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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Final Episode - Croatia -Part 3

Got off the ferry this morning on the island of Korcula.....Wow, love it. A smaller, quieter island than Hvar and no party crowd here. We are once again staying in a Sobe (room) run by Nina and her son Mate, in the town of Korcula. We are on the third story of an old apartment building in the old town and our window opens facing the Adriatic Sea, spectacular views. Thankfully, Mate is a big burly guy and brought up our suitcases, no elevators in old towns. This is the second Sobe we stay in and they normally have a small fridge and a kettle so you can make tea/instant coffee, so quite convenient. This Sobe also offers breakfast which is not the norm. This family owns several apartment buildings converted into Sobes and they also own a farm on the island and have olive groves and some livestock. Mate was very informative as to what to do while on the island, where to eat and finally told us about a traditional dance performance that was happening tonight.

Above, is the view from our room.

Walked around the old town to get our bearings and spent some time on the beach and went for a very quick swim in the sea. There are several large hotels and sand beaches in the newer part of town that cater to Brits and Germans who come for a week of sun....will stay away from this area! Guide book says that Korcula is "a good place to take a vacation from your vacation".

Great seafood again, then off to see the Moreska sword dance performance. This is a traditional dance which depicts two waring factions fighting over a princess. They told us that this traditional dance has been performed in the village of Korcula for 400 years, passed on from generation to generation, and the troupe has performed all over Europe. It looks quite dangerous as two groups of men are dancing while circling one another while wielding and clashing their short swords. Very entertaining.

Picture below taken from our room about 5 a.m. this morning.

Marco Polo is said to be from the island of Korcula, although the Italians lay claim to him as well. Marco Polo Museum , Marco Polo Sobe, Marco Polo restaurant, Marco Polo t-shirts, key chains, bags.....you name it.....everything Marco Polo! We happen to be lucky enough to be right next door to the Marco Polo museum....not sure we will have time to take this in!

Can't say enough about the colours and cleanliness of the Adriatic Sea and the spectacular coastline and islands of Croatia. Absolutely beautiful.

Nice walk this morning then off to the small town of Lumbarda which is about 5 km's. out of Korcula. We took the local bus to get there and spent a few hours on a beautiful sandy beach. Went swimming, water so clear and nice temperature for swimming. Nice sandy beach with probably less than fifty people there.

Forgot to mention in my previous postings that when we were on the island of Hvar, we toured the Stari Grad Plain which is also a Unesco World Heritage site. I had posted a picture of the stone walls and the vineyards and olive groves on the hill, this was Stari Grad. These farming areas have been intact for 24 centuries. Oh my gosh.....how many have I ticked off on the Unesco list!

Also an update on the English drunks in Hvar. On the last night we were there, they showed up (again) at the restaurant next to the one we chose. The main guy was missing...too much drinking I guess. I was almost tempted to go over and ask the group if their drunken compatriot had finally had enough!

Also in Hvar, were the number of dogs all yapping and humping each other....do I really need to see this going on all the time! The owner of the Sobe told us that these stray dogs are really a problem on the island. He said "need to deal with the singing, happy dogs!". Think he wants a good review!

Off to Dubrovnik tomorrow by ferry, which will take a couple of hours and will spend the next couple of days there.

DUBROVNIK

Dubrovnik is known as the pearl of the Adriatic. The old town juts out into the sea and Is ringed by thick medieval walks, still intact today. Traffic free and a jumble of small lanes filled with shops and cafes. The guide books talk about the sleepy charm of Dubrovnik. This may have been a few years ago, but is certainly not the case today....it has been discovered. During the five year war, Dubrovnik became the only coastal city drawn into the fighting. The city was devastated with explosions on the hillsides. The Serbs attacked Mount Srd, high above the old town. The large cross, communication towers and more than two-thirds of Dubrovnik's buildings were damaged and some 30,000 fled. Everything was quickly rebuilt including erecting a new cross and new communication tower atop Mount Srd. One can tell which houses were repaired by the bright new orange roof tiles.

