Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Plitvice Lakes: Too much hype, but ok, fine, it’s beautiful.

One of the stops on our trip that seemed like it would be awesome was Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. It is supposed to be ranked one of the most beautiful places in Europe, so we wanted to see what all the hype was about. Unfortunately, about a million visitors a year also want to know.

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Plitvice was a little bit annoying to get to, but you know, we conquered. Instead of doing an organized tour, we took the bus there from Zagreb and spent the night in the area. The bus was actually super comfortable, pretty empty, and had free wifi. So, no complaints there, but it was still a tiring travel day. Once there, we took a nap and then we were able to walk around late in the day and early the next morning. Success! It’s really a beautiful and massive place:

Plitvice

Famous view from above at Plitvice Lakes

One of my favorite parts of Plitvice was the amazing color of the water:

I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls in my life, but these ones were definitely nice too:

The sound of the ater was also part of what made me feel the power of this place:

The roots are totally weird and fun:

And there’s all sorts of interesting flora and fauna to photograph:

Even under the water!

Overall, I prefer the little adventures, like the walk to Kozjak Waterfall in Slovenia, but Plitvice was an impressive place.

Tofu San and Big Fall

Tourist Farm Love

Hole in my heart.pngThere are still more days of sunshine on the horizon, but my summer is ending. This week teachers at our school are back at work, prepping our classrooms for the start of a new school year. I’m holding onto a little bit of summer by remembering my favorite places I visited back in July: Slovenian tourist farms.

Never heard of a tourist farm? Basically, it’s just what it sounds like. All over the countryside of Slovenia, tourists can stay at local farms instead of hotels, where they experience the rural life and chow on local food.

After driving through Triglav National Park, making our way up and down the 50 switchbacks of the Vršič Pass, we made our way to Tourist Farm Kranjc near Kobarid. We passed through a quaint little village called Luce as we made our way off the main road.Near Kranjc

And then we arrived. On one side of the house, there was a pretty densely packed neighborhood of local houses.Kranjc Neighborhood

On the other side of the house, there were the views and the farm.Farm Sheds.png

And just like that, I fell in love with this place. I just wanted to sit on their patio forever, alternating between their swing and hammock.

DeckHammock

What a perfect place to relax in nature. SpiderwebsFurry Flowers

To top things off, the family was nice as can be, and they had the sweetest dog (whose name was something like Moscow or Rosco).15 year old pup.png

The best part, though? The food! So local and yummy. Tourist Farm Food

The downside? We only had one night here. We considered backing out of our reservation for the next night, but we pushed on. In the morning, we only had a little time for exploring, and decided to go to Slap Kozjak (which means “Kozjak Waterfall”) for a quick hike before hitting the road. It was a beautiful little adventure:

And then the roads. We had to drive WAY too long to get to our other tourist farm. We did pause for a nice rest stop on the Soca River, but we didn’t have much time to gaze at the ridiculously clear, turquoise waters. (Notice the rocks below. The water is so clear you can’t even SEE it!)

As we drove, I seriously questioned what I was thinking choosing these two tourist farms so far away from each other.

And then we arrived. Yes, Tourist Farm Govc-Vršnik was definitely worth the drive. Our room was huge and we had two porches, both with stunning views:

The place was incredible — it was much more remote than the other tourist farm, and such a peaceful area to walk around.

Even the food somehow managed to give our last tourist farm a run for their money, which I didn’t think was possible. Plus we had a great view from the deck where the meals were served. They even served something that seemed like matzah ball soup for dinner, and it made me feel like I was home.

Sadly, we only stayed there one night too. The next morning we headed back to Ljubljana to return our rental car and leave Slovenia.Govc Pano

Since I travel often, people sometimes ask me which places I would hope to go back someday. Definitely I would love to go back to both of these tourist farms, and explore many more.

Quintessential Maine with ESD friends

Omi-Sensei’s visit allowed me to see New England with fresh eyes, and remember why I love this area so much. Her journey ended with a trip to Maine to see one of the other American teachers from our ESD program, Josh-Sensei (“sensei” means “teacher” in Japanese). We were welcomed with a few versions of Tofu-San from Japan, and a stuffed moose which Josh had given Omi from Maine. Welcome

Josh lives in a very old farmhouse, built before the American Revolution. He and his wife first showed us around their beautiful house, barn, garden, and fields.

Their house has been renovated many times, but some rooms still have the original floors, which were made from huge old trees. At the time the house was built, the King of England laid claim to all big old pine trees so that he could have them used for the masts of ships. Since this house was made with these “mast pines,” whoever built these floors was probably protesting against the king! They are really beautiful floors to see today.

