About Robert Schrader

Robert Schrader

Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.


Latest Posts by Robert Schrader

The Magic of Croatia’s Dubrovnik and Split

October 14, 2016 by  

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Prior to planning my trip to Croatia back in August, I was adamant that I should visit both of the country’s large coastal destinations, Dubrovnik and Split. After working out the logistics of fitting both these cites into my larger Balkans itinerary, my next task what to structure my time in each to answer a question that had come up many times during my research: Is Dubrovnik or Split a better place to visit?

If you’re traveling to Croatia and are trying to determine whether to visit Dubrovnik or Split, this article will help you. 

Split vs. Dubrovnik: My Theory

Most of what I read before arriving in Croatia suggested that Split was the better choice. Split was a “real city,” according to articles I read, whereas Dubrovnik was little more than a tourist trap. It seemed that Dubrovnik’s famous walled old city had been mostly rebuilt after a 1991 siege, while most of Split’s Old City (i.e. Diocletian’s Palace) was original.

As I said, I made plans to visit both Split and Dubrovnik during my two weeks in the Balkans, but since Split seemed like the better choice, I booked my arrival flight into Split’s airport, saving Dubrovnik until after I finished my five days in Bosnia.

Split

Split vs. Dubrovnik: The Reality

I quickly realized—i.e. in the taxi from the airport—that Split was a real city. Unfortunately, because the country now known as Croatia was part of the Eastern Bloc, Split’s “realness” is of a grey, industrial sort, excepting the aforementioned Diocletian’s Palace, as well as the Riva Waterfront and Marjan viewpoint. These areas are gorgeous, but are small enough that I shaved down the three days I’d initially planned to spend in Split to just two.

Dubrovnik, on the other hand, is indeed touristy—I think I shooed away at least a dozen “Game of Thrones” tour offer during the short walk from the old city entrance to my apartment inside it. With this being said—and ignoring, for the purposes of this argument, Dubrovnik’s purported “fakeness”—I found Dubrovnik to be more beautiful and yes, enjoyable, than Split by almost every measure. And to be honest, the prices actually seemed cheaper, in spite of the superior experience.

Dubrovnik

Accessing Croatia’s Islands

Since both Dubrovnik and Split are on the coast, it’s theoretically easy to access famous Croatian islands like Korčula, Šipan and Hvar from either city. What I found, however, is that options are much greater in number and also cheaper from Dubrovnik than they are from Split, which is shocking considering that Split seems to be closer to the majority of Croatia’s islands.

If, for some reason, you don’t feel compelled to visit Croatia’s islands—what’s wrong with you?!—then you should consider which Croatian coastal city has better beaches. Again, to my shock and delight, this was Dubrovnik. I’d heard prior to arriving in Split that Bacvice Beach (just to the east of the city center) was nice, but it seemed…well, Soviet, for lack of a better word. Dubrovnik’s beaches are crowded, but they’re not ugly.

Other Considerations to Keep in Mind

I’ve spent most of this article as a Dubrovnik cheerleader, for good reason. But while Dubrovnik is a more wholly satisfying destination than Split, Split does have its benefits as well. Namely, because it’s further north, it’s a bit more convenient if you want to go to, say, Krka Waterfall or Plitvice Lakes, but aren’t stopping in Croatia’s capital Zagreb, where trips to these places usually start.

On the other hand, Dubrovnik makes for easy excursions (even day trips!) to Bosnia and Montenegro, which is just a couple hours away by boat or bus. In fact, because I wasn’t a huge fan of Montenegro, I’d almost recommend staying an extra day or two in Dubrovnik, and simply visiting Kotor and/or Budva on a day trip.

The best choice, of course, is to be spent time in both Dubrovnik and Split if you can. Now, for those of you who’ve been to Croatia, it’s your turn: Do you prefer Dubrovnik or Split?

The Balkans: A Museum of Broken Relationships?

October 10, 2016 by  

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When we loved one another, the inscription read, we loved without holding back. When we fought, we fought ’til it hurt.

A child’s pedal car sat beside the two blocks of text, one in Croatian and one in English, which described the genesis and destruction of one of the many doomed partnerships immortalized in Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships. The gallery has received many accolades since it opened in 2010, although my reasons for wanting to visit it at the end of my two weeks in the Balkans go far beyond that.

Maybe I should donate this to the museum? I tugged at the piece of red ribbon Danilo had tied around my left wrist back in January, when we watched the sunset in Manzanillo, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

I moved my fingers down to the “Pura Vida” plaque, which his sister had made me before he came to Austin in May, whose original twine strings were now replaced by an intricate band of hemp and wooden beads Danilo made for me himself. Or this one?

