Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | December 5, 2015

Croatia Trip Itinerary

As promised from my last post, here are a few day-to-day highlights. Unfortunately, our camera was lost/stolen on our very last evening in the Croatia-Montenegro region, and we lost all our photos, so I don’t have as many photos as I would like to share, but there are a few from my husband’s phone and a few that I got from a photo CD that we purchased at the airport – so hopefully that will suffice instead.

Day 1 – Zagreb:

We spent most of the day checking out the city center of Zagreb. We first checked out the town square and our daughter immediately went for the pigeons! She loved them! She thought it was pretty cool to get pretty close to them and then see them fly away!  We explored the Dolac market, which is an open air market with colorful red vendor tents, and explored more of the streets surrounding the area. Our walk took us by several churches (although we should have read our guidebook better as we both wore shorts and weren’t able to enter the churches because of our attire) and then through these very quaint streets. At one point we walked through this little church chapel that was built right into the road/sidewalk. We also saw this cute older couple with their dog playing traditional Croatian music. Our daughter just stopped and listened to them for the longest time.

One of the highlights of Zagreb is St. Mark’s church, which we went to visit on our walk as well. The design on the roof is pretty spectacular and colorful. There were small narrow stone streets that led us through one area lined with restaurants with lots of outdoor seating. Our daughter loved to be independent and walk on her own as we explored the area. We also headed down to the main street to grab some croissant and coffee. The trams in Zagreb are pretty amazing – they actually share the same road as the vehicle traffic, so as we were driving around we had to make sure that we weren’t in an oncoming tram lane.

Although we could have probably spent a little more time in Zagreb, we felt like we saw the majority of it in the 3/4 of the day we spent there. In the late afternoon we headed out toward Plitvice National Park for our adventure there the next day. We stayed at our first airbnb place at Branka’s house. Her father cared for the guest house and he loved our daughter, but she liked him as well. Most of the time she doesn’t like strangers, but when he held her she didn’t make a peep and she later referred to him as “papa.”

Day 2 – Plitvice National Park:

I pretty much touched on our day at Plitvice National Park earlier in yesterday’s post – but it was definitely a highlight of the trip, even with the less than ideal weather.  We started with the C loop trail and then took the boat ride and when we got to the first stop, we decided to get off and do the F loop as well – it really filtered out the large tourist groups. After we completed the F loop, we took the boat again across the lake and at the top of the hill there was a bus (that looked like a train – I originally thought we were going to go on a train when I read the material about the park!) to take you back to the other entrance of the National Park. However, we were enjoying our time so much that we thought it might be nice to walk back (it was on the opposite side of the lake from which we came from). To be honest, we probably didn’t need to walk back and we really didn’t see too much, but on that section I think we only ran into about 5 other people, so it was pretty peaceful with just our family.

We spent 5 hours within the National Park and I think we pretty much saw everything. That afternoon we drove to Zadar to spend a night there. Zadar has an unique Old Town, it is on an island with a bridge connecting it to the rest of the city. That evening we went into the Old Town for a dinner of pizza and gelato. There were a few pizza and gelato places we saw in Zagreb, but once you hit the coastline you’re more in Dalamatian territory, which has more of a Venetian feel. Both were equally delicious and we enjoyed our evening walking through the narrow stone streets of the Zadar Old Town. The little gelato shop in Zadar that we stopped at had one of the coolest displays of gelato that I have ever seen.

Day 3 – Zadar/Sibenik:

In the morning, we head back over to the Zadar Old Town to explore it more. We stopped to visit various sites like St. Donat Church, ruins and museum. One of the things I enjoy most about Europe is how their culture today still revolves around the past. As part of the ruins there was a little sidewalk cafe as part of it. One of the most unique places in Zadar were the steps built along the pier that ran into the ocean, which were constructed to be a sea organ. As you stood above the stairs you could hear the different notes being played and it really did sound like an organ.

Late that morning we drove 90 minutes to our next stop along the Dalamatia Coast – Sibenik. We were going to stop at Krka National Park on our way there, but when we stopped to inquiry about parking were told that we would need more time than we had. So we postponed our visit to Krka and continued onto to Sibenik. When we arrived, we enjoyed a picnic lunch along the Promenade, which provided a view of very expensive yachts and settled into our place for that evening. Our place that evening was right in the middle of the Old Town, so we had to transport our bags a little ways (although not far) from our car to our place. We were tucked away in this little square in the corner of the Old Town, and it was very authentic to stay there for the evening.  When we met the airbnb owner that afternoon she was surprised to find that we were from Canada and visiting Sibenik – she said typically most visitors here are from within Europe; however, we really enjoyed our stay in Sibenik.

 

While our daughter enjoyed a nap that afternoon, I went on a run through the Old Town of Sibenik. There were so many stairs there!  Almost like a stair workout in a stadium back home!  That evening we went for a seafood dinner at the Admiral’s. We tried a squid dish with swiss chard and potatoes. It was actually really good, but it took a while to get our food so it ended up being a late night for our daughter and it took lots of entertaining at the table and some walks on the small Old Town street right below the patio. Our daughter’s theme for our whole trip was to run! She loved it….I would say “1, 2, 3, Go!” so then anytime she wanted to run she would start backing up and say “two, two” and that would be my cue to say “go”.

Day 4 – Sibenik & Krka National Park:

The next morning, Alex went to go grab us some fresh bread for breakfast and some coffee. It was so cool that he could just wander out to the streets and get us everything we needed for breakfast in about 10-15 minutes. We explored more of Sibenik in the morning. We made the climb up to St. Michael’s Fortress, which sits at the highest point of Old Town Sibenik, and toured there. (Thank goodness we didn’t try to take the stroller with us that day – lots of stairs!) St. Michael’s Fortress is basically a castle, but what’s cool about it is that they actually use it as a performing arts space today. How cool would it be to see a show in a castle?  We also stopped to get some gelato in an old monastery garden (although there are still some active monasteries and nunneries in Croatia). We also visited St. James Cathedral, which was beautiful from the outside and inside.

Our daughter graduated to her own ice cream cone this day – we sat next to St. James Cathedral and watched the people passing by and the children rollerskating around the town square. She was quite good at handling the cone and impressively didn’t make a mess, although we made sure to bring a bib along in our day bag.🙂

After lunch we drove back to Krka National Park. Once we parked we took a bus to Skradinski Buk falls. These were pretty magnificent waterfalls as they extended across quite a bit of area and there were a few different levels of the falls. At the bottom there was a place that you could swim. We didn’t end up swimming because it was a little cool and Clara was sleeping, but there were quite a few people who were. Like Plivice, there were some wooden boardwalks that you could take all the way around the back side of the falls, which is where there were more little falls. On that walk, we also saw a wild fox, although he wasn’t too wild because we probably got within 10 ft. of him! They also had a nice display on how the waterfalls were used to help with power, mills, washing, etc. in history.  After exploring there for about 1 1/2 hours we took the bus back up to the parking lot – although we almost got taken out on the bus ride – 1 big bus against oncoming traffic on the narrow road.

Krka National Park actually expands quite a bit of area, and you could pay for a boat ticket to take you to the other areas. However, there is also a road that will take you to the other areas of the park, so we took our car and drove to Roski Slap. The falls at this location weren’t quite as impressive, and we ran out of time to hike up the pathway that takes you up to some caves, but the drive there was nice. We saw some cool, quaint small villages with the locals just hanging out and chatting with each other.

We drove the rest of the way to Split that afternoon and arrived in Split before dinner. We settled into our new airbnb location (we would stay here 2 nights) and it had a homey feel to it, especially since I had to do some laundry and hang the clothes out of dry on our little clothes line next to the balcony (on the 5th floor…luckily I didn’t drop anything!) Being on the 5th floor we also got a good workout in with carrying our daughter up the stairs, as well as our bag and stroller! We headed into Old Town Split, which was walking distance away from our place, and explored there for a bit and had our staple meal of pizza and gelato, as well as stopped at the grocery store for some groceries. The city of Split has a cool feel and the Old Town & Diocletian’s Palace made it one of the more interesting Old Towns we visited.

Day 5 – Split:  

We started out the day by driving out to Klis Castle/Fortress, which is where some of the filming takes place for Game of Thrones. Parts of the fortress were built in the B.C. time era, which is pretty spectacular when you think about it still being here and the amount of work it must have been to build it on the huge hill on which it stands overlooking Split.

After exploring the fortress and having lunch, we went to Bacvice Beach, which is supposedly one of the most popular beaches in Dalamatia. However, because it was not technically summer (although still nice temperatures) it wasn’t as crowded as it could have been, and it was a little sad to see all the cigarette buds in the sand. We played for a bit in the sand and my husband and daughter ventured out into the water a few times.

While my daughter napped that afternoon, I took off for a run along the Split Promenade and then followed a path along the ocean which lead to Marjan Park. There were some great pebble beaches and green space along the path and I really enjoyed my run that afternoon.  After my run and some dinner back at the apartment, we headed back to the Old Town to try some new flavors of gelato and to explore it a bit more.

