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Santo Antao Island, Cape Verde: Made for Hikers

We ride up a snaking cobblestone road that separates many fertile valleys, canyons, and Ribeiras of Santo Antao Island.

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Ron up in the clouds on the road to Cova de Paul. Ribeiras on both sides!

The town of Ribeira Grande is the gateway to the island’s Gothic-like volcanic peaks.

town of Ribeira Grande

Town of Ribeira Grande on Santo Antao

Ribeira de Torre

Looking up Ribeira de Torre

Visitors come here to hike. So, here we go. The driver drops us off in a volcano crater carpeted with crops and fruit trees, better known as Cova de Paul.

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First we have to climb out of the crater

From here, we trek out of the crater and then into the Ribeira do Paul. The trail switchbacks down for about three sun-exposed hours, to our guesthouse in the middle of nowhere.

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Just part of the long walk down

Stop to take in views of villages below, where block houses cling to the side of jagged peaks, often blending in with the scene.

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Cha Joao Vaz village

Terraces with crops of all kinds layer the peaks that we descend. This ribeira is best known for its grogue (strong alcohol).

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Typical homesteads in Ribeira do Paul

The trail eventually transforms back into the cobblestone road, and passes through several small villages. Friendly locals always greet us and often give a “thumbs up.” We stop briefly for a cold beer and plate of fresh goat cheese.

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Lunch at O Curral

Back at our guest house in the middle of nowhere, the shower still does not work. I’m sore in strange places. We lay on our bed, soaked in sweat, and listen to the drunken proprietor rant and rave at phantom tourists, or perhaps, at his partner. Doors slam and employees scatter. Eventually, the electricity turns on and we shower. Refreshed and renewed, we decide to leave the drunken proprietor’s place, despite having booked for another night. Let’s find some peace and quiet in the coastal village of Ponta do Sol.

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Ponta do Sol

We sit on a balcony and bask in the cool breeze. Sip beer, and stare at the ocean.

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Our favorite drinking hole in Ponta do Sol – Veleiro

Fisherman clean their daily catch of tuna and eel on shore. Children dive from rocks and swim in the turbulent pools.

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The active harbor at Ponta do Sol

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Kids will be kids

The streets come alive with warm and friendly people each evening. They often try to have conversations with us in a language we cannot understand. We are beginning to feel like locals as we recognize not just the people, but some of the free roaming dogs as well.

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Ron making friends, drinking grogue, and eating chicken

Time for a change from hiking the ribeiras. We follow yet another cobblestone road, this one hugging jagged cliffs that drop into the ocean below us.

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Hiking to Fontainhaus

We stop in the small village of Fontainhas for refreshment. Again, folks all wave and greet.

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Leaving Fontainhaus

Back at Ponta do Sol, we watch children and adults alike enjoy the water and each other. Gentle and genuine best describes the people of Cape Verde. Throughout these past three weeks, we have felt nothing but welcome.

Saturday afternoon

Saturday afternoon in Ponta do Sol

As for tonight, we must decide on dinner of either Cachupa (national dish of corn, beans, herbs, cassava, sweet potato and sometimes with meat), or should we try the baked goat? Life is good.

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From Rolling with it to Dancing with it in Mindelo, Sao Vicente

We expect difficult travel in West Africa. Here in Cape Verde, which we call “West Africa Light,” (click on previous posts Ghana, Togo, Benin) the mindset of “just roll with it” works fine, but doesn’t make travel any easier. Last-minute flight cancellations (four thus far) happen, and it’s best to have wiggle room rather than be on a tight schedule.

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“Rolling with it!”

We’re exhausted, and there’s something draining about the African sun that is beyond mere temperature readings. Binter Airlines cancels our flight and comps us a room at the “Seafood Hotel” in Sao Filipe, on the island of Fogo, that comes with a meal of fried fish or chicken. I believe that nobody comes to Cape Verde for the cuisine. After a bottle of fine Fogo wine, we don’t mind getting up at 4:00AM for the rescheduled flight, until morning of course.