The objects collected in the museum—a random photograph, a smashed USB stick, an evening gown, a suicide note—was as eclectic as the range of relationships whose ends they represented, not only romantic ones, but those between parents and children, between friends and even between individuals and themselves. Diverse, too, were the ways in which the people who donated the objects described what they’d been through and how it had affected them.

What would I even say? I wondered, as I read a Mary Oliver poem that was excerpted on the wall.

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

My trip through the Balkans has been instrumental in helping me let go of this relationship—and, more importantly, in remembering who I was before it. Indeed, the Balkan countries themselves are a museum of broken relationships: Between the people of this region and the empires that have ruled over them; between minorities and the majorities who sought their elimination; between the conflict and strife that has defined most of history here and a present—and, hopefully, future—that bears few scars of it.

Entering the farthest reaches of the museum, I noticed a large guestbook splayed open in front of me, with a pen laid directly over the only blank space on the page.

Surely, I wasn’t ready to write anything substantive about how my relationship with Danilo broke, my heart full from the dozens of personal accounts I’d read over the past hour, my head spinning with imagined images and fabricated stories of what my trip might’ve been like, had the man I briefly identified as the love of my life come with me as planned.

I picked up the pen and began moving it, as uncertain about what I would write as I was about whether I would leave either of the bracelets on my wrist behind. The only purpose cutting them off would serve, anyway, would be to make materially official what had been emotionally so since long before I ever said it out loud.

Our love was everything, I sloppily printed, but not enough.

Magic Moments & Reflections in Serbia’s Belgrade

October 7, 2016 by  

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“The seat belt broke,” Nikola said, without elaborating further. Although we were surrounded by chatty couples, with not a single bench in Tašmajdan Park left unoccupied, the air was as silent as the sky was dark.

By “we,” I don’t mean “me, myself and I,”—I wasn’t sitting alone in a Belgrade park in the middle of the night, having an imaginary conversation with a Nikola Tesla statue. Nikola wasn’t an apartment owner or taxi driver or tourism office employee I’d befriended while going about my business, either.

He was an actual Serbian—an actual person!—I’d met under the pretense of hooking up, and he was in the middle of explaining why he’d been in a wheelchair the past two years when you interrupted us.

“How are you feeling, by the way?” He asked, and stole a french fry from me.

“I haven’t really been thinking about it—about him,” I sighed and took a bite of Pljeskavica, a Serbian hamburger thing usually enjoyed by people drunker than I was. “I’m sorry, again, about tonight.”

“You don’t need explain,” he put his hand on my shoulder. “Do you want to take a walk?”

“I do,” I said. “I wish I could stay seated like you, though.”

“Making jokes about me already, huh?” he laughed, rolling himself over to my side. “I like it.”

We began moving toward the edifice in the distance, the crosses atop it gleaming under the half-moon. It wasn’t until we got closer that I noticed how intricately designed the huge church was, in spite of how underwhelming its rustic façade had seemed from far away.

“I missed this one when I was exploring,” I noted, the extra-creepy eyes of Orthodox Jesus looking down at me in judgment. “I just saw shitty, half-done St. Sava.”

“Hey!” He exclaimed. “St. Sava’s not shitty—but it is half-done, you’re right. A national embarrassment.

“This one, however,” Nikola, who works as an architect, continued. “This is the Church of St. Mark. What’s unique about the style is the red color of the stuff between the bricks. What do you call that in English again?”

“Mortar.”

“Yes,” he raised his finger, “the red mortar.”

 “I had a dalmatian, too,” he said, holding up his phone, a photo from the dating site where we met pulled up on its screen. “When I was growing up.”

Just then, REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” started blaring from one of the bars we passed. I’d last heard the song the day after I broke up with Danilo and now, as then, I wondered exactly what it meant in the context of my life.

“It’s not so much that he deleted me from Facebook that bothers me,” I changed the subject, seeking distraction from the memories of Penny the picture of Nikola with his elderly dog had stirred up in my head. “It’s that I guess, before it happened, I was conducting myself as if it somehow wasn’t over.”

We turned the corner onto picturesque Terazije Boulevard, the aforementioned Temple of St. Sava at one end and Republic Square at the other. For a split-second, however, the only images I could see were of me and Danilo, a light-speed slideshow of our year together that flickered past like a meteor shower.

“Earth to Robert,” Nikola snapped his finger in front of my face. “Continue what you were saying.”

I nodded in agreement. “I was consciously avoiding meeting people, for sex or for anything, really. Walking on eggshells, writing about him—and about us—cryptically, as if somehow he would see it and, if I’d been too candid, threaten to break up with me like he always did. Waiting for him to fire the next shot, even though I long ago held up—and put down—my white flag.

