Winter Vacation- Balkans Style (Part 1)

Let me begin with a big, “Hallelujah!”  Why, you ask?  We returned last week from a weeklong vacation with our amazing friends, without one episode of violent diarrhea, trip to an ER or handwashing Spidey underoos in the sink at a hotel.  Can I get an Amen?

Our trip began with a six hour drive from Sarajevo to Zagreb, Croatia.  If you look at a map, you’ll see that it really isn’t very far.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way out of Bosnia, so it’s slow going for the first half of the trip.  That is, until you reach the Bosnia/Croatia border and the heavens open up and a real highway appears!  Then it’s smooth sailing.

When traveling with nine people, five of whom are under the age of 8, flexibility is the name of the game.  Thankfully, these five kiddos are some of the best travelers you’ve ever met.  We stopped twice in six hours; one stop for lunch, one potty break.  And the only complaints about the squatty potty we stopped at came from your’s truly!

My only knowledge of Zagreb prior to our arrival was that they have H&M stores and a Gap.  You had me at H&M.  So, to say I was excited might be an understatement! But, more than the shopping, Zagreb is a beautiful city with so much charm.  We stayed at an old and amazingly gorgeous hotel called The Esplanade.  I’m not going to lie, I was a little concerned about bringing our brood to such a nice place.  Thankfully, Croatians are like Bosnians in that they have a strong and patient love for children.  Whew!  Dodged that bullet!

After a long trip in the car, the kids needed to run around like maniacs stretch their legs.  We walked around the downtown until we could walk no more!  There was a cute Christmas market that sold hot chocolate (to the kids delight), gluhwein (to the mom’s delight) and Austrian beer (to the daddy’s delight).  All was well in Zagreb that night!

The next morning, we had our first of several delicious breakfasts!  Lyla approved!

All smiles with pastries and yogurt!  She's quite a foodie these days!

All smiles with pastries and yogurt! She’s quite a foodie these days!

After breakfast, we strolled around town and headed for the Zagreb Cathedral.  To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement.

Zagreb Cathedral

Zagreb Cathedral

Wyatt and his buddy Hudson

Wyatt and his buddy Hudson

She spent a lot of time in her old jalopy of a stroller.  If you'd ever to know what it's like to wrestle an octopus, you are welcome to try to get her in it when she doesn't want to be.  Good times.

She spent a lot of time in her old jalopy of a stroller. If you’d ever like to know what it’s like to wrestle an octopus, you are welcome to try to get her in it when she doesn’t want to be. Good times.

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*sigh

*sigh

Christmas beauty

Christmas beauty

There was a beautiful fountain right outside the cathedral with gold angels that seemed to glow.  I may not be Catholic, but I can certainly appreciate their beautiful architecture.

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But as is par for the course with Catholic relics, with the beauty often comes a taste of the creepy.  Cool, but creepy.

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One of the things we often take for granted when living in America, is easy access to restaurants that are kid friendly.  In Europe, we always have a portable high chair in the car, as most eating establishments do not have them.  Crayons and kid menus are unheard of.  So, we began our quest to find someplace to eat that would be suitable for our party of nine.  Let’s just say that we did a lot of walking… and saw some beautiful things… and unable to find a restaurant that suited our needs, we ended up right where we started.  But, it was a great walk, and the reward at the end was REAL sausage!!  Mmmmmm!!

We passed this as I was looking for a cup of coffee to go (also something that is not normal in Europe).  When I did find a coffee shop, the man asked where I was from in America.  When I told him I was from Texas, he said he played the guitar and liked a guy Texas guitar player.  Had I ever heard of Stevie Ray Vaughn?  Ummm, yeah.  His name rings a bell.

We passed this as I was looking for a cup of coffee to go (also something that is not normal in Europe). When I did find a coffee shop, the man asked where I was from in America. When I told him I was from Texas, he said he played the guitar and liked a Texas guitar player. Had I ever heard of Stevie Ray Vaughn? Ummm, yeah. The name rings a bell.

This wall was so interesting to me.  It almost looked intentionally distressed.

This wall was so interesting to me. It almost looked intentionally distressed.

Fruit and Veggie market

Fruit and Veggie market

Back off, ladies!!  His heart belongs to his mama!!

Back off, ladies!! His heart belongs to his mama!!

One more of the cathedral.  I'll never tire of seeing such amazing architecture.

One more of the cathedral. I’ll never tire of seeing such amazing architecture.

I’m sure you’re wondering what happened to H&M.  Shockingly, we didn’t have time to shop.  But never fear!!  The last leg of our trip was another stop in Zagreb!  But more on that later!

Zagreb down… next post: Lake Bled.  Until then, vidimo se, cao, see you soon!

XOXOXO

Heather

From Zadar, with Love

Oh, to live the life of a gypsy.  Or a carnie.  Or a diplomat.  They are really similar if you think about it.

