Monday, December 19, 2016

TRAVELERS: Croatia/Slovenia Travelogue (Part 2 – Wake Up Call)

November 24, 2016 (Thanksgiving)

I am a bad tourist.  I left my camera on the bus before the Split walking tour.  I realized it after the bus had left until 13:00, at which point we would be off to Dubrovnik.  So I have no pictures of Split aside from a couple I took from my hotel balcony.  Bad, bad tourist.  I will not make that mistake again (I hope).

Our local guide Damir is knowledgeable and charming.  For 1½ hours he spoke with skill and dexterity about the city he clearly loves.  I came to love it, too.  I wish we could stay another day.

We began our tour on The Riva, the popular street along the Adriatic in front of Diocletian’s Palace.  Built 1700 years ago as a retirement home for the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the last pagan emperor, the palace was taken over after his death and, over hundreds of years, appropriated by the commoners.  It has evolved into the thriving city it is today.  The palace (or what remains of it) was turned into homes for the regular folks, with remnants of the palace structure throughout.

When constructed the cellars were used solely to bring the Emperor’s living quarters up to sea level (the south wall bordered the Adriatic and was built out into the sea).  When the commoners took over, the cellar became a giant dumpster until it was filled up with waste.  Certain areas have since been excavated.  Portions of the excavated cellar were used as the subterranean lair of Daenerys’ dragons in “Game of Thrones.”  I would love to have taken some pictures for my GOT fan friends.  Sigh.

Damir noticed my Lonely Planet guidebook.  He’s hung out with one of the authors and informed me that some of the restaurant recommendations are, in his opinion, based on the free meal given to the author rather than the quality of the food.  Good to know.  Because we only had 2 hours before the bus picked us up, he recommended a walking lunch as opposed to a sitting lunch, which would cost us an hour.  I walked around for much of the time trying to find some restaurants and dessert places to try without much luck.  Instead I went to a serviceable pizza place, and the owner complained my bill was too large (100 KN).  If I had spoken fluent Croatian I might have pointed out that ATMs dispense 200 KN notes.  She relented but seemed resentful.  I’m glad I broke my 200 KN buying a Klapa CD or may have had to go hungry.  I ate my slice on a bench overlooking the Adriatic, which made up for the less than thrilling pizza.  I felt a bit guilty, and was still hungry, so I returned to the pizza place to purchase another slice with exact change to make amends.  The woman looked at me as though I were coming to rob her but softened (a bit) when I produced the requisite 12 KN for another slice.  No good deed goes unpunished.

I found a recommended pastry shop, but it only served ice cream now.  It was a cool day with a brisk wind off the Adriatic, and ice cream was not what I wanted.  I recalled another pastry shop in my unsuccessful search for lunch but could not find it again.  Today was not my day for dining.

The drive to Dubrovnik was a misery.  I sat in front of two retired sisters who (though very nice) were unable to remain silent or allow a silence to occur for more than a minute at a time.  If there were an audio definition of inane in the dictionary, the conversation I was subjected to for the duration of the four hours would be it.  If you think this is hyperbole, I used my phone stopwatch over the course of an hour to time the silence.  Once I made it to 90 seconds; one other time I made it over a minute.  Every other instance was significantly less.  I wanted to thrust a fork into my neck repeatedly as a distraction.  I guess silence creates anxiety in some.  Inane and unnecessary talk make me anxious.  These are not malicious women, to be sure, but their need to talk was positively pathological.  I do not intend to be within earshot of them on the bus for the rest of the tour if it can be helped.

There was a group dinner at the hotel that night.  A sweet Asian woman from Boston named Suzanne invited me to sit with her and an Asian couple whom I thought were married but were just traveling companions.  Suzanne and I had each taken pictures with the other’s camera on Day 2 of the tour.  I think she saw me eating alone before and felt sorry for me.  There was no need to feel sorry.  I was perfectly content, but I enjoyed their company nevertheless.  Suzanne is a retired IRS agent, the man was also retired (from some scientific field I would guess based on our conversation, but I forgot to ask), and the other woman had been a housewife all her life.

The man and I chatted about travel and Zika, and then he asked me about Jerry Brown (the governor of California).  The more we talked the more I realized he was not a fan of Obama.  Strange, because he seemed to think well of Brown (and Brown and Obama are both thoughtful, careful politicians), he did not sound like a Hillary hater and (thank the maker) did not seem to be a fan of Trump.  He then spoke of Obama pardoning murderers (I admitted I knew nothing about this) and they (the murderers) were “mostly black” (his words).  I was taken aback.  It sounded as though he was a connoisseur of fake news (or what a person with a passing understanding of the veracity of the internet information terms "bullshit for the easily led").  This also seemed to confirm that a significant amount of Obama hatred had little to do with policy and more to do with race.  I was reminded just how all encompassing the fear of a black president was.

November 25, 2016 (Friday)

Last night Elvis warned us of waiters in Dubrovnik who would intentionally misunderstand your order and bring you a more expensive item.  He cautioned us to be clear and explicit when ordering to avoid this issue.  Good to note.

