A Travellerspoint blog

Peljasac Peninsula and Korcula

Day 6


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Today the plan was to hire a driver in Mostar (Alma's husband Ermin) to drive us back into Croatia to the vineyards of the Peljasac (PEHL-yah-shahts) Peninsula, and to stop in the Bosnian town of Pocitelj (poh-CHEET-eh?) and the Croatian town of Ston on the way. After some wine tasting we planned to take a short ferry to Korcula (KOHR-choo-lah).

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF POCITELJ

LINK WEB IMAGES OF TO STON

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF PELJASAC

lLINK TO WEB IMAGES OF KORCULA

Our driver, Ermin, is a fun and interesting guy. On the way to Pocitelj we talked a little about why Bosnia has so many problems. First of all Bosnia bureaucracy is horrible because it is run by 4 separate governments (3 regional and one overall federal government). Unemployment is 50 percent, and no that is not a typo. Crime is rampant, not violent crime though, we always felt safe. All this government neglect is because the regional areas are split up by the dominate cultural group of each area: Serbs (Orthodox Christians), Croats (Catholic Christians), and Bosniaks (Muslims). It is hard to get anyone to agree on anything. Surprisingly a recent controversy brought out protests by all cultural groups against the government. The government couldn't agree on how to issue their equivalent of social security numbers. A baby that needed special medical treatment in Germany died, because the government didn't issue the number in a timely manner. Without the number the baby could not travel to Germany for the procedure. People were livid. Ermin mentioned various efforts he was involved in to try to help heal the pain originating from conflicts between these groups that occurred in the 1990’s, like an effort to integrate schools between the cultural groups. Mostar has 2 sets of schools, bus stations, soccer teams, garbage companies, hospitals, phone companies . . . one Croat Catholic and one Bosniak Muslim. I guess it would be hard to emotionally move on from such a horrible conflict as a nation if contact between groups is restricted in future generations.

While exploring Pocitelj, Ermin took us to an artist colony where earlier he had helped organize an intercultural musical performance that government dignitaries from different cultural groups attended. Some artist pay for staying at the colony by leaving the artwork they have made.

Artist colony
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As I was considering if I should hike up to the tower for a view of the attractive town architecture, Ermin told me a story. A honeymooning couple said they would hike to the tower and would be back in a half hour. He began worrying after waiting for an hour. Eventually the couple showed up huffing and puffing two hours later, admitting the hike was farther than they thought. Ermin laughed and said when they got home they sent him a picture of her pregnant.

Town tower.
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As we left Pocitelj, Ermin said he knew of a friend’s place that would be great for wine tasting on the Peljesac Peninsula. Unfortunately Ermin realized he left his supersized water bottle at home, the one he uses to load up when visiting the winery.

After the border crossings, we popped into a convenience store to get something to drink and then we stopped at the town of Ston. The wall of Ston is the second largest man made wall in the world next to the Great Wall of China. I climbed a small part of the wall for a better view.
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These walls were built by Ragusa (Dubrovnik) to protect one of its most valuable commodities, salt, or 'white gold' at the time. Shallow salt pans used the evaporation of seawater to make salt, and these pans and salt warehouses needed to be protected from thieves and other republics, like the Venetians.

Salt pans behind the town
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We then left Ston and set off for wine tasting. Sadly when we got to the wine tasting place, it turned out his elderly winemaker friend was not in good shape and could not join us. Fortunately his wife was able to come down and host a small wine tasting with us. The homemade brandy, Dingac (flavorful dark red), and Prosec (red dessert wine) were excellent. I’m was constantly and jealously eyeing all their fermentation swag during our tasting.
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I loved this sign.
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Turns out Ermin was not as thirsty as I thought on our earlier convenience store stop. He held up his large plastic water bottle and smiled, telling the lady that he would trade the water in his large bottle he purchased for some wine as we left. After commenting on his growler sized water bottle full of wine, he commented, “I know, it is tough. All that wine, someone has to help drink all of this.” with a twinkle in his eye. Kind of a Bosniak version of ‘somebody's gotta do it’.
As we left Ermin commented about what a great guy the winemaker was, and that he was sad that his friend couldn’t join us. He said through the years the winemaker asked repeatedly for him to stay and have a glass of wine with him, but because he was always driving people he could never really stick around and take him up on it. Before we got into the van, Ermin points out a wooden donkey standing just outside of the house, and comments on the body of the donkey that is made out of a wine barrel. Laughing, he asks me how I think they pump the wine out of the barrel. Pump the tail, I guess. He laughs and says no. . . hint, it is a male donkey. Laughing sentimentally he says, “ dirty old man” under his breath. And we’re off to one more tasting and then to the Korcula ferry.

