We had a wonderful day with a rather long bus ride that took us from the inland mountains to the coast.
Along the way, our guide filled us in on much history.
As we headed to the coast, we saw an enormous mountain range and imagined the windy mountain pass that the bus would have to travel. However we were mistaken.
The Croats do not travel up and over the mountains. Instead, they have carved tunnels through the bases of the mountains. We traveled through one five-mile and one three-mile tunnel, which revealed gorgeous views views of the delta and then the Adriatic Sea coast with its quaint towns.
We arrived at Split, the town of Diocletian's retirement. He was the first Roman Emperor to abdicate. He built a huge palace, which is still inhabited today and still uses the aqueduct he built for water.
Some other tidbits bits from the day in notes form:
Tito and his housekeeper had a "special energy"
We went though the mountains. Forget windy mountain passes. The croats blast a five-mile tunnel through the base.
Dalmatian dogs guard dogs, ran in from mt of carriages that cleared the way for the horses. The nobility adopted them. We use them for fire dogs to clear the streets so the fire wagons could get through.
Donkeys very important here to carry crops over the mountains.
Australian food but more Mediterranean cuisine.
Pashtucava meat with prunes: prosciutto and nice cheeses and olives. Honey mixed with olive oil to ward off colds. Lots of seafood, grilled with olive oil and rosemary and garlic. Served with potatoes and Swiss chard. Grilled squid. Have to bash is so it isn't like chewing gum.
"How it goes," an expression our guide used.
Busara sauce white wine.
Chuvapi looks like sausage but not.
Bevanda mixed wine with water. Spritzer.
Ruins bc from Illyrian area.
Was part of Italy so language is sprinkled with Italian words.
Nudist islands. Started her. FKK means bathing in the nude. Mostly secluded. Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson came The Kandarola rock and pebble beach, on the Croatian island of Rab, is where Britain's King Edward VIII and his future wife, American socialite Wallis Simpson, famously went for a nude swim in 1936
Seven cartels. Castella.
Diocletian retired and n Split. Had hot springs.
Diocletian palace filled with sewage and kids who had detention had to scoop poop. Nowadays, sewage is pumped to tank in Adriatic and it is released every night toward Italy.
President Solin hotel.
Today was a lovely day, following Tom's birthday, which didn't seem to be a day that could be beaten for beauty.
It started with a "bit of a lie in," as our tour guide would say since we didn't have to be in the bus until 9:30 am. Instead Tom and I took a walk in a Zagreb park. Then we boarded the bus and had a nice drive through the countryside in our way to Plitvice, a national park and also a UNESCO site.
We had a four-hour guided hike (some took options for shorter versions) through the lush greenery and lakes, filled with waterfalls spilling from pond to pond. The lakes were s beautiful turquoise color and filled with fish from carp to pike to trout. The hike included two boat rides, which took us around outlets in the lakes. The 200 steps up at the end of the hike was challenging for a few. Read more about the park: http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/
These waterfalls, combined with the limestone and moss create travertine, like what GFH--one of our local high school-- floors are made of.
On the drive, our guide gave us a history lesson about the struggles of Yugoslavia, its break up and wars with its neighbors, and the religious and political battles. She also explained how the relationships are today between Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats. Along the way, we could look out the windows to see the ravages of war: bullet holes in homes and imbed put buildings. We stopped at an outdoor museum of ruins and war machines from tanks to aircraft.
As s break from the heavy topic of war, our guide told us s touching story of a wounded stork Melena and how she has been cared for but that she cannot fly south due to an injured wing. However, her mate always comes back to her each year. One year, he was two weeks late, so Melena took another mate but he returned. Everyone celebrated and the he destroyed her eggs and drove off the intruder. Read more: http://www.total-croatia-news.com/lifestyle/3050-klepetan-and-malena-croatia-s-most-unusual-love-story
One last item to note: our guide warned us that we will be staying in the best hotel st the park. However, it would only be a three-star hotel and the service still in the communistic style: not very friendly or accommodating. She reminded us about how recent the war and changes have been (1990s) and to take this as an opportunity to learn.
Tom had three parts to his birthday today. The first was my card and opening the card from his grandson at breakfast. After that, we headed to the local daily market to look at the fresh local fruits and vegetables and crafts. I bought a table runner and some strawberries.