In the month since my last post, we’ve been a bit busy.  We finally moved to our permanent house (yay!).  Which means that our internet was down for a week.  We also got our household effects that we haven’t seen since mid June of last year (big YAY!).  Which means there is a crap-ton of things to put away, and a lot of, “Why in the world do we still have this?”  *There are a few perks to living simply for eleven months*  Not to mention all the things that we either wish we had packed, or thought we had packed and didn’t.  Oh, and did I mention that when we packed out last summer, we thought we were going to be moving to the west coast of Africa?  Not Central Europe.  So, instead of skis and scarves, we have a plethora of beach towels and sand toys.    Thankfully, we were able to use them last weekend.  (How’s that for a lead-in?!)

One of the great things about living in another country as a diplomat is that we celebrate all the American federal holidays, and the Bosnian ones.  That allows for us to vacation during times that would be very busy in the US, but not so much in Europe.  For Memorial Day, we decided to do just that.  Up until now, the only real outing we had made was our trip to Mostar.  So, when the opportunity presented itself to go to Croatia for the weekend, we jumped on it!  And for added fun, we went with our awesome friends, who are also Texans I might add, The Denneys.  You can read Karen’s blog post about our trip here.

Before I start, let me say, this post is not for those with a weak stomach.  Like, for example, if you were Wyatt, you wouldn’t want to read this.  You’re about to see why.

We left Friday afternoon for the 6-8 hour drive (yep, it’s that big of a window when you are traveling with 4 grown ups and 5 kids).  The kids were champs and we made it across the border into Croatia before we had to stop for dinner.  We found a quaint little restaurant that served pasta for the kids, and PORK for the parents.  Did you hear me?  I said PORK!  P-O-R-K!!!  The first sign we were out of Bosnia and into Croatia.  As we were getting ready to leave, Wyatt did a little complaining that his tummy hurt, but I let it pass, since he was not bad enough to turn down the snickerdoodle cupcakes that Karen brought.  In hindsight, I should have paid closer attention.

We drove several more hours and made it to our final destination, Zadar, Croatia. When I say we made it, I mean we made it to the city itself.  It was pouring rain and 10:00pm, so we had to do a little searching for our hotel.  In the meantime, Wyatt’s tummy was getting worse.  So, in a fit of desperation, I quickly dumped the snacks out of the snack bag onto my feet and tossed the bag back to him, just in time for exactly 2/3 of the vomit to make it in.  We weren’t so lucky with the other 1/3.  Oh, and the bag?  It maybe had a few holes in it.  So, for the next 20 minutes, we drove around in the freezing rain with my hand out the window holding a bag of puke.  All the while, trying to hand wipes back to the back seat to clean up the other 1/3.  Never before have I wished to be Elastagirl from The Incredibles like I did that night.  So, we were off to a rough start.  But when we pulled up to our hotel, things began to brighten up.  The fresh air may have helped a bit too.

Our hotel was awesome!  It’s called the Falkensteiner Funimation Borik.  I know, it sounds cheesy, but it was great!  All inclusive, on the beach, swimming pools and a kids play area.  You can’t beat that!  It would have been better if the weather had cooperated more, but we still figured out how to have fun!

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This is the view from our balcony. It looks rainy because it WAS rainy. On and off all weekend long. Blah.

The indoor play area was the first place we explored.  It didn’t disappoint!

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The kids weren’t the only ones having fun!

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Hey! How do I get in there?!?!

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Tristan enjoyed the play area so much he spent most of Sunday afternoon there while it poured outside, watching movies, playing games and who knows what else!

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Cullen is a bit of a dare devil!

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Love this girl!

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Yes, she is that beautiful!!

Then we walked around the beach outside the hotel.

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Wyatt and his bestie, Hudson! These boys are so tight that they understand some weird five-year-old language that none of the rest of us do. And the humor? Yep. It’s all an inside joke with them!

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Handsome boys!

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For every nice picture of the boys, I had to bribe them by telling them they could do a crazy one!

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It was so great to spend some time on the beach as a family! For the morning, at least.

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Only in our family: Social Distortion and Awesome Sauce shirts!

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The Denneys

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A Zadar local

Yes, that is a man walking his dog on a Vespa.

Yes, that is a man walking his dog on a scooter.

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A rare picture with me in it!

Lyla loved the feel of the sand.

Lyla loved the feel of the sand. I love her squishable rolls!

We were able to squeeze in some swimming before the rain moved it.  Tristan has become a much stronger swimmer lately.  And with floaties, Wyatt is a regular Michael Phelps!

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Lyla learned the art of sunbathing!

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Thank goodness the pool was heated!

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That about sums it up!

Our friends Cullen, Byron and Hudson

Our friends Cullen, Byron and Hudson

This is the last smile from Wyatt we would see for awhile.

This is the last smile from Wyatt we would see for awhile.

This is where the Roberts’ vacation merged with the Griswold’s.  After a good long swim, Wyatt started fading fast.  We thought he was just tired, but we were wrong.  Boy, were we wrong.  We still aren’t positive what happened, but he either ate something bad, or more than likely came in contact with something VERY bad.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that we spent a very long, painful night together.  This was definitely not the trip to pack light.  We ran out of underwear for him by midnight.  Poor baby!

While we waited for the doctor to get to the hotel, Wyatt watched a movie on my iPad.

