Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hiking Plitvice Lakes

Exploring Croatian beauty continues, but this time we go off the coast and into the interior of the country. Our adventures took us to Plitvice Lakes National Park, an amazing natural wonder in the middle of Croatia. But first...a quick stop for lunch in Opatija on the Kvarner Gulf. 
Opatija
Opatija looks very different from the other places we visited. The architecture, reminiscent of Baroque through Art Nouveau periods, made this town unique from other places in Croatia we visited. We read that Opatija was a popular travel destination for the wealthy in the Hapsburg Empire and Eastern Europe in the 19th century, hence the beautiful buildings and gardens. All this talk about architecture and no pictures to show it! You'll just have to trust me that this town is pretty.  But, we do have nice pictures of the beach. We debated going swimming, but decided to get back in the car and hit the winding road to Plitivce.
Veliki Slap--Big Waterfall at Plitvice
Lower Lakes
Aerial views of the boardwalk trails
Visiting Plitvice Lakes was a unique experience. Clear, bright, green lakes, waterfalls around every corner, hidden caves, and some wildlife. The uniqueness of Plitvice comes from the calcium carbonate in the water. We learned that the calcium carbonate from the limestone creates "tavertine" or rock formations that are forever changing. The tavertine that are constantly changing and taking shape create barriers between the various lakes that help create waterfalls.
Jaap and I hiked through all of the lakes and spent almost the whole day here. There's so much to see. The views were incredible on the upper lakes. (Not to mention, getting away from tourists is always nice). This was a memorable day. We learned a lot about the diversity of Croatia. There's so much more beauty to this country than just the coast!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Croatia-Istria-Rovinj!


Just when I thought life living in Europe with Jaap couldn't get any better, we explore Croatia together. I have been feeling extremely grateful and blessed to be living this life with Jaap. So many beautiful adventures and discoveries that we have had together remind me why I love living in Europe. (This is not only limited to our various vacations and travels, but all the fun adventures and challenges we share together as well).
What an incredible vacation. We just returned from our Croatian holiday where we spent 12 days exploring this beautiful country on the Adriatic. From north to south, we traveled from coastal Istria, to Plitvice Lakes National Park, to urban Split, and along the Dalmatian coast to historic Dubrovnik. What an adventure and amazing memories we made. Lots of sunshine, hot weather, good wine, nice Croatian people, swimming, historic sites, and relaxation. It was a very special trip.
My favorite European travel guru, Rick Steves, recommends Rovinj as a stop in the northern part of Croatia, Istria. Since Rick never lets us down, this is where are journey begins.

Jaap and I decided to have our honeymoon before the wedding. I have always wanted to go to Croatia and since we're getting married in October, a summer holiday to Croatia was planned. Rovinj was the perfect place for us to start this Croatian adventure and romantic getaway.Visiting Rovinj was like finding "little Venice". Italian-esque food & dialect, houses built on water, hot weather, and churches that resemble the bell tower on St. Mark's Square. It's a small town in the Istrian region, very close to Italy. It's quaint, not luxurious, and very romantic.
We spent two fun days exploring Rovinj. Climbed the bell tower at St. Euphemia, strolled down tiny alleyways, rented bikes, and went swimming in the Adriatric. It was a packed two days, but Rovinj is small enough to see everything. We visited the local market full of fresh fruit & vegetables, olive oil, truffles (a local speciality), lavender, and honey (another Croatian speciality). Such delicious aromas. Our simple snack of peaches from the market were the best I have ever eaten.
St. Euphemia
Views from the top of the bell tower at St. Euphemia
Local market
We rewarded ourselves with a nice swim at the beach after a day of sight seeing in the hot sun. Summers are hot here, but the clear blue water of the Adriatic is so inviting and it makes up for the hot weather. In true Dutch fashion, we rented bikes and to rode to the beach. The perfect way to cool down and the perfect opportunity to start my summer book.
Our evenings were spent eating delicious seafood (well...pizza for Jaap), watching the sunset, and enjoying each other's company. We ate at the same restaurant twice because we  liked it so much. Picturesque views of a Rovinj sunset, delicious wine, and affordable prices. The place is called Maestral. If you're ever in Rovinj, go there!

I'm a wine person. I love white wine, always my drink of choice. I fell in love in Istrian wine that's made locally called malvazija. It's light, fruity, and perfect for summer. This particular one was bubbly too. :) I love these action shots of Jaap pouring the wine with the setting sun.
Pouring...
...bubbles!
Sunset view from the restaurant
Valentino Champagne & Cocktail Bar
Both nights we ended our evening with one drink at Valentino Champagne & Cocktail Bar. This is a must-see place in a Rovinj. A classy cocktail bar literally built on the sea. Most of the seating is on the rocks. Everyone gets a cushion, a little rocky spot, and an expensive cocktail menu. Another magic moment with Jaap. I've never seen or experienced anything like this. It was such a unique experience. I enjoyed my cosmopolitan and it almost felt like home with really expensive NYC prices!
Our last night in Rovinj. :( A beautiful sunset and a nice summer breeze. Rovinj is a beautiful place. I'm happy we included a stop in Istria as part of vacation. But...onto other exciting places in Croatia!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

North Sea Jazz 2012

North Sea Jazz 2012

Dear fans of Elena's blog, it is a pleasure for me to contribute a little of my own writing, the blog is named after me after all :)

On Sunday July 9th, Elena and I went to Rotterdam to celebrate the North Sea Jazz (NSJ) festival with our friend Joost Zwijnenburg. He lives in Rotterdam with his beautiful wife Marina and daughters Nora and Suze.  I have been enjoying NSJ with Joost since 1999, and although I wasn't always in the Netherlands over the years, I think I have only missed 2 editions. Anyway, faithful readers of this blog know already that Elena and I frequented some jazz festivals, including NSJ 2011 and Jazz Maastricht. NSJ is a great tradition we'd like to continue for a long time! As always, Joost and Marina are amazing hosts, and we can sleep at their place.

