ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 5, ZAGREB, CROATIA

Hotel Esplanade, located adjacent to the central train station, was built in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express.  Walk into the lobby, and Art Deco is immediately what comes to mind.  Cool.  It was love at first sight!

Our room (see previous post and captions) was amazing!  It was the lovely dining room and breakfast buffet, however, that caused my jaw to drop.  There were so many options, I stood frozen, not knowing which direction to head first.  On the buffet were only the cold selections, though.  For a hot breakfast, there was a menu at the table listing amazing offerings prepared to order by the chef.  Yikes!  Too many decisions!  I didn’t even go there, but Bruce sure enjoyed his daily omelets!

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That bowl of chocolate spread in front?  Mmmmm!

Chocolate is normally my nighttime indulgence; however, I couldn’t resist the bowl of BLACK chocolate spread on the buffet that was too dark chocolate to be Nutella.  Spread on top of a chocolate croissant for my breakfast “dessert,” I was in a state of bliss.

Somehow, I managed to tear myself away for our morning bus tour of Zagreb, followed by an excellent walking tour of the city highlights and Old Town.  (We needed a good walk after that breakfast!)

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A bit of interesting trivia about famous Croatians was learned during our stop to view three murals.  First of all, Tesla (no, not the car!) was born in 1856 in what is now Croatia.  Nikola Tesla was the famous inventor, best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.

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The Goodyear Blimp is a modern example of the airship invented by David Schwarz, the Croatian aviation inventor, born six years before Tesla.  He invented the rigid airship with the envelope made entirely of metal.

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Finally, there was Penkala, inventor of the ink pen.  Slavoljub Eduard Penkala came along later, born in 1871.  After inventing the mechanical pencil, he developed the first solid-ink fountain pen.  These weren’t his only inventions.  He held 80 patents for such things as a hot water bottle and rail-car brake.

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Up the stairs from these murals was a great view of the city below; however, drizzly, gloomy skies made for drab photos; so, we returned to our favorite spots over the following two days under sunny skies to re-shoot those pictures.  They will appear in a later post.)

After our walking tour, we used the bus/rail ticket we were provided to venture out to Mirogoj Cemetery, considered one of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries.  The gloomy skies were perfect for this somber setting!

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We found it interesting to see that this massive cemetery inters members of all religious groups, because it is owned by the city.  We saw everything from Jewish to Muslim to Catholic symbols on grave markers, and the various religions weren’t segregated.

The grounds and architecture were stunning, and at times, literally breathtaking!

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After a long stroll through the grounds, we returned to the Old Town section of Zagreb to explore more of the area.  We stopped first at a bakery to pick up some snacks to pair up with a local beer.  The bars allow you to bring in food, so we relaxed on the patio while enjoying these delicious local treats!

We enjoyed the atmosphere of the old part of the city.  Between the colorful old buildings, cobblestone streets, abundance of outdoor cafes, and people out enjoying it all, it was a great place for a relaxing walk.

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This statue of Ban Jelicic is located in the main square of downtown Zagreb and is a popular meeting place for friends.  They say, “Meet me under the tail!”

Between Old Town and our hotel was a beautiful fifteen-minute walk through several parks that lined one of the main boulevards.  We enjoyed the walk several times during our three-night stay in the city, including at night after dinner and a walk around town.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 4, SLOVENIA TO CROATIA (PRE-EXTENSION)

Yesterday’s rain continued, and we wondered what the next two weeks would be like.  Little did we know at the time that after Zagreb, the remainder of the trip would be mostly rain-free and beautiful when it mattered the most!

On this day, we got SOAKED, at least from the knees down, where the umbrella and rain jacket made no difference during our walking tour of Ljubljana (“LEW byah na”).  At least we had a terrific local guide with a great sense of humor.  He was a hoot!

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A little background about the city, Ljubljana has been the cultural, educational, economic, political, and administrative center of Slovenia since the country gained independence in 1991.  It is a vibrant city with a mix of architectural styles dating back to the Roman period.  After the 1511 earthquake leveled much of the city, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style.  Another earthquake struck in 1895, so many of the buildings had to be rebuilt once again.  Hopefully, that’s the last of the earthquakes, because the remaining old buildings are so much more interesting than the contemporary boxes!

After our tour, we had free time to poke around the farmer’s market and wander the streets of the city.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped, so we could enjoy the sites with closed umbrellas.

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St. Nicholas Cathedral door

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Glass or plastic?  Choose your bottle and fill ‘er up!

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The “Epl” (Apple) computer store

Ljubljana was the last we would see of the picturesque country before traveling on to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia.  Having grown fond of Slovenia, I would have loved to have seen more of the small country that puts such a high priority on preserving their pristine beauty and is ranked 5th in the world in recycling!

Zagreb is our program director, Sinisa’s home, so he could speak plenty from personal experience about what it’s like to live in the bustling city now, and what it was like under Tito’s rule before Yugoslavia broke apart.

