NATIONAL SENIOR GAMES IN LOCAL NEWSPAPER

As a follow up to my last blog post about the National Senior Games, I was in today’s sports section in our local newspaper, Griffin Daily News, along with local cyclist, Bruce Reid.  We were the only two athletes from Spalding County, Georgia to compete in the 2019 National Senior Games, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In case you are wondering, the “Submitted” was me.  Several people from my community suggested I write an article and send it in to the newspaper, so what the heck?

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NATIONAL SENIOR GAMES GOAL (FINALLY!) ACHIEVED

I remember the moment vividly.  It was the summer of 2004, and we had just retired to San Antonio, Texas.  The previous November, I had undergone a serious four-hour operation for thoracic outlet syndrome.  My surgeon, Dr. Richard Braun, had assured me that if the surgery was a success, I would be able to swim again.  In fact, he encouraged me to take the sport back up following my post-surgery rehab.

Our San Antonio community had a 20-yard pool, so I gave it a go. Once I got back in condition, I timed myself in the 50-yard breaststroke, my favorite event when I competed on my high school swim team.  Out of curiosity, I looked up the National Senior Games race results for the youngest age group, 50-54 years old, and surmised that in six years, I had a good shot at a medal.  It was that moment I said to myself, “When I turn 50, I am going to start competing in the National Senior Games.”

Five years later, we moved to an active retirement community in Georgia, and I competed in my first state senior games meet, Georgia Golden Olympics, the state qualifying meet for the National Senior Games.  I medaled and qualified in all my events; however, I opted not to attend the national meet in Cleveland.  In retrospect, I regretted that decision.  The National Senior Games take place only in the odd years, and I was unable to participate in the following two Games due to hip surgery and a shoulder injury.  Missing out on Minneapolis and Birmingham, even though I had qualified for both meets, burned a hole in my heart.

When I qualified in Alabama, in May of 2018, for this year’s National Senior Games, I was more determined than ever to succeed in my goal of competing in Albuquerque.  As I waited for my turn on the blocks for my first event, the 100 Yard Butterfly, I had tears in my eyes as I realized I was about to achieve my goal. I gave that race my best effort, so not only had I succeeded; but, I shaved time off my qualifying swim and swam my fastest time in three years, placing 5th for a ribbon (awarded for 4th thru 8th place finishes). Later in the day, I raced my fastest 50 Yard Breaststroke in five years, finishing 12th in a tough field of 21 swimmers. I couldn’t have been happier, even though I had no ribbon to show for it.

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My longest race of the meet, the 400 Individual Medley, proved to be a difficult challenge due to the high altitude of over 5,300 feet.  Although I was winded during the race and was unable to clock a good time, I was awarded a 6th Place ribbon for my efforts.

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The following day, I raced the 200 Butterfly, the most physically demanding event for female Masters swimmers in pool competition.  I was one of only 19 women across all age groups to compete in the grueling event. This race, as well as the 200 IM and 200 Breaststroke on my final day of individual races played out much the same as my 400 IM.  At the 100-Yard mark, I was winded in a way I had never experienced at sea level.  Comparing notes with several of the other swimmers at the meet, I was not alone.  Most of the gals had to stop at the walls during parts of their races to catch their breath.  Misery loves company, and most of us were in the same boat—uh, make that “pool!”

Getting winded during the most painful 200 Butterfly I had ever swum was well worth it in the end, because I won a bronze medal!  (Hey, you have to show up to win!)  I really, REALLY wanted one of those medals, because I thought the design was fantastic—a wonderful souvenir of my accomplished goal.  Check it out below.  Instead of a propane tank to inflate the balloon, it’s an Olympic torch.  The “flame” is a red chile pepper and green chile pepper, which, like the hot air balloon, are the iconic symbols that characterize Albuquerque.  In addition to the Albuquerque logo on the front, the backside of the medal depicts the National Senior Games logo and motto.

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On the final day of swimming competition, Mixed Medley and Mixed Freestyle relays were added to the events for the first time.  As in the individual events, the swimmers competed in their own age group; however, the age was determined by the youngest swimmer on the team.  I was determined to organize both relays with just swimmers from Georgia to represent our state, so I put out a plea on the Georgia Masters Facebook page.  I received an immediate response from Randy Russell (58), and after I was unable to nail anybody else down, he recruited Barbara Ingold (60) and Lane Schuckers (66) during the weeks leading up to the meet.  I was able to get a practice run in with Randy during a relay at an April United States Masters Swimming meet at Georgia Tech; however, I had never met Barbara or Lane.

