Monday, June 9, 2008


On a lighter note -
  • almost everywhere we went in Hungary and Croatia beds had no top sheet - just two small duvets. Now duvets are great in cold weather, but as the weather gets warmer, sometimes all you want is a sheet. A duvet, no matter how thin is too warm. And having 2 duvets means that they are not tucked in anywhere, so if you are having a restless night, it is easy to get tangled up in them.
  • We have encountered every kind of flush toilet imaginable. Europeans are much more conscious of water consumption and many toilets have two flush settings. Squat toilets are not to my liking - especially when you have to pay for the privilege of using them in bus stations.
  • The toilet paper brought me back to the 60s - especially in Budapest and Zagreb there was coloured toilet paper (though much more vibrant colours than the pastels we used to have here - green, blue, yellow and pink or white with flowers). Oh, I remember making Kleenex roses!
  • Croatian drivers are suicidal. Passing is allowed in places it would not in Canada. And they tailgate and pass. Paul had to step hard on the brakes a few times to avoid an accident.
  • Apparently the accident rate is high (no surprise) so the alcohol limit is 0 - but I don't think anyone enforces it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Final thoughts on Croatia

Croatia is a small country, yet the diversity in terrain, vegetation, architecture and culture is vast. We didn't even explore the eastern-most section of the country. Zagreb feels East European. The architecture is heavier, some buildings more grandiouse, the vegetation is more temperate. Even the food was heavier. The Adriatic coast is semi-tropical with smaller dark pastel buildings. Only in Rijeka did we see the more grandiose buildings we saw in Zagreb. In terms of food - everywhere there was fresh fish and seafood. All over Croatia - Italian food, especially pizza, is popular.

We passed through farmland, some areas looking quite depressed, others more affluent. We were surprised to see almost no evidence of farm animals - we occasionally saw signs with a cow picture (cow crossing?) but no actual sightings of animals. The mountains are astonishing - one side quite verdant, the other dry and barren. The coast is very Mediterranean, with beaches (many rocky), smaller homes, fishing boats and less industry. There were still signs of the Homeland War - though more in the small inland towns.

When we went to see a folk dance evening in Dubrovnik, it was astonishing to hear the variety of musical styles, the different costumes and the many styles of dance.

It's a new country and you can often hear the pride of people, but there are serious issues of unemployment. Croatia will be joining the EU shortly - there are concerns about more young people leaving to find better jobs.

Croatia is a wonderful place to visit. People where we stayed made a point of asking us to tell our friends. They desperately need tourism. It is their main industry. So I'm passing on that message.

Still travelling....

Out of Croatia

As we were travelling more it became harder to keep up this blog, so I am writing it from home.

Pula is on the coast, very close to Italy. There are some remarkable Roman ruins there, which is the main reason we went there.

We wandered through a flea market - all kinds of things for sale from Communist memorabilia, to dishes, jewelery, books, dishes, coins (including a mint set of Montreal Olympic coins). In the main square there were Croatian dancers. It's always delightful to see the dancers, costumes and hear the music. At the side of the square is a Roman arch dating from the 1st century. We walked up to the amphitheatre. The walls are all still standing. It seems many of the stones from the seats were looted in the Middle Ages for other building projects. Quite something to be in that space, to think of the events that transpired there, to feel the echoes of another time. We visited some other Roman ruins in the city - another arch, a theatre, a fairly intact Roman mosaic floor, a temple. The temple had been badly damaged in 1944 and has been reconstructed. One wall looks like a badly put together jigsaw puzzle. The town hall next door dates from the 13th century.

It is always a challenge to find food. There are many cafes which serve coffee and alcohol and maybe deserts, but far fewer restaurants. It is lovely to sit in a cafe, slowly sipping, savouring a cup of coffee and just letting time pass. Pula seems to shut down on a Saturday afternoon. Most of the cafes closed.

We drove to Opatije through gorgeous views. Each time you pass through the mountain ranges, through heart-stopping zigzag curves, reaching the top of the mountain and seeing across to all the other mountains. Opatije is on the coast, across the bay from Rijeka. The town is a real resort - once the favourite spot for Austrians in the late 1800s, there are many large villas, many of which are now hotels. The buildings, in darker pastel colours have ornate balconies and lovely iron work. We had a splendid dinner on a terrace right by the sea. The sun, first making Rijeka across the bay look golden, left traces of pink in the sky. The sea seemed turquoise. As it darken the lights across the bay started to shimmer.