Day 6 – Split to Brac Island:  

We rented bikes in the morning (they even had a child’s seat on the back) and rode them to Marjan Forest Park, which is a park on the peninsula of the city.  The bike path took us along the harbour and it was amazing some of the large yachts that were there. We stopped for a pastry and coffee along the way and even stopped to play at the Croatian playground for our daughter.

We started the rest of the bike ride up to the top of the hill within Marjan Park, and it was a steep ascent. Our daughter did really well on the bike ride and seemed to enjoy the seat and the view she got, but like anything after a while got a little restless. The part where she got the most restless was as we were ascending the steepest part to the top. So it was a workout to try to sing songs with her to keep her entertained and ride the bike up to the top at the same time. Along our ascent we saw some of the older little churches that were built directly into the rock faces – they were adorable. The steep climb to the top was definitely worth it and the views over Split and the coast were amazing.

After our bike ride we rode our bikes down to the oceanside path and tried to have lunch at one of the beachside cafes; however, it was Monday and we quickly found out that the cafes are closed and don’t serve food on Mondays, only drinks. We threw rocks from the rocky beach into the ocean for a bit – our daughter really liked doing that and then went back to the Promenade to get some lunch and return our bikes.

The remainder of the day we explored the upper parts of Diocletian’s Palace as well as visited the cellars/basement. The cellars were interesting because it has some of the most well preserved areas as most changes to the area occurred above ground. Part of the cellars were used as a market/vendor space and then the hisotrical elements of the cellar are in a preserved area where you pay admission. Diocletian’s Palace was built as a retirement home, and at the time it was constructed basically the back door was directly to the ocean – talk about oceanside access.

Later in the afternoon we caught the car ferry to Brac Island – just in the group of islands off the coastline from Split. The ferry ride was 50 minutes and then we had another 45 minute drive to the opposite side of the island to the town of Bol that we would stay in for 2 nights.  The drive was scenic with the little towns, the fields of olive trees and the vineyards. Our first night in Bol we enjoyed a night of take out pizza and some vino!🙂 The wind was really strong on the island and it got cold quickly in the evening, so it was nice to stay inside that night.

Day 7 – Brac Island:  

We hiked up Vidova Gora in the morning. Vidova Gora is the tallest mountain on the island and we basically went from sea level tot 778 meters high. It was pretty steep and rocky at times, and it was quite the workout when carrying the hiking backpack with our daughter in it as well. It took us an hour and 45 minutes to get to the top, but when we did, you could see for miles and even across the bay to Split. We didn’t actually go to the summit, but supposedly there was a restaurant up that that we missed. However, we decided to head down and on the way down it took us about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

After the hike we walked around the streets close to the harbour and grabbed some lunch at a pastry shop and enjoyed some gelato, before heading to the beach Zlatni Rat. This was another rocky beach but there were tons of activity going on – there were kite surfers and many of the yachts would anchor near the beach and then swim to shore. We enjoyed our time there mostly by throwing rocks into the water. Near the water the rocks actually created a little bit of a slope down to the water, so we sat on the edge of the slope. However, there were so many rocks that sometimes you lost your footing, as they acted like quick sand.

For dinner that evening, we headed to quaint seaside town along the bay and enjoyed dinner at a seafood restaurant on their outdoor seating area. The outdoor seating areas were perfect with our daughter and we always liked it when we could get our table next to an empty table or two. We had a delicious seafood risotto and some seafood spaghetti.

Day 8 – Brac Island to Markarska:  

Our second morning on Brac Island we took the 10:30 a.m. ferry back to Split and then went for lunch and did a little shopping for souvenirs before heading to our next destination Markarska. The drive there was very scenic with the oceans and the mountains meeting each other along the coastline. We arrived at our Airbnb destination and met our host Marin and our daughter particularly enjoyed meeting his cat.

After dropping our items off we we went down to the beach as it felt warm – even though it was September 30th! The views of Markarska were awesome with the little beach town at the base of the mountains. The beach was nice, but a rocky beach, but our daughter again liked playing in the rocks and throwing her tube back and forth like a frisbee. However, you could tell that Markarska is mostly a summer destination spot as the beach was not busy and many of the beachside shops were closed for winter already.

We walked around the Old Town for a bit (although it was smaller than the previous ones we had been to) and enjoyed an authentic Croatian meal that was chicken and a rice blend; and of course, gelato – only 5 kuna here! On our way back to our airbnb we stopped in the town square area (with a little church behind it) and played a little ring-a-round the rosie with our daughter. She also enjoyed watching the other children that were playing tag in the square as well.

One of the best things about Markarska was our airbnb host, Marin. He invited us out to his outdoor kitchen in the evening to chat. He provided lots of insight about Croatia, such as unemployment, as well as pay, was bad. He told us that the average pay per month was 800 Euro/month, and gave us a little insight to the intense soccer rivalries within Croatia and how dangerous it can be.

Day 9 – Markarska to Dubrovnik:

Before heading to Dubrovnik (we tried to plan most of the long driving trips in the afternoon with the idea that our daughter could nap in the car….that didn’t always work), we went down to the Markarska oceanfront for a pastry breakfast and coffee and a walk around the park at the front of the bay. The park was nice as it had a little church at the top, as well as some statues overlooking the bay. It also provided some great views back at the town with the mountains in the background.

We had one more coffee with Marin before the 3 hour drive to Dubrovnik. To get from Markarska to Dubrovnik, we had to drive through Bosnia. In this part of Europe there were still border crossings between countries. When we arrived at the Bosnian border crossing, they basically just looked at the cover of our passports, saw that we were from Canada and the US and handed them back to us to pass through the border (they didn’t even open them to verify that it was us). So that we could say that we stepped on Bosnian soil, we stopped for a coffee and some photo ops. I didn’t get to go into the shop to get the coffee, but my husband said that they seemed to have a slightly different accent than the people in Croatia. Although we didn’t see any war damage, etc. through the part that we drove through, there were parts of it that looked a little more industrial than where we had been in Croatia – but it also wasn’t a tourist spot. In total we were only in Bosnia for about 10-15 km.

Once we arrived in Dubrovnik and checked into our new airbnb – this one had to be my daughter’s favorite as they had toys for her to play with – we headed to the marquee Dubrovnik Old Town for the evening. There was a charge to walk around the Old Town Wall, but it was definitely worth the fee. We got some awesome views and perspective of the Old Town below, as well as the ocean on the other side of the wall. It took us a little over an hour to walk around and in parts it reminded us of the Great Wall of China as there were some stairs or steep sections in parts.

After our hike we had dinner at a restaurant in one of the alleys of the Old Town, which had a quaint location. The Dubrovnik Old Town was very well preserved and parts of it even reminded us of Edinburgh because of the stairs to get from the entrance of the Old Town (from modern day Dubrovnik) down to the centre of the Old Town. At the centre streets of the Old Town, they had these little gutters that lined the streets and our daughter loved to follow these down the street – it made it easier to keep her focused and going in one straight direction.

Day 10 – Dubrovnik to Montenegro:  

In the morning, we went back to the Old Town to explore it more during the daytime. We checked out some of the churches and alleys and walked along the side of the Old Town that meets the bay. There was also a nice little market happening in some of the sections of the Old Town, so that was fun to see as well. One of the most unique places we came across was a “Kitty Hotel”. Within all of Croatia there are lots of stray cats; however, they seem to be well treated and this one little area we came upon was set up as a little haven for cats – there was food, water and some areas for the cats to lay down in. There was also a little sign that asked for people to donate to help supply food for the cats.

In the early afternoon we drove to Montenegro as it was only about a 90 minute drive from Dubrovnik. Again between Croatia and Montenegro we had to stop at the border crossing and get our passports reviewed. They reviewed ours quickly, but it seems like some other vehicles spent much more time at the border crossing. Shortly after crossing the border we came upon a police officer standing on the side of the road next to his vehicle and he motioned over to Alex to pull over. He told him that he was going 72 km in a 50 km speed zone. At that point Alex got out of the car and went to talk to the officers, and he explained that he was from Canada and was just here for the hike up Kotor. They actually let him go without the ticket, thank goodness, as they said the fine was a range of 50-250 Euro.

As we drove into Kotor the view was pretty spectacular with the bay in the middle of the mountains. We checked into our place and then headed to the Old Town of Kotor. We immediately did the hike up to the Kotor Fortress. The trail was steep in places and there was a combination of stairs with basically a trail of gravel/stones to the side of that. I found that going on the stairs was better, and felt safer, especially with the hiking carrier on my back. We really enjoyed the hike up to the top and there were some really scenic spots, especially as you turned back to view the Bay of Kotor below you. There was one little spot where there was a window in one of the structures and in the little valley below you could see this tiny little church – it was very cute. The hike probably took us about an hour to get up to the top – but we were taking lots of pictures – and then we headed back down.