Sinisa, 50, had an interesting childhood growing up as the son of popular singer Drago Diklic, known as “Croatia’s Frank Sinatra.”  During one of our bus rides, he played some of his father’s music and showed us pictures of his dad with Tito (Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia’s communist leader from 1953-1980).

In the early 1990’s, when the war broke out and Serbia attacked Croatia, Sinisa fled to London while the remainder of his family stayed behind in Zagreb away from the fighting that destroyed Vukovar and other cities in the eastern region bordering Serbia.

Sinisa returned to Zagreb after the war ended and lives in the city with his wife and son.  As we entered the city, he pointed out the contrast between Slovenia and Croatia:  Slovenia is extremely clean and free of graffiti, whereas Croatians aren’t nearly as conscientious about recycling and there was a lot of graffiti on old and new buildings alike.  It was heartbreaking to see some of the lovely old Austrian architecture defaced; however, if there was any consolation, we learned that none of it was gang-related.  There are no gangs in Zagreb, and the city is actually quite safe to walk around, even at night.  The graffiti is done by destructive kids, and authorities are having a difficult time getting a handle on the epidemic.

The city is large, home to about one million of the over four million people in Croatia (or “Hrvatska” as the locals call it).  There is a generation gap in the population, because many older people were killed in the war, but even more younger people are leaving the country for jobs in Germany and other countries.  As a result, Croatia has the oldest population in Europe.  This leaves remaining Croatians feeling worried about the future of their country.

Croatia’s past was tumultuous.  Elders, including Sinisa’s grandmother were Austrian, Italian, Yugoslavian, and Croatian in their lifetimes without ever having moved from their home once!  It has been occupied that many times in one lifetime.  Each time, people had to learn a new language, obtain new documents, and live under a new set of laws.

If you were fortunate in the early 1990’s, you still had that home after the war.  One eighth of Croatian’s homes were destroyed, and it took twelve years for the country to build 160,000 homes to replace them.  So many schools were destroyed that remaining schools had to educate children in two or three shifts, including one at night.

Due to land mines that still haven’t been cleared (and won’t be until 2024, according to government estimates), much of Croatia’s food must be imported, because of the dangers associated with farming.

If Croatians could wind back the clock to any period of their past, most would choose to live under Tito’s rule once again.  Although there was a documented (very) dark side of their leader and how he had dissenters killed, life was good under Tito’s brand of communism.  Tito had divided Yugoslavia into six republics after World War II, and Croatia (along with its friendly neighbor, Slovenia) was the most industrialized and successful.  Practicing religion was permitted, passports were granted, travel to foreign countries was allowed, and Yugoslavians had the best lifestyle and most freedoms of all of the communist countries.

During the industrial boom of the 1960’s, apartments were provided for free to all factory workers, there was job security, and every citizen had free medical care and free education.  Nationalism was forbidden and there were no elections, but if you didn’t mind (or kept your opinions to yourself), you had a comfortable lifestyle in an extremely safe country.

The 1970’s brought a boom in tourism to Yugoslavia, a popular destination for Austrians, Germans, and Brits; so, the country prospered even more.  But, in 1980, the “Benevolent Dictator,” as Tito was called, died.  His funeral was the largest in history; over 159 nations attended.  Not only was he well-loved by his own people, but he was well-respected by world leaders for having stood up to Stalin in 1948.

When Tito was alive, he wanted Yugoslavia united as one with no nationalism; however, when he died, nationalism was out and the Serbs wanted independence.  Ten years after Tito’s death, his legacy was destroyed.

Sinisa looks back on Tito’s days fondly.  Life was good back then!  Although his family and friends didn’t have access to the variety of items other countries enjoyed, the freedom to travel made it easy to pop over to Italy for a shopping binge and pick up Italian shoes or jeans.  In Austria, they would make a beeline for chocolate.  (I can relate to that!).

It was interesting to hear Sinisa’s stories a well as those told by the local guides, lecturers, and hosts of our home visit for dinner later in the trip.  Having been to Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia on a Danube River cruise in 2007, I had learned about Tito as well as the horrors of the 1990’s war; however, the experience wasn’t as in-depth.  I was completely captivated this time around.

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Our room at the Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express.  The TV greeted us with “Welcome, Mr. Cook,” and we could program a wake up call to have the TV turn on at our scheduled time with various peaceful videos of the ocean, forest, etc.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 3, SLOVENIA (PRE-EXTENSION)

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Julian Alps

Our program director, Sinisa, told us he had a “surprise” for us today.  He has a good sense of humor.  When we arrived at our “surprise,” we were in ITALY!  Sovenia is bordered by Italy and Austria, and you could actually bicycle through all three countries in one day quite easily.  Since all three are members of the European Union, you wouldn’t even need a passport.

