Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Split Apartman

We have been staying in apartments (apartman) on this trip as a way to save money. They’ve all had kitchenette’s of some sort, some better stocked than others but all quite nice. I must admit that this particular one is the most Japanese of them all. It is a square, a small square. The kitchen is the most interesting of all . The counter is really not much different in size than our kitchen in Japan. It has, however, a rather unique feature - a drying rack built into the cupboard above. 

Split Old Town

The city has some wonderful views. When the castle area was built, they dug out a partial basement area, in order to have the first floor sit slightly higher, giving Diocletian an unimpeded view of the sea.  The first one on the left with the bricks and the palm fronds is a picture of the basement area - though the ceiling is obviously missing.
Here are a few pictures of the winding streets. Some of them are very picturesque with  balconies and flowers and wrought iron.
The cathedral bell tower here is the dominant structure in this area and lends itself to pictures from many different angles. It is found towering over the various plazas and wondrous restaurants.

Downtown Split

Split has an absolutely gorgeous set of buildings on the waterfront. It includes the old downtown section of the city, Diocletian’s castle, the cathedral bell tower and a line of wonderful storefront cafes and shops. This land has a wonderful climate so almost all of the dining is outside. Here are just a couple of great pictures of the land.


Split is a very small community perched on the coast of Croatia. The train this time was slow, stopping at each and every stop along the way. Split seems to be at the end of the line so this train serviced all of the stops along the way. We did travel through some gorgeous farming as well as forested areas - so green! It just seems so different after living in a desert - the trees and brush smell so wonderful.
Split is an interesting town. A notorious ruler, Diocletian,  decided that he wanted to retire here (he had actually come from this area) so he started building his retirement home, castle, here. It was the town for years, with many of the local people living within its walls. Over time people spilled out into the surrounding areas and an outer wall was built around the growing community. Even today you can still see portions of that original wall.
The remains of the castle city are a honeycomb of meandering streets and walkways - great place to get lost in. Inside there are stores and shops selling anything you could want, restaurants, apartmans (hotels or apartments, defined as rooms with kitchenettes), and, of course, travel agencies. Any place there is room for outdoor dining areas, there’s a table sitting in it. You have to be careful at some of the restaurants, a shift of one table puts you into a different restaurant.

Maksimir Park

The next morning we woke up early, figuring we would head out to take in a few of the museums and then explore more of the town. We came out to the main plaza to discover that very few people were down there. That was odd because the day before the place was absolutely packed with people. Fortunately, there was that great tourist information place that I mentioned before - and they let us know that it was Croatia Statehood day. We had missed the 9 am celebration they had in the plaza (though I had heard band music). Wish we had gone down to see it!
On the negative side, EVERYTHING was closed, including the aforementioned museums we had hoped to peruse. Restaurants and coffee shops were open and, thankfully, the tourist place but everything else was shut up tight.

On the plus side, we took off to the park again to spend the day enjoying  a very long hike through the forest trails and around the small lakes in there. It was very reminiscent of Washington Park; both in the location in the middle of the city and size.  There were a lot of different birds in the park, including one that looked an awfully lot like the blue heron.

Zagreb Zoo

Today we followed the paths for the zoo, ready for another experience. The zoo is smaller than the one in Budapest but also quite nice. The location is gorgeous - set this time within a botanical garden, without the old, historical buildings. The coolest part is that the enclosures are integrated into the gardens, making the areas very interesting and offering different kinds of enrichment for the animals.
The various monkey enclosures have taken advantage of many of these opportunities. The trees give them lots of places to climb and browse from and various ropes and water features offer further opportunities for the animals to play. The two shown here had a great time playing with the lily pads, jumping around each other and finally succeeding in snagging a leaf and running off into the branches to munch on it.
They had some very interesting displays, a huge reptile house that wound around forever, upstairs and down. The way they set it up made you feel like the building was much larger than it was - and some of the spaces were quite large!
There were a fair number of babies, though most were quite difficult to spot and impossible to get pictures of. The little seal obliged us by laying apart from his parents. It was cute to watch these little squirms and butt wiggling as he lay in the sun sleeping.

Zagreb - Maksimir Park

I realize that none of you know that I love zoos. So…just to do something different, I decided to explore the zoo in Zagreb, after all, it was a new country, new zoo, new setting. This time Jeff came along with me, figuring it was the only way he’d get to see me that day. Actually, we found that the zoo was in a large park and it really did look like a great place to explore on one of our few rain-free days.

