Croatia October 3, 2021

Headed home!

We got up this morning at our usual time of 7:00, showers and headed for breakfast.

We departed La Perla at 9:00 and were picked up by a Mercedes van arranged by Vantage as part of our package, headed to the airport in Dubrovnik.  At the airport we met up with Paolo who walked us through the checkin process. We then walked to the UAL counter and checked our bags, we had uploaded the results from our Covid Antigen test yesterday so we were good to go.

We cleared immigration and security and we’re now sitting in the United Business Lounge awaiting boarding at about noon. Were flying from Dubrovnik to Newark NJ where we will clear immigration and Customs and board a flight to Richmond arriving at 8:30 and then drive home.

When Mike entered this post, he did not realize the frustrations that this travel would bring.  First of all, his boarding pass from Dubrovnik to Newark was marked “SSSS,” which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection.  It is supposedly, a random selection – but it has happened to him before. So, as they scanned his boarding pass, a Security agent came over, took his boarding pass and passport, isolated him for special screening.  I won’t tell you what that entailed other than he was not happy.  They were checking another man at the same time. They handed Mike a passport and boarding pass – not his! But, the other gentleman was no where to be found. Luckily they were on the same flight. Meanwhile, I am settled in on the plane and I hear the flight attendant paging Michael Rohde.  Shortly, a flight attendant walks back to Mike’s seat, looking for him. I told her he was pulled out for special screening and she incredulously asked me how she had his passport and boarding pass. Like I would know how that happened! It gets straightened out, but the flight attendants have taken dinner orders and, when they finally check in with Mike, his first choice is not available. Now he is angry.

The impact of that SSSS stretched across the Atlantic to Newark.  We used Global Entry to get through Immigration, Customs was a breeze after our suitcases finally showed up.  We rechecked them on to Richmond. Unfortunately, we had to go through TSA security check point before continuing on to our connecting flight. That insidious SSSS had voided TSA PreCheck for Mike, meaning he had to go through the regular check point: remove his shoes and belt, power up the airbook, etc. Now to most of us, removing our shoes is not a big deal, but TSA has removed most benches and places to put yourself back together. Mike needs a bench to get his shoes back on. And, we had a short layover in which to get from Terminal C to Terminal A, in an airport where NJ has failed to improve the HVAC and it is as hot as Hades. As you can imagine, not a good scene at all. Luckily we made our flight to Richmond and were able to drive the hour and a half home.

We got home to Morgan doing zoomies around the living room! So happy to see us!

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Croatia October 2, 2021

The harbor at Cavtat, Croatia

We left La Perla before nine and boarded our bus for Cavtat. At Cavtat we caught up with Paolo for a walking tour. The bay here is very well protected cut back into the shore and protected by three islands near its mouth: St Barbara, St Peter, and St Mark. Remember: the majority of Croatia’s citizens are Catholic. The town is home now to only 2500 people. It is the last town in southern Croatia (Montenegro is less than 30 minutes south) and serves as the administrative center for the area. The bay itself ranges from 3 to 30 feet deep and is bordered by a palm lined promenade with shops and restaurants.

The palm lined promenade at Cavtat. The palms are closely monitored since they are under attack by weevils who weaken the trees until the tree dies.

As the southern entry point to the Adriatic, it became a significant trading point for ancient Greeks. In 168 BC, Cavtat was taken over by the Romans. Since the residents pledged their allegiance to Julius Caesar, it was a peaceful takeover and Caesar granted them the title of a Roman Colony, affording them status and a certain degree of autonomy.

When the Slav invaders came, they flattened the town and eliminated any vestiges of the Romans. At that time Cavtat had 40,000 residents, only 8 families survived and as refugees they moved up the coast to develop Dubrovnik.

Water polo is a big sport and we were fortunate to spot a match during our visit. As we walked by the bay, Paolo pointed out that the sea urchins protect themselves from the UV rays of the sun by hiding under shells and pieces of stone. May tourists think the male sea urchins are decorating themselves to attract females or that the females decorate themselves with “jewelry.”  These sea urchins thrive where the waters are very clear and clean. So they are a good sign for swimming, but can be difficult if a swimmer steps on them.

Paolo shared a tidbit that Yugoslavia was one of the first countries that opened to a nudist colony. In fact, King Edward 8 and Wallis Simpson asked for permission to swim and sunbathe nude during a visit here and, of course, it was granted.

An original tile roof

We passed a structure with a brownish tile roof. Paolo explained that it was one of the original roofs of clay tile.   The tiles are usually 10 inches long, weighed a lot, and made by potters in Dubrovnik in medieval times.  Usually the potter shaped the tile over his thigh, resulting in its curved shape.

Franciscans were sent in 1427 to convert population to Catholicism. Over time they constructed the Monastery of Our Lady of the Snow, so named for a legend about it snowing in August. The complex is cloistered, one story, and rectangular with a church in the eastern end and a garden in the north wing. A cistern was built in 1878 for the use of sailors. The roof was currently being replaced.

Pine trees were planted to replace the vineyards killed by the phylloxera epidemic, introduced by botanists from Victorian England who collected specimens from American vines in the 1850’s. Europe and especially France were hit very hard.