Based on the (accurate at the time) seed times I submitted for our relays, we were in for a fight for a bronze medal.  All of us ended up swimming faster than our seed times in our individual events, though, so our hopes were up.

In the Medley Relay, Barbara led off with backstroke, I swam breaststroke, Randy followed with butterfly, and Lane anchored with freestyle.  It was a come-from-behind race, but all of us swam our fastest splits of the meet, and we nailed down a bronze medal!  Watch it here.

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Barbara, Me, Lane (burgundy shirt) and Randy (red hat) receiving our bronze medals.

Then came the Mixed Freestyle Relay with our closest competitor in the neighboring lane.  We kept the same race order, and by the time I (the slowest sprint freestyler on our team) finished my leg of the race, we were more than half of a pool length behind.  All Barbara and I could do was hope Randy and Lane could make up the deficit.  Randy, gold medalist in the 55-59 age group in the 50 Yard Freestyle, closed the gap further; but, what we saw next was simply amazing.  50 Yard Freestyle silver medalist in the 65-69 age group, Lane, swam his heart out!  He later said that when he spotted the neighboring swimmer during his flip turn, he put this head down and sprinted the entire last 25 yards without a breath.  I never yelled so loud in all my life!  As they touched the wall at what I thought was simultaneously, I looked up at the electronic board and saw we had won by .08!  Another bronze medal!  What a way to finish the meet!  We were so excited, we didn’t even swim down after the race.  Instead, we gathered in the warm-up pool and celebrated!  Want to see something amazing?  Check this out!

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What a fun and exciting experience these National Games turned out to be.  Over 13,700 athletes showed up for the Games, shattering previous attendance records.  A couple of World Record holders as well as several USMS (U.S. Masters Swimming) All-Americans and Top Ten swimmers were among the 800+, 50-100-year-olds racing at the West Mesa Aquatic Center.  As a result, many National Senior Games records were broken.

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That night, Randy and I, along with our spouses, met up at the Celebration of Athletes.  Marching in with other Georgia athletes when our state name was called was an exhilarating moment I will never forget.  I truly felt like a Senior Olympian!

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Georgia swimmers, Chip Woody, Me, and my relay teammate, Randy

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The New Mexico contingent handed out state flags during the Parade of Athletes.

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On the jumbo screen:  103-year-old, Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins (gold medal winner in track), being welcomed to the Games by the 94-year-old founder of the National Senior Games.  Later in the evening, while the band played, she danced enthusiastically, swinging her hips back and forth!  I want to grow up to be just like her.

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My husband, Sherpa, videographer, photographer, and greatest supporter, Bruce, with me following the Celebration of Athletes.

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We attended a free event, Growing Bolder’s “Launchpad to What’s Next Live” at Kimo Theatre. It was an educational and inspirational program on healthy and active aging. Watch the short video about it here.  I’m in it towards the end! https://www.growingbolder.com/our-favorite-moments-from-the-national-senior-games-3059650/

 

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Three-time Olympic Gold medalist and the face of United States Masters Swimming, Rowdy Gaines, was one of the excellent speakers at the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Me with Rowdy Gaines

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Journalist and World Record Holder (Masters swimming), Marc Middleton, is founder of Growing Bolder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New friends:

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Kari and I first “met” on the USMS Discussion Forums

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Samantha Martoni encouraged and cheered me on in my 200 Butterfly. I returned the favor when she followed me in the fastest heat.  She won a silver medal, and I won bronze.

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Penny Noyes is an All-American USMS swimmer (age 65) I had met previously at Atlanta area meets.  She won 7 gold medals, including one in the triathlon, as well as a relay bronze medal and a 4th Place relay ribbon.

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Ted and I met in the warm-up pool and encouraged each other throughout the meet.

