Beautiful (and Quiet) Buzet

(This is the eighth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

We pulled away from House Tina, and took the country road north towards Karlovac, where our proprietor had been living in a camp during the war.  Along the way we lots of houses with bullet holes and shrapnel damage, but there were equally as many all spiffed up with new plaster, paint and new roofs.  Croatia seems to be putting the war behind them.

Karlovac Shopping

First, a stop at an Interspar store where we saw (from right to left) a clear plastic “can” with aluminum pop top full of clear lemon-water.  I didn’t buy it and looked for one the rest of the time we were over there and never saw it again.  It was very cool.  We also saw a Jane Fondom workout video, right next to a Jane Fonda workout video.  And then a very cute red-checked Croatian bag of KiKi candies, which I also purchased, along with supplies for our lunch.  I wonder if foreigners come over here and go gaga at our packaging.  Do we have any cool packaging?

Croatia1_freewaysights

It’s time to get on the road and get going.  This section of freeway, which traverses from east to west across Croatia also has lots of tunnels, but their names are beside them on signs, not over them in fun writing.  The terrain is hilly, wooded and in many section on the western side of the country we saw many fallen trees.  Apparently there had been a big storm and the temperatures suddenly dropped, freezing all the rain/ice onto the trees, cracking them in half, toppling many.  The damage was extensive.

Croatia1a_freeway sign

Not too many freeway signs–mostly beautiful countryside.  It reminded me of driving through Halifax Canada with long straight highways bordered by trees and fields.  Croatia has a toll system for their roads.  When you enter them, you draw a ticket from the automated machine and then drive.  After a while you see the Autocesta gates and you stop to pay for what you just drove.  This is more modern: no coins are thrown in a basket, instead you whip out the bankcard and they swipe it and present you with your card and your receipt.  Drive on.  At one Autocesta, we took in the scenery:

1AutocestaCroatia_cow

1AutocestaCroatia_train and pizza

croatian main roads

We drove from the blue dot (Plitvice Lakes National Park) up to Karlovac (red circle), then took the A1 West to Rijecka (green circle), where we promptly got sort of lost, but Dave kept driving and I kept flipping back and forth on my printed-out Google maps and frantically searched my map book, but somehow, someway, we made it through that spaghetti-ed freeway system interchange, heading into Istria.  And then we paid a monster fee for traveling through a very very long tunnel.

Istria Road Map

From Rijecka (green circle), we finally made it to Buzet (violet rectangle).  Istria was part of Italy until 1947, when it was scooped up into Yugoslavia, and there it stayed when Croatia split off and kept it.  Besides being known as a place for truffle hunting, wine drinking and possible early birthplace of the Glagolitic alphabet (kind of like that old claim “George Washington Slept Here”), it resembles in many ways the hilltown areas of Italy.  Some more deft driving and map-following and we glimpsed Buzet on top of a hill:Buzet7c_town from below

We drove up and looped around through this gate, the “Big” Gate:

Buzet Big Gate

On the right is what we saw coming up, and the view on the left is what we saw later, coming down.  Yes, it was interesting.  We found our hotel right away (after that hard hairpin turn to the left just inside the Big Gate), drove past it looking for parking, drove up and around the town, holding our breath on the narrow streets, then flipped around and came up again, through the gate and parked in front of Vela Vrata, our hotel.

Vela Vrata Hotel with sign

Vela Vrata_front door

We thought we were in Italy, really, except that everything was written in Croatian and they all spoke that as well.  Whenever I’ve been in Italy, I’ve been able to pick up a word or two to add to my pathetically small working vocabulary.  This time I didn’t pick up ANY words in Croatian, nor Slovenian, nor Hungarian.

Vela Vrata_room

Our room was sweet, the window shut against the day’s heat.

Vela Vrata sink

I’ve never been so excited to see shampoo, soap, and drinking glasses.  And more than one washcloth and towel.  We felt like we were in the Buzetian Waldorf Astoria.

Vela Vrata Window

View through the bathroom window.

Vela Vrata_bedroom window

And we opened up the bedroom window, to see the countryside.  We retrieved our luggage from the car, then Dave had to go and repark it “down below,” in a special lot just for the hotel.  We turned left onto a street that looked like it would work, except at the bottom there were stairs.  Nope.  Back up the car.  Around that bend there was another street, but I urged Dave just to park the car in the little parking lot below and we would walk up.  We did so, and found a little pocket park with a fountain, a family and some benches where we could eat our lunch, purchased in Karlovac.

Buzet1a_little town square below

Buzet1a2_lunch

What is it about European bakeries?  The breads are fresh, delicious and available.  We’d bought “picnic” supplies and enjoyed our lunch at this little place.  Our unstated, but previously assumed goal was to drop our stuff in Buzet and take a driving tour of the Istrian Peninsula.  This was rapidly being scaled down to drop our backpack in our room and take a walking tour of the small hilltown.

Buzet1g_overlook again

This is the view to the “front,” just below our little park, of a church and its cemetery.

Buzet1c_tiny door in wall

The route back up to our hotel (really just a couple of long city blocks, but strung out into switchbacks and up a hill) passed by some gardens.

Buzet1a3_flowers

Buzet1f_ochre wall

We walked to the right, up behind our hotel to explore.  It’s not a large hilltown, and the Sunday afternoon was quiet.

Map Buzet Istria Croatia

Here’s a map we got AFTER our walk, when the tourist agency with erratic hours finally opened.  Lots of things were noted here, but we used our guidebook to sort of guide us around this little town.  Our hotel is just across from #6, the South Bulwark, and you can see where we parked our car (the large red P).  While I do post this map, try to ignore it.  Just go with us on a traipse around a little town where you don’t speak the language, are tired from driving across the country, are happy with having had such a good picnic, and have two cameras to record everything (one for this blog and one for Instagram, later on that night).

Buzet_ESE

Buzet2a_building

These cobblestones were slippery and uneven.

Buzet2_colorful doorway

Buzet2a_old building

Buzet2b1_more towers

We saw two possible churches, but both were closed.

Buzet2f_laundry1

For some, it was laundry day.  And everywhere were potted plants, lush and full.

Buzet2e_scissors

I need this scissors sign to hang outside my sewing room.