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You don’t come to Cape Verde for the food

When our two-prop plane finally shoots down the runway for take-off, Marilynn whaps me in the arm with her elbow.

“That guy across from you is freaking out!”

“I’m on the wrong flight!” he yells. He stands up and tries to bolt for the emergency exit.

The flight attendant and I make him sit, and eventually calm him down. Now, I’m his best friend, and am forced to listen to him bitch about the airline company the entire flight. I just nod, and am grateful that this flight duration is only forty-five minutes. Roll with it. (He’s lucky he wasn’t on a flight in the USA)

Mindelo

Mindelo Harbor

We land in the port city of Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente. Set on a natural harbor, full of cafés and music, we instantly love this lively place.

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Dancing in the streets of Mindelo

It is a nice break from the silence of Fogo Island.

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Many cafes have live music

Enter our short attention span…, how long can we watch the active fish market by day, and explore the back alleys full of restaurants and live music at night? Three days.

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Just outside the fish market

 

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Looking at the Presidential Palace from our terrace

They hand out vomit bags on a one-hour ferry ride to our fourth island, Santo Antao.

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Leaving Sao Vicente

Avoiding seasickness, we soon fight motion sickness on land, while riding in a packed Collectivo that whips around dramatic coastal scenery.

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Driving the coastal road of Santo Antao

Once the driver turns inland and uphill, volcanic craggy mountains conceal lush, green canyons.

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Next stop – Cuidade das Pombas (Paul), Santo Antao

From banana, papaya, and mango trees to corn and sugarcane, Santo Antao provides produce for all the islands. We plan to hike down from the Cova de Paul (volcanic crater) tomorrow.

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Making Grogue from sugar cane

At our guest house, an older French man, whom we think is the proprietor, is drunk on Grogue (sugarcane rum), and slurs only a few words of English. Simple things, like trying to order dinner a day in advance are difficult. The room is sweltering hot, and the shower doesn’t work because of an electrical outage. Roll with it. And we do. Oftentimes, difficult travel culminates into luscious reward…like tomorrow’s cool hike! Stay tuned.

 

Hiking Pico de Fogo, Cape Verde West Africa

fter roaming around the laid-back island town of Sao Filipe, Fogo Island, we hop into a Collectivo for a twisty, crowded ride with many stops.

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Sao Filipe

We’re heading uphill to the base of Pico de Fogo, a towering active volcano. The desert terrain transforms into black ash and volcanic cones.

Pico

The landscape begins to change

At the Casa Marisa guest house/restaurant in the village of Portelo, our cement room sits atop the crust of “new lava” in the middle of Cha Das Caldeiras, a massive, ancient crater. The eruption of 2014 destroyed this village.

Marilynn runs out of the bathroom. “There’s something weird going on with the toilet and the floor’s burning my feet!”

I look in disbelief at simmering water in the toilet. The floors are too hot to walk on barefoot. “Maybe it gets cold at night and the floors are heated?”

Pico above our hotel

Pico de Fogo towers above our guesthouse

Turns out that the floors are indeed heated. Not by design. By accident. After the 2014 eruption, they quickly rebuilt the Casa Marisa, where we will sleep the next two nights. The new lava below still produces steady heat, to the point of boiling water in the toilet. It will take about eight years for the lava below to cool.

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Living in Lava

Too hot to sleep in the room, we sit on chairs atop warm cement outside, surrounded by crusted lava. The smell of sulphur in this terrain reminds me of a steel mill. The hot African sun radiates down upon us, the ground heats up from below, and a Swiss man who hiked the volcano yesterday informs that it does not cool down at night.

We stare at the behemoth Pico de Fogo, one of the steepest volcanic cones in the world, and begin doubting our ability to hike it tomorrow. Are we chicken?

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Here we go

After a restless night, full of barking dogs and volcanic subterranean booms, we meet Cecelio, our English-speaking guide. “We’ll hike slow and take breaks, he says. “It’s not competition, it’s vacation. Use lots of sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and drink lots of water.”

Off we go, along with a young Swiss couple. Cecelio, who is forty-years old, explains that he has lived here his entire life and has twenty-one brothers and sisters. He’s been guiding volcano hikes since age nineteen.

