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Showing posts from 2007

Georgia on my mind (or: we're in Georgia)

Yesterday morning we didn't have any problems with boarding the Atlanta plane in Frankfurt. However, just when the plane started taxiing, freezing rain started to fall and as they didn't want to take any chances, our plane joined a long line of other planes waiting to be de-iced. It took almost two hours before we were finally cleared for takeoff. When we finally arrived in Atlanta, after ten and a half hours, the plane had to wait about twenty minutes in order to get to the gate.

The lines of people waiting for the immigration control were huge, and our line was, of course, the slowest. While we were waiting, there was an officer going around with a dog (called Milo) dressed in a little coat with the sign saying: Protect American Agriculture. And guess what, the dog sniffed our rucksack and didn't want to let go of it. I told the officer that we only had cookies, chocolate, and citrus peels which we forgot to throw in the bin. But without looking into the bag, he took my …

Bill Bryson's Uluru

I've just finished Bill Bryson's terrific travel book 'Down Under' and was stunned at how magically he described what I've tried to explain so many times. Yes, yes, he's the master of the pen, I'm far from it even in my dreams.

Anyway, this is what he says:

".... And then you see it, and you are instantly transfixed. (...) It's not that Uluru is bigger than you had supposed or more perfectly formed or in any way different from the impression you had created in your mind, but the very opposite. It is exactly what you expected it to be. You know this rock. You know it in a way that has nothing to do with calendars and the covers of souvenir books. Your knowledge of this rock is grounded in something much more elemental.

In some odd way that you don't understand and can't begin to articulate an acquaintance with it - a familiarity on an unfamiliar level...."

Thank you, Mr Bryson, for expressing the feelings I had when I first saw Stonehenge a…

England

Up to now I've written only about the US. Being an English teacher I'd love to write about all the English speaking countries I've visited. Beside the US, however, I've been to the UK only - or to be more precise England only.

Back in the 80s, when I was still a student, I spent five weeks with an English family who lived in Norfolk. I had a great opportunity to explore the beautiful countryside of East Anglia and visit the lovely historical cities such as Norwich, Peterborough and Cambridge. I also visited London for the first time and my most memorable experience was the tremendously exciting day spent at Madame Tussaud's.


Later, in the nineties, when we were already able to travel on stand by, thanks to my husband's job, we took our 6 year old with us (and left our 2 year old at home, and after he told his granny that he was going to cry and be real sad, we decided to take the boys with us on every trip - and since then we've done it every time - but one …

Back again

So it's been more than a month since my last post. We had a nice time at the seaside, with friends on Island Krk. The Adriatic was crystal clear and warm, just the way I like it. I had plenty of time for my favourite pastime - reading. Over the past six weeks I read six books in English, one in German and three in Croatian.

We had guests from the US stay with us for several days. Marianne, my Internet penfriend from Georgia, visited us with her daughter. This was their first visit to Croatia and we met for the first time in person. I was a bit worried about it, like, what if we won't get along, what with awkward silences and things like that, but it turned out that we all had a wonderful time. From the first moment I felt like I'd known her for a long time - and not only online. It's amazing, isn't it? And there was so much to talk about, which is no wonder since we're both English teachers.

Before and after

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It's finished, at long last. The photos show what the apartement looked like before and what it looks like today.
Before and after

Rome, Italy

It's been almost a decade since my last visit to Rome. I threw a coin into the beautiful Fontana di Trevi, so I'm sure I'll go there again. Rome is one of those cities that can never become boring, where there's always something new to see or to do.

As a matter of fact, I can't name a city or a country that I wouldn't want to see again. Once bitten by a travel bug, the sheer thought of going places fills me with the feeling of anticipation and excitement. It's the same fluttery feeling I get in the moment the plane leaves the ground.

What to say about Rome that hasn't been said yet? It's unbelievably amazing with a great many of awe-inspiring sights. Every building, every street tells its own story of ages past. And the fountains! Absolutely awesome! It's said that there are about 280 fountains in Rome. My favorite: the three magnificent fountains on Piazza Navona in spring.

Vienna, Austria

My childhood memory of Vienna is rather traumatic: in a park near a castle (Schoenbrunn?) I was accidentally hit by a little Viennese girl because I came too close to her swing. She was all dressed up in a dirndl. Luckily, my successive visits to Vienna have been less aggressive and more pleasant, but other people's clothes are more often than not the focus of my attention.