Buzet2d_museum sign

My sister Christine was in China, and her Instagram feed was full of visits to museums.  I joked that she goes to museums and we see the sign for one.

Buzet3_house

And around every lane you could see the edge of the hill drop off into the green valley below.

Buzet4_church door

St. George’s Church (#21 on the map).  Nothing was open.  Nothing except our hotel and the bar next to it.

Buzet3_graffiti

We walked up to the top of the town, the church abutting the old crenelated city wall.  Buzet has credentials back to the 16th century, but I think the graffiti is newer.

Buzet3g_old town wall

The other side of the church, with a lone bell in the wall.

Buzet3_view from back of town

The view from atop the city wall.

Buzet3_town well1

The regular camera records the town’s Big Well (#17) in the center of the city, but the iPhone camera catches the light differently, giving a different look:

Buzet3_town well

Buzet3_timbers on side gate

Buzet3f_town gate3

Buzet3c_DAE

The views were expansive, but as Dave noted, “Italy seemed to have better land use management.”  Yes, we’d look out over a sweeping valley and see a bunch of high rises, or a quarry, or a car factory.  The old Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was a part, had its emphasis on industry and building mostly likely due to its roots in Communism, and the powers-that-be probably thought that a factory was a far better use of land than keeping a view or maintaining its agrarian heritage.  It was kind of startling sometimes, as Italy’s hilltowns are surrounded by buccolic landscapes on all sides.

Buzet3e_exterior side gate

The backside of that gate we just came through. This was the “Little Gate,” (#15 on the left side of the town), whereas the Big Gate (#2) was on the lower right side.

Buzet3h_flower

Buzet1k_countryside

Buzet1e_overlook from road

Buzet overlook

Vela Vrata_hotel sign

We came back to the hotel. An afternoon nap seemed like a good idea in this equally sleepy hilltown.  Forget getting in the car and driving around.

Buzet1m_overlook from front side

Soon it was dinner time.  Really it went like this “It’s 8 o’clock already??!!” We walked back down to our car.

Buzet1n_little gate

Buzet5_Pizzeria dinner

Pizzeria Jezic had about nine hundred options, but luckily a young couple helped us figure out what to get.  We opted for a salad (our standard) and a pizza.  We told the server we would split the pizza, so it arrived, neatly cut in half on two plates. The World Cup was on the television, but since Croatia wouldn’t be playing until the next night, Monday, June 23rd, the town was not as drawn in to what was being televised.  The game was on in the bar as we walked up the hill after dinner, but the dining area in front of the hotel only had two guests.  We remarked on how quiet the town was when we checked out the next morning, and the manager said, “Oh wait for tonight when Croatia plays.”  We were glad to get a good night’s sleep in the beautiful Vela Vrata hotel in beautiful Buzet, Istria.

I woke up earlier than Dave the next morning, and recorded this from the bathroom window.  You might have to turn up the volume to hear the singing birds.  We showered, dressed, packed up and headed toward the breakfast room.

Vela Vrata pool

First stop: the swiming pool.  I’d heard about it on the web and I wanted to see it.  I kept thinking how much my sister Susan would like to do her laps in this place.

Vela Vrata_breakfast buffet1

Vela Vrata_breakfast buffet2

The breakfast buffet included hot and cold dishes, including some strange things that we passed right by.  But it was a nice breakfast room:

Vela Vrata_breakfast roomThe use of air conditioner was not apparent, a change from the guest rooms in the hotel, and finally the server/attendant opened up opposing windows to give us a breeze through the hot and stuffy room.  We poked around places on the way back to our rooms, reluctant to leave such a nice place, but happy to go again.

Buzet overlook

We walked our luggage down to the car, remembering a large plaza we’d seen the day before (below).

Buzet8a_War Dead Memorial

Somehow Dave made his way there.  We think it was a memorial to those who had died in the war.Buzet War Dead Memorial

Buzet8e_War Dead Memorial

At the center was this strange bowl-shaped object, with the signs of the zodiac on the top and bottom and faces all around the equator of the thing.  We assumed, by the look of the light fixture on the inside, that it was some sort of beacon to memorialize the place.  We never saw it lit the night before (the pizza place was sort of near this).

Buzet7a_Nardoni Dom

We felt like Croatia had been scrubbed of Communism and its relics, finding only this place with some obviously heroic logos from that time.

Buzet7b_town Communist marker

And then again, it could be about nothing, one of the drawbacks of using graphics instead of language to make your way through a town.  We were headed for the Slovenia this morning, and to find a place to buy our “sticker.”  Apparently it was a necessary item to drive on Slovenian highways, and we were warned in two guidebooks, as well as by our host at House Tina.  He said we would get a fine of 150 euro (about $225) if we didn’t have it, and then the rental car company would fine us too, just for the hassle of having to track us down and bill us.  We were on the lookout as we made our way north.

Next up: Slovenia and Ljubljana

House Tina (Plitvice Lakes, part II)

This is the seventh post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

1002mapPlitviceNP

At the end of our Plitvice hike, we made our way to the car and headed north on the highway towards House Tina, a small hostel recommended by travel guru Rick Steves.  It looked new on Trip Advisor (an online source we use for finding hotels; I write under the name Letterpress) and we found it without too much trouble, using the map printouts from Google Maps that I’d printed out at home.

House Tina_front door

 It reminded us of homes we’d stayed in on our honeymoon in Austria.

House Tina_sign

The hostel designation is an interesting one, for the standards they have to meet are different than those of a hotel.  For example, there is no soap in the shower, nor cups in the bathroom.  We’d brought along a travel bar of soap from Hotel Vrlic in Split so were good there, and used our water bottles for cups.  I was happy they had towels, after learning about this, but extra amenities are not required.

Hotel Tina_Milan

Milan, the “owner-manager” with Dave.  He lives there with his girlfriend and together they run the place, but her family owns it.  They employ local girls to come in and clean and do laundry, which was in the garage area.  When we walked by one time, the doors were open and it was quite a set-up with several washers and dryers, folding tables, iron and cleaning supplies all arranged on shelves.

House Tina_beds1

Upstairs we had a “double,” which was two twin beds pushed together.  We were used to this from our travels so were not surprised, but the construction of the beds (by a local carpenter–very nicely done) had a piece of trim which kept the beds about 4 inches apart, even when pushed together.  There was a fan in the room, but no air conditioning.

