• Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Denmark!

    Denmark: Landscape. Go Now!

    Denmark
    From cities like Copenhagen to islands, beaches, and vast fields (pictured), Denmark offers incredible history, architecture, scenery, and more. Begin Your Journey!

  • Czech Republic!

    Czech Republic: Astronomical Clock in Prague. Go Now!

    Czech Republic
    The Astronomical Clock in Prague (pictured) makes every tourist list, but the towns, including Cesky Krumlov, and the mountains offer a change of pace. Go Now!

  • Belarus!

    Belarus: Birch tree forest. Go Now!

    Belarus
    Tucked away and often forgotten in Eastern Europe, Belarus is home to low lands and Birch Forests (pictured) as well as hidden castles and a culture unlike any other. Begin Your Journey!

  • Spain!

    Spain: Guell Park and Gaudi architecture. Go Now!

    Spain
    Fusion foods, lively music, historic ruins, and cultural events like the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina make Spain and Barcelona (pictured) a favorite tourist destination. Explore Spain!

Croatia

Hvar Town, Croatia

Dubrovnik

March 13, 2005
Crazy Locals on Roads Paved in Marble

I decided to try to get to Dubrovnik as soon as possible (from Montenegro), so I grabbed the first bus to the border region between Montenegro and Croatia, getting off just after Herceg Novi. At this point I needed to walk to the border and catch a bus from there. The walk was much longer than expected and about two and a half hours later I found myself at the Croatian border.

I reached the border and they told me that a bus comes at noon each day, so I waited for it. The bus's tardiness was no big deal other than the fact that the bus driver charged me 10 Euros for it, more than I am accustomed to paying, but I had few choices.

At the Dubrovnik bus station I was immediately approached by a woman who offered me a room. It was cheap and close to the bus station so I agreed. The first sign this arrangement was a bad idea was when the woman couldn't find my keys, but she looked and insisted I couldn't leave until she found them, whereas I insisted that I see the city and leave as soon as possible. Fifteen minutes and a cup of tea later I won and left.

The city is, in the words of my friend Magnus, "the most picturesque place in Europe" and he may be right, but it has little authentic feel, it almost felt contrived and re-built. Whereas Kotor, Montenegro felt like everything a theme park aims for, Dubrovnik just stopped at being a theme park. The city was beautiful none-the-less and I would recommend it. Although it has incredible character and architecture, personally I felt like it lacked any feel.

It was nice that there were no tourists today since it was raining half the day, but that also cleared the streets of the locals. Later the rain subsided and the reflections in the marbles streets were quite nice. The streets were actually empty and I guess that's both good and bad as the streets were less crowded and tourists were non-existent, but even the citizens of Dubrovnik closed up.

I headed back to my place and again met with the two old ladies, whose house I was staying at. Both were single and in their elder years; at first they loved me because I was renting from them and they had a brother and sister in the U.S., but this soon led to a downward spiral.

Our conversation was unforced at first, learning about national food (fish I was told, just fish, any kind, cooked in any way), life in Croatia, and then... George Bush came on TV and their kindness turned to hatred.

After repeatedly swearing at George Bush on TV, then at me for, I guess for being American, the first sister stormed off and went to bed. The second sister, with better English also swore at me as I desperately tried to comprehend why they went into a tirade (considering I didn't make a single comment about Bush or politics). The second sister swore at me, then stormed off to bed as well. I understand a lot of people don't agree with American politics, but for some reason many of those people believe that I, as an American, am personally responsible for every political action the U.S. government takes or, more likely they just want a scapegoat and I'm a convenient one. No matter my opinions or beliefs (which I don't share while traveling) I am still regularly lectured for what's wrong with me and my government. I've quickly learned that discussing politics gives no benefit to anyone involved when it comes to travel.

The next morning, I awoke to both of the women being my best friends and them calling their friend in Sarajevo so I would have a place to stay when I went there. I however, had changed my travel plans so missed their friend in Sarajevo.

Continue the above trip to: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Split

March 15, 2005
A Roman Emperor's Palace in a Thriving Metropolis

At the bus station in Split I was greeted by Omar's friend (my house stay host in Mostar, Bosnia) for a house stay; she seemed extremely friendly and I simply couldn't say no. Her house was nice and only about 10 minutes from the old town.

The walk into town consists of narrow and cobble-stoned streets, but clearly no older than the early 1800s. This path led me straight into town and I soon arrived to Diocletian's Palace. At first I was a little skeptical on its greatness, but grew to really like it. The entranceway is less than impressive, but once inside at the Peristyle and vestibule it is truly great.

To the right there's a church, obviously modern, but it's surrounded by ancient Roman architecture and statues of sphinxes. Down a narrow alleyway I found the Temple of Jupiter, which was also very impressive. All the entrances to the palace were colossal and the streets were narrow and had fantastic character.

I walked around the palace, particularly in the area west of the palace, which is really nice; at times it's difficult to tell when you're in the palace and when you're just in the city itself. This whole area was part of a larger fortress built years after the palace so still has the ancient feel. I spent some more time figuring out ferry times to Hvar Island and just relaxing on the waterfront.

