Krka, Croatia

Krka, Split & Plitvice, Croatia

It’s been far too long since our epic journey around Croatia for me to write a proper post about it. However, it was one of our best trips we’ve ever taken, so solely so I have it to look back on, a photo diary of our time there!

Plitvice

This gorgeous national park has 16 lakes that are joined by waterfalls. It’s incredibly beautiful – though the photos make it look quite wild – expect lots of people and clear walkways you can’t deviate from. There is (paid) parking nearby, and depending on when you visit entry is anything from $8 – $26.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Krka

I actually preferred Krka, and if you visit between June and September you can swim in the water! Note that parking is tough to figure out. It seems like the two official options are to drive to Skradin and catch the boat or to Lozovac where you can walk about 2 km to the park – note that this way you don’t see Roski Slap, only Skradinski Buk. We couldn’t figure it out, ended up wandering around a completely unrelated town for a bit (but got some ice cream out of it!) and then just drove as close as we could (it seems like probably to Lozovac), were very lucky to find parking, and walked about 30 minutes each way, along with dozens of other people. Entry is about $20. Well worth it!

Krka, Croatia Krka, Croatia Krka, Croatia

Split

Split was fantastic and we spent an entire day playing cards and drinking at what is probably my favourite pub in all the world. I have no idea what it is called, but it was full of locals and old and wonderful. We also went up Marjan Hill and had some pretty epic views of the city.

Split, Croatia View from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia View from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia

This was part of a larger trip I took over Semana Santa (Easter) in 2017. I went to Italy (Florence with Rachel, Venice alone), Slovenia, and Zagreb before meeting up with Gareth and driving down the coast of Croatia, into Bosnia to visit Mostar, and finally to Dubrovnik. Easily one of the most epic trips of my life!

National Garden, Athens, Greece

Two Week Intensive French Classes in Montpellier

I was lucky enough to take intensive French classes in Montpellier because after Madagascar, there was a lot of uncertainty – would I actually go back to London? Would I move back to California* like I’ve been dreaming about for a few years now? Look for another position in the field with a more robust health care system? Or even take a few months off just to focus on language?

Then I got offered my current position back at MSI and the decision was made. I’d be moving to London and happily back in with G! I had a few weeks to play around with before my start date, and learning French is something that has been on my list of goals for years. It would be a huge career boost, and despite taking a course at MSI in early 2018, I still felt like I lacked even the most basic building blocks of the language. So I decided to book in for an intensive two week course in the south of France at LSF French school. I decided on this school because of price, location (I’d never been to the South of France, I liked the small size of the city, and the weather was meant to be lovely – though I had terrible luck in that regard), and reputation – it had loads of excellent reviews.

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier

French Classes in montpellier

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Host Family Life

I stayed with a host family which is very out of character – I highly value independence and privacy. I did it because it’s meant to offer the best opportunity to learn French, and while I don’t regret having done it, I wouldn’t again.

Pros:

  • You can practice French in a natural environment with people who have to be patient with you. You’ll learn how people speak colloquially, learn words about everyday living that may not come up in class, and be exposed to the language basically 24/7.
  • You can see how locals live, which is something I think is important when visiting a new place – to get outside of the tourist bubble. I was quite far out and had to take a 25-minute metro ride into the city centre every day, and while this wasn’t ideal it did allow me to live a bit more like a local than tourist.

Cons:

  • Every family is different, and you’re inserted right into someone else’s family. Two weeks is a bit of an awkward amount of time. It’s difficult to get close, but you’re right there there for long enough to feel a bit involved – there was some personal drama with the host mom that happened while I was there that I was a bit caught up in – very awkward when you’re an outsider who doesn’t speak the language.
  • In my experience, the expectation was very much that I would spend as much free time with the family as possible. I spent 90% of my time in the library studying, and I think my host mother felt a tiny bit put out by this. I didn’t sign up for catered food, but started feeling guilty if I didn’t eat with the family every night anyway (with my own food obviously), and even at nearly 30 years old, they very much wanted to know my whereabouts at all times.
  • I think the biggest issue I had was that I came in as a complete beginner. The family didn’t speak English, and I think a few decades ago the model would have worked where I’d have been forced to gesture until I could speak, and then speak and build from what I was learning each day, etc. Instead the host family used Google translate to communicate with me. I did eventually ask them to at least speak the words as well, so I could hear it in French, and it wasn’t terrible both seeing it written out and hearing it out loud. But I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do that right away, and for a while it felt like the only things I was learning were from listening in on their conversations to each other.

