Getting out of LA: Split, Croatia

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Today we arrived in Split, and it’s by far my favorite city.   Seaside, breezy weather, great food, entertainment, and a Rivera Boardwalk! It feels like a Mediterranean version of Santa Monica. Similar to Zadar, but bigger and more to do. Zadar feels like a small seaside town, while Split feels like a large seaside city.

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After arrive by bus, we walked to our Airbnb. Our host was amazing, and if you’re in Split, I would definitely recommend staying at his place! He’s a young student; pursuing his college degree- I think he mentioned economics or international business. He was very outgoing, chatted with us about where we were from, politics, and gave us recommendations for places to eat and things to do around Split. Our room was just as pictured- clean and well kept. We shared the bathroom, but both bathrooms were clean and tidy as well. Centrally located, the Airbnb was only a few minutes walk from the city center, so we didn’t have to catch a bus or another mode of transport.

 

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We walked through the city, and into what’s left of the old palace.  We had lunch and dinner there, which was pretty amazing. I’m so glad we were able to avoid smokers today, especially since I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my meal if there’s one nearby.

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In the evening, we walked to the beach, which was beautiful.  Although it was empty for the most part, it was still nice to see.

 

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If you’re looking for an amazing lunch or dinner, be sure to visit Bepa. We had dinner here, I had fish and chips and the boyfriend had a burger.  Simple, well-priced, great venue, and delicious! And the best part, you’ll be seated outside, so you can people watch while you eat. Very European!

 

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Getting out of LA: Zadar, Croatia

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View of the city from the top of a cathedral

After reading through my notes, I’m glad I tried to write throughout my trip. Due to my terrible memory, it would be difficult to remember all of my experiences, and feelings through my trip. I had almost forgotten how uncomfortable I felt, due to all the smoking. But I do distinctly remember how glad I was to return back to LA, where smoking is prohibited inside and around most restaurants.

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Map of the city

I probably lost 2 years of my life just being here for 4 days. The amount of smoke here is incredible.  Literally cannot go anywhere and not be around smokers.  At dinner, we were seated next to a lady that smoked 2 cigarettes before her meal came, and went to buy another pack before she ate.  Behind us, 2 people were smoking and drinking.  To the left, another smoker.  My throat is irritated, my face is irritated, I am irritated.

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It’s currently raining pretty heavily, so we’re waiting it out at McDonald’s.  We walked over to the bus station earlier today to purchase bus tickets from Zadar to Split, and was able to secure a 7am ticket.

 

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Best ice cream in town, from “Donat”!

Zadar is a quaint, seaside city.  I enjoy it much more than Zagreb, probably because Zagreb feels like any other major city and isn’t very unique.  I love the sea, so this place feels nice.  Although it was hot during the day, at night, it’s much more enjoyable. Dinner was a nice experience, as we ate at a local family restaurant (La Familia, highly recommend the spaghetti w/salmon), located in a small alleyway.

 

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It’s how you’d imagine dining in Europe – outside tables and small cafes.  After dinner, we strolled to the “sea organ” and “greeting to the sun” (must do’s in Zadar).  The “sea organ” is natural sounds made by the waves, and served as background music as people sat, chatted and walked along the peninsula. A great way to relax as you end the day in the city.

 

 

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“Sea Organ” during the day

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“Sea Organ” at night

 

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“Greetings to the Sun” solar installation at night

The city is more alive at night, and we later realized we had dinner much too early. It wasn’t until around 9pm that the cafes and restaurants started getting busy.  The streets came alive; people were walking, drinking coffee, and sightseeing.  Towards the end of the night, at People’s Square (the city center), there was a live band that played what we assumed was Croatian music. The lead singer sounded amazing- almost sounds like OST songs from telenovelas!

And still, haven’t seen Starbucks yet. Perhaps there isn’t any here?

 

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Relaxing day for the most part, mainly due to the rain it’s difficult to walk outside without proper gear.  Eventually, we got hungry so braved the rain to grab lunch and had a delicious dish of lasagna.  After lunch, the rest of the day consisted exploring more of the town.  Walking up the cathedral was the highlight of the day- as we were able to see the entire city below: brick red roofs, the Adriatic Sea, and people walking about.

 

Fun Fact: Zadar was voted best European destination for 2016!

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Getting out of LA: Plitvice National Park, Croatia

 

IMG_9571.JPGAt last, one of my most anticipated part of the trip: Plitvice National Park!

We took an early morning bus from Zagreb, and about 2.5 hours later, arrived at the park.  Feeling much better today, thankfully!

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If you look closely, you’ll see those tiny specks on the bridge- those are people! Be prepared to walk slowly..

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Green lakes!

