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12 Jul

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My grandfather died last week at the age of 91. I count among my greatest gifts my relationships with each of my grandparents. Grandpa Joe was the last living grandparent I had, and it’s difficult to imagine my life without him.

Most summers, my siblings and I would happily ship off to Grandma Ann and Papa Joe’s house, where we would spend the first leg of our summer vacation. I hold the memories of these trips so closely that their physicality remains with me–the sharpness of just-cut grass on my skin as I rolled down the front hill, the smooth pine of the wooden swingset he built for us by hand, and the cold sensation of rainbow sherbert against my teeth after church on a hot Saturday night.

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I have often said of my grandfather that they “just don’t make them like they used to.” He was a member of the first graduating class of King’s College, and would go on to work there for the next 70 years. He was a man who did the right thing without so much as a thought toward cutting corners for convenience or popularity. His contributions to the community where he spent his entire life are too many to count, but among them is a long history of service to his church, alma mater, and country.

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His was an absolutely unconditional love of and loyalty to his wife, so much so that he often joked he would list the slides of he and my grandmother’s “trip of a lifetime” to Ireland among his assets in his will. In 51 years of marriage they never spent more than 3 consecutive nights apart; when my grandmother was helping to take care of a sick family member, he would drive 45 minutes to visit her through a screen window and then drive back home, as he had a cold and couldn’t risk passing it to my cousin. I once joked that my grandmother’s only downfall had been that she didn’t like beets. He looked at me over his glasses and said simply, “Your grandmother had no flaws.”  I knew that, in his eyes, she truly hadn’t.

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Even as the world’s most upstanding citizen, he had a wry sense of humor and a wonderful capacity for sentimentality.  When I mailed him an absurd glamour shot of my brother and I snorkeling in Sharm El Sheikh, he emailed me in response, “Thanks for the great snapshot, Chrissy. That’ll make the wall.”  He loved all sports (except the NBA), often bragged that he had been diagnosed with a “football fetish,” and had one word for Philadelphia sports fans: “crude.” He loved sweets unabashedly, and was known to meet a dessert menu with a joyful “Oh, boy!” The first Christmas after my grandmother died, I gave him a box engraved with her name for his keepsakes, and he called me later to tell me that it was the best gift he had ever been given.

EK_0015DSC00675_edited_1There are a million stories I could tell– that he taught me how to bowl, listened to me read Charlotte’s Web in its entirety over the phone for my 2nd grade read-a-thon, and once brought my husband to “a little place with great chicken noodle soup” called Bob Evans. I have the lucky distinction of getting him to pose for his first selfie, taken during the visit we revived our root beer float tradition after a two-decade hiatus.IMG-20130908-WA0000And, hilariously, he was wearing the same shirt 4 years later when I introduced him to Facetime. He was less impressed by technology served without a side of ice cream.IMG_7972But his life spoke for itself — the longer I go on here, the more I realize I’ll never capture how extraordinary he was. A friend shared the idea that we only die when our work is done, and my grandfather left this world complete with i’s dotted, t’s crossed, and ledger balanced. I’ll think of him often– in small moments like when I see a beautiful cardinal or blue jay, and in large moments when I hear his voice in my head as my moral compass. It’s terribly sad to know I’ll never visit him on Cherry Lane again, but I take some solace in knowing that the lessons I learned from my grandparents in the past will serve me well into my future and that, one of these days, I’ll get to make memories with my own grandkids as happy as the ones I have with my grandparents.

If, like me, you just can’t get enough Grandpa Joe, you can read his obituary here.

 

 

 

A Blueberry Treat Whose Name We Shall Not Mention

30 Jun

Some things that I love, in no particular order: carbohydrates that defy definition, blueberries, and GingerKef’s cousin. So when I got the chance to bake a blueberry kind-of-cake/kind-of-bread WITH PresidentKef HIMSELF, I knew it was going to be a good night.

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PresidentKef and I go way back to the early days of this blog, when he was just a young man searching for Emerald City and I was a young, imprudent woman living on Lincoln Rd. Since then, we’ve been basically #BFF.

PresidentKef came into town last week and requested some time in kitchen with Kef, and I was only too happy to oblige. This recipe comes from the 1940s, and has an obnoxiously-appropriate-of-the-era name to boot: Blueberry Boy Bait. Blech. Good to know that in the 60 years between this recipe’s publication and the Neptunes’ production of “Milkshake,” America held true to the ideal that a hefty amount of saturated fat and sugar would snag you a suitable life partner.

