Posts Tagged ‘Swimming’

Swimming: a Picturesque Beach, a Trashy Beach, and a Five-Story Diving Board

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

The morning of July tenth, we drove south along the beautiful Dalmatian coast. Croatia’s impressive Dinaric Alps mountain range runs close to the sea and provides beautiful vistas of rugged peaks and cliffs above gorgeous water. Our path ran through numerous coastal towns of picturesque white villas with clay roofs, ornamental gardens, and roadside cafes. Our enjoyment of the coast was slowed by tourist traffic. Apparently, others had heard of the coast’s fame as a less crowded alternative to the French Riviera. The result seems ironic. We stopped in the early afternoon at what an advertisement proclaimed to be the “Best Beach on the Croatian Riviera.” After a quick lunch, our Ramen noodles and tomatoes attracting the curiosity of some mature Croatian women, we hit the beach for a few hours of relaxation. Swimming in the waters of the Adriatic Sea, wonderfully clear and warm in the Mediterranean climate, soothed our tired bodies. I found the water salty as well, especially up my nose. Each of us was weary, still adjusting to life as one of only two travelers. We were content to read and sleep on the beach of fine pebbles, content to rejuvenate from saying goodbye to our friends, longer stints behind the wheel, more one-on-one time, and our recent stress at the Croatian border.

By-the-way, the Dalmatian name comes from from the Delmatae, an Illyrian tribe that lived along the coast in the 1st millennium B.C. The Dalmatian, “Dalmatinac” in Croatian, is a breed of dog thought to have originated in the area though it’s not known for sure. We didn’t see any Dalmatian dogs. Nevertheless, we continued through a tiny section of Bosnia before stocking up with provisions at a Croatian Lidl, tomato soup, and stopping for the night. We couldn’t understand why cars kept pulling in behind us in the small parking lot at the edge of the mountain until the explosions of fireworks began appearing above a nearby coastal town. Croatian Independence Day? Tardy American Independence Day? The only thing of which we were certain was that we had two borders and roughly 500 km between us and Lezhë, Albania, where we planned to meet our friends, Leon and Naomi Zimmerman at 1700 the next night.

The next morning, we spent some money on vehicle insurance to travel through Montenegro and then some more at the Albanian border about twenty minutes before the Zimmermans were expecting us. Montenegro was beautiful but the roads there and Albania proved disappointingly less than the major thoroughfares we were hoping to find. Our 8-year-old roadmap was alarmingly up-to-date. It was, we reminded ourselves, the Balkans. It took us well over an hour to travel less than 80 kilometers to Lezhë, over some of the sketchiest roads we’ve encountered on this trip. The barely two-lane road, with its occasional patches of pavement, often became three and four lanes as confident locals with significantly better suspension systems then ours passed at unbelievable speeds. They were all Mercedes-Benz vehicles. In fact, I counted. Of the first ten cars we encountered, eight of them were old model Mercedes. Most are stolen or illegally brought into the country, we learned later. Our humble and dirty VW pulled into Lezhë an hour and twenty minutes late when Caleb hailed us with a loud, “Matt Wolfer!” The men of the family, missionaries in Albania, were with Raphael, a man from their church who immediately sized up our car’s condition as needing new shocks. Absolutely, especially after that road.

The two of us and the entire family took off to the beach, an interesting collection of trees, trash, cows (seriously), swimmers, snack shacks, and bunkers. The latter were the remnants of the Communinist era where they were erected around Albania to convince the inhabitants that they were in need of protection. It was a change of pace from swimming in the Croatian Riviera. The boys, Caleb, Micah, Josiah, me, and Dan) rented a petal-boat and set sail for the open sea, braving treacherous waves, partially submerged bunkers, and stories of 2-foot jellyfish before returning to shore. We returned to the family’s small weekend apartment for delicious fajitas and a great, new card game, Bohnanza. We walked one of the town’s two main streets and hit the sack. The next morning Dan discovered someone had attempted grand theft auto, trying to punch out our passengers’ side door lock. No success. We had success, instead, attending the Sunday morning meeting the Zimmermans organize, following their “organic church” concept. After Caleb led worship in Albanian, the group participated in a engaging discussion following Leon’s printed questions about the Samaritan woman’s interaction with Jesus in John 4. It was a refreshing change from the sermon and seemed more beneficial in a society focused on relationships.