As we walked around the peninsula, we saw a huge boat belonging to a Russian businessman who owns or used to own the Chelsea soccer team. He supposedly  paid 610 million dollars US for it, but it was not, in my opinion, a very attractive boat. It did have a huge “garage” to house his toys like runabouts, jet skis, etc. So maybe its attractiveness was its functionality.

Ivor, whose family owns the mills and his helper in traditional garb.

We left Cavtat and headed a bit farther south to Gruba, where we met Ivor whose family has owned an old mill for generations. We were greeted with a snack of figs, sweetened orange rind, and almonds accompanied by various brandies. I tried the loquat brandy: it was sweet and scrumptious. They also had walnut brandy, grappe, and cherry brandy.

The mills were built in the 16th century to harness the power of water to make daily life in the countryside easier. At one point there were 10 mills for grinding corn and flour, a few used in the process of making olive oil, and a few for fulling wool (the process of beating it to compress the fibers into a tighter weave.) Use of the mills ceased in 1965 but between 20 and 15 years ago, Ivor’s family reconstructed two of them by fabricating new wooden parts to make them operational.

After touring the mills, we were afforded a lunch of ham (prosciutto) and cheese, warm bread baked under a steel dome and wood fire, and, of course, local red or white wine.

Then, back to La Perla to prepare for our farewell dinner and to prepare for tomorrow’s departure.

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Croatia October 1, 2021

We were at anchor overnight at Slona Bay. While we had breakfast, the captain raised the anchor and set off for the Old Town of Dubrovnik. We were treated to a waterside view of Dubrovnik’s wall, familiar to many from Game of Thrones. The Old Port is a well sheltered harbor used today by small boats and tourist boats. Our tender from La Perla dropped us there. We met Paolo, our guide, for a walking tour of Old Town. Our first stop was the Arsenal, which we had discovered on this trip was not a munitions storage, but was a dry dock for building ships.  Dubrovnik’s shipbuilders were so skilled that spies would try to appropriate their techniques, so to combat that theft the arches were walled up as construction began and were not exposed until the ships were launched. Dubrovnik was not founded by the Greeks or Romans but was founded in the 7th century by fugitives a nearby town. It came under Byzantine and Venetian rule, but finally gained its independence in 1382 when it became the Republic of Ragusa. It flourished from the trade routes that criss crossed the Adriatic to become a great maritime republic. It was devastated by an earthquake in 1667; the Old Town was largely rebuilt afterwards. In 1991 and 1992 it was the target of heavy bombing by Yugoslav troops. But, Dubrovnik has rebounded and attracts visitors and filmmakers alike.  Most know that much of Game of Thrones was filmed here.  The walls date to the 10th century and offer stunning views from the guards’ walkway. They contain a total of 776 steps. In the 13th century they were modified to make them thicker, a stronger fortification. The walls are 6,,363 feet long and at their highest are 82 feet. Those facing inland are 20 feet wide. Visitors walk anti clockwise around the walls.

Paolo gave us insight into Dubrovnik’s early government and polices that seemed progressive for the time as we walked the Loggis square, the political and economic center at the east end of the Stradum surrounded by important buildings. Today it is still a popular meeting place. Orlando’s Column, built by sculptor Antonio Ragusino in 1418 was being restored or renovated while we were there. The Church of St Blaise was rebuilt in early 18th century according to a 17th century design. St Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik, but may actually be a fictional character. There are statues of St Blaise everywhere. Not far away, the Cathedral was built after the earthquake in 1667 and the Cathedral Treasury houses reliquaries and sacred objects. The nearby Rector’s Palace was the seat of the most important government institutions. It housed the Upper and Lower Council as well as the rector’s Quarters. It was built in the 15th century on the site of a medieval fortress. It now houses the Cultural Historical Museum with items from the 16th to 20th centuries. Next door is the 1863 Town Hall, home to a cafe and a theater.

We strolled by the daily street market and then walked the Stradun or wide main street that runs east to west and follows the line that separated the island from the mainland. Just off the Stradun, we found the old Jewish Quarter. Then we continued down towards the Pile Gate, the main city gate with another statue of St Blaise. Nearby was the Big Fountain of Onofrio, built in 1438 by Onofrio de la Cava, who designed the City’s water system. Water from the fountain is very drinkable. 

We entered the small Church of St Saviour, where we were treated to a private concert by a classical quartet (Kvartet Sorkocevic: consisting of Dive Kuselj on the flute, Slobodan Begic on the violin, Denis Ajdukovic on bass, and Nina Corak on the piano).  They played: L Sorkocevic’s  Symphony No 1 D Major Allegro, T. Albinoni’s Adagio, Mozart’s Overture Figaro’s Hochzeit, V Billi’s Fantasia Tripolina, F Drdla’s Serenade, Ch Gounod’s Ave Maria, and G Rossini’s Overture Italian Girl in Algeria.

Afterwards we visited the Franciscan Monastery, whose construction began in 1317 and finally completed the following century. It was mostly rebuilt after the earthquake but the 15th century cloister escaped damage. The third oldest pharmacy in use since 1317 is located within its walls.

