A Travellerspoint blog

Split

Diocletian's Palace is everything I hoped it would be and more. So much more.


View Slovenia and Croatia Wanderer on Grete Howard's travel map.

Getting photographs without the usual holiday crowds was proving extremely tricky yesterday, so this morning we get up at 06:00 to get out there while it is still reasonably quiet.

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Coming out early might mean that I can get pictures without people in it, but it also makes for extremely difficult photographic conditions with dark shadows and washed out highlights.

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It took a lot of editing at the post-processing stage to get some decent images. Obviously I should have brought a tripod and bracketed my shots, not just for the exposure but for the white balance too. Next time. You live and learn from your mistakes. Hopefully.

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Diocletian's Palace

Ever since I first read about Diocletian and his wonderful palace some 35 or more years ago, I have had a desire to see it. I hope it doesn't disappoint...

An ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian as a future residence for his retirement in 305 AD, the word 'palace' is misleading, as it is more like a fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian's personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison. The bottom third as seen in this artist's impression, is where he actually lived.

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Today the palace forms the centre of Split, and it has been added to many times over the years, with temples, churches, private residences, shops and restaurants making it a hotchpotch of living history. Today it is a warren of alleyways criss-crossing inside the original walls of the palace. It's like living, walking, eating and shopping in a museum.

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Our apartment is within the walls of the original palace, making it easy to explore before breakfast.

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It's quiet this morning, with more cats than humans. As you might have guessed - I am rather partial to cats!

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Gregory of Nin
The Croatian bishop of Nin is famous for introducing the national language in the religious services in 926. Until that time, services were held only in Latin, which the majority of the population could not understand. Not only was this important for Croatian language and culture but it also made Christianity stronger within the Croatian kingdom.

Rubbing the statue's toe is said to bring good luck and the toe has been worn smooth and shiny as a result.

Originally located in the Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace, the statue was moved outside by Italian occupying forces during WWII. Currently, the statue sits just outside the Golden Gate.

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The Golden Gate
As the main entrance to the palace, the Golden Gate was used by the Emperor Diocletian when he entered his new home for the first time on June 1st 305 AD. At the time it had double gates which acted as a trap for invaders, capturing them between the outer and inner gates into an enclosure. The inner gate was made of solid wood and the outer gate consisted of metal bars, which were lowered when invaders entered the enclosure. There are still tourist traps in the city of course, but of a different sort.

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Like most of the Venetian coastal towns of its time, Diocletian's Palace is full of narrow alleyways surrounded by high walls, arches and courtyards.

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Lavender
Croatia is a major producer of lavender, and it has been labelled as one of the main Croatian souvenirs. Every other craft shop in in Split is selling items made from lavender.

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Perestil
In Roman architecture, a peristyle is an open colonnade surrounding a court; hence the name of the central court in Diocletian’s Palace.

The gate, called a prothyron, connecting the public square to the private quarters, was the only place a commoner would see the emperor as he addressed his people. On either side of the prothyron are little chapels stemming from far after the time of Diocletian; Our Lady of the Belt (1544) and Our Lady of Conception (1650).

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Sphinx
Apparently, Emperor Diocletian was a great lover of Egypt and he acquired more than a dozen granite sphinxes (from 1500 BC) from Luxor. Only three sphinxes remain today including this one on Peristil.

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Cathedral of Saint Domnius
Known locally as the Saint Dujam (Sveti Dujam), the cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Split-Makarska. The 7th century complex is formed from Dicoletan's mausoleum. The cathedral is regarded as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that remains in use in its original structure, without near-complete renovation at a later date. The structure itself, built in AD 305 as the Mausoleum of Diocletian, is the second oldest structure used by any Christian Cathedral.

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The Romanesque bell tower of the St. Dominus Cathedral was constructed in the 12th Century.

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Silver Gate
This gate was originally called Porta Orientalis but was renamed into Porta Argentea (Silver Gate) by Venetians, which is what it is known as today. Like the Golden Gate, the Silver Gate also had a Propugnaculum, a defence system or human trap where invaders would be captured between the outer and inner gates. Over the years the gate has had churched added, been bricked up for security reasons and mostly destroyed by the ravages of war. In the 1950’s, the gate underwent a thorough renovation and re-opened.

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Fish Market
Just outside the Iron Gates is the daily fish market. The seafood looks lovely, but we find it somewhat disconcerting that so many of the stall holders are smoking.

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Beautiful grotesques decorate the walls on a building in Split.

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Home and Eddie have the same idea as us this morning, and we keep bumping into them, such as here on the modern shopping street just outside the palace walls.

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Seen in the window of a DVD rental store:

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Trg Braće Radić (Fruit Square)
Now housing various shops and businesses, the square was once home to a bustling fruit market, hence its nickname.

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In front of the 17th century Milesi Palaca, stands the statue of one of Croatia's famous sons – the 15th Century Marko Marulić. Known as the national poet of Croatia and a Christian humanist, many consider Marko Marulič as the father of the Croatian literature.

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Also on the square is the upmarket Croata shop, a tribute to the Croatian tie – I love their door handle!

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To the south of the square, stands a 15th century Venetian tower, built to protect the city from local revolts and Turkish raids.

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Narodni Trg (People's Square)
Commonly referred to as Pjaca, a Croatian form of the Italian word piazza, this 14th century square replaced the Peristil as the city’s central meeting area and it remains so to this day.

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Romanesque clock with the remains of a medieval sundial in front of a larger, older belfry.

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Riva
Recently remodelled following an architectural competition, the Riva Waterfront promenade lies between the walls of the historic Diocletan's Palace on one side and the Mediterranean – and Split Harbour - on the other.

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Cafés and bars are shaded during the day by canvas “sails” which have a built in motor so that they can be turned vertically after dark night and used as projections screens. We are not lucky enough to see any film or other showing the two nights we are there unfortunately. Today we stop for breakfast at one of the many cafés. The food is disappointing but the view is good.

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The Cellars of Diocletan's Palace
Visiting the cellars under what would have been the Dicocletan's private residence, gives us some idea of the scale of his home as the walls supported the palace above. There isn't much to see there now, just large, slightly eerie, empty halls.