My country used to be part of the Hapsburg Monarchy, traces of which can be found in the architectural style of Downtown Zagreb and the lingo the Zagreb citizens have been using for more than a century. Since it takes only five hours to get to Vienna, I often take my students on day trips to see the sights and visit an exhibition or two. Because being as rich a city as Vienna is, it'd be a shame to miss such perfect opportunities to see the world famous masterpieces in numerous Viennese museums. We've seen the paintings by Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, the Impressionists from the Paris Musée d'Orsay, …

Minimundus, Austria

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I've just uploaded the photos from Minimundus on Picassa and I still can't believe how my sons have changed over those 4 years. They're no kids anymore, well, at least when I compare the past and present photos of theirs. Fortunately, I don't see so many changes (i.e. wrinkles, kilos, gray hair etc.) on me!!!.... uh, just kidding. However, I'm still young at heart. This is another good thing of being a teacher - the students simply don't let you grow old... or am I kidding myself again????

Minimundus

Anyway, it was back in 2003 when we had a lot of fun in this terrific park called Minimundus, near Klagenfurt in the west of Austria. Around 150 models of the most beautiful buildings, bridges, castles, towers, churches... from all the continents can be admired there. Close attention is paid to each and every detail of the models, set in the masterfully designed landscaping.

The Zagreb St Mark's Church with its unique tiled roof is the only representative of my co…

Zagreb Again

Zagreb is unbearably hot these days. School isn't over yet. We've just started a makeover of our condo. What a summer!

Somehow I don't feel like writing about my trips, especially because I'm not going anywhere this summer. Okay, okay, I'm going to the seaside, to the island of Krk later next month, but I'm not traveling abroad.

People travel so much in the summer that we wouldn't stand a chance to board a plane as stand-by passengers. On the one hand it's good, because all popular destinations are overcrowded at that time, but on the other, I feel sorry for not being able to explore other countries. But I know we'll make up for it in the fall and winter, our travel seasons.

Zagreb, Croatia

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After visiting Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic, we all arrived in Zagreb, our hometown. Perhaps the fact that our American guests had the opportunity to live and work/go to school in the Croatian way and because this is where our home is, i.e. our family and friends, was the reason they liked Zagreb more than Dubrovnik. As they said, Dubrovnik is more traditional, Zagreb is more modern - and besides, they went clubbing, which is actually impossible in the States, being less than 21.

Anyway, they gave presentations to their peers in our school, about their families, school, L.A. and even Mexico, since both kids are Latin American. It was great to learn about how differently we live and yet, how similar we actually are. We learned about the prom and house parties, tostada and cheesecake, electives and detention. They were taken aback to hear that our kids have 17 mandatory classes per year and that they have to read two books a month as their compulsory literature. They liked custa…

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Dubrovnik

Our American guests, one teacher and two students, arrived in Europe on May 29. They flew to Paris where they spent the first three days, then took an overnight train to Florence, stayed there for another two days, then on to Rome from where they flew to Dubrovnik, via Vienna. Four Croatian teachers and two students who were to host their American peers, met them at Dubrovnik Airport. Together we all went to the Youth Hostel, which was excellent, with delicious food, clean rooms and bathrooms (although not en suite) and very helpful and kind staff, especially the cooks.

We walked all over the Old Town of Dubrovnik, both through its incredibly narrow streets (where neighbours can't but know everything about each other, from what you eat for lunch to why you have a row with your husband) and on the ancient walls, whose length is almost 2 km. We went on a boat ride to Lokrum, one of the most beautiful islands in Croatia, where the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic are of t…

School Exchange, Part II

We started making plans for this exchange almost two years ago, when our two students and two teachers returned from the States. The Americans were supposed to come to Croatia last June, but it couldn't be done for different reasons, so we postponed the exchange for this school year. To be honest, this time last year I thought it'd never happen. But we were too stubborn to give up. It took a lot of energy, a lot of planning and fundraising, but they're here right now, and we're all really proud of making it happen. Because, we've seen that it's up to us, the teachers. If we believe in it, if we really want something then we can make it happen. We put a lot of effort into it, but it's worth it. Seeing the students having a great time in learning about the differences and similarities between us, is what inspires us to go on. The world becomes a better place if we instill in each student the importance of understanding and being understood, of respecting an…

About Getting Lost

We don't usually get lost easily in foreign cities, although we still neither own nor rent a GPS. When we travel, we get equipped up front with all the printable maps and most of the time it's enough to find our way.