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We walked into Italy at this now-shuttered border station to take cheesy pictures at the Italia sign and have a good laugh about the additional country we were visiting.

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Sinisa Diklic, our program director

At one time, this border separated communism from capitalism.  (More on that in a future post.)  Now you can go all the way to the English Channel without a border crossing slowing you down.  In 2020, Croatia and Montenegro will also be members of the European Union, so there will be even less need for a passport on road trips.

Our next stop was really the unexpected surprise:  Planica, Slovenia’s Olympic ski jump center and location of the most recent ski jump World Record.  Set in 2015, Peter Prevc jumped a whopping 248.5 meters (about 814 feet or 271 yards)!

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When we first arrived, I said to myself, “Ok, we’ll see some beautiful mountains with ski jumps and just imagine what it would be like to jump off them.”  I had visited the Olympic ski jump in Oslo, and I thought that was amazing enough.  I would have been happy just having an experience like that again.

Surprise!  There were skiers jumping, and it was SUMMER!  Little did I know that except for the main jump where the World Cup is held, the training jumps were covered in a special Astroturf that was kept wet for the skiers to train on all year long.  In addition, there was an indoor cross-country ski course, where we braved the cold for a minute (in our t-shirts and shorts) to take a quick snapshot before going back outside to watch the jumpers.

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After getting an overall view from the center’s balcony, we got an up-close look to watch the ski jumpers.  It amazed me how YOUNG some of them were!  One of the kids flying through the sky couldn’t have been more than ten years old.  (I missed the shot of him.)  That’s a brave kid!

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In Slovenia, they start young, learning how to ski at the same time they learn how to walk.  Once they are stable on their skis, the kids learn how to jump by starting on a playground slide-sized jump, and then work up from there.

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This is the highest ski jump where the World Record was broken by Peter Prevc.  The World Cup is held here. Note the tiny ski jump at the bottom.  This is used to train toddlers!  Next, they graduate to the longer jumps behind it.

We had so much fun watching (and trying to photograph) the jumpers that we could have stayed there all day.

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Laura, this one’s for you!  Bring in da goat!!

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Free time was spent nearby exploring the ski resort town of Kranjska Gora, surrounded by beautiful mountains.  There was a ski lift directly behind the hotels; no driving required!

Unfortunately, those lifts didn’t get any use last year due to the lack of snow.  It usually snows October to May; however, global warming has caused quite a weather change in Slovenia, including less snow and more tropical thunderstorms.

The lack of snow made for good foraging in the surrounding forests, however.  Berries and mushrooms grow in abundance, and mushroom soup (which we enjoyed later on at dinner) is a mainstay of the cuisine in the region.

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A cheese vending machine!  Laura, don’t ya love it?  We saw a milk vending machine the following day, and they even sold both glass and reusable plastic bottles to dispense the milk in.

When we returned to Lake Bled, I had hoped to go for another swim; however, the clouds looked threatening and thunderstorms were in the forecast.  Instead, we grabbed our umbrellas and set out on a 3.5 mile walk around Lake Bled, not worrying about rain, but hoping a lightning bolt wouldn’t strike our umbrellas!  It turned out to be the only time rain was a nuisance on our trip besides the following day on our walking tour of Ljubjana.  The walk around the lake was gorgeous, though, even in the rain!  It is one of the most popular walks in all of Slovenia, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it!

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This was our hotel.  There was a ski lift on the right.

For dinner, we were taken by bus to a traditional local restaurant, Gostina Lectar, in the town of Radovljica.

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Antique skis were displayed in the lobby.

The restaurant has been in existence since 1822; however, the 500-year-old house has been in the Lectar family for three generations.

Before dining in a private room, we first watched a private ginger-bread-making demonstration in the charming basement bakery and gift shop.  Actually, it was really honey-bread, since ginger isn’t native to the area, but honey is abundantly available.

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Dinner was served by Mr. Lectar himself, and we started with his family’s locally-made wine and mushroom soup in a cute bread pot.  Very clever!  Platters of meat, sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut were then served (one platter per four people), and plenty remained behind as we were all quite full from the abundance of food.  There was still dessert, though, and we were served apple ice cream in a carved-out apple.

The town was so picturesque, that I was glad I slipped out to take this picture before night fall.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 2, SLOVENIA (PRE-EXTENSION)

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Our hotel at Lake Bled had something I had never seen on a breakfast buffet:  honey straight from the comb.  It was delicious with cheese and their freshly-baked croissants.  Between the wonderful assortment of food and fairy tale view of Bled Castle, it was a pleasant and relaxing way to start the day!

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The view from our patio table

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Bled Castle dates back to 1100, the wall was built in 1300, and the church in 1600.

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There is a permanent rowing course set up on Lake Bled, and we watched dozens of sculls gliding back and forth during breakfast.

We began our morning tour (14 passengers in a deluxe 45-passenger coach!) with a beautiful drive through the Julian Alps to Vogel Ski Resort where we took a breathtaking cable car ride up to the top at 4,000 feet.  The views were spectacular!