After visiting with Josh’s family a bit, we set out to explore. First we visited one of the world’s most commonly photographed lighthouses:

Most of the Maine coast is rocky, like this, but we drove to a sandy beach to body surf a bit before dinner. Maine Coast

We ate dinner at a lobster/clam shack that was super yummy.LobsterLobster Shack

And then headed to L.L. Bean for some late night shopping. This L.L. Bean is the world headquarters, open 24 hours a day, and it has way more than just the basics. There’s a lot to see, such as these stuffed moose who got their antlers stuck together and died because they couldn’t get unstuck.

The next morning we woke up early to sample some more local food — peaches and maple syrup from Josh’s trees. Yum!Waffles

After that, we headed out to go sailing in Casco Bay. From the boat, we saw a few seals, and lots of sea birds.

But we didn’t stop there. We headed next to the Maine Wildlife Center to see some real life animals. All of the animals there are local to Maine, and they’ve been injured or can’t live in the wild for some reason.

Maine Wildlife Park

We had a blast seeing lots of different animals, and learning about the local ecosystem. I had no idea how long the wingspan of the bald eagle is. Can you see the red label all the way on the right? If Omi were an eagle, her wing would be that long!Maine Raptors

My favorite animals included a bear (who was sleeping when we arrived, but did give us a little nod), an albino raccoon, a red-tailed hawk (our school’s mascot), and… real live moose!

The moose kept walking up and down the edge of the fence for us. They were either a) as curious about us as we were about them, or b) showing off their antlers in a fashion show of sorts. Either way, it was really fun to see!

We ended with ice cream, with real maple syrup and wild Maine blueberries. These are not pictured because we gobbled them up too fast! It’s amazing that we had any room left because of all the wild blackberries we ate at the wildlife park.Blackberries

Now when Omi-Sensei looks at her stuffed moose from Maine, she can tell her students about the real ones she saw. And before she left the United States, I sent her off with a stuffed red-tailed hawk to show her students too. Hawk and TofuSan

Thank you Josh-Sensei, for hosting us, and Omi-Sensei, for inspiring all of these adventures. It’s been 2 years since our ESD program, but everything we learned is still so close in our hearts. I wish the other American and Japanese teachers could have joined us too. Next time!

~Sara-Sensei (soon to be called Ms. Krakauer again when school starts back up)

Family Time

I was very happy to introduce Omi-Sensei to my family in Western Massachusetts. She got a chance to enjoy the countryside a little after our action-packed visit to New York. We had time for kayaking…Kayak

…and swimming…Swimming

…and she got to try her first s’more! She told me that in Japan, they wrap sweet potatoes in foil and heat them in campfires. Yum!Smore Making

We also went blueberry picking…

Blueberry Picking

… and played with my adorable niece (the cute Japanese outfit and sushi erasers are from Omi-Sensei and the balloons are from me, obviously).

I don’t know if my family is a “typical” American family, but I think they’re pretty great! Family

10 Unexpected Surprises in NYC

Our last day in New York City was filled with many interesting experiences. Some of them were planned, but there were many unexpected happenings as we walked around this huge and complex city. Sure, I expected to see the Statue of Liberty…

…but here’s a taste of some of the experiences that I didn’t expect in NYC:

1. An incredible view from the roof deck of the place we were staying in Brooklyn:

2. How moving it would be to see the site of Ground Zero, where the World Trade Towers fell on September 11th:

3. So much beauty, from giant flowers in Battery Park to interesting fountains in front of big corporate buildings:

 

4. Happening upon these amazing globes on the street:

5. Learning about Native Americans at the National Museum of the American Indian (which is free, because it’s federally funded, like the museums in DC):Museum of American Indian.png

6. The amazing diversity of art at MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) — from weird installations to classics that I’ve known my whole life:

7. Trying a new fruit (mamancillo) after I asked a woman on the subway about it:Mamoncillo.png

8. How funny Trevor Noah is! (a friend of mine is a producer at the Daily Show, so we went to a taping, and got to hang out with a cute pup in the crew lounge): 

9. Randomly finding a Black Lives Matter protest and joining in to sing a little:Black Lives Matter.png

10. Eating dessert three times (even if you already had dessert, how could you resist artisan ice cream or ice cream rolls like I had in Slovenia?! Note: I didn’t order the sweet potato and brie cheese ice cream, but I sampled it!):

Thanks for all the fun, New York! Omi-Sensei lives in Japan, but I live much closer! I don’t know why I don’t visit more often. I’ll try to come back soon.

Losing Lotteries But Winning at Broadway

Omi-Sensei and I are in New York!Statue of Liberty

We focused the first part of our trip on… Broadway! Omi-Sensei wanted to see some musicals! We started with Fun Home, the story of a lesbian cartoonist who grew up in a funeral home, and her relationship with her father. It was beautiful!

