Saturday, June 23, 2018

Dubrovnik 

Croatia might be one of the world's oddest shaped countries - if it is shaped like a backwards question mark, then Dubrovnik is the dot at the bottom, separated from the rest by the narrow corridor of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The economy of Dubrovnik depends a great deal on tourism and the main attraction is the old city.
I’ve been on the walls of several cities but this one is pretty remarkable. It was built in the 14th C, suffered some damage during the war in the 90s.  Because it’s been so hot and humid here, we chose a slightly overcast day, early in the morning, to walk the 2+km around. It took about 1.5 hours and as we were leaving the hordes of tourists arriving made us glad we’d started early.

Some views from the walls:


Massive cliffs down to the sea:


Although it’s mostly tourists staying in the old town there are some permanent residents with vegetable or ornamental gardens.





A panorama from the topmost corner.






And inside the walls at night:

With all the walking we’ve done we figured we’d earned a treat. A chocolate bomb with forest berries:

Like Venice, Dubrovnik has started to limit cruise ship traffic. There are many, many booths selling day trips, boat tours and other activities. Besides our trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina we selected the "Three Island Tour". Although Croatia has 1000 islands these 3 "Elaphiti" islands are about a 45 min boat ride away. The islands aren’t very big and the beaches, like all the beaches near here, are small, generally crowded and often rocky.
With the steep shorelines many little 'beaches' have been carved out with steps leading down from a pathway above.

Despite the lack of sandy beaches the blue/green water of the Adriatic is very appealing.

We found a nice restaurant near our flat that had a unique way of serving carbonara-mixed in a Grana Padano cheese round with some Canadian whiskey added, then heated to melt into the cheese. Delicious!


Our last night so we took the cable car to the top of the hill to see the old city from above and watch the sun set over the island hills of Croatia.


A fitting end to our journey.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina 

I’m not sure we (in the west) can think of Bosnia Herzegovina without images of war, bombing, and continuously fighting factions. So our day trip from Dubrovnik to Mostar was a nice surprise - similar to the surprise I had the first time I visited the old part of Quebec City.
The old city is lined with very uneven cobblestones, making walking precarious. They have been restored with the stones positioned flat but were originally placed on end, which are much easier to navigate.
Original cobblestones:

New cobblestones:

The tourist souvenirs reflect the Turkish influence (the Ottomans were here) - lots of decorated brass, silver and copper.


The main highlight of the tour is the old bridge, damaged during the war in 1995 but restored in 2004. It has great historical significance, dividing the city along religious lines. The guy who bombed the bridge was recently found guilty of war crimes but committed suicide by poisoning himself in the prisoners box last year.

Local men jump off the bridge 20m to the cold water below but will only jump once they’ve collected 30€ from tourists. Just seeing him standing on the edge in his Speedo was thrill enough for us! Tourists CAN jump (for a fee) and only 2 died last year.  We passed on the opportunity.
To quote this guy "I can’t do this for nothing."

We stopped for lunch - this is the traditional ćevapi - sausages, flat bread, onions and chips. And wine of course.

We had a short stop at Kravica falls - more interesting for its breadth, not height. Except for the very teeny ‘beach’ jammed with countless tourists, kids jumping in the water and shrieking, loud blaring music from the cafe/bar, it had the potential to be quite lovely.

It was a 5 min walk down and if the little shuttle train hadn’t come along at the right time, perhaps 30 min up.
Our train selfie:

The downside of the day is the fact that we had to go through 3 border crossings each way. Bosnia-Herzegovina has that little piece of coastline that divides Croatia into 2 parts. So we started in Croatia, crossed into B-H, back into Croatia, then into B-H. Reverse it all to come home. Added a bit of time to the trip but luckily no border problems.
There was a bit of evidence of the war in Mostar - I’m not sure if they’re keeping these as reminders or just haven’t got around to fixing yet.

We’re learning a bit about the causes of the wars in the 90s but it’s still difficult to totally understand it. Fortunately all these countries seem to have settled their differences so Marj and I can enjoy them!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Roman emperors and honey bees

A few more islands, many steep hills and several more of the ‘most beautiful village of Croatia’. 


We also had a half day of River rafting - few rapids but mostly just peaceful floating. I took their advice and left my camera behind so no photos of that. 

We were delayed one day by a massive thunderstorm but it wasn’t long before all traces of the rain disappeared with the sun. Otherwise great weather though a bit warm at times for the regular bikers. 

On our 2nd last night we docked in Split and had a city tour of Diocletian’s palace. Diocletian was a Roman emperor who was the first one to ‘retire’ rather than be assassinated as was the tradition. He built the palace as a retirement home. It looks a bit run down now which is understandable since it is 1700 years old. 


In the central piazza we came across a group of musicians playing for some traditional dancers. 

The island of Solti is known for its honey and we visited a third generation bee keeper for an interesting talk. 

Here he is with a photo of his father and grandfather. 


Although this area is called Dalmatia we still haven’t seen a Dalmatian dog - perhaps in Dubrovnik, where we’re headed after we leave the ship tomorrow. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Another hill to climb

If Monday’s cycle was hard, Tuesday’s was gruelling. Almost 60 km with about 3500 feet of elevation gain on the island of Korčula. For lunch we stopped at a local residence for a typical Croatian Meal - of course lots of grilled meat. Accompanied by the local, homemade wine posit. 