View of the ferry crossing the strait to Korcula
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Saying goodbye to Ermin
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Approaching Korcula on the ferry.
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Korcula's old town was fortified, in large part when it was in Venetian control. Probably because it was one of the southernmost points of the empire and was exposed to Dubrovnik and the Turks.

Our Room at the DePolo's on the waterfront just outside of town.
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Town Wall
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Landside entrance gate.
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Gate from inside the town
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Narrow streets
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After lunch, sightseeing, and a little wandering, we decided to grab a drink on the top of one of the towers. After the Venetian Republic collapsed and all the fortifications were less necessary, and stones from the walls were scavenged, making it shorter that it used to be. The tower we climbed was only half a tower, so I wonder if that is what happened to it.
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View of the town and church tower from the tower bar.
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Climbing down from the tower bar
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The pulley system used to bring drinks up to the tower from the bar
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We went to see a traditional sword dancing show. Apparently these dances were common throughout the Mediterranean at one time, but now are only performed here.
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After the show we grabbed dinner at U Maje i Tonke .
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Shrimp and Pasta Salad
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Posted by get2will 09:53 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Mostar Bosnia-Hertzegovina

Day 5


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Our plan today was to take a bus to Mostar and take a tour of the town with a local guide, Alma.

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF MOSTAR

On the way to catching the bus this morning, the put up the banner celebrating Croatia joining the European Union.
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The bus was comfortable, but unfortunately we sat in the middle and Jen started feeling motion sick as the bus navigated the windy coastal road. She had to take a Dramamine and move to the front of the bus.

The freeway from Zagreb to Dubrovnik is about 80% done, and this part near Durbrovnik has not been constructed because they have not figured out how to get the freeway over to this isolated part of Croatia yet. Part of the reason can be found in why we had to cross boarders 3 times to get to Mostar instead of once.

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Neum is a tiny sliver of coastal Bosnian land that splits coastal Croatia in two. See the picture above and look for the piece of the coast that is not orange. Why? The area south of Neum used to be the Ragusa Republic, and the area north used to be the Venetian Republic. Ragusa gave this strip of land on the border between them to the Turkish Ottoman Empire, betting that the Venetians would hesitate to attack them by land because that would mean they would have to 'invade' Ottoman Territory. Very tricky! As a result of this history, this tiny strip of land is part of Bosnia, making the people in southern Croatia isolated. They have to endure two boarder crossing to reach the rest of the country. This makes it a challenge to get the freeway over to the southern part of Croatia. Luckily sitting at these border crossings gave Jen a chance to recover.

After Tito became dictator post-WWII, he subdivided Yugoslavia into 6 republics. Cultural groups overlapped in Yugoslavia greatly, but he tried to make it so each republic had a majority of a certain cultural or ethnic group. This was done in an attempt to balance power and reduce ethnic and cultural tensions. Tito knew this more than anyone, because he had one Croatian parent, one Slovenian parent, and was married to a Serb woman and lived in Belgrade in Serbia. In Bosnia, the most numerous group was Muslims.

We stayed at Villa Fortuna. It was a fantastic place.

