November 7, 2013

Roadtripping Croatia - Part One

It's been a month since we've moved back to Toronto, and slowly settling into our downtown condo. Life's been busy, first with packing, selling furniture, more packing, last minute traveling right before leaving Munich; then unpacking, buying new furniture, painting our get the picture. In all this, I never really got a chance to sit down and open up my blog. I did think of writing a couple times, but to be honest, didn't really feel like it because a huge wave of nostalgia would hit me. I miss Munich, and sometimes really wonder if the past 15 months actually happened because they really do feel like a dream now that I'm back in Toronto.

Today I finally decided I should write something, mostly because Umair keeps asking me when I'll update my blog. It's also kinda hard to decide what to write about when there's so many recent travels to write about. But maybe I'll go with Croatia as it was our last major holiday before leaving Munich (not counting the 2 day trip to Venice right after Croatia). 

So..last couple weeks in Europe, Umair's off from work....where do we wanna go? We have a huge list! Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Sweden..? In the end we ruled all of that out and decided on Croatia. Partly because all those we'd have to fly out to and we didn't have the time, and partly because we had heard amazing things about Croatia and were meaning to go last fall but didn't end up going. Also, after driving a whole week around south of Spain, Umair felt like driving some more.

So we set out for Croatia. Well, not so easily. First, it was hard to plan and cram all that we wanted to see in 6 days. Dubrovnik was my must-see place, so had to let go of Plitvice Lakes. Dubrovnik alone is a good 14 hour drive from Munich. Second, when we got to the car rental the day of (got there pretty late anyway because of running around government offices in Munich to attain forms re leaving the country!) and upon hearing that we were going to take the car to Croatia - the guy there told us we couldn't take that car. I was a BMW they were giving us. But a BMW for an Eastern European country? Yeah, no. So the guy made some calls, tried to find us something else. After a long wait, we finally had a Ford to ourselves and were ready to leave!

Our stop in Croatia was Trogir - a medieval small town 10 hours away from Munich. We drove though the lovely alps of Austria, which I completely missed because I was napping even though Umair tried to keep me up. Then drove through Slovenia. 

And there was our third setback. We were stopped at the Slovenian border and were told that because we didn't pay toll, we had to pay a hefty fine. 'But, we did pay toll...', Umair argued. The guy said, 'No sir, you were supposed to buy a sticker at a gas station and put that up.'

Um. Maybe next time put up some signs around the border indicating to tourists about that? How would we know!? Or I suppose it was a case of research only research fail in all of our 15-month travels. But quite an expensive one. Oh well. 

After much time wasted there, we started off again. We got to Trogir late at night, but the drive down to the town was gorgeous because of the sea and lights. And  a little freaky because it was narrow and would go down the hill in curves with zero streetlights. Trogir is situated on a small island, and is walled. Once we were inside Trogir, it was like we had traveled back in time. The narrow streets, the old houses...this was definitely not 2013! 

our lovely stone walled apartment!

one of the gates into the walled town of Trogir

The next morning we walked to the promenade and had breakfast over there.

the promenade seen from the mainland (there's a small bridge that connects Trogir to the mainland)

We then took a small boat to a beach nearby, soaked in some sun, and headed back to Trogir in the evening. The promenade is lovely to stroll around in the evening.
promenade in the evening

the main square of Trogir. 

The next morning we left for Dubrovnik which was 3 hour drive away. Our GPS told us to take a turn downhill to nowhere. After a moment's hesitation, we followed the GPS. It kept taking us town the hill to literally nowhere. It was just tall grasses and mountains. Pretty, yes....but a little odd. After driving through tall grasses, we started driving up the hills again....and then we got on to the coastal drive to Dubrovnik!

It was 1.5 hours of this beautiful coastal drive through the Adriatic sea! It was similar to the Amalfi coast in Italy, minus the houses in Amalfi but plus the small islands all around the Adriatic. What made this a little more exciting than the Amalfi coast drive was that we were not on a bus but actually driving through the mountains and sea. It was heavenly!

So we kept driving this beautiful route until we got to the amazing Dubrovnik...which will be in the next part! 

September 27, 2013

14 countries, 15 months and countless adventures/experiences later...'s time to head back to toronto! We are moving to Toronto on September 30th. The past few months have been busy doing moving stuff, taking stuffed suitcases back to Toronto, selling furniture, trying to get our phone, television etc contracts cancelled in German (which resulted in our phones getting cancelled on the 3rd instead of 30th, our TV guys bugging us to not leave them and that they'll give us a better deal - umm, we said we're leaving the country? Or maybe we said something else because it was a German conversation after all).

