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Did someone say Beer Festival!!

On our way down to Istria, we stopped off again at Michael’s village to see the family one more time before continuing on our adventure. As this was our last time to see them for a while, it was a bit emotional. We had always been able to say we will see you soon but now was the end of the road for Croatia.

Our end in Karlovac coincided with the Karlovacki Dani Piva, which is the beer festival run by the local beer company. This is a huge event in the calendar of the locals and we were pleased to be going to try the beer and some food. Below are pictures of our food and drink and Michael’s family.

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Continue reading Did someone say Beer Festival!!

The Old Bridge of Mostar

Heading into the countryside was a break from the party atmosphere of Hvar. We weren’t sure what to expect going to Bosnia. We got to the border with a car full of our belongings including a wedding dress, tennis racquets and roller blades which we had accumulated during our travels. We were apprehensive driving up to border control and hesitantly rolled down the window to be greeted by a young gentleman. The officer was in hysterics when he saw our car full of our belongings. He began laughing when he saw the Australian & American passports, and then proceeded to joke that we had a German car, were married in Croatia and now were driving into Bosnia.

We kept driving through normal roads without being able to find a highway. We arrived into Mostar and found a fairly new and quite nice apartment except for a dodgy step. We were warned about Bosnian builders taking shortcuts and found out first hand walking up the stairs of the apartment. Apparently there is one step that is higher than all the others and we both learnt the hard way. Running up the stairs with suitcases and thud, we both misjudged this one step and fell over. Bosnia 1, Traveller 0.

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Continue reading The Old Bridge of Mostar

Honeymoon Hvar

One of the tough decisions when you are away for 12 months is choosing where to celebrate your honeymoon. After some deliberating, it didn’t take us long to decide on the island of Hvar. This island scattered in the middle of Dalmatia is famous for having some of the sunniest weather in Croatia and was to now become our official destination for the honeymoon.

We left our car in Split and caught the ferry over. Parking in Split can be hard to find but luckily we had a contact that has apartments in Split and gave us a parking spot for a few days.  We boarded the catamaran for the 1.5 hour trip from Split. There are boats that carry cars across but our guides showed that we could explore the island without a car. The ride was smooth and quick and before we could even plan what to do on the island, we were there. The island truly looked amazing but we were lost and couldn’t find which direction to head to our accommodation. We eventually got our bearings and began the climb up the hill to our accommodation. We continued to climb until you couldn’t climb no more and got to the top of the hill. It was worth it with the most amazing views of Hvar town and the neighboring islands.

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Back to Croatia

After our amazing wedding and spending some time travelling with Meagan’s family was done, we headed back to Croatia for some R&R and to celebrate my cousin, Anita’s wedding. We did the difficult drive from Lake Como to Volosko in Istra. The drive in this stretch of Italy was daunting as there are so many trucks driving this route. There are also many irritable drivers and in our case, a crazy Austrian driver who followed us and hurled abuse for kilometres after I had cut him off.

It was pleasing to arrive in Volosko, Istra for 1 night of relaxation. Our experience on AirBnB has been mixed but we were succeesful this time. We found a cute little apartment above the restaurants on the water in Volosko, only a short walk from Opatija. We checked in and then quickly made a beeline for the walk along the Lungo Mare to Opatija town centre.

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Our 1st night in Volosko was a mixed evening of fitness and indulgent food. We ran the few kilometres to Opatija and back and then checked out one of the local restaurants in Volosko for some delicious Ligne na Zaru, one of our favourite meals in Croatia. This meal consists of grilled calamari/octopus with potatoes and swiss chard. Yumm. Volosko is a scenic and pretty town very close to Opatija without the huge prices. We recommend staying here if you head to this part of Croatia.

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The next day we headed to Zagreb. Meagan had some stomach pain so we checked out what the reason could be. We found a clinic in Zagreb who did an ultrasound on her. The $350 diagnosis was basically that Meagan was getting older and her body was changing. No news but at least Meagan was slightly more relieved.