Anyway- PresidentKef and I had a blast whipping this guy up. Here’s a mini lesson on when to be precise in baking and when to just go with your gut:

Sadly, there is no chocolate in this recipe– but there is a bunch of butter, sugar, and gluten. I’ve made this two or three times for large groups and it has always been met with demands for an encore appearance (but somehow, not one suitor… hmph). It’s “cake” in the way that coffee cake is, which is to say somewhere in between bread and cake (cread? brake?). Whatever you call it, it’s awesome, and I think you should make it.

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A Blueberry Cake Whose Name We Shall Not Mention

Ingredients

  • 2 c flour
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 16 TBS unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temp
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 1/2 c blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not defrost first)
  • 1/2 c blueberries, fresh or frozen (do not defrost)
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Assembly

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour 13×9 pan (pyrex or metal).
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a stand or electric mixer on medium high, beat butter and sugars until fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated. Scrape down bowl between egg additions.
  3. Reduce speed to medium, then beat in one-third of flour mixture. Once incorpated, beat in half of milk. Beat in half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finally remaining flour mixture.
  4. Toss blueberries in about 1 tsp of flour (optional). Using rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter into prepared pan.
  5. Make the topping: scatter blueberries over top of batter. Stir sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl and sprinkle over batter.
  6. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan for at least 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Watermelon Prosecco Slushies

13 Jun

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Summer 2017 has officially begun– and how better to ring it in than sipping a refreshing champagne slushie with your favorite people? We did a little celebrating this weekend up at the Kef Family Homestead, and these were just the beverages to get the party started.

The company didn’t hurt, either:

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And just in case frozen drinks and great people weren’t enough, we had a knee-high magnum of Rose. Gotta have back up.

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Watermelon Prosecco Slushies To Celebrate Summer

Ingredients

  • 4 c seedless watermelon, frozen and cubed
  • 1-3 c ice
  • 3/4 c limoncello (optional– we made batches with and without it)
  • 3/4 c sparkling white wine
  • Fresh mint and lemon slices for garnish, if you’re into garnish

Assembly

  1. Throw your cubed watermelon in the freezer for at least 2 hours.
  2. Once frozen, combine all ingredients EXCEPT PROSECCO in blender. Blend just until ice is mostly blended, ~45 seconds.
  3. Pour blended watermelon into glasses, top each off with prosecco. Swirl with a fancy straw and top off with a mint leaf and/or lemon slice.

Who run the world? Girls.

9 Jun

Now that school is over, the question pretty much everyone is asking is, “What are you doing with all your free time?” I’d love to say that I’m taking up a new hobby or finally cleaning out my closet… but, mostly, I’ve been sitting around watching YouTube videos of girls who kick ass. I’ll distill my favorites here:

Kicking ass at kindness:

Kicking ass at taking down obstacles:

Kicking monster ass:

Actually, kicking pretty much all the asses:

 

Girl mother-effing power. And that’s really all I have to say about that.

FERRAGOSTO 2016: New Orleans

4 Apr

I only just barely qualify as a Millennial (and even then only because the state of Pennsylvania wouldn’t change my birth certificate so I could refute that title forevermore), so while I don’t have the “if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen” mindset, I do suffer from “if it’s not on your blog, you’ll never recall it” syndrome. Being on the border of  today’s annoying younguns means that I’ll be old pretty much by tomorrow– so although the 9th annual FERRAGOSTO, happened 8 months ago, we’re talking about it now before JetSet and I reach the age where we can’t remember whether or not we brushed our teeth in the morning.

And this is truly one year not to forget: for years, JetSet and I have debated inviting others to our bizarre, tradition-driven little jaunts, and this year we finally found just the right beta tester–none other than the beloved DonQuixoteKef! Since you will see him only in the same teeshirt and cargo shorts from here on out, here’s what he looks like when he’s not in his trademarked travelwear:

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Alright then, on to it: wouldn’t be FERRAGOSTO if the shenanigans didn’t start off right off the bat. Immediately upon landing in the Big Easy, we had to find an urgent care that was still open because I had fallen while running in DC that morning, went to work all day, and then decided that our first order of business in New Orleans would be seeking out someone to stitch me up. As one does.