View from our room’s balcony of a mosque minaret.
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They offered us a drink while we waited in the garden for our guide Alma.
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On the short walk into the old town, inhabited now mostly by Bosniak Muslims, we passed bombed out buildings that were reminders of the war in the 1990s.
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We were starving so Alma showed us a great place to eat. We had a tourist plate of grilled meats and veggies stuffed with meat.
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Today was a sobering look at a place recently affected by war. The old town of Mostar is beautiful, filled with cobblestone lanes, a brilliant blue river, and a charismatic old bridge. The town returned to its former glory only recently. The 1990’s war that pitted Orthodox Serbs (briefly), Catholic Croats, and Muslim Bosniaks against each other left the bridge in pieces in the river and bombed out buildings everywhere. Some of those buildings still litter the town, but in the old town core most of the buildings and the iconic bridge has been rebuilt in the last 20 years, which is impressive for a place known for crippling government corruption and bureaucracy. As our tour guide Alma took us around town she spoke of how Bosnia is at the crossroads of Europe, where Slavic Europe meets Western Europe, where the Roman Empire was split between Rome and Constantinople, and how later it became the furthest outpost of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. This divided people of similar ethnic backgrounds along different cultural fault lines. Alma showed us movies and pictures of the old town being bombed by Catholic Croatian forces and the old bridge being destroyed and falling into the river. People were always under fire; having to bury their dead at night for fear that they would be shot by snipers, many of them former neighbors.

In fact this picture of a Catholic cross on the top of the hill over the mosque minaret in old town looks like a symbol of peaceful coexistence to the untrained eye. This is until you realize the the cross was recently placed on the hill from which Catholic Croats shelled the largely Muslim old town with little warning in the 1990s war. That is why the war is so complicated. It seems like each cultural group at some point was the 'victim' and the 'aggressor', depending on where you were in the country.
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Market street next to the bridge. Notice the single big bombed out building that has not been replaced in the upper left.
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On our tour we visited a colorful mosque and a market street.
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Coppersmith Street
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The restored Old Bridge, rebuilt using the same ancient techniques and same limestone as the original. We ran into Alma's son while on the bridge, who I originally mistook for a fellow American tourist due to his impeccable accented English.
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The mosque and the market
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A traditional Turkish style home.
River rock paved courtyard.
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Jen's healing foot. Had to take your shoes off to enter.
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We bid farewell to Alma. Like Alma, most of the Bosniak Muslim women in old town did not wear any head covering, and those that did merely covered their hair. The rare woman with any facial covering always seemed to be a tourist like us. Mostar is certainly a reminder for us to be on guard against cultural and religious generalizations.
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Old mill
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We grabbed a drink on a terrace near the bridge. We ordered 'prosciutto' for a snack. But we noticed when we got it, it was beef dried and prepared like pork prosciutto. I forgot, Jews and Muslims often don't eat pork.

We ate at the terrace on the left
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While we ate, some people smoked. A bad combination: Croatians and Bosnians that like to smoke, and my wife with asthma. However here is an interesting tidbit, although she still finds the smoke annoying, it has not been setting off her asthma like it does in the US. I remember reading that cigarettes in different countries can have wildly different amounts of ingredients, and that some cancerous ingredients can be found in higher amounts in American brands. Maybe that explains some of the difference in her reactions.

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As the sun was setting Jen and I hiked down to the base of the Old Bridge to get a picture of it at dusk. Sharing the sunset with us were a group of young teenagers throwing rocks into the river, and although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, they appeared to be giving each other a good natured ribbing. One kid asked if we were tourists in English and I said yes. He then asked where we were from, and I replied that we were from America. At this point the loudest kid, who actually looked more Irish (light red hair and freckles) than anything else, continued to indecipherably give a third kid a hard time, and then repeatedly said to us in English “He’s from Albania” over and over again and laughing like this was horrible. Being culturally unaware of why this was quite so funny, the first kid decided shared with me that he grew up in Phoenix Arizona and then moved back to Bosnia to be with his grandparents. He also said that when he gets old enough he wants to move to New York. As we parted ways the red headed kid shifted and began to talk to me in a raised voice with a smirk, like he did his friend, probably giving me a hard time in another language. As we left I told him that it wasn’t fair because I couldn’t understand what he was saying. We both smiled and then Jen and I walked around the town, magic at night, before returning to our room.

Bridge and the Kids
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In my very brief experience visiting the former Yugoslavia it seems that the new Yugoslav countries with a western orientation (Croatia and probably Slovenia) speak English more often and better on average people in the rural areas of many larger European countries (France and Italy). They learn it in school as a second language because they know there are too few speakers of their language to expect outsiders to learn it. This is fortunate for my fellow English speakers. From my brief experience in Bosnia and Montenegro it seem that might not be the case in new Yugoslav countries with more of an eastern orientation. Maybe there is not as much emphasis on English as a second language in Bosnia (English is hit or miss) or Montenegro (not as many strong English speakers).

