Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Croatia Photos Online

We have posted a subset of the 1000+ photos we took on our trip to Picasa. You can either click on the photos at the bottom of this page or click here:

I am planning to upload photos of recognizable people to a separate album in the next few days.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1/11/11 Home Again

Even going to bed by 9:30pm, our 3:45am wake-up call came awfully early. There were no problems with flights, other than the Paris flight took off 30 minutes late and had horrid headwinds, so that we got in over an hour late. On the plus side, it was an Air France flight, so the food was good and included champagne and wine. 

Once home, luggage took forever to arrive – I was starting to make a mental list of what we'd lost – but we breezed through customs with our 4 bottles of wine (2 bottle limit), probably because we were so far under the dollar allowance. We were home by 4:30, picked up our mail, unpacked, and sound asleep by 8pm.

Pictured below are our Croatian Tour Leaders, who helped make this trip so enjoyable. Our guide was Vivi, and Alan led the other half of the group (but he was nice to us too).

1/10/11 Opatija and Zagreb

Restaurant at the Lungomare - with fishing nets for atmosphere

In the morning, we walked along the Lungomare (seaside promenade) for over an hour, getting a closeup of some of the fabulous villas built in the 1800’s and since mostly abandoned. In the last few years, they have become hotels or are being re-invented by owners and Opatija is getting a name as a jet-set city. We had some drizzly rain, but nothing too bad. 
Old villa along the Lungomare

We left for Zagreb at 11:30, and made one stop for a quick lunch along the way – my lunch was another Magnum Bar. YUM! We got to the hotel by 2:30 and then spent a couple hours wandering around and found a light dinner. It was LOTS warmer than the last time, so lots more enjoyable.

1/9/11 Drive to Opatija

The lake above Krka Falls (See 1/1/11) where we stopped for lunch.
Today was a travel day, which had a few iffy moments. Our bus was fine, but the other one had a flat tire and got started an half hour later. We took the coastal road until we had to head inland to get to the restaurant above Krka Falls. The weather was reasonable and the sun even appeared for a while around noon. We had a couple scares with the bus. At one point, going up hill on the coast road, the bus just stopped and the driver couldn’t restart it. He and Vivi got out and walked to the back, both on their phones. The driver tried to restart and walked to the back again a couple times until it finally worked. Later, it happened again, but he was able to pull off the road before it went dead and it started up again sooner. Since it is Sunday, getting a replacement bus seemed unlikely.

We got back on the coastal road for the rest of the trip to Opatija (pronounced oh-POT-tee-ah) – slow going, but more interesting than the highway, which we will take tomorrow. There were some lovely sights along the way, and we stopped every 1.5 hrs or so to stretch.

1/8/11 Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Today we drove to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is known for its old (1400s) bridge that got totally bombed out in the 1991-92 war. Bosnia is unique among the former Yugoslav states in that it has a mix of religious groups, rather than 90+% in one. There are Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox represented here and it was the scene of much fighting. The first thing we noticed about Bosnia was the trash. Even the Croatian area was messier than the rest of Croatia. A recent flood didn’t help because all the plastic bags floated on the river and got caught in the bushes, and then hung up when the waters receded, but you had to wonder why there were so darn many bags in the way to begin with. In addition, Mostar was much less repaired than any other bombed out place we have been.
Old bridge in Mostar
Our tour started off in a small mosque – quite the contrast to Turkey. Our guide said he was barely Muslim, much less consciously Sunni or Shia. Then we walked to a house museum to see how the wealthy lived. To keep the women separate, they went so far as to have a double door arrangement so a husband could ask his wife for refreshments for guests without her being seen, and she could place them on a tray, knock on the second door, and then close her door so he could retrieve them. We ended up in the area of the bridge and a bunch of tourist shops. The bridge is lovely, having been repaired quickly. We spent about 30 minutes trying to spend Euros, and I found a nice copper bracelet and a ‘pashmina’ scarf. Then we drove to Blagaj for lunch, where a spring that is the source of the Buna River flows out of a cave in the mountain. The spring was pumping out amazing quantities of water. 
Source of the Buna River

1/7/11 Korcula

Old cistern on Korcula wall
Joyce and the old Italian
In Korcula, we wandered thru the old city, visiting the Ikone Museum and Cathedral of St. Mark. At one point, we encountered an old Italian gentleman our guide had been telling us about – came there many years ago, married a local, and never learned the language. Joyce immediately went over to talk to him – her maternal ancestors were Polos, and there were a great number of photos taken of the two of them posing and chatting. He was sitting and she was standing next to him, leaning over to hug him on occasion, and there was a roar of laughter at one point – apparently, he had taken some liberty given the location of his head in comparison to her chest. That, unfortunately, was the highlight of the tour. There was a lot of standing around and it got chillier as we went along. It was also pretty windy, and it was somewhat of a relief to go into the churches and museums, except that the temperatures inside were mostly colder. Vivi and Alan had arranged for a popular pastry shop owner to open up for us. She uses a unique family recipe to make cookies with almond filling as well as candied almonds and other goodies. We got samples and bought a fair share of products.