House Tina_bathroom window view

The house was fully booked and we were the last to check in.  Our room was in the front, overlooking the front car park area and the fields beyond.  This is the view from the bedroom window.

House Tina_cabins

To the side of the car park area were two family-style cabins.

Hotel Tina_landscape2

Hotel Tina_Google

Of course, the first thing we do is check to the internet, getting the code from the hotel owner and syncing up all our devices.  We liked the news from home and had fun uploading to Instagram every day, seeing people’s comments.  I realize that the advent of electronics and access to the World Wide Web has severely curtailed my journal-writing from these trips.  I rue this development, but sometimes I’m just too tired to do anything else.  When Dave and I first started traveling, there was no way to book hotel rooms on the Web (it didn’t really exist) so we’d travel around all day, stopping about 4 p.m. to find our hotel and dinner.  The evenings were relaxing as we hadn’t “touristed” ourselves to exhaustion, which I think we do too much of now.  Of course there is always this desire that runs strong in my husband’s DNA to see one more sight, knock off one more attraction, drive a few more kilometers.  The old system was a nice counterbalance to those urges.

One lovely surprise about House Tina was the chance to eat dinner on site.  Tired from walking, I thought this was bliss, so after we got settled, we went downstairs.

House Tina_amazing salad

Around the side of the house was an outdoor patio and across the lawn was a massive outdoor barbeque set-up.  It was obvious that this place, of recent construction, was built solely for accomodating tourists.  Sorry about the photo above.  We were so hungry that we dived right in before remembering to take a photograph.

House Tina_grilled meats

We could have grilled meats or grilled fish.  I chose one and Dave chose the other and we shared.  Both were excellent.

House Tina_grilled fish

Thankfully Milan boned the trout for us.  He later sat down and told us that all their food was locally sourced.

House Tina_rice with sauce

He called this risotto, but we called it rice with gravy.  After he cleared away the diners’ plates and got things down to a dull roar (there were about 5 rooms full that night), Milan joined us and we were able to get some more of his story.  As a child, he moved to Karlovac with his parents to wait out the war, staying in a refugee camp there.  “That’s where I learned all my languages,” he told us, as he learned to converse with all the different nationalities of soldiers stationed there.  The family lost their home to the war, but later in the conversation we found out that they had re-established themselves, also running a tourist guesthouse a few miles away.

The guesthouses generally open up around Easter and stay open throughout the summer and some stay open into fall.  At Christmastime, sometimes they re-open, but then are closed during the winter months because of snowfall, as “it’s hard to get food up here when there is all the snow” he said.  When Easter coincides with the school holidays, everyone is happy, but when Easter is early, then they have to hire “the girls” early only to have nothing for them to do until school gets out.  (I’m thinking this must have happened this year, otherwise he wouldn’t have mentioned it.)

Milan had mixed praise and scorn for those run guesthouses, as “it’s an easy way to make money, and no one has cows or farms any more.”  He alluded more than once to the easy-money making thing, and sometimes it was wistful, as if he were witnessing a sea change in the life of his fellow countrymen and wasn’t entirely happy about it.  But he himself eschewed farming for this “easy money.”

We talked about Bosnia-Herzogovina and I found the distinction between those who had government jobs (“mostly relatives of the men who already have government jobs”) versus the rest of the population generated some harsher judgement about those who were the government fat cats.  We’d read about this before coming — the clearly feudal system of regional governments taking up most of the country’s cash flow.  “But the floods will bring us together again,” Milan insisted.  “We donate clothing, money, our time to help our brothers.” Clearly there was some desire to put the divisions of the war behind him, and he felt that working together to fix the effects of the massive floods would be a tool to equalize them and bring them together.  We don’t often get the chance to talk to those who live in these countries, these towns, making assumptions as we go.  I don’t believe that one dinner table conversation will give us an accurate depiction of life there, but his willingness to talk to us about his life was helpful in understanding this country in which we were spending time.

We joined an Australian couple at their table for more visiting, finding out that they were taking three months to travel around and see the sights.  And here we were trying to cram it all in to two-plus weeks.  No wonder we were exhausted every night.

Hotel Tina_breakfast room

The next morning we went down to the breakfast room, where Milan served us “happy eggs” from local chickens, the scrambled eggs a rich buttery yellow.

Hotel Tina_jams

Hotel Tina_toaster

We could also make our own toast in this fabulous machine.  Jams and Nutella plate (above-above) were available, as well as juices.

Hotel Tina_eating area

And of course, Croatia memorabilia everywhere in honor of World Cup Soccer.

House Tina_key

We paid and turned in our key.

Hotel Tina_car hood

And saw Milan’s car, all decked out, as we pulled out.  We were our way to the Istrian Peninsula.

Next up: Buzet, a hilltown on the Istrian Peninsula

Plitvice Lakes National Park

(This is the sixth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

In the morning we showered en suite in the tiny, but immaculate shower, packed up (easy to do with half my clothes gone) and thought we’d go up the street to get some baked goods at the bakery the landlady mentioned.  And on our way we would take half the luggage.  This prompted an outcry in Croatian from the “mother” to the English-speaking daughter.  We kept saying “one minute. . . one minute” like she could understand our English. Somehow she and I both thought if we spoke more emphatically in our native language that the other one would understand.  This never works, but goes on all the time.

Split Laundry

I stood at the front door, checking out the laundry hanging over our heads until the daughter dressed and peered down from her second floor stair landing, where we explained that we’d be right back in a minute and were just going to get some breakfast up the street and drop our luggage at the car.  “Okay!” she said, then explained this all to her mother, who then made the universal symbol of “carry on,” a hand gesturing towards the front door.  We were free to go.

Bakery Cookie

Luggage stowed, we entered the bakery, the only ones in there, and started looking around.  I immediately bought a bunch of the cookies (above) which tasted like those round nutty cookies at Christmastime, but without the annoying powdered sugar all over them.  We bought some breakfast-looking breads, then Dave, seeing a loaf with a chunk cut out, wanted some bread.  He pointed and asked with his fingers indicating a small bit.  By this time, she was tired of us.  She took a knife and whacked off a piece, rolling her eyes as she held them out and said “This one or this one?”  He chose the small one and we skedaddled.  Split is a working town, with little patience for American tourists, we decided.  We paid our bill, stowed the rest of our luggage and left town, heading for the A1 going north.