However, we got totally lost in Los Angeles. Upon arriving at the airport, we rented a car. The person at the rental agency gave us another map and kindly showed us the way to the interstate that was to take us to Las Vegas. He even draw the route on it. So we set off happily in a nice Ford, and soon found ourselves on Century Boulevard, which, I thought, was the right road. But alas, I didn't know that there was also Century Freeway, running parallel to Century Boulevard. We knew that something was wrong when Century Boulevard suddenly disappeared right in front of us. It was somewhere in Watts or Compton. We couldn't believe our eyes and just stopped there not knowing what to do and where to go. People were honking, a lady in a car stopped and tried to he…

Graz, Austria

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Graz

Austria is not very far from Zagreb. It takes us only two hours to get to Graz, my favorite shopping city. We usually go there twice a year, for winter and summer sales. Ironically, I don't buy in 'Austrian' shops. It's the Swedish brands I go for. H&M for clothes and Ikea for furniture and other house goodies. When they finally open up in Croatia, I guess we'll stop going to Graz. However, I'm not sure it will happen soon.

Shopping malls aside, Graz really is a cute city. We spent three days there several years ago and acted like genuine tourists. Amazing, isn't it? All over the world I don't want to look touristy, but in Graz it seems all right, somehow.

The city was given a new touch after being the European Cultural Capital in 2003. The new Kunsthaus, the Lift im Berg and the Murinsel are very modern indeed, but the old part of the city still has its old flare. Schloss Eggenberg is also definitely worth a visit.

Fridge Magnets

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I guess there are lots of people who buy fridge magnets. Do they really keep them on their fridge because this is what their name says? What when the fridge becomes too small? Should I buy a new, bigger fridge?

I'm obsessed with fridge magnets, I really am. It all started in 1998 in Liechtenstein. I was on a school exchange in the Swiss town of Buchs and we went on a half-day trip to Vaduz, the capital of this tiny state of Liechtenstein. I wanted to buy a souvenir and there it was, a simple magnet with the royal palace on it. It remained the only magnet on my fridge for a very short time, because soon after that we returned home from NYC with an array of magnets: the Statue of Liberty, an apple, a yellow cab, a licence plate.



Today, my fridge is almost all covered with magnets that we've bought on our trips. We can't resist buying them. For instance, although we already had two magnets from Munich, we bought three new ones on our recent trip there: one with the Allianz A…

Paris Photos

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More About Paris

Paris is beautiful in spring. Still not overcrowded and the weather is warm enough to spend the whole day on its streets. A trip along the Seine is a terrific way to see the city from a different perspective. We got on one of the Bateaux Mouches and enjoyed the tour. As far as I can remember there was a guide on the boat, but most of the time we listened to a recording on individual handsets. It cost around 10 Euros, but we paid less thanks to the coupons included in the 5-day Paris-Visite-pass that we bought for getting around Paris.

Montmartre is famous for its extraordinary night life, but we didn't go to any of those clubs. Having kids, you simply think of other ways of entertainment. However, Montmartre by day is a bustling area, especially Place du Tertre with many street artists. The Sacre Coeur Basilica is the crown of Montmartre, all in white and so out of this world.

Versailles was a disappointment, though. I expected to see a splendid palace with sumptuous rooms and lav…

Paris, France

We spent Easter 2004 in Paris. The Pierre et Vacances Hotel in Val de Marne was a bit inconveniently situated and rather far from the center, but it was close to Disneyland and almost part of a nice shopping mall. We had a lovely apartment with two rooms and a kitchen, and although the view was not very pleasing we were contented with it. Besides, the public transport ran smoothly most of the time so that it took us less than 30 minutes to reach the center. Except on the first day.

The Croatia Airlines plane landed in the morning so we headed straight for the hotel to check in. We never spend a lot of time in the room, so we immediately got on an RER train and soon we were on top of the Eiffel Tower. Actually, it took us more to reach the lift than to get there from Val de Marne, such were the lines of people, eager to see all the landmarks of Paris from its summit. My son wanted an Eiffel Tower souvenir so we bought one from a street seller. What a ripoff! Later we found those of bett…

Class Trip To France And Italy

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As I've already said in my Segovia and El Escorial post, the seniors go for their never-to-forget class trip at the beginning of their last year at school.