We left Opatije and drove down to Krk, a town on the island of Krk. It's a small town with a medieval section, pedestrian streets, parts of the old city wall remaining. There was a folk festival when we arrived and we heard music and saw dancers from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and Italy. Always delightful. It's nice to see the instruments, two oboe-like instruments, a vielle and guitars. And the bass player seemed to hold his bass sideways - maybe easier to pluck it that way. We ate lunch by the harbour - a mix of pleasure boats and small fishing boats.

Then off to Zagreb to return the car and get ready for our early flight Monday.

Travelling on....

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Travelling through Croatia

We started travelling more and there was less time for writing. Zadar was a delight. especially having a little apartment where we were able to play music. We drove from Zadar up to Plitvice Lakes - a series of lakes with many waterfalls. There are many walks to take, the shortest of which is about 3 hours. You take a mini-train up through a steep, winding, narrow path and then walk down on wooden walkways and forest paths through lakes, ponds and gushing water. As we started walking, we were greeted by the sounds of frogs. While this area is not spectacular, in the sense of Niagara Falls, it is very lovely. It is the number and variety of waterfalls and the colour of the water in the lakes and ponds that is astonishing. The colour of the water ranges from emerald greens to blues and is crystal clear. You can see every detail of the bottom in the shallower areas. Every lake has a waterfall or multiple falls cascading from the rocky sides. Hard to describe and I really hope my photos do justice to the beauty of the area. At the end of a long, hot hike we had to take a very short boat ride back to the "train" stop and then a long climb to the parking area.

We still had a lot of driving to do. We found the route that we thought would be best to meet up with the highway to get to Pula, our next stop. The road very quickly turned into more of a lane through dense forest. Fortunately we saw a sign that said we were on the right road, because we really didn't want to turn around and drive it again! Finally we reached a town and the road got a little wider - 2 lanes and a line painted down the centre. This was the big time. The road passed through small farming communities. Vestiges of the war remain. We passed a church - a standing shell with no roof and bushes and small trees growing inside. Even in villages, beside the intact houses stand others with no windows or roof and charred wood inside. We wondered why they have been left standing. The road climbed and descended mountains with views looking over forested areas or pastoral valleys. The route took much longer than we had expected.

Once we reached the motorway, it was much faster going. Croatia is obviously investing a lot of money into infrastructure. The motorways go through long tunnels in the mountains - in many places the tunnel for one direction is completed but the other is not so traffic narrows to two lanes. In conversations with some Croatians, we were lead to believe that there is not the same investment in social programmes.

We stopped for supper in Rijeka which is more grandiose than the other Adriatic towns we have been in. Public buildings are in good repair, but others need much work, somewhat like Budapest. We drove the road to Pula in darkness and didn't get there until late in the evening.

Still travelling....

Saturday, May 31, 2008

On Food

How can you travel without thinking of food?

Supermarkets in Croatia are much smaller. While there is an incredible assortment of yogourts, from drinks to flavoured yogourts to yogourt-like items, the quality and quantity of meat is not great. Ham and sausage are plentiful. I think I have eaten a lifetime supply of ham. The smoked Dalmatian ham is particularly good. The variety of fresh fruit and vegetables is limited. A favourite vegetable here is swiss chard which is cooked with boiled potatoes and served with some olive oil. There is little other ethnic cooking except Italian. Pizza is available everywhere. The Dalmatian coast was once under Venetian rule -maybe that is one reason for the fondness for Italian food.

Most towns have open air markets where fruit, vegetables and flowers are plentiful. Here you can sometimes find items not available in the grocery stores. In Split we passed the meat market - several shops with carcasses hanging in the windows. Nearby was the fish market - the fresh catch being sold from plastic buckets- no refrigeration.

Restaurants serve a lot of seafood. - several varieties of mussels(we passed what looked like mussel farms on our bus trip to Split) as well as scampi, cockles and other seafood. Even salads are often offered with octopus or squid.

The fresh fish is excellent ( I have not yet had the nerve to try frog fish). It is usually just grilled and served whole. Fancier places come and and cut of the head and take out the main bones.