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In Diocletan's time this would have been the way to enter the palace by boat, as back then the sea reached all the way up to the Brass Gate which is now on the Riva. Noble guests (such as us) and goods would have arrived through this gate.

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During the time of the emperor, the basement was largely used for storage, mainly food and wine.

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Roman wooden beans which were used to support the ceiling structure.

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The circular cellar room, which is directly under the Emperor's bedroom, was designed to have fantastic acoustics so that Diocletian would be warned if anyone was entering during the night, by the echoes left by anyone passing through. Emperor Diocletian's paranoia paid off as he was the only Roman emperor who died of natural causes.

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Over the years since then, the basement has had various purposes, from living quarters, water storage area, garbage dump and sewage tank!

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The cellars lead into a couple of little courtyards. Standing here, looking up at the surrounding walls and houses, it is incredible to think that this was first built some 1700 years ago and have been added to, bit by bit, over the centuries since then. This place in particular, gives me a feeling of being just a small cog in the large wheel of time.

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All sorts of architectural styles can be seen here, from every epoch since the Dicocletian stood here himself, all those years ago. Quite humbling!

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The cellars were drained, cleaned and excavated during the 1850s. Archaeological discoveries are still being made to this day, particularly in the far corners of the basement.

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4th century meets 21st century – Roman mosaics and a modern flip-flop.

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From the cellars we climb to the roof of the old palace, with great views of the various styles of architecture.

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Vestibul
From the roof we enter the Vestibul, the foyer for the Emperor' residential quarters. The cupola used to be covered in mosaics and marble, these days it is a gaping hole.

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The Vestibul provides great acoustics allowing klapa bands to perform traditional a-cappella songs there – they are very good!

Great harmony!

And that brings us back out to the Peristil again. What a difference from early this morning! The square is teeming with people, tourists, selfie-takers, musicians, “Roman soldiers” posing for charity, people chilling with a coffee on cushions carefully placed on the steps, and big tour groups. I am so glad we came out at the crack of dawn for the photography!

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On the steps, a guy is playing a pan drum, it's the first time I have actually heard one. Love it!

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Pan drum

We seem to be walking around in circles now, and we soon find ourselves back in People's Square, where we take a break with a coffee accompanied by a very naughty ice cream; and spend some time people watching.

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We wander around for a little while longer, past the candy store and the shoe shop – it seems gladiator shoes are the fashion this year!

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By now the sun is high is the sky, and the temperatures have risen. We are hot and tired. Time for a siesta.

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After a refreshing nap, followed by a refreshing shower, we head to the Riva for a refreshing drink.

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And more people watching – one of my favourite pastimes!

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Dalmatian in Dalmatia

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It seems lace shorts are the in thing this year. Worn with gladiator sandals of course.

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As the sun is setting behind the Peristil, we join Homer and Eddie for dinner.

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Not a bad view from the table:

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The food here is pretty good too!

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Chicken stuffed with cheese, wrapped with ham and served on a bed of creamy mushrooms

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Squid salad

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White chocolate cheesecake

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Apple strudel with cream and ice cream

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Chocolate cake

As this is our last night together with Homer and Eddie, we take a final walk around Diocletan's Palace and finish the day with a few drinks on the Riva, watching the natural light fade and and artificial ones come on.

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It is hard to say goodbye, to this beautiful city which has far exceeded my expectations, and of course our friends Homer and Eddie.

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So long, goodbye Split, goodbye Croatia. Until next time.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:34 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Zadar - Trogir - Split

2300 years of history with UNESCO sites galore

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After a leisurely breakfast this morning, we leave Zadar behind and set off travelling south – taking the coast road rather than the motorway – to Trogir.

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We stop on the outskirts of Trogirfor a spot of lunch at a very nice restaurant. It is empty when we get there, but soon fills up, and I am impressed with the middle-aged waiter who speaks impeccable English to us, perfect Italian to the next table and fluent German to another group. I even hear a smattering of Swedish later. This proves that language skills is not the exclusive domain of the young, and it certainly puts most English waiting staff to shame as they often speak nothing but English, even in tourist areas.

The food is good too – I have what they call “scampi risotto” and David polishes off a plate full of home made sausages.

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As we approach Trogir, the traffic starts to build up, and once we hit the town the cars are very slow moving indeed. We finally find somewhere to park in a marina the other side of the bridge and walk back into town. There are great views of the old town from across the water.

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Trogir

Trogir certainly has a lot of history - the area was first settled by the Greeks in the 4th to the 3rd century BC. In the first century AD, Trogir became the Roman municipality "Tragurium Civium Romanorum" and the city has been added to since, with many of the buildings still standing.

The 12th century St Nicholas' Fortress

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South Town Gate, "Porta Civitatis", decorated with renaissance ornaments and you can still see its original wooden doors.

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The alleys are even narrower here than we have seen elsewhere, and we walk up and down, criss-crossing the whole of the old town. Nearly every alley has a small café with either tables hugging the walls on one side, or spaced out a bit more in small squares of sorts.

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Love these rustic chairs!

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It's a very hot and muggy day and we succumb to an iced coffee. And wow! What an iced coffee it is! More like a sundae than a drink.

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Most of Trogir is in a state of charming dilapidation, rustic appeal and ramshackle chic.

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One of the specialities of Trogir is natural sponges, with lots of shops having strings of them hanging outside, much like one would see garlic in France.

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To save some time (with my poorly knee, my walking is a snail's pace at the moment) David goes off to get the car while I stay and take some more photos.

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St Barbara Church

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City Hall

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When he gets back to the car park, the ticket machine is broken and there is no-one in the booth on the exit gate. Several other foreign tourists are hanging around, unsure of how to get out of the car park. The sign on the booth is in Croatian, but David can make out the word “recepcija”, so goes off in search of a “reception” in the marina. Sure enough, they can sort him out with an exit ticket. Result. The other foreigners are still scratching their heads at the gate.

We meet at the bridge to continue our journey along the coast to Split.

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Despite the fact that I know Split is Croatia's second biggest city, I am not prepared for the sheer size of it. All those modern high-rise blocks of flats – I never expected that! My heart sinks a little. I have wanted to see the Diocletian's Palace for so many years, and now I am concerned that it is going to be a disappointment; that it is going to be surrounded by modern housing.

