Dalmatia to Mostar and on to Dubrovnik

Our most excellent European Vacation continued as we sadly said good bye to the beautiful islands of Hvar and Korčula.  We took the Jadrolinija for a short ferry ride back to the mainland of Croatia.  To break up the journey we stopped in the walled city of Ston, which is two cities, southern Ston and Mali (little) Ston, connected by a 1200-meter-long great wall built on orders from the Dubrovnik Republic between 1461 and 1464 AD. The wall was built to protect the important salt production that remains today in Ston. Although much of the original 7000 meters were destroyed over time by 3 major earth quakes, parts have been reconstructed and are open to the public.  We didn’t do that as our schedule would not allow it.  We had a quick lunch and continued to Mostar.

 

Ston walled city_20180627_114733830_HDR

The Great Wall of Ston c. 15th Century (L.Compisi)

Ston_20180627_114707286

City Plan for Ston and Mali Ston (L.Compisi)

The journey from Ston to Bosnia-Herzegovina included a rather invasive border crossing with trucks and buses lined up waiting to be cleared.  Once through we continued inland away from the Adriatic to Mostar. The distance is just over 100 kilometers and took us about 2.5 hours considering the border crossing. It is sad to say that among the former Yugoslavian countries we have visited (Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), Bosnia appears to have recovered the least from the wars of ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s. Perhaps because of the complicated system of government, and some say political corruption, the country remains the least economically viable of the former Balkan countries.

War Remnants_20180628_152800840

Bombed out home remains unrestored (L.Compisi)

The evidence is clear that rebuilding of bombed out homes and businesses has not fully occurred even 23 years after the peace agreement, referred to as the Dayton Peace Accords, were signed in late 1995. Although the bloodshed was ended the agreement allows for a tripartite Presidency.  Yes, that’s three presidents, one Bosniak (Muslim), one Serb (Serbian Orthodox) and one Croat (Roman Catholic). The Parliament follows a similar ethnic makeup as does the Council of Ministers. Leave it to say, as they rotate through power their main goal seems to be keeping power thereby maintaining the status quo. Oh yes, meant to mention that Bosnia and Herzegovina are two entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, with significant internal autonomy.

From Hotel Daylight_20180628_075549388_HDR

Daytime view of Mostar and the Neretva River from our hotel (L.Compisi)

FromHotel at night_20180627_214227273

Night time view of Mostar and the Neretva River from our hotel (L.Compisi)

Sorry, got a little off track there.  Once we arrived in Mostar we checked into our hotel. The hotel was right on the Neretva River and offered pretty views of the City and surrounding hills as well as easy access to the old city. Mostar offers a fascinating and unique multi-cultural blend of south Slavic, Ottoman-Turkish and Mediterranean traditions. The food and architecture in various parts of the city reflect this. We used a local guide whose family had suffered greatly during the war.  She took us on a very thought provoking walk and discussed the siege of Mostar. We visited Mosques, an Ottoman-Turkish home, the quite beautiful and restored Stari Most Bridge (circa 16th Century), the Kujundžiluk Bazaar and had a truly delicious dinner at Sadrvan, an Otto Turkish restaurant. The city is filled with minarets and the occasional church.

Ottoman Restauarnt 20180627_183352713

Restaurant Sadrvan offered delicious traditional Turkish fare (L.Compisi)

Stari Most Bridge IMG_20180627_180804441_HDR

Picturesque Stari Most Bridge in its latest incarnation (L.Compisi)

Koski Memed Pasha Mosque Dome 20180628

The dome of Koski Memed Pasha Mosque (L.Compisi

Koski Memed Pasha Mosque Interior _20180627

Interior of Koski Memed Pasha Mosque (l.Compisi)

Mostar 20180627_182632351_HDR

Minarets dot the Mostar skyline (L.Compisi)

MostarPivo20180627_185445747_HDR

Mostar Pivo (Beer) was very good (L.Compisi)

Mostar has a population of about 115k people and is quite walk-able. To compare, Sarajevo, the Capital, has about 300k people. Tourism, despite the reminders of the ravages of war and the complexity of its governmental system, is on the rise, reportedly one of the fastest in World.