After the great diagnosis, we headed to Karlovac to get ready for my cousin, Anita’s wedding. We went to my cousin Damir’s house to get ready and drove to Anita’s house which is located higher up in our village. We could hear the noise coming from the house as we were driving, music playing and older people laughing and carrying on. This was our first wedding we were attending as husband and wife and Meagan was in for a shock.

The weather was hotter than normal this summer and we were sweating bullets in our clothes. Fanning did little to help, although the cold wine (gemist) was our saviour. The gathering was as expected at a Croatian wedding with plenty to eat, drink and talk about. The expected platter of cakes were also on show which we tried of course.

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As happens at Croatian weddings, the groom arrives at the brides house and then begins to barter for the bride. The brides family had many surprises in store. Firstly, after paying over a little ransom, the groom thought the bride was walking down the stairs but in fact it was a man dressed as a bride. Next, the brides family placed a barrier so the groom could not come in. After some talking, shouting, drinking and firing up a chainsaw to cut down the tree trunk stalling there entry, the groom finally made it in and the bride came out.

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After some more food and drink, it was time to go to church. The ceremony was wonderful and after the ceremony, we had more wine outside the church. This time the priest was also drinking with us.

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Next stop was the reception, but getting there was difficult. We had to follow the lead car with the bride and groom, and their car was stopping constantly. A drive which would normally take 30 minutes took 1 hour 30. When I told Meagan that the reception can sometimes go to 6am in the morning, she was dumbfounded and couldn’t believe that we would be eating, drinking and dancing until such time. Food and wine were always present as was the band playing Croatian hits all night. By 4am, Meagan and I couldn’t handle it anymore and so we headed home. One the way home, we drove through the dark and came across wild deer on the side of the road. Driving tired and seeing a deer with its bright eyes and huge horns was a crazy sight to see.

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The next day was a big day as it was St Ana feast day, and this is big in our village. We have a chapel in our village named after St Ana and we often celebrate with more food and drink. This year was slightly different as both Meagan and I were present along with my dad and his friend. The day started with a mass in the chapel before we made it back to the house for lots of food and drink. The night ended when we went down to the local school to see a band playing music and again more drinking. We ended the night early as the next day we had to leave early for our drive to Zadar so Meagan could start school.

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Our most expensive country so far…. Switzerland

As we didn’t have a plan to come to Switzerland, we did no planning at all regarding activities or find out what to do. We had heard it was expensive so left this out of our trip, but with Meagan’s “intensive research” for cheap hotel rooms and our journey having to go through there, we made some plans in a hurry. More about that later. First stop was Basel and driving from food heaven of Lyon, we had little expectation. Little did we know how beautiful this country was. The town of Basel is the 3rd largest city in Switzerland after Zurich and Geneva, but one of the prettiest. As soon as we drove through the outskirts of Basel, we had a great vibe about the city. The cute colourful houses, tree-lined streets and vintage trams were idyllic.

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We checked into our favourite chain of hotel (Ibis), hehe and set out immediately to explore the city. We heard how expensive Switzerland was and wanted to reserve it for another time but this all changed when we found out that Meagan’s Mom and sister would be flying out of Geneva. We wanted to spend every last minute with them so decided that we would include Geneva into our trip. Meagan did her magic and when a magical email arrived in her inbox titled, “40% and 50% of Accor hotels in July all over Europe!”, we quickly made new plans. This was our saving grace as we managed to book Ibis hotels at half the price throughout Switzerland. We booked in 2 nights in Geneva, 1 night in Basel and 2 nights in Zurich.

Our hotel in Basel provided us with free public transportation passes and luckily the tram stop was right outside our hotel. We took the fun vintage looking train to the city centre and went for a wander through the windy cobblestone streets. It was a Sunday night and the shops were all closed, however it didn’t cramp our style. We found a beautiful stone bridge which crosses over the Rhine River and found locals laying out and jumping into the river. I guess if it is the only water source around, the locals will take advantage of it. The river moved so swiftly that each person in the water was required to attach themselves to a floating device! Hehe

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We then found ourselves in the middle of the Basel Military Tattoo outdoor fair! This really was an experience! We sat down at one of the booths and ordered sausages, a tuna sandwich and a beer! The locals were definitely enjoying themselves as they engaged in conversation, watch the Tattoo show and drank delicious beer! And we believe the Swiss are hard working except for the guy in the picture below.