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Relay teammates, Lane & Randy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This photo was taken of fellow USMS “Forumite,” Kurt Dickson, at the conclusion of the meet.  Kurt broke National Senior Games records in all six of his individual events, including the 500 Freestyle, where he shattered the  record by 20 seconds.  He then won gold medals in the mixed medley and mixed free relays. The entire pool area had emptied out, and he was sitting by himself waiting for his wife to pick him up. (She competed in cycling.) His jug of milk had turned warm, but he was powering down a bowl of Cheerios as he waited. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POMS: NEW DIANE KEATON MOVIE PANNED

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“POMS,” the new Diane Keaton movie, was released today; however, Sun City Peachtree (“Sun Springs”) residents viewed a special screening for us on Wednesday in two of Regal’s theaters, in Griffin.
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Our community looked fabulous in the movie, and several of our friends appeared as extras.  In addition, our neighbor around the corner, Karen Beyer, has a speaking role in the movie.  If you see POMS, Karen plays a member of the welcoming committee and drives Diane Keaton around “Sun Springs” in a golf cart tour of the community.  She was great!
We all got a kick out of seeing people we knew as extras in the movie, including some friends.
Bruce (below center) is an extra in a gym scene where he walks by with Victor (pictured below) behind Celia Weston and the welcoming committee.  Unfortunately, all you see is the top of their heads, because the gym eqt. obscured their faces.
They are also in the scene in front of the recreation center where Celia Weston and Bruce McGill drive by in their golf cart; however, all you see is Bunny’s orange shirt.  Oh well, know he’s there!
As for my hopes of making it in the movie, the entire last day of filming made it squarely on the cutting room floor.  Those scenes were supposed to go into a montage of “A Day in the Life of Sun Springs,” a video that would be used as a sales pitch to get Diane Keaton’s character to buy a house in the community.  I guess they decided to cut that part of the script out.  The movie cuts straight from Diane Keaton in New York to moving into her house in “Sun Springs.”
It was interesting to see what made the movie and what didn’t.  The funeral scene took several hours to film (I watched for a couple of hours); however, only a small portion of the scene made the movie.  I also watched the main pool scene and gym scene being filmed.  Both scenes appear in full.
Although we all had a blast watching the movie, the critics didn’t.  They weren’t too amused…  I just read a bunch of reviews, and the movie was panned by all of them.
Here is an AP movie review that made it into today’s Griffin Daily News.  The paper used my picture again; however, the caption is as poorly written as the movie, according to Lindsey Bahr.
If you go see the movie, our wonderful Sun City Peachtree really shines!  Just know that our community is nothing like it’s portrayed in the movie.  Our Vicky (HOA Manager) is way nicer than Vicky in the movie (Celia Weston), and we don’t have those crazy rules!  We have no security guards like Bruce McGill’s character, and their security office is really our tennis club!  The houses, however, were real houses that were repainted (interiors) and refurnished for the movie.  That indoor pool you see through the gym?  That’s my home away from home where I train!  The gym is Bruce’s second home.

NEW DIANE KEATON MOVIE FILMED HERE AT SUN CITY PEACHTREE!

During late July and early August of last summer, our little Sun City community had a lot of excitement!  Georgia has become one of the top filming locations in the country, and the latest Diane Keaton movie landed on location right here.  “POMS,” written by Shane Atkinson and directed by Zara Hayes opens in theaters on May 10.

In the early days of the movie’s inception, this was the official description: “45 minutes outside of Phoenix lies a retirement community. A place where palm trees line the streets, the skies are always clear and the “taxi” (ambulance) drives by two or three times a day – a final destination for retirees. This is the story of America’s first cheer-leading squad for women aged 60.

Phoenix and palm trees were eventually dropped for Georgia, and Sun City Peachtree became “Sun Springs,” the community where Diane Keaton comes to “die.”  She is joined in the film by Jacki Weaver, Rhea Perlman, Celia Weston, Pam Grier, Alisha Boe, Bruce McGill, and more.

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A Georgia-based casting company was used to hire all the extras, and us residents had first crack at applying for the roles.  If you see the movie, almost all of the extras in the retirement community scenes are either our friends, neighbors, or fellow Sun City residents in a community that was less than 2,000 residents at the time.

In addition, the house scenes were all filmed in the homes of residents who applied to have their houses used in the movie.

I was originally cast to be a water aerobics instructor; however, after jumping through a bunch of hoops, the scene got canceled.  As a matter of fact, an entire day of filming (and numerous committed extras) got cut.  Putting two and two together, I quickly surmised as to why that happened: budget.  Just a guess.

That was just one of many scheduling changes that took place each day.  Suffice it to say the entire three weeks of filming here could be summed up in one word:  chaos.