By the time I returned to my home stay, I tried to ask where I could buy juice, bread, and cheese, but to no avail, so the man called the girl from upstairs to translate. She spoke perfect English and was happy to help.

After getting my food, she returned and I talked to her and the woman who met me at the bus station. It was a great conversation and I learned about the education system in Croatia, which is, according to her, terrible; the controversy over European Union membership; and lighter conversation. It was a nice and relaxing day and the company was great. At one point in the conversation, the woman told me that she had a grand-daughter my age and that I should meet her. She also decided that my Croatian (which I understand a decent amount of due to speaking some Russian and Polish) was good enough that she only spoke Croatian to me and I English to her, which turned into a disaster on my part.

March 15, 2005

Today I walked around the city at night. The atmosphere is very different at night and much better. The ruins were well lit and the people only local. It wasn't the same city, it was a better city.

Hvar Town

March 15, 2005
A Peaceful Town on an Island

This morning I took off on the 8:30 ferry to Stari Grad on Hvar Island. The trip was two hours instead of the advertised time, but I can't complain since the trip was relaxing and the water completely clear.

At the ferry port, there was a bus heading to Hvar Town so many of us jumped on and after about 15 minutes through the mountainous countryside we arrived at Hvar Town. Only about 100 meters from the bus station I found myself in the middle of the town square, Trg Sv Stjepana.

I decided to first head up to the old Venetian Fortress atop the hill, where I ran into three Brits from Plymouth. They were extremely friendly and it was kind of nice to speak English. We climbed to the top together as we talked about why we're all in this part of the world; we then found the castle to be closed, so headed down as we discussed the islands in the area along with Bosnia & Herzegovina. Two of them live in Bosnia and are convinced that there will be a war again; the tension is building and eventually one shot will begin it all they said. It's a sad state, but it's true; they're convinced the peace treaty was the worst thing for that country since the underlying issues were never addressed or resolved.

On a lighter note, they taught me about caterpillars in the area that are practically blind so follow each other in long lines of about 50 or 60 from head to tail. At one point, one of the girls blew on them and they all curled up, only a couple minutes later did they extent themselves and try to find the one in front of them again. They seemed alright as a whole once they started moving again.

After getting to the bottom of the hill, they took off to another part of the island and I was on my own again. The day was relaxing and the whole town was seen in a couple hours. I walked along the shore for awhile and just enjoyed the water, island, boats, and scenery.

The rest of the day was spent sitting on a bench eating food and ice cream from the store while reading and letting my mind free itself from thought. The sun pounding down; it's said Hvar Town is one of the sunniest places on earth and the sunniest in Croatia; in fact many hotels give discounts on cloudy days.

The city isn't too touristy yet, but the entire place was under construction, in fact it was the only thing I could hear since there are no streets for traffic. I'm glad I went now, before it becomes too much of a destination.

Zagreb

March 16, 2005
A Couple Museums in the Capital

The bus from Split to Zagreb was supposed to be eight hours and while I love arriving early, I don't when I leave at 10:30pm and roll into Zagreb bus station at 4:45 in the morning. I got my stuff, walked past some Roma children at the station and began planning my day.

Zagreb is more like a couple small towns put together than a big city; it contains a lot of parks and museums as well. I went to upper town immediately to try to watch the sunrise then headed over to the Banski Dvori, or Presidential Palace, the Sabor or national Parliament, and St. Mark's church. It was a nice area, but didn't at all feel like the seat of a national government.

Nearby is the old Stone Gate with people constantly stopping and praying, in fact there are pews in there to pray and it was busy during my entire people-watching session. This whole area was nice; it felt more like a small town with old colorful houses, all quite small and none taller than two stories. It felt like a peaceful little town, but not a city, and definitely not a capital city. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was also nice, but under construction.

Lower town seemed to be where things were happening, there were parks everywhere, museums, many neo-Renaissance buildings, and more modern buildings too. The trams and buses were constantly moving and the city was alive with energy and thousands of people. I sat at Trg Jelacica for about an hour just watching people. There were people of every walk of life including students, businessmen, homeless, and of course the typical Slavic babushka. The area seemed to breathe and felt more like a European capital city, but still not a city, but rather a town at the same time. Lower Town is more like a cultural center; modern buildings and business centers were still further from here and could be seen in the distance.

Next, I enjoyed the Archeology Museum and the Museum of the City of Zagreb. The city museum was nice, but unfortunately I simply don't know the city well enough to really appreciate it all. The Archeology Museum was great and there were some great mosaics that really inspired me to make my kitchen floor with mosaic tiles (when I get a kitchen that is).

Also during the day I bought some fruit from a market, another part of the city with a different feel entirely, and checked my e-mail at a cafe. The city is best described as a combination of a capital, business center, government center, a village, a thriving metropolis, a student town, and a great religious peace all in one based upon what street you decide to turn down. I really like Zagreb as a whole... and in parts.

Continue the above trip to: Hungary

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