I would get curious and look up how much it would cost to fly to YQT, Thunder Bay International Airport. But it just seemed so remote.
One day recently, Natasha told me she was getting married. One of the first thoughts to cross my mind was: All right, I’m finally going to visit her!
So after a long Friday spent mostly on airplanes, too anxious to do anything but skim the articles in the in-flight magazines, I found myself at a tiny airport near Lake Superior. After a brief chat with a friendly immigration officer, I picked up my suitcase and was released into Canada. I looked around awkwardly in the airport lobby.
Natasha found me a few minutes later. She took me to one of her favorite spots, a pier near the lake, which we were able to see in the little sunlight that was left. Then we went out for dinner, and she drove me to the place where I’d be staying. I was really glad she was able to go out of her way for me on the night before her wedding.
With CouchSurfing I didn’t find anyone who’d be willing to host me for a week, so for the first time I turned to Airbnb, which is basically CouchSurfing with money. Fortunately I found a nice couple with a guest room, and although the stay added a lot to the cost of my trip, it was much cheaper than a hotel, and they made me feel welcome immediately.
Saturday was the big day. Fortunately, my hosts’ house was just around the corner from the park where the ceremony was to take place, so I walked there. I arrived pretty early, so I had time to talk to Natasha’s friends and family, and her future husband, Chris. Later, Natasha arrived and the ceremony began. It was in a flower garden, and Natasha, Chris, the wedding party, and the priest stood near the middle, with the guests standing all around. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, and I was wearing a suit, but I felt perfectly comfortable.
At the community center (centre), as the reception was about to begin, I stood in the corner next to a portrait of the Queen and Prince Philip, talking to AT&T representatives on the phone as they tried to figure out why I couldn’t make calls or send texts in Canada but could only receive them. (They called me after I contacted them through Twitter.) But eventually my phone died, and I forgot all about it. I sat with some of Natasha’s friends, and, when the time came, went up to the front and said a few words to the bride.
After having dinner and drinks (and cake), I went out with Natasha’s friends for more drinks. They were a lot of fun to be around, and very funny too. I liked how they could shift gears from making dirty jokes to saying “thank you” to the waitress in such a natural way. People say Americans are polite, but I think Canadians win that one. Oh yeah, and they showed me their national health care cards and laughed.
Over the following days, since Natasha had to work and had just gained a husband, I was left to my own devices some of the time. Fortunately, my hosts’ house was pretty centrally located, so I was able to walk around and check out some of the local shops and cafes.
But Natasha spent as much time with me as she could, and was my ride around the greater Thunder Bay area. We saw the huge Kakabeka Falls, walked across Eagle Canyon, and looked out over Ouimet Canyon. We swung by Silver Islet, a popular place for locals to “camp” in what looked to me like second homes. And I learned a little bit of Canadian history at the Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout and Fort William Historical Park (the latter with its fair share of cheesy historical reenactment).
There’s a saying that goes, “If you miss Mount McKay, you miss Thunder Bay.” So I made sure not to miss that one. It’s a mountain that overlooks the city, and Natasha had given me a photo of it, which for years I’d kept on display as a reminder of my Canadian friend. I was glad to be able to go up there and see the Thunder Bay from the other side at last.
It was great to spend time with Natasha and Chris, of course, and to meet all these people I had heard about and recognized from photos. I can finally say I’ve been to Canada, so people can stop being surprised that I haven’t. And I won’t soon forget the tastes of the local culture that Natasha treated me to: poutine, a Canadian favorite that really needs to be more popular in the US, and the Persian, a delicious pastry unique to Thunder Bay.
Probably my favorite place to visit, and the one I’ll remember most, was the house where Natasha grew up and where her parents still live. It’s on the Pigeon River, which forms part of the border between Canada and the United States. At the edge of the property is a cliff with a very steep path down to the river. When we made it down there, I couldn’t help but notice the equally steep cliff on the other side. One side was Natasha’s, the other was mine, and there was hardly anything between them.
The city awake
Wed Jul 31, 2013 23:54 (UTC -7)
This month, my parents and my sister spent a week here in Seattle with me. Since it was my parents’ first visit and my sister had only ever been here for a few days, we went to all of the touristy places: Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, the EMP, and the Museum of Flight, to name a few. We also did our share of urban exploration, not only of downtown but also Lake Union Park and the International District.
It seems that whenever my friends’ parents visit them, they always go on some excursion. In particular, Victoria and Vancouver, in Canada, seems to be popular spots. We thought about going to Victoria, but it didn’t pan out. We didn’t mind because there was so much to do just in Seattle. In fact, if it weren’t for the Museum of Flight being just outside the city limits, we would have been in the city the whole time.