Having said that, there were a lot of fun moments here as well.  Bruce was cast as a “gym goer” and was filmed for a scene out front of our recreation center where Bruce McGill and Celia Weston pass by in a golf cart.

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Bruce (middle) with Bunny and Victor

In the gym scene, Bruce walks by in the background for a scene that included our actress friend who lives around the corner from us.  Karen Beyer has a speaking role in the movie, and she appears briefly in the trailer.

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Karen Beyer is in the pink blouse.

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Rhea Perlman is lifting weights in this scene.  Bruce was an extra in the background of the gym scenes.

 Although it was a long and boring day for Bruce, I enjoyed hanging out and watching the filming.

The only scene I may appear in is when the crew filmed a resident tai chi class.  Evidently, the footage the crew shot of “real” residents will be used for a “Day in the Life of Sun Springs” montage that Diane Keaton’s character watches at the sales center, when she is considering moving to “Sun Springs.”

One thing for sure:  Diane Keaton was really nice to the residents here!  When she wasn’t filming, she posed for pictures with anybody who asked.  Right before I was photographed with Diane, a lady on the way to the pool with her grand kids asked Diane she could take her picture.  Diane responded, “Only if you are all in it with me!”  Diane asked her assistant to take the picture for them and then did the same for me.  In this shot, Diane turned to me and said, “Oh f*@#!  He took the picture when I wasn’t ready!”  That’s why I’m cracking up!

At the funeral scene (see the trailer; it’s a hoot!), I had the opportunity to chat a little with Diane Keaton, and she was quite friendly.  It was very hot that day, though, so she spent most of her time between shoots in her air conditioned limo.

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Diane Keaton is under the umbrella.  The sun was very hot that day!

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Rhea Perlman is in all black.  Her husband dies in the movie, and this is his funeral.

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Jacki Weaver (facing me) and Diane Keaton in the funeral scene.

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An amazing amount of equipment was needed to film the funeral scene!

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This was some of the equipment used for the pool scenes.

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Filming scenes at the tennis and pickleball courts.

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I wasn’t allowed to get any closer than where I shot the picture above, so this was the best shot I could get of Diane Keaton.

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Bruce and I got to know Caesar, the caterer, during the filming.  Caesar is the regular caterer for the TV series, “NCIS New Orleans,” where he is now based. Caesar invited us to have dinner twice, including after filming wrapped.  That night, he served crab legs and filet mignon!  He also sent us home with extra food that he didn’t want to see thrown out.  Lucky us!

The “grunts” of the film crew were also friendly.  We could see as the filming progressed over the three weeks, however, that they were stressed, exhausted, and ready for the film to wrap!

Our HOA ended up with $35,000 for allowing the crew to film onsite, and the experience gave us all a lot to talk about!  We are looking forward to a big screening party here when the movie is released.  Whether the movie is a hit or bombs out, it sure will be fun watching all our friends on the screen!

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Check out this article on the movie.  Here is another article from PeopleThis article shows a screen shot from the trailer that includes Karen Beyer.

 

 

 

 

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 18 (FINAL)- BUDVA, MONTENEGRO

The final two nights of our trip were spent in the coastal town of Budva, the center of Montenegro’s tourism industry.  Between the Adriatic Sea, beaches, its well-preserved medieval walled city, restaurants, and night life; Budva attracts all types of tourists, especially the 1% jet-setters.

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Just outside of the walls of Old Town was a row of very expensive luxury yachts owned by wealthy visiting tourists.  As we turned away from the docks and entered the walled city, it was like stepping back in time.  Sure, there were gift shops and restaurants to remind you that it was the year 2018; however, the architecture and cobblestone pathways were historic reminders that Budva is, indeed, old—2,500 years old!

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Budva is one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic Coast.  Archaeological evidence proves that fact, and we were able to see where some of that evidence was discovered.

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The walled Old Town is situated on a rocky peninsula, and it was beautiful to explore during our private morning walking tour, before it was overrun by tourists.  We looked forward to returning in the late afternoon, following our driving tour into the mountains to see Cetinje, the former capital.

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The views were spectacular!  We were fortunate to have sunny skies, so we could enjoy the view of the city below.

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On our way to Cetinje, we stopped at a restaurant up in the mountains where we were treated to a local beer, and a “snack” of a delicious sandwich of prosciutto and cheese, after being shown their smokehouse where we learned about the smoking process.

