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Countdown to Croatia Direct Flights 2017; Plus Must See, Do, Experiences of the Adriatic Coast-Selce-Crikvenica to Rijeka

It’s not too late to get a great deal flying direct to Zagreb with Air Transat airlines now servicing Croatia’s capital Zagreb twice per week in 2017. Visit http://www.airtransat.com to fly to Croatia for around $1000 direct! 20160621_221009(Above, image of Kava Tava, Zagreb, all images photographed by Paula Erskine)

(Smart travellers booked end of season last year, around September, October and took advantage of round trip fairs for around $800 for 2017, by booking in late 2016!) Book as soon as you can for prices that still are very decent for truly direct flights to Zagreb, averaging 8 and a half hours flight from Toronto to Zagreb (although the flights are blocked for 9 to 9 and a half, it is less than that.) The new Zagreb airport will be open in 2017 and many are looking forward to landing at an airport built to accommodate the volume of tourists that have just discovered Croatia, or are introducing their kids and grandkids to the mother land and keeping them connected to familial roots.

Let’s take a photographic journey through the Primorje Region (pronounced Preemor-yeh) of Croatia’s Adriatic coastline and discover great things to see, do, eat…starting with Selce and the Crikvenica villages, and later heading towards Rijeka for a dessert bakery with ancient evidence of a mill displayed from under the floor of the café. We will also enjoy the view of Selce has of Krk island and its treasures. Selce behind the scenes, behind Marsala (Marshala Tita) street has many unique alleys and vignettes that please the artist within.

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Inspired artworks can be found by Marijan Mavric, local Croat artist in this Art Laundry Gallery in the village of Selce. Just walk up the hill of Slavka Jelicica street (left, and behind the Tourist Agency on the Riviera) for a local Croatian artist with real talent. It is my mother’s childhood friend, and without prejudice, has many stories expressed in paint and canvas. A great place for contemplation away from the madding crowd of the Riviera. After doing and visiting Art Laundry, head further up the hill to Marsala Tita on your right (single file as the sidewalk is tiny), take a right then first left and get lost in the alleys of Selce. Find your way back to the sea by walking downhill towards the Adriatic sea and panoramic Riviera.20160926_10502920160926_105900Marijan Mavric, Croatian Artist can sometimes be found in the evenings in Selce, at Art Laundry, or his gallery in Grizane . His landscapes capture his surroundings, resembling in some paintings the island of Krk just across the way, where many Selce residents have simple farms with stony-stacked fences, fig trees, potatoes, tomatoes and many other crops. My mother asked him if he is in front of these places when he actually paints them…he said, “It comes from my head, my imagination, my memories…” Having visited many of these corners of Krk island and other Adriatic gems, I can affirm, these places exist, and they are beautiful.

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Selce has a variety of beaches, you can watch Mihuric Scuba Divers suit up and set out to explore a shipwreck. In the distance past the campground, is the beaches of Slane, Selce, and up the campground steps, follow the forested trail to one of Selce’s many pristine beaches.

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Selce’s beach in front of the Tunar Restaurant shaped like a boat is great for families who want to ease in to shallow waters with kids and eat at Tunar’s restaurant. I enjoyed the generous, protein packed salads grilled with salmon (lots of tasty options at Tunar) and along with Kava Anka (kava means coffee, café) on the other side of Selce, are two of the best places to eat locally home-made ice cream. Both places also do coffee very deliciously, and the combination of them both, is quite decadent. Café Bonino in Selce has delicious food and a beautiful view of the beach and the docked boats of locals, with generous sized pizzas and fried squid (ligne, or calimare in Italian) all on Selce’s Riviera.

Next, we peek at my mother’s childhood home in Selce, a place I got to know and love as a child enjoying home-made morsels cooked by my grandmother and my mother with love oozing straight from their hands to my satisfied belly.

Be sure to buy fresh figs while on the Adriatic coast or you can sneak a fig from many of the houses that enjoy their fruits. Then enjoy the home-made jam and bring it home. You can bring anything back into Canada that does not grow in Canada. But a fresh fig, is mouth watering. Below the fig jam beginnings, potatoes coated with spinach, garlic and lemon, grilled zucchinis, and chufte (breaded meat-burgers), any meat you like, with delectable garden spices and parsley. Don’t forget the sautéed garlic and onions!

Also my mom’s cabbage rolls (sarma, similar to the Romanian style) with slabs of pork juices on top melting into the flavours of mixed meats and rice. I always make my mom add extra water a little at a time to make it soupy for me. I just love that sour-savoury combination. And don’t forget that other than home-made, the best place to eat Croatia’s seafood delicacies such as lignje (leeg-nyeh) or calamari or squid, grilled or fried, is Venus on Selce’s Riviera which is always packed with locals and tourists. Their grilled squid is drizzled in olive oil, parsley, garlic and melt in your mouth. Café Bonino and Rokan across from Tunar have good squid too, but Venus is the best.

Krk island has at least 3 great places to eat fried squid in the village of Vrbnik, including Lucy’s up the hill (very generous portions), the port restaurant, and in the many restaurants for a lunch time trip across the Bay of Kvarner.

My grandmother’s home…also known as my baba…

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Selce’s artistic and quaint corners…

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Savoury cabbage rolls only mama can make…

Fried squid, or grilled, or both…worth a try…if they are too big or too chewy, you got “tultsi” which are cheaper, and not real squid. Many good restaurants do have pictures to explain the menu and accommodate the many world-wide travellers that enjoy the Croatian cuisine. 20160927_192733

Selce’s Riviera…just park that convertible and stroll, swim, eat, explore…

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On the border of Selce and Crikvenica (Selce being the beach town portion with superior beaches and atmosphere, a Zabavna (Fun/Arcade) Park and Crikvenica being a bit more of a city with more variety of shops), right next door, is Duga Mall which houses a café veranda view of a section of Krk Island’s rocky coastline that will take your breath away. You can park underground, go above ground level, and this photo does not do the view justice. The cappuccinos and drinks are good but the view is priceless. It was very hard to leave the serene vista, so we took our time. Duga Mall has a few shops and groceries, but in general, Croatia is very affordable.