We lunched at Oliva in town and skipped lunch aboard La Perla. As we dined we saw Stefan and his son, Luka. Luka is just like his Dad, outgoing and gregarious saying CHOW to everyone. Stefan told him it was Mike’s Birthday and he sang Happy Birthday in Croatian. Then we spent time in the Rector’s Palace. We headed back to the Old Harbor to catch the tender back to La Perla and met Stefan’s wife. La Perla was moving at 2:45 PM to the new harbor in the Bay of Gruz so we could tie up to the dock.  We ended up rafting up (being the fourth boat from the dock!)  At 5 PM, the Covid testing folks came aboard and tested those of us leaving for home on Sunday.

Anna and Teresa

At 6 PM we walked through the three boats closest to the dock, disembarked, and took a bus driven by Bruno through winding narrow roads to Gromaca, a small village of about 100 people (80 of whom are related) where we divided into three groups and were hosted for a family dinner at a regular household by Tereza and her niece Anna. We were greeted with a grappa

Rose wine

with herbs or rose petal brandy, fresh figs, orange peel candy,

Traditional Dubrovnik stuffed peppers,, stuffed with onions, rice and pork

and grapes – all made/grown by Tereza. Anna showed us their smoke house and garden, then invited us in for dinner. We had vegetable soup, Tereza’s red wine, homemade bread, Tereza’s olive oil, stuffed peppers, mashed potatoes, and a dessert of rozata (Croatian flan or creme

Rozata

caramel custard). All the while, Anna answered our questions about daily life in this part of Croatia.

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Croatia September 30, 2021

We motored from the anchorage into the dock at the island of Korcula for our visit. We met our guide on the dock who gave us an overview of the town and then let us have free time to wander at our leisure.

Our guide for Korcula

Her tour covered some facts about the area and its history. There are dense forests of Aleppo pine, cypress, and oak all over the island. The island is one of the largest in the Adriatic (about 29 miles long.) Mountains run the length of it, reaching 1837 feet at their peak. Korcula has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The island was named Black Corfu by the Greeks when they came and negotiated a peaceful settlement with the existing residents. We even saw pieces of the document written in stone that detailed the settlement.  After 1000 AD, Venice and the Croatian kings fought over Korcula; and later the Genoese and Venetians. Today it is popular vacation spot for its cliffs and sandy beaches and quaint villages. The main town is Korcula Town, the area of our walking tour. 

a short description of sword dance

Our guide told us about the Moreska sword dance, performed for festivals and especially on July 29, St Theodore’s feast day, the patron saint of Korcula. It is often repeated on Mondays and Thursdays during the summer for the tourist crowd.

Korcula Town sits along a peninsula surrounded by 13th century walls.  In the 15th century, towers and bastions were added by the Venetians after the town fell under their control.

 

The grands steps of the Land Gate

There is a 14th century gateway to the city called the Land Gate. It was fortified by a huge tower the Revelin. A moat once surrounded this but it was replaced by a grand sweeping staircase in the 19th century. Narrow paved streets branch out from the main road that were designed to lessen the impact of the bura wind. St Mark’s Cathedral built in pale honey colored stone is the town’s main monument. Most of it dates from the end of the 15th century and reflects the skill of Korcula’s sculptors and masons.  Details on the exterior include the doorway, where two lions guard the entrance, decorated with thin spiral columns and a lunette with the figure of St Mark. On the left a bell tower can be climbed. Next to the cathedral in the Bishops Palace is the Abby Treasury known for its Venetian and Dalmatian art. Across the square, the 16th century Gabriells Palace houses a town museum. 

Kimberly with Marco Polo

Our free time was spent exploring the winding streets, peeking in the shops, and we returned to La Perla in time for lunch. We discovered that Marco Polo was reputed to have been born here.

On board, we had an Olive Oil tasting. We learned the precise technique to taste the oil and the properties of a high quality oil. We also learned the olive oil process from beginning to end from Stefan. Most agreed that Croatian olive oil is very tasty. In fact, it has been highly regarded by judges in recent competitions.

The most important olive (Olea europaea L.) cultivar in Croatia is ‘Oblica’, which is cultivated in all growing regions and makes up ≤ 75% of all olive trees. A total of 36 typical ‘Oblica’ trees were sampled from five growing regions in Croatia. An analysis of 12 morphological traits revealed high variability among the samples. Geographical latitude had the greatest influence (r = 0.276) on morphological characteristics, followed by longitude (r = 0.223), and altitude (r = 0.127). The correlation between all 12 morphological characteristics and geographical coordinates was 25.7%, which indicates a strong environmental influence on morphology. Molecular identification of the 36 samples, based on AFLP markers, suggested that intra-cultivar genetic variability was limited (4.82%). These results suggest that a few closely-related clones constitute the genetic structure of ‘Oblica’, while the observed morphological diversity is due to environmental factors.

