Saturday, July 31, 2010


Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a delightful city. It has certainly seen its fair share of turmoil and been taken over by any number of warring nations, yet it has maintained its own traditions and language.
Just as in Croatia, the city has a castle and an old town with buildings that have somehow survived the years of war and strife. Sadly, an earthquake brought down or damaged a number of them but they were rebuilt in the Baroque style and mark the old town center. It is, of course, the center of the tourist quarter. We roamed the streets, ignored the souvenir shops, wandered through some of the more unique places, climbed up to the castle to take in the view, enjoyed tea or drinks in the many outdoor cafes and loved the night music.
Every corner had a different musician, working to make their living. Some were ok, some were quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed a saxophone player we found one night – he was excellent. A little girl, about 4 years old, dressed in a purple dress, entertained the crowds for about half an hour as she danced and cavorted about. The weather was perfect, the river clear and scenic, the ambiance was just perfect. Sadly, the international school here only has 70 kids in it…difficult to get 2 full time positions!
In the middle of the city is the Dragon Bridge where the Ljubljana dragons guard the entrance to the city. The dragon is also found on the coat-of-arms, the flag and on the castle tower. According to legend, Jason of the Argonauts struck down a monster, dragon, in a nearby marsh.
We sat and ate dinner in a small outside café. When the church bells started to ring we noticed the tower on the top of a nearby building opening up, with the horse and man coming out. Reminded me of the ones I used to see at Grandma Carol’s house – only these were obviously much bigger!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Veliki Falls

The next day we took off to the lower lakes and the famous Veliki Slap, or Big Waterfall. This is undeniably the most visited portion of the park. One can enter from the first entrance area, walk to the lookout for Veliki Slap, take a few pictures, and then look down upon the crawling bits of humanity making their way around the tricky paths, and use the telephoto to take a few snaps of the visible waterfalls and finally walk away, knowing you had seen the falls. There are, I’m sure, any number of people who take that route (the parking lot has the first 20 minutes free). Others do walk down, take the short loop and then slowly make their way back up the hill (1k, straight up). Then there are the rest of us. 
We took off on the 2nd ferry, heading off to the far side of Jezero Kozjlak. We headed up to the upper path with promised viewpoints along the way – we weren’t disappointed! We also found that it was quite sparsely populated; obviously the teeming crowds did not like hiking the upper reaches. We make our way along Jezero Milanovac, Gavanovac and Kaluderovac, checking out the various falls connecting these and other lakes. The water carries the calcium carbonate in solution and as the water falls over the edges, it is deposited, forming spectacular terraces for the water to cascade over. 
We wound our way to the numerous upper views of Veliki Slap, finally descending (yes, hundreds of steps) to the teeming mass of humanity. There we joined the slowly wending path among the stunning vistas. We didn’t stick around for too long because we made our way up to the upper viewpoint (the one that is quick to get to if you’re up on top) and then walked along the opposite edge of the lakes, again taking pictures. 
Well…we couldn’t be satisfied staying up there…after all, we found some more stairs and we couldn’t resist the urge to climb down them. We wound are way through a cave and back to the milling crowds. Finally we arrived at the edge of the lake and walked back along the quiet path to our hotel. 
FYI...this last picture is the view from the top - very stunning to see.

