Archive for August, 2010

Wild Beauty

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The marketing line for Montenegro is “wild beauty”, and it is clear that this is a well-chosen descriptor on the first drive from the airport. The Black Hills are rugged with brush, cactus and the dusty green of olive trees. The roads are windy and steep, offering a spectacular view of the large lake, mountains and, of course, the ocean.

Annie and I went to Montenegro in the middle of August to spend a week with my friend, Ana. Ana was born in Montenegro, grew up mostly in Belgrade and lived the last 16 years of her life in Russia. (Her family knew the writing was on the wall when Milosevic came to power.) Ana has a place in her birth-land and kindly invited us for a holiday.

Ana has set her apartment up to have her own main living area and then a separate guest apartment with a kitchen, bath and balcony. What luxury!

Here is the view from “our” balcony, nearing sunset:

The beaches are rocky, instead of sandy. We did travel one day to a sandy beach and it made me appreciate the stones…no sand in clothes, food, or cameras (yikes! Thank goodness I was able to blow it out of the lens over a couple of days.) Although of course Annie loved the swimming and playground!

The first day we just enjoyed the beach near Ana’s place. We borrowed a car floaty thing that was perfect for Annie to swim around with. The water was colder than I had anticipated, which I was very thankful for as every day was between 33 and 37 degrees.

Ana in the sun

The next day we caught a boat and went to an area called Sveti Stefan (St. Stephen), which was near a small island that had been built out entirely for a hotel.

Sveti Stefan from the water. I love the way the rocks look layered.

And from the shore

Cute Annie and lookin' good Ana hamming it up.

After a couple of hours in the sun we took a walk over to the former royal summer residence, also now a hotel. It was a beautiful walk through a more lush woods ending in the manicured lawn and sheltered cove that was well-chosen by the royalty.

Me in my cover up and big floppy hat to ward off that evil sun. No wonder I have to take vitamin D drops!

Former royal summer residence with private beach

The following day Ana’s mom and niece, Zorka, came to visit. Zorka is 5 years old and Annie was happy to have a playmate. Zorka’s family lives in New York but they spend the summers at her grandparents summer home on the other side of the shore from Ana. The girls had some squabbles (Zorka has three older siblings and Annie isn’t used to being teased) but overall it was awesome for her and me that she was occupied with a friend.

A rousing game of the Serbian version of Ring Around the Rosie.

Ana’s mom is absolutely lovely (although we really couldn’t speak to each other) and an amazing cook! I now know where Ana gets her culinary skills. Did we ever eat well over the week. (The other reason for the full body cover up!)

We also took the opportunity to learn a few words in Serbian, which of course Annie picked up much easier than me and could pronounce with no problem.

Zorka and Ana's Mom

The last night we went for a drive around some of the shoreline. We decided to go for dinner at a restaurant that Ana has been going to with her family since she was a child, called Stari Mlin (Old Mill). It is nested in the trees by the water and specializes in, as expected, fish. There is a trout pond that elicited a delightful story from Ana. Many years ago when someone ordered the trout, the father or mother would call to their daughter “Marica, two trout.” Marcia, as wee lass at the the time, would run to the trout pond, grab her net, scoop out the trout (never missing) and crack their heads over her knee. Now that is fresh fish. The trout pond is still there, but I understand the on-request catching no longer happens.

Trout pond

We had a spectacular meal and then headed off to walk through the lit streets of Kotor. On the way we passed the old mountain wall, 16 km snaking up the hill.

Kotor is a city with roots back to 168 BC. The buildings and walls and narrow streets are from the Middle Ages. It is best to go at night with the lovely lights sparkling off the water. My step-father Drew also went to Kotor on a side-trip during a volunteer stint in Belgrade and has very fond memories. Sometimes the awe of what is man-made can grab me just as much as natural wonders.

On the other side, though, there are parts of Montenegro that are still very much developing. The shoreline is well built-out, especially in the last few years with Russians purchasing a great deal of property. But the local people are still coming to terms with what it means to live in a free market economy. They sell land off, mostly to Russians, and then take the money and build large three-storey homes more in-land. Except the money runs out before the house is finished. We frequently passed these half-finished homes, obviously not worked on for months or years. (Oh wait, spending more money than you have? Maybe they have caught on exactly to the free-market economy.)

The rest of our trip was relaxing on the beach, going for late-night walks on the very bustling boardwalk, and eating amazing food, both home-cooked and at restaurants (totally delicious pizza! As good as anything I’ve had, even in Italy).

Ana, I hope we didn’t wear out our welcome, as we would love to come again next year!

Annie Overnight

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

(I’ve had a few requests for an Annie update. Bitte schön.)

Annie had her first friend sleep-over recently. I’m not sure where the girls got it in their heads, but they had been asking to sleep over for some time now. As Chloe thinks a sleep-over involves her brother Julian, her Mom and her Dad sleeping over too, we thought it was best to try Annie at Chloe’s place. Here is what Annie thinks, “Mom, Dad…haven’t you left yet? Don’t let the door hit your a** on the way out.” I’ve decided to take it as a sign of her confidence and general social nature.

Anyway, except for the very early morning that Margriet (Chloe’s mom) had to endure (she was sufficiently warned), all went well. As with all good sleepovers, the girls talked and giggled until way past their bedtime. Margriet eventually got them to sleep by cuddling Chloe in the living room while Annie conked out on the bed. When I went to pick Annie up, she was very happy to see me (she always is) but a bit shocked when I told her it was time to go home. What? I’ve only spent the last 28 hours straight with Chloe! (We had spent the entire day before at the lake together.) How can you even dream of pulling me away???!!!

Here are pics of the girls sleeping peacefully. The little monkeys.

Oh, and they are also wearing each other's nightgowns. Of course.

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In other Annie news…

I think there is a chance Annie will inherit my love of language. Her favourite sentence right now is “I’m already ready.” She thinks it is hilarious and will use it even when only remotely appropriate.

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The teacher’s assistant in Annie’s school is from England and has taught the kids “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine”, which Annie sings pretty much constantly (when she isn’t singing one of the two catchy theme songs from the 2010 World Cup.) Except she pronounces it soobmarine. Have I mentioned that my Canadian daughter is picking up a British accent? Between the UK teacher, friends Emily (Australian) and Chloe (parents are from the Netherlands but their English is quite British-accented), Annie has a hard time keeping her flat Canadian vowels. It’s not “waahtaah” my love, it is “waddur.”

However, the UK vowels are easier to correct than her occasional German accent. After  months of practice, her “th’s” seem to have returned. I was starting to think that she would be the actress in the revised version of this video .

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Annie’s favourite DVD right now is Charlie and Lola. I like it too, as the writers clearly have a lot of experience with 4-year-old girls. Lola’s conversations with her friend, Lotta, could be pulled directly from Annie and Chloe’s chatter. Most days I have to pretend to  be Charlie to Annie’s Lola. We speak in British accents (see above) and re-enact scenes from the episodes. One section is about having a dog. My girl would LOVE to have a puppy. Here is her taking care of my friend Nicole’s wonderful dog, also named Lola.

Unfortunately for my girl, this is as close as she is going to get to a dog while living in this household:

I often think “4 going on 14.” When people say “it goes fast”, they ain’t lyin’.