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We get very lost as we approach the town, with unclear lanes and confusing junctions. We even manage to cut someone up in the traffic, with a screech of tyres!

Eventually we pull up at the end of the road in which our guest house is situated. All the Old Town is pedestrianised, and this is the nearest we are going to get. We take the bags up and David goes off in the car with the owner to find somewhere to park for free in one of the side streets not far away.

The Apartments Matkovik are inside the walls of the old Diocletian's Palace and superbly positioned for the old town.

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I have been worried about having to climb several flights of stairs, but our room is only up one level. Phew. And a very nice room it is too.

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We chill in the room before meeting up with Homer and Eddie for a stroll around the Old Town and dinner. They've been here for several hours already, as they came here straight from Zadar. Eddie is very excited about Split, pointing out places of interest as we go along. His enthusiasm rubs off on me - this place rocks.

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Diocletian's Palace has been on my wish list for years, and I can't believe I am here now, walking around “inside” what was once his home. We even get to meet some of his men.

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Just like the Diocletian himself, they aren't always friendly.

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There are certainly no shortage of places to eat in Split; it is more a question of deciding where to eat.

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Homer and Eddie

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We settle on a pizza restaurant as we all had a big lunch and didn't really want anything too heavy.

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Homer and Eddie go off to climb a mountain – well, a small hill on the outskirts of town anyway – for a sunset view over the city and night time photos. Green with envy I decline as there is no way my knee is up to it.

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I buy a post card instead.

As an alternative to climbing the hill above, David and I take a walk along the waterfront before retiring for the night.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:42 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Plitvice - Zadar

The beauty of nature is unsurpassed but man can add some excitement to the mix

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After an early breakfast we go off for one last look at the the park before leaving the area for the coast. We take the bus down to entrance one, and walk along the rim for spectacular views over the lakes and falls from above.

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No steps today, just a smooth gravel path with a slight incline; and “balconies” built out over the canyon for viewing.

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Some of the “balconies” overlooking the gorge have the view partly obscured by vegetation which is a shame.

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I make no apologies for the number of photos from this last glimpse and the most beautiful place in the world. This morning I so didn't want to get up; I so didn't want the hassle of getting the bus and walking; I so didn't want the trouble of putting up my tripod to get some milky shots of the waterfalls using my ND filter and a long exposure. I am so glad I did!

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I love how the guy standing at the end of the walkways has turned into a ghostly figure from the long exposure.

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It is with a heavy heart that we leave Plitvice and head for the coast. My knee, on the other hand, is grateful as by now it is hurting like hell. I take a double dose of painkillers (and some) and promptly fall asleep in the car. I wake up just as we come out of a tunnel and turn into a rest area. This is one of the strangest service stations I have ever seen – it is obviously very new, made on a plateau created from the rubble removed during the creation of the tunnel. The whole area is completely barren, and there is a huge welcoming sign advertising that they are open 24/7.

The café itself is almost as barren. A few chocolates and crisps, a selection of alcohol, 3 croissants and 2 rolls. We have coffee. There is plenty of available seating.

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It's like a ghost town until a Swedish two-dad family with three unruly kids invade. Time to leave.

By the time we get to the guest house in Zadar, Homer and Eddie are already having lunch in the conservatory. We join them for some Pršut and Paški Sir – the local ham and cheese.

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Pansion Delfin
The room has an unusual rounded wall, giving the impression we are in a ship.

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Zadar

The whole of the old town of Zadar is pedestrianised, and we are lucky enough to find a parking spot right by the gate that takes us through the old town walls, which we enter to wander around. The Old Town is a strange mix of old (no surprise there then) and some newer parts with fancy shopping streets; narrow alleys, pavement cafés and tacky souvenir shops.

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We have a map, as well as a self-guided walk which I printed off before leaving home, so we are able to figure out what we are actually looking at.

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St Chrysogonus Church
The Romanesque style church was named after Saint Chrysogonus the martyr, a patron saint of Zadar. The church and the bell tower are the only remaining preserved parts of the formerly large Benedictine abbey whose foundations were laid in the 12th century.

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Zadar is smaller than I expected from studying the map back home, and is easy to walk around, especially as it is all flat.

The Forum
This municipal square from the Roman era (1st - 3rd Century AD, so pretty darn old!) is one of the most important among the Adriatic ancient cities. The “Forum” is the name given to all main squares in the cities of the ancient Roman Empire, where the public life of the city unfolded.

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Pillar of Shame
Today is is an open square surrounded by what remains of the temple and buildings from the old days, as well as a couple of churches and the “Pillar of Shame” that was used to chain up people who had committed some misdemeanour or another. What a great idea!

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One thing that amazes me is that the whole area is open to the public, and you are free to wander all around, touch and sit on the 2000-year old stones, yet there is no graffiti or vandalism.

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St Mary's Church and Convent
On one side of the forum is the St Mary's Church, which dates back to 1091.
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The Church of St Donatus
The symbol of the city of Zadar, St Donatus Church from the 15th century was named after the Bishop who started the building of the church usings the remains of the Roman Forum in its foundations

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We walk down the narrow, cobbled alleyways and the wider shopping streets, watching life go by, before arriving at Narodni Trg Square which is surrounded by historic buildings.

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Narodni Trg Square

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City Lodge

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City Centinel

We join the many tourists and locals for a coffee at one of the numerous pavement cafés.

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At Trg Petra Jeronica Square, recent excavations under the pavement has been re-buried to preserve it, but parts are exposed with a glass floor where you can peek at the remains of this Roman city. Pretty cool!

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While we are there, busy photographing, we totally by coincident bump into Homer and Eddie, who took the bus into town some time before us.

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Madije Park
The park named after Queen Jelena Madije and was built on top of the Grimaldi bastion. Dating from 1829, it is the city's - and country's - oldest park, and quite unusual in being constructed on top of a military object. These days it is an oasis of peace with some lovely little cafés.