We also wandered into some churches and also went to the Blood bridge again to see the picture of the Virgin Mary that was the only thing to survive a deadly fire, which destroyed the bridge itself and the structure on it but not the icon.
Then it was into the Museum of Broken Relationships, which was a real kick. The stories and artifacts were touching, sad, or even frightening. From there, we went to the museum of arts and crafts. We were looking for another museum, but it was raining so hard, we entered the first one we found. It actually turned out to be s gem with artwork, furnishings, church and synagogue items from the 1500-1900s.
Then we visited the town of Tito's birthplace and his home, set in the country. We were very charmed by the green rolling hills, houses with corn and hay racks and farm animals. Everything was so quaint compared to the rundown look and graffiti of the city of Zagreb.
We had had dinner at a county inn that served all local food, beer and wine. Fantastic. And then the second birthday surprise: the tour director had everyone sign a card and gave s gift of a folk painting on a beehive cover to Tom. The restaurant gave him a delicious chocolate cake.
The last surprise came when we returned to the hotel. When we entered the room, we thought it was the wrong one as room service had been there. But no, there was a card and birthday letter from the hotel management! Plus a cake, water and fruit. Wow. What a day for Tom. But he still couldn't get American coffee!
Tom and I opted for the extra excursion to Lake Bled despite the dismal rainy weather we have been having. It was a chance to see the countryside; however, we didn't get the views of the Julian Alps that we had hoped for. But we did get to go to the only island in Slovenia by way of Pletna boats; add an "r" and you have "Pletnar," the name of the captain, similar to a gondolier. The special oaring/steering technique is handed down, generation to generation. Our captain's father rows as do his two teenaged sons. Also, the boat is theirs and they must handle all the upkeep.
On the islamd, we climbed 99 stairs to the top where the church is. Grooms often carry their brides up these steps to cheering visitors; and then they ring the wishing bell in the church three times. True believers will have their wish granted, so it is said. We did ring the bell but no one had a free ride up the steps.
Then we had a special Bavarian creme cake, which is basically a layer of Bavarian cream followed by a layer of whipped creme between two thin layers of strudel dough. So it's definitely more cream than cake.
Finally, we picked up the other travelers, those who opted out of Lake Bled, back at the hotel and continued our journey in to Zagreb, Croatia. Our guide was very worried about the border due to new crossing rules and mandatory passport checks which could take up to five hours. Luckily, it took us about half an hour and we all got through but we did have to depart the bus and line up one by one to show our passports.
One final note about Slovenia, they offer bikes to rent while costs 3 euros per year. You can ride one and then put into the locking racks at a different location when done.
On the way into Zagreb,,we saw the Ljubljana marshes, rich in peat. People were taking balloon rides over them.
Croatia is where north meets south. Hard work and order in the north versus laid back Mediterranean attitude in the south.
Necktie invented in Croatia due to a war 17 century. Women would tie a scarf around their boyfriend's necks before they left to fight. When French saw it, they said the style was "a la Croat," which became cravat.
Wooden toys, lace, procession of cross and Diocletian palace: more UNESCO than any other county.
Kuna is the currency. It translates to "Martin," like the weasel-like mammal.
Zagreb was stop on the orient express from Paris to Istanbul.
Yellow is Maria Theresa or Schoenberg yellow. It is on the important buildings.
It is known for its parks and botanical gardens, half in French half English.
Museum of broken relationships. Beer as cold as your ex's heart
Hvala--thank you plaques. Pray at the western gates. A picture of Virgin Mary didn't get burned. Most sacred site. People singing.
One thing we really noticed was the run-down look of the buildings and all of the graffiti. Even though the locals all said it was done by teenagers and not gangs like in America, it still made us uneasy walking around.
We had a lovely tour of the town this morning with a local expert. He told us many tidbits about the town of Lubjanja as well as Slovenia as a whole:
University. Free and students get one three-course meal per day. Beggars earn on average 5 euros per hour. The guide tried it and raised 15 euro in 45 minutes.
They have high taxes. taxes
Jumping off bridge is s poplar thing. One 90-year-old did to protest fascism and died.
Salary of the Mayer is 3000. Average 1000 and minimum is 650, after taxes.
Slovenians pride themselves in fairness and equality.
Rich people lose elections here.
They are known for honey and salt. From the sea.
