Birthdays, Balkans and Bowlines

Michigan | Serbia | Croatia | London |

Well – the last few weeks have been a blur of social activity.  It’s hard to believe that I can be unemployed and still not get to everything on my to-do list!    Speaking of unemployed, just in case I was under any illusion as to my status in life, my latest ever-friendly UK customs guy (read:  they hate my guts and grill me everytime I enter the country) took great glee in scratching out the word “Manager” from my customs form occupation section and writing in large capital red letters “UNEMPLOYED”.  I almost took a photo but I was already pushing my luck!

Post Olympics saw me spending a week on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan (at Pentwater) – and for those of you who doubt that Michigan has wonderful beaches, check the photos below.  My friend Chris was turning 40 and 60 of us (including 22 kids between the ages of 3 and 8!) turned up to help him celebrate.   Spread out across four huge beach-front cottages (and taking over the Clubhouse and Kids Club), we also had our own private chef for the occasion.  Chris (a wine-maker) shipped in 30 cases of his best stuff (buy Pengwine if you see it!).   Four days of beach volleyball, beach walks, sun-bathing, small-town homecoming parades, personalized fireworks (yes – you read that right) and great food, wine and company. You get the picture.   And it was wonderful as always to spend time with great friends. So glad to see you Steph and Sue and to get to spend time with your families.

Next stop was Serbia… I took advantage of a change in my plans to finally make a trip there with my Serbian friend Marijana.  We spent most of our time in Marijana’s charming home city of Novi Sad, about an hour north of Belgrade.  If any of you have heard of the famous Balkan hospitality, I can assure you it is true.   Family and friends alike came out to welcome me in the most genuine way possible – usually involving food!   Although there was initial consternation over my no red meat status, the food was fabulous.  Cheese burak for breakfast, shopska salad (complete with the freshest most flavourful tomatoes you can find), whole bbq’d fish caught that day and eaten riverside by lamplight, spicy fish stew and home made apricot gnocchi (yes – you read right again) at 1.30am.   All washed down with some of the great local Serbian wine.  When the first wine I tried came in a plastic bottle, I was a little suspicious but was soon converted – especially when my winery experience consisted of knocking on unmarked doors and then being ushered into private backyard cellars!

I didn’t even have to leave the beach behind as the Danube in Novi Sad has some of the best in the region.   And a quick tip for the girls that you can get the most amazing and cheap mani/pedi/facials!  For our last night, we headed to Belgrade to tour its eclectic club scene – from Turkish catacombs to secret gardens to bridge lees to river barges, all topped off by one of the best early morning falafel kebabs ever.   A huge thank-you to Marijana and all her friends and family who made me feel so welcome.

I must admit my head hurt a little trying to understand the history and geo-politics of the region.  Quote of the week from Marijana was “it’s not really that complex”.   But it stood me in good stead as I headed to Croatia to learn to sail.  After all the local experiences in Serbia, the tourist swell in Croatia came as quite a shock.  But there’s no denying the beauty of the coastline and the amazing Roman structures and charming villages.

Even better was the crew on our 47 foot yacht…our  Irish instructor, two fun-loving English guys, a hilarious Dutch couple and myself.  The laughs started as soon as we set foot on board and didn’t stop for a second all week.  Well maybe when we encountered unexpected bad weather, 35 knot winds (Force 9) and 5m swells on our first day.   Direct quote from a crew member “Do you think we should call someone?”  But we moved past that and, in between good times (let’s just say the week started with needing a trolley to get our alcohol onboard, involved fender surfing and ended with some late night Mediterranean skinny dipping), we also managed to do some great sailing – I am now officially certified as “Competent Crew”.   The best way to sum up the week is through another direct quote from a crew member “Imagine the most fun you’ve had on vacation and multiply it by 100”!

A much-needed change of pace occurred as I made my way to Dubrovnik (a must-do) to spend a weekend with my friend Alana at Villa Dubrovnik – a fabulous cliff-side hotel, eating at the best seafood restaurants in town.  A perfect segway back into real life.  And back in real real life in London, the wheelchair basketball semi-finals at the Paralympics provided the opportunity to give out two new awards (see The Games for the awards I gave to the “warm-up Olympics”). The “I’m so cool I sit in the friends and family section” award for the Canadian game and the “I love Australia” award for finally getting to cheer on my country (as they beat Poland).  And check out the “yes that is me with a real Olympic gold medalist” photo below.   Thanks Anna!

Next up – India and Bhutan…

– Nikki


Click on any photo to launch a slideshow of the images…