Cafes are plentiful but only serve drinks - often alcoholic drinks as well as coffee. There are many ice cream places and with the heat we have experienced lately, this is understandable. Sometimes it is hard to find a place to have lunch.

But on the whole we have eaten very well.

Travelling on...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Now travelling by car

We picked up a car on Tuesday morning and set out from Split. Our first stop was Trogir, a town with an in tact medieval section. Again, it was interesting to see how the historical buildings survive and most are still lived in. The cathedral, though small was interesting, with incredible carvings around the front entrance. These date from the 1300s. There were beautiful carvings in stone of Adam on a lion on one side and Eve and a lioness with her cubs on the other. The central square also had a building with columns decked in garlands. The streets twist and turn and it was fun exploring.

After leaving Trogis, we climbed a mountain, with many s-curves, some with hairpin turns. The views down to the sea were spectacular, but Paul had to keep his eyes on the road. The Adriatic side of the mountains are barren. There are many stone walls running along them, which no longer seem to serve a purpose except, perhaps to reduce erosion. The soil is parched.

We continued along through a plain at the top of the mountain, where there was a little more agriculture, but not a lot. Then the motorway - it is straight, and the scenery was mainly uninteresting. We did see a wind farm and went over a beautiful river, but otherwise, it almost made the 401 look interesting. Just nearing the turnoff to Zadar, we saw some large mountains in the distance that reminded me of western Colorado - a plain that suddenly meets mountains that seem like a backdrop from a movie set. As we left the highway heading to Zadar we saw more farming interspersed with wild flowers - even a couple of fields covered with scarlet poppies. I love the wild flowers.

Once in Zadar, we found a place to stay - lucked out with a studio apartment away from the centre of town, right on the Adriatic. We can sit on our balcony and watch the waves lap in.

Zadar dates back to Roman times and before. Like Split, the old area of town is an eclectic mix of buildings from many eras. We visited a church dating from the 9th century. It was St. Donat, which has a lot of meaning for me as we had country home in St. Donat in the Laurentians for over 30 years. The church was round- without much decoration. It was built on top of what was the Roman forum when Zadar was a Roman city. You can still see remnants in the church.

One interesting thing we saw is much more modern - the sea organ. This looks like a series of steps to sit on at the edge of the sea. However, there are pipes which lead from the sea into a chamber. The pipes have fipples and so as the waves come in and out they play specific notes. The intensity and tempo changes with the speed of the waves. It was a very pleasing and relaxing time, listening to the music of the sea.

The weather was very hot, so we moved slowly. Some strolling, some sitting and relaxing and a bit of time at a beach. This is truly a lovely area.

Travelling on...

Monday, May 26, 2008


Split is a larger city - the main ferry port to Italy and a more industrial city. Most of it is not that interesting, but the old section, as in Dubrovnik is pedestrian only. Parts of it date to Roman times. We walked past the statue of St. Gregorius - it is supposed to be good luck to rub his left big toe - it is obvious many people do. It is polished to a shine compared with the rest of the statue. - we rubbed it - a little luck never hurts.

The town has a less unified look than Dubrovnik. The streets twist and turn with many very narrow alleyways. Split's old city has a more lived in feel. It also has not had the same injection of money as Dubrovnik. You can see pockmarked buildings and shutters are badly in need of fresh paint. While Dubrovnik feels like a place frozen in time, Split feels more like a place that has evolved over time. Buildings date from a variety of eras and are built with a variety of materials. It is dotted with Roman ruins from the palace of Diacletian, contains many buildings from Medieval and Renaissance times and some newer structures as well (though not modern ones).

We went into the cathedral, which, while quite small has some remarkable things to see. The altar - with inlaid marble supporting it. The front doors have incredible carvings. In the museum of the cathedral were manuscripts from the 15th century, one from the 7th century and a page, written in a different script from the 13th century. The temple to Jupiter now serves as a baptistry. . The ceiling had some elaborate carvings. Near the Protiron (one of the remaining Roman structures) are a number of Roman columns. In a rounded tower, which no longer has a roof, we heard a quartet singing Croatian songs. The acoustics were amazing. It the things you happen upon that make a trip special.

You often hear music in restaurants - and it seems to come from Croatian radio stations, but it is often in English - though from the past. Having lunch we heard everything from "I'm a Believer" to "Sealed with a kiss".

It has been hot. Eating outdoors, under an awning gives some relief from the heat.

Travelling on...