Turks captured young boys, turned into soldiers and made them fight their own people so they aren't to thrilled with the Turks of old but are a very tolerant people otherwise. 90% catholic, but celebrate Reformation day because the Protestant priest produced the first books written in their own language.
Slovenia is known for "Disappearing" periodic lakes created by sinkholes.
Postojna cave. Main Caves. Karst means stone. 24 km of passages. Ine if the rooms can hold 10,000 people. It was an amazing place, with a train that took us through several km before we walked for three.
Inside the caves is an unusual "human" fish, a salamander. Early Slovenians called them baby dragons.
12 inches and pink. No eyes. Lives without food for up to six years.
on a side note, we ran into last year's tour guide at the cave! What a coincidence. Our current guide Irina knows Petra and pointed her out. It was so fun to see her again.
in the evening, we had our "dine-around" experience, where we could choose from one of three restaurants.
We said goodbye to Vienna, traveling into the mountains on our way to Slovenia. We made a stop at s rest area, where the gals wore the traditional dirndl dresses with aprons. Our guide, who is Slovenian, said all gals have at least one such dress. They cost 50 euros on up, she said.
We faced another tradition: the dreaded turnstile with pay to use bathrooms.
Then we continue on with our guide explaining more about the Slovenia for us. She said the country is famous for its white wines and that skiing was the country's sport. Every year they hold the Golden Fox ski event for best skiers, more popular than soccer. She also said the country's tree is a linden.
Then we stopped at stopped at Maribor, The second largest city in Slovenia with 89,000 residents but 50,000 students at their free university.
We had lunch, explored the old town and saw the oldest grapevines in the world, dated over 400 years old. The pruning of the tree becomes a festival and only 100 small bottles of wine are made from it each year. The wine is given to dignitaries such as the pope and people like Brad Pitt--LOL.
Then back on the bus to Ljubljana, where the plains give way to lush mountains with hay racks, which look like a barn with slats for sides, used to dry the hay since it's so damp here on the ground.
We learned about potica (pronounced Poe teet saw) which is like povitica of Poland.
Brandy is popular here as well as beer and wine. Pear brandy is particularly popular. They put a bottle over a pear as it grows.
Horse meat on menu, see picture with "donkey" listed. One restaurante featured "foal." Our guide warned us. Fried liver is also popular.
She said the fire department in each village hold competitions. and they have to organize a party once per year if no emergencies this year.
Slovakia Capital: Vienna's twin city; just don't tell the Viennese
We are back to the wonderful European breakfasts with lovely pastries, lots of fruits and cheeses, mediterranean foods, such as olives, mahummara, lebne, fataya, and hummus, as well as sliced meats and sausages. Don't bother ordering eggs, though. They won't be good, neither scrambled nor fried nor poached.
Then it was a quick two-mile walk to the dock to catch the boat to Bratislava, Slovakia's capital city. We got there in plenty of time as there was no 8:30 a.m. boat on Mondays, so 9 am it was.
The ride along the channel and then the Danube was more interesting for what we didn't see than for what we saw. We saw fishing huts with nets drying or in the water but not much else. We expected to see mansions, hotels, swimmers, speedboats, towns, but we did not. We saw a few created beaches with no buildings and two barges with tugs and one small town just before we docked.
The trip took one hour 15 minutes and had a bit of a narration to go along with the few sights.
But the real tour and deal cost us 10 euro each and included a one-hour bus tour and one-hour walking tour of the city. The guide was one of the best we have had, knowing much history and switching between English, German, Slovak, Czech, Spanish and Italian.
She explained all about the city, how it really was part of Hungary and how Maria Theresa took over the palaces. We followed the coronation road and visited the church where 19 monarchs were crowned. She explained about Albert Einstein, Lizst and Hayden's connection to the city.
We could not visit the palace, however, as there was meeting of the provincial heads of state.
Tom touched a statue for luck and we headed back to Vienna via bus. Only 5 euros for the ride and it included a drink! Wow. I had a cappuccino. Tom tried for an American coffee, but alas it wasn't what he liked--again!
We did have yo walk four miles back to the hotel and then had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We had had pasta for lunch, very yummy Gorgonzola gnocchi. On the way to find a place for dinner, we noticed the opera house was projecting the live performance so we stopped for a moment to watch.
We racked up over 11 mails today. Whew.
i accidentally deleted this post. I'll have to rewrite it later. Enjoy the pictures for now.
