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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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 12- SPLIT, CROATIA

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Leaving Sibenik

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!

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Andrea, one of the crew

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Another crew member, Stipe

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!

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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.

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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!

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Split

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.

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An artist’s rendition of Diocletian’s Palace

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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?!

 

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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.

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This Wisteria is 150 years old!

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In the foreground are original walls of the palace.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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The view from La Perla at night.

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 11- Kirka National Park, Primosten Burnji, & Sibenik, Croatia

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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.”

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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.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 10 (Part 2), LOVELY LA PERLA

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Formerly a fishing boat, Ante Bubalo and his son, Luka purchased the 115-foot-long retired boat ten years ago, had it stripped it to its shell, and completely restored at a cost of two million Euros.  It took three years to renovate and rebuild, a better option than purchasing a new boat, since the hull was of much better quality and thicker than the hulls on new boats.

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It was Luka’s dream to make La Perla a reality, after earning an economics degree at university.  Working with a boat designer to carry out his vision, they gave new life to the old fishing boat by creating a luxury yacht for tourists.  Luka’s wife did the interior decorating, and together, they made La Perla into a comfortable cruising yacht perfect for enjoying the Adriatic Coast.

Although now retired from his business of selling prosciutto to stores and restaurants throughout Croatia, Ante assists Luka with his charters that are booked eight months of the year.  Luka is usually on board La Perla for each charter; however, for our cruise, Ante stepped in to cover for Luka.

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Ante Bubalo

Ante’s favorite task of each day was going shopping, picking up needed provisions as well as treats for the passengers.  Each day there was a new surprise—a special cheese, local chocolates, cookies, or other tasty snacks he placed out in the lounge for us to nibble on throughout the day and evening.

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La Perla was wonderful!  Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, well-designed, and had more storage space than we needed.  Suitcases fit perfectly in the bed platform cabinet, so we were able to stow them away and out of site.  The bed was very comfortable, and we were amazed at how smartly designed the bathroom was for a yacht of its size.  We also enjoyed our cozy balcony!

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Open-seating meals were always enjoyable with the other twenty-two passengers.  There was never a shortage of conversation!  We also never left hungry.  The variety of food on the buffet for breakfast and lunch was terrific, and the chef also prepared dishes to order.  Dinner was white-glove service with multiple courses and plenty of wine, which was included in the cost of the cruise.  I especially enjoyed the octopus we had one evening as well as the wonderful views of the sunset we enjoyed during dinners.  A couple of times, a few of us grabbed our cameras and made a beeline to the aft deck to capture some photos!

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The galley was tiny!

 

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The dining room

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Breakfast buffet

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While we were cruising, the indoor and two outdoor lounge areas were very comfortable to relax at and enjoy conversation with the other passengers.  There were also plenty of lounges for sunbathing, and I even found some deck space by the spa to do my Theraband exercises and yoga.  (Try balancing in a yoga pose on a moving yacht; it was a fun challenge!)

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There was also a (very!) small gym; however, we opted to do a LOT of walking in each port and take in a couple of swim sessions when La Perla was anchored.  (More on that in a future post.)

The most memorable part of La Perla was Ante and his staff of nine.  They were always friendly and eager to please, and we enjoyed getting to know them while on board.  There were plenty of laughs and good times!

If you are considering a trip to the Adriatic Coast of Croatia, cruising aboard La Perla is a great way to go. Not only was the boat able to travel much closer to the coast, but we were also able to spend a day on the island of Korcula, which is inaccessible to large cruise ships.  Considering it was a highlight of the cruise, it was a great decision to go small!

As you will see in later blog posts, La Perla also had the advantage of being able to anchor in coves, so we could enjoy swimming off the platform, kayaking in their tandem ‘yak, and circling a small island aboard their tender.  Besides, we got to know all twenty-two of the other passengers as well as the crew.  Try that on a cruise ship!

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The other “Ante” (no relation) was our bartender/ waiter.

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Now, for a shameless commercial, even though I am in no way affiliated with the company:  Book La Perla through Vantage Travel.  This was my fourth trip with Vantage (and Bruce’s second), and we loved it!  Call (888) 756-6677, give them my name and number (Elaine Krugman 2569087), and you each (if you are traveling with a companion) will receive $50 travel credit.

Stay tuned for more adventures aboard La Perla as we cruise south along the Adriatic Coast!  Meanwhile, check out this video from Vantage.

 

 

 

 

 

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 10 (Part 1), ZADAR, CROATIA

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On our way to Zadar to board La Perla, the 115-ft yacht that would be our home for six nights, we took a scenic drive through the city of Rijeka, along the northern Croatian coastline, and through the mountains of central Croatia.