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Skiing is Slovenia’s national winter sport, and they are dedicated to it, no matter what it takes to get to the slopes.  It is typical for Slovenians to spend a total of 14 hours (round-trip drive and the wait time to get on the cable car and ski lift) just to be able to ski for 36 minutes down from the top of Vogel!

Our next stop was for a walk through a tiny village where the homes were adorned with overflowing baskets of flowers and the stream was incredibly clear and colorful.  It was the most beautiful little stream we had ever seen!

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The town of Ribcev Laz located on the crystal-clear glacial Lake Bohinj was another picturesque stop we made where we were mesmerized by the clarity and color of the water.  Our free time at Slovenia’s largest lake provided an opportunity to take in the views of the limestone mountains and enjoy doing some photography.

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Throughout the morning tour, I came to understand why those who had been to Slovenia were so emphatic in their recommendations to visit this small gem of a country.

When we returned to Lake Bled, we made our way around to the other side of the lake from our hotel to visit medieval Bled Castle that dates back to 1011.  Fortunately, it was a sunny day, and we were able to take in the gorgeous views of the lake, including the church on Bled Island and our hotel across the way.

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Although most of our group chose to return to the hotel afterwards via our private motor coach, Bruce and I opted to walk down and take in the views around the lake.  We rewarded ourselves with a piece of delicious Bled cream cake at the Park Hotel.  Created by their chef in 1953, it is so popular now that they make 500,000 of the cakes each year!  Considering that every single person dining on the patio around us had a piece of cream cake in front of them, I had no doubt that statistic was accurate!

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This is where we enjoyed Bled cream cake and took in the views of Bled Castle across the way.

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Between our piece of cake followed by a gelato at a stand down the street, we made a lunch of it.  Nutritious?  No.  Delicious?  Absolutely!

Dining alfresco at a local restaurant that evening, I was curious to see if the grilled squid would be as good as the night before at the hotel, and I was not disappointed!

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 1, SLOVENIA (PRE-EXTENSION)

Our flight from Atlanta to Ljubljana, Slovenia (via Zurich) was uneventful, and that’s a good thing!  I love being able to fly out of the busiest airport in the world (and Delta’s hub).  It means never having to fly United Airlines ever again (if I can help it!) and opting for Delta and Southwest Airlines (domestically) instead.

Vantage Travel’s arrangements were flawless, and we had a seamless day of arrival.  For our pre-cruise extension in Slovenia, we spent three nights in Bled at the Grand Hotel Toplice, located on Lake Bled, and dating back to 1845.  GORGEOUS!  Although the hotel wasn’t anything special on the outside, it was grand on the inside with a lovely lounge and restaurant overlooking the lake.

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The view of Grand Hotel Toplice from Bled Castle.  The hotel’s private “beach” and swim area is to the right of the rowboat shelter.

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The key to minimizing jet leg is immediately adapting to local time.  Neither of us sleep well on planes, so it was a challenge to stay awake until after dinner.  I chose to go for a refreshing swim in Lake Bled while Bruce lounged on the hotel’s private “beach.”  At 77 degrees (just below competition temperature), I was in heaven!  It did the trick and energized me for the remainder of the day and evening.

After meeting the 12 other Vantage travelers on the pre-extension over a glass of wine and briefing by Sinisa , our program director, we enjoyed dining with sunset views of the lake and Bled Castle.  Dinner was fabulous!  Bruce and I had never tasted grilled calamari (they refer to it as “squid”) so fresh and perfectly prepared that you could cut it easily with a fork.

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By now, many of you may be wondering just where Slovenia is located and why we would travel there.

A small country bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, Croatia to the southeast, and the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, Slovenia is smaller than the state of New Jersey.  Formerly part of Yugoslavia, the country gained independence in 1989.  In 2004, Slovenia joined the European Union.  It is one of Europe’s least-densely populated countries with just under 2.1 million people who are mostly Roman Catholic.

I was impressed to learn that Slovenia’s education ranks as the 12th best in the world and that 92% of adults between 25-64 speak at least one foreign language.

Slovenia’s extremely strict gun laws also impressed me.  Before you can purchase a gun, you must undergo a medical and psychiatric exam.  If you pass, the next step is to participate in a six-month training program.  As a result, the percentage of privately-owned guns is only about 15 per 100 civilians compared to about 120 per 100 American civilians!  In addition, most of those privately-owned guns in Slovenia are used for hunting, which is only allowed on Sundays.

A few other facts about the country:  In addition to banking and tourism, Slovenia is known for its production of electronics, wool clothing, wood furniture, beer, wine, and jams.  Apples, pears, plums, and vegetables are the main crops; and the cuisine is a mix of Central European, Mediterranean, and Balkan.

