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Croatia

Walls of Dubrovnik

Today, we got up early to take a ferry from Split to Dubrovnik. The boat was comfortable, which is the most important thing, since the ride was about 4 hours. On the way, it made stops at a bunch of adorable little islands. At some point, I'll have to come back to check them out. We arrived at the ferry port and wanted to get to our hotel- Villa Rosa. At first, we wanted to take a taxi, but the guy didn't really want to take us because it was so close. For a car, it's about 3 minutes away, even though it has to go around and not straight. Walking, it's only 3 blocks. However, those blocks are pretty much straight up the side of the mountain. With luggage- even rolling luggage- it's a schlep. We arrived at the hotel, which is really a series of apartments. There wasn't really a front desk, but we just walked in and the lady who ran the place was there. I don't know what we would have done if she hadn't been there, but since she was, she let us into the apartment. It was really nice. My parents had their own bedroom. I had mine with a spare bed. The living room was large and spacious. The kitchen was fully stocked with dishes. And the AC worked well. Really, after climbing the hill, the AC was the most important thing. Once we got settled though, we headed out for lunch and to hike the walls. We grabbed the bus to the old city and climbed the stairs to the top of the walls. The hike around the walls was a nice hour and a half walk for me, but my parents were a little pooped by the stairs. Fortunately for people who get hot and need breaks, there are all sorts of break points during the walk, many with ice cream and cold beverages. The walk itself gives a great view of the city and surrounding areas, and also some perspective. I can't imagine being a soldier dressed in that heavy armor we tried on, on a hot day, having to stand guard on or even fight from the walls. I have pity on all the people who had to do that over history. Also, it's my understanding that this is one of the places the do a lot of Game of Thrones filming, so if you're a fan, it's probably got that extra meaning for you. After the walls, we walked around the old city a little bit more, and eventually stopped for dinner at Taj Mahal. It is a Bosnian restaurant. The were playing Mexican music. So, we listened to Mexican music while eating Bosnian food in a restaurant named for an Indian site while in Croatia. Actually though, it was some of the best food I've had on this trip and the eggplant rolls stuffed with cheese were only thing that I'd make at home out of anything I've eaten so far.

View from the wall

View from the wall


Walls

Walls


walls

walls

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Diocletian Palace

I'm still a tad sick, but my body keeps getting up nice and early, so I just listen. I grabbed some ok pastries for breakfast and went on to explore Diocletian's Palace and old town before most people were awake and the crowds start to hit. The architecture is amazing and old and it's easy to see how all of these buildings could have been part of a Roman Emperor's summer/retirement home. When I arrived at the Green Market, people were just setting up their wares. The produce looked jucy and plump, and I was very impressed by the zucchinis still with the zucchini flowers attached to them. The market, dock area, and surrounding streets were just starting to come alive when I headed back to the hotel to grab my laundry. I had meant to leave it at Hotel International the first time we were there, but since we got switched to the other hotel, I wasn't able to get it done there. It all worked out though, as the laundrette is very close to the hotel and is actually a very nice place- not shady at all. A lot of tourists have come in to drop their laundry for the day, but they have self- service for people who want to do their own. It's relatively cheap, very fast, and they have a little internet cafe with a printer for travelers who need to get some stuff done while their laundry runs. This is a great little find if you're backpacking through. Originally, I wouldn't have had time to do this now, but our boat trip to Hvar Island and Blue Cave was cancelled due to the weather. So instead of seeing them, we're seeing more of Split, the city. We met back at the hotel and went out to explore the old city, this time when everything was open. We wandered the back streets and took in the architecture, before exiting through the north gate and into the park.The Live Museum is located in that park and it is one of the most fun museums I have ever been to. First, we got to try on Roman armor- helmets, shields and all. It is quite heavy and it was difficult to imagine how fit the soldiers had to be in order to go tromping around in this all of the time. We practiced forming up and stabbing, giving us a real feel for how it was to be a soldier. So much fun!!! Then, we learned about archery and shot some arrows into the targets. I'm proud to say I got 2 bullseyes and the other 3 arrows weren't that far. Finally, we visited a spear shooting device that was super cool. This museum was more than hands-on, and I got a much better feel for Roman fighting styles than I ever have at any museum chock-full of artifacts. All museums should be like this one.

Next, we headed over to the main part of Diocletian's palace, by the cathedral. We climbed the steps to the top of the tower and looked out over the city. The steps were very steep and didn't really have enough room for passing, but somehow, everybody made it up and down. Nearby, in front of the Ethnographic Museum, we found a glass blowing demonstration. Again, watching this lady form mini pitchers was much more informative than looking at ancient glass artifacts in a museum. We watched the process from start to finish and I feel that I really understand how they made glass items. Lunch was a quick ice cream at Bobis. Bobis is like the Starbucks of Split. There's one on every block, and sometimes there's a Bobis across the street from another Bobis. While I admit that their ice cream and pastries are pretty good, I still think that's excessive.