The tram runs right out to the park, dropping you across from the entrance (love city planning like this). Now I must admit, the park looks like many others, long paths peppered with a couple of well-placed eateries (outdoor, of course), benches to sit on, wide areas for bikes and trykes and wagons…generally all those things that appeal to families and kids and general running around. Further up there are both fields for playing in and paths winding through the forest for hiking in…great variety for everyone.
The park has some neat features in it, including an echo gazebo. It was a building originally built 100 years or so ago with amazing acoustics that make the tiniest sound echo. It was amazing to listen to - and very picturesque in the midst of the trees and waterway.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Gardec in Zagreb

From there we meandered to the “Stone Gate”. It is the oldest surviving gate from the old city and has an interesting small chapel incorporated into it. The focal point of the Baroque style gate is a painting of Mary that somehow survived a fire that destroyed nearly everything else in the church. It was not unusual to see people kneeling on the few rows of benches and many candles lit in the front.

The gate opens onto the upper part of the city called Gradec. There are beautiful scenic views of the city as well as the vast majority of the city’s museums. The old buildings are standing in various states of repair, and inside you can find numerous museums, official offices and who knows what else. The largest, most impressive building is the Church of St. Mark. Sadly, the original church was built in the 12th century but, of course, little of that is left. It has a gorgeous tile room from the 1800’s that includes two different coats of arms - one for Croatia and one for the city of Zagreb
The last picture here just is a contrast I like...the old building with water stains, peeling paint and plaster, broken windows with an early 20th century lamp and the fresh basket of flowers for a festive air. You can find things like that everywhere here.

Zagreb's Farmer's Market

The farmer’s market was spectacular - about the same size of  the one we went to in Turkey. I wandered around happily, checking out the food, smelling the wonderful, fresh fruits and veggies - it was heavenly! On a side note…there’s a great organic grocery store in town too - just down the street from where we stayed. I wish we had been staying there longer.
Note the picture of the woman weighing my purchase. It’s dark, I know, and I don’t have photoshop on this computer to adjust it. However, I want you to check out the scale…it’s a balance scale and they have the weights that they put on it to weigh your purchase. I’ve used these in the science lab and teaching kids but never have I seen them used anywhere else!


Now I must admit, I had never given the city of Zagreb a single thought until this trip. It is the capital of Croatia but that had never come up as a discussion point in any conversation I have ever had. However, I have discovered it’s a very nice, livable town.

First of all, it has a great tram system that will take you anywhere you want to go. Just like in Portland, the downtown area is free. Not only that, once you get wherever you‘re going, you can walk all over the place. We had a great time exploring.

The hub of the city is at the main plaza - that’s where you’ll find the statue to a national here, in this case Josip Jelacic, a famous governor, all the trams you want to take, the tourist information center,  (a must in any city), the apartment we stayed in as well as a fabulous farmer’s market, open daily.
Just up from the main plaza is the Cathedral. Alas, this fabulous building was also in the process of being preserved. The carvings and ornate decorations on the church were beautiful but not very easy to find between the construction. Along the side of the cathedral is an interesting building that looks like it could have been where the church officials lived (it was apparently a pretty high-ranking cathedral at one point in its life.

Wine Tasting in Villany

Lisa, Csaba, Jeff and I took a train from Budapest out to Villany, a famous wine region in Hungary. It was a great journey, traveling through lots of green  countryside, all the greener due to the great amount of rain they’ve been having. We saw many ponds along our way, ponds that were really supposed to be fields the farmers were planting.

We stayed in a great inn in Villany - up on the top of the hill, almost outside the town with a great view of the vineyards from our window. The guest rooms in the inn had interesting names…ours was “Portugeiser” and another we saw was “Cabernete”, “Merlot” and more from one of the wines they sellThey, of course, were part of the Blum Winery and, of course, were very willing to arrange for us to go on a cellar tour for the evening.

Wine Stories in the Cellars

Producing wine is a lot of hard work…that seems pretty obvious, I know, but listening to our exuberant tour guide tell us all about it made me really tired just thinking of everything they have to do.
It starts with the little plants…it’s not enough to put the 10,000 plants out in the vineyard in the spring to start their growth, oh no. You have to then dig up the same 10,000 plants in the fall and put them in the underground cellar for the winter. Then, come spring, you get to plant all 10,000 of them again! That all by itself seems like a lot of work. You still have to go through the weeding and clipping off all of the trailing vines and then pick the grapes - by hand here in Hungary. Our guide was great as she demonstrated how the presses worked and how some things had to be pressed by hand - not much has been mechanized h ere. Her exuberance was catching and endearing - even though we had to wait throughout the entire story for Csaba to interpret for us.