Slovenia is very mountainous with over half the country covered by forests, so it is absolutely beautiful—and, clean!  Conservation, a clean environment, and recycling are priorities of Slovenia, so we never saw litter on the streets, and the air and water were fresh and clean.

Located in the Julian Alps in the northwest region of the country, the scenery surrounding Lake Bled is stunning, making it an ideal locale for destination weddings—very popular for the British.

In my next post, we explore more of the Julian Alps region.

ADRIATIC COAST: PREFACE

After returning from our three-week Mississippi River cruise around the same time last year, it seemed to take forever to get all of my pictures edited and blog posts written.  September starts our busy fall craft show season for Bruce’s fused glass jewelry, so my blog took a back seat to our business and associated travel. It wasn’t until December when I concluded my blog posts of that trip.

In retrospect, there was a wonderful silver lining to what at first seemed unthinkable, especially since I am the opposite of a procrastinator!  (Since I had previously posted to my blog during my travels back in the early days, it seemed so strange to me to have my trip posts take so long to complete.)

That silver lining?  First, enjoying every minute of the trip without the distraction of editing pictures and writing.  It was fine during our seven-week road trip, since evenings were mostly spent unwinding and relaxing in our hotel room.  Bruce would study the map and travel info. I had researched, while I worked at the computer.  On the riverboat trips with my mom, evenings were mostly quiet on the boat after dinner, so there was plenty of opportunity to pop open my netbook in the lounge and write while others read their books or conversed with other passengers.

This time, there was too much going on that I didn’t want to miss.  The writing could wait!  Instead, I took a lot of notes during our walking tours and lectures, filling up an entire spiral notebook.  (Being able to read my scribbled notes will prove to be a challenge, I’m sure!)

Most of all, though, I discovered how much I thoroughly enjoyed reliving the trip again and again throughout my three-month photo editing and writing process.  I caught myself smiling, laughing, and remembering things that had slipped my mind, each time I edited a new batch of pictures and wrote about what we had experienced.  Every time I sat down at the computer, I felt exhilaration and happiness; I was in the zone.

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Happily swimming in Lake Bled, Slovenia (Bled Castle is behind me.)

It is for those reasons, my dear readers, that I make no promises as to when my next post will appear on this site, and when my last one will be completed for our most recent trip.  I will at least cut to the chase, though, and tell you that each and every day was thoroughly enjoyable and breathtaking.  Hopefully, my pictures will do justice to the beauty of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro; the former Yugoslavian countries we visited during our 19-day Vantage Travel land and yacht tour.

If you wish to read on without having to keep checking my site for my next post, sign up to receive e-mails notifying you when a new post has been added.  Who knows?  I may even get them all written before the December holidays arrive!

 

FATHOM: OUR FINAL CHAPTER

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“Gratitude” doesn’t fully describe how I feel about the experiences Bruce and I shared during our three Fathom Impact Travel cruises.  There were so many memorable experiences that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.  Any impact we made in the Dominican Republic and Cuba came back around in such wonderful ways—all described in the many blog posts I have written about our January, March, and April visits.  Search “Fathom” on this blog site, and you can read about them all.

On our last cruise, as planned, we reunited with some passengers we had previously met aboard Adonia; but, we also unexpectedly saw others from our January and March cruises.

Each one of us had re-booked a Fathom Impact Travel cruise for similar reasons, and all of us were eager to continue making an impact.

When Fathom’s Adonia sets sail on May 21 to the Dominican Republic, it will be her last sailing under the Fathom flag.  Her lease expires, and then she will sail to Europe to become a P&O ship once again.  All of her crew with the exception of the Impact Travel Staff will sail with her.

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The Dominican Republic flag (left) is the only national flag with a bible on it.

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Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

Adonia will be missed.  As a former 6-star Renaissance ship (before the company folded), she’s a classic beauty built in a style no longer seen in new ships.  Beautiful mahogany, crown molding, etched glass, impeccable craftsmanship—these are all abundantly featured throughout the 704-passenger ship.

Fathom may be all about “Impact Travel” rather than the vehicle getting us to our destinations; but, what Adonia did for Fathom was to provide a more intimate atmosphere for its passengers, enabling them to meet and share experiences more easily.

A favorite place to bond with our fellow cruisers was on the aft deck outside of “The Conservatory”, the buffet and casual dining area of the ship.  It became a popular meeting place for travelers to hang out with a cold drink, and swap stories of their Impact Travel activities.  Friendships were made and cemented, especially during sea days when there was no concern about the time.

When Bruce and I taught arts and crafts classes aboard larger Royal Caribbean ships, we often commented about the many people we saw disembarking that we never saw during the cruise.

Not so aboard Adonia.  Between the cohort meetings, workshops, dining room unassigned seating, and Impact Travel activities; we at least recognized everybody during disembarkation.  We also left with many more e-mail addresses and friendships than we ever had before.