Stolac_20180628_130916159

Stolac is quaint, beautiful and a very special place (L.Compisi)

Stolac_20180628_121459827_HDR

The Bregava River adds to Stolac’s charm (L.Compisi)

Stolac_20180628_114841080

Stolac offers history, charm and tranquility (L.Compisi)

Upon departing Mostar, we headed to Dubrovnik but not without brief stops in Stolac and the Radimlja Necropolis, both in the valley of the Bregava River. The ride was unusually beautiful with vineyards and great fertile fields of general agriculture. Stolac was replete with amazing architectural gems. The area has been settled by various peoples for over 15,000 years. The Radimlja Necropolis of stećaks (medieval tombstones) have monuments inscribed as early as 1151 and 1178 AD.

Radimlja Necropolis 20180628

The stećaks of Radimlja Necropolis whispered of peoples and times gone by (L.Compisi)

Continuing westbound toward the Adriatic and Dubrovnik we had a tour and tea at the Dervish (Sufi) Monastery in Blagaj Tekke and made a brief visit to the Serbian Orthodox Žitomislić Monastery. Žitomislić has been destroyed and rebuilt at least five times (most recently in 2002) since its original construction between 1566 and 1606.

Sufi Dervish Monastery 20180628_085100

The Dervish (Sufi) Monastery, Blagaj Tekke required head scarfs for ladies (L.Compisi)

Tea Dervish Sufi House_20180628_095917

The traditional tea service was memorable at Blagaj Tekke (L.Compisi)

 

Courtyard Dervish House_20180628_090353347

The Blagaj Tekke Court Yard was surprisingly empty (L.Compisi)

Žitomislić Serbian Orthodox Monastery 20180628

The building and grounds at Žitomislić Monastery (L.Compisi)

Žitomislić Monastery_20180628_150910054

The religious art on the ceiling and walls were breathtaking at Žitomislić (L.Compisi)

There is a great deal of beauty and history in this tumultuous land called that is so worth exploring. One of the benefits of travel is to see what other people and countries are doing and what is working and what is not. Maybe we were on to something when ‘E Pluribus Unum’ was first considered for the American Motto on the Great Seal of the United States in 1776. Perhaps in the next 25 years Bosnia-Herzegovina can surmount the ethnic divisions that appear to be holding it back.

Next up, a delightful 2 days in Dubrovnik!

Advertisements
Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Restaurants, Slovenia, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Islands of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast: Hvar and Korčula

After our brief adventure in Split and the Palace of Diocletian, we boarded a ferry for the two hour cruise to the island of Hvar. Hvar has a fascinating history that includes being populated in prehistoric times and eventually by the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Napoleon and the Austrians. It was an important naval base for both military operations as well as the silk route trade. Hvar’s wide fertile plain proved to be perfect for growing Lavender and Rosemary which were important to the French perfume industry. They also excelled in producing exceptional wine grapes.

IMG_20180625_Hvar105325295

Fishing and pleasure boats pack the Hvar Marina (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180625_Hvar152906362

Cafes and restaurants line the seawall surrounding Hvar Marina (L.Compisi)

Today, tourism is the main attraction of Hvar for very good reason. The mild Mediterranean climate boasts average day time temperatures between 70° to 85° F between May and October, although it was in the low 90s while we were there in late June. The water temperatures also are attractive with temperatures usually staying between 73° to 81° F during the summer.

IMG_20180625_Hvar144330013

A sailing playground in the torquise waters of Hvar (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180625_Hvar131609064

One of the many yachts moored in Hvar marina (L.Compisi)

The island promotes itself as “the sunniest spot in Europe”, having nearly 2,800 hours of sunlight in an average year. Hvar City has beautiful beaches and quaint seaside architecture which make it very attractive to tourist from all over Europe. This is manifested by the large yachts that fill the harbor and the crowded café that overlook it.