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Around the corner from Duga Mall is Café Ognjisce (Ognishchyeh) which has the best, most tasty cevapcici (chevaps, or chevapchichi) I have ever had in the area. My local cousins took me here and we ate these barbecued meat morsels with Ajvar (mild red pepper chutney) with such pleasure. We took the rest, to go. We fed lots of relatives with this platter. It was heaven. Ask your Taxi driver to take you here, then go for coffee at Duga Mall upstairs on the veranda (write down the names, show the driver). Well worth it. Come hungry. You know it’s a good place when you see Construction employees and locals frequenting Croatia’s restaurants, it fits their budget too.

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Another wonderful place to enjoy is the bakery Cukerin in Rijeka (take a bus or get a ride from Selce to Reeyehkah. (also known as Fume, Foohmeh in Italian). Cukerin (comes from the word meaning “sugar”) and has wonderful pastries and coffee (kava). Unique to Cukerin, is that when they constructed it, they discovered evidence of ancient wheat stores below, so they gave the café a glass bottom to enjoy a history of a wheat mill in this very spot. The atmosphere is creative, colourful, and well worth navigating the tricky alleys behind Rijeka’s bustling shopping streets. There are very unique shops hidden behind the main promenade. I personally know the bakers at Cukerin, who bake with lots of love and care. You can taste it! We pre-ordered lemon cookies, cinnamon cookies and chocolate pie to bring to friends back in Canada. The chocolate pie is one of my favourites! And it kept very well.

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Beside Cukerin in the old town part of Rijeka is Konoba Volta, their fried squid was absolutely delicious. It has a very romantic atmosphere with outdoor dining and candlelight, and you can go to Cukerin for dessert afterwards. Then meander the alleys and cobblestone streets of Rijeka and soak up the historical architecture.

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Back in Selce, we explore the back alleys behind the smallest church in front of the tourist agency near Kava Anka (arguably the best coffee and icecream in all of Selce). Be sure to visit behind the church all the alleys of 13th division and beyond for surprisingly charming vignettes.

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Crikvenica (below) has more of a city vibe, but a small one, beware the one way streets when driving! Shopping and groceries and the Crikvenica aquarium as well as the promenade and famous “dog beach” and of course “people” beaches are here. Selce-Crikvenica are often paired together, as Selce is a simple, small town that swells in the summer, and reverts back to small village after October. (Selce also has a “dog beach” for those with pets, in a small area near the campground.)

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Selce sunset, a monument to the Tunar perch that honours the tuna fisherman of yore and is lit up at night, like a stairway to heaven. A great view from most of Selce, but Café Bonino has a nice vibe any time of day, as well as Tunar which is the “tuna boat” restaurant just 100 feet away.

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My mom, a “Selcanka” (Selchanka, person raised in the village of Selce, Croatia) enjoying the spectacular view of Krk’s rocky coast from the café veranda of Duga Mall, on the border of Selce-Crikvenica.

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Selce’s walking promenade is very long with a lively panorama of lights, music, fashion and people watching.

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Vrbnik village on Krk island, accessible by boat from Selce, a great day trip.

Croatia Day Trips

Selce’s kupaliste (Kupah-lishteh) beach, (below) great for families with fine rocks added to ease your way into the Adriatic with a larger shallow end. Tunar’s boat shaped Restaurant in the background.

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Mihuric Scuba diving outfit in Selce is a great place to participate in some interesting dive sites at least one of which is a shipwreck. Ahoy! Hope this gives you enough reasons to visit Selce, Crikvenica, Rijeka and Krk. Explore this blog for many more places to visit in Croatia such as Plitvice Park, Rastoke, Zagreb, Krk Island and more!

Don’t forget to leave yourself at least 24 hours after diving before you fly to decompress from the effects of the dives which can interfere with your body’s ability to adjust to flying’s extreme altitudes of 30 to 40,000 feet.

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Scuba diving was my first foray into meditation…a world of beauty, just beneath the surface. Hope this blog inspires you to visit Croatia, leave a comment, meditate or share.

Thoughtless Peace, Andaman Sea, Thailand

curb appeal

Vrbnik on Krk Island across from Selce, a great day trip

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Croatia Direct Flights from Toronto and Montreal Continue into 2016-2017 with Air Transat

All photos and article by Paula Erskine

One can book an Air Transat ticket for a direct flight to Zagreb, Croatia right now for as early as next year, for example, May 30th, 2017 at a price of approximately $871 Canadian dollars and enjoy the comfort of Air Transat’s Airbus 330 fleet. Visit http://www.airtransat.com to book ahead and take advantage of cheap flights to Croatia flying directly out of Toronto, Canada and Montreal, Canada. Air Transat will likely add a second flight weekly to Zagreb, Croatia as of May 2016. Book early to get the deals! Here are some places to visit in Croatia that may delight your senses.

Below, Plitvicka National Park, known to visitors as “paradise,” is less than 2 hours away from Zagreb and enjoyed year round. Easy hiking, hundreds of waterfalls, 16 turquoise lakes.

Rastoke Village, in Slunj (above), is 1 and a half hours from Zagreb, Croatia on the way to Plitvice Park. Imagine opening your window shutters and overlooking a waterfall below your window, with the sound rushing through your veins and the fresh, cool mist rising up through the atmosphere. In this valley, one is surrounded by trees whose roots run deep, taking a drink from the rivers they call home. Eat at Petro, visit Unique Rastoke park (just that part is closed on tuesdays) and eat there too,  the food is fresh and authentic throughout the village…or stay at many of the apartments built on waterfalls in this fairy tale mill town on pristine waters. Simply unmissable and picturesque, any time of year. A peaceful place. Take advantage of the pleasant off season weather with more elbow room than mid-summer to enjoy Croatia even more.