Lamb, chicken, pork, yummy sausages. 


(For a country with so much coastline fish is almost an exception.) We ended the day with a 15 percent grade - downhill fortunately. 

Each little port we moor in is jammed with yachts, catamarans, sailboats, fishing vessels. In fact we often have to double, triple park so that one night, in order to get to shore we had to go through 3 other boats we were alongside. There have been up to 6 boats tethered together. 

This boat is loaded with fish traps:


Each of these villages is full of ancient history but honestly it’s all starting to blur together. This morning we also had a lesson describing more recent Croatian history. To say the last 100 years has been turbulent might be an understatement. Even the democratic government of today is thought to be quite  corrupt. 

This is one of the few non coastal villages we visited and is typical of the stone buildings and red roofs perched on a hillside. 

There are about 30 in our cycling group - a group of 12 Swiss (including 4 sisters!), a British couple, a German couple, 2 sisters from Australia and New Zealand, a group of 9 Australians (which actually includes a couple from Ottawa), and Karin from Germany who is quite comfortable changing into her bathing suit on the beach.  In fact, George (the Scotsman from England) thinks she’s only got the bathing suit on to keep US comfortable. 

The view riding into Korcula:


A well deserved beverage to end the day. 


Monday, June 11, 2018

Hopping the islands

You’ll be happy to know that once we made it to the boat everything has gone well. The first day of cycling took us across the island of Hvar - taking us past a UNESCO site where the ancient Greeks set up an agricultural landscape. The roads and fields are lined with stone walls interspersed with vast vineyards, olive groves and tidy vegetable gardens. There is an archeological site containing Roman baths. It seems these islands have been inhabitated by Many different groups of people.  

Here we are getting ready to leave the first day:


One of the little villages is nicknamed Venice - you can see the canal here:


The boat then headed to the stunningly beautiful island of Vis where we spent the night. 

On Vis we cycled across the island and back about 30 km. Doesn’t seem like much but it included straight uphill for 1000 ft of elevation, then down. Then straight up again another 1000 ft of elevation and back down. Fortunately we (like most on this tour) had booked ebikes which would have fetched a hefty price at times from the few who didn’t have them. 

Profile from today:


Views from the top were amazing. One side of the island..

..and the other. 

A replica boat in an old fishing village:

And lastly an action photo 


Next the island of Korcula 60 km with lots of elevation - grateful for ebikes!

Saturday, June 09, 2018

We Missed the Boat (literally)

All I can say is that we had a 10:30 flight booked so we would get to our boat by 2:30 but it turned out we’d actually booked a 10:30 PM flight. With no other flights available we ended up taking a 6.5 hour bus ride from Zagreb to Split, waited for 3 hours, then a 2 hour ferry to meet up with the boat. 

We discovered the error after we’d checked our bags - have you ever tried to get your suitcase back after it disappears down that conveyor belt?

I’ll spare you most of the details but needless to say this was accompanied with frantic phone calls, mad rushing and confusion, and a bit of stress (to say the least).

By 11 PM we’d met up with the boat, found our cabins, hopped into bed and started to relax. 

Here’s the boat at night. 

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Hrvatska

It may come as a surprise to you that the Croatian name for Croatia is Hrvatska. We figured that out after we saw all the local wines listed with an HR after them. How Hrvatska tuned into Croatia is a mystery to me. 

Zagreb has many many museums (architecture, history, ethnographic, mushroom, torture) but Marj and I decided to check out the quirky Museum Of Broken Relationships. Each small, but significant, item has a story to tell, some heartbreaking, some devastating, some hilarious and some tragic. Here are a few samples. 

This was a bit humorous - a photo of a lake. The accompanying description says "Florida lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend. The arrow indicates the first spot I saw a penis in the sunshine."

This is the ‘toaster of vindication’ - "When I moved out and across the country I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now. "

A Lynksis router. "We tried. Not compatible."

We then did a short city bus tour and I must say the city isn’t much to look at. Lots of old, ornate buildings most of which could use a good scrubbing. A few nice parks, cathedrals and statues of historic figures unknown to us.  Found a good ice cream shop (Amelie if you happen to come here). 

One of the more striking buildings is the one below with the Zagreb coat of arms and another coat of arms all done in glistening tile work. Very intricate. The building is the Palači Grlečić Jelačić, also church of St Mark. 


The red and white checkerboard pattern on the roof is kind of like our maple leaf - a national symbol. 

I’ve been trying to learn a few words but so far I’ve only got yes (da) no (ne) and thanks (hvala). It doesn’t help matters that a lot of their words don’t have any vowels and most of the letters are j, k, z and c with various accents. 

As Marj and I bumble our way through train stations, bus routes and menus all the locals are exceedingly patient and helpful (not including the two who tried to steal Marj’s money but that’s another story). 

Boarding the boat on Saturday. 

Dubrovnik 

Croatia might be one of the world's oddest shaped countries - if it is shaped like a backwards question mark, then Dubrovnik is the dot ...