Sunday, May 22, 2011

Napoleon's Grotto Bar

So literally after posting the last blog entry, another adventure began. After a full day shift at the hostel I grabbed a beer with David our local french temp worker. David was an ex-office monkey who decided to kick the old lifestyle and enjoy life on the road for a while, so he joined us at Fresh Sheets for a little evening moonlighting before heading off to Italy in chase of a pretty Brazilian girl. Anyways to celebrate his last night we decided to hit up "Galerija", a place renowned for being the closest thing to what "Fresh* Travelers bar" was back in it's heyday. Anyway it was a saturday but I could tell due to the vibe in the bar amongst the hostel travelers that they weren't feeling it.

I had a bit of a flashback to my previous days in Dubrovnik. Lately the town has been a ghost town at night, with little to no nightlife aside from the usual techno-banging clubs. The town has needed an alternative for a while now with little respite to the situation in the near future.

Anyways during my epiphany I remembered a little place my friend Colin Hughes dragged me off to back in 2007.

Under the Revelin Fort on the east side of the old city is an underground grotto that used to be the secret entrance into the city for officials and special VIP's. One could row their dinghy right into the old port, into this grotto and enter the steps into the "Labyrinth" so that they could avoid the crowds, masses or assassination attempts. Odds are people the likes of Napoleon, Franz Ferdinand and members of the Habsburg Empire would transit the grotto often to avoid unnecessary public attention.

Anyways the lousy nightlife situation needed a remedy and quick. The group was quickly losing their attention, the night was getting late and so with quick thinking I bolted up to the hostel to grab a handful of candles and a few cans of orphaned beer from the hostel fridge.

As I led the group along, through the city past two or three busy but lousy techno night clubs, I could see the look of curiosity on the face of the group as we wandered through the city, past the clubs, through the back parking lost and into the boat yard, then onto rickety but very conveniently placed scaffolding. You could see the sense of curiosity turn to wonder as the group realized just where we were going... into our own private underground venue.

As I lit the candles and the light started to reveal the inside of the grotto, beers were handed out, an iphone started to play some music on it's speaker, everyone found a seat and the conversation started to flow. It's amazing what happens when everybody feels comfortable in the right setting. Turns out one of the girls worked for CBC radio francais, the other lead backpacking tours through the Appalachian mountains during the summer. One scottish fellow (dressed in kilt and all) played the bag pipes, David was a suit who saw the light and Amanda a student traveling before she starts architecture school in Italy. And me, a pain in the ass photographer who decided it would be a great time to snap some low light shots.

A few beers, photos and conversations later it had all set. Ten strangers staying at the hostel had all bonded during this wild little field trip under the city. We had partied in Napoleons grotto and had the friends to prove it.

The night went on and time passed until it was decided it was time to retire. The walk home as a group was much different from the walk earlier as individuals. A good time was had by all and I know that I can guarantee it is a story many of the travelers will be sharing with their grandchildren.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Photogenic City

So my first week back at the daily grind has been hectic... to say the least. It's not that the world is particularly difficult or that my schedule has been filled as much as the load has been pretty consistent yet relentless at the same time. You'd think working at a hostel would have long periods of quiet time contrasted with insanely busy check-ins... but ironic enough I have found my days to be consistently busy with very little time to stop and collect my thoughts.

It's less of a complaint and more of a remark as my week has been a hectic mix of work, meeting new travelerw, revisiting old friendships and forging new ones, mourning the loss of a good friends, learning the ins and outs of hostel life as well as trying to take a minute out of it all for myself to stop, collect my thoughts and realize how beautiful the world around me truly is.

So it has been a few days since my last blog post and I know a few of you have been waiting so here's the update in photos.

Early this week I decided to join my friend Diana for a hike up to Mount Srd. Srd is the mountain just opposite Dubrovnik that also lends itself to the many sets of stairs and hills that make Dubrovnik so tiresome to get around. Luckily compared to the Grouse Grind, the path up Srd is quite a walk in the park, it's just the fact that it's built of tiny stones that can be slippery and make footing a bit of a challenge, especially when you don't have a set of runners around.

Srd is really only a 25 minute hike for the average person, but when hiked with me it can turn into a much longer endeavour. Phrases like "Stop and tilt your head to the right" become old very quickly as I try and get my fellow hiking mates to pose for proper pictures. Every once in a while the camera gets turned on myself, usually for a shot to take in the local scenery.

Once we reached the top of the mountain, we explored the top of the gondola station as well as the abandoned fort that was used as a strategic point of control for centuries including in the last yugoslavian conflict in the early 90's. A stone fort that was hundreds of years old that also protected people in modern times and managed to fend off modern weapons still managed to show the scars of war today. Quite the interesting place for a photo shoot as I promptly started directing Diana to "stand in the light" and "look towards the sun". Very worth the effort though.

