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...

This and That

We are now in Split which is north of Dubrovnik. We took a bus up the coast - breathtaking views with maintains on one side and fjord-like bays with sparkling water on the other. We passed bright yellow flowers and splashes of red poppies by the side of the road. Travel was slow as this is a twisting and turning road with just two lanes. At times we were at sea level, at times high up, hugging the side of the mountain. As the road winds, it is sometimes hard to tell if you are looking out on the many islands that dot the coast or at the other side of the bay. The bus, a modern air-conditioned vehicle acts as both inter-city and local bus. People flag it down and travel shorter distances.

Travel has its challenges. First there are the bathrooms. Each one seems to use a different flushing mechanism, from strings to pull to things to push in one way or another. Then there are the ones where you just line up your feet and squat. Fortunately, I haven't met too many of those. Showers are another challenge. The one we had in Dubrovnik required some gymnastics and timing.

Internet cafes have been great. We found a delightful one in Zagreb, complete with tea and smoothies. The one in Dubrovnik was very up to date with headsets for Skype calls. Great to talk to a few key people. Here in Split the service is not quite as efficient. Paul had to play musical computers until he had one that worked (slowly, but it worked).

And now, out into the hot sun. This was a nice cool place to sit for a few minutes.

Travelling on....

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Last reflections on Dubrovnik

The walls and buildings are from the past; the people and contents are from the present. No garish store signs - yet inside are Lush, Diesel, Lacoste, jewelry shops, clothing stores, book shops and many souvenir shops. They have tried to keep the integrity of the place. Only the occasional bank machine, discretely placed advertises that time has moved on.

Many alley ways have tables with umbrellas, extensions of restaurants. It's funny to sit eating with tables on both sides of the "street" and have a local child zip through on his bicycle. People live here - with potted plants on window ledges, satellite dishes and air conditioners, children walking to and from school, roller blading on the marble streets, and people bustling home with their bags of groceries.

Then there are the tourists: many - speaking different languages, filling the cafes, walking the streets, exploring the sights.

And there are the cats wandering the streets, feasting on handouts from restaurants.

Croatia takes religion seriously. The National holidays include the religious ones. Much was shut for Corpus Christi. Here and elsewhere in Croatia, you see nuns in full habit - many young. It is obvious the visitors to churches are not just tourists as some stop a while and pray, cross themselves and move on. This was true in Zagreb too.

It will be hard to leave this beautiful place but tomorrow we are travelling on......

Friday, May 23, 2008

More Dubrovnik

If you think Dubrovnik is beautiful in the day, you must see it at night. The lights glow off the light-coloured walls and reflect off the marble streets as if on water. We went to a concert in the cathedral - Early Music. The group was a small choir ( one piece accompanied by lute) - interesting harmonies. Lovely to get a flavour of the local music. Walking out of the cathedral into Dubrovnik at night added magic to the evening.

I had a small medical problem and went to see a doctor, who has provided me with all I need. He was an interesting man. As we waited in the waiting room, we noticed a number of paintings, many signed with his last name. So when he finished with the medical stuff I asked if he was the artist. He said yes - but that he didn't have much time to paint these days because he was writing. What is he writing? He is fascinated by black holes and spoke to us a bit about his interest and ideas. I had a hard time understanding, but it always a pleasure to meet someone with such diverse interests.

Yesterday we walked the walls of Dubrovnik, about 2 km around the old town with many stairs. Yet again, each turn brought a new vista, a new sight: gardens tucked near old buildings with flowers, lemons and vegetables, incredible sea views looking out to the nearby islands, the orange rooftops of the city spread out below your feet, and all the signs of real life - laundry hanging out, a bicycle tucked by a house (I don't know how they ride a bike down from the walls). Then there are views of all the boats in the port. At times we were very high up (I read that some walls are as high as 25 m. It's not the Great Wall of China - but it was an incredible experience. Wait until I post my photographs when I get home!

We have also taken time to cook our own meals, play some music (while looking out to the Adriatic) and to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere.

