Day 3 – It’s Like Thunder, Lightning…

Today is our last day in Dubrovnik before we ease down the coast of Montenegro, and we woke up to torrential rain and crazy thunder and lightning. In Vancouver we’re known for rain, but this was some RAIN. We took our time getting ready, bought a couple of umbrellas and headed for a leisurely breakfast overlooking the old marina. We watched as tour after tour group paraded by, a walking rainbow of waterproof ponchos shuffling by.

After breakfast we headed to the first of two monasteries we wanted to see, this one being Dominican. The Dominican Monastery is known for its beautiful chapel and peaceful cloister, as well as a good collection of artwork. As I am not a religious person, I try to enjoy the monasteries and cathedrals for what they are – architectural feats and priceless pieces of art.

The entrance fee is a pittance, but we paid in trying to navigate around the tour groups, walking slowly and bleeding into every walkable crevice so that when we got caught in a tour group, we kind of had to make the same movements as the tour group.

We made our way to the cloister right away, quiet and lush, an oasis in the middle of the busy arid city.

We moved into the small art gallery, filled with dim and dark brush strokes depicting Jesus suffering and the sainted patrons who helped bank roll the church. What I was most interested in was a 15th century book of motets and mass (think post chant, pre JS Bach), with square runes instead of round note heads. I wish I could read them.

After enough time fawning over the relics of martyrs, we headed towards the other monastery of interest, the Franciscan. In order to get there, we had to cross town, shoulder to shoulder with every other person ever, so we decided to take a less busy back alley.

A back alley in old Dubrovnik is a delightful thing – lined with quaint cafes and restaurants, lamps, greenery, cats and galleries – out of the sun and myriad of people. We reached the Franciscan Monastery, paid not the right amount (the front desk clerk could be described as “day drunk” and gave us a deal) and entered again into a serene cloister, very similar to the Dominican one.

The main reason why we wanted to visit this monastery was because it houses one of the oldest still operational pharmacies in the world (3rd oldest in Europe). There was a small museum and gallery in this monastery as well, with a wall dedicated to the ancient instruments and bottles of tinctures from the days of yore.

There were again more paintings, relics, and a few hymnals from the 14th, 15th and 16th century, but the most impactful thing for me, was a framed hole in the wall labeled “shell shot December 6 1991”. We haven’t talked a lot about the Balkan War on this trip, but on the previous mentioned date the Yugoslav Army (later called the Serbian Army) bombarded Dubrovnik’s old town, leading to worldwide condemnation and sanctions. The army retreated and left Croatia to declare their independence (only to siege Sarajevo for 4 horrible bloody years that somehow evaded the notice of the West). I think the reason that the Balkan War resonates with me is not only because I fell in love with Bosnia 5 years ago, but because I remember the War. I was young, but I remember hearing names like “Sarajevo”, “Serbia” and “Milosovic”, and we have been able to speak with people who lived through it. Anyway.

We were keeping our eyes to the skies as we had read that there was another storm moving into the city, so we decided to grab a drink by Onofrio Fountain (our waiter asked “do you have somewhere safe to go? There will be storm”) and an ice cream while we watched the black clouds roll in (I had mint chocolate, Pa had “Game of Thrones” flavour, which is dark chocolate and rum). We got back to our apartment in time to hear the skies to rumble and light, followed by the deluge. We listened to podcasts and played games on our devices as we waited out the weather. Around 1700hrs the clouds broke, the blue skies came back and we headed to a beautiful restaurant for some happy hour cocktails (Pa had Glenmorangie scotch, Ma had some sort of virgin berry cinnamon concoction and I had a raspberry rum cocktail) and a delicious dinner of roasted chicken and ratatouille.

As the sun set over the old city, we wandered back to our apartment for the last time, taking in the smells of lavender and incense and the golden glow of the buildings.

Day 2 – Out On the Tiles

This morning we were up bright and early (brighter and earlier than we intended as we’re still on incredibly jet-lagged) as we wanted to walk the old city walls and ramparts, and we wanted to do it before the crowds as before the heat got too oppressive. The walls are the most recommended thing to do and we didn’t get a chance to walk them during Dubrovnik 2014, so we made sure we did them this time.

