Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Hi from Dubrovnik, Croatia 13.9.11

Hi all,
Gosh I just realized today that it has been 3 weeks since my last email.  Wow, it is incredible how time is flying by.  I have now been in Europe for 4 and a half months!!!  Some days as I look around I still find it quite surreal that I have been here for so long and seen as much as I have.  I was going to add, ‘and bought as much as I have’, but I am always reminded of that each time I attempt to lift my suitcase!!!
Melinda, Ros and I are currently in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  We arrived on Sunday and leave again on Thursday to head to Kotor, Montenegro.  Since the last email I have been through three countries - Slovenia (Ljubljana & Piran), Croatia (Rovinj, Zadar, Lake Plitvice & Split, Dubrovnik), and Bosnia (Sarajevo & Mostar). For those of you who aren’t exactly sure where these countries are, they are in Eastern Europe, just to the right of Italy (with the Adriatic Sea in between). 
It has been wonderful travelling with friends, however my ‘real life movie’ has now changed from “Eat, Pray, Love” to “EAT, SHOP, EAT”!!!  Oh my God!!!  The breakfasts continue to be a main meal event, and then due to my fast metabolism (??), I am hungry two hours later and search for something for morning tea.  This of course is closely followed by a trip to the bakery for lunch..for me.  Melinda & Ros always skip lunch by replacing it with either coffee and cake or a double serve of gelati. I can’t just sit and watch them eat cake (or gelati) without me, so I somehow manage to squeeze that into the daily diet as well.   And we always end the day by experiencing a lovely meal at a different restaurant each night. Where is all this food going you ask??  HHHmmm, in my unusually tight shorts???  Oh dear, my usual daily salami sandwich at work is just not going to cut it anymore when I return home to normal life!!!!!!!!!
Each city has an ‘old town’ area which is the ‘historical or medieval’ part of the town - where you find the old architecture, monuments, churches, shops etc.  And each town usually has a bell tower which we climb to see the city views and for our daily exercise (in an attempt to balance out the gelati calories)!!  Well, it goes without saying that we also visit almost every shop in the ‘old town’ district of each city.  Melinda is the ‘Queen’ of shopping!!!  Her motto is “See it, Like it, Buy it” and I can assure you she lives up to that motto daily!!  She has now purchased something to remind herself of each city we have visited (uummm, have quite possibly done that myself??), and her large number of purchases somehow seem to disappear into her tiny little backpack!!   Am beginning to think it has a secret compartment with a suction valve, as I see the things going in, but the pack doesn’t appear to be getting any bigger???  Hhhmm, unless she is secretly hiding them in the bottom of my suitcase???  I better check that later….there must be a reason why my suitcase keeps expanding…surely it wouldn’t be the few minor trinkets that I purchase??
Ros on the other hand is the conservative one.  She slowly looks at all the stores, compares all the prices, and after much deliberation either talks herself out of the purchase or finally goes back to the store just before we leave the town.   She is the ultimate bargain hunter!! I am trying to learn some good habits from Ros, but Melinda’s influence appears to be a little stronger??  Melinda believes that it is not good to have regrets, so it is always best to purchase rather than not purchase!!  Plus there are summer sales everywhere over here, so surely the more you spend, the more you save???
Our accommodation has continued to be fabulous!!  We have stayed in the most wonderful hotels & self contained apartments, usually within the ‘old town’ districts or within walking distance.  I got so excited the other day when our apartment had an iron!!  I know that sounds strange, but I am someone who even irons gardening clothes, so it has been a challenge not to be able to iron my clothes for months now.  Melinda can’t believe that we arrive in these amazing cities, and the first squeal of delight out of my mouth is when I open a cupboard door and find an iron!!!  What can I say…some people are easily pleased???
Some of our accommodation has included two separate rooms for the three of us.  Now, normally, we would draw straws as to who would have a room to themselves (while the other two shared).  Ros booked most of our accommodation for us and I think she has secretly known about these separate rooms, because for a few nights before we arrive at these particular hotels/apartments, she starts snoring like a trooper!!!  This ultimately has meant that she has gotten the separate room on every occasion!!!  Last night she had a few too many red wines and I am sure they would have heard her snoring from every room in the entire building!!!  Needless to say, I have invested in a set of ear plugs!!!
Initially when we started travelling from town to town in the country Slovenia, we had arranged with “Kumuka Tours” to provide personal transfers between towns; and city tours for us once we arrived.  The private transfers meant that we had a personal driver pick us up from our hotel and drive us to the next town in the air-conditioned comfort of a beautiful new and spacious vehicle.  It was extra special for me as the driver would always grab my suitcase first to help lug it to the vehicle, as he could quite easily see that it was the largest of the three packs.  It made travelling such an easy life.  Due to the extra expense of such luxury, we could only afford to do it for the first week of our holiday together. 
Reality quickly set in after that, when we had to start catching local buses between towns and countries.  Our ‘busing’ experiences have not always been great ones!  Half the buses have not had air-conditioning and have felt like ‘saunas on wheels’.  Half the bus stations have only had ‘drop toilets’ as their public toilets, so I have now had to use them 4 times!!!! Yes, those lovely ones that you have to ever so elegantly try to squat and hover over, whilst aiming for a small hole in the ground….hhmm, all the while trying to ensure you miss your shorts and shoes.  Let me tell you though, the next time I go to boot camp, I am going to be an expert at holding myself in a squat position!! I will just have to remind myself not to pee at the same time???
Gosh, I hope you made yourself a cup of tea/coffee/glass of wine before you started reading this.  I still have to tell you about the towns/countries I have been to in the last three weeks. 
Well, the last email ended when we were about to head to the Capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana.  Ljubljana is one of Europe’s smallest Capital cities and was just lovely.  We scored the best tour guide ever for our morning city tour.  She was an Archeologist who was both knowledgeable and funny.  We loved her. She even gave us each two hugs at the end of the tour (Slovenian people are very friendly!).  And she also threw in some free man tips!! She told us that the best looking men in Europe were in Bosnia, so we got just a little excited knowing that we were heading there as well!!!  She said not to bother with the men in Slovenia as they were just hopeless when it came to ‘man things’ like building or fixing things.  Hhmm, it wasn’t long before we confirmed that for ourselves.  At about 7am the next morning we saw two guys standing around a front glass door which had been laid down on the footpath outside a shop.  At 2pm there were three men and at 6pm there were 5 men working on the same glass panel on the footpath.  And finally at 10pm we saw that the men were holding the glass door up, about to reattach it to the store!!!  We decided that if it took 5 men and 15 hours to fix a door, the Slovenian women were in big trouble!!!