Got off the ferry in Dubrovnik and we take a local bus into the old town. We have gone from a sleepy little island of Korcula to the TSUNAMI of Dubrovnik! That is how it felt. We had to push ourselves and our luggage onto the bus, Robin had to fight to keep a place for himself without being crushed, the bus driver is yelling at everyone to get back, and a load of very loud Italians that have just gotten off a cruise ship are on the bus headed into the old town. The bus driver also drove like a mad man and the 15 minutes we were on the bus seemed like a ride at a carnival trying to keep your balance. It's hot, sticky, noisy....yikes! We finally make it to the gates of the old town and start making our way to our Sobe in the old town.

Instructions to get to our Sobe. "Go through the gate, you will be on the Main Street Placa or Stradum. Go to the end of the Main Street, turn to the right to the Cathedral, go behind the Cathedral by the left side of the Cathedral and you will see the arch just behind the Cathedral, go through the arch and turn in the first street on the left side onto the side street". Well, we know our room is somewhere near the Cathedral! We finally make it after fighting our way through hundreds of tourists and tour groups. There were three cruise ships in the harbour when we arrived on the ferry. Everyone must have arrived in the old town as the same time we did.

Dubrovnik is an intact walled city on the Adriatic Sea coast of the extreme south of Croatia. Although its population barely exceeds 40,000, it's one of the most prominent tourist resorts of the Mediterranean and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979......Another check! We can attest to the tourists!

A lot of hype/tours centured around "The Game of Thrones". Part of the series was filmed in the old town and surrounding areas so needless to say they are capitalizing on this fact. Even people dressing in the parts to convince you to go on the tours! It's even on the local television.....with Croatian subtitles.

Well as in any place we have been where cruise ships have arrived, we know that come 3 or 4 in the afternoon, they disappear off the streets. We walk around the old town, stop for tea and some people watching and just relax and enjoy the less busier streets. We have enjoyed the most wonderful seafood and once again today we enjoyed cuttlefish (similar to squid) with black rice. We have had this dish on several occasions along with octupus in a bucara sauce (spicy tomato sauce); octopus/tomato salad and fresh tuna salad, all very good. Nice walk along the seaside after dinner enjoying the beautiful views.

Hvar had dogs, Dubrovnik has cats, especially at the seafood restaurants!

On our second day in Dubrovnik, we decide to take the cable car up to Mount Srd where the views of the walled old town are magnificent. Also great views of the new city along with views of the Adriatic and the many islands in the distance. We decide to walk down. Took us a while to find the beginning of the trail, they really don't seem to promote it, no signposts anywhere. At one point we even stopped a young Asian couple who we thought had climbed up....he had his cell phone and was looking for the trail as well. After asking a couple more people and one of the employees of the cable car, we finally set off down the trail. In the first few minutes, we run across a young Aussie couple who have just made it to the top. She says "be wary, there are some snakes on the trail, we ran across a couple and they were very fast, could be vipers, stay in the middle of the trail". Did she say SNAKES! I hate snakes, so I pick up three rocks....sorry perhaps more like small boulders. Look out snakes, here we come. It took us about one hour to get down the trail which zigzagged down the mountain and was very rocky. Newly erected bronze stations of the cross along the trail and great views all along...fortunately, we did not see any snakes.....I finally drop my rocks when we get back to a main road.

Walk back into the old town (Stari Grad) and walk down the Stradum (main street) and stop for a cool refreshment and lunch and more people watching. As yesterday, once again the streets in the old town are wall to wall people. At night both the Stradun is filled with tourists at the sidewalk cafes, quite the transition from daytime, not nearly the number of people. The old town is kept so clean. They pick up garbage in the streets and in the harbour constantly and no graffiti.

Nice walk out in the town and above the beach this afternoon. Drink along the harbour and just people watching. Our last night in Dubrovnik.

Due to flight schedules, we left Dubrovnik a day earlier than we wanted, but that happens, must be flexible when travelling. We are spending one last day in Rome before returning home on Wednesday, June 17th.