If you are still on the fence, wondering if Croatia is the right destination for you, let me share with you some favorite places to visit that are off the beaten path. Even within the usual hot spots, there are great tips to be shared on how to get the maximum value and enjoyment from your Croatian vacation. For those who travel yearly to the motherland, direct flights to Croatia this summer of 2016 have been a dream come true. In addition, Zagreb has proven to be a great hub for native travelers of Serbia and Bosnia and bordering nations visiting their families. It is very moving to see people of all these nations “going home” to introduce their children and grandchildren to the beautiful lands, lakes, rivers, mountains and the crystal clear Adriatic Sea which were their playgrounds.

It was especially convenient for the older generations to travel “home” on direct flights, most of them wanting to look out the window or watch the air show rather than the individual movie screens at each seat. The atmosphere on board is one of gratitude, appreciation and social friendliness without borders. Although the blocked time of the flight is 9 and a half hours, depending on head and tail winds, the average flight to Zagreb, Croatia from Toronto on Air Transat’s Airbus 330 consistently took only around 8 hours!

Air Transat flights were packed all summer with added adventurers from Quebec and Greater Toronto Area as well as Americans enjoying the tour packages that were very reasonable and action-packed! Below, Ozujsko Pub in Zagreb, beside the Naive Art Gallery Egg in Upper Town serves tasty meats stuffed with cheese and prosciutto (pershuto), grilled vegetables and chicken shishkebabs wrapped in bacon. Tender, fresh, tasty and very reasonable!

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Vinodol Restaurant, lower town, superb eating, Zagreb Croatia

Vinodol Restaurant (lower town), Zagreb Croatia above was absolutely superb eating, with a wonderful indoor skylit atmosphere and outdoor seating too. Below, Kava Tava (upper town)…find an excuse to eat palacinke (palachinke) the Croatian stuffed crepes, dessert, cappucinos, breakfast or sandwiches. Then,  for all you airline buffs, Kava Tava’s decor boasts passenger seats and airplane tables. 20160621_192442

Zagreb’s Upper Town can be reached by Funicular or stairs and is full of incredible places to eat with no lack of creativity, history, architecture, naive and modern art, fountains museums, bird’s eye views, Lake Jarun, shoe shopping in particular in the lower town, and delicious food everywhere. To say Zagreb is hip would be an understatement.

A hidden gem in Zagreb is MS Grill run by Olga who will cook like only a mother can, and specializes in Bosnian dishes such as cevaps (barbecued chevaps are mixed meats, usually lamb, on home made grilled bread served with kajmak (k-eye-mahk) cream cheese, chicken paprikash, and many stews and famous crepes.The truth is, I ate most of the mouth watering meat before I remembered to take a picture. The secret to all the juicy meats, especially the grilled chicken, is the time they take to marinate it all…and I enjoyed it very much on my flight. The portions are too generous, and the prices are ridiculously cheap! You can find them around the corner from the Sheraton Hotel, Zagreb, with the orange canopy, simple. Olga is open from 7 or 8 am till midnight and serves fresh, home made food, her most evident ingredient, is love, warmth and enthusiasm. I do not leave the restaurant without my goodbye hug.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ms-Grill/1549760118614667 This is the facebook page.

Air Transat flights were packed all summer with added adventurers from Quebec and Greater Toronto Area as well as Americans enjoying the tour packages that were very reasonable and action-packed! See you in Zagreb! Check out my other posts for more great places to visit in Croatia! This is StrossMarte, at the top where the Funicular station stop is. Very artsy, great views, puppet shows, and very whimsical somehow.20160906_18551320160906_18555220160906_185448Sveti Marco Square, tiled roof, straight ahead from the Funicular. Many ways to see the city, including a vintage car ride. Fresh fritule, powdered mini doughnuts sometimes filled with jam at a window in upper town. We drop in on an orchestra practicing amid rows of fountains, it was lovely. The architecture, the old gate to the city, is so interesting. I hope to visit Lake Jarun where locals swim and bike in the near future. Until we meet again, Zagreb, I will enjoy my memories. See you in Croatia until early October of 2016 and May 2017 onward.20160906_18491320160823_18350320160823_19023920160906_18403120160906_18503220160817_19534320160906_19051620160906_18185320160906_21042620160817_191813

Croatia, 24 hours in Action packed Zagreb and the Euro Cup

20160621_192442I just got back from 24 hours in Croatia which was preceded by 24 hours in Paris, where, many Croatians travelled to Paris, then Bordeaux by train, to attend the Euro Cup Games. I had the good fortune to be in Zagreb, Croatia where the streets and squares were adorned with Red and White checkered attire symbolizing the crest of the Croatian flag and the biggest TVs I have ever seen were setup all over the city.20160621_18152120160621_200710

I was lucky to be with an extremely knowledgeable Portugal-qualified soccer (or as they say in Europe) football fan on my crew who gave me the inside knowledge as Croatia played a very exciting game against Spain and ultimately won.

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We watched the game in the streets passing through Ban Jelacic square (pronounced Ban Yelachich). We also watched in the streets from our wooden booths in Kava Tava (Ulica=street, 10000 Ivana Tkalcica pronounced Tkalchicha) and sipped cappucinos to nurse our jet lag back to some semblance of normal. It was an emotional evening and ultimately celebratory and I really enjoyed the energy surrounding us.

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Scenes from Kava Tava Cafe…

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Nothing better than hugging and yelling and crying with strangers that are my brethren once removed. The street of Tkalicica is lined with wonderful outdoor tables, cafes, restaurants to cruise on a pedestrian street in the Upper Town of Zagreb.