Old Town Korcula. Our boat is the one at the left.
After lunch, we went on a group hike for 1.25 hours up near the top of the island, along some of the main roads. It was not challenging, but did provide a couple good view points. There was another hike that they had mapped out, but Jim was under the weather, so I walked him back to the boat and headed out on my own. I went back into the old city, hoping to find some of the shops I had seen earlier, however, EVERYTHING except bars were closed up tight so I called it a day.

1/6/11 Cetinje, Montenegro and Cruise to Korcula

Sveti Stephan (St. Stephan) a former fishing village that is now a luxury resort at Budva

Budva coast and development
We took a side trip to the original capital of Montenegro, Cetinje. The bus took us to the coast and the booming tourist town of Budva, where part of  the new Casino Royale was filmed. The coastline is spectacular – like Big Sur – and we stopped a couple times for photos. We stopped at a village for a ‘sample’ of local products, which was a second breakfast with cottage cheese, 2 thick slabs of other cheese (one like jack, the other a feta) and 2 big slices of prosciutto, bread, and a full glass of wine – this was at 9am or so. The food was good, but I was not ready for or interested in a second breakfast.

Once we got to the former capitol we learned that the last king, Nicholas, had been educated outside of the country and came back at age 19 when his father died, and was married off to a 15 yr old, who apparently was not quite clued in on marital responsibilities. Once she figured it out, they had 9 daughters and 3 sons. The museum had a collection of all the medals Nicholas was awarded, for God knows what, by the royalty of Europe along with some clothing, furniture, arms, etc. Finally, we were let loose to wander the town. For them 1/6 is Christmas Eve, so it was a party day – not much of anything open but bars and markets. They were setting up a big bonfire in the square by the museum and selling tree branches with leaves so everyone would have a branch to toss on later.

Islet of Our Lady of the Rock
During lunch, we sailed across Kotor Bay to the Islet of Our Lady of the Rocks, a chapel built on a man-made island, right next to a natural island with a small defunct monastery. In the 1400s, the story goes, a couple sailors found a painting of Mary and Jesus on the rocks/reef next to the monastic island and determined they needed to create a chapel there to display the painting. They started sinking rocks and boats to build up the island, which took 200 years til there was enough surface to create the chapel. We took a tour of the chapel and the museum attached to it with lots of items donated by people who had prayed to Mary, especially for the safety of sea travel/travelers. We ceremonially tossed a rock from the mainland into the water next to the landing.   
Sunset from our cabin on the way out of Kotor Bay
Once that was done, we headed for Korcula, about 7 hrs away in the ship.

1/5/11 Kotor, Montenegro

Town along Kotor Bay on the way to Kotor
We left for Montenegro early in the morning. Kotor Bay is a southern fjord with a very narrow section that requires a local pilot, so an overnight sail wasn’t an option. This was NOT good for my tummy. Alan and Vivi encouraged us to go to the sundeck around 8:30 as we entered Kotor Bay, but it was nasty cold and I was not feeling that hot, so I let Jim play photographer. 

Old City of Kotor below the fortress
Kotor is yet another beautiful walled city, but this time the wall crawls up the hill like a mini Great Wall of China, with a major fortress at the top. This was our afternoon objective. We walked thru the walled section of town, which is sort of a smaller version of Dubrovnik – impressively intact and rebuilt after the 1667 earthquake that hit Dubrovnik too. The best part about the city was that there was free wi-fi in several locations, and I was able to download my email! 
Old City walls
Jim at the top of the fortress with Kotor Bay behind him
After lunch, it was time for our ‘wall walk’, which this time was to the fortress at the top It was reputedly 1000 + steps and 800 feet of elevation gain. The views all along were spectacular! At the top, they showed us the village (or remains thereof) behind the hill the fortress was on, which led to another even taller hill with another fortress on top of it. Apparently the far side of the second hill presented a threat from the Turks during the time of the Ottoman Empire. 

When it was time to go back down, we went down into the nearly vacant valley behind the fortress and encountered a grazing cow! The path evolved into the caravan road that the army used to take, which was much longer, but much less challenging.