After the meeting, we drove an hour to Kruja’s castel where Scanderbeg, the Albanian hero, held off the Ottoman Turk hords, restraining the Muslim expansion from reaching more of Europe. We reenacted such a competition with the boys before appreciating a delicious meal of pizza and salad. It had been so long! We continued on to Tirana where the Zimmermans live most of the week. A enthusiastic game of Scattergories, some time on the Internet, sleep, and we woke to a overwhelming breakfast of pancakes with peach or banana slices with whipped cream or a ham and potato topping, perfect with homemade syrup. We explored the city center with the children and then Dan and I accompanied the two youngest to a nearby swimming pool facility. We spent three hours tossing the football and frisbee into the air above the water for each other to dive after and team keep-away with the frisbee. Then we faced the high-dive boards. It was a structure of diving boards on every floor for five floors. At the end of the fifth board, however, it suddenly became quite death-defying! Naturally, Dan and I had to try pencil-jumping from the fifth floor board. There is nothing like jumping from five stories into water. I started at the fifth story.

That daring feat completed and my ears still stopped with water, we walked home for kebabs and conversation about colleges with Caleb, planning our trip, and romantic relationships (sort of). We then walked the town to a high-rise with a rotating restaurant on its top. Slowly rotating 360 degrees an hour, we enjoyed coffee and Leon’s explanation of the organic church. We must have made it 480 degrees before returning to earth and the Zimmerman’s house. I handily (ha!) beat the two youngest at two more games of Bohnanza over the midnight hour as Naomi cut Dan’s hair. One last night with the incredibly gracious family and we set our sights for Greece.

Drive Baby Drive

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Leaving Madrid wasn’t anything too exciting, it’s a nice city and the roads are fine, although many main roads were still above ground. We drove east toward Italy, passed Barcelona that night and slept outside Avignon, France. The next morning (06/30) we visited Avignon, where the pope once lived and where one of the antipopes made their headquarters (remember when we were in Konstanz? That was the council where they ousted the antipopes, one of whom lived in Avignon). A very nice city, we decided after hiking a little hill to see the city, although the road system was a bit tricky. Then we were on our way again.

We hit the French Riviera to the west of Monaco and traveled along the winding but beautiful roads toward that famous and expensive little town. Monaco was packed with people, as was most of the French Riviera—not surprising on a beautiful June day. We found some parking and visited the port, full of sleek sailboats, ostentatious yachts, pleasant rowboats, a few fishing boats, and dozens of yachties there to do the dirty work for the rich and famous. Along the dockside a Ferrari 360 Spyder and a Porshe Carrera GT found spaces between Bentleys and Mercedes and $600 suits enjoyed debonair lunches with $800 purses at secluded sidewalk cafes.

We felt out of place, and, as a $1M helicopter launched from its seaside berth, we meekly citröened* our aging VW out of the country.

We got on the motorway and took our aim for Italy. We skirted Genova and headed to Torino where we saw the old Olympic Village, a cool bridge, a Latin-American Festival and then found a spot to eat some supper and sleep. The next day, we saw the famous Shroud of Turin (with the image of Jesus on it). Not all of us were convinced and most of us were skeptical and others of us were dubious, but we were glad to have seen the big box that contains the shroud.

The next day we got on a road and began following it figuring this was the best way to navigate since we were in Italy and all roads lead to Rome. It did not, in fact, lead to Rome, instead it led to Pisa so we stopped and saw the tower which was still leaning and the churches and other buildings in the complex were were also leaning or had previously leant. One thing none of us had known previously was how big the complex was that included the leaning tower.

We departed that evening, found a road which did lead to Rome and followed it. The next day we arrived.

* Have we explained this yet? In Bad Pyrmont we visited the VW dealership and were told that if we didn’t repair our leaking hydraulic suspension (for about €100) we would end up bouncing like a Citröen. We decided that was a risk we were willing to take. A month or so later we noticed a pronounced bouncing in the back end and christened the unpredictable and sustained trampoline-like movement “citröening.”

Four dudes and the food

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

This past week I (Seth) have had the joyous privilege of hanging out with Matt, David, and the Daniels (whom I will refer to as “the dudes”). It’s been a blast showing them some of the sites in Fes, and also making a memorable trip to the Sahara with them. I will recall some of the good times we had from my point of view.

About 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, I answered the phone to the familiar sound of Matt’s voice and was informed that they were driving into Fes. I met them at McDonalds, the designated rendezvous point, and directed them to our house. After a rigorous game of Ultimate Frisbee, we spent the evening catching up on the details of their trip, swapping stories, and planning out their schedule for their week in Morocco.