20180625_Hvar131145

Many larger sailboats with the town of Hvar as backdrop (L.Compisi)

20180625_Hvar143635

One of the more elegant restaurants along a gorgeous beach area (L.Compisi)

After a delightful day in Hvar enjoying the beaches, café, bars and restaurants we took a large catamaran to the Island of Korčula. The cruise was just over an hour in length. Korčula is a fortified town on the eastern coast of the island of the same name. Slightly larger in population than Hvar, Korčula town offered a very interesting old town that was originally an island itself.

IMG_20180626_Korčula111020

A graphic of Korčula (L.Compisi)

Unlike Hvar, whose main commercial area was flat, Korčula was quite hilly making it much more interesting from an architectural and photo taking perspective. St. Mark’s Cathedral, also called Korčula Cathedral, is in the center of the old town and commands the highest point.  Korčula has many outdoor café and restaurants along the waterfront as well as in the central plaza by the Cathedral and even along its steep side allies which form ‘spokes of the wheel’ that the city resembles.

IMG_20180625_Kortula230142

The stairs leading to the beautiful medieval main entrance to Korčula town (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180627_083027.jpg

Korčula as seen from the seaside (L.Compisi)

We stayed at the Hotel Korsal in Korčula which was a short walk from the old town area. The rooms were very nice with many having views overlooking the marina and the old town. The restaurant has a good wine list, a wine cellar and services solid local cuisine.

IMG_20180625_182300362_TOP.jpg

View from our room at Hotel Korsal (L.Compisi)

Korčula claims to be the birthplace of Marco Polo and is investing in the restoration of his legendary home but there is little hard evidence that he is truly from there rather than Venice. There is also a Marco Polo museum in Korčula

IMG_20180626_MarcoPolo153314

Plans for the restoration of the ‘home’ of Marco Polo(L.Compisi)

Getting there: You can take the ferry with your rental car or actually buy a bus ticket in Split and they will ferry you to Hvar and then transport you by bus to the center of town. Either option requires early purchasing of tickets during the high season. This ferry route to Korčula from Hvar runs 3 journeys per day in high season. In the low season it runs 1 journey per day. Journey time is between 1 hour 05 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes depending on the route. The main Croatian ferry operator, Jadrolinija, runs a service linking Korčula Town with SplitHvarDubrovnik and (from May to September) Bari, Italy.

IMG_20180625_081134222

Jadrolinija Ferries in Split heading to Hvar & Korčula (L.Compisi)

When to visit: Hvar and Korčula are definitely worth visiting when the water and air temperatures are warmer but we would recommend late May – early June or late September – early October when the temperatures are a bit more moderate and the crowds have thinned.

Two or three days each is all you need to enjoy these beautiful and historic islands along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. These are unique world treasures. Check back for the next story about our most excellent European Adventure including Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Dubrovnik.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Island Vacations, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Split, Croatia: Sun City for Retired Emperors

Split, Croatia is an ancient city that grew up around a delightful piece of unique history. Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, is both massive and architecturally interesting, and perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Split.

IMG_20180624_101129Diocletian

Bust of Emperor Diocletian inside the Palace below ground spaces. (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180908_065238 (002)

Artist’s conception of the Palace layout. (L.Compisi)

The Palace, actually more like a fortress, was built in anticipation of Diocletian’s retirement on May 1st, 305 AD. As a native of the Roman province of Dalmatia, Diocletian wanted to spend his last years in his native land. Split, as it came to be known, was only four miles from Salona, the provincial capital of Dalmatia. Diocletian’s Palace was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979.

IMG_20180624_PalaceWall

Ancient portion of the exterior Palace walls (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_113548255Wall

The eastern Golden Gate of the Palace (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_100510564Palace

Amazing Roman vaulted arches below ground supporting the Palace (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_100807245Palace

More Palace storage area and arches (L.Compisi)

 

Split, and the Palace, may be familiar to some because of its role in the blockbuster HBO hit, Game of Thrones. Some episodes of the 4th Season were filmed in the Palace. The Palace comprises about half of what is now the old town area of Split.  It is situated along a natural bay that today offers the Riva Promenade, a long seaside promenade with a beach area as well as a view of the Cruise ship and Ferry port at one end of the town. The Promenade has restaurant after restaurant, shops, bars, cafes and wonderful ice cream shops. Quite inviting and very beautiful.