And also traveling. The first week of September, we took a family trip with Umair's parents down to the South of Spain (I want to blog about it, but that will probably happen after the move!). And just this week, Umair and I went for a 6 day road trip to Croatia (blogging about this too, someday!). In fact, I'm typing this as we drive back to Munich from Croatia through the lovely Slovenia. We've been to Slovenia before. Might stop around a lake for lunch today. (we did stop by the lovely Lake Bohinj that day...yes, I wrote this post a few days ago, and finishing it off today.)

How do I feel about moving back to Toronto? I'm not sure. It's a bittersweet feeling. Toronto is home and being close to family and friends will be awesome. In fact, it'll still be a new experience for me because we'll be living in downtown and I've always wanted to live in downtown, definitely looking forward to that. But Munich is where I started my married life, and that's how I've known my married life to be uptil now. Plus all the traveling. Oh, the traveling....I definitely will miss the spontaneity of getting up and going anywhere for a weekend or even a day trip.

I am absolutely grateful to have had this amazing experience of living in Europe. To be able to learn about different cultures, travel, broaden my horizon just a little bit more. Life has been good, and kind. And a bit surreal and even unreal at times. And I've had my fair share of surreal and unreal -ness! So maybe it's time to finally end my super long vacation and get back to reality. 

Just a few things running across my mind about what I will and will not miss about life in Europe...

I will miss:

  • cobblestone streets! even after living in europe for 15 months, I love walking on cobblestones, it makes me feel like I'm in ancient times.
  • side street cafes/outdoor cafes/just the European cafe culture in general. Loved living right by one of the main areas of Munich, which is filled with side street cafes and shops. 

  • adorable, colourful buildings.
The bright blue! The yellow! Lime green! This is Burano Island, close to Venice. Which we visited again just 2 days ago. And I haven't even blogged about the first time have I? 

  • catching a train and being in a different country in as little as couple hours. where the culture is different, the language is different. 
  • drinking spezi (mix of coke fanta and sprite) 
  • yummy wood oven pizzas because of the many Italians in Munich. I can never go back to Pizza Pizza or Pizza Hut.
  • Umair getting ready for work early morning in Barcelona, and then heading straight to work in a couple hours in Munich. Or...having breakfast in Croatia, lunch in Slovenia and dinner in Germany! (which is what we're doing today). 
  • randomly deciding on a saturday morning to take a train and be in a medieval little town. 
  • seeing so many ahh-mazing sights that my mind boggles at the amount of beauty this world holds. And I have only seen a fraction of it. 
  • the mango gelato 15min walk from our place! it's the best mango ice cream i've ever had, and i've tried many around europe. 
  • adding to the above point, I'll miss our walks to the ice cream place before or after dinner. there better be a decent (I'm gonna be practical and not expect the awesome gelatos I'm used to here, so decent will do) ice cream place close to our downtown condo. 
  • living in a place which is so rich in history. So rich that there are still historical bombs emerging from the city. They found a WW2 bomb like 5 mins from our place last September!! Crazy. 
  • Hitting up castles after castles. and randomly finding a castle while driving through Austria.
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  • conversing on google translate. did I tell you about the time I got our dish washer fixed by conversing with the German technician through google translate? fun times! 
  • wearing my dirndl during oktoberfest and dragging Umair to my favourite ride ever - roller coaster with 5 of those 360degree loops! 
  • running in the English Gardens. Which I didn't do as much as I would've liked to. 
  • our favourite Mexican take out 5 minutes from our place which was our go-to place when neither of us was in the mood to cook. 
  • Umair having a crazy total of 33 days of vacation.

Not gonna miss:

  • being away from family and friends.
  • fumbling on my phone to translate what I need while standing in the grocery store. 
  • trying to figure out what kind of flour to use to make crepes. Because Germans don't do all-purpose flour. Each kind of flour has a different purpose. Duh, you silly North Americans.  
  • staying at home while Umair worked away long hours, because I couldn't work/didn't have a work permit. 
  • having someone speak to me in a language I don't understand and in return giving them blank stares. I promise I'm otherwise not an unfriendly person! 
  • being the only ones to be asked by cops for passport checks on a train filled with people. Train filled with Germans. Minus the one brown couple. Don't tell me those cops weren't racist punks. 
  • lack of multiculturalism here.
  • Not being able to find a proper salon and spa. Seriously, I had to go through 5 different ones to find about getting eyebrows done because they all had no clue what I was talking about and instead suggested permanent makeup. Um no thanks! Also, have been told by few different girls here that manis and pedis are weird here. So, hello lots and lots of manis and pedis in tdot!
  • asking for something at a store in germany and when words would fail me, using my hands to explain what I want, feeling like a 3 year old. 
There might be more....but I think this is it for now. I started writing this post like 5 days ago, and just getting around to posting it. Moving is no fun at all! And for some very strange reason, we have a lot of stuff. Like... A LOT OF STUFF. It's never ending. I'm not sure how or why. 

I blame it on Umair's eccentric shoe collection. 

PS- I will still continue writing here, about the travels I haven't written about, life in downtown Toronto, and what the future is looking out to be. 

August 26, 2013

A Trip Down the Italian South

It has been a while since I last blogged, life has been busy! Between flying back and forth twice to Canada in less than 2 months, attending a friend´s wedding, sneaking a weekend trip to Amsterdam, my sister´s engagement and losing luggage last week flying back to Munich - this summer has been busy. I feel like days are just passing me by, and I am trying to hold time shut in my fist. But my dismay is much like of a little child´s  of not being able to hold snow in their fists.

Today, I finally have some time to myself. And I feel like talking about my favourite part of Italy! A place we visited back in the first week of April. I know, I know, it was ages ago! I´ve been meaning to blog about Venice and the Amalfi Coast but, well, haven´t.

South of Italy - particularly the Amalfi coast and the little towns around it have always been on my must-visit lists. So when we were planning our week long Italy trip, I just had to squeeze that part in. While Rome and Florence are rich in history, the Amalfi coast is rich rich RICH in beauty.

We stayed in a town called Sorrento on the Amalfi coast, around 1.5 hours drive from Amalfi town. Sorrento is where the SITA buses (buses that run across the Amalfi coast) start. It is a lovely small resort hilly town by the Bay of Naples. However, getting there is a bit....sketchy. The train that gets to Sorrento is a local train and during late at night it feels seedy and a tad bit scary. I had told Umair about all that I had read about this train ride - Umair dismissed it saying it should be okay. And so he said to take the late evening train.

FYI - Umair was a teeny bit more scared than I was. ;)

Once in Sorrento, we realized it was a great decision to make Sorrento our base for South travels. The buses around the coast and ferries to Capri Island were all easily acceissble. And Sorrento is a charming little town.

I am a very nitpicky traveler. I can be nitpicky in general too but it's very apparent while we´re traveling because I always want to be on time, and know exactly what I want to see and do. Not to say I can't be flexible, but I wanna see what I wanna see! :) So, I wanted to get to the SITA bus as early as we possibly could, and sit on the right hand side on the bus. Yes, I had done my research as to which side of the bus gave better views. I had also read much about SITA buses being super crowded that people would  have to stand. And stand, I did not want! So, rising and shining like an early bird, we left to catch our bus. And sure enough, we were the first few ones to get on the bus, and I was able to sit on the right side! I was excited and nervous and didn't really know what to expect - I had heard the buses drove fast and crazy with sharp twists and turns, so I was a little scared too.

You can see how on the edge of the road we were!

Absolutely gorgeous, the bus ride was! And a roller coaster of an experience. Every time the bus would make a sharp turn, which would pretty much be every few seconds as the drive was constantly through the mountains, I´d clutch onto Umair´s hand for dear life, terrified. But I was mostly just captivated by the lovely views and the enthralling ride.

we had driven through all those mountains

We reached Positano, another small town on the coast, build on the hills, and it literally took my breath away. I had seen it in pictures, but seeing it out there is a completely different experience, one that I can't describe in words. Colourful houses stacked up on the hills, stunning Mediterranean landscape....I truly was speechless. Except for every 2 seconds, when I would repeat exactly this:

2 seconds later:
many 2 second intervals later, when I started 'OM-..':
Umair interrupted: Omg did it stop being pretty?! 

approaching Positano by bus

This was on our way back, when we stopped at Positano.
But before you get too envious of me - let me tell you that I did, after 1 hour of being on the bus, stop enjoying the ride. My motion sickness kicked in, and I felt super nauseous and was done with the ride and wanted to literally open the window and jump off the bus. Okay maybe not literally.

