3 Things I learned in Croatia

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Now we are back from sunny beautiful Croatia in greysih fall Dizzel and my face is very tan with two awkward-looking white circles around my eyes. It was sad to have to leave the beach paradise – but I learned lots of new things! I am now no longer a beginner at packaged holidays but let’s say an experienced amateur.

  1. You dress up for dinner and you use plates only once

I only had a 9-kg-suitcase and was very proud of not bringing lots of stuff. What do you need during a beach holiday, I thought. Swimwear and sandals basically. Little did I know! At night for the buffet dinner, some of the ladies that casually had hung out in their beach dresses before, donned perfect evening looks! Stylish blouses, definitely newly purchased dresses, elegant pants accompanied by pretty hair-dos…and here I was in my regular t-shirt and skirt.

This vacation also meant struggling with my zero waste ambitions. Not only did the bora-wind rob me of a plastic bag and toss it into the sea (A: “You littered!” Me: almost jumped into the sea fully clothed to retrieve the bag), one was also not supposed to use plates twice. So after finishing your starters, you must not take the plate back to the buffet and put your main course on the same plate. I am still not sure if I am being a cretin or an environmentally conscious person for having a hard time with this.

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The most dressed up I got

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for our sundowners

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2. Non-fiction is not a good beach read

Not sure about you but I think of vacations as “finally I can catch up on all the reading I have to do” – and that includes non-fiction. So I packed a work magazine, a book about brain science and Hans Rosling’s super hyped “Factfulness”. I soon realized I was the odd one out on the beach. Departing guests left their books for others in the hotel’s inspiration bar (I guess that is how you say library in a cooler way): Danish crime, German romance, British comedy. After three days, I had made it through the American neuroscience but the Swedish statistics book was really hard. I still haven’t finished it and next time, I will definitely bring something lighter.

 

3. Don’t try stand-up-paddling

…if you intend to walk or even work the day after. Our hotel had a rather extensive work out program and I am still surprised by myself that I actually took advantage of it. (I have never brought work out clothes on a vacation before. Also because my vacations often entail walking 3 million steps a day through a city.) After two days of only moving from buffet to beach to bed, I signed up for aerobics. What I did not know was that the class would be outside next to the beach bar and that I would be the only one. I guess I can put this under the “free personal training with an audience” experience.

The last class I took was “stand up paddling trial”. On our last day, I got up earlier than usual because I really wanted to make myself try stand up paddling that all the cool kids in Hamburg did already three years ago. Did I constantly fall into the cold water as soon as I tried to go from kneeling to standing? Yes. Was it fun nonetheless? Yes. Can I walk the day after? No.

I have had sore muscles before (I mean, I tried ice-skating in March) but this is a whole new level. I had a really hard time sitting down at my desk this morning and I fear it won’t be over by tomorrow. So try stand up paddling but if possible don’t plan anything for the day after that.

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When I still could walk without sore muscles

The Thousand Islands Country

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When I was 12, I hung out in an online forum for fans of the pop group A*Teens a lot. There, in the “discussion board as it was called, I learned most of my English, long-distance collaboration skills and intercultural competence. There, I also learned about a country called Croatia through a forum friend called Miha. He lived in Zagreb so that was mostly my point of reference until seven years ago I applied for a Master’s Degree in Dubrovnik and the fact that there is a Croatian Adria became more known to me. I didn’t do my Master’s in Croatia but since then thought it would be worth visiting.

