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

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

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






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

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




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


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


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

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






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.




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


























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


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

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



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


Ana is standing on the left.


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.


Everything here was homemade or home-grown.


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




It was 2007 when my mom and I took our second Vantage Travel river cruise (Belgium & Holland was our first), and we had chosen Eastern and Central Europe as our destination.  We enjoyed the countries we visited very much.

I never thought I would have the opportunity to return, but I was delighted when my suggestion to Bruce of going on a river cruise was met with enthusiasm.  Bruce suggested I choose the itinerary, so I opted for one that combined portions of two river cruises I had previously enjoyed and thought Bruce would enjoy.  The itinerary also included unfamiliar stops in Germany that would be new to both of us.

Germany was featured on the third river cruise I did with my mom, and I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and beautiful it was.  The country surpassed my expectations so much in every way that I wanted to share it with Bruce, especially since one side of his family was of German heritage.  My last name is German, so it is somewhere in my family tree as well.


Our journey started with a pre-extension in Prague, a post-cruise destination of my 2007 adventure.  I loved the city and couldn’t wait to share it with Bruce.

Upon our arrival from our red-eye flight from Atlanta, we immediately hit the streets to explore the old town, and St. Charles Bridge area.  Although it had been nine years since my previous visit, my memory served me well as I led Bruce through the cobblestone streets.  For a bit of a chuckle, we stopped on the hour to see the astronomical clock put on its little “show” for the tourists.  I’m not sure which was more fun—watching the clock or watching the crowd photograph the clock!







Prague has never suffered a major natural disaster or been the victim of an attack, so the architecture from hundreds of years ago remains intact.  If you enjoy seeing old architecture (and I mean, OLD; “New Town” buildings are from the 14th Century, and “Old Town” architecture dates back to the 13th Century!), this is the city for you!  Just be prepared for a neck ache from constantly looking up at the beautiful details on all the buildings!








The following day, we joined the others in our group for a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter, Old Town Square, and the St. Charles Bridge.  Prior to World War II, 120,000 Jews lived in the area; however, 80,000 were hauled off to concentration camps never to return alive.  The cemetery was so space challenged that bodies were buried 12 layers deep.  Today, there are only 2,000 Jews living in the Jewish Quarter of Prague.




Following our fascinating tour, we hiked up to the castle to enjoy views of the city and admire the architecture.  On the way back, we enjoyed casually meandering the streets on each side of the bridge along the river.







In lieu of lunch, we opted for a snack of “Trdelni’k,” a donut-like pastry shaped like a hollow coiled tube.  It was placed on end in a cup, filled with ice cream, and topped with Nutella.  It was the tastiest $4.50 treat we have ever shared!



Dinner in Prague was at a little restaurant along the cobblestone streets where they serve traditional fare—cuisine that is completely opposite of our normal healthy diet.  Bruce ordered duck which was served whole along with red cabbage and sauerkraut.  I opted for goulash served in a hollowed out small round of bread.  We also shared an appetizer of potato dumplings as well as a basket of bread served with pate.  Pilsner Urquell on tap was our beverage of choice for three reasons:  It is Czech Republic’s national beer, it has been voted the best pilsner in the world in major beer competitions, and it was less expensive than mineral water!  We enjoyed it all for a reasonable tab of $37.



Our next destination:  Bratislava…

Exploring St. Augustine’s Flagler College, Old Town & Spanish Quarter

After this morning’s swim, we headed back into the historic district of St. Augustine to tour Flagler College ( ) , formerly Hotel Ponce de Leon. This gorgeous centerpiece of St. Augustine was built in 1888 by railroad magnate (and Standard Oil co-founder), Henry Flagler. Completed in only 18 months, thanks to running 2-12 hour shifts of workers non-stop, it was built as an exclusive and opulent playground for the world’s most privileged elite. The hotel was only open during the three nicest months of the year (and guests had to pay to stay the entire season), so only the richest of the rich could afford to stay there to enjoy lavish balls, gourmet meals, music, and art.







Today, the hotel is Flagler College, founded in 1968. $54 million was spent to restore and preserve the buildings that now house 2,600 students getting a college education to the tune of $25,000 per year, including room and board.

Our tour was conducted by John, a second year history student at Flagler College. It was quite interesting; especially the stories about when it was a posh hotel. No expense was spared to construct the hotel; there is 24-carat gold leaf on the rotunda’s ceiling and Tiffany stained glass windows throughout the dining hall. And, yes, students who live on campus dine in this hall every day, three meals per day. How would you like to dine here?




The ladies parlor of the hotel, still used today for special college functions, was quite posh. There were several ornate crystal chandeliers and a fireplace with an Edison clock, surrounded by a white onyx work of art; the second largest white onyx piece in the world.


I hope those 2,600 college kids appreciate where they are getting their education!




Lunch was at another Trip Advisor find: Gaufres & Goods ( ), where we split four different types of perogies and a spinach pie. This is one of the restaurants on a food walking tour, so I knew it would live up to its great write-ups. We were not disappointed.

Along the way, in between our tour and lunch, we strolled more of the streets of Old Town and Spanish Quarter; the oldest, most interesting and picturesque areas of St. Augustine, in my opinion.





It was another burner of a day, so we broke it up with a stop to split a piece of frozen key lime pie on a stick, dipped in Belgian Chocolate ( ). HEAVEN.

On the way back to the cottage, we stopped back at Kyle’s Seafood Market for another fresh catch for dinner. This time, we picked up some very fresh yellow tailed snapper, and enjoyed it for dinner after our evening stroll on the beach. We didn’t enjoy it as much as the cobia, but it sure was good!