We got to the entrance by the Ploče Gate by 7:55, and it opens at 8:00, which we’ve learned by now is merely suggestion, and not a hard and fast rule. We were 2nd in line with a queue already forming, and the poor gate worker could not get the ticket machine working. It’s not something he could just wave people in for free – entrance is about $20CAD. After about 10 minutes of fumbling, trouble shooting and calls to what I assume is Croatian tech support, the poor significantly sweatier man got the machine working, and we were through.

The walls were originally built in the 9th century and further fortified in the 14th century in order to keep out the Turks (a common theme in the area). You can also see the difference in the orange tiled roofs – faded tiles are obviously older, bright orange indicates the roof and/or building didn’t survive the significant shelling during the Balkan War of the 1990s.

The walls are almost 4km with lots of stairs and ramps along the way, and for someone whose limbs can best described as “dachshund-esque”, some of the stairs were pretty challenging. The views made the blasting of my quads, hams and glutes worthwhile, with a total panorama every step along the way.

One thing I always think is interesting when huffing around in 29 degree weather is the fashion. When I travel I wear pretty basic clothing – black pants, black low-cut top – the Kelly uniform. There were women in sky-high espadrilles, women in unflattering tune tops, women in shockingly short dresses, schlepping their shit up all those stairs. If they can stay cool and comfortable, more power to them.

The sun started to really punish us, so we stopped at one of the many refreshment stands along the walls for some orange juice, but were swiftly talked into some “signature” drink there. Turns out, this pink concoction contained not only oranges, but also beets and carrots. Not super refreshing or tasty, but very healthy.

The wall walk ended up being more interesting with more beautiful views than I was expecting, so I’m glad we did it and would recommend it to visitors! It’s supposed to take about an hour, but it took us two, as we stopped a lot to take what felt like the same photo 30 times.

It was a little after 1000hrs when we exited the ramparts so we decided to get a lot of water and coffee as well as some brunch in a beautiful restaurant that faces the marina so that we could people watch and watch the boats come and go. The coffee was delicious and our water looked like Croatian Javier Bardem.

The rest of the day was a relaxing one. We left the marina and headed for Buža 2 – another bar built into the rocks on the outside of the wall. They didn’t have the lemon beer that Pa and I have come to love, but they had cold beer and beautiful views in spades.

After our drinks and a mid day siesta, we went to a tobacco shop to buy some stamps and then set up shop at one of our favourite people watching restaurants along the stradun where we sipped more beers and I wrote and sent some postcards to some of my nearest and dearest. Again the parade of people was a fascinating sight – tour groups, bros, a bridal party, screaming children with disinterested parents. After dinner, we headed to back to our apartment around the corner, as it took every last ounce of strength to wash my face and brush my teeth before crashing into bed at the ripe old hour of 1930hrs.

Day 1: Well It’s A Hot One

After a relatively eventless travel day yesterday (Vancouver to Frankfurt, 4 hour layover including beer and pretzels, Frankfurt to Dubrovnik) we arrived at our apartment in the heart of the old town at around 1800hrs. Our apartment is mercifully air conditioned and surprisingly quiet, as all around it restaurants, markets and tchotchke shops are bustling.

This is actually our 2nd time in Dubrovnik. We originally came in 2014 during our Balkan odyssey where things went awry mere days into the trip, as on day 2 in Sarajevo Pa tripped on a low post and shattered his elbow into a bajillion pieces. After 5 days in a Bosnian hospital, 2 surgeries and a bunch of steel in his arm, Pa met up with us in Dubrovnik, only getting to spend half a day there and drowning his sorrows in spaghetti after eating only what can be described as gruel at the hospital. Obviously, we wanted to recreate our memories of the city.

This morning we wanted to get up and out to not only beat the heat early, but also beat some of the crowds – Dubrovnik’s popularity has skyrocketed since it was burned to crisp by some dragon lady in some show (I’m kidding. I know it’s called King’s Landing in Game of Thrones). We had a delicious and leisurely breakfast on the main stradun, enjoying some French toad while listening to American rockabilly before we started to amble around.