Hiking Proscansko Lake

The next day we decided to hike around the upper lake, Jezero Proscansko. You can actually get up the lake area by walking from the main entrance and that’s exactly what we set out doing. The trail was well marked and hugged the lake, giving us views of yet more waterfalls and the gorgeous lake. Sadly, the trail petered out and put us on the road the tram takes snaking up the side of the mounting to the top lake area. We kept on hiking, figuring there’d be other chances to get back to a lakeside path. That, however, was not to be. We thought we had reached an upper lake, but it was actually one of the many smaller lakes on our way. We hiked for quite a ways until one of the trams came by, stopped, and opened their doors. We shrugged and decided to take a ride – a very good decision as it turns out. We must have spent 20 min. on the tram getting up to the top. Obviously our little map was not to scale!
Thankful to be at the top, we took off on our original destination; the hike around the upper lake. Once again we started off on a marked trail and headed off along the lakeside route. Once again the trail ended at a road, one that looked like it had been a road for the trams at one time – perhaps a trip to the upper end of the lake. While we had scenic views, it really wasn’t what we were looking for. I will admit, however, we made excellent time! 
I have decided that we must be careful what we wish for. After an hour or so of hiking along the road, we finally came to the far end of the lake and bridge. According to the map, a trail would take off to the right. We saw what looked like a deer trail but since we’d been hiking on an old road, we kept to it, seeking a marked trail. After 10 minutes or so we gave up and went back to eyeball the deer trail. Jeff, being the daring adventurer, took off into the underbrush. With much trepidation, and I must admit to a great sigh, I followed him. This was definitely a trail, small, unmarked, unimproved and questionable. It did indeed follow along the lake, hugging the shoreline, sometimes even right IN the lake. We had wanted a little more rustic trail to follow…
While there were the difficult moment; fallen trees to skirt or clamber over, paths fallen into the lake and great quantities of dead, slippery leaves, it was still a beautiful hike. Flowers bloomed along the edges, tiny little buds open to catch the light, dragonflies flitting among the blooms and across the water. We found a perfect log to sit on while we ate lunch and watched the sunlight play on the water. 

More views of Plitvice

A few more views of the stunning vistas on our hike. It seemed that every corner, every step, every moment brought a new landscape for us to see. Some of these were taken from upper paths, others from the lower areas. 

Plitvice National Park

The land of waterfalls, hundreds of waterfalls, everywhere you look waterfalls. This park truly has breathtaking natural splendor in the form of pristine lakes with cascading waterfalls connecting them. The falls are nothing short of spectacular, along with the talents of the engineering department. The wide flung lakes and falls would be impossible to see if you just walked on natural paths around the lakes. A distant view of a handful of waterfalls would be all that you could see. However, snaking paths across lakes, around brush, through forests as well as up and down the cascading lakes allow you spectacular views.
We had no idea what we were getting into. We knew there were lakes and waterfalls but then…we had seen lakes and waterfalls before. We arrived at the hotel mid afternoon and decided to spend a few hours roaming in the park. We hiked down the hill – all stairs – to a boat dock where we were taken out to the center of the lake…and the waterfalls!! Stepping off the boat you were greeted with some small cascades surrounding the dock. As we walked along the ramp leading up the lakes, we saw water falling everywhere, sparkling lights dancing, fireflies flitting around, absolutely stunning beauty. I have a few photos posted here but I’m planning, eventually, on putting up an album of waterfall pictures, with one disclaimer…who knows which waterfall was where! I’ll just post them J )
As I said, they have created a maze of boardwalks that allow the visitors to have prime views of the  waterfalls, falls that undoubtedly change over the year as the water levels raise and lower by the seasons. We traveled up the north side of the middle lakes, Gradinski, Galovac and Okrugljak Jezero with a number of smaller lakes (jezero) in between. Every place where a lake joins, there are falls – and always more than one. I will admit, the majority of these falls are “small” by Yosemite and Niagra standards, however, they are unique, a grand collection.
The lakes are absolutely pristine with distinctive colors that can range from azure to green, other times greys and blues. The colors vary by the minerals and organisms that can be found in the water as well as the angle of the sunlight coming in. And clear – all of the lakes and streams are clear as glass, giving you a view of the fish and lake bottom. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Mostar is the fourth or fifth largest city in the Herzegovina portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It’s actually the unofficial capital of Herzegovina. However, its greatest claim to fame is that the town was considered the “bridge keepers”, keeping the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva River. The bridge was originally built in the 16th century, spanning the two sides of Mostar. It was destroyed during the war but, having been a UNESCO site, it was rebuilt, using the same materials – primarily limestone. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wine Tasting

Wine production has a very long history in this particular part of the world and the Croatians definitely enjoy their wines. Having tasted a number of great wines in this area, Jeff really wanted to go out to the Peljesac Peninsula to taste some of their wines. The vineyards here are often found interspersed with olive trees – wine and oil seems to go together here for some reason.