Mali Ston Oysters

We moved on to an Oyster Tasting on the sun deck. Traces of oyster farming in the Mali Ston Bay have existed since the period of Roman rule in this area. The first written documents on shellfish hunting date from the 16th century, and on breeding from the 17th century, records from the time of the Dubrovnik Republic. The family of a local waterman has been in the oyster farming business for generations and they offer you authentic oyster tasting tours. We learned everything about Ostrea Edulis oysters considered by many to be the finest from a local waterman who brought them aboard La Perla, and tasted them to discover why have they been judged highly so many times.

The bay of Mali Ston located on Pelješac peninsula has a unique mix of freshwater and seawater. This is essential component that makes their oysters unique in the world.  They are reputed to be a natural aphrodisiac. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and lust, was born, as artists see it, in a shell. And if you ask the people of Mali Ston, they have no doubt that the shell was an oyster. Ostrea edulis – specie of oysters grown only in Mali Ston bay are specific for their taste and very difficulte to grow. They are harmed by any kind of sea pollution and their presence is confirmation that the sea is extremely clean. The best way to serve oysters is directly from the sea, with a splash of lemon.

The waterman brought along a red wine made by his grandfather for us to enjoy as well.

Mike’s birthday tart

At dinner aboard La Perla we celebrated Mike’s birthday. We started with spinach salad, butternut squash soup with pumpkin seeds, sea bream with beetroot risotto. For dessert the chef made a chocolate tart with candles on it. Instead of blowing them out (CoVid after all) he pinched the flame out with his fingers.  Every passenger on the ship received a slice and a taste of brandy.  Those at our table had mistletoe brandy we purchased from Aura in Split.  The Bakers gave Mike a Marco Polo polo shirt from Korcula, where legend has it that Marco Polo was bor

n

 

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Croatia September 29, 2021

Karmen, our tour guide for Hvar Town and Stari Grad. She and her husband farm 4 acres spread over 15 plots and sell essential oils and lavender

We left Split at 6 am and motored to the island of Hvar where we anchored out in a calm bay. We tendered into shore and met Karmen, our tour guide for the morning.  Hvar is viewed by many as one of the jewels of the Adriatic for its mild climate, good beaches, and fields of lavender that bloom in June and July.  In the 4th C BC, the Greeks founded Pharos, now Stari Grad and Hiver (now Hvar Town). The Romans, Byzantines, medieval Croatian kings and Venetians have all left their mark here. In the 1880’s Hvar was promoted as a health and wellness resort. 

Our tour of Hvar Town included its harbor, one of the most glamorous in the Adriatic. It did not become the main town on the island until 15th century Governors decided its harbor was easier to defend than the one at Stari Grad and ordered all the island’s noble families to move here. Eventually it became one of the most important ports for Venetian fleets trading with the Orient. 

The arsenal was built in the late 16th century as a dry dock for Venetian boats. Theater was built above in 1612, one of the oldest in Europe. Karmen recounted how the theater became open to all classes after a rebellion which attempted to reduce the social conflict between the plebes (working class) and the aristocrats. The Cathedral of St Stephen with its 17th century bell tower dominates the north side of the main square. The narrow streets to the right were simple structures that housed the plebes. To the left of this square lived the aristocrats. We saw the Hecktorovic Palace, a unique home that was under construction without a roof for 500 years. It probably deserves a place in the Guiness Book of World Records.

Agave Lace made by Benedictine nuns

We visited a Benedictine Convent founded in the 17th century home to nuns who make, display, and sell traditional lace made from AGAVE!

On the hill above the town is the 16th century Citadel. Its perch on the hill affords fabulous views of the harbor and the town.  We learned that Ivan Vucetic was born in Hvar in 1925. He emigrated to the Argentina in 1882 to become a police officer and changed his name to Juan Vucetich Kovacevich.  After dabbling in fingerprint technology, in 1892 he made the first positive identification in a case where Francesca Rosa killed her two children, then cut her own throat, trying to blame an outside attacker. A bloody fingerprint identified her as the attacker. Argrentine police adopted his methods and it spread throughout other police departments.

We boarded a bus and headed out of town checking out vineyards, olive orchards, and lavender fields to Stari Grad, founded in the 4th century and originally called Pharos. Along the way, Karmen told us that she and her husband farm 4 acres with lavender but that it is spread over 15 plots. Water was a direly needed commodity, but it rains only 2 to 7 inches of rain a year.  Tito, in an attempt to gain support, or support troops nearby, established a water link for residents. Water is expensive but necessary to grow living things. Farmers also carry cans of water down the hills to their plots to nurture their plants. It takes 40 kilos of lavender flowers for 1 liter of essential lavender oil. Karmen gave etc of us a sachet and a vial of lavender oil.

Stari Grad on Hvar Island

Stari Grad is at the end of a long bay and is a town of small stone structures and tiny streets. Karmen walked us through the town. We saw the residence of the poet Peter Hektorovic, whose philosophy was leading edge for his time. He hoped to create lodging for those who were homeless and his home contains connections both to land and sea. The sea connection was a pond of mullet who were so well fed, they never left their pool through the gateway provided to the sea. It seems freedom wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be for them.

