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
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
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.
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.
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
Continue the above trip to: Hungary
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