Sveti Rock

Heading up the A1, we saw this interesting formation: Sveti Rok.

Sveti Rock up close

As we got closer, it morphed into this.  We continued on, through tunnels and open road until we could stop for gas.

Auto Stop Croatia

These freeways stops (this one at Gornja Ploca) had all sorts of interesting things to snack on:

Grocery Store Spaghetti Candy

Grocery Store KitKat Candy

I bought this one for my granddaughter because her nickname is KeKe (pronounced like this candy).

Grocery Store Chips

Paprika is the national flavor, we decided.  We shared a bag once at some random lunch and it tasted like barbeque-flavored chips.

Grocery Store Tacco Chips

“Taccos.”  I love how we come off as Americans.

Grocery Store Big Pep Chips

I finally did buy this one, as I couldn’t resist the title “Big Pep.”  (I could use some of these every afternoon about 3 p.m.)  After a while, we turned off the A1 onto Highway 52, heading towards the interior, leaving the coast behind.

Big Lake Croatia

The landscape in this area is less Mediteranean, more rolling meadows with rivers and lakes.

Croatia to Plitvice Rt 59 scenery

PansionCafe Croatia

It was lunchtime, so we stopped at the roadside restaurant/hotel.

PansionCafe Croatia_1

Nobody was home, it seemed, but we needed to stretch our legs and after all, all the doors were open.  Eventually we were served and after a few more minutes, they brought us these:

PansionCafe Croatia_sandwiches

We sat outside in the car and enjoyed our lunch (we left the plates there, of course) and then continued on towards Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Plitivice Map from House Tina

We decided to begin at the lower section of the park and walk our way to the upper section, following the well-traveled trail, as shown by the map, above.  The lower box also shows the changes in elevation, but even after driving all morning after a pitiful night’s sleep, we didn’t find the hours we spent in the park to be strenuous.

Plitvice1_first view

We walked in from paying for the tickets (not cheap) and to the overlook, where we saw this sight: Veliki Slap, or Big Waterfall.  It’s the tallest in the park.  See that line of tourists about halfway up on the left side, all lined up to see this?  That’s where we are headed.

Plitvice1_wide view

The descent is via a sloping, switch-backed path, down through the forested slope.

Plitvice1a_tourists on path

We have now joined the line up of tourists as only a few can pass around the corner at a time, but we endure.

Plitvice1c_burbling brook

Plitvice Large Falls DAEESEOkay! We made and got our picture besides, thanks to a skilled visiting tourist who knew how to meter a photo for proper exposure.  I hope I did theirs okay, too (a time-honored tradition: trading cameras to take shots of strangers).  We headed back up the boardwalk, following the hordes, but thankfully so far, no tour guides carrying flags leading a pack.

Plitvice2_green lake

The colors are amazing, changing from a jade green to a teal to deep blues.  We are happy to be here on a not-rainy day, as we’ve been following the weather forecasts ardently, moving the trip to Plitvice up a day, just in case.  We had gorgeous weather on this day.

Plitvice2a_sign

The park is a series of lakes and waterfalls in between each lake, and near each is a sign like this showing where you are (a little arrow on the right, which is hard to see) and the elevation.

Plitvice2b_view up the valley

Looking up the canyon.

Plitvice3_two toned again

Plitvice4_little fallsThis is a still shot of the place where I shot the video (below).

Plitvice4a_burbling waters

Plitvice5_still water

Plitvice5a_cove and boardwalk

The boardwalk crosses over one of the lakes, and there was a pathway to head up to the top of the canyon walls, passing by this cave.  We decided to head on up the lakes (bypassing this gaggle of tourists).  We realize that by arriving at 2 p.m, we were going to hit crowds, but the park is so huge it wasn’t a big problem.  But Dave is a blue-sky kind of guy and will press on ahead just so his view is not the backside of multiple tourists, but a more open landscape.  By bypassing some groups, he was able to see the natural surroundings that were quite frankly, phenomenal.

Plitvice5b_another sign

Plitvice5c_ESEDAE

Plitvice6_colors

We stood here and took about five shots each of this, tilting our cameras this way and that for the exposure in order to get the blue below and the jade above.

Plitvice6b_DAE walking past falls

Seeing Dave’s backpack was often my view as he kept pressing on. . . and I kept stopping.  (However, the photographs on this blog were taken by both of us.)  I did catch him once and got him to pause enough for the next two photos.

Plitvice DAE

Plitvice ESE

Plitvice6c_lake view

Plitvice6d_falls view

Plitvice6e_flower1

At one point the trail led up into the forested landscape, where I found some dainty wildflowers.  We were headed to Jezero Kozjak, a big lake central to the park, where we would catch a boat ride to the next part of the trail.

Plitvice7a_boat ride pano

View from the front of the boat, where we sat.

Plitvice7c_boat on lake

Another boat passed us going the other direction.  Our tickets could only be used for one boat ride, otherwise I might have been tempted to get on another going the other way, and then another taking us to where we were now headed: towards those little set of falls, straight ahead of us (below).

Plitvice7_boatride

Plitvice13c_lakeviewA panoramic photo of the lake. The lake was serene, the day was not hot, but warm, the crowd on the boat was relaxed and soon scattered as we reached the dock.  Most of the time I felt like Dave and I were in our own little world, being English speakers in a foreign country.  We could sit at tables close by our neighbors at dinner but since we couldn’t understand them (and we assumed that they couldn’t understand us), a cushion enveloped us as we traveled where we didn’t speak the language.  And it had the added benefit of creating a deeper bond between Dave and I.

Plitvice8_greens

The first few days in Croatia, we would walk side by side and not speak to each other.  It wasn’t because we were angry or anything, it was that we were just out of practice.

Plitvice8a_falls on moss

At home we would spent most of our days in our own “caves:” he doing his work and me doing mine, and then after dinner I’d head up to my study to grade or even get a few minutes of quilting in, and he’d stay downstairs and read, grade or watch TV.  Parallel lives that were now blending into one life: that of a middle-aged couple on the road together, creating memories and sharing experiences.