Thanks to the tour guide, I now know a lot more about wine than I ever did before, or thought I’d ever know, or wanted to know. Here goes a short list of things you never knew about either. The most “famous” wine here is called Dingac, and can be either white or red and produced from specific grapes. The wines produced here are generally in a very small-scale – a small family farm that takes care of most of the production themselves with a few hired hands. Very little makes the market outside of Croatia. The cellars vary greatly, from large, well appointed ones with quite a large supply of wines to extremely small productions. One cellar had added a small section for tourists so they could meet in a “nice” area with seats and such, but then to join it to the cellars he just knocked a hole in the wall…

Lokrum Island

The Dalmation Coast of Croatia has, quite literally, thousands of islands. Many of them are very small and totally uninhabited, others are very commercial in nature, some are national parks, some are fairly large and have numerous cities, towns, ports and, of course, old castles to roam around in. We took off to Lokrum Island, also known as the island of kings. It does have a very old Benedictine abbey and monastery and was also where, according to legend, Richard the Lion-heart was shipwrecked, hence the island of kings.
Apparently the Benedictines began cultivating and importing exotic plants from all over the world, a tradition that is still continued. The island has a fairly large botanical garden with fruits and plants from all corners of the world. Today the island is a Nature Reserve and while people can come to explore and swim during the day, everyone must be off by 8:00 pm.
We swam in a small inland lake (right next to the ocean) but the water was clear and calm, and the beach extremely rocky. We also hiked around the entire island, not difficult at all since it’s quite small. It has some gorgeous views of the island itself as well as back towards Dubrovnik.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bay of Kotor

Now Dubrovnik is well worth exploring, however, there are only so many times you want to go up those hills and once you’ve seen one store, you’ve pretty much seen them all. They do, however, for a fee, of course, have wonderful local tours that you can take to explore parts of the area. This led us on a trip to Montenegro.
We took off to explore the Bay of Kotor, a fabulous bay just down the coast from Dubrovnik with stunning, rugged views of the mountains and ocean. The coastline here is similar to Santa Barbara on the inland side with lots of mountains to drive along with the coast side being much more rugged and rocky with many small islands such as the Oregon coast has. After an hour’s drive…and two stops through border stops…we arrived at the bay. The bay is actually made up of 3 bays that come in from the ocean. It does have fishing facilities but no large docking area was apparent. It has a road that traverses around the entire area, weaving through small glens and wondrous mountain views.
There are two islands out in the middle of one of the bays; one holding a monastery and the other church called “Our Lady of the Rocks”. According to legend, fishermen saw Mary in the reef and began a ritual of dropping a stone on the spot every time they sailed by. They would also bury old boats there, filling them with rocks so that they would sink. Eventually, the island was born and they finally built the church upon it.
We boarded a small boat, sitting at the dock just waiting for people who wanted to go out to see the church. It is a central part of the local culture where they celebrate many different life events. There are a few outstanding things inside. In the sacristy there is an embroidery — a 25-year-long labor of love made by a local woman. It was very beautifully done with exquisite stitching and design, lovingly made with both silk and the woman's own hair. All of the cherubs that are found along border had the woman's hair used for their hair. As the years went by, the hair of the angels turned from dark brown to white. Humble and anonymous as she was, she had faith that her work was worthwhile and would be appreciated — as it is today, two centuries later, by travelers from around the world.
The paintings on the ceiling in the main chapel were all done by a single man over the course of years. His most outstanding one is a picture of Mary –ascending into heaven I believe. It is beautiful and very well preserved – quite amazing. He painted over 60 different pictures in the chapel, all of them in place.