And the food. Oh, the food. I don’t know if it’s a Pacific Northwest thing, or the fact that this is the biggest city I’ve lived in by far, but it seems that Seattle has some awesome restaurants. We tried to visit as many of my favorites as possible, while setting aside time go to the few, the proud, the absolute favorites more than once. And I never thought I’d go to a bar with my parents, but I figured I’d take them to my favorite one.
We also had plenty of quality time in my apartment. Pike Place Market being an underrated source of groceries for locals, my mom and sister treated me to a home-cooked meal with fresh ingredients. We also got to watch the Fourth of July fireworks from my balcony, just as I’d been hoping for as soon as I found out they’d be visiting.
It’s probably pretty obvious for anyone who’s spent time with my family, but I didn’t realize until their visit how much I take after them. Like me, they didn’t want to be out and about all day long. Instead, they wanted to spend at least a few hours at home doing nothing in particular besides reading or listening to the radio. After five days of going to work, I need to spend at least one day of the weekend doing just that. I guess I had to spend six months away from them to be able to make the connection.
Also this month, I had my birthday. When it came around, I didn’t feel much like celebrating it, since I kind of already had with my family. But I went out for drinks with a few people and enjoyed it.
And toward the end of the month, by some weird coincidence, two of my favorite musicians came to Seattle within a span of eight days. I’m really not a big concert person, but I totally had to go to both of them.
Surprisingly, I didn’t hear about Paul McCartney’s concert until it was imminent, but I managed to find a pretty good ticket for sale online. I had seen him in concert once before—my dad took me 11 years ago. I was glad to find that Sir Paul is just as full of energy today as he was then. It was a really, truly amazing show, and as if that weren’t enough, there was a surprise encore featuring the guys from Nirvana. I have no regrets that I went, even though I didn’t have anyone to go with.
One week later—last Friday—Girl Talk played at the Capitol Hill Block Party. This one I wasn’t quite so sure about. I had never seen Girl Talk in concert, but I knew that what he does is play samples while people dance. And so I figured I’d be standing around awkwardly while getting jostled around by dancing people. The place was so crowded when I got there that I half-expected to maybe see some acquaintance there. In fact, someone found me! One of the CouchSurfers I had hosted last year was visiting from Canada again and spotted me in the crowd. Girl Talk came on stage, and we danced and had a fantastic time.
The Bechdel Test is a simple way to determine whether a film has gender bias. See how your favorite movies stack up.
Sun Jun 30, 2013 23:52 (UTC -7)
Two years ago, when I considered applying for a job in Seattle, I was concerned that it would rain all the time. Many people have this idea about Seattle, but it’s not entirely accurate. Most of the time it’s just overcast, and if it does rain, it’s usually so light that you don’t need an umbrella.
But then there’s summer. Summer in Seattle is so short and sweet that Seattleites spend most of it celebrating. In June it finally stops raining and warms up. The natives say that summer starts on the Fourth of July (or, as I’ve heard from the pessimists, the day after). From then on, you can count on it being sunny every day. I think it was last summer that I heard a local TV meteorologist proclaim that no rain had been recorded for 30 days. By late August, it seems, temperatures start to drop, and in September, the weather transitions back to “normal.”
So, summer seems to be coming a bit early: it has been hot these past few days. So much so that I almost considered buying a portable air conditioner—my apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, so cool is it usually in this part of the country. But I quickly decided against it once I saw how much they cost, and knowing that things were going to cool down within a few days.
And speaking of which: my parents and sister are coming to visit me this week! My sister and her husband made a quick trip up here last year, and this is my parents’ first time visiting me here. I’ve been cleaning up around the apartment and hoping that they won’t mind how hot it gets. According to my living room clock’s built-in thermometer, it’s been getting up to 83 °F in here, which is way hotter than I’m used to. But every day, after a few hours of that, it starts to feel normal and I remember that that was a pretty typical temperature at home when I was growing up, and even at my parents’ house today.
So, while my face has been melting off, I’ve been trying to think of things that we can do during the week that they’ll be here. One thing that seems certain is that we’ll be watching the fireworks from my apartment on the Fourth of July. Well, it wasn’t entirely certain for a while, because the organization that usually runs the fireworks show couldn’t raise enough money for it this year, and then the organization that runs most of the other summer festivities stepped in and saved the day. Fortunately they’ve chosen to have their fireworks show in the same place as always—Gas Works Park, within view of my apartment.
