Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Last Hurrah

Yes it's a cliche, but it's the truth: All good things must come to an end. And it has. Two amazing years in Albania are over and done. The friendships, the travel, the students, have all been legendary. I'm going to continue overseas life, for at least another year, this time in.... Kyiv, Ukraine. I'll be teaching 1st grade, which, honestly, is my first love.
Leaving Tirana...

Tracey, Sarah, Entela and I wanted one final trip together. Unfortunately, Entela's Croatian visa didn't come through in time, so it was just Tracey, Sarah and me. But what a trip! We decided to drive up through Montenegro and spend 5 nights in Dubrovnik, Croatia. We had reserved an inexpensive econ car, but were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to a comfortable, high powered vehicle (that loved the bends in the road). Sarah drove the first leg of the road trip through Albania. We stopped in Skodra, at one point, to ask for directions right before the Montenegro border. After we crossed into Montenegro, Sarah and I walked back to Albania to pick up our green card, that allows us to travel in Montenegro and Croatia. We left Tracey in the car, sending a text to Entela. Nearly 15 minutes later, Sarah and I came back with the green card, only to discover Tracey standing on the burning pavement exclaiming, "I can't find my sandals! I had them and now they just aren't here!" Sarah and I also searched the car, with no luck. It was Sarah who finally solved the Mystery of the Missing Sandals. When we had stopped to ask directions, Tracey had placed her shoes outside the car, intending on getting out to ask a shop keeper. Sarah, since she was driving, ran into the shop instead. Tracey turned back into the car and closed the door. Some happy citizen of Skodra inherited a very nice pair of summer sandals and Tracey bought a pair of sandals off of me. The next portion of the trip was relatively uneventful, but incredibly breath-taking. I drove, after stopping near Budva for a seaside lunch.

We used our limited Albanian to purchase our green card in the little shack closest to Sarah.

"Where are my sandals?"

We arrived in Dubrovnik and made our way to the apartment we were renting. Tracey's brother knows a guy, in Canada, who owns this apartment. What a way to live! We each had our own room and bathroom. The owners shared our tastes in literature (I read the children's lit book, "The Lightning Thief" in just 3 days and Sarah set in on "The Kite Runner." Trace was reading a book of mine called "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox."). I loved all the wall art. One of the pictures was simply the blue of the sea. I thought it was powerful... I was the only one who thought so, though. Every morning, I looked out my window to a view of the harbor and the island. So spoiled. So, so spoiled.
The views from our patio...
My bedroom. Really, I should have been writing poetry in the early morning sun.

Our first day, we woke up late, ran to the corner market and made French toast for breakfast (the kitchen was very well equipped!) Then, we spent the day lying on the beach, detoxing from 10 months of demanding work (a teacher's job is never done. THAT'S why we have summers off!). We took a few swims, back and forth, but really just relaxed. We went to Buza, a bar in the walls of the city, for an afternoon drink, and to watch the cliff jumpers. The property manager had left us a list of restaurant recommendations, so we tried Bosnian food for dinner, which was strikingly similar to Albanian food.
Yes I know. ANOTHER balcony.

The next day was our island adventure. We hopped on a ferry to Lokrum Island for several hours of fun. The island had no flat beaches; the beaches were all giant rocks that had ladders leading into the water. We hiked as far as we could go and made ourselves at home on the rocks. The water was a bit choppy, but we swam anyway. It was so clear that we could see down to the sea floor (which sort of freaks me out, until I adjust) and all sorts of Adriatic fish. We swam far, going to the other side of the beach. Cliff jumpers were flying off rocks that were at least 10-15 feet high, into the clear waters. The three of us looked at each other, then swam over to the nearest ladder. The jumpers were Brits. One girl had been standing on the edge for 20 minutes, trying to talk herself into jumping. I asked one of the guys to jump, just to prove to myself that I wouldn't die (yes, I'm selfish). He came out alive, so one by one, Sarah, Holly and Tracey flew over the side. (The British girl climbed off the cliff by land.) It was an exhilarating experience! Swimming back, I had visitors. Three little blue and white fish swam along side me. I did cry then, knowing that the three sea loving friends were soon to part ways. We ended our Lokrum visit at a cafe that has live guitar music. That evening, we toasted the sea, over a meal of Adriatic sea bass and delicious white wine.
On the ferry over to the island.
Lokrum Island...
Wild peacocks and peahens were everywhere! Sarah was trying to get this guy to show us his feathers.
We swam to the far tip. Just beyond the tip are the cliffs.
Magical. Purely magical.

The next day, we walked the walls surrounding Dubrovnik. We ate our lunch up at the fort, dangling our legs over the edge, enjoying the blueness of the water and the sky. I, for one, was busy imagining the fort alive with soldier activity, defending Dubrovnik from the Venetians. After a lovely day of walking, we hit the Placa shops. Sarah bought some painted glass vases. I really, really wanted to buy the painted wine glasses, but the girls talked me out of it (too much to pack and carry with already exploding excess baggage). I am, however, wishing that I had at least bought a vase. Our dinner plans were to meet up with the McClellans, who had just arrived in Dubrovnik. We were telling Hilary and John about our day and Sarah mentioned the glass vases. Hilary said, "I loved the wine glasses. I bought them. One had a defect so I'll pick them up tomorrow." I could have danced for joy. The wine glasses are going to a good home after all! After a pasta dinner, which did not live up to the hype as "The Best Pasta in Dubrovnik," we went to an Irish pub to watch the World Cup. They had hard cider on tap! Brazil won that game and the group of Brazilians went nuts. The McClellans came back to our apartment where the two boys taught Tracey chess. Those little guys are so smart. I'm proud to have had one of them as my student!

At the Irish Pub. The boys were eating ice cream. It looked so good, we all went for more!
The Brazilians' victory dance...

Our final day in the Dubrovnik area was spent on the road. Sarah and I desperately wanted to go wine tasting, but we didn't want to go on a tour or all the way to Korcula Island. We managed to secure a map of the wine peninsula 1 1/2 hours north of Dubrovnik. I was driving, and was a little grumpy. I was reluctant to pull over for pictures, but finally stopped to take in the amazing view. Our first stop was at a family run winery, where the grandmother welcomed us in, the granddaughter poured us the wine, and the uncles, aunts and cousins were picking the grapes. The wine was nice, and Sarah bought a bottle. Tracey drove us after our first stop. Each stop was unique and delicious. One stop was at a winery that served a limited selection of wine, but all the wine was award winning. I bought bottle of white, primarily because the wine is based on California wine. My favorite stop was at another family run establishment. We got to explore the wine cellar and try a wonderful variety of wines. We all bought a bottle of their red Dignac wine; the grapes are grown on the rocky cliffs close to the coastline. After five wineries (cough, cough), Tracey drove us back to Dubrovnik. We met up with Tracey's friend, Gill, and went for delicious pizza. Then, we did the touristy thing. There was a Croatian folk music/dance show right outside our door. I thought it was fun and very entertaining. The costumes were bright and doll like. I took a million pictures, which might have been a result from visiting the five wineries.
Proof that I did finally stop for pictures opportunities...
Our first stop at the family run winery.
We took a wrong turn, but it was an awesome detour!

My favorite stop... the red Dignac was delicious! I drank it with my family last Friday. My brother started researching how to import it!

We drove back to Albania and the next day we spent readying ourselves for going the rest of our summer vacations. Then, we went for an last day dinner at a delicious restaurant called Vinum. Just the four of us; the ending mirrored the beginning.
The last supper, but never the last adventure.