We headed back to our place on the opposite side of the bay and went to a local restaurant that was at the bottom of our street. We sat out in the patio area and it had a great view of the Old Town with the old city walls lit up at night. The waiter couldn’t speak English well and the menu wasn’t in very descriptive English, so we were exactly sure what we were getting. We tried to ask if a couple of the items had sides with them, but our waiter didn’t understand. But the price seemed too cheap to have sides, so we ordered a bunch of different items, like risotto, seafood skewers, spaghetti and a couple of salads. Wow! We definitely ordered way too much food!  However, we could definitely tell that we were off the tourist path based on these prices. (Montenegro uses the Euro as their currency) We ended up having them package up the food for us to take home because there was so much leftover that we thought we might be able to eat for lunch the next day.

Unfortunately, this was also the place where we accidentally left our camera. It was dark out on the patio when we left (we were basically just using candlelight) and we must have been distracted with the other items and our daughter that it somehow got forgotten or we thought we had placed it in our backpack. Unfortunately, when we realized it, the camera was already gone.

Day 11 – Kotor, Montenegro:

Unfortunately, this was one of the worst days on our trip, due to losing the camera and the memory card on it. We waited for the restaurant to open and then talked with the owners and waited for the waiter to come to work to see if they perhaps picked it up the night before. Unfortunately, none of them recalled seeing it. We ended up putting up reward posters, but we were never contacted.

In the afternoon, we HAD to go back to Dubrovnik to catch our flight back to Germany, so we drove back and then flew to Frankfurt. We stayed in an airport hotel that night.

Day 12 – Trier, Germany & Luxembourg:

As we were flying standby the availability on the flights back to Canada weren’t looking good until the following day, so we made the decision to stay in mainland Europe. We rented a car and then decided to drive to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg – to add a new country to both of our country lists.🙂  Even on the autobahn, it was about a 3 hour drive, so along the way we stopped in Trier, Germany for lunch.

The Trier square was a very iconic European square. There was some water fountains, the cute multi-colored buildings surrounding the square and lots of activity, especially since it was a Sunday. Considering none of the shops were open, it was mainly just people out and about for the day or out enjoying lunch at one of the outdoor seating areas of the patios. There were groups of individuals playing music as well – at one point we had a whole band dressed in pink sitting next to our table at the restaurant.

We sat outside and enjoyed a traditional German meal of schitzel, bratwurst and some pretzels. Our daughter seemed to enjoy the pretzels, as well as the french fries like she did in Croatia. I really enjoyed all the outdoor seating in Europe because while we waited for food, we could go walking around with our daughter as she has a low attention span for sitting in one place for a long period of time.

After our lunch in Trier, we headed to Luxembourg City. We headed to the older part of the city here to explore. Luxembourg City was unique in that there were higher parts of the city, but then there were also parts of the city in the valleys below – which also meant a lot of climbing stairs and walking up steep hills again.🙂

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get exploring as soon as we would have liked because we were completely out of diapers for our daughter and we needed to get some. We tried to find some in Trier but everyone said the stores were closed on Sundays. We eventually asked a girl at a bus stop where we might be able to find a store on a Sunday afternoon that was open and she suggested that we go to a grocery store near the train station. So we loaded back in the car and headed there. Thank goodness they had some there because I don’t know what we would have done otherwise – our poor daughter was in the previous diaper for way too long because it took us so long to find a place. So needless to say we quickly realized that shopping isn’t something you do in Luxembourg or Germany on a Sunday.

We went back to the main area to explore and walked around the ruins (for lack of better term) and then into the Old Town streets along the canal. It was a very unique city and when you were down in the Old Town, when you looked up it was amazing how high the walls were along the edges of it. We didn’t end up having a whole lot of time in Luxembourg, but I think we got the gist of it, and we can now add to our list of countries that we have been to.

Day 13 – Back Home:

This was our travel day back home. That morning we woke up early (but I was still able to fit in a run that morning, which was a nice way to explore the area of Luxembourg by our hotel) and drove back to Frankfurt. We thought we would just stop at McDonalds on the way out of Luxembourg for breakfast, but when we drove up to the drive-in we realized they were closed! They didn’t open until 10:30 or 11 a.m. – and they didn’t have a breakfast menu – interesting learning for us! (By the way, we amazingly NEVER say really any North American fast food restaurants during our stay in Croatia, nor any North American big box stores! – I was really impressed with that!)

Our flight from Frankfurt to Vancouver was very full (this flight was really long – about 10-11 hours). Originally Alex and I were sitting apart from each other, but we were able to ask the single guy next to me if he’d be interested in taking Alex’s seat. Luckily he obliged and I’m sure it was a good decision for him to do so, as he would have been sitting right in between a couple with a small baby and then me with my daughter in my lap squirming around. For this flight we unfortunately didn’t get a spare seat so our daughter had to sit on someone’s nap the whole time. Luckily though we were in one of the bulkhead seats so there was a little room at our feet for her to play at, as well as the flight attendants brought out the bassinets that attached to the bulkhead. Unfortunately, I think our daughter only slept about 50 minutes of that 11 hour flight, but at least we could sit her in the bassinet for her to play her games so that our legs could get a rest from her sitting on them. She did really well on the flight again, but of the over 20+ flights that she has ever been on, this one on the descent seemed to bother her ears. However, she was starting to get a cold, so I’m sure that’s the main reason why.

The Lufthansa flight attendants were very helpful and friendly too. Our daughter got a little stuffed duck from them as a boarding gift and she still carries around that duck with her even 2 months later.  You could definitely tell that Lufthansa was a family friendly airline; when we went to check in for our flight earlier that day they had a special line for families with young children and then a step so that the kids could step up and see what the agent was doing over the counter.

When we arrived in Vancouver we had a couple hour layover and then caught our flight back to Calgary. By that point we had all been awake for almost 24 hours straight, so it was an early night to bed for all of us!

Overall, we really enjoyed our trip to Croatia and we would definitely consider going back sometime. It had a lot of culture and history, but it was nice that is wasn’t overpriced either. However, like we always say there are so many other first-time places to explore before making a 2nd trip back!🙂

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | December 4, 2015

Croatia Trip – Sept/Oct. 2015

Earlier this year, I came home from work one day and my husband proposed, “Do you want to go to Croatia for vacation this year?”  To be honest, I hadn’t ever really thought much about going to Croatia and didn’t really know much about it. But in my traveling spirit, I said, “Sure!”  However, as time passed, we started to think more about the actual logistics of the trip, especially with our daughter who would be 20-21 months old at the time. I had always told myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those parents that stopped traveling abroad just because they had small children. However, when we started to think of the 10+ hour plane ride, lack of routine and the 9 hour time change, it was a little daunting.

Initially, due to some upcoming expenses (i.e. new roof in 2016) that we knew we needed to take care of in the next year or so, we were going to stay close to North America. However, a hailstorm and some insurance coverage helped cover those upcoming expenses, we were able to head to Europe in late September 2015, which is where we really wanted to go.

Then about a week before we were to depart, was the news story about the Syrian refugees coming through Croatia and being held because Slovenia wasn’t wanting to accept any refugees. We were mostly concerned because we didn’t want them to close any border crossings while we were there and then we would be stuck; as well as with some other areas of Europe, we didn’t want to come up against any violence. However, we closely monitored the situation until the day of our departure and things looked well, so we went for it!  (We were mostly going to be spending time on the coast, which most of the refugees would be coming through the mainland of Croatia, so we didn’t think we’d be affected.)  We’re glad we did decide to go for it because even during our time in the capital city of Zagreb we couldn’t see any trace of refugees. Granted we may have been in the wrong place, but we definitely weren’t affected.

Traveling with a 21 Month Old:

By the time we flew to Croatia, our daughter had done an 8 hour car ride, so I was feeling a little better about keeping her entertained. It was the time change that I was most nervous about. She did absolutely perfect on the plane ride (maybe could have slept just a little more) – including a connection in Toronto and in Amsterdam. We kept busy with playing games on the iPad, playing with stickers and reading books. By the time we settled into our hotel that evening, she was so tired that she fell right asleep, and miraculously slept until the next morning when we woke her up. The subsequent nights she also slept through the night, and pretty much adjusted to the time change quickly – although it might have helped that her naps were typically shorter than normal. (However, coming home was the opposite, it probably took her about 7-9 days to normalize again.)

She did great throughout the trip. She did nap some during long car rides but one of the best spots to get her to fall asleep was in her hiking backpack. About every 2-3 days if she hadn’t gotten a decent nap in the carrier or in her car seat we would take a low key afternoon and let her sleep at our place of accommodation. She kept us busy, as her favorite thing to do was run, but it was it was fun to see her explore and see new things, and she was very flexible. She may have not known the significance of some of the things we saw, but I know she knew that it was a special trip and she was happy to be along! She also discovered gelato and became a true fan of that!🙂  We may have used gelato as bribery a few times throughout the trip….