Plitvice8c_flower

Plitvice8c_walkway onto partII

The ferry landed on the left side of an inlet, and we stayed on, as it crossed over and dropped us off on what looked to be an island, although we knew it just the other side of the lakes.  As it turned out, we went backwards from everyone else.  Fine by us.

Plitvice8d_forested path

As we walked along this path, a large group, complete with parents pushing baby strollers, came walking towards us.  One older man detached himself from the group and went ambling off to my right, in between the trees.  Usually good tourists keep to the trail, so I realized he was after something else.  Sure enough, he stopped, looked at his group, unzipped his trousers and took Nature’s call.  Unfortunately, he didn’t look DOWN the trail, so Dave and I caught the full visual image.  We focused our gaze back to the left to see others in the group looking over at him, shaking their heads, smirking.  We were smirking, too.  Some things cross all language barriers.

Plitvice9_paths

The group passed us by and the trail changed to boardwalk, as it was headed over marshy land at the edge of the next little series of lakes.  There are twelve in this upper section, but by taking the path we did, we would only see about half of them.

Plitvice9b_DAEs footsteps on path

Plitvice9c_path again

Plitvice10_path and falls

More falls:

Plitvice10a_falls

Because we live in a dry, quasi-desert country, all this water is amazing.  Gallons and gallons and gallons falling over moss-covered embankments.  We loved the sound and so took more videos here than any other place on our trip.

Plitvice10b_flower

Plitvice10c_falls

Plitvice10d_flower


After a while the water splashing on this rock began to remind me of hail, the fat drops of water scattering and chattering over the surface of the water. I could hardly tear myself away, but we still had much to go and the light was changing, indicating late afternoon sun.

Plitvice10e_blue bug

Dave snapped this blue little insect in mid-flight. Still can’t tell if it is a flying buzzing thing, or a tiny butterfly.  I think the former.

Plitvice10f_leaves

Plitvice11a_wide falls

Plitvice11b_wide falls

Plitvice12_bark

Even the lichen on the bark is beautiful here.  We won’t see such things in our neck of the woods.

Plitvice12_watercolors

Plitvice12a_more falls

Plitvice13_path to lake

This path leads back to the boat dock, where we will take a short ferry across and then up to the trams to carry us back to the beginning.

Plitvice13a_rushing watersIt’s hard to leave such a gorgeous place.  I’ve seen pictures of this in winter and the frozen landscape is also beautiful.  (I just wouldn’t want to be here when it rains.)

Plitvice13b_ferry and trail sign

We board the ferry to cross over to the other side of this narrow part of the lake.

Plitvice14_steps up to tram stop

And head up the path to the trams, which we think will carry us back to the beginning.  We start chatting with a couple next to us, waiting on the bench.  They are from Russia and he is a photographer, carrying a tripod and bag of gear.  Their English is pretty good (our Russian is non-existent) and we chat to each other.  Of course, we are dying to get their views on the Russian takeover of Crimea–a real first-hand viewpoint, but I don’t think it’s polite to grill your benchmates on politics, so we talk about places they’ve been, places they liked a lot (many in the US).  The tram comes and they board the first car and we board the second.

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon6

The tram takes us about halfway down the canyon, near the hotels onsite, and drops us off.  We have a bit of a walk, and it’s late afternoon and we’re a bit tired.  So we are passed a lot by faster-moving younger people, but we still manage to stop at most of the viewpoints, to look down on where we’ve been.

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon5

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon4

I wonder if the larger lake at the top of this photo is where the boat crosses.

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon3

The boardwalk that crosses the lower lakes, just above the Big Waterall.  There are steps from this vantage point down to the hidden cave.  No way I’m doing that, and I think Dave feels the same.  We still have to find our hotel, find dinner, and get settled before we can call it a day.Plitvice Looking Up Canyon2

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon1

Our final view of the canyon.  The Russian couple kept our pace, and we saw them again at the big sign at the entrance, where he took our photo (below).

DAE ESE Plitvice Lakes

Next up: House Tina and a real, home-grilled dinner

Split — in Croatia

(This is the fifth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

Today started out with getting our car rental, finding our way out of town, then “Where’s the map?”
“I don’t have the map.”
“Yes, you do.  It was on your nightstand at home.  You were supposed to bring the Budapest book and the map.”
“Well, I don’t have the map.”
Silence.
“Then we’ll just have to buy one.”

At the next travel stop, we purchased a nice spiral-bound book of Croatia/Slovenia.  Not as cheap as the one off of Amazon purchased before the trip, but that was home on a nightstand in a whole other life.  And here’s where the tourists start to make a shift.  Although certainly still bleary-eyed from the regimen of no sleep (World Cup Soccer issues) the jet-lag is receding and we no longer have the urge to find a place to lie down in the middle of the day.  Good thing, for today we are driving up the Croatian coast to Split.

Tudman Bridge

We pass over the Tudman Bridge on the outskirts of town, and wind our way up to the coastal road.  We go through Border Patrol twice — once for Croatia into Bosnia, and then from Bosnia back into Croatia.  We passed.

Tudman Bridge from the air

Here is a picture of the Tudman Bridge from the air, as we were flying into Dubrovnik a few days ago.  You can see the cruise ship parked there (one of their “parking spots.”) Which reminds me to tell you that one of the best things we had to eat for an airplane snack was on Air Dolomiti, where they served us chocolate pudding that was out of this world.  And gave us cute little aqua spoons, which I lost in Zagreb.  Bummer.

Pudding on Italian Airline

Tunnel1

After traveling a few whiles on the coastal road, we said “forget this,” and turned inland to travel on Croatia’s nice new superhighway, complete with tunnels.

Tunnel3

And more tunnels.

Tunnel2

Last shot of a tunnel, but I like how most all of them have names.

Split_hill land feature

After about three to three-and-one-half hours we got off the expressway, turning eastward, heading toward the coast and to Split, where this interesting landmass caught our eye.  We felt like much of the landscape was very much like home: a Mediterranean mix of hills, rocks, some trees.  I’d printed out directions off of Google Maps at home, and with those and the cool map we’d bought, I managed to get us to the front door of our hotel, but there was no parking.  Did I mention that the driver likes to park only in legitimate parking places (and that we’ve had some discussions in our prior travel about parking preferences)?  I suggested that we double park, briefly, while he went and checked with the hotel where to park, but instead we took an interesting detour up and around in the hills of Split and I swear drove on a one-way street but that could be under some discussion but I digress, until we finally looped our way back around to that same place where the navigator had suggested we double-park and check in with the hotel.  We did just that this time.