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The next morning we woke up at 8:30am and went for a large run along the water! Meagan ran as far as she could go until she hit a border crossing. She thought it was best not to cross the border without any identification. We then went to the tourist office and booked ourselves on a guided walking tour of the city. Before the tour commenced, we strolled through the city looking at Swiss army knives and Swiss watches! Too bad they were too expensive for our budget. One thing about Switzerland is the high cost of food and to be honest EVERYTHING! We decided to go to a café for lunch and to keep within our budget, we both ordered salads. I had been craving a Coke and decided to splurge a bit. When we got the bill, we were a bit shocked to see that a small bottle of coke was 4.60 Swiss francs which converted to about $5.50AUD.

We then met up with the rest of the group for our guided walking tour. The tour was in both German and English with most of the participants speaking German. This was to our disadvantage as our guide spoke mostly in German and gave the quick version to us in English. It was still a pretty good tour and we learned a bit more about the city.

We met at a very interesting fountain where the old Theatre used to be located. The architect of the fountain decided to use old parts of the theatre in the fountain. It was really cool and probably one of my favourite fountains I have seen to date!

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As explained earlier, Basel is the 3rd largest Switzerland city with 200,000 inhabitants. There are actually 201 water fountains found all over the city which uses fresh drinkable water! This is about all that you can get for free in Basel. Meagan and I were busy refilling our water whenever we could.

Basel originally had a medieval wall dating back to the 12th century which was destroyed by an Earthquake. A new wall was rebuilt which expanded the city to fit more people in the 15th century. Eventually the city became overcrowded and disease ridden so the wall was torn down so that the city could be further expanded. We managed to see a part of the medieval wall which was still standing.

We then headed to the Barefoot Church which was one of the only things that survived the earthquake. It is called the Barefoot Church because the Franciscan Monks were barefoot during the summer months.

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The coat of arms of Basel is actually a Bishop’s hat which comes from the times when Basel was Catholic.  The coat of arms was the Bishops hat at this time. In the 16th century, Switzerland converted to Protestantism, however Basel kept the coat of arms the same as it was as it was difficult to change it and communicate it to the world back in the day.

Basel used to be known for their silk ribbon production which was used in women’s and men’s clothing. Eventually, in the 1900’s this industry was no longer in mode. The manufacturers of the silk ribbons started to focus on dye and chemicals. This is when the chemical/pharmaceutical industry started in Basel! Basel is now headquarters to Novartis and Roche! Around 50,000 people come into Basel everyday just to work in the Pharmaceutical industry.

We were also told of a sad event in Basel’shistory which has created a tainted view of the the Pharmaceutical industry. Back in 1986, one of the buildings of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals burnt down and released hazardous materials into the Rhine River which completely wiped out all plant life and species all the way to Rotterdam! There was a memorial table in one of the church’s which discusses this tragedy. Because of this, new Environmental laws were put into place to prevent this from happening again!

We ended the tour in the old labourer guild alleyways. Labourers used to be part of guilds and the street names were representative of the type of jobs that took place in the alleyways. Most of these homes were destroyed to build hotels and other modern buildings, however a few remain from the 1200’s which are still standing today.

After the tour, we decided to treat ourselves to what else but Movenpick Ice cream!!!! We sat down at one of their cafes and enjoyed an espresso and scoop of ice cream. This was a perfect treat in the hot 33C weather!

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Sadly our time in Basel had come to an end. We really enjoyed this cute city and would definitely come back……maybe with more money next time!

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Next stop on the trip was Zurich, home to one of our favourite foods, chocolate. We arrived and immediately set out to explore the city. We decided to stay a little bit outside the city in a new area earmarked for redevelopment. This area is home to some new tech companies but is also home to the nightclub scene of Zurich. There are many warehouses here that are converted to warehouse clubs on weekends. Again we ran from the hotel and found the Rhine River and yep you guessed it, the locals were all in the water being pushed along by the strong currents. It was a cool sight to see the locals enjoying the warm weather.