Finally we got to Amalfi town, and as always is the case with us and weather, it was rainy and windy! Umair must have seriously pissed off the Gods of weather at some point, because every city we visit, we get rain. And it has to be Umair and not me because....well, I'm the apple of everyone's eye. Shh, don't burst my bubble. 

Amalfi town

There are all apartments around - such wonderful views they wake up to everyday!

This is how the inside of the apartments stacked up on the hills. Must be no fun climbing for those who live at the top!
From Amalfi, we took a bus to a town up on the hill, Ravello. It was a 20 minute curvy, jerky ride up the hill. But thankfully the journey ended before my nausea could kick in. Plus, this view would be worth any kinda motion sickness!

(in mock tone) "OMG WHERE?!"

I'm back in medieval times!!

And then we headed back to Sorrento. But wasn't that simple. It was possibly the worst ride of my life. Going back, we couldn't get a seat, we were standing. And it was crowded. And my motion sickness kicked in full force. I don't remember the last time I felt so sick like I did on that bus ride. We couldn't continue our journey and had to get off halfway through at Positano. We then shared a cab from there with some very chatty Germans. But I stayed shut because I was feeling sick again. It's strange though - because I absolutely love roller coasters and other fast joy rides. I wasn't expecting to actually feel this way on a bus ride. But I suppose roller coasters are a few seconds and the bus was for almost 2 hours. 

Next day we took a ferry to Capri Island. It was as beautiful, if not more, than the Amalfi coast. But that's another post altogether. 

July 9, 2013

Day Trippin' to Adorable Little Bamburg

Are we talking about ANOTHER cute German city?! I know, I know the list is never ending! Germany really is the land of adorableness! 

Couple weekends ago we took a day trip to Bamburg.

It's a small city - we walked from the train station into the city and around, and were done in less than 4 hours. There were flower markets all around as we entered the old town.

It was a lovely Saturday with gorgeous weather - tons of little markets around and streets filled with people.

Canals running through the city, walking along the main bridge with lovely architecture...

The view from the bridge below of the alte rathaus (old city hall) is lovely! And the area is called klein Venedig (mini Venice). As someone who's been to Venice, no, it's nothing like mini Venice, but it's still very charming! And we did get a little lost around the city - much like you do in Venice. We took a complete detour to get to mini Venedig when it was really just 5 minutes from where we were. So maybe it is a klein Venedig after all. 

Here is the view of alte rathaus from the above bridge:

There was a cute little shop around the corner....I waited a good 5 minutes for the lady to walk away so I could get a picture but she wouldn't stop staring at whatever she was staring so hard...I wonder if she was trying to eye-steal something. Should've gone up to tell her it never works. Tried a million times. 

As if Bamburg isn't already adorable enough, there's also a Rose Garden! 

Eating out around the wonderful roses!

But we ate right in the middle of old a little pond, where a little ducky was swimming away all shy because some German boys were flirting with it. After lunch we chilled around the water, video taping myself! No, we're not weird. I mean, yes we are....but this was not one of our weird moments. This was for my best friend's wedding. Umair had to video tape me for a little presentation us bridesmaids put together for her! 

I've seen too many of these burgs in Germany. Rothenburg is definitely my nummer eins! Bamburg might be the 2nd? Or maybe it's Nuremburg. I'm not sure. Too many options! But one thing I know for certain is that I like them burgers burgs! 

June 27, 2013

Quotes from The Alchemist

I had been meaning to read Paulo Coelho's much talked The Alchemist for years now, and finally got around to doing it last week. I liked the book. A lot. But I think I will have to go back and read it again because there are so many layers to the story. 

It's an inspirational tale of pursuing one's dreams. The story is of an Andalusian shepherd who goes in search of his treasure from Spain to Morocco and finally to Egypt. The locations itself had my attention - the story did not even need to be captivating for me to read a book that's got 3 of my top places I want to visit! South of Spain, Morocco and Egypt - I'd read any book based on these countries. An amazing story line and some beautiful quotes are cherry on top. 

I won't even try reviewing it, because the book is too deep and I will not be able to do much justice to it. However, while reading, I marked down some of my favourite quotes from the book, and I feel like the quotes deserve a blog post of their own!

I started out with quotes in pictures, but realized there were too many I like and too lazy I am to go through all that work. So after a few picture ones, I gave up. All pictures are my own. 

"... at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie.” 

“He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dreamed of.” 

“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

"If you pay attention to the present, you can improve on it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings."

"When you make a decision, you are really diving in a strong current that will bring you to places you never dreamed of when you first made that decision."