We met our local guide Lydia outside the Pile Gate in Old Town Dubrovnik.  She was born and married inside the walls of the town.  She and her family live elsewhere in the city, and her brother now lives in the family apartment in Old Town.  Light rain fell on and off through the early part of the walk.  Lydia spoke passionately about the siege of Dubrovnik in 1991.  One of her best friends was killed by a bomb just outside the clock tower at the east end of the Stradun (the main road).  Many (again) erroneously believe that the war was solely about religion or ethnicity.  In the case of the siege of Drubrovnik, it was about armed civilians (as opposed to the Yugoslav army) attacking and stealing valuables from the city (appliances and the like).  What one might call a para-militarized Keeping Up With the Joneses -- or at least killing and stealing from them.

Dubrovnik dates back to the 8th or 9th Century.  Much of the city was destroyed in an earthquake in the 17th Century, in which half the population was killed.  The town rebuilt but was again severely damaged by the bombing of 1991.  Many roof tiles are now a brighter shade of terra cotta because these tiles were less expensive than the tiles replaced.  Many owners live elsewhere and rent out their apartments to tourists.  There are very few hotels in or near the walled part of town.  You can tell which apartments remain occupied by their owners, because the shutters are in need of repair or paint, as it is too expensive.  The town is a UNESCO Heritage site, and there are strict requirements for any renovation or improvements.

The city’s stone walkways were slick from the intermittent rain when we climbed up to the city walls.  We entered at Ploce Gate near the Old Harbor and would be exiting back near Pile Gate.  Those who wished could continue around the walls, which would take you along the Adriatic.  To walk the entire wall could take 1½ hours, and we had Lydia for just under 2 hours total.  The stairs were quite steep, and the rain made them treacherous and the going slow.  One woman in the group overestimated her ability or underestimated the steepness.  She was not physically prepared but soldiered on.  Even with the clouds and rain the views were impressive.  I redeemed myself today by remembering my camera.  Suzanne took a couple of photos of me on the wall.  She’s not the world’s most skilled photographer (she was an IRS agent, after all) but beggars can’t be choosers.

I had intended to walk the entire wall, but as we approached the Pile Gate exit the rain began to lash.  I was already soaked, and the rain did not look like it would let up any time soon.  Even Lydia seemed concerned.  If your guide is concerned, perhaps it’s best to take that concern seriously.  So with some disappointment I climbed down at Pile Gate.  (You cannot reenter the wall once you exit – though I wonder if in off season there’s some wiggle room.  Still you would have to pay the full admission again, which was 120 KN or just under $20.)

I sheltered in the Franciscan Monastery and Museum.  It’s a small but lovely museum with impressive artifacts, including parts of an unexploded bomb that damaged the monastery in 1991.

By the time I concluded my monastery visit, the rain had subsided.  So I sought out lunch at Nishta (which means “Nothing”), a remarkable vegan hole-in-the-wall (5 inside tables and fewer outdoor tables).  They also offered gluten free options, which I did not need.  The food was excellent.  I had a fennel soup (to die for), followed by a tofu and vegetable pasta dish.  I finished with a vegan version of chocolate mousse, also spectacular.  All of this was accompanied by a glass of Peljesac, a locally-made red wine.  Exceptional.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the city, scouting shops and restaurants for future shopping and dining.  Two of my future dining options were busts, closed for the season.  High season wanes in September, and shoulder season wraps up by mid-November.  We are officially in off-season.

I tracked down a Dalmatian restaurant where I will have lunch tomorrow, and an ice cream place which looked positively sinful.  I’m hoping for more sun and less rain tomorrow.  But I intend to have ice cream either way.  Yes, it looks that good.

I ate dinner at a pizza place called Bara Cuda, run by a sullen fellow who decorated it in old school Italian style, with red checked tablecloths.  I was there early for dinner, but he had no other customers.  Perhaps that’s why he was sullen.  The mushroom pizza was good.  The Plevac, another local red, was not as good as the earlier Peljesac but did the trick.

I ran into Suzanne as I made my way back to the public bus (a 10-minute ride to and from the hotel for a mere 12 KN).  She pointed out a chocolate store, which could provide some co-worker thank you gifts.  Suzanne mentioned she did not care for Lydia’s personal stories and opinions about the War of Separation.  She seemed uncomfortable in this instance when death and destruction became less abstract.  Lydia’s side stories were my favorite part of the tour.  History made less sanitary and compartmentalized.  If more people were exposed to these views, perhaps they’d be less inclined to view indiscriminate bombing as a sustainable solution to difficult problems.

I returned to my room and discovered I was exhausted.  I lay back on my bed and quickly passed out for 3 hours.  It is nearly midnight as I write these words.

Tomorrow most of our party travel to Montenegro for the day.  I have opted to say in Dubrovnik, catch a couple more sites, and take the cable car to Mount Srd (pronounced “Surge”).  I hope the weather cooperates just a bit more.


  1. Thanks for the "views", Brian. Safe travels.

  2. I howled at the return to the angry pizza lady.