From Ljubljana, our personal driver drove us to Piran and on the way we stopped at the most amazing ‘Postojna Caves’.  The underground chambers and tunnels extended for 20km and had the most magnificent formations of stalactites and stalagmites that I have ever seen.  We initially started off on an electric train through the tunnels and then walked for about 1.5 kms.  It was a freezing 9 degrees, so I had to hire a big hooded cloak which made me look like a brown Darth Vadar!!  Inside the caves, they showed us a ‘human fish’ which looked like a long skinny ghecko in a fish tank.  They apparently live for 100 years and because their heart beats only once or twice a minute they can go without food for months.  The perfect cheap pet!!
Piran was a lovely coastal town at the tip of a narrow peninsula.  Our hotel was in the most perfect location – Right in front of the Adriatic Sea and a stone’s throw away from the main city square.  I even went in for a ‘real’ swim this time. Not much choice actually as I couldn’t touch the bottom!!!! Piran was also where I discovered a new type of bread bun filled with chocolate sauce…yum!!!!!

From Piran we caught a bus to Rovinj, Croatia.  I loved Rovinj!!  The coloured buildings and cobblestoned streets were just gorgeous.  There was a carnival on the weekend we were there and the atmosphere was amazing and we saw a spectacular display of fireworks!!  We also stayed in a wonderful four star hotel, so once again we were feeling very special. 

We then took a bus to Zadar where we met up with two of Melinda & Ros’s friends from Tassie, Bev & Rob.  We all stayed together in a lovely apartment and enjoyed a couple of evenings of drinks and nibbles on the balcony.  We then hired a car and drove to the Plitvice Lakes National Park for a night.  We got Rob to drive as we decided it was the ‘man’s’ job to drive on the opposite side of the road, while the 4 of us ladies navigated.  Lucky for Rob we hired a GPS to assist with the navigation or he would have looked even more frazzled by the time we arrived!!!
The Plitvice Lakes were simply beautiful.  We spent two half days walking along wooden footbridges over and through the lakes and waterfalls.  Definitely a must see if you ever go to Croatia!! 