Accommodation:

Our first night in the hotel, was only one of two nights that we spent in a hotel room. This trip we tried something completely different than what we had done before and stayed at all places off of airbnb.com.  Basically most of the places on  airbnb were holiday apartments that locals rented out to guests. Because we were there in the off-season the prices were slightly discounted as well. However, my personal favorite part of them is that you got a touch of the culture by meeting and talking with the local owner, and a sense of what it feels like be a local there. It was also very advantageous to have an apartment type set-up with our daughter because we could put her to bed at night in a separate room without having to hide in the bathroom or patio while she slept. Plus we were able to have breakfast there before heading out for the day and sometimes made dinner as a cost saver. All the places we stayed at were great and we really enjoyed this new aspect of our traveling!  We will definitely be staying at more places on airbnb in the future.

A Little Background on Croatia:

One of the highlights of going to Croatia was that it has a Venetian history, so a very Italian feel, but without the expensive cost that sometimes comes with traveling to Italy (this is mostly on the coast – the inland doesn’t have as much of a Venetian flair). The Croatian currency was the Kuna, and 5 Kuna = $1 CND (or 7 Kuna = $1 USD).

When you read the guidebooks and talked to some locals, they all talked about how the local Croatians really struggle to keep up with their daily expenses and most people are living in debt. However, because we were mostly just eating food, we didn’t really notice this price discrepancy as much as we had heard about…we’re assuming it has more to do with housing and low salaries. However, you could get a coffee with milk for 6-12 Kuna (although their coffee isn’t the drip coffee like in North America – it’s like a shot of espresso with milk in it). And we took many trips to the grocery store and found the food to be similarly priced to food here in Canada, with the exception of the milk!  It was much less expensive there.

Because of Croatia’s Venetian influence, the food is very similar to Italy’s cuisine as well – mostly on the coast again. There was lots of pasta to choose from, pastries (I love European bakeries!) pizza, and of course, my favorite from my own travels to Italy – gelato! The gelato was also reasonably priced – the cheapest we saw was 5 Kuna and the most expensive 10 Kuna. This is as costly as a McDonalds ice cream cone back home, but so much better tasting! We may have went a bit overboard, with sometimes up to 3 gelatos a day (as I hang my head in embarrassment). But some of the gelatos were beautiful as well!  Each flavor had an extravagant display of what flavor it was. For instance, the candy flavored ones had the actual candy bar on top, but it wasn’t just sprinkled, it was over the top!

Delicious Croatia Ice Cream

Initially our daughter started off with sharing a gelato with either my husband or I – and most of the gelato places always gave her her very own cone to snack on – but by the second or third day, she was pretty much eating all of mine, so she got her own! (Plus, it was so cheap!…and I wanted to eat my own ice cream.)  The little gelato shops were everywhere in the Old Towns that we visited, and she quickly started to recognize them and when she saw them, she would say, “Ice cream, ice cream”. The gelato was definitely her favorite meal of the day. My husband and I had to always refer to it as ‘gelato’ otherwise if we said ‘ice cream’ we were hooped. (We even went to a local gelato shop when we came back home and she recognized it was ice cream from outside the door. You can say we conditioned her well.)

Beauty of Croatia:

The sites in Croatia were pretty amazing as well. We had a really balanced trip of visiting places in the cities (especially the Old Towns) and places out in nature. We ended up bringing a small stroller and a hiking backpack for our daughter, and even though it was a pain to lug around in the airports, we’re glad that we brought both. We had some tremendous hikes, and our small stroller was perfect for the Old Town streets. At one point we had considered bringing our BOB stroller – if we had done that, I can’t imagine the number of sidewalk jams we would have had, as well as how much we would have stuck out like a sore thumb!  The Old Towns were amazing and it was hard to believe how long ago these towns were built, and it was cool to see the Old Towns with their city walls intact as well.

My personal favorite parts of the trip were the natural places we visited. When we first started to research about Croatia we had heard about Plitvice National Park. The only difficult part was that it was kind of off the beaten path of most of the coastal towns that we wanted to visit. Therefore, part of our reason for flying into Zagreb was so that we could hit up Plitvice on our drive out to the coast. [We rented a car for the entire duration of the trip – a definite ‘nice to have’ with a toddler, and where she got most of her naps during the trip, as we tried to plan the longer drives around her nap time.]

I’m so glad that we decided to go to Plitvice though – it is basically a mecca of waterfalls!  I’ve been blessed to see many beautiful places around the world, but this is probably in the top 3 of the most beautiful I’ve been to! The weather was a bit miserable, it was rainy and only about 8-10 C for a high that day, but luckily the scenery was a good distraction. When we initially started the morning we thought we would probably only be able to do the main hiking loop (C Trail) as it would be too cold and wet to do all of them like we had originally wanted to. However, the views were too impressive to pass up the other trail and we went for the F loop as well (which had much less tourists on the paths and provided a little more serenity). Luckily 8-10 C didn’t feel as cold as it sometimes does back home too!

The waterfalls were pretty much everywhere you looked as you hiked along the wooden pathway system that stretched through the Park, over the water and right next to the waterfalls. There were big waterfalls, small waterfalls – it was absolutely magnificent! Our daughter loved the hike as well. She loved to look at the waterfalls and the water was so clear that she could see the fish, as well as the ducks. She also took a good nap in the backpack, which gave us some good exploring time. By the time it was all said and done, we had spent 5 hours hiking/exploring Plitvice. (However, it’s pretty much all even elevation, so it wasn’t too strenuous)

Based on our experience at Plitvice we decided to hit up the other large National Park further south on our route – Krka National Park. This was also beautiful with one really large fall and then some smaller ones (just not as numerous as at Plitvice). However, I’ve never seen so many waterfalls like this, so I’ve dubbed Croatia as ‘land of the waterfalls.’ On the nature side of things, we also enjoyed hiking Vidova Gora (778 meter summit) on the Island of Brac, a bike ride through Marjan Forest Park in Split and during our stay in Kotor, Montenegro a hike to the Kotor Fortress with spectacular views of the Bay of Kotor.

 

We had an amazing trip and Croatia was a great place to visit!  Check back on the blog tomorrow for our day-by-day itinerary of our trip!

 

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | September 18, 2014

Snow on Sept. 8th!! – Unacceptable!

Last Monday we had an unpleasant surprise in Calgary….SNOW!! This is my fourth September in Calgary, and I hadn’t seen snow in the month of September yet (although I have been informed that it can pretty much snow 10 months out of the year here), but my September streak was broken! A cold front moved through and it brought cold temperatures and the dreaded white stuff. We also had freezing temperatures for about 3-4 nights.

The start of the snow at our house last Monday, Sept. 8. This was the signal it was time to get out of town!

The start of the snow at our house last Monday, Sept. 8. This was the signal it was time to get out of town!

My husband got home from work the morning it started snowing, and immediately he started looking for ways we could get out of the snow. Luckily, we have some stand-by airline passes, so we decided to go visit my husband’s aunts who were visiting from Scotland in Vancouver, BC. Then we rented a vehicle and drove down to the southern Vancouver (Washington) and we spent a majority of our time in Portland, OR. We had a great time down there – we visited spots along the Columbia River Gorge, including a couple of beautiful waterfalls, checked out Washington Park in Portland, tasted several craft beers, and drove back on the Pacific Coast Highway – but the best part was just enjoying the warm weather and not having snow! When we left on Monday morning, it was snowing and accumulating, but nothing like it did after we left. The only annoyance we experienced was having to wait on the airplane for about 1 hr and 15 minutes waiting in line to be de-iced by the de-icing trucks. The airport only had four trucks working and weren’t expecting this already in September – I can’t blame them!

Our little girl excited that we are smelling the roses in Washington Park in Portland, OR rather than dealing the snow!

Our little girl excited that we are smelling the roses in Washington Park in Portland, OR rather than dealing the snow!

However, the snow did actually cause quite a bit of damage throughout the city. Because the trees still had all their leaves, the heavy wet snow caused many branches to break from the weight. Plus with trees/branches falling, power lines were also affected and many people were without power for a period of time. So now there are many branches laying astray and the sound of roaring chainsaws cutting and trimming trees.

One of many photos from the storm in Calgary. (Photo Credit: NewsDaily)

One of many photos from the storm in Calgary. (Photo Credit: NewsDaily)

However, by the time we got back into Calgary the snow was all gone, and this week we are back to wearing shorts! Thank goodness! Snow, you made a point, but please don’t come back for another two months!!!

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | August 21, 2014

Mixbook vs. Shutterfly Photobooks

Over the past couple of years I have been procrastinating making scrapbooks for the trips we took in 2012 and 2013. In the past, I would make my own scrapbooks by cutting out all the photos and designing the pages. However, with just having a baby at the end of last year I determined I won’t have time to spend on scrapbooking that I used to. Therefore, I started to check into different digital photobooks that I could create online. I did a little research before and determined that based on reviews Mixbooks.com and Shutterfly.com would offer me the most flexibility and options for what I wanted. 

I created two photobooks on Mixbooks – one for our India and European RV trip – and one photobook on Shutterfly for our South Korean trip. These are my personal reviews of the different photobook websites.