We wandered out to the water, clear and emerald green and turquoise, where boat tour operators hawked their business and bikini-clad twenty-somethings headed for the cliffs.

We walked as far as the path would allow before we turned back, seeking shade against the already oppressive sun. Even by 11am, most people were sporting sweat-soaked spots on their shirts.

One of the cooler spots in the old town is a place called Buža, or “Hole”, because you quite literally have to crawl through a hole in the city walls to get there. Once through the hole you climb down stone stairs to a bar, shaded by bamboo and clinging to the rocks overlooking the Adriatic. The view is spectacular, and although the drinks are expensive, you’re really paying for the experience. Because we were there relatively early, we grabbed a good table facing the sea and enjoyed a few beers (and a Fanta for Ma).

Leaving Buža we noticed the town was busier (cruise ships had moored) and the sun was hotter. Me, and already ghostly white person, had started to pink about a half an hour in the sun.

We wandered around back alleys and passageways until we came upon the Spanish Steps. The steps are a beautiful grand staircase that connect the upper part of the old town to the main level, and I think I heard the words “shame walk” a dozen times – these stairs are prominently featured in an episode of Game of Thrones where Cersei takes her walk of shame (I don’t know the story behind it, I’ve never watched the show). Tour guides were scattered about the steps, all holding up pictures of Lena Headey in her questionable pixie cut.

Ma and I decided that we should continue our travel tradition and pick up some fridge magnets (and me some postcards for some choice friends), so we walked up one of the main market streets, mottled with shops selling jewellery, lavender goods, licensed Game of Thrones merchandise, and typical souvenirs. By this time the streets were packed, everyone bumping elbows and jostling each other to get around. We took respite in an ice cream shop that we had noticed the night before, as it had a line up out the front door. I had a lemon pie ice cream and could see what all the hubbub was about.

Sweaty, sun-weary and jet lagged, we decided to head back to our apartment for a brief siesta in order to cool down and take a bit of a snooze.

About 2 hours later we were ready to get sweaty again, so we went to the main stradun, grabbed an outdoor table at a restaurant and sipped lemon beers while we watched the people go by. Soon, it was dinner time so we made for a large square where we ate spaghetti and roast chicken before retiring for the night.

Croatia (Part 6: Rovinj)

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Our last ‘home base’ in the Croatian leg of our Balkan odyssey was a peninsula called Rovinj (pronounced Roh-VEEN).  Rovinj sits at the northern bit of the country and the reason it looks so much like Venice is because it was occupied by the Venetians however many years ago.  Rovinj juts out into the Adriatic and is a haven for seafood and pasta lovers.

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Rovinj has the same beautiful, shiny brick streets as Dubrovnik and Split does, but the city takes on a different character than its Dalmatian brothers.  The climate is still warm and mediterranean but where Split and Dubrovnik has palm trees, red roofs and tourists, Rovinj has colourful buildings and laid back locals.

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We spend several days in Rovinj and we loved every minute there.  I had probably the best spaghetti and meatballs of my life there.

The sunsets were unbelievable.  Late September is my favourite time of year to shoot because the light is such a beautiful golden glow in the evening and I was so lucky to be in such a vibrant city at this time of year.

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Another one of the things I loved about shooting Rovinj was the colours.  As you may know by now, I love shooting in bold, bright colour and Rovinj had a lot to offer, with the neutral coloured buildings, pink, orange and red sunset, the brown of the rocks and the blue and green of the water.

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Ah!  If only I had brought my bathing suit I would have joined these sun bathing beauties on the rocks!

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If I lived here, I would drink a press of coffee and watch the sunset at this little table.  Every.  Day.

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We were lucky enough to close out our stay here with a sunset evening inlet boat cruise on the last boat of the day on the last day of the season.  I insisted we sail the Adriatic in Rovinj because we had to cancel our sail in Split, and we totally lucked out.  We headed out and the boat’s crew passed out glasses of juice and wine.  We were entitled to one glass of wine on the cruise but one of the deck hands kept refilling Pa’s glass.  We sat right up front to that I could get some uninhibited shots of the city from the sea as well as the sunset.  Then we got some unexpected guests – Adriatic dolphins!  The dolphins swam right up to the boat frolicked beside us as the sun went down on Rovinj and our time in Croatia.