Things didn’t improve in the morning, so we had the hotel call in a doctor to look at him.  The doctor agreed with us that he probably had some kind of bacterial infection, but he was definitely dehydrated.  And in our adventurous spirit and desire to experience all that each country has to offer, it was time to check out a Croatian hospital!  I joke, but it really was scary at the time.  And besides being a great guy, Byron is also a Bosnian (or if you happen to be in Croatia, a Croatian speaker) so he was kind enough to go with Brady and Wyatt to the hospital to translate.  What a blessing that was!  He was even there to hear the nurse grumble under her breath, “No wonder he’s sick.  He doesn’t have any socks on.”  Welcome to the Balkans!

Unfortunately for Brady and Wyatt, they spent the next five hours at the hospital getting the IV.  We did our best to have fun while they were gone.

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Tristan worked VERY hard on his sand castle!

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Tristan’s only sweatshirt I brought was puked on the first night in the car, so he had to wear my denim shirt! The did have laundry service at the hotel, and if we wanted to wait three days, they would have washed all our vomit-laden clothes. Instead, we hand washed everything in the bathtub, and challenged the laws of humidity with drying them. It took the whole weekend and a blowdryer!

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He’s pretty stinkin’ handsome, if I do say so myself!

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So much for my girly-girl! She was all about getting dirty and playing in the sand (which honestly, made me SUPER proud she’s my daughter!)

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My favorite parts of a baby? Their chubby, dimply hands and feet.

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Nine months is such a fun age. And with all the frustrations of living life overseas, I am so glad to offer Lyla (and the boys) all of these new experiences. There’s nothing like seeing your child discover something new and fascinating. One of the perks of parenthood.

Karen is my absolute favorite person in Sarajevo!  We have so much in common and always have fun together!  It was a real treat to learn that she loves to take pictures too!

Say cheese!

Say cheese!

Before the rain started, we tried to squeeze in a family photo shoot for the Denneys.  I was only able to get a few of the boys.  Family pics, to be continued!

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I mean, really. He is a hunk! Love this boy!

Cullen, aka, Lyla's future husband!  He even learned how to say "Lyla" on our trip.

Cullen, aka, Lyla’s future husband! He even learned how to say “Lyla” on our trip.

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They are like little Gap models!

So, Brady and Wyatt got back, and Wyatt looked like a whole different boy!  IV’s are amazing things!  We did our best to make the most of the night and enjoy the rest of our trip.  The next morning was check out, but we did manage to squeeze in a couple of games of ping pong first!

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After breakfast and check out, we decided to see what Zadar really had to offer!  And thankfully, Wyatt’s stomach cramps held off (mostly) during our day trip downtown.  First stop: Ice cream. At 10:00am.  ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

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This was the first of two ice cream stops that day!

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I love the mix of old and modern.

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When traveling with this many children, one of whom was violently ill the day before, we have learned that the only way to succeed with a smile is to divide and conquer!  So, the dads took the big boys up to the top of an The Cathedral of Anastasia and Karen and I had the littles.  While we waited we listened to the sweetest street performer and his scooter-drawn trailer!  The babies loved it!Zadar-0749-2 Zadar-0752-2

After a couple of songs, he asked us to move the strollers up by him and handed me HIS camera, and asked me to take his picture.  He said he wanted to put it on the cover of his next CD!

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If you look closely, you’ll see Brady’s pink salmon shirt at the top of the bell tower.

Can you see him?

Can you see him?

The Cathedral of Anastasia

The Cathedral of Anastasia

After the boys had their turn, we ditched the babies and Karen and I took our cameras up the bell tower.  Here are some of the images I captured.

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The detail. Amazing.

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Beautiful, and loud. Very loud. Really, very loud. Especially when you are standing next to them when they ring.

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Zadar-0788-2 Zadar-0769-2 Zadar-0796-2 Zadar-0793-2 Zadar-0799-2 Zadar-0800-2After our picture taking extravaganza, we met up with the rest of our crew at the sea organ.  I hadn’t done much research on Zadar before we left, so I didn’t know what it was.  Basically, someone way smarter than me figured out a way to make the waves make a sort of whistle as they hit the shore.  It really is a sort of creepy but strangely beautiful sound.  Of course, the boys loved yelling into the holes that the sound comes out of to hear their own “special melodies!”

Zadar-0810We also coerced them all into taking some more pictures!

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Zadar-0828-2Then we found a park to burn some energy at.

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Karen and I often joke (sort of joke, but really hope) that Cullen and Lyla will eventually get married.  It’ll make Christmases so much easier on us, and after all, isn’t it about us?  Well, I’m thinking that Cullen is going to have to learn not to steal Lyla’s toys before the wedding, or we may have more episodes like this:

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Zadar is one of those places that isn’t as well known as say Split or Dubrovnik.  But it truly was the perfect weekend getaway for us (minus the ER trip!)

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We’ve decided to make this an annual trip with our favorite traveling buddies!

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I’ll leave our trip at this. It appears peaceful and quiet. That’s how I’d like to remember the drive home. Or imagine it, at least!