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Advantages of Mixbooks 

What initially drew me to Mixbooks is that I liked the template designs they had available more than the templates on Shutterfly. However, once I started working in the program, I really appreciated the tools they had available. One of the advantages over Shutterfly in Mixbooks is that you can format or apply editing to specific photos (i.e. lighten, darken or adjust other components just liek you might in Photoshop). Whereas in Shutterfly, you can only apply affects like black & white, Sephia, Fade, etc.

Personally, I liked Mixbooks a little bit over Shutterfly because it had a similar layout as other photo editing programs I’ve used, more versatility and more templates that match my tastes. In addition, I thought they had more options for page backgrounds too.

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Advantages of Shutterfly

Shutterfly did have one cool additional add-on you could order – a little pocket you could attach to the inside of the cover to store brochures, pamphlets and other materials from your trips! I really liked that feature since I collect things like that on our trips. 

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Even-Steven:

There were these slight advantages to each program, but to be honest there were a lot of similarities. Both programs were easy to use and to upload photos, as well as had several size options of photobooks you could choose from. In addition, both had the ability to pick your layout of photos based on how many photos you wanted to put on one page, which was very helpful when trying to figure out the layout of your pages. Plus there were already page templates you could choose from. 

Also both programs had the ability where the program would place the photos for you through your book to save the user time, but I’m too much of a control-freak to do that! I like the ability to choose which photos go where.

In addition, the final product from both is solid as well! All the books were nice and done professionally. Of course, there are add-ons for both programs like upgrading the type of paper used, type of cover used (i.e. softcover, hardcover or leather) and other features, but I ordered the basic ones and really liked how they turned out.

Both of the programs also offer multiple discount promo codes to cut the cost. In fact, I would suggest signing up for the website’s promo emails and wait until a good promo comes out to order. The biggest discount I have seen on both Mixbooks and Shutterfly was 50% off, and believe me, this makes a huge difference in the amount you pay, especially when you’re like me and add additional pages to your books!

Overall, the prices were somewhat similar in the end as well. I did the 12 x 12 hardcover books on both websites and even though the Shutterfly one was $5 more and $.25 more for additional pages than Mixbooks, on Shutterfly I was able to use the free shipping discount code; whereas, on Mixbook I wasn’t able to use a shipping discount at the same time as the discount for the overall book.

Overall they are somewhat similar, but I’ll probably mostly use Mixbooks in the future because I really do prefer their template designs and additional tool option; and I’ve already started on my next project – working on a photobook for my daughter’s first year!

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | August 19, 2014

NEXUS Card for Baby

When I first moved to Canada, I applied for the NEXUS program which pre-approves certain travelers for expedited processing at the border crossings between Canada and the U.S. It has come in handy, especially when there are long line-ups at the customs area. Plus, at least at the Calgary airport, there are NEXUS lines for security screening too. So the fastest time I’ve ever gotten through customs and security at the Calgary airport was 8 minutes, which normally it can take up to an hour if you’re going through at high traffic times!

I eventually convinced my husband to get one as well, so needless to say when we had our daughter we needed to get her a card as well. In fact, you can’t go through the NEXUS line if everyone in your party doesn’t have a NEXUS card. Initially, I tried to see if there was a way I could get her card faster than going through the normal approval process since we both have a card or pre-apply for “baby”, but that wasn’t possible. Also, it’s not possible to apply until you have the birth certificate so I had to wait the extra time for the birth certificate to be processed – but by that time I had her passport too so I was able to use that.

The application process is pretty straight forward. You just go to the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) create an account and then fill out the forms, which ask about basic information, work information, citizenship documents, and past places of residency for the past 5 years or so. Typically there is also a $50 fee for the application and card, but for children under 18 there is no fee. The card is valid for 5 years. 

After submitting the application, you receive a notice that you have conditionally been approved (it took approximately 3-4 weeks), at which time you schedule an in-person enrollment center – there are several located through the U.S. and Canada. This was the most time consuming part of the process — waiting for the interview. It is especially the longest part when you’re trying to set up an interview at the Calgary Airport Enrollment Centre. I received the notification to schedule the interview at the end of March and the earliest interview time was sometime in October. However, I was checking the website several times over a couple of weeks and there was one that popped up earlier in August – so we didn’t have to wait as long as normal. However, if you went to the Sweet Grass, MT border crossing you could schedule an interview a week away, but they were only open two days a week for interviews. 

We had her interview last week, and it was relatively simple. In fact, there wasn’t much for them to do because she was a baby. Normally, you would get a retina scan and fingerprints, but she was too small to get that done. They said that in five years when the card expires she might come back in at that point to get those done. The only thing that we did was provide the actual documents for them to review and enter into the system, as well as provide them with the her second passport to add to her file, and they took her photo for her card. Now we just await for the NEXUS card to come in the mail in approximately 2-3 weeks.

Now that she has her NEXUS card, we’re looking forward through breezing through the custom and security lines when traveling! Having this ‘speedy pass’ is especially helpful since getting things ready with a baby always seems to take longer than expected.🙂

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | August 16, 2014

Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)

Our daughter may only be 7 1/2 months old, but she’s already gotten a good start to her college education plan. The Canadian government offers Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) for youth to start saving for post-secondary education that is tax free on any earnings. The money can be used for a college, university, trade school or apprenticeship programs to basically any licensed program in the world. Also, it is transferable. For instance, if she would decide not to go to university (which I hope isn’t the case), the money could be transferred to another sibling or back to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). 

However, one of the greatest benefits we found of starting the RESP are the grants that are offered by the provincial and federal governments. 

Alberta Centennial Education Savings Grant – This grant is currently under review, but our daughter sneaked in before it could be possibly discontinued. The grant is from the Government of Alberta and they deposit $500 into a RESP for Alberta residents who were born in 2005 or later. Basically all that is required is the proof of Alberta residency and then the other general application information. Check out the website for more details about the application. Also, we didn’t have to apply for this on our own, it was applied for by the employee at the bank who helped us set up the RESP. Then within a couple of months of the application there was $500 deposited into the account! Easy as pie! There is another grant offered by the province of Saskatchewan. 

Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG) – This grant provides 20 cents on every dollar contributed to the RESP, up to a maximum of $500 on an annual contribution of $2,500. There is also the ability to catch up in future if you can’t make the maximum contribution in a given year. The grant is valid to the end of the calendar year in which the child turns 17 years old. The eligibility requirements are that the child has a RESP opened in their name, is a Canadian resident and has requested the grant. Again this was something that was applied for by the bank employee when we opened the RESP. 

Canada Learning Bond – This is another opportunity offered by the Canadian government. This bond pays $500 into an RESP for a child born after Dec. 31, 2003. In addition, eligible children are entitled to an additional $100 per year until the child turns 15 years old to a maximum of $2,000 and is available to those children who receive the Canada Child Tax Benefit. These are the details about this bond, and it was actually the same application form as the CESG.

There are some great programs for children to start saving for school, and the great benefit is that the sooner you start the more interest that can be earned and compounded over the next 18 years. Also, there is the opportunity in the RESPs to choose investments to earn great interest – therefore, you can choose index funds, mutual funds, etc. to help increase earnings over the next 18 years. Plus if there is free money from the government to help pay for school, it’s a great opportunity to start the savings – especially considering that in 18 years the cost of college education will probably be the price of a house!!

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with anything similar in the U.S. that would offer some assistance on getting an educational savings started for youth. All I’m familiar with are private savings plans by individuals. Is there anyone else who knows of other good educational savings opportunities in either Canada or the U.S.?

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | August 15, 2014

Canadian Support for Families

A few months ago we were at the bank talking to our financial adviser and she mentioned that she receives $100 every month from the government for her child, upon which she deposits it into her child’s educational savings plan (RESP). Upon hearing this, we questioned her and asked how she got $100 each month, to which she replied you just have to apply! Needless to say, within the first couple of hours of arriving back at home we looked into this ‘free money’. You don’t have to twist our arm when it comes to free things!

We came to find out that the $100 payment each month is the Universal Child Care Benefit that the Government of Canada provides families with children under 6 years old and it one of the components of the Canada Economic Action Plan to help make life more affordable for families in Canada. Basically to qualify, you just have to have a child who is a Canadian citizen and is under 6 years old, as well as be residing in Canada – you almost always automatically qualify for this benefit regardless of income. The $100 is a taxable monthly payment, for each child under 6 years old, and the purpose is to help Canadian families choose the child care option that best meets the family’s needs. (So if you have two children under 6 years old, you’d receive $200 per month.) Or in our case, we decided to also look at this as an opportunity to start building our 7-month-old daughter’s college savings plan.

There are also several other credits, benefits and deductions offered, which include:

Child Care Expenses Deduction Allows you to deduct amounts paid for child care services under certain conditions.

Canada Child Tax Benefit – A tax-free monthly payment made to eligible families to help with the cost of raising children under 18 years old. This is based on the income reported on the previous year’s tax return and you must be a resident of Canada to receive this. We didn’t qualify for this one, but by applying for this one, you are automatically enrolled in the Universal Child Care Benefit.