I sat in the car, and Dave rang the bell.  Soon he was followed by a woman in harem-style pants, pointing and yelling at her father who had walked quickly up the street to move his car, placed there in reserve for our car.  Just as he was pulling out, another car about eight spots away from our intended parking place started to pull out, and she asked them to hold on while he drove around and got that one (“another guest is coming”) she said.  She then jumped in front of our car, her back to the city wall along the street and motioned us forward, forward, more, forward.  Dave gunned it and we were both thinking that we were going to chop off her legs with the front of the car, but then she suddenly threw up her hands, and Dave slammed on the brakes.  (That’s why he’s the driver–good job, Dave.)  She grabbed my suitcases and strode down to the other parking place, releasing that car to pull out, then standing in the spot (with my suitcases) while her father looped around.  Once this was completed, she smiled and welcomed us to Hotel Vrlic, which of course I can’t pronounce.

Hotel Vrlic Walkway

The gate opened onto this short course of steps.

Hotel Vrlic front door

And we headed toward the front door.  Our room was at the end of a hallway, and she unlocked the glass door.  Inside there was a bathroom on the right, with sink, toilet and shower, and on the left was our bedroom.  We checked in, got the map from her and headed out to see the ancient part of Split.

Split_Golden Gate2

We made a stop first to pick up some supplies at the drugstore, and finally found our way to here: The Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace.  Diocletian was a Roman Emporer who decided to retire here at Split at the end of his life.  Not a great guy in terms of humanitarian standards (killing and torturing Christians for a start; read all about it in Wikipedia) he build this jumbo palace right here on the edge of the coast, which over time was taken over and integrated into the city of Split.

Split_Golden Gate

We entered into the palace through this gate and walked through narrow passageways (below) until we arrived at the main square.

Split walkway

Split_Wedding Peristyle

We’d arrived at this main square, called the Peristyle, just at the time that a bridal couple were greeting their guests, who were serenading the couple with a lovely, throaty version of “You are the Best Couple Ever in Croatia and Thank You for Not Scheduling Your Wedding During One of Croatia’s World Cup Soccer Matches,” or something like that.  I love the dude dressed up as a Roman Soldier, over on the left.  For a few kuna, you, too, can pose with him.

Split_Wedding1

A little flag waving made it all seem much more spirited.  This is the “centerpiece of Diocletian’s Palace,” says my guidebook.  The Entry Vestibule is just behind the bridal couple, and to the left of this photo is the Cathedral.  Underneath the balcony are some stairs down to the cellars, which is where we started our walking tour.

Split_Wedding2

First though, some more shots of the wedding.  She was lovely and the Peristyle was rocking with good times.  They left and the crowd emptied out so the serious tourist business could proceed apace.

Split4

Sweet little building on the Peristyle.

Cellar1

The cellars (or the Podromi) were built to level out the palace floors above, and originally were filled with water to supply to palace’s needs.  In medieval times, the residents cut holes in their floors (the ceilings of the cellar) and used the area as a refuse dump.  Since the last century, they’ve been cleaned out and now for a small medium fee, you can come in to see them.

Cellar2

Cellar3

Cellar4

Cellar5

Some parts of the cellar (the daylight to the right, in the above photo) were open to the walkways above, and several Walking Tours of Split brought their people to this spot to talk about the overpriced basements cellars to discuss the history of Split.  Finishing with the cellars, we walked back up the stairs, passing the myriads of souvenir stands.  We climbed the few steps back up to the balcony where the bridal couple had stood, and then walked into the Entry Vestibule, where supposedly Diocletian received his visitors.

Entry Vestibule3

Apparently it used to have a dome (which collapsed) but now makes this a very cool place with a sort of oculus, and a phenomenal place in which to stand and sing your klapa music for Japanese tourists:

Entry Vestibule1_placa singers

Entry Vestibule1_tourists

Entry Vestibule2

The Entry Vestibule also has four large niches where once stood statues of the “four tetrarchs who ruled the unwieldy empire after Diocletian retired” (Rick Steves Guidebook).

Split_Peristyle2

Back out to the Peristyle.  The stone steps flanked by Lions, with Santa Claus (!) at their base, is where you normally could enter the chapel, but during high season they route you around to the right so you can stand there and choose from five different options, with five different payments of what you want to see. We chose one and climbed the steps up to the Cathedral, which is tiny tiny and ornately decorated.  It once was Diocletian’s mausoleum, but it became a cathedral in the 7th century, which is when they started decorating it.  According to Rick Steves, “When Diocletian died, there were riots of happiness” among the Christians.  We concentrated on what was here during the Roman times.

Split_Cathedral Ceiling

The surviving pieces from that time are the granite columns and the relief circling the base of the dome.  The red marble pillars you see were scavenged from Diocletian’s sarcophagus.

Split_Cathedral Ceiling2

The dome has half-moon etchings layered one upon the other.  Dave excels at getting these symmetrical ceiling shots.  We left the cathedral, passed by Santa Claus and headed directly across the palace to the Baptistry.

Baptistry1

Ivan Mestrovic’s magnificent statue of St. John stands there in the baptistry, which in Diocletian’s time was once a Temple to Jupiter.

Baptistry2

On the front of the deep 12th-century font is a carving of a bishop (left), the king on his throne (right) with the submissive commoner at their feet. This Baptistry isn’t huge at all, maybe as big as my living room at home.  I was surprised by its small size to hold all this.  That explains why the statue feels kind of wedged in here, but don’t worry, St. John holds his own.

Baptisty Ceiling

This vaulted half-barrel ceiling is “considered the best-preserved” of its type anywhere.  Each little face and box are different.

Split1

We walk around the ancient place a little more, the limestone pavers polished to a shine over the centuries.

Split mosaics in sidewalk

In some places we can see the mosaics from ancient times; this is roped off so people don’t walk on it.

Split House with Bouginvillia

The bougainvillia was beautiful on this residence.  I’d like to have dinner up on their terrace on top of the house.