Going around the bay did take quite a bit of time, being very windy, many villages and slow traveling. We spent the better part of the day driving around the bay but there was a shortcut for the way back. A ferry. It was a whole 5 minutes long, driving us across the bay, but cutting off about 2 hours worth of the trip. Shortest ferry I’ve ever been on!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dubrovnik Wall Walk

Early the next morning we took off for the city wall. The walls were begun in the 9th century, when, of course, people wanted to invade the city. Various changes and additions, improvements and repairs have been made over the centuries until they now have a continuous wall that is 2km long around the city. While they have proven to be useful in protecting the city over the years, they are now a source of income and jobs, all while allowing crazy tourists to pay to climb up more of the hundreds of steps, in the heat, to walk around the top.
The views are spectacular on both sides of the wall. The ocean is pristine and blue, absolutely gorgeous. They have used every square inch of that city to show off its wonders. The first 200 steps are crazy…straight up the side of the wall until you hit the top ridge. It’s wide and very easy to walk. It climbs up and down as it circles the city – almost 2k work of a walk.
At the entrance to the city there is a well photographed small “castle” perched on top of a rather large rock, right out in the sea. It is gorgeous and lots of pictures are taken of it but I have absolutely no idea what it is called…it just sits there being photogenic. I believe the city has a church for every 10 people. Everywhere you look, there are church spires reaching to the heavens. Makes for a gorgeous skyline. There are also ruins to be found, ruins from the 1991 war. Along the outside of the city walls you can glimpse sparkling deep blue waters, craggy rocks, bold divers (yes, the boys have to dive from those rocks), bars – the kind you drink at. There are two different bars that are actually set out on the rocks. You climb down the rocks to find every flat surface filled with a chair and a table and you can sit there and watch the sun go down while you drink. It is extremely relaxing to just hang out there.
Dubrovnik also hosts cruise ships just about nightly. We saw at least one each day outside of old town with another one moored at the main port on the other side of the hill. The sheer number of people who come into this town is phenomenal. They are also having a summer music festival (there was one in Split also). The idea is to have people come to hear the music…and, of course, stay to spend money. It works. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting Information

Our first quest was to find the Information center (since we had failed to ask Tina where that could be located) to buy the Dubrovnik card so that we’d have free entrance to some of the museums, castle wall, etc. OK…should be easy. There are always information centers hanging around for tourists and sure enough, we checked the map and there was one not too far away. Great…we navigated the streets, well, to be honest, Jeff navigated the streets, I just followed.  Note the picture...the city is built on a hill...a BIG hill and the streets wind up and down, rarely down on the flats. We found the place…with a sign written in 5 languages. (Honestly, the US argues that we shouldn’t have to print things in English and Spanish because it’s too much trouble and everyone should speak English. Here they just admit that people speak different languages and almost all signs are printed in 5: Croation, French, Spanish, English and Italian). Back to the story…turns out they were closing that information center but there was indeed one on another street that we could go to. Fine, Jeff checked the map, we located where it was and took off again. You’ve got to picture this town…nothing and I mean nothing is flat for more than 30 feet. You are always either climbing up a set of stairs, up a sloped ramp or heading down one of the two. So…we headed off for the next one. Turns out IT also had a sign in 5 languages and it was closed for that particular weekend (don’t ask why) and they sent us to yet another one. We finally ended up going all the way out of old town, across Pilé Square and to the rather major Information center there. Seems like they should make it easier, considering the 1,000’s of tourists. Oh well.
The picture is from are restaurant up on top of the hills. 