Fitness Tax Credit & Arts Tax Credit – This allows you to claim a non-refundable tax credit up to $500 for eligible supervised art/cultural and physical activities for youth under the age of 16. The credit is claimed when filing tax returns each year.

There are also other programs and initiatives that include:

Alternatively in the U.S., the, only credit I’m aware of is the U.S. Child Tax Credit. This allows for families to claim a $1,000 deduction for each child living in their household under the age of 17. Children must be a U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident. However, there are caps to the credit. For instance, if the family makes over $110,000 per year or a single parent is making over $75,000 per year, the credit is reduced by $50 per each $1,000 earned over $110,000.This credit is claimed during submission of federal income taxes.

To be honest, in the end, the amounts and methods probably even each other out, but I like to say that the government is paying us to raise children in Canada because we get the monthly cheque.

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | April 23, 2014

Canadian & U.S. Infant Passports & U.S. CRBA Application Processes

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We now have a dual citizen in the house! Our little baby girl has gotten her two passports – one from Canada and one from the U.S.  Since she was born in Canada she was automatically entitled to Canadian citizenship and passport, but since I – ‘mommy’ –  am a U.S. citizen she was also entitled to U.S. citizen through the Consular Report of Birth Abroad program in the U.S. As you have noticed from some of my other entries over the years, I’m pretty much a veteran of filling out government paperwork for permanent residencies, etc. but this was by far the easiest government paperwork that I have done.

Passport Photos

First we had to get the passport photos for both the Canadian & U.S passports. We actually found out that certain places, like AAA don’t do infant passport photos – at least in Alberta. So we were told that Superstore and Wal-Mart would do them. When we went to Superstore to get the photos done, we just had to prop her up in a seated position (as seated as possible) and then we ducked down underneath the platform to support her and so that it would just be her in the photo. The infant passport photos have to follow the same rules and guidelines of adult passport photos – so they must have their eyes open, not smile (for Canada) and have their hands away from their face. This sounded a little daunting at first, and some people had suggested swaddling the baby to prevent her from touching her face. However, her passport photos went extremely well! We went to get the photos taken right after she had eaten, had a clean diaper and a nap and she was extremely well-behaved! In fact, we didn’t even have to swaddle her. She propped up in the seated position and took magnificent photos. Luckily, we could get the same photo cut into both the Canadian and the U.S. passport sizes (they’re different) so we didn’t have to get 2 separate photos taken.

Canadian Passport

Applying for a Canadian passport was very straight forward. The only part that took a while was getting the birth certificate from the Alberta Vital Statistics. However, it would have also been faster if my husband had remembered the instructions given at the hospital. We were waiting around for a couple of weeks thinking that the birth certificate would be arriving in the mail, but rather once Vital Statistics registers her birth you have to go to your Registry Office and apply for the physical birth certificate document there. We had a trip to the U.S. scheduled for a couple of weeks from when we got the birth certificate, so we had to apply for the passport in person at the Calgary Passport office.

The main components of the Canadian passport application included:

  • Both pages of the application form completed and signed and certified by the guarantor (basically a Canadian citizen who has known the parent who is applying on behalf of the child for at least 2 years) For more details about the guarantor visit this link.
  • Two identical passport photos of the child (one has to be certified (signed) by the guarantor)
  • Proof of Canadian citizenship (Birth Certificate)
  • Proof of parentage (Long form birth certificate with parent names)
  • Required fees – for a child under 15, whose passport is valid for 5 years, the fee is $57. Then if you want to pick it up in person, like we needed to, it’s an additional $20.
  • Proof of legal guardianship (if applicable) or documents that refer to custody, etc.

Processing time was very quick as well. Standard processing time is 10 business days, but there are other more options of expedited service to get your passport.

When I came to pick up the passport in person, I just had to show the application receipt they had given me previously and then I was off!

Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA)

A Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) is a document that shows that an individual is a citizen of the U.S. at birth, even if they were not born in the U.S.  This and the passport have to be applied for at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  A CRBA is proof of U.S. citizenship and therefore can be used to obtain a U.S. passport or register for school. We wanted to get our daughter the CRBA in case we/she ever wanted to move back to the U.S. (this process is much easier now than later), as well as it gives her the advantage of being able to go to school or eventually work in the U.S. as she pleases.  The only bad part is that if she would decide to stay in Canada for the rest of her life, she always has to submit taxes as a U.S. citizen; eventually she could decide she wants to renounce her U.S. citizenship, but she can do that as an adult.

According to the U.S. government site parents are supposed to apply for the CRBA as soon as possible after the birth, so there are less issues.  An individual can either apply for just the CRBA document, or they can apply for the CRBA and the U.S. passport at the same time.  However, according to U.S. Customs & Border Control, U.S. citizens should always use their U.S. passport upon entry and exit of the U.S.; even if they are dual nationals.

The form to fill out for the CRBA is located on the specific Consulate Office’s website that you’re applying for it at. (When applying through the Calgary Consulate Office, it automatically redirected us to the Ottawa Consulate website).  It is also best to book an appointment as soon as you’re able. It took us approximately 2 weeks to be able to get an appointment at the Calgary U.S. Consulate (you book the appointment on the Calgary Consulate Webpage for appointment scheduling).

The main form to apply is the DS-2029:

The main components/documents needed for this application are:

  • Child’s birth record – i.e. a birth certificate with the parents’ information
  • Evidence of U.S. citizenship of parent(s) – i.e. Original U.S. Birth certificate, U.S. passport, CRBA or Certificate of Citizenship
  • Photo ID of Parent’s identity
  • Both parents of the child should be in person when filing for the application; however, if one parent is not able to attend then you have to fill out an additional form (when applying simultaneously for passport) or if the parent with U.S. citizenship is not present an additional form must be filled out. See other forms below.
  • Original marriage certificate of parents (plus, if valid, any documents showing the termination of any previous marriages)
  • If born in Canada, Canadian Immigration Record of Parent(s), which shows original entry date into Canada (i.e. permanent resident card or passport with visa, etc.)
  • Evidence of physical presence of parent(s) in the U.S. for a minimum of 5 years prior to the child’s birth (i.e. accredited school and university transcripts, employment records, utility bills, etc.)
  • Payment for Fee – It is $100 US Dollars for the Report of Birth and then if you apply for a passport it is $105 for a 5-year passport for individuals under age 16; so for both it is $205 USD
  • A pre-paid self-addressed Canada Post regional Xpresspost envelope – this is to return your passport to you.

Other Forms:

  • Application for Social Security Number – Form SS-5-FS
  • Passport Application – DS-11
  • For when both parents cannot not be present – A notarized DS-3053
  • If the U.S. citizen parent transmitting citizenship to the child is not present, then the DS 5507 must be submitted.

Other Notes:

For the most part, the forms are pretty straight forward. The most time-consuming parts are getting the documents together that show your physical presence in the U.S., as well as determining all the addresses and dates that you lived in certain places while in the U.S.  Although I had lived in the U.S. for my entire life, up until 3 years ago, I found it a little daunting to find the information that proved I had lived there for five years of my life – mostly because most of my younger years information was at my parents’ house. However, after digging out my university transcripts from undergrad and graduate school that covered the 5-year timeframe required, I felt a little more assured. However,  I also brought along tax returns and an employment letter that I had as well, but none of that was necessary. The officer was happy with the university transcripts that I had provided.

The other confusing part is that you have to combine information from several websites for the whole process. I didn’t really find everything I needed all on one website. For instance, I missed the part about purchasing a Canada Xpresspost envelope because that wasn’t on the check lists with the other information. Luckily, there was a convenience store that you could buy one from at the bottom of the building before heading upstairs to the Calgary U.S. Consulate.

One concern that I had was since we were traveling to the U.S. a couple days after our appointment with the Consulate was whether it would be okay if she used her Canadian Passport instead upon entering and exiting the U.S., since it said that U.S. dual citizens are to use their U.S. passport. However, upon talking to the U.S. Customs & Border office at our port of entry and the Consulate Officer, they said it would be fine if she used her Canadian passport this time. The Consulate Officer suggested that I take my receipt with me to prove that I have already applied, but upon actually going through the border agencies, nobody asked for that information.

Processing Time was relatively quick. We received her passport and her certificate of her Report of Birth Abroad in the mail approximately 2 ½ weeks after our in-person appointment at the Consulate.

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | April 12, 2014

Tiny Babies, but Big Differences

This past December we increased our household by two tiny feet – we had a baby! The pregnancy and birth went well, but through the process I discovered that there were slight differences between the U.S. & Canada in this life-changing event as well!

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[As a note, these are differences that I encountered when having a baby in Alberta – these can vary from province to province, just as it can vary from state to state and from hospital to hospital.]

Medical Care

One of the first major differences I encountered was doctor care during the pregnancy. In the U.S. you would go directly to your OB-gyn or midwife and they would handle your pregnancy check-ups and delivery and you would continue to see them after your pregnancy for annual check-ups. In 2012, in the U.S. it was reported that midwives attended 11.8% of vaginal births, or 7.9% of all births.