As for other things to do, we all have some ideas, and my parents and sister can actually drive, so I don’t think we’ll end up being bored. And even if we do, that’s fine, since I haven’t taken a day off work in almost six months and could use a rest.
What’s the difference between a geek and a nerd? A geek (or nerd) uses Twitter and math to come up with some sort of answer. (Via Waxy)
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, airplane hijackings were a regular occurrence in the US. In addition to detailing How Hijackers Commandeered Over 130 American Planes — In 5 Years, Wired explains the hijackers’ common objective and the steps that were taken to stop the epidemic.
The old country again
Fri May 31, 2013 23:56 (UTC -7)
On September 12, Katya and I took another bus up the Croatian coast, passing briefly through Bosnia and Herzegovina before re-entering Croatia and arriving in the city of Split.
I had been there before. When I went backpacking in Europe in the summer of 2009, I took a detour to Split with the intention of visiting some relatives. I spent most of my time on the nearby island of Brac, and that’s where I ended up meeting other relatives I didn’t know existed.
It was night by the time we arrived. We had booked a stay at yet another “apartment” that was hardly an apartment at all, but it was pretty comfortable. We ventured out to have dinner at a konoba, which is a kind of family-owned restaurant/tavern in the Dalmatian tradition. Oh, yeah—this region of Croatia is called Dalmatia. I didn’t see any of the dogs, though.
The next day was Katya’s birthday. We walked around the city center, including the Riva, its famous promenade. It was raining on and off, so we dipped into an art museum and then into a cafe for a little while.
The day after that, we got a better feel for the city by taking a free walking tour. Like other ancient cities, Split is full of history, but it’s unique in some ways. For example, the center of Split is walled off, but not for the reasons you’d expect—it was built in the ruins of the Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace. We also learned interesting things about little landmarks, like the fact that the sphinx in the main square was actually from Egypt.
After chatting with the tour guide, Katya and I climbed the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Domnius, which dominates the city’s skyline. The tower is old and was clearly built for short people. I failed to duck far enough when entering a passageway and hit my head pretty hard. That took away from some of my enjoyment, but we took some nice photos at the top. In the distance, we could see the island of Brac. Ferries were sailing back and forth.
A few hours later, we were on one of them. Ivica, the Esperantist I had stayed with during my previous visit to Brac, had opened his home to us. He had been out of the country, and when he found out he wasn’t going to make it home in time to meet us, he arranged for a neighbor to give us a spare key.
So we got off the ferry and found a taxi to take us to his house in a small town near the center of the island. I had forgotten how big of an island it was—the fare came as a shock. But mainly I was surprised that, thanks to Ivica’s neighbor, we were there in his house, this place I thought I might never go back to. It also felt strange that there was Ivica’s living room and Ivica’s kitchen, and Ivica’s dog outside, but no Ivica.
And not much food. Against all odds, there was a large restaurant next to the village, and it was open. Well, almost. They were closing up, so they sold us some chicken and bread that had already been prepared. We walked back to the house in almost total darkness (which really creeped me out) and ate it there.
The next day, it was sunny and hot, and we still didn’t have much to eat. We walked around the village, looking for a restaurant, but we didn’t find anything or anyone. It seemed as if the whole place had been abandoned, although maybe people were just enjoying their Saturday elsewhere.
We went back to the big restaurant—this time safely within their hours of operation—where we ate in a large enclosed area under the late-afternoon sun. Actually, it wasn’t entirely enclosed, because a peacock wandered in. As part of my meal, I had a soup that was made with cheese from the island. It was pretty legit.
After lunch, we wanted to go to the famous beach in Bol, on the south side of the island, but we had no way to get there. So we tried thumbing a ride near the restaurant. I had attempted hitchhiking once—several years before, and only a few meters away from the spot where we now stood. A few cars passed, but no one slowed down. Then a taxi pulled up. So we didn’t have a free ride, but we had a ride.
As the sun set over Bol, we walked down the promenade where my relatives ran a souvenir stand. I was trying to remember exactly where it was, and I was beginning to think it wasn’t there—it was getting pretty late in the season, after all. But at last, I saw a familiar blue-and-white-striped booth.
The wife and mother of the family was there. We had a short conversation, with one of the other souvenir vendors translating. I told her how I wished that I could go and meet the rest of the family again, if only we had the time. It was my last evening in Croatia.
On September 16, Katya and I were back in Split with free souvenirs in tow, and there was one thing left to do before I had to go to the airport. We walked up Marjan Hill, which overlooks the city and the harbor. It was a lovely way to cap off the trip.