After lunch, we wandered back into Diocletian's palace, this time to the basement. The basement, or lower floor of the palace has not been turned into homes and shops the way the upper floors have. They are a (pretty empty) museum about Diocletian and his palace. I'm not entirely sure that it was worth it to go down there as there's not a whole lot more to see than what you can see from the shops at the entrance. Finally, having been temporarily wiped out by a combination of getting up early, cold meds, and the cold itself, I went back to the hotel for a much-needed nap. After the nap, we decided to go up to a park that is on the north-west side of town. It was a few hundred steps just to get to the entrance, and then some ramps and more steps to get to the middle, where they have a really good playground. Since we were already there, we decided to just finish and make it all the way to the top of the mountain. In total, we climbed over 600 stairs, plus flat path, plus some pretty long and steep ramps. It was a nice hike. And the view from the top was worth it. We could see the water on all sides of Split and could see land that was quite far off in the distance. Dinner came from a restaurant near the hotel that had good spinach lasagne that didn't skimp at all on the cheese sauce. It was one of the better meals I've had since I've been on this trip, but still nothing to rave about.

DIocletians Palace

DIocletians Palace


Diocletian's Palace Basement

Diocletian's Palace Basement


View from the tower

View from the tower


fun statue

fun statue


Glass blowing

Glass blowing


View from the park

View from the park

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Plitvice Lakes

Today, we started back towards the coast. Our tour and transfer was organized by Portal Travel Agency. They had a driver pick us up and the hotel and bring us to a spot near Plitvice Lakes. Most of the rest of the people on the tour were coming round-trip from Split, and the bus was delayed by weather, so we had to wait at a little cafe. Generally, the sky was overcast and it was drizzling a little, which wasn't the best weather to go hiking in, but we actually had a very pleasant time because of the coolness brought by the non-sunny weather. Once we met with our group, we rode a little tram to the starting point of the hike, and hiked about 2 hours through lush vegetation and raging rivulets. The path was mostly a boardwalk system they have set up so that you can walk right over all of the running water. And running water is EVERYWHERE. There are thousands of tiny waterfalls, hundreds of bigger ones, and a few dozen large ones. These elevation changes are what separates many of the 16 lakes in the area. According to our guide, the water collects minerals from the limestone and runs over plants, depositing some minerals as it flows. Eventually, the minerals build up, and start forming a layer of rock on the bent-over plants. At this point, the rocks are green. Later, as the minerals build (up to a centimeter a year), the rock gets thicker and starts turning tan, the color of the minerals. Of course, there is airspace below the plants, so the rock is really only a shell that is hollow on the inside. That is one of the reasons he stressed staying on he path- if you start to walk on what looks like sturdy rock, you may find that it is only a shell and fall right through it. That's also why they say hat their rock is “living”- it's always changing.

The waterfalls were beautiful, but what was also amazing was how crystal-clear the water is. We could see all the way to the bottom everywhere, and could spot hundreds of fish with our bare eyes. The guide said that the water has to stay crystal clear in order to support the delicate ecosystem there, which is why we can't swim in the lake. Just look at the pictures- they say more than I ever could, and they can't even properly capture the clearness and the beauty. After a very pleasant hike, we took a little boat across part of the lake to where we stopped for a brief lunch. The choices were extremely limited, and I recommend just bringing your own lunch, if you can. From there, we continued hiking, this time towards the Big Waterfall. We passed a beautiful portion of the lake that is bright turquoise due to the minerals. Again, the lake was crystal-clear and just beautiful. Finally, we hiked up a ton of stairs through a cave on the side of a canyon that was formed by the flow of water through the rock. It was a steep climb, but a nice end to the hike.I highly recommend visiting here, and would even love to come back and do some more hiking myself at some point. The bus took us over to Split and let us off right by the docks, which was very close to our hotel. We are staying at Villa Olea, which is right off one of the main pedestrian streets. Because vehicles can't go there, we had to walk a little, but it was a flat, easy walk. Villa Olea is right in the UNESCO world heritage part of the city. The building may be historic on the outside, but it is clean, modern, and fancy-shmancy on the inside. The only negative about being historic is that there is a flight of stairs instead of an elevator, but if you can get past that, I highly recommend it. The lady at the front desk was extremely helpful at getting us situated, oriented to the city, and even recommended a great area to get local food for dinner. We went to a Kenoba, or local version of a tavern, where they had tons of local specialties. I ended up getting the Shopska salad, because even though it's the national dish in Bulgaria, I kept seeing it on menus here and was curious. It was good- nothing too special, but good. It was a nice end to the day.