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Views back to our village as we begin

We approach the volcano through scattered fig trees and individual grape vines, watered only by humidity and minimal rainfall. A small winery converts muscatel and touriga grapes into reds, whites, and rosés, but not enough to export.

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Growing grapes

Our trail turns to ash, and then shoots straight up a side of unstable stones. Cecelio makes sure that we take frequent water/rest breaks, especially after stints of scrambling on all fours. He’s an excellent guide, who knows how to find the most stable row of stones. Hiring a guide is imperative, and there’s no turning back once you begin.

here we go

Ceceilio and Ron lead the way

About three hours later, we sit atop a massive volcanic cone that surrounds a serene monster crater that will explode again one day. The five Italian hikers already up top applaud our arrival.

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On top looking into the crater

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Views of our village from the top

Now, to get back down. After negotiating some craggy cliffs, hanging on to a cable in places, we stare straight down at a massive slope of black lapilli (ash scree). Woohoo! Jump right in, baby! Glide down the mountain with long strides in knee deep ash.

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The way down

Slide to the bottom in no time at all. Reminds me of sliding down giant sand dunes in Namibia and in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia a few years back. Gobi Desert Mongolia …, Namibia

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Running down through the ash. Now this is fun!

The walk back to Casa Marisa twists through a black ocean storm of solidified lava. A few rooftops of block houses show how the lava of 2014 entered through the windows and took back the territory.

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Lava reclaiming the land in 2014

Time for some well-deserved beer and wine. Tonight, we not only meet our chicken face to face, we devour it!

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Dinner

 

 

 

 

THREE MONTHS AT HOME

After spending three months at home taking care of necessary business, my wife and I prepare for a four-month travel adventure that will begin in West Africa’s Cape Verde Islands. We purchase one-way airline tickets, as we often travel without reservations beyond the first few nights lodgings.

Enter the energy of “Three months at home,” a powerful, psychological experience that wreaks havoc upon our freestyle spirit of travel. Daily television news shows, politics, an overload of internet information, all this bombardment sprouts seeds of fear and paranoia in us. Suddenly, our world appears doomed. War is inevitable. If fatal violence doesn’t get you, a new disease will. Don’t leave home. The world is a scary place, and it’s either melting or blowing up!

I’m getting sucked-in. Starting to believe that the whole world hates Americans, especially since the recent divisive election. Many people think that our country tolerates racism, and we’re a couple of white Americans planning travels to West Africa?

There’s more. Azores Airline employees are on a two-day strike. Reviews on Trip Advisor warn us to stay clear of this terrible airline, describing the planes as old and decrepit, the staff rude, and common delays up to ten hours. Reviews also tell us that our hotel on the island of Fogo has no air conditioning, and previous guests have felt unsafe. I’m nervous. Even my free-spirited wife starts to get nervous. We don’t know what to believe anymore. Too much information coming in from all angles. Let’s get out of here!

We start to feel better the moment we hit the skies. The world beyond television and internet welcomes us. It’s a life full of real people, nice people. Face to face interactions and experiences dominate, rather than distant opinions, tirades, and preconceived notions. The reality of travel on our Azores Airlines flight proves to be one of the most unique, fun experiences we have ever had on a plane. A stranger invites us to his house for a big party next Saturday. Musicians play guitars, bongos, sing and dance down the aisle. Flight attendants serve cake and fill our glasses with champagne, in celebration of the airline’s maiden direct route.

azores plane

We land in the city of Praia, on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde, and wait during a four-hour layover. We’re the only white people. Strangers welcome us with friendly gestures and attempts at conversation in English. Four guys at a nearby table buy us a round of beers. A young woman from our flight invites us to join her for lunch with her cousin during the layover. We decline, merely because of exhaustion.

fogo volcan

Our final flight lands on a live volcano – the island of Fogo. We look forward to hiking to the top. To hell with the energy of “Three months at home,” that spirit killer which had tried to prevent us from leaving our “comfort zone.” We escape its grip, back into freestyle travel, and it feels fabulous. Stay tuned for some travel blog posts that explore new adventures. Peace, love, and happy trails to all.