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If you’re looking for a place of solitude and to be one with nature, you’ve come to the right place.  Just kidding.  Even though high tourist season is over, the park is still very crowded.  And by very crowded, it feels like you’re on the 405 on a Thursday afternoon in LA.  Yes, it’s that crowded. Honestly, I was a tad bit disappointed as it was more touristy than I would have imagined, but then again, it’s easy to understand why- the landscape is beautiful here.

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After hiking about halfway, and hopping off the boat, we grabbed ice cream and souvenirs from the gift shop.  Here I am, cooling down with some vanilla/chocolate ice cream 🙂

The lakes are a sight to see- crystal green water glistening in the sun.  Hundreds of fishes swimming along the sides of the boardwalk, along with hundreds of tourists walking along the boardwalk.  Due to time constraints, we weren’t able to hike to upper lakes (which is supposed to offer the best view), but were able to hike around the lower lakes.  At the end of our hike, we rested at a stop and grabbed ice cream to re-fuel.  Tickets for the boat ride was already included with our entrance, so we decided to hop on for the 15-minute cruise.  It wasn’t as exciting as the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, but relaxing enough.  Minus, one of my pet peeve, pushy and inconsiderate tourists pushing and shoving to board the boat.
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And apparently, Europeans love to smoke. Even while hiking at a national park.  It’s interesting to see people be active, yet destroy their bodies (and everyone else’s) by smoking. Even older people smoke, another surprise to me. As an asthmatic, smoking disgusts me. If you’re going to smoke, do it at a destination smoking area. But in Croatia, seems that the entire country is a designated smoking area.

 

 

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Overall, Plitivice is an amazing park that’s accessible for almost everyone, and its family friendly.  The wooden boardwalk around the lakes makes it for an easy strolls, given you have enough time.  And that’s perhaps why it’s Croatia’s number 1 visited site.

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We stayed at Korana Campgrounds, just a few miles outside of the park.We reserved a single private cabin, which included 2 twin beds, a small table w/chair, and a closet. The cabin does have was electricity and outlets to charge your electronics. Although there was a window, it didn’t have a screen, so if you leave your window open at night (we did because it was hot), just be weary about the bugs. Tip: turn off the lights, bugs love lights.

 

 

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It’s quite beautiful- miles of green rolling hills topped with red and brown fallen leaves.  After unpacking, we walked to the on site restaurant and enjoyed a “somewhat” Croatian meal:  cured meat (veal, chicken, pork), veggies, salad and spaghetti to start. I would have immensely enjoyed our bungalows (mini chain) much more if it had a screen to keep out the bugs.  Although I love nature, I will probably never feel comfortable around them.  Minus the bug issue, our stay here was much more pleasant than the Airbnb in Zagreb.

 

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The communal restroom was only a few steps away from the cabins, so easily accessible. Hot showers and flush toilets available.

 

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Breakfast at Plitvice

There are a couple of eateries inside the campground, including a full-service restaurant which we visited for dinner, a café for quick eats, and a bar.  Breakfast was included with our stay, which was a great deal as our night stay.  The continental breakfast included more cured meat, cheeses, fruit, assorted breads, sausage, cereal, pastries, juices and coffee.  Finally feeling somewhat better, I grabbed a cup of “coffee milk” to go with my pastry.  And then a cup of cappuccino. Energy, for the day.

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Bus stop, where we waited to be picked up back to Korana Campground

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Across the road is Entrance 1 to the park

Tips for anyone looking to visit:

  • Arrive as early as possible! It’s very crowded, and you’ll have to wait in a long line to purchase entrance tickets upon arrival.
  • Enter through entrance 1 to purchase ticket and store luggage
    Store extra luggage (free) at entrance 1 near the ticket office
  • Plan for at least one whole day at the park, there’s simple so much to see, and it wouldn’t be enjoyable to rush your experience
  • Lodging: We camped at Korana Campground, which was a couple of miles down the road from the entrance of the park. There’s a bus that picks you up from the campground (although we arrived via a long distance bus directly to the park entrance), and pick up back to Korana is across the street from Entrance 1. The afternoon bus picks up only once, at 5:30pm, so make sure you plan ahead to make to back to the bus station in time. You probably could walk back to the campground, but it might be difficult if it gets dark, and I don’t remember if there’s exactly a walkway.

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Crossing this one off the bucket list!

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Next stop: Zadar!

 

Getting out of LA: Zagreb, Croatia

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We arrived last night, after a 15+ hour flight from LA, including a 6-hour layover in Frankfurt.  I’ve always hated long flights, especially when my ears hurt upon landing.  And by hurt, I mean excruciating ear pain.  Anyone who’s had a cold during a flight probably know how it feels.  Tried my best to stay healthy prior to the trip, but on the plane ride, got sick anyway. Murphy’s Law.  Sick or not, I tried to enjoy the city as best I could.