Must talk about the wonderful people we have met during our travels. A young couple from London who sat next to us at dinner one evening, a young Texan couple who were on a ten day getaway for their fifteenth anniversary leaving four kids with parents...an older New Zealand couple who we conversed with on a ferry for a couple of hours, a Scottish couple on a one week getaway to enjoy the sun in Korcula, a middle aged young Indian woman travelling on her own on a six month leave of absence, a newly wed couple on their honeymoon and an English couple on a five day getaway. Always great to meet fellow travellers and hear their experiences.

Also, all the kind Italian, Slovenian and Croatian people along the way. The waiters and owners of restaurants, the helpful people in the hotels and the Very hospitable owners of the apartments and Sobes we rented.

We would strongly recommend both Slovenia and Croatia as destinations for anyone who wishes to discover new parts of Europe. Very safe, good road systems and everyone speaks a little English. Our travels through Italy, Slovenia and Croatia have created many memorable experiences and will not be soon forgotten.

I always enjoy writing my blog (I used to keep journals when travelling) and doing research on the countries we visit and just remarking on life in general in these places. Ciao till the next time.....Claire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

CROATIA -Part Two

A three hour drive from Plitvice National Park to Split. Split is on the Dalmatian Coast and is a shipbuilding town, the guide books refer to it as "a real and vibrant city with ugly sprawl surrounding an atmospheric old town" . As we drove into Split, the comment about ugly sprawl is correct. Lots of factories, cement plants and industrial type buildings. Found our hotel, just outside the old wall, dropped off our luggage, then returned our rental car. We are in Split for two days, then heading off to the island of Hvar for the following two days. For our next three destinations we will be travelling by ferry from mainland to two separate islands then on to Dubrovnik, back on the mainland.

 

In my previous blog post, I commented on the fact how hard it is to pronounce Croatian words. For example Croatia is spelt "Hrvatska". We are going to the island of Hvar next, it is pronounced "Var". We had being saying " huhvar" and someone said, they always know tourists by their pronounciation!

SPLIT

Split is Croatia's second biggest city after the capital, Zagreb. Split is known for its beaches and the fortresslike complex at its center, Diocletian's Palace, erected by the Roman emperor in the 4th century. Once home to thousands, its sprawling remains include more than 200 buildings. Within its white stone walls and under its courtyards and galleries are shops, bars, cafes, cathedrals, hotels and several houses. We overheard one tour guide telling a group that at one time there was over 4,000 people living within the old walls some twenty years ago, but now that number is down to about 300. (Why pay for a tour guide!). A lot of the buildings have been converted into rooms for tourists, known as Sobes. Locals can make money this way and they have moved out of the old city.

Once we dropped off our car, walked around the town a bit. The harbour was very busy. Throngs of people coming and going, lots of shops offering luggage storage, bus terminal, ferry and cruise boat terminal and lots of adolescents around, more noticeable than any where else we have been. We discover some of the old city, it's walls, many ancient buildings including the Prokurative (an arcade) which has now been transformed into hotels and restaurants.

 

Our hotel here in Split is a small boutique hotel with only five rooms on the third floor of an apartment building, very modern. They arrange for you to have breakfast at a local restaurant, different but not inconvenient. We come back to our room early afternoon to relax a bit, very hot here (+30) even with the sea breeze.

 

We start watching the tennis final and Wawrinka is leading in the third set. Robin says lets go out and walk around, we only have a day and a half here. WHAT, miss the rest of the tennis match! O.K., we go out and walk a couple of blocks and I realize I have left the camera in the room. Robin waits for me in a square and when I get back, he has found a cafe/bar that is showing the tennis match. Great, we order a drink. Even the waiters are outside watching the match, as well as the waiters from the bar next door. I would say the majority of patrons were cheering for Wawrinka, but a few backing Djokovic. The waiter just goes nuts every time Wawrinka misses a shot. We are now in the 4th set. The waiters are standing right next to our table. Jokingly, I say to the waiter, "What if I wanted to order another drink right now?" He looked at me with a big smile and said "Not a chance!". The waiters, of course, are naturally cheering for Wawrinka as Djokovic is Serbian, and they would never cheer for a Serb, not in a million years! A few people passed the television as the game was happening, and people would tell them to move, very passionate these people who watch tennis! Everyone cheers at the match finishes, lots of fun to watch a sporting event with others around.