IMG_20180623_185516356

Riva Promenade with the sea to the right (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_094759364Palace

A portion of the Palace wall along the Riva (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_094312387a

Dining al fresco along the Riva Promenade (L.Compisi)

Within the old town are numerous sights of interest:

Marjan Hill is a short distance north of town and offers stunning views of the city, the Palace, the seaside and the surrounding hills. If you don’t like steps, uphill elevation changes and sweating stay away but we found the views very worth it. The restaurant at the top offers an opportunity to rest and recover.

IMG_20180624_183209569_HDRView

View of Split from Marjan Hill (L.Compisi)

Just outside the East Gate of the Palace is a very large statue of Grgyr Ninski by renowned Croatian sculpture Ivan Mestrovic. Gregory Nin (in English) was a medieval bishop from Croatia who strongly opposed the Pope, stands just outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. Bishop Gregory introduced the national Croatian language into Catholic services (in place of the traditional Latin) in Croatia after the Great Assembly in 926 AD, finally making it possible for everyone to know what was being said during the service. The Status is 20 feet tall above its pedestal. It is a popular belief that that rubbing the bishop’s toe brings good luck. The toe is now smooth and shiny.

IMG_20180624_113438771Statue

20′ tall statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin – toe rub for good luck! (L.Compisi)

The Peristyle was the main gathering place for Diocletian’s subjects. Later on, as the city grew, the Peristyle was too small and the People’s Square, or Narodni trg in Croatian, became the main meeting spot. It has been so since the 14th century.

IMG_20180624_105750511Courtyard

The Peristyle was the gathering place of the people during Diocletian’s time (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_105127633Masoleum

Saint Domnius Cathedral and Diocletian’s Masoleum overlook the Peristyle (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_105642035Cathedral

The Cathedral from inside the Peristyle (L.Compisi)

Republic Square is just west of the Riva. It is a three sided (the open side faces the sea) series of columned buildings that were designed to resemble St. Mark’s Square in Venice. It serves the city as an excellent venue for concerts and other events.

IMG_20180624_Republic Square

Republic Square is patterned after St. Mark’s Square in Venice (L.Compisi)

The weather in June, when we visited, was a bit steamy and hot. We usually travel to Europe in September and October and I think this would be a much better time to be on the Adriatic coast.

IMG_20180623_210141933_TOP1

The Peristyle at night facing the Vestibule (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180623_2105271401

Looking toward St. Domnius Cathedral from the Peristyle (l.Compisi)

Two or three days is all you need to enjoy this beautiful and historic city along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. A true world treasure.

IMG_20180625_065451Theater

Crotian National Theater just outside the Palace walls (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180624_114654222

The People’s Square was created when the Peristyle was no longer large enough (L.Compisi)

Check back for the next story about our most excellent European Adventure including Dubrovnik, Bosnia and Provence.

 

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Stories of Sonoma County featured in recent ZAP Event

Cline Cellars in the Carneros region of Sonoma County was the brilliant host to the most recent wine tasting event sponsored by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP).  ZAP, if you don’t know, is a membership-based organization that advances knowledge and appreciation for American Zinfandel, the heritage grape that is most often associated with California grape growing.  The organization promotes Zinfandel’s unique place in our culture and history.

20180812_154024

Cool, cool waters at Cline Cellars (L.Compisi)

20180812_154028

Shady entry to Cline Cellars gardens (L.Compisi(

Cline Cellars was a perfect venue on this warm late summer afternoon with its cool ponds and well shaded lawn area next to their tasting room along Arnold Drive (also known as Highway 121) in Sonoma County. Although known for their exquisite Rhone varietals, Cline has a pretty exceptional collection of Zinfandels.