 

 

 

Slovenia: Into the Julian Alps

Driving all day through torrential rain leads us to change course, and head to the mountains instead of the Slovenian beaches.

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The Slovenian countryside

Despite my disdain of writing clichés, the overwhelming response that Marilynn and I have of Slovenia is “beautiful.”

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Bled Lake, Bled Island, Bled Castle

Once we park the rental car in the town of Bled, after a daylong drive through rain and fog, a beautiful lake appears outside our window when the clouds lift.

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The church on Bled Island in Lake Bled

We’re staying at the four-star hotel “Penzion Vila Preseren” for less than 60 US dollars, that includes fresh breakfast. Prior to this visit, my only impression of Slovenia has been its sausage.

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From across the lake you can see our hotel – the very small white building to the right

Let’s walk off some sausage on this sunny morning with a five-mile stroll around the lake. It’s a slow walk, due to distractions of beauty such as an island church and a castle in the mountains.

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Bled Castle

After a short drive to Bohinj, we’re on a gondola lifting with skiers to the Vogel Ski Resort area, in the heart of the Julian Alps.

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Bohinj Lake, near Bohinj

We just roam around, stopping for a couple of cold ones, content to watch the skiers and snowboarders fly by.

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Views of Bohinj Lake and Mt. Triglav (the tallest mountain in Slovenia) from the gondola

Slovenia beckons a more outdoorsy type of people. We stop in a small village in search of the traditional Slovenian sausage (We’re not that outdoorsy today).

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Watching the skiers at Vogel Ski Resort

“Can I recommend a traditional meal?” our waitress says. “We just made a batch of homemade sausage.”

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The Julian Alps

Well, you can guess our response. I discover a sense of irony when our waitress divulges her name. Melania. No kidding. The three of us discuss our travels.

“I loved the mountains of Montenegro,” Melania says. “Away from the coast you’ll find more natural beauty, and no crowds of people.”

She serves our lunch, and the sausage exceeds expectations.

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Home made Slovenian sausage – Beautiful!

Beautiful, just like Slovenia.          Ron Mitchell

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Slovenia

 

 

 

Driving, Eating, and Drinking Croatia

We stop at a roadside inn near Plitvice Lakes National Park, looking for a place to stay.

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Just a few of the lakes in Plitvice National Park

Yet another restaurant/accommodation, “House Sapina,” in the small town of Korenica, pours us a free shot of wormwood based liquor.

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Yuck!

If you don’t indulge in the local food and drink of any country, you insult them. In the spirit of “world citizenship,” we must honor our duty! I enjoy the actual spirits more than Marilynn. Of course, we shall spend the night in this lovely place.

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Veliki Slap, the tallest waterfall in Croatia

In the morning, we hike through Plitvice Lakes National Park, around multiple waterfalls, seven lakes, and limestone-formed pools reminiscent of Havasupai, Arizona.

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Walkway through Plitvice Lakes National Park off season

Despite our off-season travel in the winter, the shuttle bus fills with friendly Asian tourists. This place must be a madhouse during summer months.

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Photo from a brochure of walkway in Plitvice during season

Time to drive down the mountains to the coastal town of Opatija, full of old, elegant villas and hotels that the rich and famous used to frequent. We find an apartment on a hill, and better yet, a local eatery. We’re only about an hour away from the Italian border, so no wonder the friendly patrons resemble “Sopranos” cast members!

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Why do I feel like I am eating with the cast of the Sopranos?

“You must try our gnocchi in truffle sauce,” our waiter suggests. “We grow some of the best truffles.”

“I make my own gnocchi at home,” I respond, trying to impress.

He’s not impressed. “Try ours,” he says, almost rolling his eyes.

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Gnocchi with truffles and mushrooms

Well, the waiter was right. The tiny cut gnocchi in a sauce of truffles, porcinis, Istrian sausage, and sheep milk cheese could be my new personal favorite dish.