"...and when each day is the same as next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day the sun rises."

“His way isn't the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we're both in search of our destinies, and I respect him for that."

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” 

"Everything tells me that I am about to make a wrong decision, but making mistakes is just part of life. What does the world want of me? Does it want me to take no risks, to go back to where I came from because I didn’t have the courage to say “yes” to life?”

"What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream."

June 19, 2013

Back to the Middle Ages!

Remember when I talked about how I want to go back in time to the Middle Ages? My wish was granted on my birthday a couple weekends ago. That day, I found myself in a place so magical that made me want to say, 'move over Disney, Rothenburg is boss!'.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a very small medieval town and one of the very few ones that has its walls still remain intact all around the town. It is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany and has an amazing old world feel to it. It is situated along the Romantic Road in Southern Germany. Romantic Road is the name given to a 350km stretch of highway which links a series of picturesque Bavarian towns and cities. It ends at Fussen, where the popular Neuschwanstein Castle is located. 

Sometimes I think Germany and I are meant to be. If I could go back in time, before going to the 13th century, I would make a quick stop into the mid 90s and tell little Naima the following:

Present Naima: Hello little Naima, you adorable but ignorant little girl who has no clue what this world is like.
Little Naima: My mama says I shouldn't speak to strangers.
Present Naima: Well, you don't really follow through that advice later on anyway, so it's okay.
Little Naima: I'm going to go look for my mama.
Present Naima: No wait. I am here to tell you something. Something about princesses and castles and fairy tales!
Little Naima: I like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. 
Present Naima: I know honey, which is why I'm here. You know when people tell you that fairy tales only exist in cartoons and movies? Well, don't believe it! 
Little Naima: *confused puppy eyes*
Present Naima: Yeah, people don't know. When you grow up, you'll see. There's a place called Germany. It will make your dreams come true. It will have magic and castles and maybe toads... 
Little Naima: When I grow up? I want to see it NOW!
Present Naima: I forgot what an impatient little thing you were. It's okay kid, patience.
Little Naima: NO... NOW!
Present Naima: And stubborn. I wonder how my parents dealt with you. Jeez. Anyway kiddo, hang in there...someday you will! I promise! 

While I am at it, might as well go back further in time to maybe the 13th century. 

Oh look! That's the present me standing by the entrance gates of Rothenburg, back in the 13th century of course.

Peak-a-boo! Little kids must have so much fun in this town....maybe I should've brought Little Naima with me. Would that even be possible?!

It's a different world out here. A world like in the storybooks.  Every corner is like a cut out of a story book or a fairy tale.

The arcs, the architecture, everything has the perfect old world charm to it. 

There's so many towers all around!

This has to be my favourite one...
But I'm not sure why people are dressed as if they're from the 21st century. Maybe there's others who're back in time?!! Or maybe history just has it wrong and these guys were well ahead of their times. 

Even the stuff hanging by shops and walls are so cute!

Walking the wall...and peeping through the little windows that open up to the outside world to make sure we are not being attacked!

Below is the main centre of the town - Marktplatz, where the rich patricians, senators and the nobles live. Or lived. Excuse my tenses because I'm not sure myself which tense I belong to at the moment. 

The town is absolutely magical and so cosy.

And there's a well!

Oh look who I spotted, now he fits right into this world. 

image found off google. i didn't take a picture of him from my cam.
It's Rothenburg's Night Watchman! While the people sleep in deep and safe slumber, the watchman guards the town, walking around to make sure no enemy enters. However, even though he is the main security guy of the town with the main job being to protect the Rothenburg citizens, his status is not an honourable one and general public is not a fan. But I like him. He is somewhat funny and tells some interesting stories about Rothenburg. And he's one guy in this town who got his dressing right! 

The night watchman also tells me that back in the day, Rothenburg wasn't so 'romantic and charming'. It usually smelled of filth from thousands of farm animals such as goats, cows, pigs, and geese that roamed the streets. Imagine the contrast from then and now! Let's ignore the absurdity of me talking about then and now when I am currently back in time. 

I can now hear the countdown going on in the back - it's my time machine. I suppose it's time....Goodbye, you wonderful world of magic! And farm animal poop, I suppose. 

End note: I would like to thank Mr. John J. Mcloy, assistant secretary of the War, because it was due to his love for this town, that the U.S. military were banned from bombing Rothenburg during WW2! Because of him, I can now say I have found my favourite place in Germany!