Back in 1991, Yugoslavia wanted to annex the area around Dubrovnik to Montenegro. While it is part of Croatia, it is isolated from the rest of the country, actually surrounded by Bosnia and Montenegro. To make their point, Yugoslavia attacked the city but eventually Croatia beat them back and kept Dubrovnik as a part of Croatia. (Obviously, this is the short version of the war.) In the last 20 years, Dubrovnik has almost completely removed all traces of the war ravaged city. They do have a few museums that includes videos, pictures and memorials of the war. When you look at the utter destruction, you have to marvel at how spectacular the recovery in Dubrovnik has been.
As we got out of the car and looked towards the city, a wave of Disneyland assaulted us. The plaza is perfectly clean. All around the plaza are castle looking restaurants, fast food, drinks, and people in old costumes.  To enter the city you must travel across the bridge, under the great portcullis and into the castle – well, actually it’s the city but you get the idea. Thankfully, we had been picked up at the ferry and brought to the castle area by the room manager. No cars are allowed inside and parking is extremely limited at the castle so while he moved the car, his 7 year old daughter led us from the gate to our apartment. She insisted on wheeling Jeff’s bag for him so she took off, down the ramp and out to our apartment. She kept up quite a running conversation, pointing out things as we walked along (sadly, NOT the information booth), where to eat, where to get on the wall, how to get to the dock. Later in the day we saw her leading other people out to one place or another. She’s getting a lot of practice in for a future job as a tour director. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hvar to Dubrovnik saga

Saturday morning we got up bright and early to head out for the bus to the ferry in Stari Grad. Now…if you look at Hvar Island, you will notice Stari Grad is a city on the northern side of the island (roughly speaking) and Hvar Town is on the south side. OK…Split is kinda north but when we took the ferry from there it took us to Hvar Town. OK…I can live with that. However, when we wanted to take a ferry to Dubrovnik, we had to travel to Satri Grad, across the island (fortunately, it’s not a huge island). The strange thing is that the ferry comes out of Stari Grad, around the island and past Hvar Town and on down the Dalmation Coast to Dubrovnik. Seems strange.
The bus was a real Japanese experience. We got to the bus stop early. Some others were there waiting so we joined them. Then some more came, another car came to drop people off, a small bus appeared with more, more people walked up, more and more and more. I bet there were 80 people standing there, waiting for the 7 am bus. The bus comes up…and the driver jumps out and starts loading suitcases and backpacks. He loads and he loads, he fills up one side, he goes to the other side. He loads and he loads. Then he goes to the back door and starts shoving in more packs underneath and then in the stairwell. The pile grows taller and taller and taller. Finally he’s satisfied that as many bags as possible are on the bus so he goes to the front door to start taking our money. Thank goodness we are early in the line because we do get seats. It’s quite apparent that there are more bags on the bus than seats and sure enough, it’s true. The middle of the bus starts to fill up. Cries of “move back” are heard. Some people shuffle, others do not – obviously the sense of space is larger than that of the Japanese. More calls…the driver squeezes in two more people then tries to close the door…but no, more people are saying no – my bag is on the bus, I want it off first. He squeezes in two more, then another and yet another. The bus is barely breathing room only and still there are 20 people outside, heading for the taxis. Insane. Thankfully it’s only a 20 min. ride to Stari Grad, that bus is really taking its time up the hill.
We have tickets for the ferry but we have to exchange them for a boarding pass. OK…we divide the job. Jeff gets the luggage, I go stand in line for the tickets. I wait and wait and wait and wait (we’re all in this line now). There’s a ferry leaving and, nicely, the lady calls for the people for the other ferry first which is fine but meanwhile, we wait. Finally I get to the window and she says I’m supposed to be in the check-in line over on the other side of the parking area…great…the sign I had seen said “check in” but it had the wrong destination so I ignored it. Now we’re in that line and finally we get on the boat. What a start!!!