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Kava Tava (www.kavatava.com) had many surprises, inside and out, with tea cups imbedded in the wooden booth outdoor seating and passenger airplane seating inside with all kinds of creative touches inside you will want to capture on film and say, you were there! Kava Tava appeals to the flight attendant in all of us, we can’t really put our finger on it, but the creativity of the decor is travel inspired, to say the least.

A very short, action-packed layover, and just a snapshot of Zagreb’s many cool places to be should you find yourself passing through. More exciting places will be added as my layovers in Zagreb progress into the summer.20160621_22064520160621_22191920160621_192546

Currently Air Transat (www.airtransat.com) flies direct to Zagreb, Croatia on your way to the most beautiful coastline and national parks like Plitvice’s turquoise lakes and hundreds of waterfalls which you can view in this blog as well as many wonderful places in the Bay of Kvarner and the island of Krk. See you there! Below, see the hand that beckons.

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The art and numerous hill inspired cafe’s that decorate simple, picturesque allies in Zagreb, Croatia. This is no stuffy, Croatian capital. The hills are alive with the sound of music, art, soccer and bustling evenings lived outdoors all summer long.20160621_20125220160621_19351520160621_20111420160621_19325720160621_19441420160621_222612In the words of Kava Tava Cafe, I could not have said it better, but only, after the Euro Cup Game. 🙂

Costa Rica’s Wild Beaches, Pura Vida, Liberia

Costa Rica indeed has it's version of a whitish sand beach, Playa Coco

Costa Rica’s Remote Beaches, Playa Coco
Photos and article by Paula Erskine
In the case of Costa Rica, pictures speak volumes of the remote or lightly populated nooky beaches. Although renting a car for just one day can be more expensive than longer periods of time, the roads are well signed and beaches easy to get to. Word to the wise and the wordpressians…do not speed and take note of the changing speed limits in Costa Rica. The police will gladly ticket you and are on the lookout for unlawful drivers. We split our truck rental 6 ways and if you have a credit card that covers car insurance on rentals, that will save you from taking insurance from the rental company. Even though we only had a day to spend at Play Flamingo and Playa Coco each, those few hours away from a hotel atmosphere felt like a week in relaxing chill land. Play coco is a place I would definatly return to. It had one main restaurant on the beach where we watched the sunset and listened to their local two piece band. There was also a small resort midway across the street with a pool, but 99% of them were at hotel pool. Which left the beach for just a few of us. As day turn to dusk, people filtered into the reggae bar to enjoy and marvel at this wild, and fairly undisturbed beach and it’s glorious sunset.

Costa Rica's sunset melts into the ocean at Playa Coco.

Costa Rica’s sunset melts into the ocean at Playa Coco.

All photos by Paula Erskine Loco Coco at Play Coco served up delicious food right down to it's coconut ice scream! on the beach dream.

All photos by Paula Erskine
Loco Coco at Play Coco served up delicious food right down to it’s coconut ice scream! on the beach dream.

The food was very innovative, adventurous and delicious at Loco Coco Restaurant in Playa Coco. Some of the best appetizers and meals I have ever had in Costa Rica. They had a two piece band that filled the background to the spectacular Costa Rican sunset. Great tables on the beach, which for some reason, has a whiter cast than other more volcanic brown beaches. Then again, I have never met a beach in Costa Rica I did not like.

The food was very innovative, adventurous and delicious at Loco Coco Restaurant in Playa Coco. Some of the best appetizers and meals I have ever had in Costa Rica. They had a two piece band that filled the background to the spectacular Costa Rican sunset. Great tables on the beach, which for some reason, has a whiter cast than other more volcanic brown beaches. Then again, I have never met a beach in Costa Rica I did not like.

Backlit by the Costa Rican Sunset, Playa Coco

Backlit by the Costa Rican Sunset, Playa Coco. Striped Navy and cream cotton maxi dress from BH department stores, England

Don't let the small waves fool you, they are tall enough to knock you over and spin you around. Be careful on all beaches, the currents are strong. Most of us chose to stay at knee or waist level and battle the waves, and refresh ourselves from the heat of the sun. Lots of fun, laughter and unexpected wave slaps. Just to keep us all in check. Playa Flamingo

Don’t let the small waves fool you, they are tall enough to knock you over and spin you around. Be careful on all beaches, the currents are strong. Most of us chose to stay at knee or waist level and battle the waves, and refresh ourselves from the heat of the sun. Lots of fun, laughter and unexpected wave slaps. Just to keep us all in check. Playa Flamingo

Why Costa Rica is One of My Favourite Places Costa Rica is the destination to rent a car and visit the many simple, unspoiled, nooky beaches all along the coast. It takes just a few hours away from a hotel to feel refreshed, energized, peaceful and gain the feeling that you alone have discovered these beaches with a handful of locals and very few outsiders. Playa Flamingo is very simple, feels very local and was not without it's own quirks. The beach sand had a thin film of water that was an incredible mirror to our own images and the sky. It is so great to be unplugged in paradise. Forget what you know about white sand beaches. Despite the volcanic brown sands, Costa Rica's beaches can really make you feel you have entered another world. The monkeys slept lazily in the trees above, the restaurant owner showcases his parrot pair, and the ocean's breaking waves can really throw you around, so be cautious with the current and stay close to the shore. I would say a picture says a thousand words in the case of Costa Rica, several pictures, a rented car, two wonderful beaches in two days, and keeping the great company of people who are not satisfied with cookie cutter vacations. Costa Rica is still wild, still unspoiled, and unpredictable. Go Wild and carefree, in Costa Rica.