In the cellars

The stories were told in the Blum Winery cellars - a meandering labyrinth of brick cellars, lined with barrels and bottles, labeled by type and year bottled. The niche in the picture had some very old bottles in it - you let them sit and build up cobwebs, showing how old they indeed are. These were particularly good years I guess. On the wall in the picture with the barrels you can see a glass ball with a long tube on the end. Back in the old days they would run down into the cellar, stick the tube in the vat to siphon some wine, stick their thumb on the top and then come back up to the bar to give people more wine. 

Flooding in Budapest

Remember when I mentioned that there was a lot of rain, flooded fields, that kind of stuff??? Well…there was…in fact there was so much rain and so much water and so many ponds…that it washed away the embankment under a section of track and forced the trains running back to Budapest to come to a screeching halt. We had boarded the train for our journey back and we waited. There was an announcement about a delay and we waited. Another announcement, another wait (good thing we had Csaba - we would have been completely in the dark!). Finally, we learned we could go on the train up to the stop before the problem, take a bus (for about 1.5 hours) around the break and then board another train to continue the trip. The catch…the buses had not yet arrived at the station and no one was sure when (or if) they would. Other options? A hotel? REALLY expensive (or extremely questionable). Rent a car? It’s a Sunday, 9 at night…nothing is open. Call Lisa’s friend Eszter? OK…sounds strange but…oh man did she come through for us. Through a friend of a friend, she found a guy who lived in town who was willing to take us all the way up to Budapest (about 3 hours or so). It was cheaper than we would have paid for a hotel and a lot nicer. We were amazed that she had a network that could pull this off for us late at night. We enjoyed a very quick trip through the town until he came - not long at all - and drove us all home. Absolutely amazing - a thousand kudos to our driver - may he live a long and happy life!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pictures of Budapest

Jeff has posted his pictures of Budapest and Villany, a wine region we visited for a couple of days. Check them out with these links:

Photos from Villany:

Photos from Budapest:

In the photos from Budapest, Jeff has lots of pictures of the Cultural Parade....skip down a few entries and I talk about our chance happening upon this cultural event...

Budapest with Friends!

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We absolutely love to travel to parts unknown, but there's something special about arriving somewhere and having friends to show you around. We spent a fabulous week in Budapest, exploring different places but most of all, enjoying our time with Lisa and Csaba. They had great ideas of things to see and places to eat...even a fabulous wine tasting trip (no...not me, them). More on that coming up in the future. Meanwhile, here are a few shots of us at dinner and roaming the wine country.

Budapest Zoo

I have to admit...I am addicted to zoos so when I saw the sign for the Budapest Zoo, I knew I had to go. What a treat!

First of all, it is really easy to get around Budapest so it was no problem taking the metro out there - it's actually close enough to walk to but since it was raining, I happily took the metro. The zoo was originally built in the 1800's in the center of an extensive park. The park is still there with meandering walks, although there are a couple of large streets that wind through it now. They didn't go for the idea of animals being housed in squat cement buildings...their buildings and grounds are spectacular.
The current buildings were primarily built in the early 1900's, designed with the artistic flair common in that time period in Hungary. The entrance is a domed archway with huge elephant statues in front. The columns extend on each side to smaller, ornate archways. Once through, you enter into a beautiful botanical garden. I happily began wandering the paths.
This picture looks to me like the outside of a small church, with the stained glass windows lining the side of the building. The only discordant feature is the wooden structure on the left...but then you see the warthogs rooting around in the grass and mud below and you realize it's just part of an animal enclosure.
I did take some pictures of animals (hehehe). This was a really cool session the woman did with the Harbor Seal. She had the seal do a lot of things I've seen before, come close, go out, touch the red baton, bring back an object, and the seal readily did everything. The coolest thing was the "kiss" he gave her. She leaned way down and he came up and touched her cheek. I didn't quite catch it...
Stay tuned...more on zoos coming....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cultural Parade in Budapest

We seem to have some kind of knack for running into things that are just kinda happening in a particular city. We had no idea where we were or where we were going. We had just finished dining at one of the outdoor cafes and had decided that walking off lunch was a good idea. As we meandered through the streets, appreciating the very old buildings and wonderful statues, gargoyles and other assorted additions to the buildings, we started to hear music so...we decided to check it out. As we got closer we realized it was the oompa-pa music so typical of parades...and sure was!
The groups that were included were numerous and varied. I'm making up where all these people are from because I have absolutely no idea. We did show Csaba, Lisa's boyfriend, the pictures and he said they were different ethnic groups in Hungary. Since I can't be more specific, I'll just share the pictures so....back to the parade... The "Afrikan" dancers were really cool - extremely energetic and moving a lot (most of my pictures were quite blurry from the action).