Hvar Island

Hvar is yet another gorgeous island out in the Adriatic Sea. The water is a gorgeous blue, the sky clear, the sail boats sliding through the water – absolutely unbelievable. In the middle of the town there’s a fortress up on the hill, leftover from when the Venetians had a lot of trade and commerce in this part of the world. The length of their history is inconceivable for the upstart US…they have had multiple changes of rulers and countless rebuilding. But the area is beautiful.
Hvar is becoming a hot vacation travel point – with lots of people having summer homes and returning year after year. And the yachts! There were at least 8 of them parked along the docks and every one richer and more elegant than the last. There are lots of small fishing boats – they go out early in the morning, way before we get up. Lots of boats just for the tourist trade, taking people out to the various islands, island hopping, out to see anything they can think of, ferries to far away places. It’s is quite a busy port.
Jeff found a great wine shop where they had tasting. The owner was very friendly and we passed an hour visiting with him while Jeff sipped some of the wine. There are actually a lot of nice wines made in this part of the world. We also found a wonderful Japanese restaurant. The food was delicious and the wasabi made it quite spicy. I got to have mocha, though the guy was worried that I wouldn’t know what it was. J It really was great to have some again. Now if only I could get a hold of some real mochi cream. 

Friends in Split

One of the coolest things about living overseas is that everyone travels all over the place during the holidays. Our next door neighbors, Roeland and Julie, were also planning a vacation in Eastern Europe for the summer and we discovered that we had a couple of days that we would all be in Split together. We spent the time enjoying their company, checking out the sites, and, of course, enjoying the good Croatian wines. Actually, Roeland and Jeff enjoyed the wines while Julie and I sampled the sparkling waters. Jeff was happy to have someone else share a bottle - house wine is not great stuff but a whole bottle is too much for one. 

Brač Island

Blue sky. Fluffy clouds. Bit of a breeze. What a great morning. We headed to the ferry office to take off to yet another island to explore. This time we headed off for the island of Brač, yet another island off the coast of Split.
Brač Island is larger than the ones we’ve been to before so we decided to rent a car to travel around the island. We started off in Supetar and headed off towards the mountains. The countryside is rocky, rocky, green and did I mention rocky? It is absolutely unbelievable the number of rocks piled up all over the countryside. These people must have spent 1,000 years piling these rocks up. They have been used for fences, houses, bridges, churches, animal shelters, as well as just plain piles.  We traveled around, through and between tons of these piles on our way to an old, stone, church. It was, of course, in pieces by now. The area was filled with nettles and butterflies, a gorgeous combination of purples and oranges.
As we wove across the island, we had some beautiful views of the coastline.  We had a fabulous view of the famous Bol Beach, a spectacular spit of land with a small rocky coast. From a distance it looks like it might be a wonderful, sandy beach but, alas, it is almost as rocky as all the rest of the coast. To be fair, it has smaller rocks than most beaches here, but rocks they are. Traveling down the other side we came to the village of Milna. It was a wonderful coastal town with a great promenade along the wharf area. Lots of small shops dotted the corniche, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and farmers markets. Beautiful, gorgeous, views of the ocean, a great trip!

Sunday, July 4, 2010


The Croatian coast has thousands of islands to explore and boats are the way to get from one place to another. Water taxis, ferries, and small shuttles are available all along the waterfront. We decided to spend a day over in the nearby town of Trogir.
While modern Trogir has grown and expanded into the surrounding countryside, there is a high concentration of palaces, churches, and towers, as well as a fortress on a small island. All of the various buildings have been influenced by the Greeks, Romans and Italians at various points in time With a history of a few thousand years, it’s easy to have many different rulers here, war and conquest being what it is. No building is “pure” one thing or another since every conqueror left his mark. The churches are generally in a Romanesque style, with lots of semicircular archways and great towers. Other buildings in the area are more Baroque with ornate stately columns and statues. As in Split, all can be found side by side and encroaching upon each other.
At the far end of the island is a castle called Kamerlengo. It was built by the Venicians back in the 15th century sometime. Now it is used as a location for summer festivities. Out in the back are bleachers looking over the field and on the side is a bungee jump. Indeed things have changed.
The Cathedral of St. Lawrence is probably the most outstanding landmark on the island. It dominates one of the squares and is the largest landmark you can see as you enter from the waterways. Everywhere you look there are statues, small and large, ornate and plain, built, of course, over many lifetimes of the cathedral and architectural styles.