We had gotten those tickets in advance, but we wanted more. And in case you’ve never heard of it, there’s this thing in New York where shows have lotteries for cheap tickets. So, we decided to enter several, but we were especially hoping to win tickets to Hamilton. Some shows have digital lotteries, so you find out the results through email. We didn’t win.

lottery

Hamilton LotteryThen we read online that 10,000 people enter the online lottery for Hamilton every day. So, we decided to go to the Hamilton theatre for the Wednesday matinee and try our luck at the once weekly in-person lottery. There were A LOT of people there, with a line around the block. Spoiler alert — we didn’t win again. However, Hamilton does this thing called #Ham4Ham, where they reward the people who came to the lottery with a mini sidewalk concert. So, despite a little rain, and not winning, we got to see Rory O’Malley from Hamilton introduce Cynthia Erivo, the Tony award winning singer who is currently starring in the Color Purple. She sung us a Beyonce song before we found out we lost. Pretty fun anyway!

Even though we entered 10+ lotteries (two in person and the rest online) we didn’t win any. However, we wandered up to the box office at School of Rock, and happened to arrive in time to get $27 “standing room only” tickets. What a fun show! It’s about a teacher (so perfect for Omi-Sensei and me), and we eventually snagged seats for the second half.School of RockSchool of Rock Sound Board

Our last Broadway musical was an oldie but a goodie. It’s now the 10th longest running show on Broadway, and I still had never seen it — Wicked! After we lost that in-person lottery, the box office decided to offer a deal to everyone in line for remaining tickets. So, we snagged some of those, and off we went.

So far, we haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty, Greenwich Village, or many other major tourist attractions in New York. We realized that even if we stayed a week, we wouldn’t see it all. Instead, we enjoyed a little slice of life here, mostly in the land of musicals. We did see a few other sites, like Central Park and Times Square, but today we’ll wander a little further from Broadway.

Omi-Sensei Visits IACS

Yesterday Omi Sensei and her Japanese Tofu-San got to visit my school. It was a lot of fun walking around the pond, peeking into classrooms, and showing her the place that she’s heard about for the past 2 years. 

After our visit to the rural part of Massachusetts, we went back downtown to see the state from up high — the 52nd floor of the Prudential Center! We were joined by my friends Naoki, Kanako, and Kazu, who just moved to Boston from Tokyo. Omi pushed through the jet lag, and we headed out on a Duck Tour after that. This is a truck that can drive on land and water. Our guide was very funny and shared lots of interesting and obscure Boston trivia.

Before heading home, we also visited the Boston Public Library and Harvard Square.

Today we’re headed to… New York City!

Omi-Sensei Visits Boston!

My travels are over, but now my friend Omi-Sensei is here for some American adventures. Tofu-San was thrilled to meet a new friend from Japan. Two Tofu Sans

Today we did all the things in Boston! Highlights included…

Many stops on the Freedom Trail:

A saint’s festival in the North End, Boston’s Italian district:

A visit to George’s Island in the Boston Harbor:

A Boston Seafood Festival:Seafood Festival

Seeing Shakespeare performed in the Boston Common:Shakespeare on the Common

And much more:

As you can see, today was a BIG day. We have many more adventures planned for Omi-Sensei’s visit. It is very fun to explore all the sites in my own city, and we’ll also be hitting the road soon, for exploring some other parts of the U.S…

 

Highs and Lows of the Bridge City in Bosnia and Herzegovina

When traveling, you never know what to expect. That was especially true today, en route to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country that I knew very little about. Generally, when I’ve talked about this part of the world, I am teaching geography, so we’re using my favorite mnemonic trick thinking of a crow (Croatia) eating Berries and Honey (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Doesn’t it look like that? Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.37.54 PM

Anyway, I shouldn’t have been surprised that today was filled with lots of unexpected happenings, some positive and some negative. Here’s a taste:

NEGATIVE: Google Maps said it would take about 2 hours to travel from Split, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina by car. Our packed bus stopped lots of time, and it took us more than 5 hours. We had scheduled a tour for an hour after our anticipated arrival, and we missed it.

POSITIVE: The “scenic route” was actually quite scenic. I mean, really truly stunning. Most of the trip with rocky mountains on the left and the sea on the right. Here’s a taste after we crossed the border into Bosnia.

NEGATIVE: It turns out that you can’t just hail a taxi here. You need to call for one. So, we stood in the blaring heat waiting for a while.

POSITIVE: Some random woman approached us after not too long, told us that, and then had a taxi called for us. Shopping Mostar

NEGATIVE: A lot of people smoke here.