 

We continue on our way, just wandering through the alleys. Lots of people now in town, seems the evening has brought everyone out. We finally make it to the Riva (the name of their seaside promenade). It is Sunday night and crowds along the Riva include families with little children, young adults having pre party drinks, couples, tour groups, etc. In one outside bar, we see about twenty young women all dressed up. What was amazing about these women, was their makeup, hairdos and hats. They almost look like they were from another planet. Tried to take a picture, but a little hard. We asked a young person in a shop if she knew what this was all about, she didn't know....we thought perhaps a "stagette" or some sort of girls night out.

 

I spot some booths along the Riva, a lot of which are for tours, boat trips, trinkets. Some touts also walking around to try to get you on a boat trip or such. I noticed one young girl only targeting young people with her brochures. Finally figured out why she wasn't approaching us.....she was selling a pub crawl tour. When we were at lunch today, a couple of young girls at a table nearby were talking about how hung over they were and they thought the best remedy would be more drinking! Oh to be young.....or not!

Wonderful meal at a restaurant recommended by the hotel, then more walking along the Riva. We came along a group of elderly people (probably in their 80's) who were siting on benches and some standing. One was playing a guitar and the rest were singing Croatian folk songs. They were just enjoying themselves....no guitar cases open to get donations. We stood there for a while listening.....love these special moments when one is travelling. Overall another great day.

 

At breakfast this morning, the waiter looks at Robin and said "I hope your knee is o.k., does it hurt?". Most of those reading would know that Robin wears a knee brace when a lot of walking is involved. Robin then had to explain to the waiter how he hurt his knee (skiing and rugby) and the purpose of the brace. The waiter pats Robin on the back. We gave him a tip....monetary that is.

 

We head off to discover Diocletian's Palace. Diocletian was from the Dalmatian coast and ruled the Roman Empire for 20 years. He is best remembered for dividing the rule of the empire among four Emperors (finally led to the downfall of the Roman Empire) and torturing and executing thousands of Christians on the Dalmatian coast. His successor legalized Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire...so there! The Split palace was Diocletian's "retirement palace". It took 11 years to build starting in 293 A.D.killing many slaves in the process, huge sections of the Palace still exist.

 

As we enter the old walls, we come across the bronze statue of Grgur from Nin by Ivan Mestrovic a famous Croatian sculptor. It is said that if you rub the statues toe, your hopes and dreams will come true. I said to Robin, I wonder where, go around the statue, not hard to figure out; one toe is gold in colour from all the rubbings, compared to the rest of the bronze statue.

 

One of the most amazing sites is the Peristyle, a large open space, framed by columns and steps on three sides. Today a bar is located in one of the rooms that looks on the Peristyle and they have put cushions all along the steps to encourage people to sit down and order a drink.....works well by the way. They have concerts here during the summer, the bar provides live music every night.

 

Next we visit the cathedral of St.Mary. I say to myself, why a Catholic Church if he killed so many....answer, it was his mausoleum, before becoming a church after his death. Not very ornate, but an interesting copula, carved statues and beautiful carved doors. Then on to Jupiters Temple, the baptistery of the cathedral.

We continue through the winding alleys and find ourselves at the morning fish market. The shrimps, fresh fish, eels and smells are overwhelming. Great to see everyday life in a port city. Then we decide to walk to a view point the the hotel recommended. Now mind you, they told us to go in the evening when we could get wonderful pictures of the City and Riva. But no, we decide to go at the hottest time of the day....why not?

This area is known as the Marjan. Well....you have to climb many stairs to get to the viewpoint....298 stairs to be precise. O.K. nice viewpoint, but we decide to go on.....a long ramp type walkway. Then we reach a sign that says " 314 Stepinice". Allright, my Croatian is not that good, but I can figure out that this is telling me that we have another 314 stairs to climb. Robin is laughing, as I am counting the stairs...yes, Claire was an auditor at one time in her banking career and I can attest that the audit was perfect...yes there was indeed 314 stairs. Our climbed stairs totalled 1,425 as we managed to find another set of stairs instead of using the ramp....yikes...that definitely calls for another glass of wine, which we had!