“I just need to stop talking about it,” I conceded, getting out of my head and back into the moment. Flashes of Danilo’s smile gave way to the sparkling of street lamps on the water below Kalemegdan Fortress, the confluence of the Sava River with the Danube. “I’m sorry to keep dwelling on this.”

“Yeah, it’s bad enough it made you not want to have sex with me,” he smiled.  “See? Two can play the insensitive joke game.

“But really,” he went on. “I get it. It sucks.”

“Wait a minute,” I stopped, noticing the steep staircase in front of us. “How are we going to get up there?”

“We aren’t,” he turned his wheelchair sideways. “Or at least I’m not. There’s a ramp, but it’s too steep to go up. Accessibility is not really a priority here in Serbia—I took that for granted before my accident.”

“You really think I would go up without you?” I put my hand on his face.

“I sure as hell hope not,” he squeezed my wrist almost violently, to emphasize how strong his upper body still was. “For your sake.”

“I just don’t get it,” he scoffed as we passed the Nikola Tesla Museum, whose primitiveness is just as much of an insult to the man as the dilapidated airport named after him. “To me, we—Serbians, Bosnians, Croats, the lot us—we’re all the same.”

“That’s a good attitude to have,” I praised him. Much better than the one she had.

(“She” was a sweet, old winery worker I’d met in the town of Sremski Karlovci the day before.  We’d been sipping Bermet, a Serbian desert wine notable for having been a guilty pleasure of Austrian empress Maria Theresa, when she suddenly launched into a tirade about how the “diversity” of cities like Belgrade would would be the downfall of society.)

“Well it’s not my attitude,” he corrected me, as we began circling the Trg Slvija roundabout for the third time. “It’s the truth, as I see it—we are genetically identical. I realize the war ended when I was in diapers, but I just don’t get it why people who lived together peacefully for so long started killing one another.”

I exhaled, looking up at the cacophonous, yet harmonious mish-mash of buildings rising in front of us.

“I don’t think it’s so much that people want war,” I said. “They’re afraid of peace, that life without a struggle will cease to be meaningful. I feel that way a lot.”

He looked up at me puzzledly. “Care to elaborate?”

“No,” I bent down, noticing the day’s first rays of light beaming over the horizon, and kissed him passionately. “I don’t.”

Reflections in Beautiful Bosnia

October 4, 2016 by  

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It wasn’t until we pulled away from Bosnia’s border with Croatia that the casual pace at which she redistributed the passports began to wear at me. That, and the fact that her bleached hair and yellowed-white jeans were exactly the same color.

Why is she the one handling this anyway? I thought as our headlights gleamed off the badge of the border guard, who was lighting up a cigarette outside.

Well, I knew why she was the one handling it: She was clearly fucking the bus driver and he, wanting to arrive to our destination on time, decided to let his concubine do the job of government officials. Of course, if he’d focused on driving instead of talking dirty with his mistress, we probably wouldn’t have been as late as we were.

Not that it was any of my business—I was just a scared traveler without his travel documents. That she had no business handling them simply made it easier to heap judgment upon her.

I was deciding when the best time to ask the driver to go back to the border for my lost passport would be when the woman stood in front of me, smiled as sweet as the baklava my seat mate removed from the paper bag he was carrying, handed me my passport, shyly sat down and resumed flirting with her benefactor.

Hillary landed in Bosnia under sniper fire—I rode in thinking I’d gotten scammed by a hooker.

“Where in the States did you say you were from?” my guest house owner asked, when I returned after having taken a walk around.

“I live in Texas,” I dropped my bag and sat down next to her. “But I grew up in St. Louis.”

She said something in Bosnian to her husband, then turned back to me. “We know lots of people in St. Louis.”

I wasn’t surprised. The vast majority of Bosnian refugees to the U.S. ended up in St. Louis, to the ire of many St. Louisans, although I didn’t dare mention that part to her.

I also abstained from telling her that one of my first boyfriends had been Bosnian, and how the same small-mindedness that made so many of her countrymen feel unwelcome in St. Louis had also made coming of age as a young, gay man there a war of sorts.

“I had a Bosnian friend growing up,” I took a sip of the Turkish coffee her husband had just brought out to me, reminiscing both on how exotic Eldin had seemed to me when we were both 17, and how much of a refuge we’d been for one another, growing up in equally conservative families. “A very good Bosnian friend.”

She called to her husband, who’d left to chase after their young daughter, then pivoted to another topic. “And how do you like Mostar?”

“It’s astonishing,” I began flipping through my camera to show her some of the photos I’d taken of the bridge and the selfies I’d snapped in front it, explaining my tripod-remote method, much to her fascination.