Just outside the town was the Ager a fertile plain that still has the same field plan established by the ancient Greek inhabitants who cultivated wine, figs, and olives. The Ager was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008.

We returned to Hvar Town and boarded the tenders to return to the boat for lunch. After lunch we took a boat ride around the islands, viewed the lighthouse, and returned. Then it was time to jump off the stern of the boat into the Adriatic. The sea was very salty, so buoyancy was not a problem, but there was a current so we had to work to stay close to La Perla.

After a quick shower to remove the salt water, we sat on the fan deck, watching the sun set in the west, and moved into the dining room for dinner: tuna carpaccio with aoili, potato leek soup with olive oil, pepper, and crunchy chips, either octopus or rack of lamb with sweet potato gratin with Romanesco (hazelnut) and an espuma. For dessert, we enjoyed a pear panne cotta with pear au jus and toasted almonds. Of course, accompanied by local wines.

The Two Tanyas

The evening meal was followed by a group from Split, The Two Tanyas.



We left Hvar and headed to the island of Korcula. We anchored out overnight.

 

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Croatia September 28, 2021

Our guide in Split

We docked in Split last night after leaving Sibenik. In the 4th century AD the Roman Emperor Diocletian built a huge palace for his retirement not far from Salona, where he was born.  He was the first Roman Emperor to retire after ruling for about 20 years. The others were usually assassinated by a rival to take their place. We met our guide Veranda on the dock near the entrance to Diocletian’s palace. She explained that split may have gotten its name from a bush similar to scotch broom which grows wild here, though Split is much a shortened version of its name.

Today Split is a modern city of shipyards and a busy port, but the remains of Diocletian’s palace complex are reminders of its ancient roots. After Diocletian’s death, the complex was abandoned and was not inhabited until the Ottoman Empire threatened the nearby town of Salona in 614, and the townspeople took refuge in the palace complex and gave it new life. Much of the palace complex was repurposed into other uses, Diocletian’s mausoleum became the Cathedral of St Dominius, the Temple of Jupiter became the Baptistry of St John, Diocletian’s private quarters were destroyed, the quarters for the soldiers and servants were reconfigured as housing and shops.

Part of the remains of Diocletian’s Palace

The repurposed areas of the palace are dotted with public squares and gathering spaces coexisting with the remains of the Roman and Venetian times.  There are places where you can see the various eras built on one era and expand by another.  The former mausoleum, now Cathedral of St Dominius, was consecrated in the 7th century when the sarcophagus containing Diocletian’s body was removed and replaced, interestingly enough, by the remains of St Dominius, whom Diocletian had martyred as part of his persecution of early Christians. 

The access to the emperor’s former private quarters has a tall arched tympanum, the decorative feature over the door. The area had been paved over in 1960 and we stood in what was once his banquet hall, where in his time, he would have reclined while he, his family, and guests binged for hours or even days. An adjacent space was a vomitarium. No explanation necessary. Only a few original decorations remain: two patches of mosaic floor, a sphinx brought from Greece, most niches are empty of decoration. There had been 12 sphinx statues but they were all destroyed when the Catholics took over. They were cut up and the remaining one was cut into two pieces but they were able to put it back together.  The reception gallery was a cylindrical room, which had lost its roof in WWII when a bomb dropped through the roof but failed to detonate. We found a quartet of Dalmatian singers there selling their CDs and singing for visitors.

The statue of Gregory of Nin

Near the west gate or Iron Gate, the Church of Our Lady of the Belfry, has the city’s oldest early Romanesque bell tower built in 1081. Near the North gate or Golden Gate, we found a Merlin-like statue of Gregory of Nin, the work of Ivan Mestrovic. Gregory was a Bishop of Nin, who was unsuccessful in becoming the Primate of Dalmatian bishops – a sort of archbishop. He was a champion of the people because he wanted to say the Mass in Croatian instead of Latin, but permission was never granted – though he continued to do so. 

We strolled through an area that had been the Jewish Quarter, but under Fascist occupation most indications of the Jewish faith had been “sanitized.” However, Europe’s third oldest still active synagogue is built into the west wall of Diocletian’s palace.

The Aura Distillery outlet in Split, where Mike purchased Mistletoe Brandy (Biskar)

Prokurative: arcaded neo-classical buildings on Republic Square, modeled after St Mark’s Square in Venice

During our free time, we found an Aura Distillery outlet where we purchased some mistletoe brandy, Biskar, that we had tasted in Opatija. We checked out the fish market which was winding down, the daily market by the Silver Gate, the meat market, Republic Square (modeled after St Mark’s Square in Venice built in 1863 and 1928), strolled the riva (the promenade along the dock, peeked into shop windows, made our way back to La Perla for lunch.

