Saturday, September 12, 2015

4 Countries in 48 Hours: Part 2

I awoke in Dubrovnik, slick with perspiration from the sauna slumber, with thoughts of the spiders we probably ate in the middle of the night.

I opened our door to the cool hallway and relished in the frigid air. Then I averted my eyes of the two naked Italians as I went to use the bathroom and drip dry my pee. How long would we all go without toilet paper? Surely Old Croatia had to replenish the supply at some point...I hoped. 

Pee aside, KJ and I had a minibus to find.  Our plan for the day entailed hopping over to Bosnia and sampling many wines with the aid of Monks. Just a regular Sunday. We were to board a white minibus with a driver by the name of Bruno(fitting)that would transport us to the neighboring country of Bosnia. If we could find it, that is.

We made it to what we thought might be the pick up spot with just a minute to spare and looked around.  Were we in the correct place? Just as our worry hit a new level a white mini bus pulled in front of us and out jumped our guide, Marko, clipboard in hand.  He confirmed that this was the minibus to Bosnia, and we climbed aboard. All that was missing were the promises of candy once we got in.

Once inside the gloriously air-conditioned vehicle we breathed a sigh of relief. I closed my eyes for a fleeting moment. About 2 beats later, a face popped through the gap in our seats.

“HELLO!” Our mini bus mates directly in front of us cheered by way of greeting.  They were a young couple from Finland and super duper friendly. I liked them immediately and deemed them the “Friendly Finns.”

As we made our way out of Dubrovnik, we picked up another couple, and a group of four from Brazil. There were 10 of us all together, and we were ready to drink with the Monks. Especially the one lady from Brazil. She was a wildcard that one. I had suspicions that Carol had already started, and it was well before 10am.

We snaked our way out of the city, along the winding roads perched high above the coast. The views were nothing short of impressive. 




Bruno drove as the silent companion, while Marko talked freely with all of us.

Banter bounced around Minibus, and by the time we reached the border everyone was nicely acquainted. Level 1 friendship attained. We stopped at the border, waiting our turn. We made it across, and headed onward to our first stop: the Monastery.

Almost immediately we passed police, who had just pulled someone over.

“They get you right after the border because in Bosnia your driving lights must always be on, but that is not the law in Croatia. They have already pinched me twice for 10 Euro.” Marko informed us. Sneaky. Bruno nodded in agreement. A man of little words.

We drove about a half hour through the Bosnian countryside which was quite nice. Then we arrived at our first stop. Minibus buzzed with excitement at the thought of meeting the wine producing Monks. Or maybe that was just me. Carol looked thirsty.




We were at the Monastery! Before we could go in, KJ and I needed to play a quick game of dress up, according to Marko.   

“We’ll stop at Dolce & Gabbana” he joked. 

The temperature was holding steady at above 95 for what seemed like the 27th day in a row. So, naturally we were pumped to put on more clothing. But whatever would get us to the wine and Monks…I was game. Bring on the cloaks!


He showed us to a small open air Bosnian clothing hut of sorts that was conveniently located right there, and leafed through the hanging threads. He chose matching pink floral scarves for KJ and I. Twins! We weren’t done yet though. We needed to cover our legs too. So, he chose a wool, plaid skirt for KJ who started sweating more at just the sight of it. All she was missing was a set of bagpipes.

And then. THEN…he reached to the back of the Bosnian closet to choose a gem of a leg covering apparatus for yours truly. It was a lovely print, and a tad on the large size. That’s the understatement of the century. It was about 8237648 sizes too big for me and as I slipped my legs in the sea of fabric, Marko looked skeptical.

“That’s all there is” he shrugged.

“I got this.” I said as I held it out comically. I bunched the side up and thankfully had my bestest hair clip with me to hold it in place.  So, became, that time that KJ and I played dress up in Bosnia.


Our Sommelier took us into the Monastery just as a service had finished, and it was silent in there. Go figure. But it was beautiful.






Afterwards we headed down to the wine cellar to look at some big barrels. 




It was time for the main attraction: wine tasting. 

He poured the first round, and said, “there’s all different ways of tasting…Some smell, some gurgle, some spit (Carol gasped), but best way is to just drink it.” 

And with that we cheersed.  A 10:30am cheers. On a Sunday. Not that I’m complaining. Carol certainly wasn’t.


We sampled several wines that were all very good. Then curious Carol asked about another bottle that contained a plant sprig inside. Sommelier said that it was Rosemary and proceeded to pour us all shots of Rosemary Grappa. Shit gets real before 11am in Bosnia.  


I took a sniff.

“It smells like I want to eat bread” I declared. And with that down the hatch it went.

Now that we were all a little loosey goosey, our group of ten increasingly became good buddies. Level 2 friendship attained.