 

 

After recovering from all the stairs, we continue our walk along the Riva beyond where the normal tourist would venture. The City of Split is extending the Riva over to a private marina and along the new section they have inset bronze plaques to honour all of the Croatian Olympic Medalists. Great to see these improvements taking place. We then continue walking to the Mestrovic Gallery. Robin says...." It's Monday, I wonder if it's closed". Takes us about 20 minutes from the furthest point on the Riva to walk there and sure enough...it's Monday, it's closed. We were however able to get into the gardens and we saw several of the Mestrovic sculptures....wonderful. Mestrovic was a pupil and friend of Rodin and one can certainly see this in his sculptures.

I love the signs I see when we are walking around...I especially like the one about "Free Beer Today". When you first look at the sign, that is what you see, but read the fine print below each word. Must get customers in the door!

Another wonderful meal last night topped off by desert, haven't done this often. I had a semifreddo, an Italian style desert which is partially frozen, somewhat like an ice cream cake. Mine was caramel flavoured and Robin had chocolate crepes....yum.

Have enjoyed Split. The city is very clean, but they must deal with the graffiti everywhere, kind of takes away from the beauty.

We are headed off this morning to the Island of Hvar, which will take 1 1/2 hours by high speed catamaran.

 

HVAR

Got to the pier about 40 minutes before departing and already a line-up. The ferry holds about 200 people, but they were turning people away as the sailing was sold out. Thankfully I had read that this often happens, so we bought our tickets for the three ferries we are taking when we arrived in Split. The party crowd is definitely headed to the islands, the majority of the people on board were under thirty. A lot of young English men who were talking about what they did the night before and asking each other what they did. During the sailing, which I mentioned was only 1 1/2 hours, this crowd ordered four rounds of drinks....yikes it's only 10:30 in the morning. Robin and I guess that they will pass out on a beach somewhere and then get ready to party again tonight. Needless to say, I skip the chapter on "where to party" in the guide books.

Our accommodation in Hvar is a Sobe, a room in a locals home. Very modest, but very clean, with a small deck. Our host, Teo, met us and another guest at the ferry. When we arrived at his home, we sat in the shade on his outdoor patio and he offered us beer or lemon beer, and he went over things to do, where to eat and where the best beaches were. By the way, my first lemon beer (I had seen this in other places) and it was very refreshing, like a shandy and it is only about 1% alcohol. Might have to partake in these more often!

Teo tells us the town of Hvar has a population of 2,700 which grows to 35,000 in July and August. They say the island of Hvar is the "Croatian Riviera". A fortress overlooks the town and the port itself is quite narrow and everything climbs up from the port. Apparently big yachts moor in the harbour here and the jet setting crowd has discovered the island of Hvar and surrounding islands.....that is not us!

We spent the afternoon walking along the port and discovering some of the beaches (mainly rocky). Again very noticeable that it is definitely a young crowd here. When we were in Split, we had ordered a fresh grilled tuna salad for lunch, which we shared. Did that again today and must say it is so good. We have been enjoying fresh grilled fish since back on the coast....delicious! Must say after one afternoon here, not sure where 35,000 people would fit! The water in the Adriatic Sea is so clear and a beautiful green/blue, spectacular.

 

Out for dinner at a local restaurant that our host has recommended. I had a local dish called "Pasticada" which is Dalmation beef stew served with gnocchi and Robin had shark. Like to try local specialties wherever we go; these were both very good. A complimentary desert after our dinner....yikes....hope my clothes will still fit after this trip! Well, well....guess who shows up at the same restaurant.....the morons from the boat who were drinking so early this morning. Forgot to mention that when we saw them on the boat, they all seemed quite well dressed with the exception of one young man who had a speedo bathing suit on with a flowered Hawaiian shirt...really I though to myself! Well must be a special kind of party, because tonight he shows up wearing leopard tights and a neon safety vest....oh yes, he is already drunk. Time to leave.