At night we had planned to meet up with some friends in the city centre so we dressed up and went into the city. The city is quite beautiful with many historic buildings lined along the river. One that caught my attention was the Lindt building, the original place of chocolate that is still in manufacture today. Our friends Sonia and Bec showed us around and we spent the night taking great pictures.

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The next day we headed out to explore a bit more of the city. We headed along some cute canals, walked through some beautiful parks and stopped at some nice shops.

A car smaller than Meagan
A car smaller than Meagan
Oops. Naughty!
Oops. Naughty!

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Our time was up in Zurich and Switzerland, but on the way out, we thought we would stop by to catch up with some friends in Schaffhaussen. Ivo & Monica treated us to dinner and we had such a great time with them in their hometown. We walked the streets in rain, something we brought with us as they hadn’t seen it in weeks, They had cute art installations in the city street. The picture below is of the toilet art installation, trust Meagan and I to try it out. They even took us to see the Rhinefall, the largest waterfall in Europe.Thanks Ivo & Monica, can’t wait to see you guys in Australia.

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Switzerland is an amazing city everyone should have on their bucket list along with a bucket of money.

Split, Venice and Lake Como – Can it get any better than this?!?!

After the wedding festivities, Michael and I planned to travel through  Europe with Mom, Terry (step dad), Kristy, Andrew and Lydia. We started our journey in Dubrovnik, Croatia and ended in Geneva, Switzerland. We traveled nearly 1,600 kilometers!!! This was so much fun as we got to explore a bit of Europe in a big group. Our first stop was 1 night in Split, Croatia. (This is probably our 800th time there now!) haha

It wasn’t only the party I mentioned above that would be going to Split, but also my friend Bek, her friend Sonia, and Kai joined us there as well. We booked into a walking tour around Diocletian’s Palace which was very interesting. We learnt about how the place used to look like and the grand parties that used to take place there. We even learnt about a tradition or mainstay practice where people would indulge and indulge in both food and drink and actually vomit it all up in an actual “vomiting room”. How disgusting!!! We were told that this was very common and the room was specifically designed for this purpose.

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Continue reading Split, Venice and Lake Como – Can it get any better than this?!?!

July 12 2013 – Best day of my life

I woke up on the morning of the wedding surprised that I managed to sleep so well that night. I don’t know whether it was because all the family were together or just because it felt like the start of a perfect day. My attention quickly turned to my wife to be Meagan, wondering what emotions she was going through at the moment. I quickly got ready and vacated the room I was sharing with Meagan’s parents, before she had the chance to sneak in. I still had things to do in the morning so I started off with finding a razor to shave. Meagan wasn’t very particular about how I looked except she wanted me to be clean shaven. I found the local supermarket to have a small selection of razors, but enough for me to meet Meagan’s requirements. I still had some time up my sleeve so I decided to walk along the promenade of Cavtat, the town we were staying in as I reflected on what was the biggest day of my life thus far. As I made my way closer to the villa, I could hear the laughter and excitement coming from the living room where Meagan was getting ready. I was happy that she was enjoying herself.

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I began to work on my speeches for the night, quickly realising that the Croatian version was much more difficult to put together. There were a lot of things I wanted to say but knew I would have difficulty with sharing this and I wanted to make sure these were written down so I would not forget. After that, everything is such a blur as things went so quickly. Too quick in fact, that the photographer had arrived and I still had to shower and shave.  I managed to fit this in but then had problems locating my suit. Somehow it had been moved and after some frantic searching by my sister, the moment of panic subsided. The photographer was quick to take a few photographs and then I managed to finish getting ready.

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By now the bus taking us to the church was here so we began moving up the street. I remember that it was really hot and I was hoping for a cool bus. Unfortunately the weather was so hot that the air conditioning did very little. We drove off from the villa and I wanted some entertainment so a few of us began singing some Croatian songs. It was an unbelievable experience to be driving towards the wonderful city of Dubrovnik singing these songs with close family and friends. I am unsure of what Meagan’s family were thinking as we were nothing like the Rat Pack even though we think we have great voices. I am sure if provided for some amusement to many of our guests.