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Seven sutures later (3 internal, 4 external, for the curious among us), we were on Frenchman Street, where the beignets were frying and the brass bands were playing:

After eating more fried food than was healthy, we strolled the French Quarter, which was made infinitely better when we realized we could get our craft cocktails to go. Feeling the itis and the time change, we decided to call it an early night. We headed back to our beautiful and well-located AirBnB, but not before one more stop at our soon-to-be favorite take out bar, The Franklin. This is when I realized that I had become the third-wheel on my own vacation.

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Toasting the age old question: why ARE there so many songs about rainbows?

The next morning, JetSet took off an a hot, humid, long run and DonQuixoteKef and I took a pilgrimage to find the brick memorializing his grandfather at the World War II Museum  Along the way, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde, enjoyed the beautiful architecture, and popped into the Lafayette Cemetery. The great news about wandering around a new place with DonQuixoteKef is that he stops to read all the plaques, and then generously summarizes the interesting parts for you. That’s service with a smile, people.

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Just before lunch, we caught up with JetSet post-run and set off across the Mighty Mississippi to the 15th Ward, Algiers.

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We poked about, ate lunch at the super sweet Tout de Suite Cafe, and headed back across the river. We were having a great walk along the river, when a torrential downpour came out of nowhere and we had to go all Esmeralda and claim sanctuary in the St Louis Cathedral.

…but first, we took a selfie.

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We walked between raindrops, NOLA style–which is to say we followed the awnings from bar to bar. This was the perfect time to be in a group of three, as at any given stop only two of us really felt like a beverage so we could keep the afternoon under control by alternating drinking and seltzering without anyone feeling left out. And to think, just ten years ago I was partnered with DonQuixoteKef so he could help me finish off the second 40 taping our hands together, and now we needed each other for the sobriety triangle. #ReallyNotMillennials

After witnessing a strange Porsche Parade complete with police escort (no, really…) we continued our rainy walk through Louis Armstrong Park and into the Treme.

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We swung by the storied Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge, where we instantly killed the vibe a few regulars had going at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon.

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On the upside, we did learn a ton about a the eponymous New Orleans Jazz legend, thanks to the 30For30 style documentary they had playing on loop.

Finally, we stopped by St. Augustine Catholic Church, which houses the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.

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On this October 30, 2004, we, the Faith Community of St. Augustine Catholic Church, dedicate this shrine consisting of grave crosses, chains and shackles to the memory of the nameless, faceless, turfless Africans who met an untimely death in Faubourg Treme. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is commemorated here in this garden plot of St. Augustine Church, the only parish in the United States whose free people of color bought two outer rows of pews exclusively for slaves to use for worship. This St. Augustine/Treme shrine honors all slaves buried throughout the United States and those slaves in particular who lie beneath the ground of Treme in unmarked, unknown graves. There is no doubt that the campus of St. Augustine Church sits astride the blood, sweat, tears and some of the mortal remains of unknown slaves from Africa and local American Indian slaves who either met with fatal treachery, and were therefore buried quickly and secretly, or were buried hastily and at random because of yellow fever and other plagues.

Even now, some Treme locals have childhood memories of salvage/restoration workers unearthing various human bones, sometimes in concentrated areas such as wells. In other words, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a constant reminder that we are walking on holy ground. Thus, we cannot consecrate this tomb, because it is already consecrated by many slaves’ inglorious deaths bereft of any acknowledgement, dignity or respect, but ultimately glorious by their blood, sweat, tears, faith, prayers and deep worship of our Creator.

A humbling reminder of the power of taking responsibility for our country’s dark history and the tremendous amount of work left to be done to undo the oppressive systems left in its wake. End rant.

We headed back to home base, took a nap and a shower, then headed to dinner… of course with a stopover to see our friends at the Franklin. For the record, I am generally a woman who drinks about one glass of wine per week… but when I realized I could strut about with my champagne, I was just bubbling over with excitement (har har har). We ate a delicious meal at Peche, then went for cocktails at Arnaud’s French 75.  Anyone keeping track realizes that, by this point, my whopping four drinks in 24 hours had me feeling like a million bucks, so I abstained when JetSet and DonQuixote stopped by Franklin’s for one more roadie.

And yet, somehow, I still participated (instigated?) this late night selfie stick session

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which devolved into my brother and I DEMANDING that Don Quixote join, in a ruckus very similar to an entire amphitheater full of fans chanting “one more song!” that didn’t end until the man himself appeared

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and finally agreed to “snuggle and selfie” with us

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two of these people are related by blood, and one of them is sorry he ever set eyes on the FamiliaKef. You do the math.