The beauty of Dubrovnik is remarkable - a real World Heritage Site. It is hard to imagine that it was deliberately bombed during the war in the early 90s. We have seen photographs of the extent of the damage. They have a done an amazing job of restoration, finding materials to match the original structures as closely as possible. This place is a jewel and must be preserved.

Still travelling....

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I don't know what I expected when I thought of Dubrovnik, but nothing prepared me for the beauty and magic of this place. We flew from Zagreb and the last part of the the flight took us down the coastline where barren mountains plunge to the sea with little towns nestled on the coast. Dubrovnik airport is part way up one of those mountains. From the moment we left the plane, I felt I was far from the Eastern European feel of Zagreb and Budapest. This is Mediterranean countryside with a profusion of flowers, palm trees , orange trees and magnificent sea vistas.

We have once again rented an apartment. Our landlord is eager to make us feel welcome - even the attitude of people is more Mediterranean. So once again we are negotiating grocery stores, feeling slightly less like tourists. We are situated on the hill with a lovely terrace where we sit and have breakfast looking out to the Adriatic.

We are not far from the Old Town (about 200 stairs) through pedestrian alleyways and steep staircases. The air around the main staircase is scented with the many flowers that grow nearby. The Old Town is a walled city. Entering the main gate was a jaw-dropping experience. Being in a place that is that old and still a vibrant city is like walking through a time warp - living in two time dimensions simultaneously. Old Dubrovnik is strictly a pedestrian city. The few main streets and squares are paved with marble. The side streets are narrow lanes with stairs leading up to the buildings higher up on the slope. Buildings are very close together. Every turn in Dubrovnik leads to an astonishing view or interesting site.

A town has been on the site since ancient times. By the middle ages it was a thriving trading town. Although some buildings date back to the 1300s, much of the town was rebuilt in the late 1600s after a devastating earthquake. The buildings are all made of limestone with orange tile roofs. The whole of old Dubrovnik is like a giant museum; there is so much to see. We have gone into the cloisters of an old monastery where each column is topped with a different sculpted animal, human or plant. There, too, is an apothecary dating from the 1300s. There is still an operating pharmacy in the building. We have gone into several churches with elaborate altars of marble. Today we visited the synagogue, the second oldest in Europe and the oldest Sephardic that is still being used. - and probably one of the smallest.

No words can really describe this place. We have seen artifacts dating back 1000 years - a sheet of music written in neumes from the 10th or 11th century, a torah scroll dating from the 13th century, pharmacopias from the 1500s and later.... and the list goes on. Glad to say we have a few more days here.

Still travelling....

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kindness of People

More than once on this trip I have been so struck by the kindness of strangers.
  • We arrived in Strasbourg after dark and did not have a good city map. Paul stopped at the only place we found open - a Chinese restaurant. A friend of the owner was just leaving and told us to follow him and he would indicate where to turn. We followed and thought he indicated turning and we did - lost again. A few minutes later, the man pulled up beside us and drove ahead of us so we could find our hotel. What kindness!
  • A small gesture - again in Strasbourg we were looking for a spot in the shade at a restaurant. A portly gentleman insisted we take the table beside him that his wife had vacated. Then when the waiter neglected to get us cutlery, he got up himself to get it for us.
  • We were looking for a place for a light bite in Budapest when we were stopped by a short elderly woman who asked us in impeccable French if we spoke French. She apologized that there was not a lot in the area, but directed us to some possibilities. She told us she was born in Paris but had lived in Budapest since the 30s
  • A man who spoke no English managed to understand we were looking for the metro and helped direct us there.
Small gestures, but they make travel a warmer, more human experience.

Now in Zagreb

A long train ride got us to Zagreb. Part of it went along the southern shore of Lake Balaton as the sun was setting so that was quite beautiful. Zagreb is not a big city - very walkable. People are friendly and the weather has been lovely.

Yesterday and today there was a Renaissance Fair in the central square. There were many booths with Croatian crafts as well as people demonstrating weaving, basket weaving, pottery making, iron working and more. There was Croatian music so the place was very lively. There are many many outdoor cafes in Zagreb. With the good weather people are outdoors enjoying taking time. Like Budapest, stores close early on Saturday so people are out strolling in the parks.