1/4/11 Dubrovnik

Another really cold day – wishing I had brought my red winter coat! The day was bright and sunny, but the wind was a killer. Our guide, Luka, was very good. He showed us the map of how/where the incredible old city was damaged in the 3 months of shelling in 1991-92. What a waste! The sad thing was the tour was largely outside, so I was more focused on adding layers than enjoying the visit! Our last stop was the Rector’s Palace, when we finally got a chance to go into actual rooms vs. inner courtyards (which were colder than you would think). We stayed inside the palace as long as possible before heading out to walk the city walls which were terrific! The sun was out, the water sparkled, and miraculously, the wind STOPPED and the weather became delightful.

In the evening, our group headed out for dinner with several families in a local town. We were split into six groups and I think they gave us the house that was furthest away from the bus. Our host spoke English amazingly well and showed us his family compound where they made olives, olive oils, a BUNCH of kinds of grappa, and a red wine. We got to sample Cherry, Loquat, Walnut, Mulberry/Herb, and straight grappa. He has three kids – looked like about 3, 11, and 13 – and a slim, gorgeous wife. The meal started with bread, olives, procuitto, and cheese, all of which were made by his immediate family or parents. The next course was stuffed cabbage leaves, mashed potatoes and his home-made red wine – what’s not to like? – followed by a dessert of candied nuts and Christmas cookies. The 8th grade daughter joined us for dinner with her dad. At dessert, the rest of the family joined us. Our host plays a stringed instrument – looks like a lute, but plays like a violin and he played for us while the mom and daughter did an impromptu dance. The music, like the night on the boat, was a bit repetitive, but the family was very charming.

1/3/11 Hvar Town and Island/ Intro to Dubrovnik

Old Hvar Town
Bura (cold, strong northerly) winds came in, making it the coldest day so far. Hvar is considered the most beautiful of the Croatian islands. It is large and lightly populated and tends to attract a wealthy crowd, none of whom are here this season. It is known for wines and lavender along with one of the oldest settlements in Croatia, now called Stari Grad (old city). We took a bus ride to Vrboska, over the old road past lavender, vineyards, and olive groves, but agriculture has declined greatly since a devastating fire 12 years ago.­­ 
Former lavendar fields. All the stones for the walls came from the fields -- they are VERY rocky!
Vrboska is noted for wines and we visited a winery there, Pinjata (Pin-Yah-Tah), which served not only white and red wines, but also grappa and proseco. A couple were pretty good, so we bought 4 bottles for just over $31. When we got back to Hvar Town, we had just enough time to hike to the fortress above the city. We were told it was 45 minutes up and 15 down. We must have set a new land speed record, because we made it up to the main gate in 12 minutes. Hugh and Jim set a pretty torrid pace and Bernie (Hugh’s friend from NC) and I nearly kept up. The fortress was closed, but we were still high enough to get some good photos of the harbor and village. It took us longer to go down than up! The sun was shining for a change, even though the winds were cold, and the sunlight on the sea was spectacular. We made it back to the boat with 30 minutes to spare. 
Hugh starting up to the fortress
Hvar Town from the fortress -- climbing warmed us up.
We cruised to Dubrovnik during the afternoon, and after dinner we took a bus into the old city for an orientation. I bundled up for the trip into town (bura winds getting worse). I was totally not prepared for the view of the city walls, which were spectacular! The city was pretty cold and deserted to say nothing of windy. We only had a half hour til the bus went back and we were ready to get back into a warm space.
Dubrovnik's Stradun (Main Street) at night

1/2/11 Split

Our guide, Domnir, talks about the picture of Diocletian's Palace
This morning we got a formal tour of Diocletian’s Palace—really his retirement home for 10 years after he abdicated to relax. The original building fronted on the sea, which was filled in by the Venetian’s much  later, and actually the front 20% was built out over the water to provide kind of an emergency exit. Once the area was filled in, the underground piece became forgotten til someone accidentally broke thru from an upper level and started using the lower level as a garbage pit – for HUNDREDS of years. It is only in the mid 1900s that this area has started to be excavated and we entered the palace through this ‘basement’ section. 
Cathetral/Mausoleum topped by an elaborate bell tower
We went into a TEENSY cathedral that had started out as Diocletian’s mausoleum and was later converted to a church. Considering that he executed his wife and daughter for converting to Christianity (early 300’s), this is a  highly ironic disposition for his tomb.
View of Split from the hill we walked up. Tower in right center is the same as above.
We walked along the Riva (seaside walk) and headed up a broad stairs to the Church of St. Nickolas which provided a nice high view of the old city. We decided to keep going out toward the end of the point of land and walked there and back in a couple hours. We had a great view of a mostly cloudy sun setting and a bunch of islands as well as the barrier mountain range that marks the western edge of Croatia.
After dinner, we had a youth group come and perform local music and three styles of local dances. The music was very repetitive, but well-performed and the dancers were impressive.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