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The Amphitheater in Pula

The following day we have time to drive to Pula, a city on the coast that highlights an amphitheater built by the Romans for Gladiator games. I can’t help making an analogy to the NFL stadiums in the United States. Let the games begin!

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Rovinj

A final drive north to the fishing town of Rovinj, where the streets are empty and the food is excellent.

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The streets of Rovinj

Again, the gnocchi impresses. This time it’s a larger cut, mixed with Ox Tail stew.

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Gnocchi and Ox Tail stew

However, it’s time to drive out of Croatia, onward to eat and drink our way through Slovenia – homeland of the first lady. All we ask for is that the travel angels keep us safe on these narrow, curvy roads, where everyone flies at high speed!              Ron Mitchell

 

 

Roaming Croatia in a Rental Car

After another mind blowing scenic bus ride from Mostar, Bosnia to the Croatian coastal city of Split, we decide to rent a car. (We’ll split in few days) For a large city, Split offers leisurely beach walks past marinas, bays, and beaches where crowds swim and sunbath in the summer.

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Walking the promenade in Split

Every city or village has an “old town.” Roman architecture dominates the old town in Split.

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Diocletian’s Palace

We finally get our first taste of the infamous Ston oysters at a sushi bar in old town, before heading back to our room at Marina Venta.

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Finally, Ston oysters

Our balcony overlooks a marina, where sailing masts glow in the sunset. Although the café/bar above us sounds like chairs and murmurs dancing on the ceiling, the restaurant below offers the first non-smoking eating area we have seen in Croatia. The farther north we travel, the more nonsmoking restaurants we encounter.

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Another room with a view

Crowds gather for coffee, drink, and carnival entertainment next to the entrance of old town at the promenade. We could certainly spend more time in Split, with plenty to do, but it’s time for a new twist to our independent adventure with the freedom of a rental car.

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Carnival party in Split

One advantage to travel in the off season is the lack of crowds and traffic. One disadvantage is closed restaurants in smaller towns. Like when we take an eerie, lone stroll through old town in the village of Primosten.

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Primosten

It’s the third small town where we have tried to find food, and we’re starving. Everything’s closed and the place is void of humans, until Marilynn spots a man carrying a bag.

“Excuse me,” she says. “Is there any place open in town where we could get something to eat?”

“No,” he shakes his head. “I’m getting ready to cook my lunch with some friends. You’re welcome to join us if you don’t mind eating fresh sardines.”

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Lunch!

Soon, we sit in Vinko’s café “Dalmacija” (also his residence), which is closed to the public this time of year. Cold beer and a fresh salad doused with the best olive oil we have ever tasted accompanies our lightly dusted sardines and fresh cut fries. Could things get any better? Yes.

Vinko breaks out a bottle of Pelinkovac, a bitter sweet liquor based on wormwood. After a few shots on the house, he breaks out into song.

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Vinko!

“It’s now or never, come hold me tight!

Kiss me my darling, be mine tonight!”

We love this man. Thank you, Vinko!

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Krka National Park

Let’s drive into the mountains, and hike around the waterfalls of Krka in the National Forest. Hiking after beers, shots of Pelinkovac, and sardines must be good for you, right? We stroll around waterfalls that gush from small lakes over layers of limestone formed pools. No problem.

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Rovanjska

Onward to the small town of Rovanjska, where we finally find lodging at Dora’s apartments. With no restaurants open in town, we rely upon our survival kit – salami, cheese, fruit, bread, wine, and beer.

Dora makes coffee in the morning. We feel like family having a conversation.

“I was a refugee myself once,” Dora says. “My family fled to Germany during the bombings here from 1990 to 1995, but always had intentions of coming back to Croatia someday.” She retrieved an object and set it upon our table. “This is my souvenir of one of the bombs that destroyed our house.”

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The piece of bomb Dora found in what was left of her family house

Marilynn and I are yet again fortunate to be tourists. We drive to the coastal city of Zadar, in search of the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation.