The destinations they choose are mostly Prague, Athens and Barcelona. I've been on 3 such trips so far, to Madrid-Barcelona, Athens and the French Riviera - The Tyrrhenian Sea.


The students on the France/Italy trip thought that the main purpose of such trips is to get drunk as often as possible. I slept for only 12 hours during those 7 days and although I reluctantly remember the details of their awful behavior, this trip was the nicest, regarding everything we saw. Besides, the three (also foreign language) teachers chaperoning the students were of great help to me in dealing with difficult students and problems they caused. Being good friends for more than ten years, we managed to find the positive side of almost any situation and we had a lot of laughs.

From Zagreb we went to Nice in France, from where we took excursions …

Summer vacation on Krk

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Traveling all over the world is what we love immensely, but we never travel in the summer. One reason for it is that we have absolutely no chance of flying on stand by, and we don't want to spend holidays in the airports. The other reason of equal importance is that summer is reserved for my favorite island on the most beautiful sea - the Adriatic. Krk is the second biggest island, and also the greenest one.

We spend the summers in a village situated one mile from the beaches of Malinska. In the village there are only privately-owned houses and a little church. In Malinska, however, there are restaurants, cosy little cafes, churches, galleries, hotels and way too many houses and apartments, which means that it's overcrowded in the summer. Our beach is a bit secluded, but I wonder how long it will be till tourists find it. Yes, I know I'm a tourist too, but still...


Malinska is a typical tourist resort, proud of its more than a century-old touristic history. There are other …

A Glamorous Weekend in New York

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A Glamorous NYC Weekend

My cousin Kristina and I sure had a wonderful time. More about it in the New York City post.

Washington, DC Photos

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Washington, DC

The first thought that crosses one's mind when Washington is mentioned is political capital. However, there's more than politics in this vigorous city. The superb museums of the Smithsonian Institution make it the art capital of the US. What's more, with its many monuments and memorials it is unique, totally unlike all the other American cities I've visited.

Where to start? At the Potomac and then on for the tour of those incredible monuments and memorials, the most well-known being the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. But there are also the Roosevelt Memorial with four open-air rooms, one for each of his terms, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Second World War Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which I liked most because of its unique and poignant beauty. Nineteen statues of soldiers on patrol are quietly moving across a field. It's so real, so much larger than life.

The Mall stretches from t…

Gardaland, Italy

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Gardaland, Italy
I first visited Gardaland, an amusement park in Italy, in 2001. We had just bought a new car and off we went on a ten-day European tour. First we stopped in Salzburg Austria, where we went for a stroll in this charming medieval town, where everything reminds of Mozart. On the same day we arrived in Buchs in the Swiss 'kanton' of St. Gallen. There we stayed at my friend's who I met on a school exchange in 1998. Although we have only managed to organize one exchange, Julia and I have been in touch ever since. After a few days we went on to St Desert, near Dyon in France, where another friend put us up. I met Jean-Paul, an English teacher, at a seminar called 'New technologies in modern language teaching' in Turku, Finland. Easter in this cute French town was an unforgettable experience.
The tour ended in Lasize on Lake Garda, where we didn't have any friends so we stayed in a hotel. We had a great time, the kids enjoyed themselves immensely.

On my s…

Munich, Germany

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Munich, Germany
Last Sunday we hopped on a Croatia Airlines plane and got off in Munich. As early as 8.30 a.m. we were on the S-Bahn that took us to the Dorint Novotel in the vicinity of the old airport or what they now call 'Messestadt'. Although the check in was at 3pm, they had our room ready for us.

The ride to the center took about twenty minutes. From Sendlinger Tor we walked to St. Peter's Church, or as they call it, Alter Peter. We climbed the steep, narrow stairs to the tower from where the view was splendid. Moreover, we happened to be on top at 11, right on time to see the world-famous Glockenspiel. After the show we wanted to try the Bavarian Weißwurst as well as their famous drink called Radler (bier and lemonade) in one of the popular Biergartens. The Viktualienmarkt was close by, but unfortunately nothing was open, so we headed for the Hofbrauhaus, a must for all the tourists. But what a disappointment, since it's just an ordinary restaurant with waiters…

School Connectivity

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The teacher exchange was the last part of a global project, called School Connectivity for Southeast Europe. The project, launched in 2003, was funded by the US Department of State and administered by Catholic Relief Services. It aimed to promote mutual understanding and solidarity among students from different SEE countries and the US. By using information technologies in developing joint projects, the students from different ethnic backgrounds learned the importance of recognizing and overcoming prejudices and stereotypes.