The next guy didn't fit into the oompa-pa band and sadly we didn't hear this group play but...he definitely gets the prize for the most unusual instrument in a parade.
The kids were adorable, of course. There are more in the next posting...they were excited and waving...and mom was walking beside them taking videos of the kids in the parade. Some of the groups performed a dance, others sang while others just waved and looked cute.

Cultural Parade continued...

Continuing our parade pictures you can finally see our band playing their marching music. Notice in the background...there's a Burger King. Sad to say many of America's fast food outlets have popped up here too. On the other hand...they don't allow many of the chemicals our foods include here so I'd guess that the fast food here is probably a bit editorial on my part, you can tell...:)
And here we have young girls dressed in a native costume waving and smiling to everyone on the route. It is really nice to be able to just snap pictures like crazy with no one thinking it strange at all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Night Cruise on the Danube

We seem to really love taking cruises on rivers - this time was no different. We took the opportunity to take a night cruise on the famous Blue Danube. In the great tradition of small boats on rivers, we had the opportunity to climb aboard an elegant ship, walk through it, imagining that had arrive at our smaller boat sitting on the other side. We actually got to have the nicest seats because we were upstairs without the windows - clear views of the sights.
The top picture is of the Elisabeth Bridge with the City Parish Church behind it. It's really striking in the night with the lights on it. They have many of the old buildings artistically lit, making for beautiful scenes at night. Sadly, it's really hard to get good pictures of bright lights from a moving boat.
There is a cool church that is built right directly into Gellert hill. We only got to see it from the water (or tram in the daytime) is waiting for our next trip. Appropriately it seems to be called the Cave Church, though there seems to be any number of them popping up on the internet. When we return to explore it more, I'll pass on the information.

Matthias Church

The original Matthias Church was built in the 11th century, however, it too has been destroyed during the many occupations of different countries. Not much of the original exists any more. The church has been rebuilt and is currently being restored - only a small portion of it was open to the publish.
The most outstanding thing in this church is the incredible colors found on the walls. This small section barely shows the gorgeous colors throughout the church (lighting wasn't great). They also have some beautiful stained glass windows and elaborate statues. I've been very surprised to see the stand where the priest would deliver the sermon being located in the middle of the church. They're usually very ornate with many statues and a circular staircase. Sadly my pictures didn't come out but stay tuned...Jeff's probably did. I'll do another album sometime in the future - then I'll have some of his pictures too. 

Castle District - Buda

Budapest is actually a city that combined two different city along the Danube River. One city was called Buda and was located on the south side of the river. Pest was located on the northern banks of the river. At some point in time, they joined to make the city we know today. Hungary has a long history of various invaders and rulers taking over their country. The Mongols (remember Ghengis Khan I wrote about a couple of years ago???) made it out this far in their quest for dominance. The Castle district was really established when the royal court moved her in the 15th century. Buda, the side of the city with the castle became one of Europe's most influential cities. Of course, things couldn't remain that way so the Turks invaded followed by the Austrians. Little was left of the district when they were through. However, the Hungarians are definitely stubborn and they began reconstruction immediately, however, WWII again destroyed the area. It has been reconstructed in the same style and with many of the architectural features from the medieval city. 
The first two pictures here are of a long wall at the top of the hill, following the course of the river. It's called the Fisherman's Bastion. The story goes that the wall was built to defend the castle. The fishermen, who spent the day on the river below, were in the right place to run up the hill to defend it if foreign forces were to arrive. It's actually very picturesque, both the structure and views. There are seven turrets along the wall, representing each of the seven tribes of the Hungarians. 
The last picture here is a picture of Matthias Church, taken from the top of the Bastion. The tile work on the various churches is outstanding - the amount of work to create and place all of these tiles is unbelievable. The color is spectacular - sorry it didn't come out better in the photo.