I continued by extolling the people of Mostar for rebuilding their town into what is probably single most enjoyable tourist destination in Europe, but left out the disappointment—and disgust—I felt upon hearing many of my fellow travelers shit-talk the apparent falseness they saw around them.

Then again, I did plenty of my own shit talking, namely about the shoddy beer gardens, with their dilapidated lawn chairs and cacophony of colored umbrellas, that perverted the pristine greenery surrounded Kravice, an otherwise magnificent waterfall just outside of Mostar.

But I omitted that from my account of the day, too.

“Perfect,” I beamed to my de-facto Mostar host family upon returning from the short road trip they’d made possible by finding me a cheap car to rent. “An absolutely perfect day.”

Perfect, I reminded myself, except for the fact that you spent three-quarters of the drive dwelling on the road trips you took with your recently estranged boyfriend, and looking back regretfully—and bitterly—on the words and actions that led to him not being here with you.

“You should stay,” she suggested innocuously, calling to mind a refrain Danilo had often used more seriously, pleading with me to stay in Costa Rica prior to his U.S. visa getting approved and him coming to live with me.

She laughed and poured me some local chardonnay. “At least for a glass of wine—I know you have to go Sarajevo tomorrow.”

If only you knew the rest, I cheerfully clinked my glass with hers, feeling embarrassed that I didn’t know how to say “cheers” in Bosnian.

About 15 minutes into my journey to the Bosnian capital, a very large older man walked back to the row where I was sitting and placed his hand on the seat in front of me. His arm was angled such that his elbow was about an inch from my face—and he smelled like sour milk. My anger seethed within me, but I managed to keep my mouth shut until we reached his stop.

My personal space would stay free for another half hour or so, until a different thick-fisted man put his elbow in my face. This one was about half as large—not to mention, only half as old—as the first one, and exuded a much sexier musk, to say nothing of how erotically he gripped the seat. I still didn’t like the elbow, of course, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have liked to snap into that Slim Jim.

In both cases, I’d mindlessly heeded a piece of advice my mother used to give me. Think it, she’d instruct me after each time my big mouth got me into trouble. Don’t say it.

After settling in at my hotel, I headed to a restaurant one of my Instagram followers had recommended for a late lunch. There, I met an Irish tourist named Mandy, who was celebrating her birthday with a trip through the Balkans. She was very friendly (and, I think a little drunk), which made for an interesting conversation that, of course, ended up at my country’s presidential race.

“It’s good that he probably won’t win,” she replied when I explained to her how historically unprecedented it would be for Donald Trump to overcome his polling deficit. “And I don’t agree with anything he says. But I have to admit, I respect him for telling it like it is, or at least how he sees it.”

I quickly changed the subject to avoid spending my lunch in Bosnia talking about an election across an ocean and nearly two months away. But Mandy’s perspective lingered with me throughout the day, as I traipsed through Sarajevo’s Old Town, up to the Yellow Fortress above it and down to the Eternal Flame just outside it.

It lingered hours later, even, when I ended my day at a tucked-away gallery devoted to the Srebrenica Massacre that ultimately led to my country accepting the refugees that ended up in my home city.

I felt somewhat numb during the hour or so I spent inside the small exhibition hall, owing both to the fact that I had immersed myself in Balkan War history just before my trip, as well as the sheer quantity of disaster porn I absorb osmotically on a daily basis.

Indeed, it was a quote I saw on the wall just before exiting the museum that mostly viscerally affected me. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

My last night in Sarajevo, I sat alone on the banks of the Miljacka, a few feet from where Franz Ferdinand was shot. This is where war, as we know it, was born, I realized, as the sky slowly faded from orange to to purple to blue above the eclectic row of buildings—Soviet, Austro-Hungarian, Islamic and then Soviet again—in front of me.

“Where in the U.S. are you from?” a man who was walking past asked me, although I have no idea how he knew I was American.

“St. Louis,” I said, anticipating that he also had family there.

Instead, he said nothing, as if he knew what a crap hand the people who’d been sent there got dealt. “Have a nice night.”

My subtle dig at Hillary Clinton in the intro to this post—and my sanity—notwithstanding, I will absolutely not be voting for Donald Trump in November. I won’t entertain the idea of him as being virtuous at all, not even to the minimal extent that Mandy did.

But one thing I really need to reconcile (more in real life, where as you know I’m totally candid) is the dichotomy between my often judgmental, sometimes disrespectful, occasionally hateful thoughts, and the generally cordial person I outwardly present myself to be.