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Along the way, Sinisa shared some interesting stories about his father, Drago Diklic, who was known as “Yugoslavia’s Frank Sinatra,” and won a lifetime achievement award for his music.  Throughout his career, Drago had performed with many famous American artists, including Louis Armstrong.  Often, they were brought home for dinner and to meet the family, and Sinisa remembers meeting Elton John at his house.

We also learned more about Croatia, including the educational system.  In first grade, children start learning English, and then a second foreign language is added in fourth grade, usually Italian or French.  (Ninety-two percent of Europeans learn a foreign language during their early education, compared with only twenty percent of Americans.)

In high school, students must keep their grades and test scores up if they want to qualify for a free university education.  Everything is paid for by the government except books.  The problem Croatia is having, though, is that after university graduation, too many of the graduates leave the country to pursue a career elsewhere, due to the 17% unemployment rate during the winter months.

Although the unemployment rate is high, there are no homeless people out on the streets at night in Croatia, because the government provides shelters.

When we arrived in Zadar, we took a walking tour through the city following our group lunch.  Zadar, named Europe’s top destination in 2015, is a Roman-era city with an interesting mix of Renaissance, Romanesque, and medieval architecture.

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These handmade clothes and decorations were sold by an elderly Croatian woman I was unable to photograph.

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During our walking tour, I was distracted by this tasty-looking display of ice cream…

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…especially this one!

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This is the Sea Organ of Zadar, the first pipe organ played by the sea!  It harnesses the power of the sea and plays music.  Underneath the steps, there are 35 tubes that are musically tuned.  The sound comes through whistles that are on the sidewalk.  Musical chords are generated by the movement of the sea that pushes air through the pipes.  The types of chords produced depends on the velocity and size of the waves.  I could only imagine what it must sound like in a storm!

Finally, we arrived at La Perla, docked in Zadar.

Stay tuned for a complete tour of La Perla in Part 2!

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 9, ISTRIAN PENINSULA, CROATIA

The Istrian Peninsula is considered to be one of the most beautiful regions of Croatia, so we were looking forward to this day with great anticipation.  It did not disappoint.

We began in the ancient town of Pula, located at the southern tip of the peninsula.  It is best known for the Pula Arena, one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters, and one of the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world.

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Constructed in 27 BC – 68 AD, it was amazing to see how much was still standing.  I had experienced that same feeling of awe as when I toured the Coliseum in Rome, and the Acropolis in Greece.  It was hard to wrap my mind around just how old it was and how it was built.

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There was a stark contrast, though, between the ancient arena and modern, high-tech concert stage that stood in the center of all that history.  It sort of ruined the mood when I tried to visualize what it must have been like prior to the year 681 when the arena was used for gladiatorial combats.  (On second thought, perhaps it was just as well!)

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The difference in color is where the limestone was pressure washed.  Unfortunately, it damaged the stone, so the operation was halted.

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After climbing to the upper level and exploring the views from the top, we ventured down to the underground passageways where gladiators and the wild animals they battled awaited their turn in combat.  Now, it is a museum where we learned more about the history of Pula Arena and the area.

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These were used to store and transport olive oil.

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Our guide, Nada, captivated us with the stories she told about the arena and her life.  It was shocking to hear how her grandfather, father, her, and her son were all born in the same hospital, but under different regimes/ countries (Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Croatia).  Of course, the languages were different during the first three regime changes, and they were required to learn them each time.

Next, our group visited the picturesque and romantic coastal town of Rovinj for lunch and a tour.  Once part of Venice’s mercantile empire, it has a distinctive Italian look and feel that makes it charming and quite photogenic.  When I read an article about Rovinj written by Rick Steves, I knew I would fall in love with the place.  It is his favorite Croatian town, so I anticipated it would be a highlight of the trip.  Reflecting back, it was my favorite town of all.

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The ceiling of the Church of St. Euphemia, built in 1736.  Paintings in this church date back to the 16th and 17th centuries

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Back in Opatija, we enjoyed taking a long walk after dinner along the promenade to get a feel for the bustling nightlife.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 8, OPATIJA, CROATIA

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Well, here we are just a few days before Christmas, and I am finally able to return to one of my favorite hobbies:  travel writing.  I had hoped to have this trip wrapped up by the end of the year; however, our busiest quarter of 2018 was even crazier than anticipated.  Add to that an impromptu ten-day trip back to my home state of California, and here I am finally getting to Day 8 of our summer trip.  We haven’t even made it to the boat yet!  We’re still in Opatijia…

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We began the day with a guided walking tour of this seaside resort town, including a portion of the 12-kilometer long promenade that followed the rugged coast.  Seeing that gorgeous, crystal clear water below was a distraction; I couldn’t wait to get in it for a nice, long swim!  Fortunately, that came later in the day.