On May 28, Fathom as we know it will end.  The following is an official statement I received upon request from Tara Russell, President of Fathom, regarding Fathom’s future:

There is a macro trend around the hunger for greater meaning and purpose in our everyday lives – people want to live their best story and long to go deeper. This exists independent of Fathom and manifests daily as a growing audience of consumers work to combine their purchases and experiences with their values. Fathom addresses this growing desire through travel experiences. Fathom invites travelers to get closer by traveling in new and exciting ways. Fathom heightens human connections between travelers, with new local friends and other cultures, and in any relationship a traveler may touch.

During our first season, Fathom trialed this purpose-driven concept by testing traveler appetites for travel-deep experiences with 7-day journeys on the MV Adonia to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Nearly 10 percent of Fathom travelers who joined these sailings returned quickly to participate again and our customer satisfaction scores were among the highest in the corporation. In short, the Fathom concept was very well received.

We always intended to serve our much broader corporate audience of 12 million travelers. The popularity of the Fathom experience with travelers who sailed with us inspired us to move quickly to expand the Fathom concept – onboard, onshore and in new and creative ways to serve an even greater audience.

Going forward, Fathom Travel experiences will live aboard countless other ships operated by our nine sister brands and offer beyond immersive experiences in many geographies. Fathom is designed to intersect and inspire the lives of travelers anywhere through heightened human connections that unlock human potential and connect travelers to a bigger story.

Already, we are providing Fathom Travel experiences on-ground to travelers across six Carnival Corporation brands in the Dominican Republic. We are honored to leverage our collective scale as we come alongside our Dominican friends to create enduring contributions to the lives of families and communities. Soon Fathom experiences will also be offered on board our sister brands.

Fathom looks forward to serving the 12 million people who annually travel with Carnival Corporation, as well as the millions of new travelers who long to go deeper into our growing community. We’re nearing the end of chapter one, but there is much ahead for the rest of the Fathom story and the best is yet to come! 

As of today, I have not received any definitive answer if Fathom will ever again have a dedicated ship for its Impact Travel mission.  If it does, I doubt it will be intimate and casino-less like Adonia. 

Thanks for the memories!

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Marcia (IDDI), Steven (IDDI), Me, Wilmers (IDDI), Colin (Fathom Impact Travel Staff Manager), Bruce, Raymond (IDDI)

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Frank (Entrena)

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Marvin (wait staff) remembered us from our previous cruise and visited us often on the aft deck for chats.

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Tomasito, leader of the Cuban band aboard ship

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Mauritza, Jessica, Brandon, and Len.  We cruised with Jessica and her dad on the January 1st and April 9th sailings.

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Mauritza and Jessica

 

 

HABLA INGLES? TEACHING ENGLISH IN THE DR

Before I post “FATHOM:  OUR FINAL CHAPTER”, I can’t locate the article I wrote about teaching community English in the Dominican Republic during our second cruise in March.  (Either I forgot to post it, or it disappeared from my blog!)

In between our two morning work sessions at Chocal, we spent an afternoon teaching “community English” in the small farming town of Cupey, Dominican Republic.  The bus ride to this community of 4,000 was an extremely bumpy one in some areas where we traversed unpaved rocky roads with large pot holes.  What a relief when we finally arrived into town and were able to drive over paved roads once again!

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Along the way, there was some interesting scenery, to say the least.  Although I managed to get a quick picture out the window of this cattle drive, I missed one when a man was walking his two bulls alongside the roadside.

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The best shot that got away, though, was the guy walking a pig.  Yes, you read that right—a PIG!  He even had a leash of rope around its neck.  This wasn’t just some small pot belly pig, mind you; this was a HUGE pink pig munching away happily at the grass along the roadside!

When we arrived at the community center, we were greeted by the families who would become our students for the afternoon.  After introducing themselves to us, one-on-one, we were divided into groups and assigned to a student for each teacher.  A few of the families had opened their homes as a meeting place for the days’ lesson, so we walked down the street to the house where we would be teaching.

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Milagras

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Bruce was assigned to a cute little girl, and I was assigned to a woman by the name of Doris.  We sat on the front porch facing our students and used the manual we were provided to conduct our lesson.

The students had been taking classes and studying on their own, but working with Fathom passengers was a supplemental opportunity to converse with Americans and learn more.

The lesson they had worked on prior to our arrival was entitled “Nature”.  They had learned the English name for several animals, so we were instructed by the facilitators from Entrena to review the lesson before moving on to “Classroom”.

My student, Doris, was a bit shy and unsure of herself.  To break the ice, I thought it would be fun to make the sound of the animal I wanted her to say in English.  I also had pictures to point to that had the English word written under each animal; but, I thought making her laugh would ease her nervousness.  At least, I thought it would make her laugh.

Imagine my dismay when I started barking (a pretty good rendition of a dog, I thought), and she pointed to the horse and said, “Horse”.  Ohhh boy; this was going to be a long afternoon…

Knowing my bark was the best animal sound in my bag of tricks, I immediately switched tactics and pointed to each animal for Doris to say in English.