Then simply relaxed until 5 pm when we were treated to a lecture on the history of Yugoslavia by Stefan.  He recounted how the various ethnic groups settled parts of  the former Yugoslavia, how the area was under siege from various groups trying to control the Balkan Peninsula for its very lucrative trade routes between Asia and Europe, how each of the conquering armies left an impact on the people, how resentment for foreign power gave Tito his rise to power, the ugly and the good of Tito, how in 1976 Tito amended the constitution to allow individual republics to conduct referenda to leave Yugoslavia, how after his death Serbia tried to control the region with a heavy hand, how as a result republics tried to break off, how evil forced international communities to get involved, and how these countries are moving more and more to the EU. Stefan was able to include the economic, cultural, procedural, and historic factors that had an impact on the evolution of these countries. Throughout it all, Stefan’s passion for his country and for history were evident and he included personal tidbits from his family to make it real

 

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Day 7 Monday September 27, 2021

We explored some of the Adriatic’s most stunning landscapes today. Our first stop was Krka National Park, where waterfalls tumble through dramatic gorges. At this time of year the water was low; it is more dramatic and forceful after the spring snow melt.  After a quick orientation at the beginning of the park, we walked on the trails around the falls and took a boat ride from magnificent Krka Falls to Skradin. The path was crowded with other visitors taking advantage of the warm weather and the outdoor spaces. The boat ride covered a gorgeous view of the the cavern that makes up the park.  We saw several swans on the lake, and as we approached they dunked their heads and necks under the water to feed on grasses on the bottom and showed us their bottoms! The Krka River forms the basis of this national park.  It was declared a park in 1985. The travertine that forms the hillsides is worn away by the water that flows and creates the beautiful waterfalls we were able to see.

Our trail through the park took about an hour of walking up and down the slopes of the boardwalk. A tricky proposition for Mike at times.  But – no falls and no slips! All is good.

We also visited Jurlinovi Dvori, a Dalmatian estate with an ethnographic gallery. The estate is a stone structure nestled into the hillside. The wings/rooms of the structure are arranged in a u-shape around a lovely courtyard covered with a pergola supporting grape vines. We explored the various rooms and structures of his family’s home. The well was just outside the kitchen door. The dining room was reached from the courtyard and was separate from the kitchen. One area was dedicated to a storage room or workshop, another was sleeping quarters. He shared his story with us.  He is a priest and has dedicated his life to his religion and his history. He was born in 1942 during Italy’s Facist occupation. The villagers were accused of spying for the Allies, so soldiers rounded up the villagers and started executing them. He lost most of his family, including father and uncles and grandfather. The room where his grandfather died, he has converted to a chapel. There is an adjacent well tended garden, a gentle donkey, and a young woman in traditional dress working on lace, which she offered for sale.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch, typical of the peasants who lived here, prepared with centuries-old local traditional ingredients and homemade products, including Babić wine, derived from Primosten vineyards, strong and dry and like the harsh land it grew on. We were served cheese, ham, and pickles (served family style), bread, and vegetable soup.

Upon returning to Sibenik, we met our local guide on the dock and set off on a one hour walking tour through the ancient steep streets and arched passages. Sibenik thrived under Venetian rule between 1412 and 1797 developing into a lively cultural center. The French took over, then the Austrians until 1917. We saw one of the first electric street light installations implemented by Nikolai Tesla and nearby saw a 150 year old wisteria. Then we visited the Cathedral of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is built of local stone and it has 71 stone heads on its perimeter. Croatian and international experts worked for several years to restore it after it had been shelled in 1991. The dome is built from interlocking slabs of stone. Below the dome is a square structure of stones that are not held together with mortar – they are simply fitted. Construction on the cathedral started in 1432. The baptistry has intricate carvings and was illuminated by natural light. The cathedral itself has a barrel roof of local stone and is a testament to the skill of the stone cutters. The facade includes a rose window and has only one door. The doorway is Gothic, decorated with sculptures of saints ascending the arch.

As we sailed toward Split, we soaked up views of St. Anthony’s Channel and UNESCO-designated St. Nicholas Fortress.

 

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Croatia Day 6 Sunday September 26, 2021

We left our hotel at 8:30 am, heading south to Zadar, where we will board La Perla, late this afternoon. We passed through a lush countryside dotted with tiny villages and churches, and farms. Stefan briefed us on our schedule for the next few days. He recounted stories of some Croatian inventors; the pen, the torpedo, and the parachute are Croatian inventions. He acquainted us with some highly regarded Croatian sports figures in soccer, basketball, water polo, rowing, and tennis. Sports are not related or affiliated with universities here; they are generally a function of local or municipal sports clubs. 

Weddings here are big, often including 200 to 300 guests, including extended family. Usually, the event is planned in the groom’s village. On wedding day, the groom with his family goes to bride’s home, where the groom asks for the bride’s hand in marriage from the bride’s father. Then they all go to where the ceremony will be performed. In some areas Church is chosen as primary venue, but a civil ceremony is a must for the marriage to be recognized. The reception is usually held at a hotel, the only places large enough to accommodate a crowd of that size.  The groom’s family usually picks up the tab.  Gifts used to be given to the young couple, but now the gift is usually envelope with money.

As we approached the mountains called the St. Roc, or Wall, we passed by the little village of Smiljan, where Nikola Tesla was born in 1856. It is a small village, and they have erected a billboard along the high speed road with a photo of him and proclaiming that he was born here!