We were also given opportunities to meet each other in person. Several seminars were organised for teachers of the participating schools. In Croatia we met in Karlovac, Topusko and on Brijuni. A national conference for students took place in Porec, but the most important event was the International Conference on Lake Ohrid in the FYR of Macedonia. Around 300 participants, one student and one teacher from each of the 93 participating schools lived and worked togethe…

The US-SEE Teacher Exchange

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Teacher Exchange
Ann's stay with us was the second part of the teacher exchange that was organised as part of the School Connectivity project. In September 2004 all the participating teachers were invited to apply for a three-week visit to an American school. The applicants underwent a competitive selection process and in the end, 18 teachers, two from each of the nine South East European countries spent three weeks in the US. I just couldn't believe when I was told I was one of the two from Croatia.

Schools from Montana, Virginia, Maryland, N. Carolina, Utah and California offered to host us. It didn't matter to me which school I'd be assigned to, the most important was that I was going to lead a life of an American teacher for a while. Still, I had a secret dream, and when Myra sent me her first email, welcoming me to Los Angeles, I was totally overwhelmed. On a scale from 0-10, my level of excitement was 11. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was looking…

New York City

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I’ve been to NYC three times, in April 1998 with my husband, in November 2003 with my cousin who won a glamorous weekend in NYC in a cell phone company contest, and in February 2005 with my family. Every time it was freezing cold with icy winds, but the unfavorable weather conditions couldn’t diminish my love and fascination for this amazing and incomparable city. It has been my city of dreams since I was 13, and although I have doubts today about it still being my number one, there will always be a special place in my heart for NYC. Am I being a bit slushy romantic?

Anyway, my first encounter with the city was also my first step on the American soil. Not knowing anyone in the US, but knowing a lot from movies, I was so frightened of being mugged or killed that I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see if someone was following us. I didn’t even dare to go for a ride on the subway, although I wanted it badly (mostly because of the scenes from the Warriors). Can you imagine that?…

Brijuni, Croatia

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Brijuni

Ann came to Croatia in June and stayed with us for two weeks. This was the second part of the School Connectivity Teacher Exchange. The main purpose of this exchange was to shadow a Croatian teacher, to see what it's like to live and work in Croatia. Ann participated in my school's life completely. She visited classes, talked to the students about schools and life in L.A. and discussed the differences with them.

The first Thursday of her stay was a holiday, so, as it's commonly practiced here, we also had the Friday off and we decided to take Ann on a trip to the most beautiful coast. On the way there we stopped in Karlovac where we were greeted by Marina, one of the heads of 'Domachi', the organization in charge of the project for Croatia. Marina showed us the sights of Karlovac, a city badly damaged in the 1991-1995 war.

We reached Fazana in Istria in the afternoon and got on the boat that was to take us to the biggest island of the Brijuni Archipelago, c…

Beli on Island Cres, Croatia

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Beli, Cres, Croatia
I think the Croatian Adriatic is one of the most beautiful seas in the world. Its crystal clear, warm waters are exactly what I need after the exhausting school year. As soon as my holidays begin I pack my things and move to the seaside. Many would say Dalmatia is far more beautiful than the northern part of the Adriatic, but I don't agree. The northernmost island, Krk is my favourite. It used to be the largest of the 1066 Croatian islands, but recently, due to some new measurements (!) it's been overtaken by Cres, its neighbor.

Beli, a small town on Cres is what I want to write about in this post. We hired a boat, and Captain Ivo took the thirty of us on a day trip. The channel between the two islands is home to dolphins, and the northern part of the island is inhabited by griffon vulture. There is an ecological and educational center that protects animals. It's an NGO called Caput Insulae. Their activites have contributed to saving the vulture from ext…

Amsterdam

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Amsterdam

We visited Amsterdam, the city of bikes, at the beginning of November. We expected it to be cold and wet, but quite to the contrary, the days were warm and sunny. Total change of climate in Europe, but I don't want to write about global warming and all the other ugly things related to it.