Perhaps a more open dialogue on racism might’ve prevented the rise of Trump or even Slobodan Milosevic; maybe, if the Austrian ruling class had been more realistic about the powder keg ready to blow in the Balkans, Gavrilo Princip might not have felt compelled to shoot Franz Ferdinand.

Maybe, I sighed. Maybe not.

I stood up and walked toward the Latin Bridge, surprised that the exact spot where the incident occurred wasn’t marked. I turned right and began heading back into the Old Town, then stopped and stood at the edge, listening to the soft trickle of the water as it ran under my feet. And the stream of truth that was running through me.

When all was said and done, after all, the family who had so often been judgmental when I was growing up accepted Danilo with open arms. They’d been on the wrong side in many battles, but were standing by me when the war was over.

It had been in vain, anyway—I’d known, from the day I met him, that our relationship was never going to work. But just like my mother had always advised me, I decided to think it, not say it, until one day, the powder keg we’d been living in blew apart: A single shot destroyed our world.

You can’t end the world’s wars, I stared at the sky as the last blue piece of it turned black. But you can vow to stop fighting your own.

How & Where To Spend Your Time in the Balkans

September 30, 2016 by  

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

Need help planning your trip to the Balkans? Let’s look at the options.

CROATIA

Croatia has been on my travel radar since about 2008, when my Austin friends and I used to get high and daydream about travel. This was a year before I moved to Shanghai to teach English and two years before I started traveling full-time, although I did have three trips to Europe under my belt, at that point. While the week or so I spent in Croatia wasn’t disappointing, I can’t honestly say it lived up to eight years of expectations.

But speaking of expectations, I did visit Split solely because I thought the number of tourists in Dubrovnik would ruin it—this was dead-wrong. Dubrovnik is significantly more fulfilling than Split, to the extent that I would remove Split from my itinerary entirely if I could do this again, using the extra time to spend more time in the islands and in Zagreb, which was way more beautiful and exciting than I anticipated.

BOSNIA

Looking back, Bosnia was really where my trip to the Balkans began. Not only was it here that I began to see the footprints of the empires that have ruled over this region, but the vibe of the people—and their kindness—seemed so separate from anywhere else I’d been in Europe, or in the world.

This started in gorgeous Mostar, which is probably the most satisfying tourist town in the whole world—and not just because it signifies the re-birth of a battered nation. I hadn’t originally planned to visit Sarajevo, but I’m glad the delightful owners of my Mostar guesthouse recommended I did. Sarajevo is eclectic, exciting and extremely easy to explore. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t routinely listed among Europe’s best cities in 5-10 years.

MONTENEGRO

Had traveling to Montenegro not involved such a dramatic detour (and, ultimately, canceling my planned sojourn to Kosovo—more on that in a second), I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. And had the weather been better. And had renting a car not proved so difficult.

To be sure, I’d originally planned to base myself in Kotor and explore other areas of the country—namely, the beach town of Budva and the Albanian border city of Ulcijn—by car. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned weather and difficulty of renting a car, I simply got stuck in Kotor. Which was lovely, but was also filled with cruise-ship-tourist types, who increased my feeling of being trapped.

SERBIA

You’re probably confused right now. Why, you ask, did I start this article on a note of triumph, then complain about two of the three countries I’ve written about so far? The answer is two-fold.

First, personal triumph and the mechanics of travel are independent of one another. And secondly, while Croatia was disappointing and Montenegro was frustrating, Bosnia—and especially, as you’ll read below, Serbia—were so fucking awesome it almost doesn’t matter.

Belgrade, for its part, is a city I always knew I’d love, although my first visual inspection seemed to suggest the opposite. Eclectic like Sarajevo but lacking the towering minarets that tie together its chaos, Belgrade is about as close to an “ugly city” as I’ve ever visited—yet it still manages to be beautiful and captivating.

Further up the Danube, the city of Novi Sad and the wine town of Sremski Karlovci are actually gorgeous. And I’m legitimately in love with Serbia, which is funny considering that most of the world sees it as having lost the war.

WHAT ABOUT KOSOVO (AND THE REST OF THE BALKANS)?

I had originally planned to visit Kosovo, specifically the city of Prizren. Unfortunately, because buses from neighboring Montenegro are so sparse—and take so damned long!—this wasn’t practical. Then again, if I had known how bored I’d be in Montenegro, I might’ve budgeted my time different in general. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Indeed, before I took my trip to the Balkans, I imagined two weeks would be enough not only to do the northern part of the region, as I did, but also to see countries like Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Many factors (namely, bad roads and slow buses) make this impossible. If you plan to travel the entire Balkan region, I recommend spending a minimum of one month in the Balkans.