We went through a six kilometer tunnel through the mountains and burst out the other side onto the Dalmatian coast, where the landscape is pure limestone with bushes on top. The aura or north wind brings cold weather; the south wind brings warm but wet weather.

We lunched at Zadar Jadera in Zadar before our walking tour of Zadar. Lunch started with marinated sardines with shrimp, local tuna steak with polenta and tomato sauce, and for dessert cream cake! Of course, accompanied by local wine.

Our guide for our walking tour was Tamara, who pointed out the sites and history of the area. The area was fairly quiet since it was Sunday but the sun felt great! The remains of the Roman era forum served as the foundation of many of the buildings. The forum had been the center of public life in ancient times. Zadar suffered much damage during the bombing of WWII. And this area is hodgepodge of ruins.

Just off the old forum is the Church of St Donat, a cylindrical church built in the 9th century. It has not been used as a church for several centuries, having served as a warehouse and museum. It is now used for concerts with its remarkable acoustics.

The Bell Tower of the Cathedral of St Anastasia is nearby, the cathedral itself has a pink exterior. It was founded by the Byzantines in the 9th century and was rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 12th to 13th centuries.

There is a large column, called the pillar of shame, where thieves and other miscreants were tied and exposed to abuse by the people of Zadar. Along the seaboard, Zadar has a Sea Organ, a musical instrument controlled and operated by nature. Nikola Basic designed the Sea Organ, where the white steps quayside produce musical chords as the waves push air up through tubes. Variations in waves and wind produce variations in the tones that are emitted.

Nearby is the Greeting to the Sun, set on the seaside it consists of 300 solar collectors which absorb sunlight by day, then release light patterns at night in a multicolored display like a disco scene. There was also a sea organ, pipes are placed in the sea wall and air escapes from the promenade and create a musical sound.

We met the group at 3:30 and boarded La Perla, our home for the next 7 nights. After we were escorted to our cabins, we endured a safety briefing and met the crew. Shortly, we left the harbor for our next destination. Under sail, at 7PM, we had dinner of Seafood Ceviche, Cauliflower Soup, Duck Breast or Sea Bass with Fondant Potato, Garden Peas Puree, and Butternut Espuma, Dessert was Chocolate Brownie with Chocolate Ice Cream.

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Croatia Day 5 September 25, 2021

Touring Roman Pula and the Istrian Peninsula

We explored one of the most beautiful regions of western Croatia on a full-day tour of the Istrian Peninsula. As we drove into the countryside, we drove through. Grey Istria, called that because of all the limestone, transitioned into green Istria with its oak trees and fertile hunting grounds for truffles, both black and white. Then we entered into red Istria with its characteristic red soil.  

On the way,  Stefan entertained us with yugo jokes. Yugos were produced in Yugoslavia during the 70’s and 80’s and had the reputation of being the worst automobile in the world – BUT they were cheap and spare parts were plentiful – even available in grocery stores. They never evolved or changed, stayed the same throughout its production. One of Stefan’s jokes was “what is the most useful and important page in the yugo user manual?” Answer: “The Bus Schedule!” Or, whenever you go, it doesnt!  How about “what do you call a yugo on top of the hill?” Answer: A miracle!  “Why is the rear window in a Yugo heated?” Answer, so you warm your hands when you push it!  We even saw a red Yugo in a traffic circle on the way.

Discussion shifted to the latest technology under current development to the fastest car in the world. Developed by a young man here in Croatia, the electric concept model by Rimac is expected to cost about $2M. It is so trendsetting Bugatti and Porsche have invested in the company. Rimac will focus on development of new technologies in electric cars, batteries, etc.

Our tour also took us to the picturesque coastal town of Rovinj, which was part of Venice’s mercantile empire and has a distinctive Venetian aspect to it.  We met our guide, Nada, who walked us through the street market, and through the port. For the best views of the town and the harbor, she took us on a mile-and-a-quarter trek uphill to St. Eufemia church it was well worth the effort! St. Eufemia was brutally martyred for her faith. When the lions were released to finish her off, they calmly approached her and gently licked her feet. Her remains were placed in a stone sarcophagus to be sent to Venice, but the ship sank and the sarcophagus floated to shore. Because the sarcophagus was so heavy, the townspeople of Rovinj were unable to pull it up the hill. However, a young 14 year old boy with faith was able to single-handedly pull it up the hill. Or so the legend goes. The saint’s remains and the sarcophagus are kept in the apse.  

Rovinj was originally an island port built by Romans. In 1763 it was joined to the coastline by filling in the channel. Initially ruled by Byzantines and Franks, it fell under Venetian control from 1283 To 1797. In fact, the tower of the St Eufemia Church, modeled after that of San Marco in Venice, was a communication avenue to Venice, sort of like “one if by land; two if by sea” of Paul Revere fame.

After bit of free time exploring the town, we walked around the harbor, to Kantinon, a local restaurant, where started our lunch with a plate of cheese and meat with a fig chutney, accompanied by bread and olive oil, followed by Bugatti pasta (more like a dense dumpling) in a black truffle sauce with a local white wine. Dessert was cheesecake.

