M & P and their trip to the Balkans

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The past few months have been just insane.  Summertime in the Foreign Service appears to kind of be a mixed bag.  Kids are out of school so of course it’s the ideal time to take vacation, some EFMs take the opportunity to take LWOP for the summer to go visit family back home (a move that I am deeply jealous of, because it is brilliant.)  The weather is sunny and warm and our proximity to the coast means a lot of people take long weekends or even weeks at a time.  Awesome, right?  Well…not so much.  Summer is also known as TRANSFER SEASON, which means our dear coworkers are leaving post, newbies are arriving daily, every section is short staffed and the Management Section in particular is up to their ears with make-readies, account transfers, moving desks, shuffling offices, issuing phones and radios, you name it, we’ve done it.  We’ve also been having VIP visitors, the Embassy supported an FPOTUS visit (Former POTUS, natch), we need to finish end-of-the-fiscal-year purchases, I’m still short a staff member in my office (going on over a year now!) and for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to become acting Certifying Officer (yay finances!) and spearheaded a wellness program that I have yet to actually lift a finger on.  Hello overtime!

Sigh.

So if you’ve noticed less activity on my FB page and this blog, that’s why.  Work has been insane, and after pounding away on a keyboard all day I have a hard time wanting to do so when I get home.  I’ve been distracting myself with Netflix marathons, lots of sleeping, and not nearly enough exercise.  Oh, and very few adventures!  I like to spend my weekends exploring new places, trying new things, hitting up exciting restaurants, and things like that.  But honestly I’ve been too exhausted to do things that require much more effort on my part.  The good news is that transfer season is slowly winding down and I’m starting to get my life back.  Yesterday I went to an outdoor market, went to a BBQ at a friends house, went to a bar, and did normal Brenda things.  I’m coming back to my normal life, and am very happy about it.

*****

So, instead of focusing on things that have been stressing me out about my past few months, lets talk about some things that were awesome and fun that happened in MARCH!  Yes, this recap is from march.  #NotSorry.  My sister Melanie and her husband Phil decided to take a truly-whirlwind trip to Europe, using up airline miles and free hotel nights and truly putting my trip planning skills to shame.  They started in Vienna and met up with my cousins Melissa and Aaron, then took a train and headed to Zagreb.  I did the 5 hour drive from Sarajevo and met them at the train station, and we stayed overnight at the Westin in Zagreb, for free because of hotel points.  Impressive.

The next morning I introduced M + P to burek, and we grabbed some breakfast and coffee and made our way to the Plitvice Lakes.  This was definitely the off-season, and we were met with empty parking lots, info booths that weren’t even open, NO food anywhere on the grounds, and half of the lakes closed to the public.  But what we did experience was truly awesome.  The paths were mostly ours, the water was gorgeous green, and we enjoyed wandering around the lakes and seeing some lovely waterfalls.

Amazed

Amazed

My family!

My family!

View from the overhead path

View from the overhead path

Classic Phil pose

Classic Phil pose

After a day at the park we headed across the border into Bosnia to overnight in Bihac (please pronounce it beee-haatch for me) at Hotel Kostelski Buk.  The drive there was, in a word, bonkers.  I made the mistake of listening to my GPS “Karen” and she took me down a scary dirt road, riddled with potholes, under heavy construction, and oh yeah, blocked by about 300 sheep.  After some hysterical laughter and a minor freakout, we headed down a PAVED road to get to the hotel, eat a delicious dinner of local Bosnian cuisine, and cuddled up in the hotel room with a movie for the night.  The next morning we ate the complimentary breakfast and explored the strange little zoo out back before heading back to Sarajevo for a few days.  Mel and Phil loved the gorgeous scenery and we had a much less eventful drive home.

As I headed back to work, Mel and Phil explored Sarajevo with a guided tour, took the opportunity to sleep in, eat way too much, and relax.  Oh and they did all of their laundry.  We celebrated St. Paddys Day at the Brew Pub, I introduced them to my fave restaurants Noovi, Kibe and Dveri, and they introduced ME to a burek shop that Rick Steves recommended. Luckily I got to take a few days off towards the end of the week, and we headed down to Dubrovnik for a few days.  On the way out of town we stopped in Mostar to see the historic bridge and grab a MASSIVE lunch.  And to get cursed by a gypsy or two.  Oh and we found some more freaking livestock blocking the roads.

Pretty people and bridge

Pretty people and bridge

Oh Bosnia

Oh Bosnia

Keeping in the theme of awesome free lodging, somehow the Reinhardt’s got a free night at the Hilton in Dubrovnik, a gorgeous hotel RIGHT outside the Pile gate of old down.  The place was seriously amazing, its normally way out of my price range so if you have any free nights to burn, do it here.  Holy cow.  We walked the walls of old town, got some delicious seafood at Dalmatino, found a cliff-side bar called Buza where we drank beer and wine out of plastic cups…who could ask for more?  In true Brenda-vacation tradition I was sick as a dog the whole time.  Every time.  But I powered through and we had an amazing weekend!

Buza, a cliff-side bar

Buza, a cliff-side bar

Rick Steves never lets me down.  Ever.

Rick Steves never lets me down. Ever.

I love these two!

I love these two!