In Canada, you first have to go to your family doctor, who initially handles all your check-ups up until about 4-5 months when they refer you to the doctor who will handle the second part of your pregnancy and delivery. You typically have a choice of being referred to either an obstetrician, a family doctor who handles birth or a midwife. (Midwife care is not covered by the public health system in all provinces, but it is covered in Alberta.) However, the time you see these doctors is basically just for your current pregnancy and then at your 6-week follow-up. After your 6-week follow-up you go back to your family doctor providing all care and check-ups for mom and baby. In a survey of Canadian hospitals, they reported 72% of births are attended by obstetrician, 25% by family physicians and 3% by midwives. However, the percentage of midwife attended births varies from province to province. For example, 60% of births in Ontario are attended by midwives and 13% in Alberta. BC also has a higher number of midwife attended births.

Another major difference was that even though you may be referred to a specific doctor in Canada, the chances are pretty good that won’t be the only doctor you see for your pre-natal visits. For instance, I was referred to one specific obstetrician. However, during my pre-natal check-ups I only saw her two or three times. All the other visits I tended to see the other two doctors who were in her practice – I basically just saw whatever doctor was doing office visits the day that my appointment was scheduled. (However, I think this was more specific to my specific doctor’s office.)

Also, at least in hospitals in Calgary, it is very likely you won’t have your doctor delivering your baby. In the U.S., your obstetrician (or another obstetrician who is covering calls for them) is often on-call and will come to the hospital when you’re in labor. However, in Calgary each hospital has a group of doctors (around 12-14 of them) who rotate shifts at the hospital. So whatever doctor is on duty the day you go into labor is the doctor who will deliver your baby when it comes time. When it came time to delivering my baby, I met the resident doctor upon admission and the senior attending doctor when it came time to push, but never before that. So likely there’s no real personal relationship with the doctor, which is why I had my birth preferences written out to share with whomever was on duty. Whereas, in the U.S. if your obstetrician delivers your baby you’ve probably already established these ahead of time.

Cost of Having a Baby

This is another major difference between the two countries, mostly because Canada has socialized healthcare, where healthcare is free for everyone. Plain and simple, in Canada it didn’t cost of us anything have a baby – at least it didn’t cost anything out-of-pocket. (Rather we make up for it in the taxes we pay over the years that we live here.) The only costs out-of-pocket were ancillary costs that we chose to get, such as a private postpartum room at the hospital or hiring doulas. Basically once we left the hospital upon discharge we didn’t get any invoices or receipts in the mail – it’s all covered through the government healthcare policy. This also includes all prenatal visits to the doctors and ultrasounds.

However, because healthcare is private in the U.S. there are obvious costs associated with having a baby.  On average, it is reported that U.S. hospital deliveries cost $3,500 per stay. However, if you include all the prenatal, delivery-related and postpartum care, it’s more of an average of $8,802, and that’s typically just an average uncomplicated pregnancy. Just the difference in the type of birth can affect the bill. A vaginal delivery (without complications) would be a cost of $2,600, whereas a C-section is upwards of $4,500.

However, what the average American pays out-of-pocket for a birth varies greatly based on the type of medical insurance that they have, often these medical insurance policies are from employee plans. For instance, some plans could have you pay a co-pay each time you visit your doctor for a check-up. When you’re visiting your doctor almost every week for the last month of your pregnancy that can add up quick! Or if you’re on a high deductible plan, you may pay 100% of all your costs until you meet the deductible amount and then you pay a percentage of everything after that (i.e. 10 to 30 % or perhaps everything is covered 100% after meeting the deductible). The deductible amount depends on if you’re on a high or low deductible plan – for example, a high deductible plan might be $5000 of upfront costs. Often a high deductible plan has lower monthly premiums that you pay, whereas a low deductible plan has higher monthly premiums because you pay less out-of-pocket later. Different insurance plans can cover or omit different components as well, so expectant parents have to make sure that specific things are covered by their insurance policy. (Source:  Whattoexpect.com)

Hospital Policies

In Canada, like in the U.S., you have the option of giving birth in a birthing center or sometimes even at home. However, I’m mostly familiar with the hospital version, but again this can vary greatly from even hospital to hospital or city to city. For example, in Calgary city hospitals, visitors are limited to your spouse, baby’s siblings, grandparents and 1 support person, but in a community just outside of Calgary you are allowed visitors outside these perimeters. This can also probably vary from hospital to hospital in the states, but I know that several of my friends in Nebraska hospitals are also allowed unlimited visitors.

At the hospital I was at, my baby roomed in with me in the postpartum ward, and this seems to be common amongst hospitals in Canada.  According to the Canadian hospital survey of 2012, 95% of hospitals had policies that supported rooming-in for 19-24 hours per day. When in practice, the average number of hours reported for when the baby was in the room with the mother across all hospitals was 22.6 hours. As a whole in the U.S., rooming-in seems to be less common. According to the CDC report in 2011, only 37.1% of the facilities had at least 90% of the mothers and babies staying together in the same room. Western states had a majority of their facilities with rooming-in, while many states in the Midwest and South had less than a quarter of rooming-in. (For those that are wondering why this is relevant, rooming-in is one of the ways to improve breastfeeding rates by helping mothers establish breastfeeding early and learning infant feeding cues.)

Length of stay at hospitals seems to be relatively the same between U.S. & Canadian hospitals as a whole. However, hospital stays can vary a lot from province to province in Canada. Across Canadian hospitals, the mean length of stay in 2012 following a vaginal birth was 2 days; it was 3.4 days following cesarean birth. In the U.S. the average was about the same following a vaginal birth – average policy is about 48 hours, or on average about 39 hours.

Postpartum:

One unique, and nice service, after having a baby here in Alberta, was that one of the public health nurses came to visit us in our home within the first two days of being home. When you’re bringing home a baby for the first time, it’s a little daunting; so I thought this was a nice service to have a nurse come to your home and check up on you and the baby, as well as answer any questions that you might have. While she was here, the nurse checked the baby’s temperature, weight and reflexes of the baby to make sure that everything was going well. This was all part of the healthcare system as well. I’m not aware of anything like this in the U.S., other than going to your doctor’s office for a check-up, which we did here as well.

Another advantage of having a baby in Canada is the maternity leave. In Canada, you basically can get up to one year of maternity/parental leave after having your baby. The leave guarantees your job when the year is up, as well as is partially paid by the government through the Employment Insurance program (taken out of our monthly pay cheques, just like Unemployment Insurance in the U.S.) For more information about Canadian maternity and parental leave, check out my previous post about this: Canada Way Ahead of US in Maternity-Parental Leave.

In looking through articles for this post, I came across some interesting statistics between the two countries regarding breastfeeding that I thought I would also share:

In Canada (in 2009-2010), 87.3% of mothers breastfed or tried to breastfeed their baby, and 25.9% exclusively breastfed their child for the recommended 6 months (17.6%) or more (8.3%).

In the U.S., from the 2013 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card, the national average is that 76.5% ever Breastfed, but only 16.4% were still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months.

Although there are many factors while some mothers may stop exclusively breastfeeding or supplement with formula, or even nurse at all, it makes me wonder that if the U.S. were to have a longer maternity or parental leave, if those breastfeeding percentages would go up.

In Conclusion…

Although there are some major differences between having a baby in Canada vs. the U.S. there is one very important similarity that remains – at the end of it all, you have a perfect little human to hold and cuddle, and that’s the most important thing in the end!

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Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | February 27, 2014

South Korea

Our most recent travel adventure took us to South Korea in September 7-16, 2013. To be honest, it was a pretty last minute decision to go to South Korea. We knew that someday we wanted to go there, but weren’t planning on it being so soon. However, Alex’s company was short-staffed and he couldn’t get more than 9 days off at once, so we needed to pick somewhere we would could see a lot in a short period of time and was an interesting destination. Plus, Alex had several hotel points/vouchers he needed to use so we needed to go to a country that had a good selection of these hotels. Plus, with me being 25 weeks pregnant it needed to be somewhere that wouldn’t have any food/health issues. So with a combination of these factors, we ended up deciding on South Korea!

South Korea was very interesting, but very similar to a lot of other Asian countries we had been to. I would say the best analysis would be that it was a mix between China and Japan. It was very modern and technology savvy – for instance you could use your phone to pay for a movie ticket – but it still had street vendors. Overall, it was very westernized (no staring at foreigners here!), but you could blatantly see their loyalty to their national products. LG & Samsung were the only phones that we saw (I think I only saw 1 iPhone the whole time we were there) and Hyundai and Kia were the most popular vehicles.

Our journey through South Korea started off on Jeju Island, also known as the “Korean Hawaii”, then to Busan, followed by Gyeong-ju (a historical town) and then to Seoul.