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The Land Gate
From the elevated position of the park there is a great view of The Land Gate , which was erected in 1543 as the main entrance to the city. Its Renaissance-style decorations include St Krževan on horseback (the coat of arms of the City of Zadar) and the Venetian lion.

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Next to the gate is the small Foša Harbour

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City Walls
Wanting a birds-eye view of the narrow streets of Zadar, we climb the City Walls. This wasn't, however, the view I was expecting...

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Most of the walls were built during the Venetian rule and it was once the largest city-fortress in the entire Republic of Venice. Today, they are mostly used as a car park, and the only view I find of interest is that of the footbridge from the mainland. Of course, David might disagree with that.

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We make our way back down into the city through the back entrance of a huge supermarket (with great views over aisles and aisles of produce) and head for the southern promenade called Obala Kralija Krešmira IV.

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Sea Organ
One of the main attractions here, it the Sea Organ, a novel idea which consists of several stairs that descent into the sea with 35 pipes of different sizes which create “music” (seven different chords and five tones) as the waves crash in. I have never seen – or heard – anything similar before and I rather like it. The sound is really quite peaceful and reminds me a little of South American pan-pipe music.

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In 2006 Croatian architect Nikola Bašić received the European Prize for Urban Public Space for his Zadar Sea Organ project, as the best among 207 candidate projects from across Europe.

The Greeting to the Sun
The other attraction here is the Greeting to the Sun. Created by the same architect who made the Sea Organ, this is a circle of 300 multi-layered glass plates with photo-voltage solar modules which store light from the sun during the day; while after dark a programmed scenario of ever-changing coloured lights move to the rhythm of the waves and the sounds of the Sea organ.

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While we wait for the sun to go down, we people-watch at this iconic spot.

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Any hopes of a good sunset are dashed by dark, threatening clouds looming on the horizon.

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We are joined by Ivan – the waiter who served us a lunchtime in our guest house – and his girlfriend Marta, who are out walking their dogs.

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Little by little the lights start coming on. I am sorry to say they are not as impressive as I expected.

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Suddenly my attention is dragged away from the man made light show in front of me, to one supplied by Mother Nature herself: LIGHTNING!

The lightning is frequent but irregular, and doesn't appear in any one particular spot, which makes it extremely hard to photograph as you cannot predict where it is going to happen next. There are some great forks across the sky, but I never manage to catch them. I do succeed in getting a few shots of the light show, but most are not in focus or very small in the frame. This is the only reasonable picture I get out of the lot of them!

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Eventually the lightning flashes are so faint and infrequent that I give up trying to photograph them, and while I havebeen busy looking elsewhere, the lights on The Greeting to the Sun have come on properly and are now brightly swirling around the circle.

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OK, I take back what I said earlier, this is actually quite cool.

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By the time we get round to thinking about eating, it is really quite late, so we ask Ivan for a recommendation for a good fish restaurant nearby. He suggests the Bastion, which is on the first floor of a four star hotel. We “umm and arr” about what to order and finally settle the fish of the day.

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The waiter comes over to us with the fish on a plate and we choose which ones we would like, settling on a John Dory and a scorpion fish, for the whole table to share. While he takes the fish back to the kitchen for them to cook, he brings us an amuse bouche of tuna in oil.

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Homer enjoys a bottle of local beer.

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When the fish is cooked, the waiter fillets it at the table and places a piece of each on a mound of potatoes and vegetables.

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The fish is very nice, albeit with quite a lot of bones.

The main shock comes with the bill. For the four us, with just 2 beers and four cokes, the bill comes to £250. Gulp. We call the waiter over and asks him to explain. The fish is priced by the kilo, and this is how much they charge. What an incredible rip off. We leave with a VERY sour taste in our mouth.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:31 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Plitvice Lakes National park

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been!

sunny 25 °C
View Slovenia and Croatia Wanderer on Grete Howard's travel map.

We are up early again this morning, so that we can be in the park just after it opens at 07:00, hoping to be there before the main part of the masses. One of the benefits of staying in the hotel within the park area, is that you get your one-day ticket extended for the duration of your stay, at no extra charge, through the hotel reception.

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Today we start at the bottom and work our way up – walking down those pesky 214 steps again to the jetty, where we see a nesting Housemartin.

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On the ferry we bump into Homer and Eddie who set off some time before us this morning.

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Coming out early has paid off, as for a long time we are almost alone on the paths.

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I prefer walking up as opposed to down, for three reasons – it is much easier on my knees, I feel less vulnerable for falling down the steps and I am facing the waterfalls rather than having to constantly turn around to look at them behind me.

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Around every bend of the boardwalk is a beautiful new vista. The whole place is almost unreal - the colours, the clear water, the pristine nature - like it belongs in a Disney fairytale.

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The path meanders, following the contours of the lakes – sometimes out in the open, other times surrounded by thick forest with dappled sunlight forcing its way through the leaves. Plus of course the ever-present waterfalls, cascading over rocks and roots, making their way to the lake below.

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In many places – where the terrain makes it feasible – there are strategically placed rustic benches, where you can sit and envoy these wonderful views.

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After yesterday's problems with the bouncing boardwalks, I try a different approach today: placing my tripod outside the path, actually in the lake/waterfall. This obviously only works where the water is very shallow, and it does feel pretty precarious; from the perspective of either the camera falling in the water, or me as I reach out to set it all up.

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So far we have really only seen small groups of two, three or four visitors, and a few have asked us to take their photo in front of the falls. Most want to return the favour, and eventually we agree.

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Here the elevated walkway is just a few inches above the tumbling, bubbling, gurgling water – I feel so in awe of the way they have laid out the paths here, and there are so many “wow” moments. The boardwalks obviously require a lot of maintenance, we see a number of brand new planks having been recently replaced. Not surprising that they rot, being partially submerged at all times.

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We've been seeing this waterfall – or rather series of falls – for quite some time now, and finally we are up close.

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Then more steps up and more waterfalls.

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Most of the steps are quite shallow thankfully, as there are a lot of them. I am counting the steps and it will be interesting to see just how many we will have walked today by the time we get back to base.

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There are a number of small pools, or dams, created by the action of moss, algea and bacteria, accumulating on top of each other to create a sensitive travertine barrier, which grows at the rate of around 1cm per year.