 

The island of Hvar is know for its wine, olive oil, lavender and honey. We decide to take a tour of the island for today, Wednesday the 10th, to get an idea of what the island is like, and not just the old town and port. Well, certainly glad we did, what a great day and definitely a different perspective of the island and what life is like. Our tour guide was very informative. He and his wife spend six months of the year here on the island of Hvar and the other six months, the winter season, in Zagreb. He tells us that most residents leave the island of Hvar during the winter season. Only one Cafe/bar stays open and the grocery store is only open for four hours a day.

We head off in a four wheel vehicle over dirt/ gravel roads around the island. We visit the historic deserted towns of Malo Grabje and Velo Grabje (7 men live here, I didn't ask what they did here!). At one time these were the centres of vineyards, olive groves and lavender fields dating back to the 15th century and everyone left about one hundred years ago to settle in the port towns.....except for the infamous seven! What great scenery today with steep cliffs where wine growers still tend their vines by hand, the rock formations that used to divide farmers plots ( our guide called this area, the Machu Picchu of Hvar) and some beach time. A stop in a small town for lunch where we were served lamb cooked in a traditional method called "peka". They cook the meat for about three hours under a bell shaped lid covered with hot coals, very tender. Had another lemon beer today, might have to look at importing this stuff! Drive to the highest point on the island, great views.

 

Our guide would continually stop the truck, jump out and come back with a hand full of wild herbs....mint, rosemary, dill, anise, oregano and sage. He said no need to buy herbs in the store. He also said they use a lot of these herbs to make/season hard liquor/grappa. Also fig, olive, caper and mulberry bushes and trees. In olden times they used to put rocks on the olive trees so that the branches would grow down, easier to pick the olives. Some lavender fields left, but over the last twenty years they had two major fires that destroyed the lavender crops and this crop has not been replanted to the extent it had been before. At one time the island of Hvar produced 10% of the world's lavender. He also said that the fires revealed a large number of the stone walls that had previously been covered by bushes. Also saw a three hundred year old "trim" which is a stone shelter used by farmers.

 

Robin and I said that our best meals on this trip so far have been in Croatia. Delicious seafood and very good meat. Dinner tonight was no exception, absolutely superb. The restaurant served us a carab aperitif (known as a substitute for chocolate) along with a small piece of carab and olive/garlic bread. The waiter told us that they call carab, St. John the Baptist bread. The ancient story says that when St. John was in the desert he survived on carab, he did not eat meat.....sounds like he was just a chocoholic! After our dinner, they served us a glass of sage flavoured liqueur and after desert a glass of grappa. Did I mention we had wine for dinner! Yikes, lots of stairs to get to our home stay....good thing we walked to help wear off some of the food and alcohol!

 

Off to the island of Korcula tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

CROATIA - Part One

On Wenesday, June 3rd we left Ljubljana, Slovenia and drove about 1 1/2 hrs. to the airport in Trieste to drop off the car we had rented in Italy. There is a real issue with renting a car in one country in Europe and dropping it off in another. While we were planning our trip, Robin noticed that part of the Trieste Peninsula is Italy, so we realized we could use the car rental while in Slovenia and could return it to Trieste. Then had to figure out how to get from the airport in Trieste to our next stop, Rovinj in Croatia, a couple of hours away. During my research came across a couple of companies that provided transfer services, so tells you that there certainly is a demand for this type of transportation. Worked like a charm, the driver was at the specified location at the right time.......whew, one always worries a bit with these type of arrangements....ok, maybe not everybody, we did have the driver's personal cell number.

Always amazed at the Europeans and the fact that most of them speak more than one language, if not several. Our driver spoke Croatian, Italian, English and was in the process of learning Russian, as a lot of Russian tourists now coming to Croatia. Mostly those involved in the tourist industry know several languages, but we know that in Italy and Slovenia, they teach English as a second language in the schools. In Croatia they offer several languages in the schools and give children the option of which one they would prefer to learn.

Croatian history is very complex and because of its location has been under several foreign powers: Hungarians, Venetians, Ottomans, Germans and Yugoslavs. Croatia regained its independence (violently) only in 1991. Their currency is the Kuna....10 Kuna = $ 2 Cdn. Sounds like some tourists try to use Euros, but signs in a lot of the shops and restaurants that they do not accept Euros; and why should they! The country joined the European Union in 2013, but opted to keep their own currency.