Croatia (Part 5: Zadar)

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Our pleasant-est of pleasant surprises on our trip to the Balkans was the coastal town of Zadar.  We decided to stay in Zadar randomly – it was a coastal town almost a straight line from the more inland Plitvice Lakes.  We read that it had a pretty old town and a newer interesting waterfront feature – the Marine Organ.

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After most of our day in Plitvice lakes we decided to head into town to check out the Organ and get some dinner.  We wandered through the old town and marvelled at the beautiful Venetian stone work – it was like a miniature, less crowded version of Dubrovnik.  The city is very clean and the stones shiny, like they polish them on a regular basis.  Little art galleries and pizzerias were strewn about the town.

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When we made our way outside of the old wall we were thrust upon a vision of utter majesty – the orange-red sun setting on the restless, white-capped Adriatic Sea, the sound of Nikola Basic’s award winning urban art instalment – the Marine Organ.  As mentioned in a previous post, the Marine Organ is a set of polyethylene pipes of varying lengths and widths set into the concrete seafront with slats on one end to allow the wind, waves, and water in and an opening on the other to the let the chance music out.

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We sat on the steps, watched the sailboats pass by in the choppy waters and the sun set, and listened to the music.  The music was enchanting, harmonious, hypnotizing.  I could have listened to it all day.  We noticed that there were a few cafes set back from the concrete steps and decided that some day, one day, when we return, we will spend more time in Zadar and sit at one of those cafes for a day, drink the delicious coffee and listen to the music of the ocean.

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Croatia (Part 3: Split)

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Split.  Split is very cool.  The main attraction of Split is Diocletian’s Palace, the retirement home of Roman emperor.  Mountains on one side, Adriatic Ocean on the other, palm trees aplenty!  We stayed at a pansion whose owner may or may not have been some sort of Croatian gangster named Ivan.

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Split was pretty laid back and super interesting.  The only part that I found particularly cheesy was a ‘reenactment’ of some sort of proclamation by the Emperor himself (some schmuck in a toga).  You better believe that those bedazzled, be-visored cruise ship tourists got their iPads out for that one.  One of the many things I liked about Split was that you were never too far from the sea.

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The Mediterranean climate proved for some lovely, bright sunny photos, and the ancient architecture a perfect model.

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It’s amazing to me to be able to photograph real, authentic, ancient bits of history and architecture, like this pillar, an original feature made from red marble native to the region.

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I like to try and imagine what some of the areas that are in disrepair would have looked like in its glory days, like the above tower used to have a domed roof, according to historians.

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On a more personal note, I got spend my 31st birthday within these walls.  I got some delicious pizza, Croatian cream cake and liquor, thanks to the generosity of our host Ivan.  Definitely one of the cooler birthdays I’ve had.

Croatia (Part 2: Korcula)

 

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Korcula, Croatia

The second part of our Croatian adventure was to the island of Korcula.  Korcula is a sleepy, beach-y island, much quieter and humbler than its glitzy neighbour Hvar.  We wanted to go to one of the Dalmatian islands and seeing as Ma, Pa and I are all pretty introverted, we chose the quieter island.

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The island ended up being a vacation within our vacation.  We’d met back up with Pa on our last day in Dubrovnik and decided to take it easy on this tranquil rock.  As you can see, the waters are just as beautiful and inviting as they are outside of Dubrovnik.  IMG_8031

The climate was Mediterranean – warm, some palm trees, rocky and the architecture Venetian – lots of red tiled roofs.  Korcula was fun to photograph because of not only its stunning natural beauty, but because of the whole laid back feel there.   The locals love to talk about their maybe native son Marco Polo and you can visit his perhaps birthplace.  It wasn’t too crowded so you weren’t rubbing elbows with everyone like we were in Dubrovnik and not cursing every clueless selfie sticky-carrying doofus who ambled into your shot.

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Like Dubrovnik there were plenty of laneways and staircases, just without the people, so you could get mysterious shots like this one.  I often think back to Croatia and if I had to choose only one part to go back to and spend more time, it would be Korcula.  Maybe.

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