November 26, 2016 (Saturday)
It is raining steadily in Dubrovnik with no end in sight, so I’m starting to regret my decision re: Montenegro. Until this morning the hotel breakfast buffet had been, by and large, a Zen affair. Calmly munching pastry, sipping coffee, tucking in on eggs and yogurt and cereal. Today was Satan’s breakfast. Because I had no timetable I slept in, did some stretching, and went down for what I had hoped would be a leisurely breakfast around 9:00. I found myself in the Black Friday equivalent of breakfast buffets. Parents dragging around unruly children. Autonomous kids fingering the assortment of cheeses. Long lines for eggs, pancakes and croissants. The latter began being hoarded. I saw folks with plates piled with them but none to be found at the pastry station. To call the wait staff harried would be an understatement. So I grabbed what I could (I did manage one croissant before they became an endangered species) which meant forgoing the eggs and loading up on cereal and yogurt and any cheese I felt reasonably certain had not been fingered by a recalcitrant child (or adult – let’s be fair to the children). And, of course, plenty of coffee. The woman who refilled my cup was pleasant. She mentioned it had been busy over the past three or four days. Because it was off season I wonder if the hotel was putting out promotional rates, and parents seized on this for a long weekend in the Pearl of the Adriatic. Too bad about the rain.
I stayed in my room until nearly noon reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman,” an engaging memoir of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, before the rain began to let up. Off to the bus stop and back to Old Town. As the bus made its way east the rain returned, so upon my arrival I sheltered at the Dominican Monastery and Museum. The Dominicans are more ornate than the Franciscans, with three rooms of exhibits and a beautiful but somber church. Both monasteries were chock full of reliquaries (containers with sacred relics). There were leg-shaped and finger-shaped reliquaries. I suppose they cost less than full body reliquaries. I intended to visit the Cathedral of the Assumption, but it appeared to be closed and the rain had begun to increase again. By then it was close to 13:30, so I took a pleasant lunch at Konoba Ribar, a family run establishment that serves traditional Dalmatian cuisine. I had the Black Risotto, risotto with cuttlefish. They aren’t kidding about black. I wiped my mouth with my napkin, and it came away positively noir. While it may not have looked appetizing, the risotto was delicious and filling. Dessert was at a sladoled that served ice cream, which is closer in spirit to the Italian gelato. A scoop of Biscoto in (what looked like) a waffle cone really hit the spot even on the rainy day.
It was still overcast but the rain seemed to have let up, so I walked up the steep steps through the Buza Gate to the north of the city and bought a cable car ticket up to Mount Srd. Had the weather been less spotty I would have bought a 1-way ticket and hiked down. As it was I paid 120 KN (almost $20) for a round trip ticket. While the view was impressive, all the viewpoints (except for possibly the restaurant, which I didn’t go into) were partially obstructed by the cable. For the price one would hope for a more pristine view. The rain started up again, so I took pictures quickly and headed back down. Two idiot tourists had climbed beyond the safety fence to get their pictures against the city below while balancing on slick rocks. In case of a problem I would certainly have called for help, but it was also tempting to let Darwinism take its course. Mercifully I did not have to deal with that moral conundrum.
Back to Old Town to buy a couple of gifts for co-workers, then a futile attempt to buy a sandwich to take back to the hotel (both of my options were closed for the season). The rain persisted, and I was getting cold, so off to the bus stop for a return to the hotel.
November 27, 2016 (Sunday)
The long travel day. I made sure I was well away from the mundane sisters. Gorgeous scenery from the bus. The Adriatic. The mountains. Sun (on the travel day, of course).
We made a comfort stop in Bosnia & Herzegovina. I had a black and white coffee. Then we stopped in Pakovo Selo for lunch and a brief tour of the Ethnic Village there. Our local guide Anna described what life was like 100 years earlier in this remote village. She spoke perfect English, with hardly any trace of an accent. My lunch was polenta. Most of the rest had the more traditional peka, roast pork or chicken. Donut holes (or the traditional version thereof) for dessert.
Because there was a delay on the highway (which is the equivalent of a freeway in the U.S.) due to mine removal near the road, we took side roads to meet up with the highway further along. On this route we saw abandoned homes both bombed out or just hollowed out and empty.