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The path follows the contour of these dams, meandering for miles around (and sometimes across) the many lakes.

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The national park is home to around 50 different species of animals, including the brown bear, but we knew we were quite unlikely to see many, if any. We spot a little frog in amongst the vegetation, that's all.

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We meet our first large tour group of the day, a group of mostly Asian women, complete with selfie sticks and face masks. Face masks? Really? In this pristine nature? What on earth are they afraid of catching?

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I have also seen a girl in high heels, a couple of mothers with babies in buggies and an elderly gentleman using a rollator. That's a challenge on these uneven paths with all the steps! Good for them!

The boardwalk is made out of roughly hewn logs rather than smooth planks, to blend better into the nature surrounding them. I think it works wonderfully. I am so taken with this place!

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From a distance you can hardly notice the paths unless there are people on them.

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In reality the boardwalk is only wide enough for two people to pass each other. Most people stay in a single line when they meet other hikers, but we come across two German ladies who are hell-bent on walking side by side while talking, so they push me off the edge as they pass. This even though I am using a walking stick and obviously hobbling along really carefully. Charming. Thankfully there is solid ground there, not a lake, or even worse, a waterfall with a steep drop.

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Here are some more pictures from the park. Just because I think it is soooooo beautiful!

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The sun is blaring down and walking up from the lower lakes is hot work, so we stop for a while on a bench in the shade at one of the larger lakes, admiring the amazing colours of the water, the stunning waterfalls, the iridescent damselflies, delicate dragonflies and generally just soaking it all in.

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From here the path leaves the main lakes and climbs up through the forest to reach the exit, still passing small pools with cascades of water tumbling into them.

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From the exit at the top, a bus runs back to the main gate by our hotel. The bus, which is basically a tractor with two trailers, ferries passengers between the three exits from the park and the two gates; all included in the price of the entrance ticket.

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Once back at the gate, we have lunch at the little café there, consisting of a cheese and ham roll, apple strudel and a bottle cider. David is in heaven! Finding cider in Croatia more than makes up for the fact that the roll is incredibly stale. The birds seem to like it though.

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Song Thrush

Back at the hotel we catch up on some sleep with a much welcome siesta, after which I go for a coffee and cake, while David wanders in to the park again.

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The following account and photos are courtesy of David:

I know Eddie wanted to join me, so I go and knock on their door. No reply. I check the café and the bar, no sign of him. Oh well, they've probably gone out exploring.

Taking the bus down to the Lower Lakes entrance, I take a different route to the one we did yesterday – instead heading downwards through a cave with lots of steps. There is no way Grete would have been able to do this with her bad leg. I say cave, but it is more like a tube or a diagonal tunnel, open both ends.

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The steps leads to the boardwalk we were on yesterday and continues on to the largest waterfall in Plitvice.

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Behind me I notice a series of steps rising up on the cliff face, and climb through another tunnel to the top where there are various viewing galleries over the gorge.

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The path continues to the middle lake where the boat takes me back to the bottom of the 214 steps, which I ascend to get back to the hotel.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, I (Grete) am joined in the café-bar by Homer and Eddie. It appears that Eddie was asleep and Homer sitting on their balcony when David knocked, so they missed his call.

When David later comes back and joins us, we all have a few beers on the terrace before dinner while Eddie and I try to make sense of the politics in the region post-Yugoslavia.

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Steak with Gorgonzola sauce
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Posted by Grete Howard 03:46 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

Lake Bled - Plitvice National Park

Back into Croatia

sunny

Today is Homer's Birthday! Happy birthday to our sweet, funny, flamboyant friend Homie.

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Just as we are leaving Bled, I spot a bird that grabs my interest – not sure what it is, and I have the completely wrong lens on to photograph it, but I still have a go. I later find that it is a European Black Redstart, which is a new species to me.

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We set off in our Opel Corsa while Homer and Eddie are in their hired Fiat 500. With too much luggage between the four of us, it was more sensible to have two cars, especially as they are continuing their journey after we go home. We agree to meet at the next hotel.

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Today we are crossing back into Croatia, a process which is smooth and painless.

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The main excitement is that I spot another “new” bird at the border, the Crested Lark.

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It is motorway driving most of the way, and although we did start off by driving in a ”convoy”, we soon lose each other in traffic. So what are the chances that they pull up just after us in one of the many service stations?

We enjoy a glass of lemonade with freshly squeezed strawberry juice and an apple cake stuffed with cheese. Love their service stations here – everything is so clean and food to make a gourmet restaurant proud.

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Plitvice

The hotel in Plitvice is the only large sized accommodation we have on this trip. My first highlight is spotting a cute bird just by the entrance to the hotel. I initially think it is a Black Redtsart like the one I saw in Bled, but it turns out to be a Common Redstart. Another one for the life list.

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Hotel Plitvice
The hotel is a complete time warp from the 1960; bright, airy and open plan complete with marble, highly polished wood and minimalistic furniture. Although it is in need of some TLC in places, I love it!

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I love it even more when we are upgraded to a suite!

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Great view from the room too, of one of the many waterfalls the National Park is famous for.

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Not sure about their idea of what happens in a toilet though. Most people like to do their business in solitary confinement, not sitting around a table.

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We grab a coffee then head for the National Park.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

When the park was founded in 1949 it was one of the first national parks in this area, and a group of specially selected people sat down to discuss how to make the park work best for tourism and nature. I have to say, they have JUST the right balance in terms of facilities for tourists (over a million visitors a year) while trying to retain the pristine quality of the nature. In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage register. A well deserved entry.

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From the entrance right by our hotel, 214 steps lead down to one of the 16 lakes. From here we have a number of options how to continue. We choose to take a boat across the lake and change into another boat to travel further to another part of the park.

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The journey across the lake is beautiful, with many small cascades tumbling into the turquoise waters of the lake.

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At the jetty we start our walk up through the forest on a clearly defined path. I am not sure what I expected but I am initially a little disappointed that we don't see many waterfalls. The colour of the lake is stunning though. The colour changes constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight, from azure to green, grey or blue.