Cline Cellars was an exceptional host for the ZAP: Stories of Sonoma (L.Compisi)

Approximately 70 wine producers were represented with their Zinfandel offerings from the well-known Zinfandel growing regions of Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley as well as unique American Viticultural Area (AVA) like Rockpile.

20180812_154201

Despite the heat, the tent remained comfortable (L.Compisi)

Gustafson 20180812_201616

Gustafson Winery – Tara and Sierra (L.Compisi)

The tasty bites offered were quite nice and the overall event was typical ZAP quality. A standout were the sweet delectables provided by Sonoma Sauces a wine-based dessert and sauce company. Yummy and fun!

20180812_155444

Tasty Bites from Sonoma Sauce were delicious (L.Compisi)

Winery highlights included: Miro Cellars (get the 2015 Reserve Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel – no tasting room), Peterson Winery (2013 Zinfandel was exquisite), Jeff Cohn Cellars, Rock Wall (Shauna Rosenblum has Zinfandel in her DNA), Cline Cellars (they had about 5 Zin’s to taste – all good), Pedroncelli Winery (an historic – 91years- Dry Creek family winery and Zinfandel house), Artezin (Randle Johnson is a Zin Zen-Master), Mauritson (The 2016 Rockpile Ridge Zin is a standout) , Seawolf (the 2017 Rosé of Zinfandel was a treat on a warm day) and Kokomo (winemaker Erik Miller and grower-partner Randy Peters make magic).

Miro Fred 20180812_165833ZAP

Winemakers Miro Tcholakov (L) and Fred Peterson (R) commiserate (L.Compisi) 

20180812_163232

Pedroncelli is an iconic Dry Creek Zinfandel House (L.Compisi)

Miro 20180812_161346

Miro Tcholakov proudly holds his 2015 Zinfandel (L.Compisi)

Peterson 20180812_165622

Fred Peterson promotes his  2013 Dry Creek Zinfandel (L.Compisi)

20180812_160339

Jeff Cohn is a highly regarded winemaker (L.Compisi)

Go to their tasting rooms to get the full range of their delicious wines or visit their websites and order!

20180812_155753

MaryLee Johnson showcases husband Randle’s Artezin Zinfandel (L.Compisi)

20180812_160827

Jeff Cohn and Rock Wall compare St. Peters Church Vineyard Zins (L.Compisi)

We also met a relatively new grower couple, Mark and Sheila Farmer who established Famighetti Vineyards in 2015 in Dry Creek Valley.  They supply Zinfandel (and other varieties) grapes to Adobe Road and Seghesio Family. Look for vineyard designates from there.

20180812_162208

Mark Farmer happily introduces Famighetti Vineyards to the ZAP community (L.Compisi)

We think that ZAP, as a varietal advocacy group, and there are many (check out P.S. I Love You and Rhône Rangers) offers the most regular and focused tasting events throughout the year.  Educational, fun and flavorful! Become a member and get into Zinful living!

IMG_20180812_170906987

A non-political but timely and humorous slogan (L.Compisi)

ABOUT ZAP: ZAP serves as a comprehensive resource for all things Zinfandel, presenting the quality, versatility and heritage of Zinfandel in a wide-range of intimate wine tastings. seminars, master classes, blending sessions and interactive meet-the-maker round-tables, as well as their famous larger walk-around events featuring diverse wineries, vineyards and regions.

20180812_201210

The party is over!! (L.Compisi)

Posted in Day Trips, Mendocino County, North Coast, Rhône, Sonoma, Sonoma County, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Croatia’s Plitviče Lakes National Park: Disney couldn’t do it better!

Plitviče Lakes National Park is an amazing geologic feature in Croatia that, each year, dazzles over a million visitors from all over the world. Plitviče, pronounced [plîtʋitse]), is one of the oldest (established in 1949) and the largest national park in Croatia.