We arrived in Zagreb, and it was cold with some rain. After checking in at the hotel a group of us walked into the downtown to grab some food and a drink at a craft brew house recommended by a bar owner in Dubrovnik. Doug and Kay were the instigators in this craft beer quest. To say Kay is outgoing is an understatement. She and Doug (who is about 15 years her senior) met at the airport a few days earlier and became fast friends and travel buddies. She’s just that kind of a person. Doug is a retired public school teacher who currently lives in Thailand. Kay teaches nutrition and diabetes control at a university in San Diego. Both are free spirits and somewhat irascible. Kay “collects” glasses from pubs. She paid for the ones at the Craft House (the pub we drank at) but apparently she absconded with others earlier in the tour. I stopped at a sandwich shop called Pingvin before rejoining Kay and Doug, and I’m glad I did. All they served at Craft House was pub grub, and I needed something more filling (i.e., a veggie burger).
November 28, 2016 (Monday)
Zagreb dawned crisp and cold. Jelena, our local guide, started the tour on the bus (perhaps to give the outdoors time to warm a little). Of all the Croatian towns/cities we have visited this is the one I could see myself living in. Split was a close second. If the view counted more than the bustle, Split would win.
There was an Upper Town and a Lower Town (where our hotel was). Lower Town was planned and organized. Upper Town was more chaotic as it had grown out of necessity. Old Town is split into two parts – Gradec to the west and Kaptol to the east. In the early years of the city a river divided the two areas with a bridge connecting them. The two sides fought, often at the bridge, so it became know as Bloody Bridge. Eventually both sides threw so much garbage in the river, it stank. So they filled the river in and paved over it, thus permanently connecting both sides of Old Town.
Often when Jelena discussed the economic status of Croatia she would make her point by contrasting them with their wealthier neighbor, Switzerland. For example, she would say things like, “70% of Croatia claim to be entrepreneurs. Many of these entrepreneurs probably smuggle cigarettes from Serbia and Montenegro. Otherwise we’d be Switzerland.”
After the tour I sought out the Christmas marketplace hoping to find a Santa figurine for Mom. No luck. The stand I thought might hold promise took forever to open and, as the merchandise came out, it appeared less and less promising.
I went back to Pingvin for lunch, and the fellow loaded me up. Delicious, filling and very inexpensive. After a quick stop to change Kuna for Euro, I headed to the bus for our trip to Slovenia and Lake Bled (pronounced “Blade”).
We arrived near sunset. The porters weren’t able to unload luggage from the bus right away due to the tight space. Normally I’d just carry my bag to the room and save the porter a trip. So I unpacked what I had with me and took a few quick pictures of the lake and the castle. Even in dusk they looked beautiful.
I headed downstairs to pick up my bag and was greeted by an elevator full of luggage and a harried porter. He began to unload the elevator, but none of the bags were mine. As he hefted the bags out Agnes walked up, pointed to two bags and announced the room to which they should be delivered. Entitled, party of one. In the lobby I found my bag, took it up to my room and finished unpacking.
I walked over to the restaurant next door and ordered a coffee and a kremsnita, a light pastry filled with crème. Word to the wise: the kremsnita is so sweet and rich, a strong coffee is the ideal accompaniment. I heard someone from the group drank a hot chocolate (which here is so thick, it’s almost a pudding) with their kremsnita. They probably needed an insulin chaser. About 20 minutes into my dessert a mass of schoolchildren arrived for a kremsnita treat, and chaos reigned. I was lucky to get out in time for the country inn dinner later that evening.
We took the bus over to the tiny medieval town of Radovljica. Elvis gave a brief tour then walked us over to dinner. We were invited into the establishment with bread and salt, then led down to the wine cellar for samples of red and white Slovenian wine, as well as sausages. No sausage for me, but the red wine was tasty.
We were also treated to traditional Slovenian music and dancing. The accordion player was garrulous and funny, and during the meal upstairs he and the dancers would return between courses to provide more music, more dancing, and some historical context. The end of the evening culminated in first the men and then the women playing the equivalent of musical chairs but with hats. Elvis won the men’s competition and Sabrina won the women’s. All in all a delightful evening. Only sixteen of our number partook, but it was the fun sixteen.
After returning to the hotel, Kay invited Doug and me to her room to continue drinking beer. We sat around and drank and watched music videos on VH1 until she kicked us out. Tomorrow is the tour of Ljubliana.