NEXT!

The “Classroom” lesson had items such as a pencil, ruler, desk, chair, chalkboard, teacher, student, etc.  One of the students in the picture was wearing a backpack, and that was one of the words Doris needed to learn.  No can do; she just couldn’t get that one down.  I had offered her plenty of positive feedback (“Good!” and high-fives) when she got even close on the other words, but she couldn’t get past “back” to even get to the “pack”.  How I wish the little girl in the picture had carried her books to school in her arms, instead…

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My student, Doris

Bruce’s student got bored quickly, so he was moving on to other lessons to keep her interest.  She wanted to stick with the ones she was good at, though, and move on to a new one when she found the lesson to be too difficult.

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Bruce and his student

They were sitting right next to me and Doris, so it was easy enough to ease drop.  I only wish the little girl had ease-dropped on my barking and yelled out, “Dog!”

It was an enjoyable afternoon, though, and the students appreciated our efforts.  After the lesson, we met back up at the community center for some group photos.

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OUR REUNION WITH THE WOMEN OF REPAPEL

Although we were hoping to teach English at the University for our final Impact Travel activity, the students were on break for the Easter holiday.  Instead, we returned to RePapel, the women’s co-op that turns waste paper from the local community into recycled paper products that are sold for a profit.

I knew from our previous visit that our group of fellow Fathom passengers would be greeted by the women with enthusiastic singing and clapping.  It was fun, though, to watch the surprised expressions on the group as they walked up the street to the co-op and heard the women singing up ahead.  Smiles broke out as they rounded the corner and saw the women of RePapel dancing and clapping as they sang to us.

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One-by-one, I scanned over the singing ladies and recognized each one from our January visit.  It was Claribel I was looking for, though, because we had made such a positive connection when we worked together last time.  Would she remember me?

Claribel was off to the left side, and I quickly took a photo of the women.  When she spotted me, her expression changed as if she was deep in thought.  A few seconds later, she flashed a huge grin as she remembered who I was.  I made a heart sign with my hands (as she did to me when we said goodbye in January), and she ran over to greet me with a big hug.

Making paper with the ladies is so much fun, because they keep up a positive energy with their singing.  In between songs, Claribel and I communicated as we did last time—through hand gestures and my (very) broken Spanish.  She asked me if Bruce and I had children, and then I asked her the same question.  Claribel responded that two of her seven children were twins.

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As it turned out, there was a family on board with teenage fraternal triplets, and they were standing right behind me as Claribel and I talked.  The mom chimed in saying, “You have twins?  I have triplets!”  Claribel didn’t quite understand the word “triplets” until I grabbed three of my fingers and held them together with my other hand and held it up.  In perfect English, Claribel exclaimed, “Oh my GAAAD!!”  We couldn’t stop laughing.

This is typical of what it’s like to make recycled paper (and paper bead necklaces) with the women of RePapel.  Never a dull moment!

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My friend, Claribel

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Fredy is from Colombia and also has an apartment in Atlanta.  We enjoyed getting to know him during the cruise.

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The women were ripping up waste paper into small pieces that will get thrown in a washing machine for a cycle– the early steps of the paper recycling process.

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After a cycle in the washing machine, the paper/water mixture gets scooped up and tossed into the blender for a whirl.  Next, it is dumped into this bin.  Bruce was given a framed screen to dunk into the mixture.  Once the screen is covered, it is lifted and drained.

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The IDDI facilitator joined in the production line. Here,  she is taking the piece of paper she had removed from her screen and getting it ready to place on the drying rack out in the sun.

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We also made paper beads and strung necklaces to be sold in the gift shop.  Bruce and Fredy show off their creations.

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I’m modeling the necklace I made.

The following are scenes from the community.  Some of the pictures were shot from the bus window as we arrived, and others were taken during a walking tour we took after we worked at RePapel.

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This concrete floor was made by Fathom Adonia passengers.  The homeowner was given the choice of what color to paint it, and yellow is the most popular choice.

Next up:  FATHOM:  OUR FINAL CHAPTER

OUR THIRD VISIT TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC; OUR SIXTH AND SEVENTH TO CHOCAL

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Type “Chocal” into the search box above, and a list of several blog posts will appear that I have written about Chocal, the women’s cooperative chocolate factory and cacao plantation in the Dominican Republic (the DR).  In all, Bruce and I participated in Fathom’s Impact Travel program at Chocal seven times; three visits during our January 1st Fathom Adonia cruise, twice on our March 12 cruise, and twice on our final visit to the DR, during the week of April 9, 2017.