The Croatian language is very close to the Slovenian language (hard for us to pronounce), so the few key words we learnt in Slovenia are coming in handy, but once again everyone we have run into has spoken some English. We still think it is important to know and use key phrases in their own language.

ROVINJ

Arrive early afternoon to our accommodation for the next two nights in Rovinj. It is an old villa which has been transformed into a bed and breakfast. In all honesty, the B & B in Ljubljana and this villa are more like boutique hotels, very nice. This hotel is owned by a family of wine and olive oil makers, so they have a wine bar downstairs with wine tastings. We were told that we would be tasting the oil at breakfast.....what?

I got a kick out of a sign as we were driving into Rovinj.....Information Bureau (o.k.), Parking Lot (o.k.)......Dentist(?).

We are only a ten minute walk into the old town, so head down there for the afternoon. Beautiful small port village with lovely narrow windy cobbled lanes leading up to a church. Not too many tourists here....oh wait...the bus tours have arrived and are disgorging their guests.....a bus load of English and a bus load of Chinese. They are long gone to their next destination after an hour in town, tick!

They refer to Rovinj as the most Italian town in Croatia. Our driver today told us, that in the Istria Peninsula of Croatia, a lot of the people speak Italian and a lot of the signs, menus, etc. are in both Croatian and Italian. The town was part of the Italian Republic for five centuries, way back when from the 13th to 18th centuries.

 

 

 

 

Robin was very happy this afternoon, after spending the afternoon walking around Rovinj (30 degrees C.) came back to an air conditioned room around 4 p.m. and watched the Jokovic/Nadal tennis match and later tasted some of the wines that the owners of the villa produce, very good. They produce six different wines which have won awards, they have olive groves and grow organic fruits and vegetables on their farm. I did sample some their oil at breakfast, they served fresh tomatoes with the oil, very smooth.

Following pictures taken last night.

 

 

Today, we explored more of the town, took a one hour boat cruise around the various islands in the bay and took bikes out for about one hour into the nature preserve along the peninsula. We just happened to be lucky enough to rent bikes that happened to be provided through the City at a subsidized price. It cost us the equivalent of $2 Cdn. for the two of us for one hour, where the tourist shops wanted $10 an hour for each. A bit of a thunderstorm on our way back to town and started raining, so we take shelter under a tree......are you supposed to do that? Well, at least I am not the tallest person, so I think I am safe. This is me rationalizing that any lightning would hit the tallest person around and not me, guess I'm in for it if the tree gets hit!

 

 

There are big hotels along the peninsula, on the other side of the old town. Seems that a lot of the people come here for a week, year after year and spend their days on the beaches, both rocky and some lovely sand beaches as well. This really is a beautiful little coastal community, would definitely recommend anyone spend a couple of days here.

 

We pick up a rental car and on our way out of town see a sign for an optometrist.

 

PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK

Took 3 hours by car to get here. We are inland and very close to the Bosnia-Herzegovina border. Our drive here was very interesting as the last hour was through the countryside and very windy roads (Lisa, our daughter-in-law, would not have liked this last part of the road). What one sees in the countryside is very different than the tourist areas. Farmers still using very old small tractors, we saw an elderly couple using hay rakes in a field to turn over their hay, an elderly woman riding on the back of an old trailer being pulled by an ancient tractor, huge vegetable gardens, many many buildings/houses that have been abandoned and some abandoned factories as well. Most farmers seem to produce cheese as many signs along the road for goat and cow cheese. Just had to post the following picture of the old lady on the back of the hay trailer. She didn't look very happy with me when I took the picture from inside our car, but got a big smile from her when we waved!

 

The young man at our hotel has been the epitome of good service. Arranged to get laundry done for us, told us where to go to hike in the National Park and to ensure we bought a ticket for two days (better price), and tonight when we got back from dinner offered us a small glass of brandy on our way in. We started talking to him about Croatia in general and eventually got to the subject of the war. He told us that his family's home had been burned down twice, once in the Second World War and the other in the "Last War" as locals refer to it. We mentioned that we saw a lot of abandoned homes today, and he told us that was due to the war. A lot of people left this area and have never come back. As mentioned earlier we are very close to the Bosnian border here in Plitvice. We actually noticed one house where the walls were ridden with bullets. Very sobering, we cannot imagine living through something like this, we are very lucky. In my research, I find out that this is one of the poorest and most remote areas of Croatia.