My original plan for two weeks in the Balkans was:

  • Split, Croatia (2 days)
  • Plitvice Lakes, Croatia (1 day)
  • Mostar, Bosnia (2 days)
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia (1 day)
  • Kotor, Montenegro (1 day)
  • Budva, Montenegro (1 day)
  • Kosovo (2 days)
  • Serbia (3 days)
  • Zagreb, Croatia (1 day)

Unfortunately, due to the infrastructural deficiencies I noted in the essay, this did not come to pass. Instead, I spent my two weeks in the Balkans as follows:

  • Split, Croatia (2 days)
  • Mostar, Bosnia including Kravice Waterfall (1 day)
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia (1 day)
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia including island trip (2 days)
  • Kotor, Montenegro (3 days)
  • Belgrade, Serbia (2 days)
  • Novi Sad, Serbia (1 day)
  • Sremski Karlovci, Serbia (1 day)
  • Zagreb, Croatia (1 day)

If I could go back in time and re-do my two weeks in the Balkans, I would structure it like this:

  • Mostar, Bosnia and Kravice Waterfall (2 days)
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia (2 days)
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia and islands (2 days)
  • Zagreb, Croatia (1 day)
  • Kosovo (2 days)
  • Belgrade, Serbia (3 days)
  • Novi Sad, Serbia (1 day)
  • Sremski Karlovci, Serbia (1 day)

5 Amazing Day Trips from Seattle

September 28, 2016 by  

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Seattle, WA

Image via Flickr user Bryce Edwards

Seattle is one of America’s largest, most ubiquitous, and most exciting cities, which can make it tempting to think that you need to stay entirely within the downtown core on a short trip there, especially if it’s your first one. On the other hand, Seattle is surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States, so if you don’t venture out into it, chances are you’ll regret it. Here are five wonderful trips you can easily do in a day from Seattle.

Hike or Trek at Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is easily visible on clear Seattle days and looks particularly beautiful when seen just behind the downtown skyline. It’s farther away than it looks (a little under two hours by car) but still close enough that you can travel there, complete one of the amazing hiking trails nearby.

Catch and Cook Crabs in Cama Beach

Many people associate crab with Alaska, and although you won’t find a lot of snow crab swimming in the seas just off Seattle, the Puget Sound is home to large numbers of equally delicious Dungeness crab. You can enjoy them in almost any Seattle restaurant, but for a particularly adventurous day trip, travel about an hour north of Seattle to Cama Beach State Park, where you can catch up to five crabs per day and cook them right on the beach.

Chase Waterfalls at Snowqualmie Falls

90s R&B trio TLC advised all of us not to chase waterfalls, but that’s easier said and done when you arrive at the parking area for Snowqualmie Falls—you’ll be racing toward them, even if they’re not running away from you! Snowqualmie Falls is just 45 minutes east of Seattle on I-90, which means that you could make this into a half-day trip if you don’t have a full 24 hours to devote to it.

Watch Whales in the San Juan Islands

The cold waters just offshore from Seattle aren’t great for swimming if you’re a human. If you’re a whale, however, then they feel like home. Head to the San Juan Islands for a whale watching trip you won’t soon forget. To get there, head north from Seattle to Anacortes, where you can catch one of the regular Washington State Ferries and be on your way.

Go to the Glass Museum in Tacoma

Although Tacoma is an important center of the Seattle metro area (which is, officially, the Seattle-Tacoma metro area), it often sits in the shadow of its big brother. Well, in addition to the fact that Tacoma is less than an hour from Seattle by bus, car or train, another reason you should visit it is its amazing Museum of Glass, which celebrates the art and science of glassmaking as well as its beautiful results.

Of course, these are only a few ideas for day trips to take from Seattle—you could even cross the border into Canada if you’re feeling really adventurous! Can you think of any other Seattle day trips you’d like to take?

Traveling to Croatia’s Stunning Dalmatian Coast

September 21, 2016 by  

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“I’m sorry,” the old man who picked me up at the airport in Split, Croatia scratched his head. “But I thought there were going to be two of you.”

I half-smiled and got into the front seat. “Me too.”

By the time we made it onto the highway, and the sky began to striate into layers of orange, purple and pink, a familiar melody replaced the late Yugoslav-era pop-rock that had been on the radio when we departed the airport. Busted flat in Baton Rouge, the voice sang, waitin’ for a train.

Holding it together when the first chorus started took everything I had, so you can imagine how close I was to a complete breakdown when “My Heart Will Go On” came on next. Had we been in the beautiful, historical city center, I would’ve cried, melted and evaporated into nothing right then and there.

Thankfully, we parked in a garage beneath a Soviet-looking apartment block, and the driver switched off the car right before Céline belted out the last verse.