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Opatijia was the vacation spot of choice for wealthy Viennese during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Today, it attracts wealthy sun and water lovers from mostly Italy, across the Adriatic Sea.  In addition to the beautiful water, upscale shops, restaurants, and hotels keep the tourists coming back year after year.

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Next, we boarded the bus for a scenic tour of Opatija Riviera’s villages, including Monscenice, one of the oldest settlements in the region.  Dating back over 1,000 years, this was such a charming little village! Perched high up above the sea, the views from Monscenice were breathtaking.  Poking around every corner with my camera was a blast.  This is what travel photography is all about!  I was in my element exploring this tiny village of 100 residents!

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Included in our tour guided by a local expert was a visit to a 500-year-old olive mill where we learned how olive oil is made.  We also tasted a delicious assortment of local brandies and honey.

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After returning to our hotel,  Bruce and I headed for the water where I had my first refreshing dip in the Adriatic Sea.  Known for visibility up to 200 feet, the 77-degree sea water was amazing to swim in.  I could see fish far up ahead with every stroke!  Swimming pools are never that clear!

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A full-on training session in the huge roped-off swim area built up my appetite, especially since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and it was now late afternoon.  Lunch wasn’t to be, though, because we (I!) had our heart set on walking up to the Kras chocolate and ice cream shop for an ice cream sundae!

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Kras is to Croatia as Ghiradelli is to the U.S.A; however, Kras’s chocolate, chocolate sauce, and chocolate ice cream are all tastier to me.  This was an unforgettable “lunch,” a gastronomical highlight of the trip!

To end the day before our group dinner, we attended an excellent lecture on everyday life in Croatia.  The talk was given by a retired professor, and we learned so many interesting things about the country.

For one, everything in the Croatian language (including names) revolves around nature.  The name for the month of April, for example, means “grass is growing” in the Croatian language.

We also learned that when communism ended, Croatia had a very difficult transition, economically.  A new government was formed from scratch, and they had to take on loans from other countries to rebuild the infrastructure.  Later, repaying those loans presented quite a financhial hardship.

An airline also needed to be established; so, over time, the country’s national airline was built up to a small fleet of fourteen airplanes, from just one.

Another challenge was that property that had been seized by the communists needed to be returned to their rightful owners.  It was a complicated mess!

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that medical care in the country is excellent—some of the best in the world.  Croatian doctors are well-educated and highly skilled.

Although medical care is “free,” it is paid for by the 16% taken out of each worker’s pay check.  Another 35% is deducted to pay for other government services.  As a result, the average Croatian takes home only about $1,000 per month salary, and half of that is spent on food.  This is quite a contrast to the 8% (on average) that Americans pays for food.

Since housing is relatively expensive, the typical married couple lives with one of their parents for nine years before they can afford to purchase their own house.

At least the benefits are good for working mothers.  A mother receives full salary after her child is born and is encouraged to stay home and bond with her baby for a full year.  The first month salary is paid by her company, and the remainder is paid by the 16% tax taken from each Croatian’s pay check.  If a mother has three children, she earns a full pension after 15 years of work.

Life in Croatia is slow and relaxed (so there aren’t many fast food restaurants in the country).  Due to this relaxed culture left over from the communist system, however, work productivity—and the economy—suffers.  A typical worker puts in only 5-1/2 hours of productive work in an eight-hour day.

The most common industries in Croatia are medicine/drugs, textiles, wood, furniture, and ship building, in addition to the 16% income earned from tourism (including medical tourism for inexpensive, top-quality surgeries).

Croatia has become the top destination in the world for small ship cruising, and Americans are increasingly choosing that option.  In 2017, only 50,000 Americans had visited the country; however, in the first half of 2018, 300,000 Americans had cruised Croatia.

What impressed me about Croatia was the country’s very low street crime rate, it has the 16th highest quality of life ranking (U.S.A. ranks 8th, and France is 1st), and it’s the 12th cleanest country in the world

A few fun facts:  Croatia also has the tallest people in the world and most Olympic medals per capita.  Here’s more:  torpedoes, neck ties, writing pens, miniskirts, and parachutes all originated in Croatia!

Those facts provided some interesting table conversation during our fabulous fish dinner, back at the hotel.  It was accompanied by a traditional performance of klapa singing by an excellent local group.

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The night concluded bidding farewell to Zoran, our fabulous and friendly bus driver who had been with us since the beginning, but was due for his vacation.  The following day, we would take on our new driver and tour the Istrian Peninsula.