 

And then, like a rockstar who suddenly realizes the groupies he thought were hottie-patotties are actually thirty-something siblings, DonQuixote was gone as quickly as he came.

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Suddenly, it was morning, and we decided to be industrious grown ups again. A quick trip to the oddly all-inclusive convenience store down the street for provisions revealed the sign JetSet hopes one day to hang on his office door:

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It was our last day in the Big Easy and we were on two missions: get to the Audobon Zoo, and find a muffuletta on the way. We achieved the latter first, which gave DonQuixote just the boost he needed to rebound from the night before and trek across the city, plus all the calories he needed for the next four days of non-travel detox:

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Luckily, we were greeted with perfect weather for our final hours, and we managed to squeeze in the Zoo as well as mini-campus tours of Loyola and Tulane, plus an attempted-but-ultimately-barred jaunt through one of New Orleans’ most exclusive gated communities.

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We zoomed home on by streetcar, and snapped this lovely shot:

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And that, friends, wraps up FERRAGOSTO 2016. No word on where we’ll head this year (or whether DonQuixote’s Stolkholm Syndrome is severe enough to agree to join us again), but as it is the TENTH ANNIVERSARY, we have some exciting possbilities in the mix.

It won’t, however, be Cleveland:

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22 May

Chrissy grandmaYesterday, this world lost one of the greats: my sassy, vivacious, tough-as-nails Grandma Rita.

Her love of dogs, gambling, and gossip (though she maintained she was merely “sharing information”) are well documented, but my most cherished memories of her will be how much she supported my writing–she read every word I ever published in The Hoya, bought every copy of Newsweek in Sugar Notch the summer I worked there (even when I didn’t have a byline), and always laughed at the jokes no one else found funny on this little blog. Even after I became a nurse and writing was no longer in my career path, there was almost never a phone call that went by without her reminding me, “You are a tremendous writer, you know,” and then, a crescendoing giggle, “And funny as hell.”

She was also the first person outside of the immediate family to meet MrKef, and I’ll always be grateful for how immediately and warmly she embraced him as part of the family. They bonded over paczkis and poodles, and he was an admitted and unabashed favorite of hers.

Here we are on our sort-of-secret first wedding day with her, because I couldn’t imagine getting married without her:

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And while I could go on and on about her, I’ll leave you with this absolutely-typical email she once wrote me, after she saw on the Facebook that I had gone to a shooting range, subject line: Annie Oakley:

chrissy—-so pleased that you have taken up the fine art of target shooting.  I told Jeannie and she was thrilled–she and I in our younger years were on rifle teams we competed every sunday.  Jeannie was a sharpshooter and all the guys wanted her on their team.  she never missed a target…….. she was one lady not to tangle with.  It is a great way to spend a day/////  hope all is well with you….the puppy is teething and driving this ole lady nuts.  To date he has eaten/chewed my new boots , the electric wire on my fan,one of Rose!s throw blankets last night he was very quiet, I was thrilled, after awhile I checked him he had my cell phone, chewed all the leather from the case top and bottom===we checked he did not make any calls.  Have a great day.  Love you                       rita and ryley

Five Days in Croatia Part II: Something For Everyone

17 Feb

After all that indulging on our first day of our honeymoon, I was ready for a run. I went through the Old City and followed the main road around the coast, which mostly was filled with very beautiful views, like this one:

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But when I got to the end of the road, I found myself in the opening scenes of The Walking Dead:

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Apparently, this is the old Hotel Bellevue. Prior to the war, it had been the grandest hotel in Dubrovnik. During the war, it acted as a main battlement due to its strategic location on the cliffs of the Adriatic. After the war, it was closed and a rebuilt a few kilometers away. I’m not quite sure why the building pictured above hasn’t either been remodeled or leveled, but I was glad for the natural turnaround point… I wasn’t getting any closer to this creepy site!

Moving right along, we spent our second full day on the island of Mlijet, which is a large island National Park about 2 hours from Dubrovnik. Of course, we took a ship named after MamaKef:

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There’s all kinds of stuff to do  on the island– a few villages, two saltwater lakes, and a bunch of opportunities for tanning and swimming. In other news, it has lots of nicely-graveled paths, so don’t do what I did and waste a perfectly beautiful run on the Walking Dead when you could be running with this as your view:

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We opted to head to the Isle of St Mary for a chance to visit one of Europe’s oldest monasteries… plus it’s an island ON an island, which was too meta to miss.