Then back on the bus to explore Pula Arena, Europe’s most complete Roman amphitheater. In Roman times, Pula was a colony known as Pietas Julia. In the 6th and 7th centuries, it became the main base for the Byzantine fleet. Over time, by the mid 17th century, the population declined to only 300 people. It was revitalized in 1856, when Austria based its fleet there. Today it is a bustling coastal city.

But our focus here in Pula was the amphiteatre, its most iconic landmark. It is the sixth largest surviving Roman arena and the only one to have all four side towers.  The towers had cisterns of scented water that was sprayed onto the stalls.  Spectators were shielded from the sun by awnings. Once the sandy floor absorbed the remains of bloody combat; today it is a music and film venue – and site for photo shoots as we found. Built by Claudius and enlarged by Vespasian in 79AD, it was intact until the 15th century when some of the stone was used in other buildings.  We descended the uneven stone stairs (a means of crowd control) beneath the arena floor to see the passageways and rooms where gladiators and their foes, including wild animals, awaited their turn in combat.  Artifacts from around the city are now stored in the passageways and the cages are gone. 

We arrived back at the hotel a little after 5 pm.  We strolled the longamore, the 7.5 mile seaside pathway to the seaside fishing village of Volosko, where we had dinner at Plavi podrum, a highly recommended seafood restaurant. We were told by several people that it would be a 20 or 30 minute walk; but it took us 50 minutes.

Plavi podrum (Blue Basement) is the only Croatian restaurant that was ncluded twice in the San Pellegrino list of the 100 best restaurants in the whole world. It is located in the harbor of Volosko, locally called the mandraÄ, next to the sea, which has influenced the menu, offering primarily fish dishes prepared in a unique way. Over 100 years old, this place surprises with a contemporary approach to gastronomy, inspired by traditional dishes and fresh ingredients of the region, primarily freshly caught fish and shrimps. Plavi podrum is also known for its exceptional wine list. Grilled Calamari was my choice along with a Croatian white wine. Our waiter treated us with a glass of mistletoe brandy as an after dinner digesti. 

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Croatia Day 4 September 24, 2021

Discover the Opatija Riviera

After breakfast this morning, we traveled up the hill to Moscenice, a mountain top town which is one of the oldest settlements in the region.  Our guide here was Vensa, a local resident, who runs the museum here. She was easy to find – bright red hair! The village was enclosed by a stone wall, sheltering small stone houses and narrow streets, sitting about 170 meters above the Adriatic Sea. It has about 100 residents and everybody knows everybody – and their business! In the 17th century, the Jesuits took ownership of the city and they maintained control until the last half of the 18th century. After a brief stint as part of Napoleon’s provinces, it became part of the Austrian Empire until the end of WWI.

St Andrew’s Church is in the center of the town.  A small church was built there in the 8th century (only the tower and the wall under the choir with four columns remain today). The new church was added on between 1200 and 1300 AD. The central nave was heightened in 1640, and the two lateral aisles were added in 1785 and 1795. The central altar dates from the 18th century and its five marble statues were sculpted by Jacopo Contieri. One represents St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuits. The pulpit dates to 1791.

We left the church and spent time at the overlook taking in the view, before we visited the olive oil press that is part of the museum. Vensa treated us to a taste of lemon brandy (sort of a bitter limoncello) and honey brandy.  She explained the process of cold pressing extra virgin olive oil, and the subsequent pressings yielding lesser quality olive oil.

We were able to continue exploring the narrow, winding “streets” and staircases and even found the narrowest street in the world.  We said goodbye to Vensa and moved on back to Opatija, where Inez was waiting, in another lovely costume, to show us around her husband’s hometown.

Our walking tour enabled us to  view Opatija’s stately villas, seaside promenade, and lovely gardens. We learned that Opatija was the vacation spot of choice for wealthy Viennese during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which resulted. in the gorgeous villas, now either hotels or divided into apartments. We strolled Park Angelina, next to Villa Angelina, built by a nobleman from Rijeka, Iginio Scarpa in 1844. When Iginio entertained guests from around the world, he did not ask them to pay for lodging but asked them to bring plants or trees from around the world – ultimately forming the garden park today. The mild climate made this the leading winter health spa, patronized by the Austrian royal family and upper class from all over the Hapsburg Empire.   The major attraction is the promenade extending some 7.5 miles along  the seaside.

We lunched at a seaside restaurant, squid and seafood soup accompanied by salads. Kimberly, Mike, and I wandered through town to a chocolate cafe where we purchased a few candies and enjoyed a chocolate coffee: Chocolate Heaven and Nutty Coconut. So sweet it almost hurt your teeth.

Back at the hotel this evening, we attended an insightful discussion about everyday life in Croatia, by a local lecture, Igor. He was delightful. and explained in detail the daily. life in Croatia today: education, salaries, healthcare, GDP, deficit, and retirement.

The Klaps singers with music:


The Klaps singer a cappella:

Our Welcome Dinner with wine at at the. hotel, with a performance of traditional klapa singing — part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.Dinner. was vegetable soup, sea bream with potatoes. and spinach, and cheesecake for dessert.

 

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