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Following our tour of Cetinje and its museum, our little group had a nice lunch together at a restaurant.  We then headed back to Budva to enjoy the remainder of the afternoon on our own.  This was the highlight!  Exploring the Old Town and coastal walking path during the golden light of the evening was the exclamation point to cap off our visit to Montenegro.

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Dinner the previous night was enjoyed with our guide, Sinisa, and our new Canadian friends; however, this final night was just the two of us enjoying a fabulous buffet while dining on the patio of our hotel.  It was a lovely evening, and a perfect way to relax and reflect back on our amazing experiences in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, finally, Montenegro.

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Thank you, dear readers, for hanging in with me until the end—nearly five months after our travels concluded.  I hope you will join me again later this year when I return with more traveler’s tales!

 

 

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 17-KOTOR, MONTENEGRO

Our cruise aboard La Perla came to an end much too quickly!  Isn’t that always the case when you are thoroughly enjoying an experience?  Time just speeds on by!  Stand in a long line at the airport, though, and time stands still right along with you.

Sinisa had our tour guide/ driver to Montenegro take this last group shot with Ante and the crew of La Perla.  It brings back great memories to me and Bruce of the experiences we shared, friendships we made, and wonderful places we saw along the way.

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Good-bye’s were said to all but our new Canadian friends and our guide, Sinisa.  It was just the five of us traveling on to Montenegro for the post-cruise extension.

Our drive to Montenegro took us on a winding road along the Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  With its narrow profile and steep walls, it is often called Europe’s southernmost fjord, even though it is actually a ria, or a submerged river valley.

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Mussel farms were a common site on the Bay of Kotor

Kotor, our destination for the day,  is a fortified medieval city located at the head of the bay.  Dating back to the first century, the small city of less than 14,000 people is a popular tourist destination, because of its history and Old-World charm.  It is one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When we arrived, I looked up and saw the switch-back walking path that led up the steep side of the mountain behind the Old Town.  I knew it was a path I wanted to conquer after our walking tour, and I was happy Bruce was all in to join me!

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The archway through the thick wall of Kotor’s Old Town was impressive, and I was instantly charmed by the quirkiness of a few unexpected sights that greeted us:

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The narrow, winding cobblestone streets were charming, and I instantly understood why tourism is Kotor’s top industry.

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Our private tour led us to Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, a Roman Catholic church dating back to 1166.  The cathedral was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1667, so it was rebuilt.  Again, in 1979, the cathedral was damaged by another earthquake.  It wasn’t until 2016 that the restoration was complete.

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The view from the second floor of the cathedral.

Fortunately, the 14th century frescoes and rich collection of artifacts survived both earthquakes.

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Following our tour, we had free time to wander the cobblestone streets and make our way back to the stone stairs for the steep climb up the mountain.  Our fitness and endurance paid off; the views were spectacular!

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Returning to town, I shot a few more pictures before settling in at a table on the patio of the restaurant reputed to have the best chocolate cake in Kotor.  Sharing a slice was our reward for enduring the hot climb up and down the mountain!  Yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 16-DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

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When people think of Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), Dubrovnik is probably what comes to mind first.  Dating back to the 7th century, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean region.  That fact was quite evident the day we visited.  Busloads of tourists (including us) inundated the place, and I soon realized why one of La Perla’s crew loved the island of Korcula more than his own home of Dubrovnik.  Andrea lives within the walls of the city, and he complained about the traffic, lack of parking, and packs of tourists.  (Property within the walls has also gotten extremely expensive; a tiny one-bedroom apartment sells for $1.3 million dollars!  People who inherit property within the walls rent them out on Airbnb and buy in a newer area instead.)

One of reasons Dubrovnik has seen such an increase in tourism is because of the HBO television series, Game of Thrones, which is filmed in Dubronik.  I have never seen the show, so I haven’t a clue!

Dubrovnik had a record year for tourism in 2016, with more than one million visitors.  It has gotten so bad that city officials are setting limits on the amount of people allowed within the walls on any given day.  UNESCO has advised that no more than 8,000 people should be within the walls of the Old Town at any one time to prevent damage to some of the city’s oldest buildings; so, security surveillance video cameras have been installed at the walled city’s five entrances to keep tabs on the foot traffic.