Why Costa Rica is One of My Favourite Places
Costa Rica is the destination to rent a car and visit the many simple, unspoiled, nooky beaches all along the coast. It takes just a few hours away from a hotel to feel refreshed, energized, peaceful and gain the feeling that you alone have discovered these beaches with a handful of locals and very few outsiders. Playa Flamingo is very simple, feels very local and was not without it’s own quirks. The beach sand had a thin film of water that was an incredible mirror to our own images and the sky. It is so great to be unplugged in paradise. Forget what you know about white sand beaches. Despite the volcanic brown sands, Costa Rica’s beaches can really make you feel you have entered another world. The monkeys slept lazily in the trees above, the restaurant owner showcases his parrot pair, and the ocean’s breaking waves can really throw you around, so be cautious with the current and stay close to the shore. I would say a picture says a thousand words in the case of Costa Rica, several pictures, a rented car, two wonderful beaches in two days, and keeping the great company of people who are not satisfied with cookie cutter vacations. Costa Rica is still wild, still unspoiled, and unpredictable. Go Wild and carefree, in Costa Rica.

A simple beach restaurant on Playa Flamingo with it's owners perched to entertain us from above. (A couple of small hotels there, but not necessarily open to public.) Very local and spanish speaking atmosphere throughout, very unpopulated, they way we like it.)

A simple beach restaurant on Playa Flamingo with it’s owners perched to entertain us from above. (A couple of small hotels there, but not necessarily open to public.) Very local and spanish speaking atmosphere throughout, very unpopulated, they way we like it.)

Fascinating to watch these monkeys, some of which woke up long enough to trek along with their young from tree to tree. Playa Flamingo

Fascinating to watch these monkeys, some of which woke up long enough to trek along with their young from tree to tree. Playa Flamingo

Half way through my plate, I can say Playa Flamingo's simplest beach restaurant was tasty, but likely store bought fillets prepared with local, buttery goodness and again, store fries. Then again, some people prefer their fish filleted. We donated some clothes to one of the servers, used clean washrooms, and enjoyed their beachfront location, their pet parrots and onlooking monkey natives in the trees above all of which were keeping us entertained. My sunglasses hiding behind the water bottle would soon be swallowed in a fight with the waves at Playa Coco weeks later. The moment I survived several tumbles in the surf is the moment I said goodbye to my, ahem, "designer," prescription glasses. Several gulps of salt water cured my pining their loss for more than the hour that I searched for them to wash back up onto the beach.

Half way through my plate, I can say Playa Flamingo’s simplest beach restaurant was good, but likely store bought fillets prepared with local, buttery goodness and again, store fries. But we donated some clothes to one of the servers, used clean washrooms, and enjoyed their beachfront location, their pet parrots and onlooking monkey natives in the trees above all of which were keeping us entertained. My sunglasses hiding behind the water bottle would soon be swallowed in a fight with the waves at Playa Coco weeks later. The moment I survived several tumbles in the surf is the moment I said goodbye to my, ahem, “designer,” prescription glasses. Several gulps of salt water cured my pining their loss for more than the hour that I searched for them to wash back up onto the beach.

Other than the 2 hotels, which was lightly populated, we gladly visited this lone restaurant and it's humourous, rest station.

Other than the 2 hotels, which was lightly populated, we gladly visited this lone restaurant and it’s humourous, rest station.

Nature's Art Museum, the road to Playa Flamingo.

Nature’s Art Museum, the road to Playa Flamingo.

Of course, buses take local currency the equivalent of an American dollar. However, many buses later (and about 2 hours in the blazing sun across the road from Liberia's airport, and a spanish speaking qualified person interpreting our urgency to reach the beach the same day we set out, had us pondering the taxi alternative. Two hours in the blazing heat, we started to negotiate with several taxi drivers. Negotiating from in front of the airport is not in the least advantageous to getting a good price. But eventually, we came up with a $40 ride for 4. Time was ticking, and later we found out that the bus was in a major accident and had blocked traffic for miles. On the way back from Playa Flamingo, we saw these spectacular flower bushes. After visiting the local grocery store, we negotiated for a ride home with a Tina Turner type taxi driver. We pretended we only wanted to go to a certain stop half way and take the bus back to the airport from there. But in the darkness, and winding roads, our spanish qualified brother figure managed to negotiate a $25 direct to hotel rate. Which made us realize what a bad deal we got on the way to Playa Flamingo. Buses may be cheap in Costa Rica, but out of many buses that passed us, each one said it's "right behind this one" in vain. So if it the bus never comes, and you don't get to visit this quirky beach, then you can't afford not to take a taxi. Well worth visiting. Be prepared with american dollars and local currency and know the exchange before you set out. The hotel at Playa Flamingo had already sent their deposits to the bank and could not exchange  any money for us so we could eat in the simple beach restaurant. Upon leaving the beach area, we found a grocery store and one of us got it on good authority that there was a bank machine quite a bit down the road. The cabbie gave him a ride, quite a walk, to be nice. Nothing worse than facing a bank machine dispenses millions in local currency and not knowing the exchange. Enough said.

Of course, buses take local currency the equivalent of an American dollar. However, many buses later (and about 2 hours in the blazing sun across the road from Liberia’s airport, and a spanish speaking qualified person interpreting our urgency to reach the beach the same day we set out, had us pondering the taxi alternative. Two hours in the blazing heat, we started to negotiate with several taxi drivers. Negotiating from in front of the airport is not in the least advantageous to getting a good price. But eventually, we came up with a $40 ride for 4. Time was ticking, and later we found out that the bus was in a major accident and had blocked traffic for miles. On the way back from Playa Flamingo, we saw these spectacular flower bushes. After visiting the local grocery store, we negotiated for a ride home with a Tina Turner type taxi driver. We pretended we only wanted to go to a certain stop half way and take the bus back to the airport from there. But in the darkness, and winding roads, our spanish qualified brother figure managed to negotiate a $25 direct to hotel rate. Which made us realize what a bad deal we got on the way to Playa Flamingo. Buses may be cheap in Costa Rica, but out of many buses that passed us, each one said it’s “right behind this one” in vain. So if it the bus never comes, and you don’t get to visit this quirky beach, then you can’t afford not to take a taxi. Well worth visiting. Be prepared with american dollars and local currency and know the exchange before you set out. The hotel at Playa Flamingo had already sent their deposits to the bank and could not exchange any money for us so we could eat in the simple beach restaurant. Upon leaving the beach area, we found a grocery store and one of us got it on good authority that there was a bank machine quite a bit down the road. The cabbie gave him a ride, quite a walk, to be nice. Nothing worse than facing a bank machine dispenses millions in local currency and not knowing the exchange. Enough said.

