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Dubrovnik and a Bit of Bosnia

Mostar, across the Neretva River Enjoyed a hearty breakfast this morning while listening to Lulu belting out 'To Sir with Love' ...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dubrovnik and a Bit of Bosnia

Mostar, across the Neretva River
Enjoyed a hearty breakfast this morning while listening to Lulu belting out 'To Sir with Love' because unbelievably, that's what was playing on the dining room's giant flat screen TV - un-subtitled at that.

Post breakfast, and my short exploration of the neighborhood, we were off driving south of Togir on our way to Dubrovnik. As we drove along, a map was scrutinized and Jo said she'd been told by a local that we'd be crazy to not visit Mostar, which required entering yet another country. Mostar was only a song and a dance up the road from the freeway we were on. No arguments to the contrary from me. Soon we faced the international border to Bosnia Herzegovina.

When we reached the window, we obediently handed over our passports to the crossing guard. He eyed them idly, then attempted to hand them back.

"NO! STAMP THEM! STAMP THEM!" shrieked to eager traveling women.

He obliged.

The International Border to Bosnia Herzegovina
As we entered the new country - new to us - we both remembered there had been a vicious war there not too long ago really - in the mid 1990s. It was the nastiest of wars too, an genocidal war. Crazy to see beautiful scenery and imagine that any ugliness could dwell there.

The 14th century castle of Počitelj aka 'the Citadel'
Cute countryside church
 Mostar was only about an hour from the international border, and soon we were looking over the city sights as we searched for the 'market place' Jo had heard about.

Bombed out or just wrecked?
A little public square protesting
Finding the market place, we discovered the nightmare of parking there. We were busily ordered into a teeny parking area off a teenier street which once upon a time probably only hosted donkey carts. Once parked we were told a parking fee was due. I offered Euros, and was told, 'No Euros! Marks!' Really... are there any European Union countries that actually use the Euros? I know, but still. After promising we'd return with the parking fee, walked a quarter mile or so back up the narrow road to an ATM. We each got 'markas', then headed back, there paying off the parking fee.

Must admit, the walk was pretty.

Uptown Mostar
The atmosphere was pleasant
Lots of 'Mostar' silk was for sale

The cobblestones were quite a challenge to walk on

The Gelato was as tasty as it was pretty
We were all walked out by the time we toddled back to the car and drove for the border. It was time for even more pretty scenery. Honestly, at one point we were on a mountain road, and looking down from it, we might have been overlooking California's central valley farmlands.

Irrigated farmlands stretched out as far as we could see
Along the mountain drive there were several small wooden, open air shops that also overlooked the valley below. There, honey, lavender oils, dried fruits, and other local products were for sale.

Lots of fresh and dried fruits
Honeys of all sorts, pomegranates, dried figs, nuts and fresh grapes and lemons
Samples of candied fruits & nuts - I hate candied citrus peel but their's was so good I bought a bag
Oils, suffused with rosemary and other herbs
Headed south to Dubrovnik

Our darling Villa Host playing with Jo
We finally made our way down the coast and into Dubrovnik. As we drove there were tantalizing glimpses of a super modern bridge, and even peek at the older part of the city where they film some portions of Game of Thrones.

It took a bit of GPSing to make our way to the Villa Odak where we are booked. The villa is high up on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic sea.  Parking seemed dicey so Jo fetched out host, a tall gentlemen with a sunny smile. He unlocked a huge bow shaped metal bar that blocked anyone parking without permission. Then, he carried our luggage to our room, or rather, our suite. We were both grateful he did the lugging as there lots of stone stairs down, then steps up to the villa. Yay! I do not enjoy hauling luggage up and down stairs.

The dining room in the Villa, facing the patio overlooking the sea
This is the other view from the dining room, pointing to the entrance and the stairs up to our suite

 We had thought we'd be sharing a room but what we got was two beautiful and separate rooms. We each had  own large bed, desk area and flat-screen TV. We shared a bathroom with shower and a little kitchenette. We are so happy with our suite it is amazing.

Half of my enormous, vault ceiling room
Jo trying to look tiny in her not-as-large but still awesome room
We got ourselves settled into our rooms. I lucked out and got the biggest room with a vaulted ceiling.

Our Suite's cute Kitchenette

From my room I could hear persistan chirping. Outside were hundreds of swifts gliding and calling as they had their last hunt for insects before nightfall. It wasn't only the swifts that were in want of a meal. Jo and I got the scoop from our host on where to eat and we headed out and downhill on foot.

On our left the Adriatic, on our right, the stone wall and walkway downhill (or up!)
The march downhill was about a mile, which I as horrified to realize I was in for an uphill march later. No worries though, the hill was a long, long, gentle slope so I knew I could do it. It was a beautiful walk. High stone walls to the north along a long downhill road. On the south we could peer over low stone walls to see the ocean below or look at the various little hotels and family dwellings along the route. At the bottom of the hill we saw the restaurant we think our host told us about. It was only a few thousand feet more to the old city of Dubrovnik but that's for another day.
Down the hill is a view of the old Dubrovnik - can you see the Khaleesi on the parapet?

At the little restaurant we ate on the patio. We were daring in our choice of meals. I had a special wedding beef served with gnocchi. Looked dreadful, tasted wonderful. Jo had a meat 'sampler' plate of different types of sausages and meat cuts served with French fries, and she said it was pretty good too.

This is what the beautiful walk downhill looked like on the way back up
So it was a nice and fairly energetic ending to a long, long day. Tomorrow our southern Croatia adventures really begin!
View of Lokrum Island from the Villa back patio

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Zagreb to Togir

Who knew that Croatia uses Monopoly Money for most transactions?

After a good night's rest, I was up early, headed back across the wide street  to the train station. There I withdrew some Croatian money from an ATM machine and arranged for a rental car. I was told a car rental agent would meet us. So an hour later Jo and I were at the station with our luggage.

Rental Car arguing with HQ on our behalf

A friendly car rental associate showed up and no surprise, he spoke better English than we did. He had all sorts of gizmos and electronics to gather our information & payment. So when our passports and such were all checked over we signed the rental paperwork.

 After a cursory examination we drove off in an serviceable little white car.
Final check by the train station, just before zipping off with our Croatian Rental Car
The town of Zagreb was large and it had loads of apartment buildings that strongly reminded me of New York City's project housing. The similarity ended in that the Zagreb buildings were dour, gray and are probably a hold over from the World War II era when Croatia was still a part of Yugoslavia.

Once we left the bustling little city of Zagreb, we drove through lots of countryside. I was today's driver so it was Jo that took most of the shots.

 For me, the only maddening bit of our journey was there were lots and lots of  hawks along the highways, but no shoulders to the roads, ergo no possible way to stop so I could view or photograph the birds.
We drove past at least one national park 
We drove through lots of tunnels, one of which took several minutest to pass through. Some of the tunnels, like the one below, were labeled as overpasses that connected wildlife habitats. Sadly, we saw no wildlife at all, not even a squirrel or bunny.
Wildlife Overpass

After a few hours driving we hit the Mediterranean coast and began the drive along the sea, headed south.
Croatian flag on a private yacht along the Croatian Adriatic.
We'd gotten by most of the day with snacks or chips whenever we stopped for gas or a bathroom break. So we were getting pretty peckish by the time we reached small town called Zadar. It's a small town that we hear is quite young for these parts, having been founded only 3 thousand years ago. In Zadar, we managed to park - never an easy thing. We seated ourselves in a little open air restaurant Restaurant Kornat. There the waiter was v. kind to the two tired ladies. He treated us to free appetizers - some tuna pate with olive oil and fresh bread. Yum!
The Kornat Restaurant by a bay
The starters were followed by tubs - yes tubs - of fresh mussels. Don't believe me?

Yep, we had tubs o' mussels

I had a split order of the mussels &
 'Venus warty clams' as seen above. 
Refreshed, we climbed back in the car and headed south again. We drove on 90 minutes or so to a second little town on the sea, Togir. By now it was getting dark and we were getting fuzzy brained.

Fuzzy or not, it was Jo to the rescue. She went into a nearby BnB and secured us two rooms, which so late in the day was yet another miracle. We each had our own room as there were none left with two beds. So, Jo took an upstairs room, and I took one on the street level. Whew! It was a long but pleasant day.

Sunset over Togir

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station
For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  We got up early, and while Jo ran an errand, I bought our tickets at the train station. Our train was leaving so we had to bustle go to the station and get on board. I believe our train trip took us out of Prague, through the Czec Republic, across a path through Austria's countryside, and even through Slovenia.
The scenery ranged from ho-hum to...
... the occasional dreamy castle on a hill - in Austria (center)
Lovely 'Sound of Music' countryside
View from dining car
A little Football (Soccer) going on   
At ever border crossing I was thrilled to hand over my passport to the border 'Policija'. They reminded me of Film Noir adventures in which I ought to have been smuggling Maltese Falcons, Pomeranian Kestrels or other internationally forbidden treasures. Alas, the officers were so polite and friendly they simply ruined my fantasies.  I mean, they might have at least pretended to threaten me with a year in the gulag if I didn't hand over the goods.
Not even pretending to be evil. How adorable is he?
To pass the time on the train, I sat staring blankly out of the windows. I was of course, looking for Claire bait: i.e., birds, horses or wildlife. Didn't see much of any of those. I did manage to get a gawdawful shot of a spotty horse and rider, trotting past horticultural bower in Austria. Not exactly the shot of a Lipizzaner and rider I'd wanted on this vacation, but better than a poke in the eye. 
See the horse & rider dead center? Sort of? Come on, pretend you see them!
While I enjoyed my isolationist, introverted activity (or inactivity) Jo bided her time, converting complete strangers into busom buddies. 
The red-head is not startled, it's just the best of a series of her pix
That's Jo & meself reflected in the glass behind yet another Weasley
That two of Jo's new friends I photographed were gingers is coincidence - or is it? I'll find some intrigue for this train ride if it kills me. Stay tuned for the Mystery of the Ginger Gypsies coming soon on PBS. 

My favorite 'selfies' on this train trip were taken in a peculiar little room. It was exotically fresco'd & festooned with yellow-fruit bearing trees. What was this magical place? You'll have to guess as I'm too much of a lady to say.
'Seated', and enjoying the view
In the late hours of the night, the train pulled into an old style train station, the sort you've seen in old black and white movies in Zagreb: a city of northern Croatia. Yay,  new country to explore!

I mean, did you EVER???
We had no hotel reserved in Zagreb. But we got a recommendation from a fellow train passenger. We disembarked and rolled our weary selves and our luggage across the wide city street to the Central Hotel.

Miraculously we scored a lovely room. We had two beds, one twin-ish, the other Queen sized. I selfishly grabbed the larger bed. I myself am larger and the ensie little so-called twin beds that seem popular here are getting tiresome.  The most striking feature of  the room was stunningly amazing and inexplicable - a square - I kid you not - toilet. Surprisingly, it fit my round bottom.
The room was both modern and a throwback with Art Deco mirror & such, but also a modern TV
And Hurrah for me scoring the larger bed!
Tomorrow we are off south to the Dalmation Coast.