IMG_20180623 Falls4

One of the numerous cascades in Plitviče Lakes National Park (L.Compisi)

This 295-sq.-km (114-sq-miles) forest reserve is located in central Croatia approximately 130 kilometers south of Zagreb along the border with Bosnia-Herzogovina.  What makes it a UNESCO World Heritage site (registered in 1979) is its chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by pristine waterfalls that extend into a limestone canyon.

IMG_20180623 Falls6

Have you ever seen anything like this? (L.Compisi)

Truly fantastic well maintained board walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water, and an electric boat links the 12 upper and 4 lower lakes in a mile long cruise. The lower lakes areas are the site of Veliki Slap, a 78m-high waterfall. The elevation change from the top to the bottom is about 430 feet over about 5 miles.  This makes the walk rather gentle and relaxing regardless if you are walking up or down.  We walked down.

IMG_20180623 walkway

Water rushes under your feet as you walk the boardwalk (L.Compisi)

The lakes display a polychromatic array of water colors ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colors change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of the sunlight.  Truly dizzying!  Even Disney could not match Mother Nature’s demonstration of brilliance, color and light.

IMG_20180623 Falls9

Tranquility in the foreground and cascades in the back (L.Compisi)

Speaking of Disney, the park became famous in Central Europe and beyond during the 1960s and 1970s through several Western film productions of German novelist Karl May. Many other-worldly scenes have been shot at the lakes or waterfalls.

IMG_20180623 People mover

People mover takes us to the top (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180623 Lake1

Crowds build as we await the ferry to the lower lakes (L.Compisi)

Entrance to the park is subject to variable charges depending upon the season and park entry times. Children under 7 enter free of charge.  Children 7 – 18 and adult entry fees range from 35 HRK ($5.50) to 150 HRK ($23.50) per day.

IMG_20180623 Map

Map of the Plitviče Lakes National Park (L.Compisi) 

Tips:  Arrive as early as possible and take the people mover to the top and hike down.  You’ll transit for the first 3 miles with less human traffic.  If you arrive at the ferry boat before noon you will have avoided some of the crowds.  There is probably no way to avoid the crowds at Veliki Slap, a 78m-high (that’s 256 feet) waterfall that many tourists wait in long lines to walk under. We didn’t do this as the lines were too long and you can’t see the falls from there.

IMG_20180623 Falls1

Veliki Slap, a 256′ high waterfall – note people lined up left center (L.Compisi)

Getting there: From the Adriatic coastal town of Senj, the road distance is about 110 km (68 mi). The nearest airports are ZadarZagreb and Rijeka. The nearest train stations are Josipdol and Plaški, although no direct bus connection from these train stations to the lakes exists. Using public transport the lakes can easily be reached by direct bus lines from Zagreb, Karlovac, Zadar or Split.

IMG_20180623 Falls2

Veliki Slap, better view of crowds along lake (L.Compisi)

Side Note: We were very fortunate to be traveling through Croatia (and later France) during the 2018 FIFA World Cup playoffs.  It was quite exciting to be strolling down some ancient streets in Split and Dubrovnik with large screens televisions outside at restaurants, bars and cafes as both locals and tourists cheered Croatia along as it achieved the finals, alas, ultimately losing to France.

Keep your eyes digitally peeled for the next installment of our most excellent European Vacation!

 

 

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Croatia, Hiking, National Parks, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula: Beauty and History Combined

Croatia is a fabulous country blending spectacular coastline, mountains, lakes and islands as well as Roman, Venetian and Austrian history.  Oh yeah, it’s also a southern Slavic country that was part of the former Yugoslavia and they produce outstanding wines!

IMG_20180620_144904313Wine Cellar

The wine cellar of Boris Lisjak a multi-generational producer in Dutovlje (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180620_124259836 Lisjak

We enjoyed this delicious traditional Istrian lunch at Lisjak Winery (L.Compisi)

We began our visit to the Istrian Peninsula after departing the Ljubljana and the Julian Alps of Slovenia.  I do not believe we were prepared for the variety of terrain and the changing topography that we observed as we moved closer to the Adriatic.  Although the landscape remained hilly the mountains of the Alps disappeared in our rear view mirror.