Split Window toward Sea

A view to The Riva, the town’s pedestrian promenade, from the “rooms” above the cellar.  After leaving Dubrovnik, with all the driving and walking, we decide we need a break and head to the Riva to watch people and the boats.

Split Cruise Ship

Or should I say, mammouth gargantuan cruise ships being ushered out to the Adriatic by tugs.  Because of the rain, we had cooler weather initially, but today is a bit hotter, and we keep moving from bench to bench, trying to find some shade.  We watch this tug-ship entertainment for a while, then decide we ought to start on the March to Find Dinner, so we head back into the Palace area.

Split_Square at Sundown

The sun is beginning to set, casting a golden glow on the different towers.

Split_Sundown Clock Tower

Split_Belltower4

Bistro Appetit_Split Water Bottle Wisdom

And it’s always the last place you look where you’ll have dinner.  We ended up at Bistro Appetit, and yes, the World Cup Games were on their flat screen.

Bistro Appetit_Split_Salad

Salad first.

Bistro Appetit_Split Pasta with Truffles

Dave had pasta.  I can’t remember everything that was in it, but I do remember that it was flavored with truffles, a rather strong taste.  He liked it.

Bistro Appetit_Split Chicken

I had vegetables and a flattened, grilled chicken breast dredged in sesame seeds.

Rubbing Bishop's Toe

My friend Judy had traveled here last year and I so wanted to see this sculpture, right outside the Golden Gate of the palace,  Alas, it was under renovation, but I laughed when I saw that they’d left the toe exposed so people could rub it for good luck.  On my wrist you see my Croatia Solidarity Bracelet, which I wore until Croatia was eliminated from the World Cup a few days later.  We brought one home for the granddaughters, which are all probably lost and gone now, as souvenirs are.

We stopped at a market and bought some peach juice for breakfast, as the owner told us that there was a bakery up the street where we could buy some baked goods in the morning.  Then home to our little home-away-from home.

Hotel Vrlic Bedroom

I mean little, literally.  The bed was about a foot shorter than Dave.  Couple that with the sudden and awful realization that I’d left half of my clothes in the little closet in Dubrovnik, made for an interesting evening.  Dave wrote to the sobe in Dubrovnik, asking if they could sent the clothes on to Zagreb to our hotel.  No answer.  By the end of the night, I’d pretty well resigned myself to the loss of the clothes.  I still had enough to get me through the trip (with a laundry stop somewhere), and realized by the silence that shipping some dumb tourist’s clothes to a far away city was not what a sobe owner wanted to do.  Dave wrote him back suggesting that he instead donate the clothes to someone who needed them, and we went to bed.  A response came in to the second email, that yes, he would do that (completely ignoring the first email).  I figured his mother-in-law to be the likely recipient.  I also learned that even if you think you are paring down your wardrobe to nothing, it can be pared down even further.

Next up: Plitvice Lakes National Park

Dubrovnik, then heading out

(This is the fourth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

Dubrovnik_Gundalic Square Last Time

Gundelic Square the morning after the Big Game.  We head to the Konsum store and buy breakfast, as well as some hairspray and a chocolate bar.  Just the necessities.Dubrovnik_Gundelic Square Statue

We venture out on the square to spot this Mr. Gundelic, atop his pedestal, in the middle of the morning market where vendors are selling tchotchkes and other knickknacks.

Dubrovnik_Gundelic Square State detail2

Dubrovnik can be considered a two-day town: do the wall, have dinner, buy some souvenirs, head out.  We’re on Day Two-and-a-Half and decide to walk on the other side of this bowl-shaped town, and try for a few of the places mentioned in our guidebook.

Dubrovnik_St. Blaise

First stop is The Church of St. Blaise, the man who saved the town by revealing an imminent attack, even though he’d been dead for  years (some say he was an apparition who warned the town fathers).  He’s everywhere.  The noon mass was about to start, so we were quickly in and out.

Dubrovnik_St. Blaise detail2

Detail, St. Blaise’s Church (above and below)

Dubrovnik_St. Blaise detail1

Dubrovnik_Soccer Kids

We were told by one shopkeeper yesterday that there were no cruise ships scheduled to be in town today (and so she was opening later).  But there seemed to be a lot of local kids–maybe their parents let them out when the tourists aren’t invading.  And soccer — I mean, futbol –  is on everyone’s mind.

Dubrovnik_St. Blaise Kids Soccer1

Dubrovnik_soccer kicker

Dubrovnik_shop window open

Still the red-checked shirts are everywhere, for Croatia advances to the next round with their win last night.  This is the typical shop with everything open.

Dubrovnik_shop window closed

And this is the shop front, closed.  In the early days, the door would be a half-door, closed, and the shop keeper would bring you what you needed through the open window and the open half-door.

Dubrovnik_climbing tree

From the Placa, or Stradum, we walked up to the mountain-side of town, where the streets are so narrow that this tree had to work to get to the sunlight.  Everything is folded up this morning after last night’s thunderstorm.

Dubrovnik_climbing tree2

Dubrovnik_folded umbrella

And folded up, this umbrella looks positively feminine.

Dubrovnik_Dead End BBQ

Dead end with an outdoor oven.  I’d like one of these at my house.

Dubrovnik_laundry

I spot some laundry high up on a line: a red-checkered shirt.  We stopped and talked to one young man (in front of a restaurant) who didn’t get home until 8:30 this morning.  Even though he started the conversation trying to get us to sit down and have lunch, I thought, well, while you’re yakking up the tourists, I can talk to you too.  I mentioned Croatia’s decisive 4-0 win last night, and he said “No, no.  3-0.  One didn’t count.”

Dubrovnik_Meaculpa Pizza

We walk a little further and another young man tells us he got in just before the big thunderstorm, “by two minutes at most.”  He told us about a thunderstorm that winter that hit the church tower and knocked out “all the charge machines in the restaurants and all the music and the speakers, too,” two components of tourist life here.  Dave and I decide that there are many very tired young men in Dubrovnik this morning.  (And old American tourist couples, too.)  This was confirmed later on when we decided to eat pizza at our pizza place (not shown above, but isn’t that a great name for a pizza joint?).  The young man serving us, who had been there the night before, brought us new rolled-up utensils at the end of the meal.  “Oh, whoops!” he said, then exchanged them for what we wanted: the check.