So when we talked about going way during the fall to get some sunshine, I brought up Croatia. A then went ahead and picked a hotel that makes me alternately feel like I am in a perfect-vacation-commercial (when on the terrace or beach promenade) and a Soviet girl encountering capitalism for the first time (when faced with the breakfast and dinner buffet). I am also fascinated with how travelers are taken care of in this kind of hotels. Everyone speaks German and English (and remamarkbly good German and English), there is an own app that lists all offered activities (step aerobic, stretching, excursion, cooking course, Croatian course, live music anyone?) and upon arrival we got an envelope with a letter from “Iva of Tui” and her phone number to call if any issues should arise at any point. Seriously, I feel more taken care of than when I was 16 and on an exchange semester in the U.S..
“Iva of Tui”, as the receptionist kept calling her as if that was a noble title, also held a welcome session this morning which we missed because I was very busy for an extended period of time marvelling wide-eyed at the 15 different kinds of bread at the breakfast counters. Instead, I signed us up last night for “Facts about Croatia” to which A willingly tagged along. We were greeted by Marko who had two Swedes in tow. There are so many Swedes here (and the occasional Dane), it’s rather bewildering to me. I thought Swedes were kept in Ayia Napa. Marko gave us an excellent presentation that exceeded our expectations. Now I am even more keen on going to the “Croatian Language Course” on Friday.

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We are in Tupeci which means City of Springs

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I think it all looks rather Italian here

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Pomegranate Trees! I have never seen pomegranates growing before.

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On the horizon you see some of the 1000 islands Croatia prides itself for

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Can’t stop looking at the color of the sea

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The first day was very windy

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That wind, we learned, is called Bora. The changeable bora can often be felt all over Montenegrin Littoral, Dalmatia, Istria, Rijeka, the Slovenian Littoral, Trieste, and the rest of the Adriatic east coast. It blows in gusts.

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Beyond Nils Holgersson

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I am sitting in a clean, cushioned chair that obviously is part of an interior design concept and around me bell-like female voices sing about the importance of freedom. Did you guess where I am? Yes, at a Swedish university (hint: the cushioned concept chair) at my friend Malin’s choir practice. Her choir is due to perform at the welcome ceremony for the new students tomorrow morning and there is only one other girl in her voice who can be there so she did her duty and attends the practice. And I get to blog to a living testimonial to the choir culture in Sweden.

Yesterday, after more than seven hours of traveling, I made it to Karlstad where Malin lives nowadays. I am actually in Sweden for work, for a conference on Wednesday in Stockholm, but why flew up several times if you can combine trips. Karlstad is the capital of VÀrmland and the largest city in the province with 91,000 inhabitants. I have only been in VÀrmland three times in my life but I have had great times at VÀrmlands nation in Uppsala when I studied so I hold the province in high regard. It is also home to some famous Swedes, among them the founder of Ericsson, singers Zarah Leander and Monica Zetterlund, poets Nils Ferlin and Gustaf Fröding, and I believe most known: the grande dame of Swedish literature, Selma Lagerlöf.

Today, Malin took me to Lagerlöf’s estate MĂ„rbacka for a guided tour. As a preparation, I had even started reading the only book by Lagerlöf that I own, “The Emperor of Portugal”. On the tour of the house we were the only people under 60 but I attributed this to the fact that it was after all a Monday. The estate was impressive – and modern, as she had such things as internal telephone lines installed in the house. Selma Lagerlöf, I learned, was an overall rather avantgarde woman. She took a loan to study to become a teacher when her father denied her an education, she cut her hair super short in 1891 she was the first woman to be awared a Nobel Prize (and the first Swede!), the first woman to be elected as a member of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize, she became a very active political influencer (as we would call it today), fighting for women’s right and suffrage. And she dated a woman.

And here we thought she was just that elementary teacher who wrote Nils Holgersson…I am putting some more Lagerlöf classics on my to-read-list.

 

MĂ„rbacka has lots of apple trees and we tasted a tiny apple that was surprisingly delicious.

 

Selma Lagerlöf had a thing for peacocks. There was a sign with a story about how as a child, her leg was paralyzed and meeting a peacock healed her. Peacocks are still around and, as the sign informed me, are called “Sara and Pharao, as tradition demands”. I had no idea that there was a peacock naming tradition but I am glad I know now in case I ever get myself one.