MostarPOSITIVE: The vibe here is so chill and friendly. People are genuinely nice. And helpful! The shopping is so fun, because the market is packed with lots of interesting things, and the prices are MUCH lower than we’ve seen anywhere on this trip. And everyone so far has seemed really honest and not trying to rip us off. There are different ethnic groups, and today everyone seems to get along, whether Catholic or Muslim. Here’s a video of the edge of the market, while the Muslim Call to Prayer is being projected from a nearby mosque:

NEGATIVE: There’s more gelato here. For 50 cents a scoop. We are going to gain so much weight!

POSITIVE: The food here is amazing. I now know how to say Ćevapčići. It’s a kind of Bosnian mini sausage. Yum. We tried it first in Slovenia but it’s even better here.Food

Translation? Ćevapčići.Ćevapčići.

NEGATIVE: We’re trying to navigate 4 currencies here. The Bosnian currency is called the Mark, but they quote a lot of prices in Euros, and sometimes they’ll take Croatian Kuna. Here’s the math: 2 marks = 1 Euro, 1 Euro = 1.1 USD, and 10 Kuna = $1.50. It’s even more confusing when you pay in one currency and they give you change in another. What?!

POSITIVE: Did I mention that everything is really cheap? Ok, we’ll do the math if it means we can get beautiful things for 5 Euros.Tree

POSITIVE: Our hotel has a nice room, the hotel staff are helpful, and they even gave us a welcome drink upon arrival. It is very centrally located, close to lots of interesting stuff, including some great live music.

NEGATIVE: The music is really really loud in our hotel room. Will we ever sleep?Tofu San Stari Most

POSITIVE: This city feels so welcoming and and we are hungry to keep learning more. After our initial late arrival, we eventually were able to have a tour with Ms. Alma Elezovic, who was personally recommended by Rick Steves in his book and in this video. Alma showed us around and explained that this city, Mostar, was named after the guards who watched over the bridges during Medieval times. This city really feels like a meeting place for many different peoples.

Bigger Bridge

Overall, today was not without its hiccups, but I am glad to be here, away from the crowds and tourist prices on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. I’m very glad to be here (and will feel especially grateful if I can eventually get some sleep tonight)!

Island Life in Croatia

We’ve made our way to the coast of Croatia, with a lot of stops in between. At some point, I will write about…

  • Staying on Tourist farms in the mountains of Slovenia
  • Visiting Zagreb (the capital of Croatia)
  • Plitvice Lakes National Park (beautiful, but a bit overrated)
  • The coastal town of Zadar, where the waves play music on a big sea organ

It has been a whirlwind and I can’t keep up with the blogging!

Now, we are on the island of Korcula, off the coast of Croatia, and we are in full relaxation vacation mode. This afternoon I took a 3 hour nap. This is the view we saw from our apartment upon arrival:Sunset.png

Yesterday, we took a bus and two ferries to get here. It was a pretty fun day of travel, actually. There were snack breaks and listening to podcasts as we watched the views out the window.

On the way over here, we stopped for the afternoon at the island of Hvar, which seemed a bit upscale, but it was beautiful. People like Beyonce and Tom Cruise have vacationed there! We hiked up to the castle for good views.

We noticed lots of interesting vegetation on Hvar, most notably cactuses! This is a coastal area, but it is nothing like the Caribbean.Bee and Cactus.png

Marco Polo.pngThe island where we decided to set up shop for a few nights is Korcula, which I discovered is pronounced like “Core-ch’la.” It is the birthplace of Marco Polo. Apparently, the Italians take credit for him because his father was Italian and he died in Venice, but he was born in Croatia, so the Croatians claim him too!

We’ve only seen a small corner of Korcula Island, which is 29 miles long. We aren’t staying in a big town, but just in a little village where there are approximately 4 restaurants and 1 grocery store. And 2 ways to get to the sea! This morning, we explored one swimming area. The coast is rocky, but the water is crystal clear. Here’s one spot where we swam this morning:

Swimming.png

After my siesta, we took a long walk into the main “city,” Korcula Town. We followed the coastal road, and there were lots of opportunities to stop for photos.

On the way, we passed so many interesting plants. Grapes, pomegranate, olives, and figs all grow here. Wine and olive oil are especially cheap and delicious here.

We arrived in the old town and wandered around. Inside a walled area of the city there are many shops and cute restaurants.

I saw this little pulley system at a restaurant in a castle. I guess you’ve got to be creative if your work space has such old rickety stairs!

Tomorrow, we’ll do more exploring, and check out the interesting plants and animals here.  I have all sorts of questions as I see these new places. Trees that grow on walls?Trees

What are these cute bugs?Red and Black Bugs on Flower

Looking forward to more relaxation and observation tomorrow.

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