Dubrovnik Franciscan Church

First stop after walking was the Franciscan Church, where I snapped this perfectly lit window.

Dubrovnik_Monastery2

Next was the Franciscan Monastery and Pharmacy, just beside the church.

Dubrovnik_Monastery5

It’s only five bucks to get in, and good thing, as there’s not much to see.  So we take our time with the cloisters.

Dubrovnik_Monastery6

The capitals of each column are different.

Dubrovnik_Monastery7

Dubrovnik_Monastery1

Dubrovnik_Monastery3

Dubrovnik_Monastery4

This sign says “Europe never sleeps when World Cup is being played.”

Dubrovnik_Franciscan Hallway

No pictures in the pharmacy, so we head out, catching a perfect light on the stone.

DAE on redchecked floor

I really have to make a red-and-white quilt, I think.

Dubrovnik_Pizzeria Four Seasons Salad

We had another salad at the pizza place by our sobe: Pizzeria Castro.  I can recommend it heartily.  We had originally thought to eat at a “typical” Dubrovkan place, but when we walked over there, having had a late breakfast of chocolate croissants, peach juice, and fruit, we were really too full to hunker down over a plate of grilled meats, although it got great reviews.  After our salads, we were still ready to walk, but fat, heavy drips of rain began falling, so we climbed back up the three flights of stairs to our room, and took a break.  It’s rained nearly every day here, but we’ve been able to dodge it with judicious timing.

Dubrovnik_Harbor views4

After the rain, we decide to walk around the thick walls that border the harbor, just to see what’s on the other side.

Dubrovnik_Harbor views1

A goofy water vehicle to show you the sights, which we both thought reminded us of Disneyland.

Dubrovnik_Harbor views3

On the backside, you can see the little island off the Dubrovnik coast, and just miles and miles of the Adriatic Sea, teenagers smoking, old men swimming, and tourists, like us.

Dubrovnik_Harbor views

Dubrovnik_Harbor views2

Dubrovnik_Harbor views6

Dubrovnik_Harbor views5

Oh, and St. Blaise, high up on a city wall.

Dubravka_Reserve Sign

We walked over to Dubravka, where we’d made dinner reservations, and they again put us at a table on the patio, overlooking the sea.  Returning visitors can use the 10% off coupon that they included with the meal last night, which makes particular tourists very happy.

Dubravka_Water Bottle Wisdom

Many quotes on the Jana water bottles are from Paul Coehlo’s book The Alchemist, although this one may be from somewhere else.  One of the better blurbs, I think.

Dubravka_American chicken

I had Dave’s pasta with mushrooms and ham from last night, but he had “American Chicken.”  I’ll bet you didn’t know we adorned our chicken breasts with bacon, did you?

Dubravka_Orange Cake1

We ended our lovely meal with Orange Cake, which was like last night’s cake of layered chocolate, cream and nuts, but orange in all the right places, recommended by our waiter (“It’s my favorite cake”).  During dinner it began to rain, but Dave was able to scoot his chair in under the edge of the umbrella; the rain chased off the chain smokers behind us, as they had no umbrella (they were just having a drink–no dinner–and really, they had finished).

Dubrovnik_panorama1

Dave’s panoramic shot from the table.  We learned how to use that feature of our iPhones while we were in Croatia and had a great time taking a variety of pano-shots.  We head back into town, and we stop at a shop to buy the city’s souvenir: a silver “button,” made of scrolled filigree silver wire.  The man explained that they began as buttons on soldiers’ uniforms, but have now become  known as the traditional souvenir.  His father made them all, he said, and unlike the tablecloth sellers, I was inclined to believe him.

Dubrovnik Silver Button

We chose the butoni we wanted, then he weighed it and sold it to us by weight.  No credit cards, he said, so we paid cash.  Mine was about the size of a silver charm on a charm bracelet, but there were many others, from tinier to much larger.  Of course, now I wish I’d purchased another for a necklace, but that’s tourist hindsight talking.  (The earrings above are an illustration from the web.)  Often we are told they don’t accept credit cards, and often, like now, we don’t receive a recipt.

Dubrovnik_Corpus Christi Candles

A very light rain is falling, and I notice the votive candles on the ledge.  We wonder if it’s because we are now across from the Serbian church.  But no, they are everywhere.

Corpus Christi Celebration

We walk down towards our square, and see a procession, led by children of the church dressed in white, followed by priests carrying a canopy, shielding people as they walk.  Behind them are church-goers, and as they walk, they are singing.  I can’t seem to get the video to embed, so click *here* to hear their haunting singing.

Dubrovnik_Corpus Christi Church

The singing continued inside the church, and I usually never do this, but I was so caught up by the music I took a quick, hopefully discreet, video.  Click *here* to watch and listen.  Now you can see the Titian-attributed painting at the front of the church all lit up, the church resplendent with harmonies and light, changed from the darkened cavern of the day before.  A magical moment in Croatia, as the locals celebrated the Corpus Christi holiday.

We make our way back to our sobe, through squares filled with World Cup fans watching large plasma TVs in restaurants and bars.  We again shut the windows and turn on the air conditioning, hoping for sleep.

Dubrovnik_Jana WAter Bottles

In the morning, we hit the Konsum grocery store not only for our breakfast, but also for things for a little picnic along the road to Split, our next destination.

Leaving Dubrovnik_DAE

We pack up and leave, but I can’t quit feeling like we’ve left something.  We go over the room again, looking everywhere, but don’t see anything, so head down.

Dubrovnik_Keyhole City Wall

Dubrovnik_Steps to Church

We pass the keyhole in the wall (usually covered up by the textiles seller) and our favorite half-circle steps.

Rental Car Map

As it our habit as tourists in a foreign land without 4G wifi, we took a snapshot of a map and kept it on our phone, making our way to the Hertz rental car company, just outside the main city.

Dubrovnik_Ploct Gate2

Through the first Ploce Gate. . .

Dubrovnik_Ploce gate

. . . and the archway where — who else? — St. Blaise guards the entrance and exit.  It’s a busy street.  We get our car, and are off up the coast, to Split.

Next up: Split is Splitsville