That was traumatic, I sighed as we made our way up to the fifth floor.

“Welcome to your home in Croatia!” He opened the door to his rental property, which was much too big for one person. He cracked a smile as he walked me out onto the balcony, which featured sweeping, romantic views of the Adriatic.

I couldn’t understand what the woman standing across the street from me the next morning was shouting, but I did notice that she had a Dalmatian by her side. Now, being that I was on the Dalmatian Coast, I wasn’t eager to interpret the spotted dog as a sign, which I also owe to the fact that my Penny’s last appearance had been so subtly ominous. But I walked over to her anyway.

“Panorama?” She clarified, which made me understand immediately that the word she had been saying in the first place—“Marjan,” the name of the viewpoint my poorly-scaled map had made it so impossible to find—was precisely the one I needed to hear.

Maybe that Dalmatian was a good omen, I laughed, and began making my way up the staircase. Or maybe not.

Robert Schrader in Dubrovnik, Croatia

You see, while the directions I received did indeed lead me to where I wanted to go, my short walk up the hill had some unintended consequences. The day before, I’d begun feeling pain in my chest I assumed was heartburn, on account of all the alcohol and fried food I consumed during a celebratory long weekend in Switzerland.

But the continuation of this pain the next day in Split, and the fact that physical activity exacerbated it? Well, that was disconcerting.

This is not how I thought the theme from Titanic would make itself relevant in my life today, I leaned against the stone railing after having finally reached the top. I sure hope my heart goes on.

Now, I’m an extremely headstrong person, and the last way I wanted to spend my first full day in the Balkans was waiting to see a doctor in a public hospital. So I went about my plans as intended, heading down from Marjan and into the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, comforting myself with the fact that if I did kick the bucket, it would be as I wandered through Roman-era alleyways draped in bougainvillea, or as I took in a wide view of the city’s tiled roofs from the Bell Tower of St. Dominus.

Or not.

“You will survive,” I reassured the terrified woman who, as I made my way down the stairway of the tower, had stopped me to make small talk about my lens in lieu of following her children up. “Go and be a cool Mom.”

Miraculously, I lived long enough to walk along the Riva waterfront at dusk, even to endure being told by some booze-smelling bros whose picture I politely refused to take that they hoped I fell into the water and drowned on my way to where I was going. My newfound health did motivate me to bring my departure to Bosnia forward a day, though. I wondered how my Bobby McGee would’ve felt about that.

I was so bombarded by tour hawkers upon arriving back in Croatia four days later that all I felt compelled to do once safely inside Dubrovnik’s old city walls was eat a pizza. And although the margherita the waiter brought to my table was more than massive enough to suffocate my anxiety, I still felt only partially present at the table.

“Polo bleu,” the charming Frenchman had said to me three years earlier in Nice, as we enjoyed a much more delicious—and Italian—pizza together. “I thought I wouldn’t see you again.”

I took a sip of wine. “Maybe you should’ve been on time tonight, then.”

“I have a feeling I can make it up to you,” Hugo took my hand, and didn’t let go of it until the sun had nearly come up the next morning.

Of course, I was far across the Mediterranean now, the sun setting instead of rising. And Dubrovnik, for all its hustlers and bros and Titanic-looking cruise ships, was more picturesque than any city in the south of France, even if some of that likely had to do with the fact that it was rebuilt after the Balkan War. Yet, even as the wisps of clouds above the city screamed the sort of fuchsia you only see in Photoshop, it’s like I wasn’t even there.

The week after Nice had been a dream, with Hugo having invited me to stay with him in Paris. Lunches in parks, twilight strolls along the Seine, real champagne sipped atop the Eiffel Tower—all the romance I thought I was never entitled to, certainly not when I’d been wearing the blue polo shirt that had caught Hugo’s eye at Le Six nightclub.

I’d so relished the way he adored me that I never stopped to question it, or whether I should do more to reciprocate it than simply being there.

The ironic thing, I reminded myself as I walked back down the hill to Duvrovnik, the sky now darkened a blue-black, was that you cancelled your first trip to the Balkans to spend that week in Paris with Hugo. Do you remember what happened next?

“Is this your subtle way of telling me you don’t want to be here?” I’d fumed, when Hugo came home from work on Thursday and told me he’d immediately be headed to Berlin after he finished at the office on Friday.

He grabbed my hands and pulled me toward his chest, reassuringly. “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want this to end—but it has to. You are never going to feel enough at home here to be the person I need. The longer you stay and try, the more we’re both going to get hurt.”