Waterfall through rock

Waterfall through rock


waterfalls

waterfalls


waterfalls

waterfalls


ducks and fish in Plitvice Lake

ducks and fish in Plitvice Lake


Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Reverse Migrants

Today was a more chill day. After having to get up early every day, today was the sleep-in day, the get-stuff-done day. Mom went to the market. Dad slept, and I got some homework finished. We then had lunch at our hotel because the restaurant there was one of the oldest in all of Slovenia. We had been told yesterday that buckwheat is the national grain of Slovenia, and that all their food is normally made with buckwheat instead of white wheat flour. So, when my very brownish-purple raviolis arrived, I was prepared for the flavor of buckwheat and the lack of a glutinous texture. They were decent, although I have to admit that I prefer the mouthfeel of pasta that is chewier. We got to the train station well ahead of when we needed to, but we really wanted to double and triple check what the status was. See, last night on the news I saw that they had closed the Slovenian-Croatian border to trains just after we had entered the other day. (As in, if we had taken the next train, we never would have made it.) Since they weren't sending trains north, there wouldn't be trains available to go back south. The lady at the front desk of the hotel had called the train company for us in the morning, and as of the time of that phone call, the status was that our train ticket would get us on a train that would then take us to a bus to cross the border. We wanted to make sure things hadn't changed in the past few hours. They hadn't. The train was a bit late and there was a bit of confusion, but ultimately, we boarded a train that took us to Brecize, a stop relatively close to the border. This train was much cooler and more pleasant than the train we took into Slovenia, perhaps because the weather was nicer. At Brecize, everybody on the train disembarked and boarded a bus. The bus took us to the border, where we disembarked again, got stamped out of Slovenia, got stamped into Croatia, and reboarded the bus. The whole time, we could see the big mess that was the other direction. The line of buses and trucks trying to come north through the border was possibly a mile long. There were crowds of people just walking around, trying to get processed. They had set up a mini-fair with port-a-potties, tents, and food vendors. It was much more controlled than what I had seen on the news, but it was still a bit of a thrill to see “the news” in real life. The rest of the bus ride wasn't particularly noteworthy, and nor was the walk to the hotel or dinner. We had arrived much later than planned due to the train drama, so we just went to bed.

Scenery

Scenery

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Zagreb to Ljubijana

Today was our last day with the Atlas tour we've been on this whole time. I didn't realize this when I booked, but it seems like they just run a circle Dubrovnik->Zagreb and Zagreb->Dubrovnik, and you can more or less “hop on” or “hop off” at either end or do the whole thing. Today, we lost a few of the folks who had started at Zagreb before, and we gained a large number of new folks who would continue on to Dubrovnik. As a result, we switched to a larger bus. One really nice thing about both the old bus and the new one is that the drivers keep the windows clean ad crystal-clear so that we get a great view and even some good pictures through them. It may seem like a little thing, but having a clean bus was really very pleasant. We started the day with a local guide who took us on a Zagreb city tour. The tour began at the cemetery, which is a very odd place to start, even though their cemetery is pretty. I guess that a lot of the famous citizens of Zagreb are located there, and she did share a bit about the culture, so it had a purpose, but it still felt a tad weird to be doing a cemetery tour.Next, we headed to the old town, where we saw a bunch of churches, a market, and some pretty side streets. We learned about the two halfs of old Zagreb, and the fights that ensued between them. The guide showed us where the Museum of Broken Relationships was and recommended that we see it if we get back to Zagreb, but we didn't get a chance to go in. Maybe when we come back we will.Finally, we said goodbye to the group, the local guide, and the tour leader. Honestly, I think that while we saw some very interesting things, the people sort of made the tour. Our leader was amazing- she always had interesting stories to tell, she gave us good advice about what to see and do in our free time, and was just a nice person. She did a great job taking care of us and I have to recommend any tour that she is running in addition to the specific tour that we did. Atlas did a great job in picking her. We were dropped at the train station after our tour, and grabbed some pastries for lunch as there weren't many choices, but they were good enough. The train itself was so very hot. There was no AC, just open windows, which doesn't help when the air blowing on you is hot and the sun is beating down. Plus, when we stopped at the border, there was no airflow for the whole time that they were checking passports and checking under the seats for stowaways. But, eventually the train got us to Ljubljana. Our hotel, Stari Tisler, is an easy-to-walk 2 blocks from the train station. It is another 3 blocks to the downtown area, so it is perfectly situated if you don't want to use cabs. Actually, you can't even use cabs in the downtown area as it is a purely pedestrian zone and is ideal for walking.We really enjoyed the old city area. It was just so clean and pretty, plus the bridges over the river added a nice touch. We wandered around a bit, just admiring the city, until we took the funicular up to Ljubljana castle. The castle itself is pretty to look at and has some great view of the city, but it also contains some interesting museums that are included in the ticket. We watched a really great short movie on the history of Ljubljana and the castle from ancient to modern times that gave us a great starting point for understanding the country. We visited a museum that allowed you to touch stuff (and pick Napoleon's nose, if you were so inclined) and really got you into the history there. We visited their Museum of Torture and learned about the various torture devices that were used for criminals and to get witches to confess. The castle was quite enjoyable and definitely worth the trip.I miss living in a place with lots of Asian food, so when I saw a place with Wok in the name, I made my parents eat dinner with me there, even though it won't give us a taste of Slovenia. They made the food fresh, right in front of our faces, and it was good. It wasn't very spicy, but I'm getting the impression that spicy and spices are not something the locals are into here. What really added to the meal was the music wafting in through the window from the street musicians outside. They were pretty good, although again, they weren't giving us a taste of Slovenia, but were playing American songs.

Cemetery

Cemetery


Nun

Nun


Ljubljana Dragon

Ljubljana Dragon


Castle Complex

Castle Complex


Mask at torture museum

Mask at torture museum

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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