Anyways photography has been a pretty big part of my life so far in Dubrovnik. It's great to access to a camera in town and be able to capture the life and vibe of the city, although I sure could use a few more days off to really get back into it. I managed to drop by the "War photo" museum which is a world renowned recourse in war photography and have been picking the brain of my friend Wade for comments and thought on the photo industry, photography and ways to improve my technique. If all goes according to plan I hope to learn a thing or two this summer and learn to improve my shots. In the meantime you'll have to take what you get and comment about what you dig and what you don't!

And on that note I leave you with a shot of Dubrovnik at night.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Back to the future

Yesterday was a long day. Period.

To be honest it actually started on thursday evening. Little had I know that Katja was actually part of a planning committee that was organizing a "beer diploma" night for the student faculty at her university. What is this "Beer diploma" you may ask? well it involves going to a "willy wonka" style brewery just across from the university and enjoying the fine beverages they brew. As part of the festivities you must bring drinking games to the table, to which I did North America proud by introducing flip cup the southern Germany.

A solid meal of meat, a few kegs of delicious beer and many rounds of flip cup later I received my official "Beer Diploma". Needless to say we didn't get home until 2 am, where I was to wake up at 5:30 the next morning to catch the high speed train to Frankfurt. Three hours went by much faster than I needed it to, but I was awake and chipper as I rode the tram to the train station and waited for my Inter City Express train.

An hour and eight minutes later I was engulfed into the madness of Frankfurt Airport. I can't say I am much of a fan of Frankfurt airport as it is such a hectic crazy bustling beehive of activity. As a traveler moving around the airport, you move from staircase to escalator to lineup and then into more lineups. I checked in, got slammed with an 80 euro baggage fee for being eight kilos over weight. It sure stung but was really the beginning of a hectic series of events that would get me to Dubrovnik. I managed to stand in the only slow moving security line which was operated by a hulk hogan look-alike who felt the need to manually expect every single bag that went through the X-ray machine. Both my bag and laptop were manually searched, then I was "randomly" selected for an explosives swab test and lead to a back room for swabbing and inspection of my camera equipment. Ugh.

Fortunately that was the last of my difficulties and I proceeded to board my flight to Dubrovnik. It's strange because to be honest I felt like it would be a massive event to return to Dubrovnik. I had imagined everything to feel like I had been away for years. What made it stranger still was the fact that when I did return, it felt like I had never left. Most things looked the same, the city smelled the same and the streets were still just as crowded with mindless cruiser tourists as before. It felt pretty good to be home, like nothing had ever changed. Dubrovnik was still as beautiful as ever.

Meeting old friends again was same as ever, a welcome beer here and there, seeing the apartments they had moved into and securing my own accomodation took up the first few days of my return. Walking dogs, babysitting and eating the food of dubrovnik all become part of the routine before my work was to begin at the hostel.

Finally having started to get over my jetlag, I have been out and about and have started my shifts at the hostel. Yesterday Sanja and Ruza opened the first launderette in Dubrovnik so I finally have a nice place to do my laundry while I live in the old town.

Anyhow the last few days have been fantastic with great weather, swimming, good eats and reacquainting with old friends. I have finally managed to get some good photos of the city and my hike up to the local mountain so I shall update the blog frequently as to rub it in your faces how beautiful it is here. Stay tuned folks!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Land of the Beer Keepers

Last blog post I was sitting in the departures section at YVR waiting to board the flight to Frankfurt. Well now it's 8 am (German time) and I am exhausted yet can't sleep. Might as well use this time to recap on some of the events in the lat 24 hours.

So I boarded the flight to Frankfurt. A note to anyone who decides to fly with Air Transat, the "Option plus" addition to your ticket is TOTALLY worth it. Included is seat selection, booze with your meals, champagne when you sit down, free to keep blanket, headphones, earplugs, eye covers and even a pair of socks. Not to mention the priority check in (the 100 or so people waiting in line looked less than impressed as I breezed right by) and the priority baggage unloading were pretty wicked too.

Anyways I boarded my flight and thanks to my seat selection option, I managed to score an extra seat next to me, just me and an older woman sharing the three seats, so I was able to stretch my legs and sprawl out. The flight was pretty uneventful but enjoyable.

Call me a big kid, but I still love looking out the window of the airplane. I am still amazed at the fact that we are traveling along at 850km/h with the smoothest of ease, flying over amazing landscapes, oceans and islands. I imagine a guy on horseback, crossing mountain ranges and prairies... then I think to how lucky I am to be able to cross entire continents and oceans without lifting a finger. Not to mention the fact that my flight only cost $99. It almost seems criminal.