Anyway, I'd been told the streets of Amsterdam were dirty and full of dog waste, bikers and tram drivers pay no attention at all to pedestrians, tourists are mugged at every corner, all in all not a very inviting city. How untrue is all of this.

Amsterdam was as clean and safe as any other city, and it is this enormous number of bikes that makes it special. It's amazing to see that everybody in Amsterdam rides a bike, even tourists. All the bikes are old, unappealing and cheap, so if they're stolen, which is not unusual, the owner won't lose a lot of money.

The houses are one of a kind, lining the streets along the water canals that are crossed by more than a thousand brid…

San Diego

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We spent a wonderful week at my friend's who lives with her family in the San Diego area, near Ramona. Tanja's beautiful house was our base to explore Southern California. On the first afternoon we went to La Jolla, an elegant resort, whose beauty made me want to buy a house and move there. Since it was January it was very peaceful. However, I'm told it is overcrowded in the summer, a thing which would make me reconsider my intention to buy a property. But, I have enough time to think about it, until I win the lottery...

San Diego is protected by the Coronado Peninsula. Coronado is famous for its Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888. It has been the setting for many famous movies, Some Like It Hot, being one of them.

We went on a boat trip around the San Diego Bay, an excellent opportunity to see the whole city from the water and to take numerous photos. San Diego Downtown, like many in the US, has been rejuvenated since the 1980s. Horton Plaza, an interestingly designed shopp…

San Diego Photos

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Los Angeles Photos

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Los Angeles

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When I visit foreign countries and stay in hotels, I never get the real feeling of the city and its people. What I get is all touristy stuff. Now I don't want to say that's bad because it isn't, especially today, with numerous Internet forums where toursits nad natives alike tell you what you should or shouldn't do when visiting a new country. However, in my opinion the best way to get to know a new culture is by staying with natives.



This is what we did in L.A. I'm lucky because I have friends in L.A. who wanted us to stay with them for a week. Ann, a history teacher, who I met thanks to an international project between our schools, was so kind to show us what L.A. is really like. Yes, we did see all those touristy things that are a must for all the tourists, but also, we saw more than that.
Ann showed us what to have a family means in the US, how to celebrate New Year's Eve, she took us to see the plants and animals in a tide pool, invited us to a delicious me…

Madame Tussauds Las Vegas Photos

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Las Vegas

Las Vegas was founded in 1905. The first casinos were located in what is now called the Downtown area. Gambling was legalized in 1931 and this paved the way for the city's growth, together with the construction of the Hoover Dam. Built in 1935, this engineering wonder still provides the city with electricity and water.

In the 1980s, glittering megaresorts started to be built on the Strip and Downtown lost its appeal. It bacame a run-down part of the city avoided by tourists. Things have changed lately. A lot of money has ben invested in its revitalization. Fremont Street Experience, an evening light show on a vast metal canopy over the pedestrianized street, is an example of it. Vegas Vic, one of its oldest neon signs can be seen on Fremont Street. Hotels and casinos are closer together, in contrast to the megaresorts on the Strip, where a car will come in handy.

The Strip, or Las Vegas Boulevard, is a six-kilometer long road that runs through the city. All the major resorts are lo…

Las Vegas Photos

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Old Nevada Photos

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Bonnie Springs Old Nevada

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Before leaving home I searched the Internet for free and inexpensive things to do in Las Vegas. That's how the Bonnie Springs Old Nevada web site popped up. And I'm glad it did. It's a replica of an 1880 mining town where shows are staged on weekends and holidays. We visited it on Christmas and for only $10 we saw a melodrama, a gunfight and a hanging, visited a wax museum, saw what school was like in those days, walked through a mine, were imprisoned for a while, were scared by a baby rattle(snake), rode on an old train, my younger son participated in a posse, the older one was held hostage by Mad Dog, the bad guy, and had to sing at gunpoint. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. This was the Wild West we wanted to see.

California - Nevada 2006

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It's not easy to get to California on stand by, because there are not so many flights per day and the planes are mostly overbooked, so we decided to travel on Christmas Day, hoping that most of the passengers would stay at home. However, because Croatia Airlines doesn't fly on Christmas, we had to leave for Frankfurt on Christmas Eve. It was Saturday, and Lufthansa had only one flight to L.A, whereas on Sunday there were flights not only to L.A. but also to San Francisco, Denver and Las Vegas. We were ready to board any of these, as long as we get to the States. With no big hopes we approached the transfer desk at the airport and were told that there might be seats for us on this flight. Although there were fifteen stand by passengers, we all got aboard and landed in LA after 11 hours.

