60 under 30 #8: Croatia

Somewhere in Croatia, between Plitvice Lakes National Park and the Slovenian border is, to most, an ordinary back road. It winds through forests, past farmhouses and even through villages still bombed out from the war of the 1990’s. The route is nothing if not beautiful, the true embodiment of taking the scenic route.

This road, however, is known to four people by a slightly less…err…elegant name. These four people are, of course, my family, and leave it to the Elliotts to turn something majestic into a road now known to us as the Chundy 5 Hundy.

How did it get this name you might ask?

Chundy, is first, short for the slang term “chunder” which my brother and I had recently picked up having spent a week on a boat with several Australians and Kiwis.  Urban Dictionary defines this particularly pleasant word as:

“Chunder means to be sick, it originates from old seafaring days when sailors would get seasick and stick their head out of the porthole in their cabin. As they did this they would shout “Watch Under” to warn people in lower cabins of the forthcoming puke. Over the years this has evolved in Chunder.”

Yum.

5 Hundy is, of course, a reference to races such as the Indy 500, which, although we did not get lost enough to do 500 laps, was an apt enough description of my fathers driving through this particular stretch of back roads.

Amusing? To my father and myself in the front seats, as I had my GoPro out the window taking videos of the scenery zooming past, abso-fucking-lutely.

To my brother and mother turning green in the backseat? Unlikely, regardless of how apt a description the Chundy 5 Hundy became.

Now if you’d asked me a mere couple years prior to this trip if I’d like to have spent two weeks of my holiday on a road trip with my parents, like an average teenager I probably would have looked at you like you had two heads. However, age comes with perspective, as does nearly three years of living abroad, and here we go, I’m about to get emotional.

I miss my parents.

I’m not ashamed to admit it, anyone who lives three thousand miles from their family is lying if they say they don’t. At the time of writing, it’s two weeks from my mother’s fiftieth birthday and a little less than a month until my father’s fifty-fifth. Smack in between the two is my twenty-sixth, all of which won’t be spent together because I live on another continent.

Even in the age of FaceTime and Skype, I still miss a lot. I traded in those birthdays and family holidays to selfishly create my own memories elsewhere. However, out of that, it’s created a whole host of new memories that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Silly ones like the Chundy 5 Hundy, beautiful ones like hiking through the serene lakes of Plitvice, and the unforgettable meal we had in Ljubljana.

I haven’t quite come around to the humour in my dad’s attempt to embarrass my brother and I at every given opportunity, but he’s right, we’re never going to see that waiter in Piran again so maybe I really should “give less of a shit” as he so elegantly puts it.

One thing I’ve certainly learned is that if you happen to be lucky enough to be able to travel with your parents, do it while you can. It will test you at times, and patience is indeed a virtue. But they changed your stinky diaper, so yes, you better goddamn wait for them to catch up when hiking up the side of a mountain.

But does there necessarily have to be some deep and meaningful lesson buried in all this about travelling with your parents and how rewarding it can be?

Probably not.

Could it simply be the lesson that we shouldn’t let my father drive manual on a winding road in rural Croatia?

Almost certainly.

But if you asked me if I would pass up the opportunity to do it with my family all over again?

Not one chance in hell.

 

60 Under 30 #7: Slovenia

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Sounds like something right out of a high school graduation speech to a bunch of teenagers with hopes that still feel like a distant dream. We dream of becoming pilots that fly rockets into space, doctors who cure cancer or famous athletes making millions of dollars to play their favourite sport.

The harsh reality that all but a very small percentage end up facing is that not everyone can save the world, be rich and famous or rocket into space. As we grow up, expectations become tempered and reality sets in. We take a job that pays well because it means security. Dreams become tangible goals such as buying our first house or getting that next raise. Every once in a while you’ll read about someone who quit their “ordinary” job to do something they’ve always dreamed of. To those people, I commend your courage, however, not everyone is wired that way. Some of us are just meant to be “ordinary”.

I promise this wasn’t meant to depress you. There is nothing wrong with ordinary. The wonderful thing about this world and being able to travel across it is that you meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and who possess a wealth of experience. Everywhere you go, you find a whole new definition of what can be seen as “ordinary”.

It’s during these experiences, that every once in a while, you’ll meet someone doing a job that they were clearly meant to be doing. These people take something ordinary and make it exceptional. Everything about the way they talk about their work, carry themselves while doing it and the way they interact with others conveys the feeling that they love what they do.

On this particular trip, I had been travelling through Croatia, Slovenia and on to Austria with my family. The previous stop had been Piran on the Slovenian coast where we had sampled some of the most incredible seafood in the Venetian city and were keen to experience the cuisine of the country’s capital, Ljubljana.

The Vander Restaurant is located alongside the Ljubljanica river. On this particular warm July night, my parents, brother and I found ourselves wandering the streets of Ljubljana after a day visiting Lake Bled. As we walked past the Vander, we noticed it’s lovely patio adjacent to the river and my brother, of course, noticed the delicious sounding steaks on the menu. Done deal. Almost immediately after being sat at a lovely table for four on the patio, we were greeted by the food and beverage manager, Matjaž.

I probably don’t need to tell you that Matjaž is the type of person I’ve been talking about all the way along. From the moment he greeted us he and his team turned an ordinary dinner into something exceptional. Not only was the food delicious but he took the time to ask about our tastes, making excellent recommendations that complemented the meal. Local beer and wine, an Irish whiskey that we still remember to this day, in fact, I have a bottle of the Irish whiskey sitting on my shelf in London.

 

The Meal

Of course, no dinner can truly be complete without food to match the experience and in this regard, there was certainly nothing to disappoint. Our appetizer (a recommendation, of course) was salmon marinated in rum with horseradish and red pepper oil. I honestly struggle to describe it other than an excellent way to start a meal. Guess you’ll just have to try it for yourselves. Make sure you ask for a local beer to taste as well.

For our main courses, my brother, father and I each had the Australian ribeye, while my mother tried the roast chicken fillets. Each was paired with deliciously recommended wines and cooked to perfection. Sometimes comfort foods just can’t be beaten.

We were on holiday so naturally we couldn’t possibly skip dessert, however, we did need to share as we were starting to feel our waistbands getting tighter. If you can only pick one thing, do yourself the favour of their signature Pavlova, and ask for some extra macaroons if you want an extra little treat.

Just writing this made me hungry…

Now I’ve worked in a restaurant before. For several years in high school and university, I spent my summers working at a high-end restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. I can say wholeheartedly and with a lot of experience that it is a tough job. High stress, on your feet all day running between kitchens, bars, dining rooms and patios often without a break for yourself. I’ve often said that everyone should be made to wait tables at least once in their lives and that you can learn an awful lot about a person based on how they speak to a server. Some people can be absolutely horrible to servers and often for things entirely out of their control. With all this said, I find it even more amazing when I come across someone in the food and beverage industry who is able to turn the ordinary into the exceptional.

So thank you, Vander Restaurant, Matjaž and your team, for giving my family an experience to remember by loving what you do.