Reflecting on the beautious Playa Flamingo beach... Seeing the sky mirrored across the glassy sand was magic.

Reflecting on the beautious Playa Flamingo beach… Seeing the sky mirrored across the glassy sand was magic.

all photos Paula Erskine Nothing better than a live sunset.

all photos Paula Erskine
Nothing better than a live sunset.

Single Travellers Can Avoid Single Supplement Fees in These All Inclusive Hotels

Your doing fine, Fidel...revolutionary guerilla fighter Camilo Cienfuegos overlooking Revolution Square, Cuba.

Your doing fine, Fidel…revolutionary guerilla fighter Camilo Cienfuegos overlooking Revolution Square, Cuba.

My father is retired and I am an active flight attendant and can share that trying to book a resort for a single person at an all-inclusive resort is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Most single people end up paying double or a hefty premium on their vacations just because they want to vacay solo. As far as avoiding the single supplement fee, Cuba is your best chance in the Caribbean to get non single supplement all inclusive hotels. Also Cuba has places that are not all inclusive called “Casas” (houses) where you sleep and perhaps walk or bus to the beach. They used to be about $25 a night, not including food.

The three resorts in all of Cuba that came up for my single dad that were minimal fee to none single supplement fee were the following major all inclusive resorts as if this spring 2014:

Husa Cayo Santa Maria
Iberstar Daiquiri Cayo Coco
Blau Costa Verde Holguin

Your welcome, single supplement people, to Cuba’s pristine white sand beaches. They actually value your patronage and realize that just because you are travelling alone, doesn’t mean you should pay double. 

Another tip is to stay at private condos, bed and breakfasts that don’t penalize you. Hotels and Casas can be found off the beaten path, but are sometimes much more rewarding vacations. You get a chance to walk through the town, interact with the locals,and sample local foods and local prices.

Who does he think He is?

Which reminds me of a story of a van full of crew members and a tour we took in a taxi van with a 300lb. driver for $70 U.S. each. Our Spanish speaking crew member translated what became hilarious interactions and observations by our driver. Some Cubans in general rely on “sages” to help them, for example one seemed to cure his son of a bronchial illness. It seems that, because of communism, alot had taken to imported African customs and rituals to put it nicely. As the group of us joked more and more, it seems that I was laughing the loudest to which the driver looked back through his rear view mirror, sweating, and remarked, (translated), “We have a saying in Cuba…that someone who laughs alone, is possessed by the devil.” To which the whole van roared with laughter, mine the loudest. I tried to get my colleague to explain, that everyone was in fact laughing in the van, it’s just that…mine was the hysterical sounding laugh. But I was not laughing alone! To no avail. I made him nervous. Then we proceeded to park and visit a viewpoint in which we could watch Che Guevera’s house from atop a cliff. We self guided ourselves to the hill and the back of an imposing, giant statue with long hair. I was thinking from the back, a bearded character, maybe it is a statue of Che overlooking the house he used to live in. Yet, our driver did not mention the statue, the 20 metre statue on a cliff overlooking a good portion of the city. As we rounded the base of the statue, we were all wondering why our driver had not mentioned it. We all thought it peculiar in proportion to the tiny house of Che which was clearly overshadowed. As we stared up, a few of us realized by our own deductions that this indeed was a statue of Jesus in a communist country. Immediately I tried to understand the driver’s perspective and I said, “Well then, who does he think He is?” Even when we got back to the van, there was clearly an absence of detail about the site. We don’t know what the driver was thinking, but this was an unoffical tour which also did not mention the military shooting ranges we passed on the way there.
The tour continued on to Havana, again self-guided, wandering the streets. Upon our return towards our hotel in Varadero, after a long day, our superstitious driver invited us back to his home. None of us wanted to go, but didn’t want him to pick up on that. So in case he in fact did understand any english whatsoever, we decided to communicate to each other in a language we deemed “non-latin derivatives.” Sure, we used the word “dwelling” instead to refer to his house, and other vocabularly challenging references to discuss excuses to get out of it. Our eastern block colleague, looked at all of us giggling, and said, “I don’t get it,” with a straight face. Maybe that’s because we weren’t playing the game right. In the end, we could not gracefully bow out, and we actually enjoyed the tour of his house the most. The van had a huge garage, with ceramic black and white tile, and a few cloves of garlic hanging randomly. The kitchen was very tiny, with his wife handing him his bag of prescriptions as we came in. The bathroom had no toilet seat, which seems to be a luxury anywhere. And The 1 bedroom had two beds, in which they slept with their kids. The driver mentioned he was so grateful for having a van that could provide an income for his family and took up most of his house. Considering that the average Cuban makes $30 per month, it was pretty humbling. But this taxi driver, just made a a year’s income in one day with a van full of flight attendants. We still talk about how much we laughed to this day.

Who does he think He is?


Money Matters

For your airplane ride, nearly all airlines now only deal with credit cards and absolutely do not accept cash, debit cards, credit/debit cards or gift/visa cards. So please do get a credit card for your airplane journey in case you want something that is not provided onboard. Do not assume your airline is obliged to feed you and accomodate any special food needs you may have. Do not assume you will get your first meal choice onboard if there is a meal at all, as an airplane is NOT a restaurant. DO travel with snacks for your plane ride and DO buy your water after passing through security. You will be cold or hot on the plane and there is nothing you can do about it except buy a blanket or don’t. So may I humbly suggest, layer your clothes, bring that pashmina, wear socks, long pants, closed toe shoes (or socks and sandals), or those nifty convertible pants that turn into shorts. On your return flight you will be dressed for the sun but it gets cold in the plane fast, so DO bring your coat over your arm through security, you will be glad you brought it onboard and can sling it over legs when you realize you are only wearing shorts. Fleece zip up tops work great.

