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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
The views were spectacular! We were fortunate to have sunny skies, so we could enjoy the view of the city below.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
The narrow, winding cobblestone streets were charming, and I instantly understood why tourism is Kotor’s top industry.
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.
Fortunately, the 14th century frescoes and rich collection of artifacts survived both earthquakes.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Our morning cruise from Sibenik to Split was lovely. I was able to get in a yoga session on deck, stopping from time-to-time to take in the views and snap a picture. What a fabulous way to start the day!
Cruising aboard La Perla combines the best of ocean cruising and river cruising. You have the fresh ocean sea air, the beautiful scenery, soothing sound of the water like you would on a cruise ship, but the quaintness of a riverboat. Actually, with only 24 passengers on board, it was even better!
It was wonderful to be able to watch the coastline as we cruised closer in than a ship would. Having a window in our cabin also allowed us to take advantage of the views while getting ready for dinner. The balcony was an extra bonus, making it convenient to pop out for a quick picture or sit out and enjoy the scenery while the other was in the shower.
At 115-feet long, the yacht was big enough for us all to have our own space, but small enough to make a quick pit stop in the cabin or run down to grab my camera for a sunset shot. In a word, FABULOUS!
Our time off La Perla exploring each destination was fantastic, too. We saw so many wonderful sites, including Split, one of the oldest cities in the region. Upon our arrival, a local guide met us at La Perla for a walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour took us through the lower level passages of this massive fortress-like complex that was built in preparation for the Roman emperor’s retirement in 305 AD.
If you have ever watched Game of Thrones (I have not), the fourth season was filmed at the palace. What a setting! Looking around the enormous stone passageways, I was in awe. How the heck did they build that amazing complex—and, in only ten years?!
The four-feet-thick ceiling was constructed with compressed rocks, and no mortar was used. Vaulted openings were built for air ventilation, and holes were made in the living quarter floor for sewage to be dumped. The walls of the palace are five-feet thick!
Within the complex, pillars were constructed to support the living quarters above. (Otherwise, they would have been underwater at high tide.) Half of the complex was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.
Today, there are restaurants, shops, and some homes within the walls of the palace.
Exploring the palace was fascinating, and roaming the streets within the walls was quite enjoyable. At one point, we came across a group of klapa singers and listened to their beautiful voices in the amazing acoustics of the stone walls and high open-air ceiling.
While Bruce took an afternoon siesta, I opted to spend more time walking Split on my own. Croatia is a very safe country, and I felt completely comfortable as a solo woman walking around Split and other places I ventured out to explore. The two Canadian women on our tour often split up to sight see and had the same experience. I highly recommend Croatia as a safe place for a solo woman to travel.
What a full and fabulous day this was! It has been a challenge editing my photos, because we saw so much beauty in just one day!
Krka National Park was our first stop and one I had been looking forward to with great anticipation, after seeing gorgeous photos of the waterfalls shot on a bright, sunny day. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t quite so cooperative when we visited the park; however, the scenery was still breathtaking.
In addition to a guided walk on the scenic trails, we had free time to explore on our own; so, I hiked up the falls to seek out some different photographic vantage points. The falls were amazing!
If I had to narrow down the highlights of Croatia, this would definitely land on my list of must-see destinations!
During our boat ride from the falls to Skradin, it started raining lightly, and we were thankful we were able to experience the park and waterfalls before the weather turned. Just after we boarded our bus, the skies opened up!
Thankfully, the skies cleared up by the time we arrived at Pimosten Burnji, a quaint Dalmation village that made our entire group perk up with excitement. It was love at first sight!
The village priest welcomed us with local brandy and figs from his tree. As we enjoyed the treats, my eyes lit up as I looked overhead and saw gourds and grapes growing all around us! Pots of flowers lined the steps where a cat curled up in the sun, and a woman sewed lace. Just beyond, I could hear and see a donkey. It was almost like being in one of those staged open-air museums, except this was for real. This is how the locals have chosen to live, preserving this 16th-century village for themselves, their families, and future generations to enjoy. The priest has worked hard at preserving the local history and traditions, and it was as if time stood still! They open their community to visitors; however, our group of 24 had it all to ourselves to enjoy.
In one of the 16th century stone houses, the village women prepared a light lunch of soup, cheese, sausage, and bread for us. For dessert, I enjoyed grapes from the vines just outside!
We were in no hurry to leave, because it felt so good just being there; however, Sibenik was still on the agenda for the remainder of the afternoon. We took a walking tour through the old town where we saw the Cathedral of St. James, 15th century stone houses, stone streets dating back to the 16th century, a 17th century fortress, and colorful 18th century plaster houses. In the city walls, there were built-in water dishes for their beloved dogs to drink from. “Amor D. Cani” translates to “love of dog.”
It was interesting to learn that in Sibenik no weddings take place in the month of May. In the old days, many people died in May as the weather got warmer and disease spread. The tradition held, even as a cure for those diseases was discovered.
Back on La Perla, we enjoyed dinner with our two Canadian passengers, Louise and Danielle, reflecting back on all we had seen and done.