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Soon the gravel path changes into a boardwalk in amongst the reeds and over the azure lake. Still no waterfalls though.

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By this stage I am beginning to worry that we are on the wrong path and won't be seeing any waterfalls. I ask someone coming the opposite direction: “Is this the way to the falls?” Her reply of “I don't know” doesn't exactly inspire me, neither does her partner's vague comment “There are some...”

Finally, a waterfall. Well, more like a gentle cascade. But it is water, and it is falling. OK, maybe more like tumbling than falling, but it is definitely water. I get excited.

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The path takes a turn and we start heading over the cascades and down towards the lower lakes. We see more and more waterfalls with higher and higher drops. Now we're talking!

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By this stage there are a lot of tourists on the board walks, making it very hard to set up a tripod to get timed shots. I would hate to see it in the busy season.

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The water is not only a stunning hue of blue or green, it is also incredibly clean, with great visibility and full of fish.

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The path follows the shoreline for a while, before continuing down more steps, right alongside bubbling cascades. This place is amazing!

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In the picture below, you can see where the path runs so close to the water (top left), without any hand rail or safety barrier, which greatly improves the aesthetics of the place. With my knee still playing up big time – it does not like all these steps – and my ankle still being quite sore and delicate, I am so pleased I borrowed my dad's walking stick for this trip. I really don't think I could have done today's hike without it!

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Setting up the tripod on the boardwalk for a long exposure (to make the waterfall look milky) is proving very hit and miss. I have to make sure I have a full 30 seconds before someone else walks on the boardwalk, as that makes it wobble slightly – enough to make my photo blurry and out of focus.

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When I lose one of the rubber feet off my tripod, I give up using it for long exposures for today. Poor David has been carrying it – and my camera rucksack – all afternoon. He is such a trooper!

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Having reached the bottom of the Lower Lakes, there is only one way from here: up!

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The way back up again is thankfully a slope, rather than steps, and the views are pretty good too. Shame it means shooting into the sun.

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By the time we get to the top, my knee feels like it is on fire, and David insists on going back to the hotel to get the car to pick me up. There is a shuttle bus that runs from one entrance to the other (the one next to our hotel), but just as David gets near the bus stop, he can see the bus pulling away. As they only run every 30 minutes, he decides it will be quicker to walk, and he is right. What a kind man he is.

After a welcome shower, we join Homer and Eddie for drinks, then Homer's birthday dinner. We all four celebrate by ordering Chateaubiand, and David and I share a bottle of local Merlot.

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Thankfully the red wine is much better than the white we tried the other night.

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At lunchtime I had a quiet word with the waitress, and she organised a birthday cake for Homer.

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The flag, however is a long story – we'd taken it over to Miami when we visited Homer and Eddie back in 2013 (to celebrate my birthday), but somehow it got left behind. Eddie brought it with him on this trip to Croatia and tonight he hid it on his person until the right moment.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY HOMER

Posted by Grete Howard 13:18 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj

Lakes, churches, tits, rain, castles and weddings

storm
View Slovenia and Croatia Wanderer on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having set the alarm for 06:00 to watch – and photograph – the sunrise, I check the weather out of the window. The rain has (temporarily) stopped, but there is no sign of the sun so I crawl back to bed for another hour or two.

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After breakfast, the four of us jump in our car and go for a drive of the area, starting with a circumnavigation of the lake. I am sad to report that the weather looks equally dreary from the other side.

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Heading for Bohinj – as recommended by our friend Mel – we stop at the picturesque church of Bitjne for a few photos. This is exactly how I imagined the Slovenian Alps to look like.

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At Lake Bohinj we park up and go for a stroll. The area is picture perfect, with an old stone bridge and a church, green forests and clear, clear water in the lake.

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So clear, in fact, that you can see masses of fish shoaling right under the bridge!

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I get to meet Bert and Ernie, Eddie's little 'mascots' who travel with them and get photographed wherever they go.

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Church of the Holy Spirit by the Lake
Further along the lake we spot a small church and go to investigate.

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The door is locked so we walk around the outside, taking some pictures. Soon a young girl appears (presumably from a house close by) with a key, and without a word, unlocks the church door so we can visit the interior.

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Built in 1743, the frescoes date from 1885 and were only discovered during restoration in 1981.

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I tend to agree with Mel, that Bohinj is prettier than Bled. It is more natural, being used more for recreation – hiking, cycling, fishing – than tourism.

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Church of St John the Baptist
Having listened to Homer and Eddie rave about how beautiful the little church by the bridge is inside, I decide to stop and take a look for myself when we pass by there again on the return journey to Bled.

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Apparently it is one of the most photographed churches in Slovenia!

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The church is thought to have been built in the late 10th century, although it has been added to several times since. The external frescoes were added between 1300 and 1900 and depict St Christopher.

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St Christopher is the patron saint of all traveller, and in the old days it was believed that you would die on the day you gazed upon an image of the saint.

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The inside is indeed very beautiful, with the walls covered in colourful paintings – in fact I am very impressed how much colour has been retained.

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We take a different route back to Bled, choosing a small country lane through cute villages and stunning scenery.

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These hay drying frames are unique to Slovenia and were originally made of wood. The region is very prone to lightning storms, and in order to not lose their frame as well as the hay itself in the event of a strike, more modern concrete shelters were built.

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I spot a beautiful little church, and beg David to stop. Apparently it is the same church I photographed earlier. Oh.

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We get a little lost and end up going in circles for a short while, when I spot another pretty little church I want to photograph..... Yes, you guessed it, the same one. Maybe the Bohinj church isn't the most photographed church after all.

At a high point on the road, we stop to take some photos, and Homer has a Sound of Music moment, singing “The Hills are Alive” and getting all dizzy with the excitement.

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The video is absolutely rubbish, but it gives you an idea of what happened.

Later Homer spots his very first tit! Having been jealous of me posting pictures on Facebook of my tits for some time, he was hoping to see a Blue Tit on this trip. Unfortunately he had to make do with a Coal Tit. But.... a tit is a tit; beggars can't be choosers.