Marko inquired, “Ready for action?” and we were. 

KJ and I de-robed our skirts and jumped aboard Minibus for our next stop: a little stroll through the town of Trebinje.



Guide Marko led us through the street, and into the town square. He explained that the square was like the old fashioned internet. If someone wanted to sell their car they just have to mention it around these parts, and with word of mouth one hour later, people will find you asking, “I hear you sell the car?” BAM. Sold.

Bosnian craigslist, anyone?

We tasted honey made by a local who had a stand set up that was just lovely, albeit riddled with bees. 



They swarmed around us as he talked about her honey but all I cared about were the multitude of bees surrounding us. I was glad when we moved on.  Especially when it was to another winery.

The next stop: Andelic Wine Cellar. Marko mentioned there would be snacks there, which we all probably needed at this point. Honey wasn't going to cut it.


We toured through the barrels again and made our way up to the patio where a nice little set up awaited our group. 



KJ and I were split up to opposite ends of the table and chatted with our new chums. I found myself next to Carol, which I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified by. 

We were also joined by some un-welcomed guests, of the fly variety. One landed in our communal giant leftovers dumping glass (pretty sure that's the technical term) and Carol let everyone in the next town over know. Not that she was using said leftovers dumping glass on account that she didn't have any leftovers...just saying.

Carol wasted no time with fancy swirling or swishing. She fully employed the "Down the hole" method of wine tasting.

We snacked on meats, cheese, and bread to soak up the next five wines we tasted. Which, by the way, were all pretty damn delicious. I chatted more with the Friendly Finns, who were seated right across from my new BFF Carol and I. We talked about New York, and girl Finn casually mentioned she had spent four years living Upstate, in Lake George, literally right near where I'm from. Small world. Now I really had so many new besties. Level 3 friendship attained.

We left the winery arm in arm, skipping and singing songs about Lake George. Level 26 friendship attained.

Just kidding.

We actually all ran to the car since the sky turned ominous and promised some sort of storm in the immediate future. Minibus took us to our next stop: lunch. Now I use the term "lunch" loosely, because I'm not sure that I've ever eaten this much for a lunch ever. EVER. 

This coming from a girl who spent a summer in Italy.

Anyways, it was lunch time and Carol needed some meat to soak up all that wine. Oh, and she needed more wine too. To soak up the meat.

We arrived at Studenac restaurant and found ourselves in an oasis by the river. It was so delightful, and the storm hadn't even unleashed the Kraken yet. Maybe we were in luck with the weather.




We sat at a table on the patio, next to the ponds that housed the trout. Until someone ordered them for lunch. Most of us had ordered the meat option, which wasn't specified, but we knew it was cooked a particularly special way called "under the bell" that was special to the region. 

Boy Finn was the lone fish request. I wondered for a minute if he would get to pick and pluck his own fish from the reserves next to us...when Carol interrupted this thought, as well as the now very vivid image of the plucking occurring. 

"ONE OF THE FISH IS DEAD." Carol announced to the entire world. For a hot second, conversation halted. 

The waiter gave her a nod, and probably made a mental note to pick that specific fish for the Friendly Finn's lunch, since it was already half prepared, obviously.

Before the bell meat though, and the dead fish, an assortment of cheeses was bestowed upon us. It was a beautiful mound of dairy. Salad and these donut roll things appeared as well. Did I mention donut rolls?



Carol dug right in. As the rest of us were selectively loading our plates, Carol made a face. 

"That CHEESE is BUTTER." she warned us, pointing to the offending churned cream. Good to know Carol, good to know.

The bell meat was ready and boy did it look good.

"Is this lamb, or veal?" Carol inquired. 

"Meat." Waiter answered.

And with that we ate the bell meat, no questions asked. It was the best bell meat I had ever had. I pushed aside the images of jolly baby lambs bopping about in a field of heather while I chewed.

After all, when in Bosnia, play dress up, get drunk with Monks, and eat lamb. Lots of lamb.

We finished up just in time. The skies opened up as we boarded Minibus. 

"Now we siesta." Marko explained as it was a regular part of the itinerary. 

And as a soft snore erupted from Carol in the back, I realized I had other fish to fry...The bell meat was quickly making itself known in my stomach, and we were returning to the land of no toilet paper...


**If you ever find yourself in Bosnia, go to Trebinje and eat meat cooked under the bell: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g303196-d3135231-Reviews-Studenac-Trebinje_Republika_Srpska.html

I highly recommend the wine tour...it's run by Dubrovnik Day Tours: http://www.dubrovnikdaytours.net/bosnia-wine-tour-from-dubrovnik/

I DO NOT recommend accommodations that don't provide toilet paper. That is all.

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