 

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Zagreb feels part modernized, part trying to catch up to the modern world.  It’s split between old and new Zagreb, which is probably why it feels that way. At city center, there’s cool restaurants, bars, and retail shops- some familiar retailers which as H&M and Adidas (which is very popular here, as opposed to Nike in LA). Other parts of Zagreb feels sketchy- rows and rows of old, broken, apartment buildings with graffiti tagging, broken doors and windows.  Although the streets are paved, they’re run down, broken, and looks like it could use an update.

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We had lunch in the city, at a local restaurant called “Batak”- I really enjoyed my chicken wings, but the bf didn’t enjoy his fish so much.

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Food wise, Croatians love their bread and sweets. Bakeries (Mlinar, a popular bakery in the photo above), cafes, and sandwich shops are sprinkled throughout the city.  Fresh fruits and veggies can be found easily at their farmer’s market.  Croatians also love smoking and drinking.  Which I suppose is similar in most of the world as well.

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We also visited a trick eye museum in the city.  This one wasn’t as fun (perhaps not as elaborate or large as the one in Korea), but we still enjoyed it.

Conveniences such as Wi-Fi aren’t readily available here.  Most Internet access is locked, and if available, you’ll find them at large restaurants in city center or chains such as McDonalds.  I haven’t seen a Starbucks here yet, strangely.  I did see on in Frankfurt, during our layover in the city.  I make it a point to visit Starbucks in every country because it’s interesting to see variations around the world. And plus, free Wi-Fi and Ac. If you ever need either, look for Starbucks.
Yesterday I felt very sick, but today I’m feeling a little better.  Still sneezing and feeling tired, but better.  Tomorrow we’re off to Plitvice National Park, via bus, which will take about 2.5 hours.  Heading out at 6am tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll have a restful night and feel better by the morning.  I’m excited for Plitvice!

 

 

Getting out of LA: 9 Days in Croatia

 

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Last month, I was finally able to check off Europe from my bucket-list! 5 cities in less than 2 weeks seems like a lot (and it was), but there’s so much to see in Croatia that I couldn’t just stay in once place. On this trip, it was just the boyfriend and I. For the most part, it turned out very well.

We’re both planners, so we pre-booked lodgings well in advanced before our trip (mostly Airbnbs, and one luxury apartment).

What our itinerary looked like:

  • Day 1: Zagreb, Croatia
  • Day 2: Zagreb, Croatia
  • Day 3: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
  • Day 4: Zadar, Croatia
  • Day 5: Zadar, Croatia
  • Day 6: Split, Croatia
  • Day 7: Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Day 8: Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Day 9: Zagreb, Croatia

The practical stuff-

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Lodging:

I’d definitely recommend Airbnbs as a lodging option if you’re looking to save money. Our experience has been great with most of our hosts in the country, with the exception of our first night in Zagreb.

Packing:

Pack light! It’s been a goal of mine to try and travel lighter each time I travel, as I think I did pretty well this time around. Being as I over-packed in 2013 for my Japan/Taiwan/Korea trip, I tried packing only the necessities. Since the weather was warm (high 70s-80s + humidity), I was able to bring light clothing which helps w/the weight. I stuff a few pairs of shorts, pants, tees, and a jacket into my 40L backpack, and the rest of my toiletries in my 25L daypack. Our airbnbs in Zadar was on the 5th floor, without elevators, so I was really glad I packed light and didn’t bring my suitcase!

Transportation:

Walking! For the most part, when we’re in a city, we’re walking. For long distance, we booked the long distance buses (usually the day before). For my trip from Dubrovnik back to Zagreb, I booked a flight since it’s quite a distance between those two cities.

Food:

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Carbs all day! Croatian cuisine is similar to Italian, as they like to eat a lot of sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, and sweets. I think the more traditional Croatian cuisine includes more meat such as sausages, beef, and fish.  Oh, and ice cream! Croatians love their sweets, and definitely love ice cream.  We pretty had at least one EVERY day.

Coffee, Coke, Alcohol:

You’ll have no trouble finding coffee, Coca Cola, or alcohol anywhere in Croatia as they consume a lot of all three (while smoking also).

Smoking:

As an asthmatic, I had a hard time in Croatia since smoking is allowed everywhere and they definitely take advantage of it. If you asked what I liked least about my trip, it’s the insane amount of smoking in the country. There was even a man smoking at Plitvice National Park! Haven’t you ever heard of smoky the bear, sir!?

Lowlights:

On the topic of smoking, we’ll Segway into the lowlights of the trip.