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We arrive back at the guest house in time for lunch. By this stage it is raining heavily again. Pouring rain. The restaurant is busy so we sit outside under the awning. It is now bucketing down outside and a wind is getting up. The people sitting at the table nearest the edge of the awning are getting quite wet, so get up and take their food inside. I am feeling quite cold by now, but brave it out.

Another crap video - I think I'll stick to still photos in future.

The rain is now pissing down and it's blowing a gale. We are sitting around 20 metres inside the roof, but still getting wet as the rain is now horizontal. Eddie compares the weather to the tropical storms they get in Miami - without the temperatures. We go inside while we wait for our food to arrive.

All the tables inside are taken with a large Korean tour group. We have seen dozens and dozens of these groups here in Bled – they arrive in a large bus at the lake, pile into boats for their 20 minute ride to the island and back, then straight into the restaurant for a pre-ordered meal consisting of soup, schnitzel and apple strudel. They usually eat the soup and some of the strudel, but the majority of them leave the schnitzel almost untouched.

There are several bikers standing around too, waiting for a table, and as soon as the tour group leaves, we can all fit in.

We are pleased to see they have plenty of the Blejska kremna rezina today.

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But first, some real food – clockwise from top left: buckwheat dumplings stuffed with cottage cheese in a mushroom sauce; vegetable lasagne; spaghetti Bolognaise; pasta in a gorgonzola sauce.

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And then for the piece de resistance:

cue drum roll

......... the famous and elusive cream slice!

Ta da!

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And, yes, it is totally worth waiting for: light, creamy and not too sweet. Mmm

Bled Castle
As it is still raining, we go for a little nap after lunch. When we wake I am surprised to look out of the window and find that the sun is shining. We grab Homer and Eddie and head for the castle on the hill.

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All the web sites I looked at before coming here talked about the long, steep climb to the castle from the town – none of them mentioned that you could drive to the top of the hill where there is a small car park. From there a short but very steep path takes you to the castle.

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Bled Castle is obviously the place to get married, as we see not one but two weddings here – one of them much more fancy and colourful than the other; with guests dressed in traditional costumes and a live group performing.

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What a difference a few hours makes – look at the weather now!

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The lake is a stunning shade of aquamarine, and the view from the castle terrace is breathtaking.

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We hang around for ages, taking photos and chatting to people. Homer is devastated as his 70-200mm lens is no longer communicating with the camera body. That is the sort of stuff I have nightmares about.

Dinner at Murca Restaurant
For dinner tonight we go to a restaurant recommended by the Tourist Office. When David – as the designated driver - orders a bottle of Coke Zero, the waiter suggests a whisky might be more appropriate. After bringing all our drinks, he later returns with a “whisky for the driver”

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David takes one sniff and exclaims “Ooh, that's strong” and proceeds to take a sip from the glass. It is of course only juice with ice cubes in a whisky glass. That's what I like, a waiter who not only speaks perfect English, but also has a great sense of humour.

Always one to order something unusual and local from the menu, I choose the wild boar with creamed potato and a sauce with plums and lavender.

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The boys have a mixed grill with buckwheat and cabbage.

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Back at the hotel we have a night cap in the bar before bed time, in the form of a local schnapps. That really is strong!

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:33 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Rovinj - Bled

Crossing into Slovenia

sunny 19 °C
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Between the late night revellers, the church bells and the early morning seagulls, I had a dreadful night's sleep. We are up early this morning to explore Rovinj before most tourists wake up.

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The light is very different this morning.

The seagulls that woke me at 04:30 this morning, are now following a fishing trawler.

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The old town of Rovinj is built on a small peninsula, with the Church of St Euphemia at the top of a small hill. A number of steps lead up to the church, through narrow alleyways meandering between tall, ramshackle but quaint buildings. I am finding Rovinj much more agreeable today - probably because of the lack of other tourists and souvenir sellers.

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The town is just beginning to stir, with a smattering of dog-walkers, delivery men and cafés setting up to serve breakfast.

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And cats.

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From the top there is a great view over the harbour and the mainland.

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The Church of St Euphemia
At the top of the hill stands the Church of St Euphemia from 1736, and you can see it from many angles as you climb the steps. As the largest baroque building in Istria, it represents the period during the 18th century when Rovinj was the most populous town in the area.

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St Euphemia is the patron saint of Rovinj’s who was tortured for her Christian faith by Emperor Diocletian before being thrown to the lions in AD 304. She may even have walked on those very stones we stepped on in Pule yesterday.

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Modelled on the belfry of St Mark’s in Venice, the 60m bell tower is topped by a copper statue of St Euphemia, which shows the direction of the wind by turning on a spindle.

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Coming back down we decide to take the cobbled, sloping road (!) rather than the steps, to save any strain on my poorly knee.

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I can't believe, however, that a small van just came up this road to set up a sales store in the car park at the top! There must be another (secret) route up, surely.

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The cobbles under foot are shiny from many years of wear and tear, which worries me somewhat – one slip could ruin the rest of my trip!

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The Balbi Arch is all that remains of the old town walls and marks the start of the old Venetian city – or rather the end of it for us, as we arrive back at the marina end of Rovinj.

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Time for breakfast.

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Time to check out and roll our cases down the cobbled streets to the nearest vehicular access point, where I sit on a bench waiting for David to collect the car.

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Slovenia

We are heading north along the coast this morning; and while the original plan was to make several stops in various villages along the way; because of my knee and ankle injuries, we go straight to Slovenia instead.

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Crossing the border is easy, and we make a small detour out into Sečovlje Salina Nature Park - a wetlands area which is said to have some good bird watching, large scale salt production and various hiking paths. Really? All we see was one small pile of salt, a large, luxury marina and five sparrows. Perhaps we are in the wrong place...

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Lake Bled

As soon as we arrive at the guest house in Lake Bled, we spot our friends Homer and Eddie from Miami, who we will be travelling with for the rest of this trip. We join them for a beer and a late lunch.

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Homer and Ed's Mixed Grill

Despite the dreary and persistent drizzle, we go for a walk along the lake shore.

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We watch a few hardy souls go out in the Pletna Boats, and try to take a few moody photos without getting too wet.

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Eventually we submit and exchange the wet walk for a beer in the bar and later some dinner.