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Beginning this year, Dubrovnik is limiting the number of cruise ships to two per day, carrying a maximum number of 5,000 each.  In addition, city officials are working with the Cruise Lines International Association to optimize scheduling and make foot traffic move more efficiently through its historic central district.

The big feature of Dubrovnik that attracts tourists is its walls that run almost 1.2 miles around the city.  The walls are 80 feet high and up to 20 feet thick.  The oldest building within the walls dates back to 1290, and the 700-year-old pharmacy is the third oldest pharmacy in the world.

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Outside of the walls, a fortress was built in the 1400’s to protect he main city gate.  The fortress wall facing the water is 40 feet thick, and only two feet thick on the city side.

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The system of turrets and towers of the Old Town wall were also intended to protect the city; however, it suffered a devastating attack by the Serbs and Montenegrins on October 1, 1991.  The attack lasted for seven months, killing 114 civilians and damaging 56% of its buildings.  The damage to the walls alone was estimated at $10 million dollars.

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Following the end of the war, damage caused by the shelling of the Old Town was repaired in the original style, adhering to UNESCO guidelines.

It was interesting to walk the entire wall of the city and look down on the rooftops where we were able to spot undamaged pre-war roofs in between newer, post-war roofs.  It was sad to see some of the shelled buildings that remain untouched since the attack.

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Poster Caption:  Painter Ivo Grbic in front of his burning home in street Od puca 16 during Serbian and Montenegrian attack on Dubrovnik.

The walk was exhilarating, though, especially along the seaside wall.  The views were breathtaking, and we were so fortunate to be able to enjoy it on such a beautiful day!  We watched the kayakers paddling on the Adriatic Sea below us, and marveled at how clear and bright blue the water appeared.

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Although we had begun the day with a guided tour of Old Town, we were provided passes to walk the walls and visit the museums on our own.  It was great to be able to enjoy it at our own pace and cover more ground.  We were among the few in our group that walked the entire wall, a memory I won’t soon forget.

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Our final evening in Croatia was also quite memorable.  We were taken by bus to Orasac Village (population 100; 85% of them related) for a home-hosted dinner.  The 24 of us were divided into four smaller groups to dine in four different homes.  We were welcomed by Tereza Gorace and her cousin, Ana, who translated for us and answered many of our questions.

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Beginning our evening, we were welcomed on the patio with local brandy and fresh figs from their tree.  At Christmas time, the figs are dried with a bay leaf and flour for a traditional treat.

Before settling in for dinner, we were shown their smokehouse where they make sausage, prosciutto, and bacon—all from animals they raise on their farm.  Tereza explained that it takes seven days to smoke sausage, and then it is stored in the cellar.  Prosciutto is smoked for two months straight.

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This is a kuna, an animal native to Croatia that lives in the forest.  It appears on Croatia’s currency.

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Ana is standing on the left.

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Bruce, with Tereza and Ana, after he gave Tereza and Ana each a pair of fused glass earrings he had made for them.

Tereza and Ana raise, grow, and make almost everything they eat, as do all of their relatives who live in their little village.  They pickle their own vegetables, make their own cheese and wine, and bring their own olives to another village to get pressed for olive oil.

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Everything here was homemade or home-grown.

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This is “Rosata,” a dessert made with homemade rose liqueur.  Rose petals are soaked in grappa for 40 days to make the liqueur.

During dinner, Ana was very patient answering the many questions we all had about their life during the war and after.  When their village was attacked on October 3, 1991, Ana was just three months old.  Serbs occupied the village, stole belongings, killed animals, and destroyed what they didn’t take.  The villagers were forced to leave with only their clothes and documents.

Ana’s mom fled with her to Germany to stay with relatives.  Only women and children were allowed to leave, because the men were required to stay behind and fight in the Croatian army.  Dubrovnik didn’t have an army, so one had to be quickly formed.

Dubrovnik suffered substantial damage due to its location bordering Montenegro.  Although the Serbs only occupied areas outside of the Old Town walls, they did bomb it.  In all, they occupied about one third of the country before being defeated.

Following the war, men returned to clean up their homes and clear land mines before their wives and children returned.

To this day, there is still (understandably!) resentment towards the Serbs and Montenegrins for the abuse and brutality they unleashed on Croatia.  (In contrast, Croatia has an excellent relationship with Slovenia to the north.  Both countries are in the European Union, and Croatia will adopt the Euro as their currency in 2020.)