Posted by get2will 09:53 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Day 4


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Today we had a guide named Peter take us on a tour into a beautiful part of Montenegro. We took a loop around the Bay of Kotor, stopping in the towns of Perast and Kotor, before returning for our last night in Dubrovnik.

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF PERAST

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF KOTOR

In fact the Montenegro border is only 24 miles from Dubrovnik, and here the country of Croatia is less than 1 mile wide in some spots! That is an unusual border. Peter began by speaking about what it was like to grow up as a kid in the countryside near Dubrovnik during the war in the 1990’s. How he and his siblings did not fully understand why his parents were always on edge and didn’t want them to go outside. They finally had to abandon their home and flee into Dubrovnik after some neighbors were killed by Serbs and Montenegrins that were attacking the area after Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Although we enjoyed the sightseeing and the local knowledge Peter provided, the thing I found most interesting is that he was giving us a tour of a nation 24 miles away where attacks on his hometown originated from only 20 years ago! Feelings still run deep, some of his assistant tour guides (who are Croatian) will not guide in Montenegro. We also spoke about general differences between the US and Croatia. I thought our bureaucracy was gummed up from political infighting, but Croatia can take it to another level. For example, Croatia restricts the size and amount of development on the coast so it stays attractive and avoids coastal over development as seen in some other European countries. Because of these building restrictions, many investors have lined up to purchase and restore the few remaining war damaged buildings that remain on the coast. This process has been going on FOR 15 YEARS! Peter showed us an old war damaged communist resort with some cool looking bombed out buildings as an example. There are also stories of officials shaving a couple of inches off the width and thickness of hundreds of miles of roads to make some money. Luckily, despite this Croatia is still beautiful and most of the infrastructure is in great shape.

Adios Dubrovnik
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Bombed out communist era resort
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On the way into Montenegro I spoke with Peter about a good place to fine an electronics store so I could get a replacement charger. He said today was a holiday celebrating Croatia's declaration of independence so most places would be closed. He commented that he was not very attached to the holiday because the Croatian government keeps changing which day it is celebrated depending upon which politicians are in power. Each group has a different rational for a different day!

The Soviet Union wanted to build a naval base in Kotor bay and Yugoslav's communist dictator Tito told them to get bent. Tito was a wild card, so it is not surprising that Yugoslavia was one of the only communist countries to get US 'aid' (a.k.a. shakedown money).

Perast, an old shipping town in the Bay.
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The island 'Our Lady of the Rocks' is and artificial island built upon some small exposed rocks in the bay where a religious relic was found. The island was built by over one hundred years of dropping rocks and sinking ships on that spot to form an island base for the church. Even after the first church was built, rocks were continually dumped to expand the island.
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Most of the Croatian population in Montenegro fled during the war. However one Croatian guy we met stayed in Montenegro because he is in a mixed marriage with a Serbian woman. Apparently he was treated poorly, particularly during the war. Sad.

Kotor, a venetian style fortified town.

Town Wall, with telltale winged venetian lion
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Main square in Kotor
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Clock Tower
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Screen in a Cathedral
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Many of the religious artwork is have wonderful silver covers over them.
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The town walls zig zag up the side of the mountain. It must have been treacherous to build it. The people of Kotor must have been very scared of an Ottoman Turk invasion to build a wall like that.
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Church on the wall
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Wall surrounded by water
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We briefly walked around the town of Cavtat after we reentered Croatia
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On the way back to Dubrovnik Peter and I got nostalgic over our mutual love of Drazen Petrovic, the Croatian basketball guard who played for the Portland Trailblazers during the start of Croatia’s war for independence from Yugoslavia. He recommended the movie "Once Brothers" that describes the disintegration of his friendship with Serbian Vlade Divac as Yugoslavia began falling apart.
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After the tour we caught dinner in Dubrovnik, and our waiter was quite the character. I tried to order the pasta Bolognese, and his response was “No, that is not what you want”. I told him that I felt like pasta and he pointed on the menu to ‘carbonara’. He told us he serves customers all day and knows what they like, so I said bring on the carbonara. At the conclusion of our dinner, he hurriedly and firmly placed two shots on the table. Unbeknownst to me at this point, this was my first experience with Croatia’s infamous homemade brandy that is fairly ubiquitous. He called it schnapps, but to Americans schnapps is a little lighter on the alcohol and very sweet, and this concoction was neither. I sipped a little off the top and the brandy seemed like it was from grapes. When the waiter came back by, I asked him sip or shoot, making the appropriate hand signal for each. He makes the hand signal for ‘shoot’ and says “American style”. Down the hatch. It is strong but tasty. Jen looks at me like I’m crazy. Eventually she shoots it, “my chest is on fire”. Then, as Jen and I continue talking at our table, the waiter repeatedly comes by and makes inappropriate but funny comments to me about the brandy and how now my wife will be “up all night” now. We were laughing the whole time.