We took the metro to Ahoy, quite convenient due to the threatening rain all day. A busy jazz-lovers schedule was waiting for us there.
Joshua Redman
We started out with some Joshua Redman, tenor sax, and artist in residence of NSJ 2012. Last year we had plenty of time to admire him, however this year we had to hurry to see NYC's favorite crooner, Tony Bennett. An 85 year old gentleman, who still entertains. His songs were short (2 minutes each), but he sang many standards. Also, he did a duet with his daughter Antonia, very sweet. It was amazing to see this artist perform at his old age, we feel very happy to have heard him (you don't know how much longer he will sing after all :p ).

After Tony, we went to see a very weird big band, led by saxophone player David Kweksilber, a guy that could be related to Kramer from Seinfeld. They played some crazy tunes, I guess for real die hard fans, but not our thing ;)
David Kweksilber
It stopped raining, so we enjoyed a few songs outside by Lianne La Havas, a cute Norah Jones type, before Joost spotted a saxophone player in the program he didn't know; Marius Neset. As NSJ offers the great opportunity to discover new musicians, we quickly went to his concert.

This turned out to be the best performance of the day. Marius, a 25 year old Norwegian sax player, was playing with his quartet. It was amazing! He plays like a young Michael Brecker, and really impressed everybody with his skills and musicality. In one piece he started some crazy rhythmical multi-phonics, which continued the whole piece (he can't get tired apparently) and was awesome.

Marius Neset
Next on the list was Jan van Duinkeren's Footprint, a nice hip Jazz ensemble. It was fun to learn that this trumpet player was a former (kind of) classmate of Marina. Also, during the whole days Joost would continuously run into friends, colleagues etc. Nice to see how many people he knows.

Benny Golson
An old legend was next, tenor sax player Benny Golson (83 y), with his Dutch quartet. Benny used to play with Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, and John Coltrane to name a few. His repertory was full of bebop/ hard bob classics, most composed by himself. He liked to introduce his songs with lengthy stories, but when he took more than 20 minutes to introduce "I remember Clifford", we left.... The stories were entertaining at first, but we came for the music you know ;)
The last concert we attended was by Benjamin Herman, a famous Dutch sax player. He had recently composed the soundtrack from Eddie Terstal's Deal, and today he came with a big ensemble (with lots of strings) to perform this soundtrack. I think he spoiled most of the movie's plot by introducing all tracks, but who cares anyway. The songs were great!

Here's an interesting video of Benjamin Herman.
This concert concluded our NSJ 2012 experience, and it was wonderful! Thank you Joost for introducing me to jazz and NSJ!

Btw, can you guess what Joost plays himself?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Weekend Fun, Onze Verjaardagen

Our weekend was jam packed with parties, visitors, and music. Jaap and I have been running non-stop this past week.  From my book club meeting, to dinners out for our birthdays, parties,  visits from the Jansens, and a trip to Rotterdam for North Sea Jazz. We've been busy, but having fun!
The school year officially ended for me on Thursday (always a great feeling), which was followed by a book club meeting complete with tapas and wine with my International Women's Club friends. It was such a great day. Perfect way to kick-off the official start of my summer vacation. Every time I come home from book club I tell Jaap how much I love it. This month we read The Great Gatsby and had one of our best discussions of all time. I look forward to it every month. I'm happy to have this literary and stimulating outlet in Maastricht. It's such a great group of women.
And the weekend just got better from there. Jaap and I celebrate our birthday 5 days apart, so and we gathered up our family & friends for some drinks out on the town... Dutch style. Meaning, we pay for the drinks. Another culture shock for me as an American where you're friends won't let you pay for anything on your birthday. We had a great time with our friends at Café Forum. It was a nice way to say good-bye before we part ways for our summer holidays. 
Jaap's parents, Trees & Jan, came to Maastricht for the party and a weekend at our place. The weather was perfect for walking around town on Saturday. We strolled around the Stadspark, through the Jekerkwartier, and around to the Vrijthof for some lunch on a terras
The Jansen men outside St. Servaas Basiliek 
And since the the weather has been fairly nice this past week (excluding todays' downpour of rain) we had dinner with Trees & Jan out on the balcony. It's become my favorite new place in our apartment. Good weather, good German wine, and good company. Het was gezellig!
As I write this post, Jaap is sitting next to me on the couch writing his first guest post for the blog. He'll be writing about our visit we took to North Sea Jazz on Sunday. I'm looking forward to what Jaapie has to say about "all that jazz"!