20180620_062720a

We drove by the Lipica stud farm where they breed Lipizzaner Stallions (L.Compisi)

20180620_084433Motovun

The hilltop city of Motovun in Istria. (L.Compisi

hotel-kastel-motovun-hotel_gal6

An aerial view of Motovun (Courtesy of Hotel Kaštel Motovun)

We arrived at the hilltop city of Motovun in the early evening and had flash backs of pre-tourist Tuscany.  Beautiful hillside vineyards and a walled city with a castle on top greeted us.  Motovun only allows residents with small cars on their narrow streets so those arriving by bus had to carry/pull their luggage up the steep, upward sloping cobblestone streets for about half a mile.  Upon arrival at Hotel Kaštel Motovun we realized it was the castle we saw from below although clearly modernized cover the centuries and expanded into neighboring buildings. The views from the top are quite spectacular and we enjoyed an informal al fresco dinner overlooking the lush valley below.

IMG_20180621 Hotel Kastel Motovun

We stayed at the Hotel Kaštel Motovun for 2 nights (L.Compisi

IMG_20180621_090153599_HDR Motovun

Some of the narrow cobblestone streets of Motovun (L.Copisi)

IMG_20180620_223122 wine

We enjoyed this bottle of Teran wine with dinner in Motovun (L.Compisi)

The next morning we motored to Pula, an ancient city with extensive Roman ruins and history.  One of the six largest and best preserved Roman Amphitheaters outside the Colosseum in Rome is located in Pula.  Called Pulska Arena in Croatian, it is the only Roman amphitheater to have 4 side towers entirely preserved. The Arena was constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD, with interior elliptical dimensions of 435 feet by 345 feet and walls that stand 106 feet high. It could accommodate 23,000 spectators who would come to watch the gladiators do battle as well as the Christians being martyred with wild animals. Other Roman ruins exist but you will also find Venetian architecture in this very walkable city. We took full advantage of a city tour by a local guide who offered exceptional historic perspective to Pula.

IMG_20180621 Pula

An exterior view of Pula Arena built between 27 BC and 68 AD (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180621_Pula 1

The interior of Pula Arena (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180621 Pula1

Amazingly well preserved arena where Christians were martyred (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180621_124751124 Pula

A Roman Arch in Pula and a more modern building side by side (L.Compisi)

The following day we motored to the Venetian-era seaside town of Rovinj.  The location is quite beautiful and situated along the Adriatic Sea. A favorite resort for eastern Europeans for many, many years, it has become extremely popular with western Europeans since Croatia became an independent nation outside the grip of former Yugoslav President Marshall Tito.

IMG_20180621_150504047Rovinj

The seaside city of Rovinj in Istria (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180621_164029955 Rovinj

The very active fishing harbor of Rovinj (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180621_151942882 Rovinj

One of the many seaside restaurants in Rovinj (L.Compisi)

20180621_063028 Rovinj

A beautiful church graces the highest point in Rovinj offering spectacular views (L.Compisi)

Aside from the mainland of Rovinj with its population of about 15,000, Rovinj has 19 islands of its coast. Of additional note, Rovinj is the in the top five tourist destination in the country partly because of the numerous pastel-colored homes ringing the beautiful and active fishing harbor. Getting to Rovinj by air requires flying into Pula or Trieste, the closest airports. Also, during the busy summer season there are high speed ferries from Venice as well as Ravenna and Cosenatico, all in Italy.

Please keep a digital eye for the next installments of this adventure through the former Yugoslavia including Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzogovina and Croatia.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Istria, Slovenia, Travel, Wine, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surprising Slovenia: Former Yugoslav Republic is a True Hidden Gem

We’ve never been to Slovenia before this journey and now I wonder why.  Slovenia is an amazing country with its own Alps, lakes and nearly 30 miles of Adriatic coastline.  The country is situated in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean.  According to Wikipedia, over half of the country is covered by forests which were very apparent as we entered from Italy, on the west.  This makes Slovenia the third most forested country in Europe, after Finland and Sweden.  Slovenia is mostly hilly and actually very beautiful.  Once part of Yugoslavia (with Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro), Slovenia established its independence and sovereignty on June 25th, 1991 and joined the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004.