These things all might be very expected for a host family, and even desirable for some people. It’s also just one experience – I’d stayed with one other host family when I was in Guatemala for a few weeks in 2010, and in that instance we had breakfast together every day, but there were no expectation to spend free time socializing together. They were very happy to help when needed and would have a chat in Spanish at the end of most nights, but I still felt quite independent. That wasn’t the case here, and I think will be hard to know what kind of situation you’re getting before arrival.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

What Can You Learn in Two Weeks?

A lot, actually! I was lucky that I was in a small class (there were only four of us) and we were all really motivated to learn. We also came in at complete beginner, so were luckily all at nearly the exact same level. I had class from 9 – 12:30 every day and then and extra 90 minutes in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I spent every afternoon in the library studying, and the library was usually quite full. When I came back I joined an A1.2 class in London, was pushed up to the A2.2 class the next week, and that was actually the right level! This is the result of London labelling classes as more advanced than they are (I found the same thing when I tried to do Spanish classes here as well), but also due to my time at LSF – I really did come back quite good. I learned far more in two weeks than I expected. I’ve since forgotten loads, but I know with a bit of dedicated study, my new class at MSI, and hopefully a few more trips to LSF, I’ll get there.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Looking to take French classes in montpellier?

I have a lot of good things to say about LSF. I think they’ve nailed the model, have excellent, well trained teachers, dedicated students, and I 100% plan to go back to the LSF for French classes in Montpellier in the future. I think language lessons can be extremely hit or miss, and I am really comfortable telling you LSF is a hit. They know what they are doing – they aren’t the cheapest but this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for, and if you’re serious about French this is a place you can go to improve. Also Montpellier is not a bad place to spend some time! It’s got a gorgeous old town, is a small-sized city, perfect for learning a language, generally has fantastic weather, and has great food. What more could you want?

Montpellier, France

*This would have been difficult to do as I don’t have health insurance in America anymore. If I got sick now, it would be nearly impossible to move home with my family to receive care. Another reason America’s HC system needs overhauling and another reason to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the upcoming primaries and election!

Fort Dauphin Sunset

Madagascar – Month Five

A lot of exciting things have happened this month!

First, we had International Women’s Day, where the women of SEED, along with many other groups, marched through town.

International Women's Day, Madagascar

The next morning we left for Sainte Luce, where SEED has a camp. It was GORGEOUS. I did a lot of things that would have freaked me out in a previous life, mostly like exist in closed spaces close to huntsmen spiders, and it was fine.

Sainte Luce Trip

I think that’s kind of the big thing I’ve realised I’m learning from this experience. I can do hard things. My laptop broke when we went to Greece and I CRIED because I couldn’t imagine how I’d get through the trip without it. My laptop broke in Mada about 6 weeks ago and you just kind of get on with things. (That is my excuse why I got so behind on these updates). When we first moved in, the cockroaches terrified me, and now they are nothing. Just big beetles really. I used to be so neurotic about food and I’ve really come around there as well – there’s no point in stressing. If I did that here it would be every meal and that’s just a terrible way to live. I don’t find it embarrassing to have diarrhea or health issues – my body is incredible for how it’s gotten through everything. My bed is filled with ants and fleas, there are ALWAYS bugs all over me when I’m sleeping. For a while I was going to bed in full pants and socks but it’s just too hot so I let them have at it. You adjust. You can do hard things. What an empowering thing to not only believe but to know and live.

Travel

I also spent some time this month travelling in Ethiopia and Kenya, which I was freaked out about doing solo and really shouldn’t have been. First of all, compared to Mada those places might as well be the UK. I think another thing I’ve learned is life just goes on everywhere. Mada was recently named the poorest country in the world, and yes, sure, you can see that. The infrastructure is poor, as are the education and health systems and so on. But you can always find a bar to listen to music or have a dance, everyone still loves to laugh, and life honestly stops feeling any different there vs here. Kenya and Ethiopia used to sound exotic to me, but by the time I got there they felt familiar in ways they reminded me of Mada or the UK and interesting in ways they were different. But exotic isn’t really a thing, is it?

Giraffe Centre Nairobi, Kenya

Art from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The last big highlight of month five was stopping in at Marie Stopes Madagascar in Tana. I spent an hour with the Country Director, just talking SRHR in Madagascar and it was educating and inspiring and wonderful. I’m so incredibly proud of the time I spend working for MSI and really hope to be back there some day.

Marie Stopes Madagascar

I’m in the UK for another week and just got back from a quick trip to Sevilla with Gareth which was amaaazing. I’ll do posts about Addis and Nairobi and Sevilla soon, as well, now that I’ve got a working computer and SO MUCH FREE INTERNET WHAT.