1/1 Krka Falls, Etnoland, Split Introduction

6am came VERY early today, but we had to get up in time for breakfast and our jaunt to Krka Falls. The falls are not so high, but the amount of water rushing down is totally impressive – lots of layers of falls and very wide. There is so much water running now that what are meadows in the summers are 3-foot deep rivers today. While we were waiting for the group, we spied a herd of goats up above us on a steep hill, snacking away. 

One small section of Krka Falls
We started with a tour of the old 5-wheel grist mill – one wheel for each of several types of grains. Then we walked off to the start of the main area of the falls – there were rainbows over the water – totally magical.  We started off down a long stone stairway, and then walked around on the other side of the river on an extensive boardwalk. Back at the bus, we went to an Etnopark, which we didn’t have much hope for. Our tour guide, Anna, spoke beautiful idiomatic American English – apparently had been tutored in it since age FOUR! She involved various members of the group and gave one of the most entertaining presentations on life in rural Croatia that it is possible to imagine. 

As soon as we returned to the boat we headed out to Split. We took a short walk to the major historic site, Diocletian’s Palace and wandered around the narrow streets for about 45 minutes. At one point, we went to an upper level. I was looking for a way back down, but the ground apparently rose up to meet us and we walked out on the level where we had walked thru before from the lower level – felt like being in an Escher drawing where you keep going upstairs and link back to where you started.

12/31 Sibenik

Sunrise on the way to Sibenik
At 6am, the boat left the harbor for our next stop, Sibenik and we got up and went to the sundeck in time to get some good sunrise photos.  We docked at Sibenik as preparations for  New Year’s Eve in the town were getting underway. Almost immediately, we headed out for a city tour and voila, there was Marina again! Apparently the planned guide had a problem and she was called in to help.

Streets of Sibenik
Sibenik is an old town by our standards, but young to Croatians as it has only been around for a 1000 or so years. It was never a tourist site and has maintained much of its medieval character. We wandered in and out among the lanes and finished at the Cathedral of St. James, a domed building with a very impressive bapistery, where we were not allowed to take photos. In Croatia, only baptized people were allowed in the main church, so this was a small lower room with a separate entry and a very elaborate set of friezes and statues along with a red marble basin and decorative touches. Three cherubs formed the pedestal of the basin. After lunch, we took a hike up to the fortress of St. Michael, which dates back to the beginning of the city.
View from fortress of harbor and 'secret' exit
We walked around all the ramparts and could see the ‘secret’ get away – really an open stair between 2 walls – so it looked like it was only a fortress wall, but there were really two parallel walls. At midnight we went up on deck to watch fireworks and I tried taking photos, but they weren't as impressive on the computer as on the tiny camera screen.

12/30 Zagreb to Zadar

4th Century Church in Nin
Drove to Zadar (about 4 hrs away from Zagreb) to meet our boat. At our first rest stop, I discovered Magnum Bars (the world’s best ice cream bar, which we had found only in Turkey so far) and I had one at 10am!  On the way to Zadar, we stopped in in Nin, a VERY old town – had a teensy 4th century church with tall, coved walls but no interior decorations.. There was a statue of a saint – if you rubbed his toe, your wish is supposed to come true, so I did.

In Zadar, we boarded our ship and then headed out for our Zadar walking tour. Our guide, Marina, was interesting and the old city looked pretty cool. Much of it was bombed in the waning days of WWII, so some old stuff had to be totally replaced, others have been majorly restored.. We went into the Church of Anastasia, an old Roman (fairly simple ) style of basilica. Anastasia had been burned alive for her beliefs before Christianity was generally accepted. We ended up at the Gold and Silver Museum, maintained by Benedictine Nuns, who still wear the traditional convent dress. This had artifacts like hands or faces in silver or gold, containing a relic of the person they were dedicated to, like a bone. There was a piece of the cross (in theory) and countless bone shards.

Technical issues

HI all! We are currently in Montenegro and have been having challenges 1) finding wi-fi at all and 2) getting the laptop to connect. Oh Well! I do have a bunch of updates ready and will upload til I run out of time. Maybe next time I travel it will all work well....