IMG_20180616_180228320_HDR

The River Ljubljanica flows through downtown Ljubljana. (L.Compisi)

 Ljubljana, its capital, is quite vibrant and architecturally very interesting with much to see and do.  With nearly 300,000 people, Ljubljana is Slovenia’s largest City. Of special interest is dining along the river at the many cafes. Experiencing the farmers market in the downtown Market Square was eye-popping and made us wish we could buy fresh fruits and vegetables as well as fish.  Looked amazing.

IMG_20180617_000732

Beautiful offerings in the central market of Ljubljana (L.Compisi)

IMG_20180616_175516448_HDR

The tree-lined river offers a stunning backdrop (L.Compisi)

Ljubljana Castle, which is high on a promontory overlooking the city, offers a great photo opportunity from below as well as from above.  The walk up to the castle is not overly strenuous but a tram is available as well.  Exploring the castle is very interesting with a museum and other interests.  The castle has two restaurants and a café as well as other amenities.

IMG_20180617_114717070_HDR

View of Ljubljana Graf (castle) from one of its towers (L.Compisi)

The visit to the Ljubljana ‘Skyscraper’ is not the tallest building in the city but it was the first ‘skyscraper in Ljubljana. The restaurant at the top has wonderful views and besides the traditional fare serves a renowned cream pie.

The decadent cream pie at the Skyscraper (L.Compisi)

We had booked a ‘Food and Wine Tour’ that was advertised through TripAdvisor with a tour company called Viator.  Although our guide was quite knowledgeable, after having had a city tour the day before and an orientation tour the evening before we basically heard the same stories multiple times. The food and wine tour itself was lackluster although we got to taste four different wines and nine different dishes.  It was not memorable.

20180616_100904

Sparkling local wine and small bites along the river.(L.Compisi)

Where to stay: We stayed at the Hotel Mrak which is just on the edge of the old city with easy walking access to the city’s extensive pedestrian area. The Hotel Mrak is undergoing a needed room renovation and although we stayed in an older room we did see the renovated rooms which are sleek and quite nice.  It proved to be a perfect location to explore Ljubljana for the three days we were there.

IMG_20180618_194704156_HDR

View of Ljubljana Graf from below (L.Compisi

After departing Ljubljana, with a bit of sadness, we headed for Lake Bled, the Bled Castle and the Julian Alps.  It was quite scenic!  The walk around Lake Bled is about 3 miles and we did it in a little over an hour and 20 minutes. There’s a chapel in the center of the lake which has its own myths and stories for weddings.  And the view from the castle is quite spectacular.

IMG_20180620_225827

Bled Graf (Castle) at Lake Bled (L.Compisi)

20180619_043543

The mythical chapel in the middle of Lake Bled (L.Compisi)

When we left Lake Bled we went to the Julian Alps which separate Austria and Hungary from Slovenia. We stayed in a small hotel with a view of the mountains that was quite picturesque and dined at a traditional restaurant that evening. The Julian Alps are quite beautiful and truly spectacular. We stayed at the Hotel Mangart in Bovec. The hotel is more than adequate and was reasonably priced.  Bovec is about an hour and a half from Lake Bled and is surrounded with activities of all kinds including a ski jump training area, Nordic Centre Planica, which was fascinating to watch.

IMG_20180619_144115

The dramatic Julian Alps in northern Solvenia (L.Compisi)

In retrospect, Slovenia was the biggest surprise on this journey through parts of the former Yugoslavia.  Everyone assures you that Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast are stunning, and they are, but we were very pleasantly surprised to experience the history and beauty of Slovenia.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Slovenia, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment