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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wow! Croatia

I cannot say I love Croatia with all of my heart because I wasn’t able to see most of the country, but I do love Dubrovnik, which is quite possibly one of the most picturesque towns on earth. There is natural beauty from every direction. It’s hard to believe there was a war here and the city was under siege only 15 years ago.
One thing I was not expecting was sunny warm weather. Since we are technically farther north than Istanbul I was preparing for snow, but when we ported we could see palm trees and the water was clearer and more crystal blue than in Hawaii. Nearly every yard also had some sort of citrus tree in it too.
Our entrance into Dubrovnik had to be one of the most exciting yet, after Japan of course. Our captain actually lives in Dubrovnik so as we were approaching the city at around 6:30 am he pulled the ship uncomfortably close and loudly blew the ships horn 9 times. I have no doubt that probably every citizen of Dubrovnik jumped out of bed wondering what the heck was going on. When we looked closely to the deck of one of the houses we could see the captains family all waving to us. Apparently the captain was out waving to them too on the front deck. I was on the back deck so I didn’t see him.
After the morning excitement I decided to go back to bed, at least for another hour. When I was sitting at breakfast another much larger cruise ship pulled up and ported right behind us. For some reason I thought cruise season was over. It didn’t matter, they only had a short time in Dubrovnik, they pulled in at 8am and were long gone by the time I returned from the city at 5:00.
I chose to do a city orientation on the first day called museums and churches. I figured it was much easier to not have to deal with all of the admissions fees myself. I don’t know why I chose to do this orientation. Museums bore the heck out of me but we were able to see some pretty cool stuff. The one building I was most excited to see was the Franciscan Monastery. There is an interior colonnaded courtyard that is absolutely beautiful. In the center of the courtyard were orange trees and a large statue like fountain with a small monk on the top. Up near the ceiling of the walk way were large peeling frescos painted on the walls, and there were several tombs of wealthy patrons built into the walkway.
The Museum in the monastery was small. There were paintings on the walls, relics in cases, and an entire wall set up like a pharmacy (this was apparently one of the first pharmacies). All of the items were interesting slightly in their own right but the most interesting thing in the museum in my opinion almost went by unnoticed. I might never have seen it if I hadn’t seen a ray of light shining in from an area where light normally would not shine in. There was a small hole, about the size of my fist, in the wall with a sheet of glass that looked like a porthole covering it. Underneath it was a sign that said “A Missile Shot 6th December 1991.” The missile had gone through the wall and exploded and exploded on the other side. It must not have done that much damage but it was never explained to me what actually happened.
After the Franciscan Monastery we wandered through the narrow back streets of Dubrovnik. These streets were completely European, or at least what I picture as European. They were all narrow. Windows with shutters open lined the building sides. Cast iron balconies stuck out and streams of colorful laundry hung from one building to the next.
Our next stop was the Dominican Monastery. This was a nice surprise because I didn’t even know there was more than one monastery in the town. It actually looked like it could have been the Franciscan Monasteries twin, except it was bigger and there was a well in the middle of the courtyard instead of a statue. Apparently the well was the towns only source of water when it was under siege in the 90’s. An interesting bit of information. The museum here was a lot like the one at the other monastery too. Jewelry, paintings, and relics. They actually had a relic which they claimed was the forearm of the apostle Thomas. Whether that’s true or not we’ll never know but I thought that was pretty cool.
The rest of our tour consisted of a quick visit to a cathedral (they actually had a relic they claimed was Jesus’ diaper) and the city palace. My mind had stopped absorbing information at the monastery. We got about 45 minutes at the end of the tour for free time before our bus was coming back to pick us up. We went to an ice cream shop for some Gelato. It was so good and only 5 kunas (about $1). Then we took it and walked around some of the narrow streets of the town that we hadn’t yet explored. We got lost. There are a lot of dead ends. We were able to make it back to the bus on time, but barely.
On the second day in Croatia I went on my last SAS ever (Thank goodness! Not to say the SAS trips aren’t good, because they are, I just always found that I have more fun when I’m in control and don’t have to follow a guide). It was to Trsteno, Ston, and the Island of Krocula, Marco Polos supposed birthplace. To get to these places we had to drive along the windy coastal highway, with no guard rail. I was convinced on more than one occasion that our massive bus wouldn’t fit around the corner and we would go flying off of a cliff into the Adriatic Sea or some sort of canyon (I was not reassured when I looked down one time and saw several beat up cars at the bottom of the canyon).
Our first stop was in Trsteno, a town which you could blink and miss. It did however have an amazing arboretum. I was amazed that even this late in the year citrus fruits were growing and colorful flowers were booming. It looked like summer but felt like fall. Running through the gardens was an aqueduct that ended in a very Italian style fountain. Large, with three statues that had water shooting out of their mouths. It was actually really cool. Near the plantations house (someone had actually lived in this beautiful place once. Probably a ship-owner who made olive oil on the side) there was an overlook which afforded breathtaking views of the Adriatic below and some of the Islands just off of the coast.
Another 40 minutes down the road we came to our second stop, the town of Big Ston (The big has a purpose of which I will explain later). It was another walled city like Dubrovnik, but much smaller, although the wall was much bigger. According to our tour guide it’s the second biggest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. I would have to disagree, I saw a very big and long wall near Jaipur India and this one seemed small in comparison, but we still had fun referring to it as the Great Wall of Croatia and climbing up to the lower lookout tower (the upper parts of the wall were damaged in an earthquake several years ago and are only now being repaired). However, what Ston is famous for isn’t it’s wall, but it’s salt. It supposedly has the best salt in Europe. We were able to go out and look at the salt flats. Honestly the large gray flats were less the visually stimulating but now I can say I’ve been to the salt capital of Europe.
We drove up a peninsula for another 45 minutes to get to a town where we would catch a boat over to Korcula. With the size of our group I was expecting to take a ferry or another boat of the size equivalent over to the Island, not the tiny boat we were presented with. We all fit on it though. Most were inside, a few got to sit on a bench in the back, and I was one of the lucky ones that got to sit on a bench in the front. I was amazed at how far out we were able to see the bottom of the water. I love the water here, it’s the clearest, bluest, water I’ve ever seen. Going out to the Island we could see the bell tower of the church rising up in front of us and then looking back we could see the massive mountain on the peninsula rising up behind us.
Korcula was pretty much dead when we got there. Sometimes the off season can be a good thing and sometime it can be really bad. While we were on Korcula I was really hating that it was the off season. Our tour of the city involved going into several churches and museums (it took standing outside of some with our tour guide pleading for the doors to actually get opened). The one things I came to the Island to see, Marco Polos house we only got a quick glimpse at in passing. I was so disappointed. Our tour guide insisted on dragging us around to all of these sites before we were able tog et get lunch so all of us were pretty crabby towards the end.
Going back to the ship we made a quick stop at Little Ston (See I told you it would be important later). Little Ston was definitely, well, little. It consisted of houses and 1 restaurant in which I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of mineral water while we tried to escape from the cold.
On our third day in Croatia, Jess, Chelsea, Hallie, Jennifer and I decided to go to Lokrum Island, a small Island just off from Dubrovnik. We stopped at the Grocery store (the turned out to be one right next to the port) and got some stuff for a picnic lunch then decided to walk into town instead of taking the bus. During the summer the ferry to Lokrum is only 35 kunas. We had to pay 60 kunas but we did get to ride in a glass bottom boat. Although the water is super clear we could only see to the bottom where it was shallower up by the shore. We rode the boat out with 3 others from SAS. When we got to the Island we couldn’t really decide where to go so we just decided we would go the opposite way from where the others went. That opposite way led us to the Islands Nude Beach. Good thing it was summer so no one was out sunbathing. It wasn’t really a beach either. It was more like a bunch of big flat rocks going up the hillside. We really ate our lunch on a nude beach. It’s fun just to say. I finished eating a little earlier than the others so I did a little exploring. When I turned the corner there was a massive cave. Big enough to fit the ship into. There were sheer cliffs on either side of it so there was no way I would have been able to explore it, but it looked cool. It reminded me of the caves on the Oregon Coast, just with tropical water going into it.
After we ate we didn’t really know where we were going so we decided to wander. We tried to find a bathroom, but when we did it was chained shut thanks to the off season. We walked towards the old monastery but got distracted by a group of cats that came running to us along the way. We weren’t distracted by the cats for very long before 3 female peacocks came walking to us. Immediately all cameras came out. We were all down on the ground looking for the perfect angle to shoot these peacocks. Then walking up from behind us came a male peacock (the males are the pretty, colorful ones). Immediately we all did a 180 and began to take shots of the male. This little photo fest lasted for 15 or 20 minutes before we decided to move on. When we finally did move on we came upon even more cats and peacocks, and I mean dozens of them. Who knew peacocks could fly? They swooping down at us from trees at every angle, it was scary. Even the cats were afraid of these peacocks. I got a video of a peacock chasing one. The strangest thing though I would have to say is as we began to walk away towards the fort the peacocks ran after us. We had a couple dozen peacocks chasing us, how weird and frightening is that?
When we finally reached the wooded area they all stopped chasing us except for one playful kitten which we decided to call Mittens. It followed us up the hill for quite a ways. He probably would have followed us all of the way up to the Fort if Chelsea and Jennifer hadn’t decided to stop and go back. (Jennifer loathes any form of exercise so I have no idea why she wanted to go on this hiking trip with us). Hallie, Jess and I continued climbing up to the top of the hill. It was hard, I will admit but we knew the view would be worth it.
The Fort at the top of the hill looked a lot like the tower of a medieval castle. It was amazing. We were the only ones up there so we had all the time we wanted to explore. To get to the top of the fort we had to go through the inside which was a lot bigger than it looked from the outside. From the top we could see all of Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik, and for miles down the coast on both sides. It was beautiful. After taking a few group shots (thank goodness for camera timers) we decided to head back down the hill to see if we could meet up with Chelsea and Jennifer.
When we reached the area of peacocks we could only see a few here and there so they were either all up in the trees (which is a terrifying thought knowing they could swoop down on you at any moment), or they had chased Chelsea and Jennifer wherever they went (We couldn’t find them).
On the Island there is a small saltwater lake called the Dead Sea. Jess really wanted to go swimming so she begged us to go there. I’ll admit, I entertained the thought of getting into the water, and if it had looked like the water anywhere else I probably would have. The lake was for the most part shallow and the bottom was covered with a variety of sea creatures. The latter one is the reason I didn’t go swimming. One of my greatest fear is strange creatures on the bottom of lakes, rivers, oceans, etc. Even with the strange creature on the bottom Jess was bound and determined to swim. Me and Hallie rolled up our pants and waded into the water to take pictures while jess dunked herself fully in and began to doggy paddle around the lake while making strange “I’m cold” sounds. It was hilarious. I got it on video, I wish you all could see it.
We spent our fourth day walking around the walls of Dubrovnik. When I say around I actually mean walking on top of the walls which go around the city. Jennifer was going to come with us but I think even the thought of a walk tired her out so it was just Hallie, Chelsea, Izumi and me. In grand total it took us nearly 3 hours to walk around the city. We stopped nearly every 6 feet to get a picture (like I said, Dubrovnik is a very picturesque town). We decided to start be walking towards the water instead of up the hill. It was interesting to see the parts of the wall that were old and the parts that were obviously new meshed together. A lot of Dubrovnik homes were actually built right up to the wall (some even went through the wall, but those were the newer parts). I got a good amount of laundry pictures as we walked around. Once the sun came out that day (it had been cloudy and threatening to rain earlier) everyone decided to do a load of laundry.
By the old harbor there was a large fortified part of the wall with Canons and lookout towers. There was one hole (window) you could crawl through that had about a 6 ft ledge before it got to the outside of the wall. From there we were given an awesome view of the harbor. I could have sat there all day.
The best view of the city came from the tower at the highest point of the wall. We were able to see for miles and miles, it was spectacular. All of the red roofs of the city glowed in the bright sunlight.
What can a group of girls do after a long walk around a city except get ice cream? We had one shop called Dolce Vita recommended to us. Apparently Rick Steves likes it. It was good ice cream (gelato), but I don’t think it was any better than any of the ice cream we had had so far. I got kinder ice cream and it had streams of nutella through it. It was very delicious.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city wasting time looking at shops (everything is super expensive here). Then we went to see a movie at 6:30. They have a cute little modern theater in one of the cities older buildings. We, along with several other SASers saw the movie “Borat.” I don’t quite know what to say about it. I was completely offended at some parts, disgusted at others, but I still laughed my butt off. I don’t know if I would recommend it, but if you see it you’ll definitely laugh.
Our last day in Dubrovnik was really chill. We didn’t do much, I just walked around the city for a bit and did some shopping. Dubrovnik is really just a nice town to sit and take everything in. It’s really great for people watching too. You can sit at the fountain near the main gate and watch as kids walk by with cellos strapped to their backs, old women bustle by with bags of groceries, and tourists attempt to stand for 10 seconds on the wishing stone. After trying several times myself I believe that it is fully impossible unless you are 80 lbs and have very good balance.
I really liked Dubrovnik, and I’m sure I’d like the rest of Croatia. I’d like to come back again sometime during the summer months, maybe like may when everything is open but it’s not super busy yet. Next time I’m definitely going swimming in the Adriatic, it’s just to pretty to pass up.

Right now we’re floating just off of Gibraltar getting refueled. It’s weird to see Morocco on the other side of the waterway, and even weirder because it’s green. Not at all what I expected. Last night we had our winners party for the Sea Olympics. It was fun, just like our last Sea Social except with better music and food. Definitely better food. This time we had cookies, Ice Cream, and a big cake that said Caribbean Sea on it.
Tomorrow we get to Spain. I’m so excited but nervous too. I’m just about to go plan some things out with Hallie. We want to go to Seville and Cordoba. Everyone else is going to either Madrid or Barcelona so hopefully we will miss the huge hordes of SASers. I can’t believe this is our last country! Patrick figured it out today that we have 2 weeks left and one of those weeks is spent in Spain. I can’t believe it. The ending will be bitter sweet. I want to go home, but at the same time I don’t want this to be over. I guess I’ll just have to look forward to new opportunities and new adventures.

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