The plan was to go to Las Vegas and spend the first week there. So upon arrival in L.A. we rented a Ford Focus in a Fox office at the airport and immediately got lost. When Century Boulevard sudd…

Segovia and El Escorial, Spain

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Croatian high school students go on one-week school trips before the begin of their last year of school. Most of them choose destinations abroad, and Spain, Greece and the Czech Republic are the most popular.

With my class of 2000 I visited Spain. We flew to Madrid and stayed for four days before we hit the road. On the long way home we saw the unbelievably beautiful fountains of Barcelona, Nice and Monte Carlo. But that's another story.

We had a guide and it was only on my second trip to Madrid with my family that I really got the feeling of the city. With a guide, I always feel like a package, just sit back and listen to what the guide says. However, it was on this trip with my class that I visited Segovia and El Escorial.

Segovia is a beautiful city with plenty of things to see. The Roman Aqueduct is one of the best preserved in the world. Unlike Toledo, the city is pedestrianized, which makes it perfect for leisurely strolls through its medieval streets.

Real Monasterio de San Lo…

Toledo, Spain

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Atocha Railway Station would be an ordinary station, were it not for a beautiful tropical garden inside. It's not big, but it's amazing and rather unusual.
We were told that Renfe trains are the fastest way to get to Toledo. It took us 35 minutes and 13 euros to get there.

Rain couldn't have spoiled the view of this fortified city, with the Alcazar standing proudly for centuries on its highest point. The cathedral with its amazing stained glass windows is worth seeing. The streets of Toledo make you think you've stepped back into the Middle Ages. El Greco Museum, situated in the Jewish Quarter houses many works of art of this outstanding painter, sculptor and architect of Greek origin. One of his masterpieces, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, can be seen in the Church of Santo Tome.

More about Madrid

Many visitors come to Madrid not only because of its sights, but also because of its outstanding art collections in the world's finest museums: the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia Museums. They're huge and a lot of time is needed to enjoy the works of art properly. A little preparation can come in handy as well.

On Plaza de Cibeles there is a fountain with the statue of the goddess Cybele in a chariot pulled by lions, a symbol of the city. There is also the impressive building of the Post Office on this square. On the other side of Paseo del Prado there's another fascinating fountain, Fuente de Neptuno, featuring Neptune on his chariot holding a trident. They used to look at each other, but now they don't. Both of them face the city center.

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is a must see, but I saw it on my previous visit to Madrid, on a class trip in 1999 and this was enough for me. So the boys took the metro to delight in exploring this impressive stadium, le…

Madrid, Spain

We visited Madrid in early November, together with another stand-by family of three. Our Zagreb plane arrived in Frankfurt late so we missed the morning flight to Madrid. Luckily, Lufthansa flies almost every two hours, and although the plane was fully booked, thanks to some no show passengers, we managed to board the plane. After two hours and a bit more, we landed in sunny Madrid.

At the airport we bought a ten-journey ticket for 6 euros. Metro Line 8 is the only line that connects Barajas Airport and Madrid. In order to get to the center you need to change at Mar de Cristal.

Hotel Ingles in Calle Echegaray boasts having Virginia Woolf stay there on her Madrid trips. It’s centrally located and English is spoken there. The latter should be something we take for granted when traveling, but here in Madrid it was rather an exception. I used my poor knowledge of Italian to communicate with people, but it was incredibly difficult. In Museo del Jamon, for example, the waitress gave up on us…

Madrid Photos

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Miami and the Everglades

Downtown Miami is best seen from the elevated track of the Metromover. It's free and easy to use. Small driverless cars run at intervals of 90 seconds during peak hours. The ride on the inner loop, which as the name says, is shorter than the outer one, was a good photo opportunity.
One of the most popular spots in this area is Bayside Market Place with numerous shops, restaurants and bars. The most remarkable of them is Hard Rock Cafe with a huge rotating neon guitar on its roof.
Not far from there is the world's busiest cruise port. Although boat tours are said to be an excellent way to see the city from a different perspective, we didn't go for a ride. Instead, we took a few pics in front of the American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, and headed for the Everglades.

