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.

ROMANTIC RHINE RIVER

August 7, 1986; I remember it like yesterday.  Thirty years ago, Bruce took me on our first date.  We dined in Del Mar, California, at Bella Via and listened to the Bruce Cameron Jazz Ensemble.  It was a perfect night.

Three years later, we bought a house (coincidentally!) down the street from Bruce and Betty Cameron, and we married three years after that.

It has been a wonderful thirty years!

What better way to celebrate our thirty years together than cruising the romantic Rhine River through the Middle Rhine Valley?  Rolling hills of lush wine vineyards, fairy-tale castles, quaint towns—there isn’t anybody else in the world I would have rather shared it with than my amazing husband and best friend, Bruce.

After departing Rudesheim, we spent our afternoon on deck enjoying the beautiful scenery along the Rhine Gorge on our way to Cologne.  Castles dating back to the year 1000 amazed us, and the twists and turns of the Rhine delighted us.  It was a day to remember…

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Ehrenfels Castle (now in ruins) dates back to 1208.

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Mauserturm, 14th Century

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Reichenstein Castle was first built in 1100 and rebuilt in 1900.

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Sooneck Castle dates back to the late 1200’s.

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Furstenberg Castle (now in ruins) was built in 1219.

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Stahleck Castle was originally built in 1135!

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This was one of my favorites!  Pfalzgrafenstein Castle sits on the tiny island of Pfalz, and its sole purpose back in the day (early 1300’s!) was to generate revenue from boats traveling along the river.  Notice the castle in the background:  Gutenfels Castle.

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Another view of Gutenfels Castle

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A closer look at Gutenfels Castle

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Shonburg Castle, located above the town of Oberwesel (known as the “City of Towers”), is a bit of a mix of architectural styles.  Originally built in 1149, the castle was destroyed in 1689.  Since 1885, it has been built bit by bit into its current condition.  The newer section houses a famous hotel.

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Oberwesel, the “City of Towers” has 16 towers!

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Katz Castle is located above the town of St. Goarshausen.  It was first built in 1371; however, it was bombarded by Napolean in 1806.  it was rebuilt in the late 1800’s and is now privately owned and not open for visitors.

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Started in 1245 (and expanded several times since), Rheinfels Castle is the largest castle on the Rhine.  At one time, the castle covered five times its current area; however, most of it now is a ruin.  The other part includes a luxury hotel, wellness center, and restaurant.

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Maus (meaning “mouse”) Castle is located above the village of Wellmich and dates back to 1356.

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Vineyards blanket the landscape along the Rhine.

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Marksburg has the distinction of never having been destroyed.  Built in 1117, this castle was used for protection rather than as a residence for royal families.  Located above the town of Braubach, it is one of the principal sites for the UNESCO World Heritage Rhine Gorge.

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Located in Oberlahnstein, Martinsubrg Castle was built in the late 1300’s.

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Schloss Stolzenfels (Stolzenfels Castle), located in Koblenz, is a former medieval fortress castle.  It was a ruined 13th-century castle gifted to Frederick William in 1823, and he had it rebuilt as a 19th-century palace in Gothic Revival style.  Today, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

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Lahneck Castle, built in 1226,  is a medieval fortress located in the city of Lahnstein, south of Koblenz.  The 13th-century castle stands above the confluence of the Lahn River with the Rhine, opposite Stolzenfels castle.

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The Koblenz Cable Car crosses the Rhine where it meets the Mosel River.

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We completed our cruising journey for the day in Cologne where our ship tied up for the night and following day.  Check back for my next post on Cologne!

 

RAMBLIN’ AROUND RUDESHEIM

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What a charming wine-making town!  It’s no wonder Rudesheim am Rhein is one of Germany’s most visited tourist attractions.  Only the cathedral in Cologne (our next destination) draws more visitors from other countries.

Located on the Rhine Gorge, this quaint town of 10,000 residents is just too cute!  The Old Town is so adorable, I just wanted to wrap my arms around and hug it.

My mom and I had visited Rudesheim on our 2011 European river cruise, and I remembered swooning; it was love at first sight.

Riding the cable car up to Niederwalddenkmal (Niederwald Monument) was a lovely way to take in the views before returning to ramble around the town.  Built in 1870’s to 1880’s, it commemorates the Unification of Germany.

There is a lot more history to it than that, but you’ll have to Google it if you want to know more.  I was too distracted by the beauty of the vineyards below to pay much attention to our excellent guide who went on, and on, and… well, T.M.I.

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After returning by cable car to town, we enjoyed a leisurely ramble around.  The River Voyager was tied up along the riverbank in town, so it was very convenient to maximize our time without worrying about not returning to the boat in time for our afternoon departure.

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Coming up next:  Rhine