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Next we hit the other Buza bar after sunset, the one that did not provide any daytime shade. Very atmospheric, with good drinks and music.

Buza view from the wall
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Posted by get2will 23:08 Archived in Montenegro Comments (0)

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Days 2 & 3


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Day two we landed in Dubrovnik (doo-BROV-nik). We planned to use the next two days to relax and sightsee here.

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF DUBROVNIK

Bummer. At the last minute the plane between Frankfurt and Dubrovnik was delayed 3.5 hours and we didn't get in until ~5pm. On the brighter side I was really happy to see Dubrovnik. To my grandmother, who was a travel fanatic and a teacher with free summers (road trip through Afghanistan and Pakistan in the late 60s, among first American tourists to visit communist China, Europe road trips, hitchhiking in Cairo at an age most people would term elderly), Dubrovnik was one of her favorite places.

Instead of staying in hotels we've decided to stay in Croatian sobes most of the time. This is like a bed & breakfast, except usually without the breakfast. Unlike in the U. S., these rooms are usually cheaper and often as nice as an equivalent priced hotel room, and they allow you an opportunity to meet the local proprietors. The next three nights we are staying at the Raic sisters apartments in the old town of Dubrovnik.

Apartment "alley"
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The apartment
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Room
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Other alley
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As I unpacked, I realized that somehow we don't have the cords to charge the electronics. Without the charger for our tablet, phone and camera, I’m not going to be able to blog in real time. Unfortunately that also means our kids won’t be able to follow our journey in real time, and there will be no Skyping. Instead we'll have to call the kids. Tomorrow this blog (real time) will turn into my travel journal, and info will be posted when we get back based on my notes. I swear I double checked and packed all the cords, but I guess they must be sitting on the floor of our bedroom as I write this. Maybe I can find a charger cord while I am over here.

We did get to do a little sightseeing at a few churches and other sites but photography was not allowed inside most places.

Serbian Orthodox icons of saints
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Palace door
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A palace interior
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The stradun, Dubrovnik's 'main street' at dusk
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Then we went out to dinner and had a delicious plate of mixed meats and vegetables at a restaurant called Lady Pi-Pi. The views there were even better than the food. And yes, it does mean what you think it means.

The 'mascot'. Ready, set, start pixelating.
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Tasty food
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Views of rooftops and Fort St. Lawrence
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Our second day in Dubrovnik was a blast. We started the day by hiking around the city wall of Dubrovnik. I'm glad we started at 8:30am, because an hour later it was HOT up on that light colored wall.

An interesting thing is that Dubrovnik used to be its own tiny country called Ragusa. How did it stand up to bigger and badder rival Venice? A couple different ways. One is large fortifications everywhere, as seen by the wall. Another is by making the town siege resistant with an aqueduct system that provided plenty of water to the town, and with big grain silos that were hollowed out under the town so large amounts of food could be stored at cool temperatures. It was also one of the first countries to use quarantines to resist disease epidemics, requiring sailors to stay on an offshore island for 40 days before entering town. Another reason was Ragusa was rich, in part due to supplies of salt, which at times were more valuable than gold. However, maybe the most important factor was that it had a bigger ally, the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Interestingly Ragusa was the first country to enter into a trade agreement with the newly formed United States, effectively being the first country to unofficially recognize that the U.S. existed.