I remember sitting under the darkening sky in a sort of haze, getting as drunk as I possibly could at a shitty bar across from Gare de L’Est station as I awaited my night train to Budapest, trying to drown not only my sorrows, but the adult impulse I had, which was to try and actually understand what Hugo had meant instead of taking it so personally.

Three years later and half a sea away, I marveled at the tiny sliver of moon above Dubrovnik and breathed in deeply, the chest pains I’d felt up the coast in Split now a distant memory, but my heart very much still broken, both in past and present.

I understand now, I said under my breath as if Hugo was sitting next to me, both of us reliving our experiences of having to tell men we loved that they needed to go. I completely understand.

I wasn’t sure if his white suit was last night’s outfit or this morning’s, but it didn’t matter: The dapper, 50-something gentleman sipping coffee—the only other person besides me inside Dubrovnik’s city walls at 6 a.m. on Sunday—was a stand-out. He eyed me a few times, this silver fox, whom I soon ascertained was both up early (not late) and Croatian—he wasn’t blithely snapping pictures, even if he seemed just as delighted by how empty the streets were as I was.

I wonder if he knows I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, I chuckled. Or that I don’t want to sleep with him.

I wouldn’t have minded sleeping with him, actually. But truly, I wanted to be him. Here was an extremely good-looking older man, totally capable of living up to the romantic expectations society has set for him, choosing to make his home in the middle of a tourist trap, enjoying a coffee before the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning by his lonesome, looking amazing and, seemingly, as happy as clam. Freedom, for him, meant nothing left to gain.

You’re assuming a lot about him, I conceded, looking back at him as I exited the walls toward the old port. But you’re up to the task, I think.

There was something autumnal in the air as I made my way eastward and upward, heading back to the spot where I’d attempted to take in the previous night’s sunset. A freshness like you feel in Paris in the first week of September, or in the Japanese Alps in early November, when your long-dead dog appears in a dream, as if to warn you. Maybe he even has a Dalmatian at home, I looked down on Dubrovnik, wondering if the dapper 50-something had been anything more than a figment of my imagination, singing the second verse of “Me and Bobby McGee” to myself as the sun came up. And moving forward.

You know, I can’t honestly say I would trade even a single tomorrow for all my yesterdays, as fondly as I remember them.

5 Historical New England Stops in the Fall

September 12, 2016 by  

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Fall in New England

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/ 

The northeastern part of the U.S. is diverse, no doubt, but it has a few common defining characteristics, namely compact states, cities as dense as the forests that populate the rural part of the region. People, too, seem to have an entrenched sense of community, which makes sense considering that European settlers came here before almost anywhere else on the North American continent. There’s no guarantee that you’ll feel like a member of one of these communities before your next trip to the Northeast ends, but these cozy hotel rooms will at least have you feeling at home.

Hartford, CT

Hartford might not be the first city when you think of when you brainstorm ideas for a New England city trip—it lacks the bigness of Boston and the coastal charm of Providence, for starters. Connecticut’s capital does have its own special charm, however, from historical buildings like the Mark Twain House to relaxing green spaces like Bushnell Park.

New Haven, CT

On the other hand, New Haven has a clear reason most people visit it: Prestigious Yale University, which really needs no introduction. You needn’t be a college co-ed in order to enjoy the town, however, which is peppered with funky vintage boutiques, lively sidewalk cafés and alternative bookstores, among other local businesses. New Haven hotels like New Haven Village Suites Omni and New Haven Hotel at Yale might not get you into classes at Yale, but they’re probably nicer than some of the dorms there.

Dover, DE

Speaking of underrated capital cities in the Northeast, Delaware’s definitely one of them. Like Hartford, Dover is overshadowed by other cities and features of the state, specifically the city of Wilmington and the fact that many businesses set up shop in Delaware simply because of its tax laws. Whether you fall into this category, or simply want to explore local sights like the Delaware Legislative Hall or John Dickinson House.

Revere, MA

As its name suggests, the Massachusetts city of Revere is named after Paul Revere, although this is not why you’re likely to be here. Revere is also home to the first public beach in the United States, but that’s not the reason, either. Revere happens to sit very near Boston’s Logan International Airport, which is evident in the name of local accommodation like Rodeway Inn Boston Logan Airport and Fairfield Inn Boston Airport North.

Plymouth, MA

Plymouth is also a very recognizable name, although its significance is a bit less obtuse than that of Revere, whose lights are far too bright for an effectively stealth midnight ride. Plymouth is, after all, where the Pilgrims came ashore, and the town still bears a lot of charm and colonial architecture. The traditional element of Plymouth is on display at all levels, including at lodging options such as the John Carver Inn & Spa.

These cities barely scratch the surface! What else have you explored in the area?

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