 

 

 

 

What else I did

You might have thought I got lost at the paradise island. But I haven’t, I’ve just been busy bouncing around Stockholm. What did I do after A went back to Germany? Let’s see:

I visited a friend on a remote island

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Just looked at my scared face…

And when I say remote, I mean remote. First, I travelled 2 hours and 7 minutes by public transport, changing three times. I actually was the only person on the last bus which seemed to delight the bus drivers who dropped me off at a stop that seemed like a place humans hadn’t touched. But they have – and one human picked me up, we drove on gravel paths for ten more minutes and then I was handed a life vest. That’s how remote the island was where my friend has her summer house. No electricity, no water. Just paradiasic nature and calm.

I looked for the blood moon and saw a photo exhibit

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The evening I returned from the island was the night of the lunar eclipse. Together with a former fellow student from my Uppsala times, I walked all through Stockholm’s Old Town to see the so called Blood Moon. We just couldn’t find it! I started doubting myself (I mean who doesn’t find the moon in the sky?!), but later read it was too cloudy in Stockholm.

On Friday, Tabea came from the (for non-Swedish-speakers) unpronouncable town of Skövde that is now her home and we went to Fotografiska together to see the impressive exhibiting “Turning the tide”. Using dramatic and awe-inspiring footage, the exhibit captures endangered oceanic habitats and wildlife, and shines a spotlight on the oceans.

I saw a apocalyptic Swedish movie with Evelina (and ate plankstek)

Marita had told me about a new Swedish movie, “Den blomstertid nu kommer”. It is a film that originally was crowdfounded and is made by a group from the town of Norrköping. In the movie Sweden faces a mysterious attack, complete with poisoned rain, birds falling from the sky and the blowing up of the Swedish parliament. The movie has been reviewed critically because its story is not super deep, but I liked it, not expecting profoundness from an action thriller.

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The apocalyptic atmosphere is Sweden is not only reflected in the movie. Swedes have also received a governement leaflet this spring with detailed information on how to prepare for “When the crisis or the war comes”. Even the book stores display books about prepping and “The Survival Hand Book”.

I went to church, the park and the construction site

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I attended Sunday mass in Hedvig Eleonora (and couldn’t believe they did not pray for rain, considering the raging fires). At that church, they put a “christening drop” into a tree for each new church member that was christened.

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Bianca and I got picknick and sat in Hagaparken, close to Crown Princess Victoria’s house.

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After meeting Magda who walked (!) all the way through Stockholm to see me, I spent some time marvelling at the giant construction site that once was Slussen. (I wonder how many decades it will take to complete that…)

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Paradise Island

Ever since early childhood, I have fought a war against insects. I have been the preferred victim of mosquitos as long as I can remember. This has led to me developing an extreme acoustial alertness to the sound of tiny wings. If there is something flying in my bedroom I cannot sleep. I am in terror! (Will it sting? Will it give me another bite that will bother me for weeks?) So when two flies decided to settle in our room, the night was over for me at 4.22 a.m. A woke as I was battling the two insects who kept attacking my nose and ears, and said sleepily, “The advantage of Helen 1 A Tours is that you also get to partake in Helen’s insomnia”.

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The Fly Incident led to A letting me sleep in (when I finally won against Fly No 1. at 5:57 and Fly No. 2 at 8:12 and fell asleep again) which in its turn led to us taking a later ferry to – the Island. I had told A in advance that we had to go to the archipelago because if I was to sucessfully market Stockholm the islands had to be part of the experience. However, I had also advertised the archipelago as peaceful and deserted, I painted a counterimage of DĂŒsseldorf which bothers me with its density. When we got to Grinda, it seemed everyone else had had the same idea – it was crawling with people which earned me a skeptical look from A. I could only redeem my trustwortiness when I led him to a beach off the beaten track. Okay, more or less of the beaten track, there were 10 other people at first, but we were alone within an hour. While the sun was warming us and the waves were softly washing up to the shore, A said, “Well, you promised me paradise and I was not disappointed.”

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Spot me in the Baltic Sea!

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We stayed in a real hotel (uncommon for the islands)

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The view from the restaurant

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First course of our delicious dinner (such luxury!)

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To perfect the day, a skilled musician performed on the jetty at night

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Upon our return, I insisted showing A the Old Town before he left. We saw it all, including creative window dressings.