  • Smoking – allowed indoors and out. If you dislike smoking, my advice is to keep walking. I had the most difficulty dining (especially dinner), so towards the end of the trip we either ate our meal quickly, or opted for sandwiches so we can take it elsewhere to enjoy.
  • Humidity – some days it was warm, but bearable. Other days, it was humid. it was most humid in the old city of Dubrovnik, while we were walking the walls. Perhaps it was because I was tired from walking + the heat + humidity that day, but I almost quit halfway. Luckily, the bf was able to encourage me to finish.
  • Lack of wi-fi – I’m so used to having wifi here in the states, that I forget these convinces aren’t offered globally. Some restaurants and cafes offer free wifi, so I try to log in whenever I can. The boyfriend has T-Mobile, so he can access data anywhere around the globe. I have Verizon, and cannot. Looks like I’m about to convert to T-Mobile.

Highlights:

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  • Cave Bar More – this unexpected find was definitely a highlight. A natural cave turned into a bar, overlooking the Adriatic sea- how amazing is that? The cave is in Dubrovnik, near our apartment stay.   It’s hard to describe in words how beautiful the scenery is, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
  • Plitvice National Park –Croatia’s most popular tourist destination, and one of the most popular destinations in the world, and for good reason. It’s known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by multiple waterfalls, that extends in a limestone canyon. Very enjoyable for those of all ages, as there is a wooden walkway that weaves throughout the lakes. We even took a boat ride across one of the lakes, and enjoyed an ice cream at the docking station.
  • Split – one of my favorite, if not my favorite part of Croatia. A small coastal town by the Adriatic Sea, Spilt is what you’d imagine a European seaside town to look like.

Ah, I miss Croatia already.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts for more details about each day and region!

 

Getting out of LA: Weekend in Mammoth

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir

 

While we were only able to spend a quick weekend away, it was amazing nonetheless. Last year, the bf and I inadvertently camped at Mammoth, and this year, we brought my sisters and our friends along.

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As we did last year, we stopped by the ever-so-famous Schat Bakkery in Bishop on our way north. If you haven’t been, it’s worthwhile to check out if you’re in the area. Fresh bread, artisan deli sandwiches, and yes, churros! Grab some lunch, and take something for the road.

 

Took us about 5 hours from So Cal to our campsite. After unpacking and setting up camp, it was already late afternoon. Although we didn’t have much time for a long hike, we found a few short trails in the area and were gifted with some amazing views of Twin Lakes.

 

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After exploring the nearby trails, we returned to our site and set up our campfire. Our simple dinner menu included pre-cooked fried chicken (thanks to a nearby Von’s), bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and Nongshim Korean bowl noodles. Bowl noodles are great camping food because it’s simple to cook and you get the warmth from the soup! We even had s’mores at the end of the night- a must for any camping trip J

 

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One of the most interesting parts of the trip was my chat with the ranger who came to check us in. I made some small talk, asking if she volunteered for the park. Surprisingly, she said she wasn’t. She and her husband works at the park for about 6 months, makes about $3k during the time between them both, and spend the other half of the year at their home in Palm Springs. They’re much older, probably retired or semi-retired around 50s or 60s. When it’s hot, they get away from Palm Springs, to the mountains, and when it gets cold, they return to their home. It’s a pretty cool lifestyle, and perhaps I could do something similar in my retirement.

 

Overall, it was a short and sweet trip. However, contrary to most, summer is my least favorite time to camp. I don’t like the heat or bugs, both are present at this time of year. I’m excited for fall (my favorite time of the year), and hope to do some more hiking, camping, and bonding with nature.

 

 

 

Simple Hainan Chicken Rice Recipe

Simple Hainan Chicken Recipe

 

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I’ve been craving Hainan chicken lately, and Savoy Kitchen is a little too far of a drive now. And since I’ve been trying to cook more, I decided to make my own Hanian Chicken Rice earlier this week. The result? Pretty tasty!

Here’s the recipe:

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Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken thigh
  • 5-7 oz brown rice (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 10 cm piece of green onion
  • 2 tsp chicken bouillion (I used Knorr)
  • A few slices of ginger
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Filtered water*

 

 

*I didn’t exactly measured the water, but poured until it was about an inch or so above the rice in the skillet.

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Directions

  1. In a large skillet, add rice, water, and seasonings. Mix until ingredients are well combined.
  2. Add chicken thigh on top of rice, and green onion on top of chicken.
  3. Cover and cook over high heat until boiling.
  4. Lower heat to low, and cook for about 12 minutes.
  5. Turn off heat, and let sit, covered, for another 10 minutes.
  6. Transfer rice into bowl, and mix to your preference.
  7. Slice chicken thigh to one inch pieces, and place on top of rice.
  8. Enjoy!