We made our way to the church which was beautifully decorated for our day. It was how Meagan wanted it so I was happy that she would get a lovely surprise when she comes in. I stood out the front and can remember how hot it was, particularly as churches are cold. I had to get a tissue to wipe the sweat from my brow, but was comforted that many other people in the church were doing the same thing and it wasn’t from nerves. I was looking around and noticed that there were people missing so I was hoping that they would make it before Meagan arrived. The violin and cello began playing and it was such a beautiful sound which made me much more comfortable. I could see some commotion outside and realised that Meagan had arrived. I quickly turned around as I didn’t want to see her until she was walking down the aisle. When the time came, it was an absolutely amazing moment which words cannot describe. I became emotional, watching Meagan and her father walking down the aisle in tears. She looked absolutely stunning, her gown which she kept a secret from me during the whole trip fitting her perfectly. Her hair and makeup did wonders to show off her amazing features. I couldn’t have asked for a better bride on this amazing day. I was truly the luckiest man on Earth.

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The ceremony began and we were not completely sure how things would go. We had a rehearsal the day before but were still uncertain on certain parts of the ceremony. It happened to go very well until the signing of the marriage certificate. Meagan went first to sign and then I followed her. I put my signature down on the paper and the priest looked at me and said in a firm tone, sign legibly. I was surprised by his comment but I couldn’t do anything about. I sign my name so it cannot be forged but father wasn’t a happy man. I wondered why this happened to me when Meagan had to go first and had to sign with a different surname. We then walked out of the church to Beyonce’s song, Halo which holds many special memories for us.

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What I felt was the hardest part of the wedding was over and I was now happy to celebrate this special day with Meagan and our guests. We took some photos with all our family and friends and it was a moment when you reflect on how lucky you are to have such a wonderful group of family and friends to share this moment with. The next part of the wedding was a surprise for our guests as we were heading out for a cruise on a boat around Dubrovnik. We wanted to thank our guests for coming by taking them for a ride along the coast. It was such a great experience except that it ended too quickly. We enjoyed the beautiful views, cool breezes in the hot summer and the drinks of course. It was fun to have all our guests on the 1 boat.

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We left our guests again to take some photos around the old town of Dubrovnik before we went to the hotel room to freshen up. We didn’t stay long in the room as we could see and hear our guests and wanted to head straight out to be with them. We made our way down and walked in to our entrance song of “happiness”, a dance song which we heard when we first began dating. We felt it was an appropriate song to have playing at on our wedding day.

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We walked in and grabbed a drink, no drink for over 1 hour in the heat wasn’t good. We walked to our table and the music continued to play a bit longer, with all eyes on us. It was a bit uncomfortable but awesome at the same time as we had come to the best part of the wedding, the celebration.

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Sitting at the table and looking at all our guests gave me goose bumps. I thought all these people had travelled to be here for this occasion. It was a surreal experience. Our 1st dance as a married couple was next and I was excited to twirl my wife around a bit. We played a Hawaiian song which I didn’t know before today but it meant a lot to Meagan and her family, enough to make them cry.

After our dance, we asked everyone else to come up to the dance floor and that’s what happened. Everyone did come up. It was an amazing site to see all the wedding guests on the dance floor bopping away. The evening was spectacular, with beautiful weather, tasty food and great company. All good things come to an end and unfortunately so did the party. I could have stayed for many more hours celebrating with family and friends but we had a curfew at the reception and had to continue the party at a nightclub not far from the reception.

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After saying bye to some guests, I headed down to the nightclub to join Meagan and some of our other guests. We had a few shots (drinks), danced and chatted for a few hours before we went back to our amazing honeymoon suite. I don’t think I will ever stay in such a room again and I was so happy to be here sharing it with the girl I fell in love with 2.5 years earlier in Sydney. It was a day that people only dream about and for me, that dream came true today, July 12, 2013.

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