From Zadar we then bussed it to Split which is the second largest city in Croatia.  The old city is build around the harbour and had a wonderful promenade of shops, markets and dining venues. My fondest memory though will be of our two bedroom apartment which contained everything you could possibly need.  Yes, this one had the iron and washing machine, LCD TV (with numerous English channels), air-conditioning etc…all the comforts of home!! It was so nice to spend the days wandering around the cobble stoned streets (taking photos, climbing towers, shopping) and then be able to return to the apartment, curl up on the couch and watch re-runs of Ally McBeal and Sex in the City.  Yes, we are showing our age!!!

While we were in Split, we also took a day trip out to one of the outer islands, Hvar.  Ros went for a swim in the sea, while Melinda and I soaked up the atmosphere having drinks at a bar along the harbour, and ‘people watching’ in case someone famous turned up in their yacht. 

From Split we then took a bus to Sarajevo, the Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (in search of those ‘best looking men in Europe’??).  Sarajevo was a wonderful surprise.  We really enjoyed our time there and found the Bosnian people to be so incredibly friendly and helpful (even though we couldn’t find those handsome single men).  We did a city tour with another fabulous tour guide who provided us with such insight into the history of the town and Bosnian war (1992 – 1995) where Sarajevo was at the centre of the longest siege in modern European history.  While most of the damaged buildings had been restored, we could still see holes in the sides of some buildings from the shelling and sniper fire; plus endless white-stoned graveyards throughout the city. 
We stayed in the ‘Old Town’ area which was full of narrow streets lined with markets (the Turkish influence) and actually reminded me of the markets in Morocco.  Although, this time we could walk around easily without being hassled by the salespeople!!  The city was also full of mosques, synagogues and Catholic and Orthodox churches due to its cultural diversity (Bosnians were Muslims, Croatians were Catholic and the Serbians were Orthodox). See…I was listening to the tour guide!!! 

We also did a fabulous day trip out to the Olympic Mountains and Lukomir village, Bosnia’s most traditional surviving mountain village (so the ‘Lonely Planet’ and our cute tour guide said).  The scenery was spectacular.  We were even invited into one of the villager’s huts for coffee.  I must say my initial reaction was one of fear, as I recalled the cus cus meal of the Berber family luncheon in Morocco.  However, when we all were required to remove our shoes prior to entering, I felt a little more at ease.  The Villager’s hospitality was amazing.  Her home consisted of a tiny, humble and spotlessly clean multi-functional room which was smaller than my bedroom at home yet still consisted of a small kitchen, small kitchen table with 2 chairs, coffee table, single bed, a set of shelves attached to the wall and one tap connected to a sink on the floor.  We had to sit on her bed while being served.  It just goes to show what little one actually needs in life!!  HHHmmm…but I am a ‘princess’ after all, so can’t see myself downsizing to that extent anytime soon!!!

And from Sarajevo we went to Mostar for two nights and then Dubrovnik.  More on those two towns in the next email.  I think I have well and truly gone on for long enough.  Are you still there????  Hello???  Okay, I promise the next one will be shorter J. 
I hope all is well with you all.    
Love, Joy (the happy wanderer) xx


Merry said...

Oh look Joy.....I am up to date. :-). What stunning photos you have shared with us. So love the water in that lake and all the terrific buildings. What a view from your Motel room. I do have a question though......where are all the other tourists? I am amazed you can take so many photos without people in them. Take care and write soon. :-)

Joy said...

Hey Wendy, thanks, the trick to the limited amount of tourists is to take early morning photos!! Or just be very patient and wait until there is a break between tourists walking past a particular site or street. Glad you liked them.

Hope all is well with you & the family. I think of you all often and can't believe that I will be seeing you all again in just 7 short weeks!!! How amazing is it that so many months can go by so quickly!!

Thanks for hanging in there with the blog reading. This last one was huge!!

Joy xxx