There are a number of outdoor markets, but the main one is huge with fresh fruit and vegetables in abundance. There are also many flower merchants - I guess people are planting their gardens here, too.

We have done a lot of walking - into churches, up narrow streets, through quiet parks. It's a very human-sized city, clean and with much less graffiti than Budapest. Despite the more recent war, everything seems to be in a much better state of repair. One odd thing - wherever there is scaffolding around a building, it is covered by giant sized ads.

Travelling on.....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More on Budapest

Budapest - city of contrasts. We have walked many areas of the city - seen buildings badly in need of repairs and grandiose buildings on majestic boulevards. We have been to the opera - a building beyond description with opulent decor. We went to hear Turandot and both agreed it is not our favourite opera. But it is wonderful to see the building as it supposed to be used. And the building was full - tourists and locals. So nice to see culture celebrated.

Here are a few impressions of the city-
  • computers are not as commonplace. At both the train station and at metro ticket booths, ticket people hand write receipts and do calculations with an adding machine. The internet cafes are busy with many Hungarians as well as tourists.
  • this is a human city. There are many pedestrian streets and beautiful squares filled with cafes. People sit and enjoy the outdoors. Cafe furniture is much more charming than in North America
  • Pansies seem to be the flower of choice - in city squares, in front of Parliament, in boxes.
  • Stores close around 2:00 pm on Saturdays - while it's hard on the shoppers, it does leave the workers with family time.
  • There are many sculptures around the city. - large statues in squares, smaller sculptures on main streets. Nice to be in a city that values art.
  • Church bells are a constant - every hour, every quarter hour, from many churches
  • The city is not particularly clean. Graffiti is everywhere and the buildings are coated with a grey soot.. There are many empty shops, particularly away from the tourist area and most small shops have bars on the windows and doors.
  • The architecture is what continues to surprise me - despite the state of some buildings there is much to admire with neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance buildings.
We spent an afternoon in Szentendre, a delightful village with buildings dating from the 1700s. The streets are cobblestone. It has become a centre for artists with many museums and galleries. We visited the Margit Kovacs Museum - dedicated to Kovacs' work. She was a ceramicist who experimented with many styles. Mainly we wandered the streets - stopped by the Danube - a much quieter sit than in Budapest and enjoyed the architecture and views. When we were at the Serbian church, we stopped to peek in and heard the priest chanting - quite a treat. We ate dinner on an outdoor terrace before taking the very rickety train back to Budapest.

A visit to the main Synagogue was a highlight. The architecture and decoration were unique and the visit to Raoul Wallenberg Square behind, a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who suffered and perished during the Holocaust was a very moving experience.

Budapest has been a good experience. Tomorrow on to Zagreb.

Still travelling...

Saturday, May 10, 2008


We took the train from Paris to Munich - a smooth ride on the TGV - clean, pleasant. After a two hour wait we boarded the train for Budapest 1st class sleeper. I would hate to see 2nd class accommodations! The train had obviously been in use for many years. We had a "room" with 3 bunks - if there had been 3 of us it would have been very claustrophobic. I slept on the bottom bunk; Paul had to climb a rickety ladder to the top - almost at the ceiling. We both managed to sleep a bit better than we thought, but arrived tired in Budapest.

We rented an apartment here and it is lovely to feel, however briefly like we are living here. Part of our first day was devoted to domestic chores - finding a supermarket, negotiating shopping where language was a challenge and then laundry at our apartment. It's always interesting to see what is available foodwise in different places. We decided to have more of a down day, and even cooked our own supper. It's delightful to eat, looking out on the hills in Budapest. We even managed to take some time to play music - looking out at that spectacular view. What a joy!

In the evening we walked along the Danube which is really lovely. The important buildings are lit up and sparkle as do the bridges.