Those earlier blog posts included information about how Chocal was established (although I didn’t mention how the factory replaced what was once a nightclub hangout for drug dealers and other criminals).  I wrote about the benefits Chocal has provided the thirty women and 130 families of the Altamira community.  The chocolate-making process was also described, from bean to bar, including photos I shot of the cacao processing machinery.  Our volunteer contributions were also detailed including the impact our work groups made on Chocal’s production.

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Although cacao beans are very bitter to bite into, the white pulp surrounding the beans is sweet and delicious!  I was given the remainder of the seeds in this pod to suck on and enjoy– about half of the 50 seeds it contained.  

Since then, the cumulative impact has grown as more and more Fathom passengers volunteered at Chocal.  As of April 15 of this year (the one year anniversary of Fathom Adonia’s first sailing), 4,419 passengers have visited Chocal and sorted 5,186 pounds of cacao nibs, resulting in 152,994 finished chocolate products.  In addition, since the neighboring cacao plantation nursery was added to the Impact Travel program, 29,920 cacao seeds were planted.  Of those, roughly 75% will grow to become cacao trees. In three years, those trees will be each produce about 20 pods ready to harvest each May and November for the next 30-40 years.  Each of those pods will contain about 50 seeds—enough to produce a 2-ounce bar of chocolate to be sold in the Dominican Republic.  (In addition, Chocal exports cacao nibs to Canada and the U.S.A., earning $2 per pound.)

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The inside of a cacao seed is very bitter!

Bruce and I made a personal impact at Chocal as well, bringing a box of ear plugs to the factory workers (when we visited in March) with promises to send more if the workers cared enough about preserving their hearing to use the ear plugs regularly.

I also brought memories with me during that second visit, giving each of the workers photo notecards I had made of the photos I had taken of them last January.  Their reactions and expressed gratitude was gratifying and left a lasting warmth in our hearts.

Our final Fathom Adonia voyage was during the week before Easter (a very important holiday in the DR), and we were there the day before and day of Good Friday.  As a result, many of the women of Chocal were home cooking and preparing for the holiday, so we didn’t get to see some of them again as we had hoped.  Still, our two visits were special, memorable, and heart-warming.

We arrived once again with an armful of photo notecards—this time, made with photos of our Chocal friends holding the cards I had given them in March; and, we brought another box of ear plugs to keep them well-stocked for a while.

Our bus driver, Diosiris Dipre (“Dipre”) was the same one we had last March, and he appeared very happy to see us again!  His sincere gratitude for such a simple gesture of giving a photograph reminded me of how random acts of kindness can make such a positive impact.

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Our bus driver, Dipre & IDDI facilitator, Juan

Gumarcindo, the nursery’s manager, also welcomed us warmly once again and laughed heartily when I gave him another photo card.  I wish I would have remembered to take another picture of him holding his card, because the photo on the card showed him holding the card I gave him in March that had the picture I took of him in January on it! We got so busy working at the nursery, I completely forgot.  It’s another one of those photos that got away…

Our IDDI facilitator on the bus with us this time was Juan, an IDDI rep we had seen during previous visits, but hadn’t gotten to know, since he was on the other bus in the past.  The guy is a hoot, and we had a lot of laughs with him during both of our days going to Chocal.  His grandmother works at the factory, and even though she didn’t speak any English, we managed to form a bond through smiles and gestures.

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Juan

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Juan’s grandmother

Steven, another IDDI facilitator was there once again, and he seemed happy to see us and start another round of teasing, picking up from where we left off in March.

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Steven & Bruce

As we saw the women, one-by-one, throughout our time at the factory, each one recognized us and greeted us with hugs.  It was nice to be remembered once again!

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At one point, though, I had a brief moment of sadness when we passed through the office to work in the packaging area, and Bruce noticed the box of ear plugs we had given them in March.  The box was sitting on top of a high pony wall in the exact same place where it had been left after I demonstrated to the president how to use the ear plugs.  When Bruce saw what appeared to be the unused box and told me about it, he had a disappointed look on his face.  He said, “I don’t think they’ve touched those ear plugs since you gave them the box.”  My heart sank, and I wondered whether I should even give them the second box I had brought.  Not giving it a second thought, I doubled back to check the box for myself.  Just as I opened it and noticed it only two-thirds full, Milagros (the factory manager) walked in and exclaimed, “Si!  Si!!” as she pointed to her ears and smiled.  The workers were in fact using the ear plugs, and they were very grateful to receive more!  That made my day.

After our work session officially ended and the others shopped in the gift shop, Bruce and I stayed behind to give one last push of sorting beans.  As a final parting “gift”, Steven took me back into the factory where we had molded chocolates, gave me a plastic glove, and told me to hold out my hand.  In it landed a palm-ful of warm chocolate from the bowl we had worked from to create our little chocolate works of “art”.  I will never forget how gooood that chocolate tasted as I licked every bit up!  I savored it slowly knowing it could very well be the last visit we ever make to Chocal.

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Coming up next:  OUR REUNION WITH THE WOMEN OF REPAPEL