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Old town Zadar

After the bombings, reconstruction included a long cement/stone wall along the Adriatic coast. Architect Nikola Basic designed a set of marble stairs with pipes that create musical notes from the air generated by sea waves.

sea-organ

It’s a place of relaxation, listening to nature communicate to humans naturally, in tones that resemble the sound of whales. We could sit here all day.    Ron Mitchell

 

 

Three Views of Mostar, Bosnia

The three-hour drive from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina follows the blue-green Neretva River that cuts through mountains. We splurge on a driver to take us there, since we only have a two-night stay, and the bus would arrive at nighttime, stealing an entire day from us.

Egan, our Croatian driver who is about 55-years-old, stops at the Ottoman-era fortress village of Pocitelj along the way. Marilynn and I climb the layered rock steps around stone houses that people still inhabit.

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Pocitelj – The town and Ottoman era fortress on the Neretva river

“Bosnians are the friendliest people in all of eastern Europe,” Egan says. “Everybody gets along with each other here, whether you’re Muslim or Christian, doesn’t matter.”

“What was the reason for the war?” I ask.

“Politicians argue with each other, and poor people get bombed,” he responds. “No good reason. Just like many places in the world. Bill Clinton is a hero to us for ending the war in Bosnia.”

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View from the room. Can you see the bridge?

He drops us off near Pansion Villa Nurin Mostar, which provides comfortable lodging and a shared kitchen for only $30USD per night. It’s near the main tourist sight, Stari Most (old bridge), that leads into old town.

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Stari Most – The Old Bridge in Mostar

Built by the Turks in 1556, the old bridge was bombed to ruins in the 1990’s, but rebuilt in 2004. Thrill seeking tourists pay to jump off this bridge into the Neretva River during summer months.

Mostar was the most heavily bombed city in Bosnia during the war following the breakup of Yugoslavia. Reminders of the war remain in piles of rubble.

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The small, old town district has been restored with protruding river rock walkways lined with tourist shops and cafes.

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Streets of Old Town Mostar

Let’s stop for some local brew and delicious traditional food at Sadrvan restaurant.  Spiced minced meat rules, stuffed inside of cabbage, grape leaves, onions, peppers, and formed into cylindrical pellets served with fresh pita bread. Bosnian cookies (shortbread) with cucumber salad accompany the delight.

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Japrako, dolme, bosnian cookies, cevap, sarma and thick semi-soured cream!

In the morning, we meet up with Rasim, the 21-year-old cousin of a friend of a good friend back in the USA, who was born after the war. He brings us to a café for some Bosnian coffee (liquid amphetamine), and lights up a smoke. “I love to hang out,” he says.

“It seems like everyone smokes.” Marilynn says.

“Yes, about 90 percent of Bosnians smoke cigarettes,” Rasim responds. “Smoking, coffee, and beer are my only pleasures in life.”

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When they tried to sell me smokes I pointed out the sign. “Eh. Life kills.” Point taken…

I ask what he does for a living. “I’m a bartender, but haven’t worked in a long time. Jobs are fixed. When you’re 15 and in school you already know if you have a job or not. You have to know somebody to get a job.”

His expression turns morose. “I can’t even hang around on the other side of the bridge for long. They want to beat me up for being Muslim. They tell me to go back to Turkey.” He holds up his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. “We’re this close to another war.”

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Streets made of river rock

Nadzida, who is Rasim’s 19-year-old girlfriend, picks us up for a drive to the town of Blagaj. The Buna River springs from a cave, where mountains surround Ottoman architecture and the Dervish Monastery.

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Lunch setting in Blagaj

We dine on fresh trout from the river, on this sunny day with our new friends.

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Trout, boiled potatoes and chard

The following day, Fedja, proprietor of the Villa Nur drives us to the bus stop. He’s in his forty’s, and was 14-years-old during the bombing in the 90’s civil war. Not able to resist, I ask, “Are you Muslim?”

“That was never a question during Communist rule,” he responds. “Religion was secondary to life, and everyone got along.”

“I had heard that there is religious tension today,” I explain.