Anyways we took off, flew over the rockies, the prairies and then over Greenland and Iceland. I would have waved to my friend Dani who is currently in Iceland as we flew over... but alas it was overcast. A morning sunrise over Scotland and then we were into mainland europe. I was greeted with a beautiful cloud front silhouette.

Landing and customs were a total breeze, and I was greeted with the familiar face of my friend Katja! She was most awesome and committed to waking up at 5 am to drive to Frankfurt and pick me up at the airport. It was awesome to get to hang out with somebody in their homeland/hometown and experience the real german life.

We trekked out to Hockenheim doing 180km/h on the autobahn to visit Katja's parents for breakfast. We sat and chatted about my trip, my future travels as I remedied my appetite with amazing german cheese and fresh bread. After breakfast and a quick facebox post to the parentals, we hopped on two electric bikes and decided to ride through the countryside. Katja's father Klaus has a really interesting electric bike that automatically adds power depending on how hard your pedal. Essentially it feels like you have a tailwind the entire time as you fly through the german countryside.

What I neglected to mention was the fact that it was 22C with plenty of residual humidity from the morning rainfall. Germany has been stuck in the middle of an early spring heatwave that has caught the country by surprise. As we biked through the countryside I couldn't help but notice that we were pedaling net to strawberry fields that were RIPE WITH STRAWBERRIES! it's MAY 11th! A pit stop was needed as we "borrowed" strawberries from the plants.

A short drive to Karlsruhe later, I was meeting Katja's roomies Ana and Ana. Kinda confusing when you want to call one of them from the other room. Anyways I changed out of my unnecessary pants and into shorts and flip flops then hit the town to check out what Karlsruhe had to offer. We made it to the roof top beach bar located on the top of a parkade in downtown karlsruhe, went to a bieregarten where I sampled an amazing fried ravioli salad, got ice cream and then crashed in the park after nearly 24 hours awake. I slept for an hour or so as I layed on my free air transat blanket and took in all the fine german weather. Not to mention the awesome german artwork. Who knew that two cats getting it on, was artwork?

Anyways today I am apparently signed up for a "Beer" diploma at a local brewery by Katja. I apparently have to try all the different types of beer they brew, then I get to leave with a diploma, so it should be interesting. Tomorrow morning I leave for a flight out of Frankfurt to Dubrovnik at 7 am, Should be interesting as I know it'll be even warmer down in Dubrovnik. Thank goodness I brought plenty of shorts!

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Like jumping out of a perfectly good plane

So it's go time. I am sitting at the airport, poaching free wifi and writing the last blogpost I'll be doing in Canada for quite some time.

Needless to say the last few days have been hectic. My brain has felt like a reace car engine firing on all eight cylinders. I have been toiling with a whole mix of different emotions and at the same time trying to organize and coordinate my trip. In typical Fraser fashion, I have put many of the things I should have done weeks ago off until the last minute. In other typical Fraser fashion, things just seem to have worked out in the end and I sit here at the departure gate having gone through the boarding process and feeling like it was a well oiled machine. Perfectly packed bags (I had to guess the weight by hand...) , because I paif an etra 60 bucks for priority boarding and seat selection, I managed to fly by the massive line up at the check in, security was a breeze as was getting my camera and computer certified by canada customs. I feel like a smooth operator.

So now I sit here, with my feelings. There is a feeling of calm, yet at the same time a feeling of sadness. Things in Vancouver seemed to be going very good for me before my departure. I was contemplating my life in Vancouver and realized that I am giving up a lot to do this. My family is a huge part of my life now and since returning from Europe in 2008, I have developed a new bond with that that has been unparalleled in the past. I met a girl... an amazing girl who I had to leave behind. Why is it that life is so twisted that way? Trying to meet somebody you are compatible with that you also have an amazing attraction to, then giving it all up for the washed up dream of traveling again at the age of 27. It's never easy leaving, but it's much harder knowing you are leaving people you love and care about behind. There's no doubt that I've shed a few tears over the issue over the last few weeks, reminding myself that I am giving it all up for a chance to do what I've been dreaming about for the last three years.

And so I am off, to what I don't know but I do know that there is an adventure waiting at the other end of this flight. Either way, good or bad I know there is a lesson to be learned and an interesting story to tell. I have a camera, a go pro and a computer and plan on documenting lots so stay tuned to this blog as time passes. I think it's "Control+D" bookmarks this page... which I highly recommend doing. *insert shameless plug here*.

A few last words. Thank you to all my friends and family. You have been putting up with a lot of my complaining and nostalgia while I've been back in Vancouver. I hope that we shared some good memories and grew closer during that time. My Aunt Vera send me a little card before I left that had a really nice quote on it. It said something along the lines of "When you depart, make sure to leave behind more than you took. And on that note, I hope I have done just that.

Farewell Vancouver, no doubt you and your citizens are part of one of the greatest places on earth. Stay cool.

The view from my seat.