 

Plitvice is made up if 16 terraced lakes, joined together by cascading waterfalls from one lake to another. The lake system is divided into the upper and lower lakes: the upper lakes lie in a dolomite valley and are surrounded by thick forests; the lower lakes, smaller and shallower, lie on the limestone bedrock and are surrounded only by sparse underbrush. The colours are just amazing and fish of all sizes in the lakes. The routes around the lakes are well marked, and they have built a system of boardwalks for the tourists. One has to be prepared to walk beyond the boardwalks to explore more of the region. They also have a system of boats and shuttle buses that will take tourists from one area to another.

 

 

Plitvice became Croatia's first National Park in 1949. In 1991, the first shots of Croatia's war with Yugoslavia were fired here and the first casualty was a park policeman. The Serbs held this area during the war, so most Croatians fled to the coast, although some did stay and others have returned. During the five year war, basically no tourists, and it is said that the eco systems of the park and lakes were able to recover. Hopefully the Government ensures this pristine park stays that way.

 

When we went to the lakes this afternoon, a lot of tourists and tour buses, but they mainly keep to the easy walkways. Oh my gosh...what do I see?......A sign indicating that the Plitvice Lakes are on the Unesco World Heritage List....Yeah! Another "tick" on that list! All kidding aside, this place is so beautiful, I can understand why it is being protected. One always wonders if so many tourists, how can they keep this place natural?

Just below the "big waterfall", we ask a young man to take our picture and find out he is from Toronto. He gladly took three pictures of us here from different angles, isn't that nice. Well, when we get back to the hotel, I look at the pictures and in the background looks like friends of his have photo bombed each picture. Robin just cropped them out of the picture as they were more on the side then right behind us, love technology!

 

Got the laundry back....my pyjamas have been ironed, don't even ask about the underwear!

Headed out this morning by 9 a.m. to beat the arrival of the tourists buses at the lakes. Yesterday we viewed and hiked around the lower lakes and today we are hiking around the upper lakes. We do have to take a small pontoon boat about 1 minute across the lake to get to the start of the hiking trail. Only about 10 of us on the boat and trails relatively quiet. It is hard to describe these lakes, colours are such a beautiful blue/green colour and the water is so clear. The water is the runoff from the mountains.

A couple of hours later we arrive back at our starting point and the crowds are unbelievable. We have to take a large pontoon boat this time to get across one of the larger lakes, about 15 minutes across, to get to our next hiking trail. As we are boarding the boat Robin hears a man say "Sit at the front of the boat" so he does. I start laughing and ask Robin if we are joining the English tour, as the man who said this is a tour guide for one of the large groups. Robin has a good point when he says we will be amongst the first disembarking, so we can easily pass the hoards, good point.

I get a kick out of listening to some of the guides. Today one is telling the group that there are numerous forms of wildlife in the park, including bears.......did someone say BEARS! She then goes on to say that they aren't as aggressive as North American bears....excuse me.....if it looks like a bear, it's a bear! I told Robin as we are passing this group that we should make growling noises, just to see what would happen.

 

O.K., you need to guess the Nationality of the next tour group coming towards us....a hint....a proliferation of dark socks with sandals.

 

We soon get off the tourist track and set out on the second half of our hiking for the day, a total of about three hours today and a couple of hours the day before. Great to be out in the outdoors in a natural environment. Definitely glad we made the effort to come here, well worth it.

Not sure the pictures I have chosen to do this wonderful place the justice it deserves!

 

We were very happy with the staff at the hotel this morning. As we had just finished breakfast, they informed us that the road to Split would be closed about 9 a.m. as the Plitvice Marathon was taking place. Got packed and away we went. Have to say the roads in Slovenia and Croatia have been in very good condition and the rest stops are great. We will be giving up our car today once we reach Split and travelling by ferry to the next three destinations after a couple of days in Split.