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Mostar

“My father is Muslim and my mother is Catholic. I have an orthodox name,” he explains. “So, I get along with everyone. The global war on communism happened all around us. I guess it was just our turn. I was lucky not to lose anyone, but most people lost family and friends in the bombings. Over 8,000 Muslim men were killed. There’s resentment that can’t be forgotten.”

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There you have it. Three different views from three different generations. As for Marilynn and I, we are fortunate to be tourists. Mostar is a beautiful, fascinating place full of friendly people. Speaking of being tourists, it’s time to head back to the Dalmatia coast in Croatia!                      Ron Mitchell

 

 

Next Stop: Dubrovnik, Croatia

The bus fills the entire narrow lane as it twists around curves along the Adriatic coast. It comes within inches of limestone cliffs on one side, and sheer drop-offs into the sea on the other. Once we swing around a mountain a few hours later, viola! The site of the walled city of Dubrovnik sits on the sea in the distance and blows us away.

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Dubrovnik at first sight

An American man approaches us at the bus station. “Do you guys need some directions?” he asks. “I’m very familiar with the area, and know how overwhelming coming into a city like this can be.”

Had I known he spoke English I would’ve talked with him on the three-hour ride.

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Dubrovnik

“We’re okay,” Marilynn responds. “Got a place up on the hill.”

“Well, when you see all the construction on main street in old town, that’s us,” he explains. “We’re building a movie set.” He starts walking away.

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Building a movie set on main street

“What’s the name of the movie?” Marilynn asks.

Reluctantly, he says, “Robin Hood.”

“Another one?”

He shakes his head and continues walking.

A short, and reasonable taxi ride brings us to the top of a hill. “Follow serpentine street,” driver points. “Street too small for car.”

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Our terrace. We could sit here all day!

Soon we step out onto our terrace that overlooks old town on the edge of the sea. It’s a sunny day, and we don’t want to leave the Guesthouse Slavka, but need to explore.

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Ron walking the walls

We walk atop the magnificent wall that surrounds old town. Now, this is a wall! After this city was bombed, a major restoration used original materials to rebuild. Reminders of the bombings remain in a few piles of rubble.

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There is still evidence of the bombings

Time for an Ozujsko beer at Buza café that hangs on a sea cliff. We have the wall and the restaurant to ourselves.

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Beers at Buza

Walking through “old towns” has become one of our favorite pastimes, and often leads to interesting interactions with locals. Like the other day, a woman says something to me, and I think that she’s trying to sell something.

“I don’t speak the language,” I say.

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The wall at night from our terrace

As we walk away, Marilynn says, “She asked you if you wanted to try her restaurant. You said, ‘I don’t speak the language?’ What’s the matter with you?”

We laugh about the woman’s puzzled look, and my ignorance, most of the evening.

Time for some squid ink risotto mixed with seafood, topped with prawn. We’ll take an order of bacon wrapped scallop over hummus with that.

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Squid ink risotto

So, the next day we’re walking around old town on a quest for oysters, and who do we run into? Yes, the restaurant woman who speaks perfect English. She remembers me, of course.

“You made me very confused.” She smiles. “Maybe today you speak the language and will eat at my restaurant?” We all laugh, and then explain that we are looking for the famous oysters from Ston, a nearby island.

town-square

Lucija’s restaurant

“The sushi place and four out of five restaurants are closed this time of year,” she says. “Where are you from?”

“The USA.”

“Oh, Americans,” she nods. “In the summer, there are too many Americans here. They all come on the cruise ships. You’re the first I’ve seen in months.”

water

The Adriatic Sea and Dubrovnik harbor

Eventually, we stumble into a new restaurant right on the sea. The Valentine’s Day gods smile upon us with a cold plate (sushi) full of tuna, octopus, squid, and marinated shrimp, atop rocket (arugula) salad.