Budapest is a study in contrasts. There is a lively feel to it - even in the evenings, there are people out walking. The city itself has some majestic buildings, but many look past their prime. It is obvious that there is little money for upkeeping them and many parts of the city have a tired feel. We have walked a lot - up to the castle (well, actually we took the funicular up and walked down) and visited the history museum. We are starting to get more of a feel for the history and an understanding of the many influences on the area. The views from castle hill and from Fisherman's Bastion are breath-taking - with the Danube at your feet, then Pest and the hills in the distance. It is interesting to see the many styles of architecture, with both European and some Eastern influences.

In the evening we went to see a Hungarian folk performance - a thorough delight. The music is lively, the dancers exhausted me (never mind themselves) and the costumes were a feast for the eyes. The theatre itself was built in an opulent neo-Baroque style - fun to see.

We're taking our time, experiencing the city, stopping at a cafe and walking ..... travelling on.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

in France

Well here I am - trying to type on a French keyboard; zhich has a number of letters in different places - as you can see from my typo - one of them is the w

Yesterday, after a night of little sleep, Paul met me at the airport and we drove to Reims (pronounced Rance). We drove through farmland splashed with bright yellow fields. It's like driving through a patchwork quilt with patches of varying shades of yellow green and brown.

It is so easy to travel quickly from one historical era to another in Europe. We parked near a library - a beautiful art deco building and walked to the cathedral: The first king of the Franks was crowned there: It was also there that Jeanne d'Arc brought the dauphin to be crowned Charles VII. Walking in the cathedral you feel physically connected to history. It is incredible to think about who else's feet have walked in the same place.

The cathdral itself is quite something to see, with beautiful stained glass, towering ceilings; carved figures in the walls of the entrance, 3 magnificent rose windows.... But to add to it all, as we were walking around there was music playing - an organ transcription of the trio sonata for 2 flutes by Bach which Paul and I have been playing together. Another way to feel a connection to the place.

Next we dropped by Mumm's. Reims is the heart of Champagne and every house has offices there. We bought a little something to celebrate the trip.

Next to another century - to the war room where the Germans signed the surrender to end the war in Europe in May 1945. Again it was incredible to experience that connection with history, to occupy space that had witnessed such important events. The walls were covered with maps - remaining from the time the allied generals were there - testamonials to the terrible ti,es of battle, occupation, deprivation and incredible bravery.

Then off to Strasbourg. This city is very picturesque, with an incredible number of buildings still standing from the 15th, 16th and 17th century. So often you visit a city and they say "after the fire of ...." - but here, despite 2 world wars, much remains.

Another cathedral - a Gothic wonder. It is hard to imagine what people felt entering it when it was first built. For over 400 years it was the tallest building in the modern world. More magnificent stained glass, towering ceilings and sculptures.

A boat ride through the canals gave us glimpses of different neighbourhoods and buildings from every century including the new buildings for the European Union.

Strolling on....

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I think I'm finally ready

I think I'm finally ready. The last of my lists has been made. The final things are in the suitcase.

Now comes the endless day of sitting - drive to the airport, sit at the airport, sit on the plane, Paul meets me at the airport, sit in the car (about 5 hours to Strasbourg). It's funny to think of travel as motion but for the traveller it often involves sitting still.

It's a day of being processed, checking in at the airport, through security, through the gate and then more of the same at the other end.

But it's also a day of change - from one continent to another, from one time zone to another and especially from one headspace to another. So important to get away to gain experience and perspective on one's life. Time to go explore

Friday, May 2, 2008

Off on a journey

Travelling is wonderful - but oh the details before you go. My lists have lists. Thank goodness for post-its.

It's all about the journey - but the travel day is not the highlight - so much waiting around.

Just two more days and I'll be off. I've crossed many items off my list - including today's birthday party for my mother-in-law. She is now 100! I've never known anyone that old before. Now my lists are slowly becoming more manageable and seem possible to accomplish.

I love Montreal in the spring. I have been admiring the magnificent magnolias - they have been breath-taking. I will be sorry to miss my tulips which are poised to bloom. But there will be other springs here and it's time for adventure. Getting very excited