The subject on money in Cuba and other destinations…

Keep in mind, tourists do not have access to Cuban “convertible pesos”, but you can buy and pay for everything in regular Cuban pesos. Be sure to get some pesos if possible before you go. If it’s not possible, try the airport exchange or bank machines when you land as your best bet. You will need cash to convert for emergency funds, in case the ATM or bank machine is acting up at your hotel. You can also convert money at exchange kiosks for example in hotels. The lineups are sometimes long, but don’t expect that you will get a fair price for your dollars. It’s been my experience that we asked what the rate was, went in with our calculator, and checked the math, and the girl was ripping people off by a few dollars each time. The posted exchange rate, which sometimes puts their pesos at par with Canadian currency, is the rate you will get. It is futile to argue the posted exchange rate. I am referring to their “calculations” of that rate, so go in with your calculator and show her the facts if their is a discrepancy. Be polite but firm. Rudeness will get you nowhere. I have seen many drunk people go in to kiosks looking for more cash, perfect victims.

When using a bank machine down south, or anywhere other than your own bank…

-Do not ask for your balance, even if the machine offers. The machine’s brain cannot give you a balance, and then will inexplicably refuses you funds.
-Try your checking and/or your savings account.
-Try another “brand” of bank machine or another bank
-Research the approximate exchange so you don’t take out too much or too little, it will likely ask you how much you want in local funds, I repeat, local funds.

American dollars in Cuba…

Cuba does NOT accept American dollars due to the embargo imposed against them. Bring your calculator and check them astutely for any money exchange, but you have to accept whatever rate they give you, and the commission charged. Don’t expect locals to take credit cards, sometimes hotels won’t either, or they will not be able to process it as everything is a bit outdated in Cuba. Having said that, keep in mind that the average Cuban makes about $30 a month across the country, and the food will be quite reasonable. Always remember to go with the flow, and not try to westernize the countries you are visiting. We are privileged guests, and Cuba is generally one of the safest places to go in the Caribbean.

Image

Stuff your suitcase with unwanted, gently used items, donate them to staff or if you get a chance to interact with locals who do not have access to such luxuries, do that. I once gave 7 dresses to seven ladies to the wait staff of the dining room. Shoes, clothes and any supplies are always appreciated.These make great tips, as do tips in local currency. I learned in Africa, that leaving a tip in local currency is good, but over tipping when a local is making $30 is not a good idea either. Some airlines will give baggage extra baggage allowances for which you must fill out an official form to donate goods. You may have to declare these goods when you come in to the country. The best way is just fill your regular suitcases and go home a little lighter in every way.

footnotes: Thank you to http://www.talkingcuba.wordpress.com/tag/havana/ for the image of Jesus.

Cruise Deals and Cheaper Flight Tips from Flight Attendants

Flight Attendant Style, by Paula Erskine

Flight Attendants Know The Best Deals, photo and article by Paula Erskine


No one will give more of an honest answer than flight attendants when it comes to getting a great travel deal. After polling several of my colleagues,
here are the top tips:

1. If you are a Canadian looking for a deal, know that Americans do not travel on their Thanksgiving weekend, it is a big family holiday, and they like staying home and getting together. Canadians can take advantage as we celebrate Thanksgiving on a different weekend than our Southern neighbors. All you’ll have to do is make your way down to Florida, and flights at that time may be cheap as well out of major airports such as Toronto or even consider cross border flights from Buffalo or Niagara. Americans can likely save on Canadian Thanksgiving holidays, however, in the U.S. it seems to be a much bigger deal and much bigger population that is not travelling around. Maybe some Americans will reconsider travel on these dates, hopefully not too many…Shhhh…let’s keep it our Canadian secret.

2. Are you ok with basic cruising like a pool, but very unusual ports of call? Why not try booking yourself on a cargo ship? Cargo ships have a skeleton staff,can provide the same food they feed their staff, and usually a pool. This is no frills, and if you are not bothered about a particular time frame and can go away sometimes for up to 3-6 months or less. A colleague of mine knows of a couple who bonded with the crew over several months, the husband brought books to read and the wife, her knitting. She ended up knitting sweaters for the crew, and they were treated like family. Remember, if you want to make friends, you have to be someone you’d like to hang out with. The advantage is, ports of call you would never normally see on your average cruise. Plus from what I remember, it was about $6,000 but for about 6 months, now that is cheap living!

3. If you are a flight attendant friend, you can try booking through Dargal which services airline staff and their friends. Usually the flight attendant must accompany you on your vacation, but in very few instances, a deal can be extended to friends. It always depends on the flexibility of the patron and the season. If you are leaving during March break, your price will reflect a high demand. This year, due to a particularly harsh winter, there are very few airline/cruise deals, as everyone is desperate for a sunny escape. In fact, some airlines are adding destinations and multiple flights to their usual sunny destinations just to satisfy the demand.Keep an eye out in the newspapers and online for deals. A travel agent can keep a close watch for you so you don’t have to stress about it. Never give up, but be flexible.But don’t call if your not a flight attendant, identification is required to be faxed and/or letter of employment. You can likely view some of their deals online without a problem. Two years ago, I tried to get a cruise deal for my dad, and due to the single supplement requirement, found that booking a resort was cheaper than booking a cruise, and that was through Expedia.