Here are the highlights from each of these destinations:

Jeju Island

Our time in Jeju was mostly focused on the outdoors. We hiked up to the top of the volcanic island – Seongsan Ilchulbong, swam at the hotel pool, checked out some of the waterfalls and rented bicycles to ride along the coastline. As Jeju is a main tourist destination, there are many ‘hokey’ tourist destinations, especially museums. At the resort area where our hotel was at (and at other places around the island), there seemed to be every type of museum possible. Some examples were the Teddy Bear Museum, the Sex Museum, and the one we went to – the Chocolate Museum. To be honest, the ‘museum’ was basically a collection of different chocolate items made over the years with a souvenir shop of chocolates from around the world you could buy; there wasn’t any history or other information provided with the displays. (Honestly, at the Chocolate Museum I was hoping for lots of samples, but there was only 2 really small ones.)

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Our favorite part of Jeju Island was Seongsan Ilchulbong and bike riding along the coastline.

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Busan

With the hotel vouchers that Alex had earned earlier in the year, we ritzed it up and stayed at the Park Hyatt in Busan. To be completely honest, I felt a little out of my element with how fancy and prestigious they treat you, but I have to say it was an amazing hotel. Because Alex had a Diamond membership, we got free breakfast the two mornings that we were there and it basically consisted of everything imaginable for food, as well as servers who unfolded your napkin for you and took away any silverware that you weren’t using – plus my tea was never empty. One of my favorite parts about our stay there was the view from our room! We had a wonderful view of the Gwangan Bridge that was like something off of a postcard. Plus every night they would come in and do a turn-down service.

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Although it was tempting to just bask in the elegance in the hotel, we did make it out to explore Busan. One of our favorite parts of Busan was the Jagalchi Fish Market. There was about every type of fish or sea creature you could think of! Like a typical Asian market there were tons of small vendors that were selling a variety of fish. We even witnessed a small octopus trying to escape from the kiddie pool that he was being kept in. We also visited Shinsegae Department Store, the largest Department Store in Korea. Other than a huge food court and tons of stores, they also had an ice skating rink and mini amusement park on a couple of their floors. We also explored and ate dinner in the Gukje Market – a main area with all kinds of restaurants and food vendors, as well as bars. One day we also headed out to the edge of the city and visited Beomeosa Temple, a Buddhist temple at the edge of the mountain.

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Gyeong-ju

Gyeong-ju is the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla, so there are a lot of historical sites there. We checked out the Anagpi Pond, which was a large pond surrounded by different temples and trees for the Silla royalty. You can go either during the daytime or at night, we went at night and it was really beautiful! They used various lights to light up the structures and it reflected so wonderfully on the pond.

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We also checked out the large grass covered tombs that make Gyeong-ju famous. At Tumuli Park, what look like random hills within the flat land are actually tombs for the various royalty of the Silla dynasty. They would bury these people and their possessions in these large tombs and then build a hill on top of them.

We also went to Bulguksa Temple, which is a temple on Mt. Tohamsan. Getting to this temple required taking a bus to the top, as it was a winding and steep climb, but being at the top in this serene place was pretty amazing.

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Seoul

We took the high-speed train (KTX) from Gyeong-ju to Seoul, which got us there within a couple of hours. The trains resemble the Shinkansen trains and can travel at maximum speeds of 305 km per hour or 190 mph. The train trip was one of the major highlights for Alex.

To complete our high-end stays in Korea, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Seoul (located within the Gang nam district….so we were ‘Gang nam style’ while we were in S. Korea J). We didn’t get breakfast here, but they still provided the turndown service and other amenities. However, because we were so ‘posh’ they wouldn’t allow us to exert ourselves too much. On the final day when we had to get to the bus terminal to take us to the airport, they provided us a vehicle to take us there, which was actually only a 5 minute walk from the hotel. However, the bus terminal was really efficient for flights. We checked in for our flight, checked our bas and went through immigration so when we got to the airport, it was only about 5-10 minutes to get through security.

In Seoul, we visited both the Namdaemun Market and the Itaewon Market (known for higher end knock-offs and sports related items like hockey jerseys). At the Namdaemun Market we had our first Korean barbeque of the trip from one of the hundreds of street vendors and we enjoyed it while sitting on the plastic kiddie chairs.🙂 Both of these markets are popular for selling knock-off merchandise; however, we actually ended up not buying hardly anything at all! A rarity for us! We also took the cable car to the top of Namsan Peak, a small mountain in the city and then hiked back to the bottom. For the cultural component we visited the Korean Folk Village where we saw demonstrations of sword fighting, dancing and music. There were also a variety of traditional Korean houses that were on display that you could see what these houses looked like during their distinct eras.

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After a busy day of walking, we ended up at Cheonggyecheon, a park that they developed right in the heart of the city. The park is actually a level below the street and has a small stream with greenery running through it. We stopped to soak our feet in the water, and it was very peaceful considering that there were two major roads above.

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Here are a few other things we found interesting….

Preference for Warmth

….or so it seemed. It seemed to us that Koreans liked the temperature warmer inside; either that, or they were trying to conserve energy. In Busan, it was 28+ C but with really high humidity (probably around 80-90%) but there seemed to be no airflow in the subway stations or in the trains until after 9:30 a.m. Another example, was that when we were on Jeju Island, we took the local bus and all the windows were sealed with no A/C until around 8:30-9 a.m.

Love for Coffee

There were almost as many (or more!) coffee shops in South Korea as in North America! Not only is Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts there, but they have several local Korean chains as well. As you were walking down the street, you’d see many Koreans with their iced beverages or coffees with them. They also use these coffee shops as social places. Instead of Dunkin Donuts being a place where you just stop and run, in Korea, the stores are made to be more of an experience with comfy tables and chairs.

Food

Most of the time when we travel, the food is one of the highlights of the trip. However, to be honest, in Korea we struggled to find food that we liked. We actually had more Western food on this trip than many other trips. At first, I thought maybe being pregnant caused me to have an aversion to Korean food, but Alex didn’t like it either, and he typically likes most ethnic food. One of the main reasons that I didn’t like it was because most things had a pickled taste to them, and I’m not a huge fan of pickled things in the first place.

At each meal they would provide you with several small dishes, which almost always included kimchi and some other pickled side items. A lot of the food also used a red sauce (I wasn’t a fan of this sauce). Another side would be a bowl of broth. Many of their food offerings would either be noodle-based or soup-based, but it didn’t seem like there were many vegetables in any of these dishes. I guess they expected you to eat the pickled side items. (I had read that part of the reason they did have so many pickled items, is that it was a way to preserve vegetables and other fresh foods during the winter as well as they didn’t have a huge selection of these.) Also, in dishes that did contain meat, there was very little meat in it. Plus, we found that meat dishes weren’t that common to begin with, and with our budget, they weren’t very affordable when we did find something.

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Enjoying the Korean specialty of Bibimap

Before we went to Korea, I thought there was going to be a lot of ‘Korean barbeque’. However, the only place where it seemed the most popular was in Seoul. As barbeque is expensive in a restaurant, we ate the meat sticks from a street vendor where it was 2000 Won (almost $2) for one stick. We ordered some chicken and then later realized they had given us some chicken hearts for a few of the sticks. Luckily, I had grown up eating chicken hearts on our farm, so I was used to it.

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The spread of meat in Namdaemun Market

Whenever we travel, we like to do the McDonalds comparison – to check out prices and food offerings. However, there wasn’t too much unique about the South Korean McDonalds – they had pretty much the same food offerings as North America and prices were similar. However, we did notice that at places where soft drinks were served that they automatically served us Pepsi – there didn’t seem to be any other choices like Sprite, etc.

Mother Friendly

Maybe it was because I was pregnant, but I really noticed the amenities that were offered to South Korean mothers. Everywhere you went in Korea there were nursing rooms for new moms – like the airport, subway station – and there were even some public restrooms that had stalls with small toilets and sinks for children. They were actually really cute!

Cost Comparison

Our basic consensus was that the cost of items in South Korea were very similar to the costs of items in Canada. At the time we were there the exchange rate was 1050 Won to $1 US/Canadian. A meal at a basic establishment would be about 6500-8000 Won (or $6.50-$8 CAD) and a value meal at McDonalds would be equivalent to $7-8 CAD. Groceries and clothing items were similar to what it would cost in Canada as well.

However, we did find that taxi fares were a little more reasonable in S. Korea. The fare was 2500 Won/$2.50 for the base rate and then 100 Won/$1 on the meter. Our longest taxi ride, which was 45 minutes, actually only cost us 18,000 Won/$18 CAD.

Here are a couple of other price comparisons:

  • Most Bus Rides were 1000-1500 Won per person
  • High Speed Train Ticket to Seoul was 22,000 Won per person
  • All-Day Subway Pass in Busan was 4,000 Won per person
  • Most Subway Rides in Seoul were 2500 Won per person

We did have a good time in South Korea, but I think we realized that we have spent a lot of time in Asia, so some of the things didn’t bring as much excitement or novelty as a place we had never been before. However, the Korean people were nice and it was a great country to visit.

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