Our first item of the day was to secure our train tickets for tomorrow, so we headed to the train station. With help of information person, we printed out our pre-purchased tickets from the kiosk.
Then we boarded the bus for the half hour ride to Hellbrunn, the pleasure Palace of the Archbishop. It is out of town and has very fancy fountains that spray out of antlers, walkways and fake caves. The entire palace and gardens were meant to entertain. The grounds have many Greek/Roman statues. Interestingly, we did not see any statures or paintings that were religious in nature, which surprised us, being the archbishop's residence and all.
The guide had fun spraying us. And there was even a very elaborate scene with moving people and items along with music, all powered by a paddle wheel. It was all original from 300 years ago. The fountains from 400 years ago.
Then we headed to Mirabelle gardens, but we didn't have time to go in the museum because it was already 3 pm and time to meet up with friend Christina and her husband, David, who met us for coffee, tea and Sacher torte at the Sacher hotel. Tom and I admitted not to liking it too much. Christina said she didn't like it either. It's a dry chocolate cake with marmalade or strawberry jam between the layers.
Anyway, we had fun visiting with them.
Then it was 5:30, all museums and other items closed, so we decided to walk around and see if we could get into any churches. Most were closed but we had fun walking along the river and them climbing up high for some views. We ended up at the Museum of Modern Art, which was closed as well.
Then it was back to the hotel. We are at our hotel's restaurant, which was a weird mix of Italian and Pakistani food. We split daal curry, naan and an order of veggie samosas. Yum and not a bit too spicy.
From two days ago. I didn't have Internet at the hotel.
After yesterday's blustery, snowy day, we were greeted with blue skies and sun, despite a cold wind.
Our day started at the Mozart cafe with a yoghurt and fruit parfait and a yummy crescent topped off with a frothy cappuccino.
Then we headed to the home of Mozart's humble birthplace. We learned about him and his sole surviving sister (out of seven children), who was also a child musical prodigy. The home was up two flights of stairs and only had one bedroom. His father was always in debt. We saw his wallet as well as other personal belongings, paintings and instruments.
Then it was on to the Dom Platz, the living quarters for the Prince/Archbishops. And boy, was it ever a contrast to Mozart's home. It was huge, was constructed by the best Italian architects and had fancy frescoes and ornate plaster crafting. Their adornments were encrusted with our gold threads and precious jewels. The same with the church service items. One monstrance had 15,000 diamonds on it.
The bishops also collected art. The palace at one time had over 65,000 masterpieces, but most were robbed during the Napoleonic wars. However, some have been donated or purchased back. We saw many on display.
These archbishops played with the wealthy of the area and even had a "pleasure palace," which we will visit tomorrow.
After this tour, we climbed the hill to the fortress palace at the top instead of riding the funicular. We enjoyed the views and popped our heads into a marionette museum.
Then it was time for a bit of a break, so we headed backward down to the river and went in a one-hour cruise. The tour pointed out the sites and wealthy residences along the route. Then our captain turned on some carousel music and turned the boat around and around for a panoramic view.
After our boat adventure, we toured Mozart's home, the one he had with his wife and children. It was quite s bit nicer and bigger than his childhood home. However, despite his popularity and pay, he too died a pauper as he gambled and lived large, needing the high fashion of the day. His wife and her soon-to-be new husband wrote a biography of Mozart and sold his works to get out of debt.
Our final item of the day was a dinner concert at the fortress; this time, the funicular ride was included, so up we enjoyed the ride. What a wonderful dinner with a gorgeous view: veggie strudel with potatoes with orange sauce. We had a vanilla custard with mango sauce and a sweet cream-cheese ball encrusted with nuts and filled with warm melty chocolate for dessert that oozed out when the spoon hit it.
On side note, we observed that everyone is putting locks on the bridges here just like the Chain bridge in Budapest and in France.
Frankfurt fooled us with its sunshine. By the time we got to Salzburg, we felt like we were in Montana as a spring snow storm met us at the airport.
After settling into our hotel, we walked around the streets of old town, popping into churches and shops.
We ended the day with a nice meal of cheesy spaetzle and potato soufflé with ratatouille and salad with a buttermilk dressing, no choice here. Of course, the dessert menu featured Sacher torte (pronounced "soccer") and strudel.