The awesome Hilton

The awesome Hilton

Enjoying the city walls

Enjoying the city walls

Lovebirds

Lovebirds

We drove home after what felt like WAY too short of a trip because I was headed to Budapest for work training, and the lovebirds were headed to Paris for another free hotel and another country added to their trip.  I had such an amazing time hanging out with two of my favorite people on the planet and continue to be amazed how my loved ones go out of their way to spend their precious vacations with me.

Love you guys, thanks for coming!

Recap of some weekend trips

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So let’s see, I posted about my weekend in Montenegro, since then I’ve done a bunch of different little road trips so instead of posting about each individual one how about I just hit you with the highlights?  The Balkans are seriously awesome, I’m 5 hours away from a whole different world in every direction.  I’ll do separate posts for my biggest recent trips (my R&R at home, Budapest for training, my friends and their visits, etc.  Here’s some weekend recaps in no particular order:

Banja Luka, BiH

We have a branch office in Banja Luka so I needed to head up to the office to check on the phones, radios and general computer systems.  It’s a long, boring drive but happily I got to share the road with some other colleagues.  We settled in, got a KILLER lunch at Vrbas (I think that was the place?) and then headed to the office.  One of my local staff ordered for me, a huge platter of things wrapped in or surrounded by bacon.  The. BOMB.

All the pork!

All the pork!

Attended to a little more Embassy business by supporting a friend while he gave a speech about Volunteerism to a group of excited young people at the American Corner.  Grabbed some dinner at Kazamat and went back to the hotel.  A short and sweet trip, hopefully I can get back up there to explore a little more before this tour is over.  They have more to offer than just awesome pork products.

...like pretty churches!

…like pretty churches!

Belgrade, Serbia

My friend Em and I wanted to explore the nearby city of Belgrade, spent a shocking amount of money on plane tickets (we could have EASILY driven) and picked out a cozy hotel called Hotel Excelsior that just so happened to be hosting a cat show that weekend.  Em is deathly allergic to cats so this was an unhappy surprise, but turns out it was a non-issue and I reported zero cat sightings.  The hotel was great, an awesome location with fantastic breakfast, I’d happily stay there again.

While the local food in Belgrade was certainly delicious, what we really loved was getting a chance to enjoy some other options.  We had Thai at Thai Time, Mexican at Burrito Madre and Brunch at Supermarket.  All amazing.  We explored the beautiful buildings, churches, and museums.  An awesome weekend!

National Assembly Building

National Assembly Building

Enigma machine

Enigma machine

St. Sava Temple

St. Sava Temple

Tesla Museum!

Tesla Museum!

Herzegovina, BiH

The Embassy CLO organized a trip to tour wineries throughout BiH, and happily I got to attend.  We started in Mostar with a lunch at Sadrvan and then made our way from one winery to the next.  Our first stop was Andrija, who was chosen to provide the wine for the upcoming Papal visit to Sarajevo.  I got a bottle of “pope wine” and enjoyed a tour of the winery.  Our next stop was not my favorite, as they are mass-producers and didn’t have that cute rustic feeling the other spots had, so no recap or link necessary.  We spent the night at a nice hotel and walked across the street to Brkic, a gorgeous and very interesting winery.  “The most interesting wine from this cellar is called Mjesečar, or Sleepwalker. It is the first biodynamic wine produced in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the name implies, this Žilavka – a Herzegovinian white wine – is seductive, passionate, and mystical. That personality comes from its maker, Josip Brkić.”  Enjoyed learning about the process!  We stopped briefly (and I do mean briefly) at Medjugorje, where Mary is said to have appeared.  Our final stop was my favorite, Keza.  This wine is featured heavily at one of my favorite local restaurants in Sarajevo so I loved touring the facility and meeting both the owners and the winemakers.  I left with a few bottles and most of my dignity.

Pope Wine!

Pope Wine!

A convenient way to hold booze and food

A convenient way to hold booze and food

Nose in the glass (and a ghost?)

Nose in the glass (and a ghost?)

The Tara River, Montenegro

A small group of us took a weekend to go rafting in Montenegro (well technically right on the border of Montenegro and Bosnia.)  We stayed at Tara Grab in a large bungalow suited for up to 12 people (maybe even more!)  Food was incredible, the river was emerald green, and we enjoyed drinks around a campfire.  The next day we headed out to the rafting, sporting some incredibly sexy wetsuits, life jackets and helmets.  The rapids were a little calmer than they had been a few months prior (when the snow in the mountains is melting) but it was rougher than my last trip on the Neretva in Bosnia.  We had quite a full raft, so I was thrown in the middle (zero complaints here as I didn’t have to paddle.)  We pulled over to the side for a few cliff jumps, stopping at an amazing waterfall for some beer and rajika, and one rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  (It was the 4th after all.)  We got back to the camp, enjoyed more awesome food and a night of card games, bonfires, and catching up with friends.

This is the life, eh?

This is the life, eh?

The next day my car headed out on an adventure, we drove around Durmitor to see some amazing countryside, ended up in Kolasin to visit our favorite restaurant Vodenica (for kacamak!!) and then did an insanely long drive home that evening.  Why we felt like driving 10-12 hours on a random Sunday, who can say?  But it was a fun adventure with my pals anyway.

Take a scary tunnel and you will be rewarded

Take a scary tunnel and you will be rewarded

Happy cows come from Durmitor

Happy cows come from Durmitor

Worth the road trip

Worth the road trip

If you came to visit me and you don’t see your trip here, don’t worry!  I will get to it.  Probably by like, uh…December.  I’m seriously the worst.