At the airport, Katya and I said our goodbyes, and soon I was looking down on Split and Brac from above.
Although it shouldn’t have taken me this long to write about the trip, it has been nice to reach back and find memories and feelings I hadn’t thought about in a while. That is really why I write—to make sense of things that I do and that happen to me—but I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride as well.
Tue Apr 30, 2013 23:59 (UTC -7)
Katya and I woke up in Budva, Montenegro, and told our host we’d be leaving instead of staying an additional night. She seemed surprised, but the place wasn’t what we’d been looking for. So we gave her the money we owed her and left.
We had hardly seen the city, so we walked around. I had read that Montenegro had one of the world’s highest concentrations of smokers, and we could smell that this seemed to be correct. It was easy to see why the place was popular with tourists, though: the weather was sunny and the vistas gorgeous. We walked down the beach and to the Budva’s small “old town,” where we walked between narrow stone buildings on narrow stone streets. From an old fortress labeled Citadela, we looked on at the crystalline Adriatic Sea.
Katya did some swimming on a beach that I wasn’t convinced was public, but if it wasn’t, then it was so crowded that no one noticed. Then we had to find out how to get to our next destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Later that day, we were heading up the Adriatic coast on yet another bus. The trip was long and the bus driver a fan of repetitive folk music. In one town, the road stopped at a small harbor. We had to get on a ferry to reach the next stretch of road. At the border, a uniformed man collected our passports for inspection. Though Katya’s was red with a two-headed eagle and mine was blue with a one-headed eagle, they were both welcomed in Croatia as they had been in Serbia and Montenegro. I was grateful for that.
It was still light out when we arrived at the big bus station in Dubrovnik, and I didn’t see the old city, its star attraction, anywhere. Once we figured out that we had to take a city bus to get there, I went to an ATM and took out a large sum of Croatian kuna because the apartment where we had booked a room for several nights only accepted cash.
Soon we were at magnificently preserved old city of Dubrovnik, walled off all around and perched over the Adriatic. It made Budva’s old town look like… a village? Something less than a town, anyway. We spent a while lugging our luggage around the shiny white stone streets and past the ancient storefronts and churches before we found out that our accommodation was outside the city walls.
It turned out to be surprisingly close, yet tucked away. Apartments Mia is an old three-story house like many others in the maze of streets near the old city. A side street, if you could call it that, ascends as it curves around the house, so there are entrances on multiple floors. Our suite, on the top floor, consisted of a modern, fully-equipped bedroom and bathroom. Next door lived the owner and his mother. (Both suites are shown together on their website as Apartment 1. I don’t know if the site is out of date or if the owner has made different living arrangements since we stayed there.)
Dino, the owner, did everything he could made us feel relaxed and at home (Dino, I said I’d give your place a good review, so here it is). On our first night, he sat with us at the table on the small terrace outside our room; the walled city loomed in the background. He gave us a tourist map and told us where all the good restaurants were. Each day he’d offer coffee and snacks for us to enjoy on the terrace, and his mother even hung up some of the clothes I had left outside after a swim.
We stayed in Dubrovnik for only a few days, but in my mind they blend together into one pleasant memory. The city itself attracts a lot of tourists, but it’s big, and there’s a lot to explore. I never got tired of looking at it. Katya and I found our fair share of fine restaurants, including one at the top of a hill overlooking the city. It was a wonderful place to watch the sunset and the sea.
We went swimming in a hidden cove—I swam only once on this trip and I did it here. The “beach” was even closer to our apartment than the old city was, and it consisted of an extremely short stretch of sand with cliffs on either side. And houses—houses all around (including one in the side of the cliff). We also kayaked around the city walls and back again—man, was that a workout, but it was fun.
One day, Katya and I took a short boat ride to the island of Lokrum (population: peacocks), where we wandered around the ruins of an ancient monastery. We spent a few hours there, until the sunset turned everything orange, and almost missed the last boat off the island. I was worried, but not so worried that I couldn’t snap a few photos before starting to run.
We asked Dino if we could book our room for an extra day, and fortunately it worked out. On our last day in Dubrovnik, we set out early (at his suggestion) to walk the city walls. There was a lot to see: apartments, churches, restaurants, a school—a glimpse into the lives of the people who still call the old city home. I couldn’t imagine living in a place where tourists could walk on a giant wall and gawk at your home all day, and since Dubrovnik has expanded far beyond its original boundaries, the people who still live in the old city must really feel like it’s a part of them. And what a place to be a part of.
I was sad when we returned to the bus station where we had arrived only a few days before. Although we had gotten a lot out Dubrovnik, we had to Split.