On the way we made a short stop in Little Havana. Because it was 'early' morning, (10-11am) almost everything was closed and there were no people in the streets so we weren't able to feel t…

The Keys

We'd seen the Overseas Highway and the Keys in so many movies that it was a must to go there. From South Beach we took the A1 road, in the hope of seeing most of Miami. However, the traffic was so slow that we decided to take the Florida Turnpike instead. A good decision. We reached the Keys quickly and from then on there was only one road, US1. All along the road you can see small green signs, called mile markers, which tell you the distance from Key West. The Keys begin at MM 113, and MM O is in Key West.

What we wanted to see was the Seven Mile Bridge in the Lower Keys, less than 40 miles from Key West. It wasn't a very busy Monday morning, but still, it took us a long time to reach it. There are two bridges in this location. The older bridge was built in 1912 as part of the Overseas Railroad (once called the Eighth Wonder of the World), but it was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1935. The spectacular Seven Mile Bridge was built in 1982. It can be seen in lots of movies, …

South Beach

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This morning we had a huge and much better all you can eat breakfast at Sizzler. We then hit the road and arrived in South Beach at about 4 pm. On the way there we stopped in Palm Beach and went for a swim. We made a tour of the town in our car and saw many nice old and new buildings, hotels, churches and upscale shops.

We took an instant liking to South Beach. It reminded us of little coastal towns at the Adriatic. After checking in at the Whitelaw we parked the car in a municipal garage on Collins and 13th. You don't need a car in SoBe. The Whitelaw, as the name goes, is white both from the inside and the outside. The lobby is all white with vinyl sofas and so is the furniture in the rooms. Surprisingly, the walls in our room were painted pink.

It was another hot day so we hurried to the beach. The beach is huge with colorful lifeguard huts. And guess who we saw - a Miami Dade police car and two police officers in shorts. They were not on the CSI team, though. What they were doin…

Kennedy Space Center

After a huge all you care to eat breakfast at Ponderosa we headed to Cape Canaveral.
It turned out that the Kennedy Space Center was in fact another theme park. Yet, it was fun to be there where people have been launched into space. It was an unbearably hot day and the air conditioning in the facilities was set to an unbelievably low temperature, which meant that when out, you were boiling and when in, you were freezing, literally.

The bus tour of the center is a good way to see what it is all about. The historic launch of Apollo 8 in the Firing Room Theater is also worth seeing. Actually, you have to run from one show to another because you just want to see everything since you paid a lot for it. Yes, everything is 'astronomically' expensive. All we bought in the souvenir shop were some magnets. But they had some nice things there, really. One of them was a T-shirt with 'I need my space' on.

After validating our tickets we visited The Astronauts Hall of Fame in the neig…

Orlando

The drive to Orlando wasn't exhausting, but we were dead tired because of the 24-hour long day. The Imperial Swan Hotel on S. Kirkman Rd was nothing fancy, but it was clean and quiet. We had a good sleep and didn't suffer from jet lag this time.

Since we'd already spent days and days in theme parks in Paris, L.A. and San Diego, we decided to visit none of the many in the Orlando area. Instead, we went to Downtown Orlando, which was still sleepy on Saturday morning. We took a stroll in Lake Eola Park, where there were only a couple of joggers and a squirrel.

Celebration was our next stop. It's a city with a population of 20,000, created by Disney in an attempt to re-create a small-town atmosphere. It's spotlessly clean, with a little lake in the center. It was amazing to see a sign post that said that alligators were neither to be fed nor harassed. We understood it as a chance to see a gator, so we grabbed a chair and waited for one to appear just in front of us. We …

Florida Photos

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Florida, 2007

Travel broadens the mind, and travelling on stand by even more so. We've been travelling like this for more than a decade, and are now pretty much used to all the stress it can cause. But we don't mind, since seeing new countries and meeting new people can't be spoiled by ordinary things, such as not being able to board the wanted plane and having to run all over the airport to try another airline.
It wasn't any different this time, on January 5th.

During the flight from Zagreb to Frankfurt we still had no idea if we were heading for Miami, Orlando, or a last minute destination on the Balearis or the Canaries. Once bitten by a travel bug, you just don't pay any attention to such 'unimportant' things. What matters is that you are on the road, or, in this case, airborne.

We had booked a room in Orlando, since you can't enter the US without a place to stay. Orlando is way cheaper than Miami, so we reckoned, if we don't make it, we'll lose less money t…