Ring-tailed Lemur at Berenty Reserve

All About the Lemurs

As you all know, we spent Christmas at the Berenty Reserve in Androy, Madagascar. You can read about the logistics of such an adventure here, and see the photo diary of everything but the lemurs here. What you will find below are the best pictures and videos I got of all the different lemurs that live in Berenty. So without further ado, the highlight of the trip — the lemurs!

Sifakas Lemurs

These guys were so cute. They live in big groups (up to 13!) and can co-exist peacefully with other lemurs (though they do have certain territory, it can overlap). Sadly, all species of sifakas are threatened, ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered. When not stuffing their faces, which we saw quite a bit, they spend a good part of the day sunbathing, stretched on the branches.

Sifakas lemurs in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar Sifakas lemurs in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar      Sifakas lemurs in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar Sifaksa Lemurs in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

We also saw these guys do a little dance to cross the road at one point, which was honestly so, so cool.

Ring-Tailed Lemurs

These guys were crazy friendly and brave. Though we commonly saw them out in the forest, there are also about 20 who live in the camp and hang out whilst you eat (and try very hard to steal your food). The ring-tailed lemur is highly social, living in groups of up to 30 individuals. It’s matriarchal, a trait common among lemurs. To keep warm and reaffirm social bonds, groups will huddle together. The ring-tailed lemur will also sunbathe, sitting upright facing its underside, with its thinner white fur towards the sun. Sadly, though they reproduce quite easily, they are also endangered due to habitat destruction and hunting for bush meat and the exotic pet trade. In 2017, it was estimated there are only about 2,000 left in the wild.

Ring-tailed Lemur at Berenty Reserve Ring-tailed Lemur at Berenty ReserveRing-Tailed lemurs in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Brown Lemurs

These guys are called the “common” brown lemur and while they were cute they were kind of overshadowed by the others, haha. Though the littler, darker one below was very frightened of this water and watching it muster the courage to drink was pretty adorable.

Brown lemurs in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Also this momma was carrying her baby in her mouth as it was too young to cling to her back.

White Footed Sportive Lemur in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

White Footed Sportive Lemurs

These guys are nocturnal, though we spotted a few in the day. They cling to bush and are pretty difficult to spot. Mothers will live with the children and males live in solidarity but have territories that will overlap those of one or more females. They also eat their own feces, so that’s something.

White Footed Sportive Lemur in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar White Footed Sportive Lemur in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Gray Mouse Lemur

This teeny little lemur (it only weighs about 2 ounces) is ADORABLE. We only spotted them at night and it was hard to get a good picture, but doesn’t it look kind of like a non-creepy furbie? The gray mouse lemur and all other mouse lemurs are considered cryptic species, as they are nearly indistinguishable from each other by appearance. For this reason, the gray mouse lemur was considered the only mouse lemur species for decades until more recent studies began to distinguish between the species.Like all mouse lemurs, this species is nocturnal and arboreal. It is very active, and though it forages alone, groups of males and females form sleeping groups and share tree holes during the day.

Gray Mouse Lemur in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

So I’m assuming you’re currently looking up flights to Madagascar to have your own experience in Berenty Reserve, no?

Honestly, what an incredible Christmas/life experience this was. I’ve seen the lemurs!

Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Berenty Photo Diary

Everything But the Lemurs

During our three incredible days at the Berenty Reserve, we were able to see so much. Dozens and dozens of lemurs, reptiles, birds, bats, and bugs. I’ve already written a post about the logistics of organising a trip to Berenty, but here I wanted to share a photo diary of our time there. This is everything but the lemurs as there were too many of those for one post. You can find the lemurs here!

The Room

Bungalow at Berenty Reserve
Bungalow at Berenty Reserve
Bungalow at Berenty Reserve
Accommodation at Berenty Reserve

 Animals

Lizard, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar Radiated Tortoise, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar Scorpion, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Chameleon, Androy, Madagascar
Owl, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Lizard, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Sleeping Chameleon, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Bird, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Three-eyed Lizard, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

We saw the cycle of life in full effect a few times as well 😉

Chameleons Mating, Berenty Reserve, MadagascarSpider Tortoises Mating, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Snake eating a bird, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

yes, that is a snake eating a bird

Flying Foxes

Flying Foxes, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Flying Foxes, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Flying Foxes, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Berenty

Spiny Forest, Boabab Tree, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Baby Boabab Tree, in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Garden, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar
Spiny Forest, Boabab Tree, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

We saw an 850 year old Baobab tree, which made my Little Prince loving heart very happy. Boabab Tree, in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar Boabab Tree, in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

Don’t forget to check out the lemurs, here!