We learned so much about what Tereza and her village endured in 1991 and the struggle the entire country had post-war.  Hearing her story made it so real and so personal.  We were thankful to have had that experience, something Vantage Travel calls a “Cultural Connection.”  This is what travel is all about.

 

Coming up next:  Montenegro

 

 

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 15- MOSTAR, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Informally known as “Bosnia,” and sometimes known as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina is bordered by Croatia to the north, west, and south.  Serbia is located to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast.  A twelve-mile strip of Bosnia is on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Our visit to the country entailed a short ferry ride from La Perla to the coast of Croatia and a two-hour bus ride to Mostar, as well as bringing our passports and clearing customs at the border along the way.  It was well worth the effort, plus doing the reverse on the way back!  (Of course, to make our wait at the border go quicker, Sinisa gave a gift of bottled waters to the customs agent as a motivation for him to stamp our passports faster.)

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Mostar is the cultural and economic capital of the Herzegovina region of the country.  It took a huge hit during the Bosnian War in the early 1990’s when 100,000 Bosnians were killed.  President Clinton (thankfully!) forced an end to the war by locking Bosnian and Serbian leaders in a room at an air force base until an accord was signed.

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Numerous buildings were destroyed during the conflict.  We saw evidence of that destruction since 3% of those buildings have yet to be reconstructed, due to their desire to preserve history of the old architecture.  In addition, the cost of rebuilding in the original, historic style is too high.  The country is still struggling to recover from the devastation, so bombed-out buildings stand just as they did when they were shelled.  It was as if time stood still in some parts of the city.

There are three main religions in Mostar—Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox.  We learned about all three during our walking tour of the city, which included a visit to a Turkish home dating back to the 1700’s, and a mosque, which had been destroyed and rebuilt exactly like it was before the war.

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The view of Neretva River from the Turkish home.

The highlight of Mostar is Stari Most, (the “Old Bridge”), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The historic stone bridge crosses the Neretva River, dividing the city into Croat and Muslim sections.  Constructed in the 16th century, the original bridge was destroyed by a bomb during the Bosnian war and has since been reconstructed.  It reopened in 2004 and is considered an exemplary piece of Balkan Islamic architecture.

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Tourists gather on the bridge not only to enjoy its architecture and views, but to also watch the daring divers that take flying leaps into the water 78 feet below.  (They won’t dive until they have received 30 Euros of tips beforehand.)  The divers make a big show of it, pretending to get ready to dive, just so they can pocket more tips.  Once they have gotten their money, they actually take the dive.  The funny thing is that some of the older divers aren’t actually the ones to carry out the dive.  They are seasoned at enticing the tourists to part with their cash; however, once it comes time to make the dive, a younger (and less beaten-up) diver comes out on the bridge to do it.  (Presumably, they have agreed to a fair division of the pot…)

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We watched the circus unfold as we dined with our group on the patio of a restaurant with the best views of the bridge.  While we enjoyed a local brew and native cuisine, we kept an eye on the divers, wondering if they were ever going to actually make the leap.  Two dives took place that we saw; however, it wasn’t worth missing lunch to try to photograph as I waited, and waited, and waited for the dive to actually take place!

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During our free time, we wandered up and down the cobblestone pedestrian street, photographed the local craft displays, and joined the other tourists on the bridge to watch the divers.  It was all so enjoyable, and time sped by much too quickly.  Before we knew it, we needed to head for our bus for the journey back to La Perla.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 14- KORCULA, CROATIA

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The medieval town of Korcula, surrounded by massive stone walls and towers, was constructed by local stone masters of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.  They did an exquisite job of stone-cutting, adding ornamental accents throughout.

Korcula is known for its stone masters as well as the starting point where Marco Polo began his expedition.  It is also known for its rich ship-building history.

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Korcula is one of the greenest of the Croatian Islands.  In addition to its beauty, we loved that the island was not being surrounded by loads of tourists—something we knew we were going to experience in Dubrovnik.  There were no cruise ships, due to the lack of infrastructure to accommodate anything much larger than a yacht like La Perla.  We were able to dock right in town next to the massive stone wall that encircled the town.  Our group of 24 was the only tour group we saw on the island during our walking tour, and during our free time, we thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful day of peacefulness on the island.