4. Get yourself an email just for coupons and registrations. Now register for the major cruise lines. You agree to receive their updates and newsletters, and when that deal gets sent out, you will be ready to pounce on it! Disney is a great one to register for. After awhile, you will notice which times of year they start dropping prices. Also, when cruises are not sold out, they will start emailing out the deals. Start a few months early to get an idea of the prices and inclusions. Some cruises do not include airfare, but have no fear, especially if you live near the border of Canada and U.S. I have it on good authority, that when Torontos airports or Hamilton do not provide a compatible flight, Niagara and Buffalo in the U.S. can fill in the deficit. Spirit Airlines, operating out of Niagara Falls airport (if you blink, you might miss it) is a no frills carrier with red-eye hours to Florida. Very unusual flight times in the middle of the night, but you will be relieved at the price. The catch is that although tickets can be as low as $50, you are only allowed one backpack each and you will be charged handsomely for cargo. It is highly recommended that you register for Spirit. This will cost about $9, but it will bring down your cargo fees to dirt cheap. So my colleague paid $50 pp plus $200 for cargo for a family of four to Florida. And cashed in on a deal she got registering for Disney cruises. She shoved as much as she could of the heavy items (ie. shoes) into the backpacks they each carried on board the flight. Parking usually is much cheaper in the U.S. or you can bus it. Perx is also worth registering yourself for great deals and selloffs.

5. Holland America usually hauls in the 50 plus crowd, which is great for some. Several of my colleagues have highly recommended Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, their premium line which offers top notch service, lots of class, and reflects the quality of the crowd. Unfortunately, Carnival and it’s sister Princess have gone downhill in terms of service and quality, and the crowd is a bit more party, and alot more casual. We call this the spring breaker crowd. If you don’t mind that, there might be a deal in there somewhere. This comes from friends that prefer the other types of cruises.

Croatia’s Beaches on Krk Island can be “A Pound of Therapeutic Dirt”

Muddy Escape to Klimno

Add Klimno beach bay area in the Bay of Kvarner on the island of Krk in the Primorje (Preemorryeh) region of Croatia to your list of reasons to visit Croatia with direct flights from Toronto at http://www.airtransat.com.  This beach is unique to even to Krk’s pristine, rocky and crystal clear beaches because of it’s healing mud and you can expect the shallow waters to be much warmer than other bodies of water. In mid-summer, it can feel like a bathtub! If you are like some of my relatives that prefer warmer water and sun for their joints, this is the place to visit and makes a great day trip.

For those planning trips earlier than peak season, around June, or after the madding crowds have thinned in September and October,  guesthouses throughout Croatia are significantly cheaper. Even the beginning of July you can still get good prices on rentals at private residences. September and October, the prices for rooms or “apartmans” drop collectively according to the tourist rates set by the board. Even in mid-season, you generally don’t pay per person, so you can get an apartment for two couples for the equivalent of 75-100 Euros which is very reasonable.

The shallow waters of Klimno are also ideal for families playing a game of “Pitzigeen” with a tiny ball in a wide circle and diving and volleying to keep the ball in the air. The game is a cross between water polo and volleyball, passing on scoring, in lieu of splashing. You can pack a picnic with your taxi boat or load up the car and drive across the bridge near Rijeka and follow the well marked signs and roundabouts.

Klimno can be reached by taxi boat from Selce, boat tour, or by car by crossing the bridge where Rijeka airport is located on the island of Krk. Unlike other pristine rock beaches typical of Croatia’s coast and islands, this area boasts therapeutic mud to cure anything from sports injuries, to arthritic complaints. It is also has great detoxifying properties when applied topically and deep cleans your pores. The sea is a plethora of curing properties in itself, cradling us in it’s elemental salt and minerals and purifying our soul. The mud and sea draw out aches, pains, impurities, negativity, and fill us up with positivity.

I was told to let the black mud dry on the skin in the sun which is part of the healing process. Enter the Adriatic Sea which is quite shallow here, rinse and repeat 2 more times for maximum benefits. Luckily, I had my wonderful Uncle Zvonko take us there by fishing boat.  We laughed and smothered ourselves in mud pits. The mud pits are tricky, so be careful with children and just dip from the shallow puddles of mud to be on the safe side, rather than immersing yourself into the deep pools.

Easily accessible from Selce or Crikvenica with some tours offered which include this beach. Don’t want to do the mass tour thing? Hire your own taxi boat and make a half day of it. A word of warning, you will have a faint, peculiar smell coming off your pores for about 2-3 days.  So, don’t do what I do and go on a lengthy road trip with your cousin…unless you roll your windows down. All that cleansing smells like a pound of dirt!

After our day trip, we parked my Uncle Zvonko’s boat near the red posted pier and ate the best grilled calamari (squid in English, or lignje-Leegnyeh in Croatian) I have ever had. While waiting for our savoury soups, I tried to gently shoo 3 wasps from drinking from my bitter lemon soda pop bottle. The waiter assured me they were domestic wasps with a wink. So I poured bitter lemon into a small dish on the side and slowly lured them away from the table.

Dinner ended with a final dip in the water and the start of the big “Bura”, or big winds where we fought against waves in his teensy boat. Fortunately, halfway to Selce, the waves subsided and the wind picked up as we made our way back to Selce by night. My Uncle is a very experienced fisherman, and we waited a little too long to get back to the mainland. We lived to tell the tale, but there was a lot of praying going on.

It is very important to consult the locals, the fisherman on matters of the winds, the “Bura” and take the car when the occasional weather change happens. The wind can look harmless and be fine to swim in from the shore, but avoid taking kayaks, floating beds or inexperienced boat trips which can carry you away.

To enjoy earth’s gifts, we have to respect that we can never conquer it.  The panoramic view of the village of Selce, our mainland refuge, can be enjoyed incoming from Krk, usually a 45 minute-1 hour ride. We would have strolled the riviera, but headed straight for bed after a day in the healing mud, sea and sun.

There are many more places to visit on Krk Island, like Vrbnik (a village built on cliffs), with a pirate ship and glass bottom boat tour from the charming village of Selce. The town of Krk, Baska (Bashka), and many more villages on Krk are as unique as the changing landscapes shaped by the sea. For more great places to visit in Croatia and around the world, please explore this world loving blog and let me know where you have enjoyed travelling.