… but not before we found a snack that would suit MrKef’s needs (“All Cameroonian men love peanuts when they travel,” quoth he. Good to know.).

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Once we were properly fueled, we set sail–and were immediately rewarded with more incredible views. Can I say without being obnoxious that, while this scenery was obviously amazing, it was made much moreso because I was with my incredible husband? Time with someone who makes your heart sing is truly one of life’s experiences to be treasured.

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The parts of the monastery available for touring are small, but man–the details are impressive:IMG_4590

After we got some history, it was time for some swimming, sun and (more) selfies!

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MrKef was ALL about the salinity, and eagerly waited for me to be finished with my swim to take advantage of the goggles I brought along (a triathlete is always prepared for an Open Water Swim!):

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The vegetation on the island was really interesting, and included these cute little bananas AND BabyKef’s favorite plant, aloe!

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After a swim, we headed over to the only restaurant on the island for some lunch. MrKef was ready to buy the island when he realized it was totally acceptable to drink a liter of beer for lunch while on a European honeymoon. We took this to be Croatia’s homage to HomeBrewKef.

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I couldn’t decide whether to be in heaven or hell when I realized the only vegetarian option on the menu was ALL THE GLUTEN (not even a salad…talk about insular parts of the world). And then my pizza came and it became clear that the Kingdom of Heaven was mine:

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The trip back was even more spectacular than the one coming. First of all, we came across this dapper gent along the way:

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And then we were met with this sunset as we pulled back into the port:

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Pas mal, no?

This is likely the night when we were too tired to trek up the stairs to change for dinner and then trek back down again, so we sat down at a yummy-sounding restaurant only to realize that entrees were ~$45 each, and then told the waiter we forgot our wallets and ended up slinking around the corner to Buffet Zvonik, where we gorged ourselves with all this food for a quarter of the price. Mmhhhmmm. IMG_4618

Then we headed to what would become our Croatian Cheers– La Bodega.The nightlife scene in Dubrovnik consisted of a European MegaClub filled with British teenagers or hotel bars with older Germans just off their River Cruise… neither were quite our speed. And then we found La Bodega in the main square, a perfect blend of lounge and bar with great music and people watching for the ages.

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Sooner than we wanted, it was the next day and we were off to the very top of Dubrovnik, via the Funicular!

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So far in this post we’ve seen a boat named after MamaKef, a national endorsement of HomeBrewKef’s favorite past time, and BabyKef’s favorite plant… in the mountaintop museum we stumbled across a photo of what JetSet would look like if he were ever unfortunate enough to find himself in a war zone (may God forbid it)– blazer on and wine bottle in hand (NB: this is not a photo of someone suffering that I am making light of– this was in the happy part of the museum).IMG_4634

In addition to the stunning views, I FINALLY found just a plate of vegetables up on that mountain. Food in Croatia is good, but not varied– pretty much everywhere had some iteration of a sign that un-ironically read, “Light Lunch: Risotto, Pizza, Cheeseburgers.” It felt fun to be forced into junk food for about a day, but by the time the third day rolled around I was more than willing to pay $8 for these 8 slices of vegetables (not kidding).IMG_4640

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We headed back down the mountain, and took a walking tour of Dubrovnik, where we learned the hilarious story of this graffiti from 1597 that reads, “Peace be with you, but know that you must die, you who play ball here.” Apparently, a curmudgeonly priest was none too pleased that the alley outside his bedroom was a makeshift soccer field, and took the time to etch his grievances into the wall. College ChefKef is jealous of that guy’s gumption. Yikes.

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After the tour, we split ways– MrKef went off to do a Game of Thrones tour, and I headed to over to Buza Bar which puts the term “hole in the wall” to new meaning

It’s nearly impossible to find, but I knew I was onto something when I saw this:

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Needless to say, I strongly preferred the words on this wall to those scrawled by Father McMeanie. Twice as needless to say, the views did not disappoint.

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I met back up with MrKef, who was grinning from ear to ear like a Lannister who, um … does whatever Lannisters do… after his GoT tour, and we enjoyed some scenes of Dubrovnik by night :

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And soon enough, it was time for a nightcap at La Bodega for me and some ice cream for MrKef!

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Next time on the Ndjatou World Tour, we head off to Montenegro (which is where the previously-promised manspreading adventure came to pass) and then to a haunted island… oo la la.

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