Friday morning, my dad, Jesse, the dudes, and I set off for the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. It was a scorching day to be outside as demonstrated by the distinct sunburn lines displayed on Dan Shenk’s arms and neck by the end of the day. Despite the heat, we had an enjoyable time wandering through and clambering over the heaps of rock and marble. We also had the privilege of running into a professor of archeology at Oxford who was a bottomless pit of information about the ruins and the stories and traditions behind them. After leaving Volubilis we stopped in a small town on the way back to Fes where we ate a scrumptious lunch of sardine sandwiches and pop. We then returned home where we spread out to various couches and beds where we rested our tired bodies.

At 8:00 on Saturday morning Matt and Dan Shenk joined Joel and I and some other Fessie men in our weekly game of basketball. We had some intense games featuring old farts vs. young bucks until the beating sun stole all our energy and we were forced to retire to our house for a filling omelet meal.

On Sunday, which happened to be Father’s Day, we attended the International Church of Fes. Afterwards we drove up a mountain just outside of Fes, where we enjoyed a delicious Father’s Day picnic lunch. Following the picnic, we returned to the house and spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging around and relaxing. That evening we took a walk along Hassan II, the name of the main street in Fes and also of the previous king of Morocco. There was a fun night atmosphere along the street which was packed with hundreds of people milling around and enjoying the cool night air. We enjoyed watching the two large fountains at either end of Hassan II, as well as playing with a bouncy blue balloon bought by my dad from a street vendor. After several hours of strolling along the street we returned home to get a good night of rest for the looming adventures of the next day.

We awoke on Monday morning, and after eating breakfast, all five of us piled into the dudes’ beast of a car and cavorted off towards the Sahara and the adventures it held. We made stellar time on our trip, making only a couple bathroom stops and also a quick dip in a gorgeous lake flanked by mountains. After 6 or 7 hours of driving, we arrived at the Casbah Tizimi Hotel where we left the car for the remainder of the trip out to the desert. We were picked up at the hotel by a 4X4 SUV which was our mode of transport through the rather rough terrain following the hotel. The 4X4 took us out to an Auberge (inn) that sits right on the edge of the swirling mass of sand dunes that is the desert. After a hot afternoon in the car we were all ready to cool off, so we jumped into the sparkling pool at the Auberge and splashed around to our heart’s content.

At six o’clock we were notified that our camels were ready for us, so we toweled off and hopped on our camels for the ride out the encampment where we stayed the night. A little while into the 1 ½ hour trek the wind began to pick up, and soon Matt and I were forced to put our shirts back on because of the vicious sand stinging our bare backs. We eventually reached the campsite, a large circle of cloth tents, in one piece and were escorted to a Berber tent where we were protected from the harsh weather and could sit around and relax while our supper was being prepared. In about an hour, our supper of vegetables and meat was served to us much to the delight of our hungry stomachs. After letting our food and the weather settle, Matt and I decided to try sand boarding using snowboards provided by the camp. We climbed partway up a dune, and started boarding down, but soon discovered that the boards were definitely only for use on snow, judging by the very un-exhilarating speeds at which we traveled down the dune. Tired out by our long day of driving and camel riding, we soon headed for bed. All of us, with the exception of Dan Ziegler, decided to spend to take our bed mats outside of the tent and sleep under the stars (all three that were visible that night) in the cool night air. After being briefly interrupted by a small bout of rain, we dozed off and slept peacefully through the night.

The next morning we were woken up at 6:30 and served a simple breakfast, and then it was back on the camel’s backs. We plodded back to the Auberge in beautiful weather, a contrast to the previous evening’s sandstorm. Matt and I enjoyed trying various stunts on the backs of our camels, including standing up in the saddle without any hands, and somehow managing to not fall off. After arriving back at the Auberge, we all jumped in the pool and then sat in or around the pool waiting for our ride back to the hotel where the car was waiting. At 11 o’clock our ride arrived, and we returned to the hotel, picked up the car, and were on our way back to Fes. We had a fairly uneventful ride home and made good time. We went straight to the Medina upon our arrival in Fes, where the dudes made some final purchases, and we enjoyed chatting with some of the vendors and Medina denizens. Following the Medina, we hit up a DVD store where nearly any DVD is available for 10 Dirhams ($1.24). We then returned home where we ate a late supper and sat around talking for the rest of the evening.