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Someone smells shrimp

The owner presents us with two glasses of cherry brandy, on the house.

valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Happy Valentine’s Day! In any language.        Ron Mitchell

 

 

Presenting the Coast of Montenegro

We sit and stare at the Adriatic Sea. A few months ago, I had never even heard of the country of Montenegro. Seven countries and five weeks later, we sip beers in the city of Bar, Montenegro, and enjoy a fresh dish of mussels and grilled squid.

sipping-niksicko

Sipping Niksicko, the local brew, with a friend

This meal gives a delightful palate change from the “meat rules” menus of previous stops. (Delicious meats, by the way)

mussels-and-squid

Mussels and Squid

A relatively small city (pop 40,000), Bar presents a mellow pace for the travel weary. While we love big cities, with their fabulous architecture, behemoth buildings, countless domes and monuments, this change to a more “laid back” atmosphere, with lighter food and more temperate climate comes at a perfect time. Who would argue with hanging out on the shores of the Adriatic eating fresh seafood?

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Strolling along the pedestrian walkway in Bar

Montenegrins don’t give out random smiles. They greet each other with cheek kisses and pats on the back. Their language sounds like a mix of passionate Italian and indifferent Russian. There’s just enough English for us to get by.

new-bar-from-old-bar

Views of New Bar from Old Town

We cook breakfast in our twenty-dollar room and finally get to drink morning coffee in our underwear. The bus system here is cheap and easy. For one Euro, we hop a ride to “old town” atop a mountain. Folks still live in some of the surrounding 1000-year-old buildings. I light a candle in St. John Vladimir church.

lighting-candles

Lighting candles…

I may not attend church, but knock on wood and light candles. I have been lighting candles in many, very old churches along the way. Do you realize how many churches we have seen in seven eastern European countries the past five weeks? Odds are favorable that my desires will manifest into reality!

sveti-stephan

Sveti Stefan, a walled village between Bar and Kotor. Now a luxury resort

After several days, we head north on a bus twisting around the Adriatic coast to the city of Kotor.

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Wall of Kotor. Can you see the trail to the fortress above?

This place makes both of us feel like royalty. Especially while staying in the “Duchess” room at a 600-year-old guest house located in old town.

room

Our 600 year old room in Palazzo Drusko

Full of antiques along with modern comfort, Marilynn is petrified that I shall break something. The “Palazzo Drusko” costs $200USD nightly during the season. Traveling in the off-season pays off again, as the cost drops to $39USD.

central-kotor

Old Town Kotor in the off-season

“You don’t want to stay in old town during the summer,” Vladimir from the guest house says. “It’s noisy and too crowded to walk. On top of that, we get four cruise ships a day.”

climb

How many steps?

A heart-pumping set of 1350 steps lead to the top of a fortress above the city. Sweeping views of the bay and towns surround us. On this sunny day, we have the trail, and the view, to ourselves as opposed to “knees and elbows” during the summer season.

views

Views from the fortress above Kotor

Mountains resemble the fjords of Haines, Alaska. Some (including guidebooks) mistakenly refer to this as Europe’s most southern fjords, when in fact it is a ria, which is a submerged river valley.

perast

Perast

Outside the old city walls, we hop a bus to tour some nearby sites. The tiny town of Perast again transports us into a royal fantasy. We sip beer along the shore on its one roadway, before hiring a quick boat to Gospa od Skrpjela, “Our Lady of the Rocks.” Legend says that a rock simulated a figure of the Virgin Mary, so in the 15th century villagers started adding rocks and materials until an island was formed with just enough room to hold a church. Of course, I lit a candle.

islands

Sveti Dorde and Gospa od Skrpjela

A Benedictine monastery sits on a nearby island, which was built on a natural reef.

octopus

Octopus

Let’s indulge in local, fresh, organic Montenegrin food! At Konoba Akustic restaurant, we start with an order of breaded paprika stuffed with cheese. We’ll follow with some Riblja corva (fish soup), jagnjetina ispod saca (lamb cooked with potatoes under a metal lid covered in hot coals) and octopus. I sip the powerful rakija (domestic plum “brandy”), while the Duchess enjoys krstac (indigenous white wine). One more rakija and I may bum a smoke from the guy at the next table.

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Reflections in the Bay of Kotor

Alas, it’s time for the Royal family to hop a bus and head north. Who knows what fantasyland awaits?      Ron Mitchell