The one that got it all

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“I love boats!” A informed me this morning. Or actually, you would probably call it mid-day, when we scurried through the severly disrupted Stockholm public transport system. Apparently this spring, the city decided that everything needs to go under construction. I mean everything. I can hardly find my way anymore in some places. And it is not enough with that: One of the major construction sites for the past years, the new commuter stations, have been running for only one year to be closed off to traffic now just when we are here. The reason? They found, after only a year, that the escalators are faulty.

We still made it to the public transport ferry eventually. A loves boats, so Helen 1 A Tours took him on a boat to a boat. (Catering to the client’s interests is crucial for the success of Helen 1 A Tours!) The Vasa Ship, legendary and unique, awaited us. I had not been to the Vasa Museum in 5 or 6 years and I always find it impressive to see this historical ship.

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The hoardings at the construction sites have peepholes – for adults and of course for kids

I hope I don’t have to explain the significance of fika to my blog readers at this point. Naturally, our next to do was getting a fika at my favorite cafĂ©, Flickorna Helin, where aggressive birds steal your food and slow waitresses smile and tell you most things are sold out for the day. But the view! The view is stunning.

Also, they had the paper which I studied carefully. The front page had a German fire engine on it. Germany has now joined the team to battle the fires in the woods of Sweden. Several other EU-members have already sent help. Almost a billion Swedish crowns have already burnt down and it does not look like rain is coming any time soon.

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From my time as a tourist officer in Stockholm, I still remember well what the top three sights are and it was only the last one, the first and largest open air museum in the world (and zoo), Skansen, that was missing on A’s list. That’s pretty good for 24 hours! Also, my favorite TV-show took place there tonight, so coincidentally we went there just today.

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The animals also thought it was very warm. Occasionally, they lifted their head, only to surrender again and lay down

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The young reindeer were not dead, just very warm

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Marita and I posed against the beautiful scenery

I have been attending AllsĂ„ng pĂ„ Skansen for five or more years in a row now and gradually assumed my role of AllsĂ„ng ambassador which entails convincing friends to go there with me and educate them about this one-of-a-kind show. This year, it was Marita’s turn. We stood among all the Swedes and enthusiatically sang along to their summer songs (“The sand is wet, the girl is young, take me to the sea”) and I believe we actually ended up on TV! See below my five milliseconds of fame with my dearest Stockholm friend.

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AllsĂ„ng pĂ„ Skansen always starts and ends with a Stockholm anthem in which the crowd declares its love to the city, singing, Of all the towns I’ve seen in the world, you are the one who got it all. I am not sure if A entirely agrees but his verdict about today’s Helen 1 A Tour was very positive: “I love being on the ferry, I love looking at sailing vessels, I love meeting nordic animals, I love köttbullar. I love all of this.”

Show him the real North

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“I’ve booked my trip to Stockholm with Helen 1 A Tours. So I don’t worry about anything”, A said contendly as we boarded the plane to Sweden. Because today, he set foot on Swedish soil for the first time ever. I don’t take people to Sweden usually. I don’t give Helen 1 A Tours to anyone (even though several people have requested it). But I am on a mission to #showhimthenorth, as faithful instagram followers know, and it was now time to show him the real North.

So now we’re here and we’ve strolled through KungstrĂ€dgĂ„rden, took the boat sightseeing tour, sat at the Stadshuset terrace and shopped at ÅhlĂ©ns. Tomorrow Skansen and the Vasa Museum awaits. I am taking this tourist thing seriously. At the same time, it feels funny to me because it was so long ago I first did these things, 18 years to be precise. When we were at the Tourist Center and I asked if he wanted to take brochures, A said, “That’s fine. I have a walking brochure with me”.

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The great thing is, I am actually on vacation for three whole weeks. The first week I spent going to the Dutch beach for three days,

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visiting the National Dutch Railway Museum,

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with its impressive waiting hall,

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receiving a visit from my dear friend Jonna and

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going to the biggest fair at the Rhine with her

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and of course, going to the local lake twice.