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Inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Croats, Korcula is the second-most populated island.  We learned about its history during our guided walking tour as well as during our visit to the Korcula City Museum.

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These vessels were used to store wine or olive oil.  They date back to the 1st and 2nd century!

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During our walking tour, we ran into Ante, La Perla’s owner (pictured with Sinisa).  He had just bought produce from the farmers market as well as some ice cream for our dessert.

Following our tour, we had plenty of time on our own to explore the narrow limestone walkways, quaint shops, and stroll past the seaside bistros.

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On the right side, just before the second set of steps, there is a water polo net up against the wall.  Water polo is very popular in Croatia, and the country is always quite competitive at the Olympics.

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I bought a beautiful little hand-carved boat from this craftsman.

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The weather finally cleared up in the afternoon in time for our cruise to Slano, located on a small bay perfect for swimming and kayaking.  La Perla anchored, so we could enjoy the crystal-clear Adriatic Sea.  Ahhh!

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The evening was lovely!  A local fisherman came on board with a cooler full of fresh oysters harvested from the waters nearby, and local wine from family vineyards we could see on the hillside.  We learned all about both while we were offered as many oysters as we wanted to eat.  I’m not big on raw oysters, but I managed to suck down ten of them after working up an appetite from my swim!

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 13- HVAR, CROATIA

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It is not often I’m up and about to photograph a sunrise, but I happened to catch this one rising over the island of Hvar, a beautiful playground for the rich and famous.  On any given day, twenty luxury private yachts belonging to famous (and wealthy!) people can be seen in the harbor during the high season.  Those are just the largest yachts.  There are plenty of other high-end sailboats zigzagging about as well.

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The movie, “Mama Mia 2” was filmed on this island also known for its fruit orchards, ancient olive trees, and fields of lavender.  Our local guide explained how lavender is processed for its oil, something she is intimately familiar with, because she has a business doing just that.  Her potpourri sachets are packaged with small vials of lavender oil into pretty little ribbon-tied packages and sold at the farmers market and gift shops throughout the island.

Our guide explained that it takes thirty kilograms (66 pounds) of lavender flowers to make one ounce of pure lavender oil, and the flowers are all harvested by hand.  During its best production years, ten percent of the world’s lavender came from Hvar; however, that is not the case today.  Production levels are down, because the younger people of Hvar prefer working in tourism rather than lavender production or in the fruit orchards.

Our walking tour was interesting as we learned about the town’s history and saw ancient architecture, in addition to passing by contemporary artisanal bakeries, restaurants, and galleries.  We also visited the 17th century Monastery of the Benedictine Nuns of St. John the Baptist & St. Anthony the Abbot of Hvar—a long name!  It is rarely opened to the public; however, our group was able to get a private tour and see the amazing display of antique lace made by the nuns over a period of 120 years.  The thread used for the lace is made from stripped down agave plant, and a 6-inch lace takes 3-4 months to make.  Unfortunately, there are now only seven nuns at the monastery making the lace.

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Following our walking tour, we saw more of the island by bus, taking in gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea along the way.  Our next stop was Stari Grad Plain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site town that was established in 384 BC.  A picturesque place, the stone walkways are narrow and winding, and surround the quaint harbor.  We took a walking tour of the town, and then had time to explore on our own.  It was lovely!

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After returning to the main harbor of Hvar, we were brought back to La Perla by our tender for an afternoon of swimming and enjoying the good life on board.

I couldn’t wait to dive in!  Our days were filled with a lot of walking; however, my body and mind were craving a good swim workout.  The current was strong enough that I was able to do “laps” by just swimming back and forth along the length of La Perla.  Forty hard strokes up against the current, and twenty-nine easy strokes back.  It was fun, especially swimming butterfly!  At the same time, it felt strange being so buoyant in the very salty water of the Adriatic.  It felt like somebody was pulling me up by the back of my suit when I swam breaststroke!

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While Sinisa looks on, Bruce is taking a picture of me…

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…while I take a picture of him!

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Back on board, we enjoyed a wonderful happy hour (drinks are included with the cruise) and soaked in the last of the beautiful views before sunset.  Ante carved up prosciutto and I enjoyed a delicious local lemon-flavored beer in a quirky can with the label printed upside down.  I guess the idea of it is that others can read the label when it’s bottoms up!

What a fabulous way to end the day!

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A patchwork of vineyards on the hillside

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