Harbor and island view from the wall
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Town view from the wall
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Hiking on the wall
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Gate to the Town
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An aquaduct supplied water to this fountain, making the town siege resistant.
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View of Fort St. Lawrence
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Stradun "main street" from the wall
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Harbor
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After the wall we visited a few sites in town including a couple monasteries

Dominican Monastery
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The cloister in the Dominican Monastery
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Finally we grabbed lunch, but we were still very thirsty since it was so hot. We decided to swing by Buza II, one of the two famous oceanside Dubrovnik bars that cling to the exterior edge of the town wall. We choose Buza II because it had plenty of shade. The drinks were uninspired, however it didn't matter because the atmosphere was perfection. We watched people scamper onto the rocks below the bar and dive into the ocean. The music was eclectic but fun. Over an hour later we were rested and ready to face the heat and explore the town again.

View of Buza II from the town wall
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Diving into the water from the bar
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After a couple more hours of strolling the Stradun and visiting a couple other sites in town, we were hot again, so we retreated to the cool, air conditioned D'Vino Wine Bar. We each ordered a flight of wine samplers, each equivalent to about one glass of wine. Jen got the whites and I got the reds. We agreed that the Dingac red was the best, although many of the others were also tasty. An American woman from Illinois was at the bar who did almost our same trip but in the opposite direction, so she offered some travel advice. When we talked about Mostar, one of our next destinations, our hostess joined in the conversation because she grew up in Mostar.

Cathedral
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Wine Bar
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Resting Jen's foot while we enjoy some wine.
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After this we made reservations at the Panorama Restaurant on top of Mt. Srd that overlooked the town. We got to the top of the mountain using a convenient cable car. In the 1990s when Serbs and Montenegrins attacked Dubrovnik, this was a key part of the Croatian defense of the town, and one of the only high points the Croatians could consistently hold. All the landmines and shells were removed from the mountain recently, and now it is a tourist attraction.

Mt. Srd towering above Dubrovnik
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The funicular car take you to the top
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View of Dubrovnik from the mountain top.
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Jen at dinner
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View of Dalmatian islands at sunset
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After sunset we returned to the town. Dubrovnik is beautiful when lit up at night, so we walked around awhile and enjoyed the ambiance. We then decided to rest our legs at the Nonemina Bar and grab a drink. I’ve had a few Croatian beers by this point in our trip, and they were all slightly bitter, bland lagers like Bud. However, the one I drank tonight called Tomislav is awesome; it’s like some kind of bock. “I don’t always drink Croatian beer, but when I do, I prefer Tomislav.” We nursed our drinks while watching young Dubrovnik kids played soccer in the square, kicking the ball off the cathedral as a goal and weaving effortlessly with the ball between hundreds of walking tourist. I guess that is what you have to contend with if you are going to grow up in Dubrovnik. Great people watching here.

Bar on the right, Rector's Palace on the left, Cathedral with soccer playing kids center.
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Rector's Palace
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Tomislav
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Jen with the Rector's Palace in the background
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Fun filled day, time to hit the sack.

Posted by get2will 13:03 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

En route to our Adriatic adventure.

Day 1


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Today we are flying into Dubrovnik, Croatia, via stopovers in Houston and Frankfurt Germany.

Right now we are sitting in the Houston airport.
I'm thinking back to our last European trip to Italy. It was a really fun trip, but sometimes we were on the go go go because there were so many sites to see.

So one of our goals is to slow down this trip. Jen's foot injury will force us to do that anyway. She had unexpected surgery 3 weeks ago to remove a bone spur from the top of her foot. The doctor said that her foot should be fine on the trip as long as it gets some breaks during the day, but to expect most of the swelling and pain to occur after flying due to the pressure changes.

My other goal is to not only take pictures of places and landscapes, but also take more pictures with us in them, with locals we befriend and of local culture, and pictures that show the nuts and bolts of travelling (our hotel, transportation, food).

Croatia will also be joining the European Union while we are there, so I am also wondering if things will start off with a bang over there, or with indifference.

Well, so long! We will be enjoying the Houston Airport intercom that repeatedly says every five minutes, "inappropriate remarks or jokes that alert security may result in your arrest. . . ". Is it really that bad that everyone needs to be constantly reminded? Everyone here seems fairly chill. . .

Icing Jen's foot at the Houston airport
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Posted by get2will 11:29 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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