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I order local sausages with cabbage – they are very tasty but with some rather large chunks of fat in them. I try not to look while I am eating, as although I can't taste it, the sight of the fat puts me off. The cabbage is lovely though – I love cabbage!

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David has the tuna fish steak and Homer chooses a schnitzel.

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Having heard about the Blejska kremna rezina – the famous cream slice from Bled – we all want to try it. Shock, horror: they have run out! Instead we try Prekmurska gibanica - another local cake which is full of dried fruit and nuts, and stuffed with cottage cheese.

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I have a Cheese Štruklji – a kind of doughy strudel filled with cottage cheese.

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David, as usual, sticks with his favourite – apple strudel.

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Guest House Mlino
By the time we have finished eating the weather has cleared up some, so we venture down to the lake again for some more photos. Our Guest House Mlino is literally just across the road from the lake, so we are easily positioned to take in the sights on the lake.

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The Pletna Boats
These are traditional boats that are unique to Bled. The origin of the Pletna boats dates back to 1590 and being a “Pletnarrstvo” - Pletna oarsman - is a respected profession handed down from generation to generation.

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The boat is propelled with the special "stehrudder" technique where the oarsman is standing and rowing with two oars.

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It is said that the Pletna boat gained its name after its roof which was once wickered. Another explanation claims that the name comes from the German word "plateboot", meaning flat-bottom boat.

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As the “Blue Hour” approaches an eerie mist descends, hovering just above the surface of the lake, giving the scene a mystical hue and a fairytale atmosphere.

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As the light fades, out come the tripods as Homer and I set up our cameras to capture the scenes around the lake on a timed exposure before retiring for the night.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:54 Archived in Slovenia Comments (2)

Zagreb - Pula - Rovinj

Through mountains and history to the coast

sunny 20 °C
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Driving on the right, in a left hand drive car with manual gear change takes a little bit of getting used to – even as a passenger I tried to get in on the wrong side of the car; and David was heard to mutter (while fumbling with the inside door handle): “Someone has nicked the gear lever”.

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James – the not-so-trusted Sat Nav – sends us in the wrong direction this morning. He has a somewhat condescending voice, especially when he tells David: “You're over the speed limit”

David, of course, argues with him. As any man would.

The motorway is nice and clear, very little traffic, and some amazingly long tunnels – with one being over five kilometres long!

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James takes great delight in telling us we have lost all contact.

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There is light at the end of the tunnel

The road meanders through beautiful countryside, and as well as cutting through the mountains in tunnels, many bridges and viaducts are built to span over verdant valleys.

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At one of the many Service Stations, we stop to enjoy a coffee and try out some of the local delicacies – blackcurrant strudel for me and apple strudel for David.

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One of the not-so-enjoyable parts of motorway driving in Croatia is the toll stations. I guess someone has to pay for the building and maintenance of the roads.

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The toll works in the way that you collect a ticket when you enter the motorway, and every exit has its own toll station where you pay the fee according to how far you have travelled on the toll road. Our fees varied between 50Kn and 180Kn on this trip (50p and £18), so it can add a substantial amount to your travel budget.

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Pula

Before I injured my ankle / knee, I had so many plans about what to see between night stops on the trip, but obviously this has had to be modified to take into consideration my now walking difficulties. One thing I do not want to miss, however, is the amphitheatre at Pula.

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You can spot the structure a mile off, and we are lucky enough to find a parking spot almost right outside. We follow a group of French cruise tourists, and instead of going straight inside, we end up walking all around the outside of the amphitheatre.

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Pula's 1st century Roman amphitheatre is arguably in better shape than the one in Rome, and certainly less famous. Built from local limestone, the amphitheatre, known locally as the Arena, was designed to host gladiatorial contests, with seating for up to 20,000 spectators. I think there are already 19,000 inside today, in the form of some large French tour groups. Once they leave, we have the place almost to ourselves.

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Some very nice “modern day gladiators” are erecting a stage for a show tonight.

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We go downstairs to the area where the animals were kept, gladiators prepared and prisoners held. I am disappointed to find that today it is just a museum with a load of old stone jars and an exhibition on olive oil. No large cats – or hunky gladiators for that matter.

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There is something rather humbling about walking around the tunnels though, knowing that around two thousand years ago, someone would have walked on these very stones, preparing to fight for their life.

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Rovinj

As we approach the small town of Rovinj where we are staying tonight, we try ringing the guest house as requested, but the number keeps coming up as 'unrecognised'. We eventually park in the car park on the outskirts of the town and David walks in to find the guest house up a narrow alley way, leaving me and the luggage in the car.

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The owner of the rooms arranges for us to have vehicular access to the pedestrianised area so that we can drop the bags off, then David goes off to park the car a couple of miles or so away while I have a shower.

La Casa di Loreto
The guest house is in a great position, with views over the harbour, the promenade and the old town from the window.

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The room is small, but very bright and modern; and more than adequate with a GREAT shower!

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My first impressions of Rovinj are not that great. It reminds me in many ways of Weston-super-Mare, with seaside tack being sold from pavements stalls all along the seafront promenades as well as many of the narrow alleyways being partially blocked by stands offering naff souvenirs.

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As we somehow missed lunch today, we decide to go for an early dinner, choosing a restaurant very close to our guest house. Asking for recommendations, the waiter suggests Pljeskavica - a local dish of a meat patty stuffed with cheese, which is very good.

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It is certainly preferable to the Pinot Sivi – a locally produced white wine, which is only just passable.

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We even have desserts tonight, David choosing a banana split, whereas I have a crepe filled with ice cream.

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The sun is still shining, it is still early, and it's a lovely evening; so we take a stroll through town after dinner, across to the other side of the peninsula.

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There are lots of other people doing the same thing, and the atmosphere is typical of a Mediterranean seaside resort.

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Returning to the promenade, we sit on a bench and wait for the sunset. While it is not spectacular, it is still worth waiting for.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:07 Archived in Croatia Comments (2)

Slovenia and Croatia Wanderer

Just three days at home before another adventure

overcast
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Our latest trip is (re)visiting some parts of the Balkans – a tour around Slovenia and Croatia.

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When we get to Heathrow it shocks us just how expensive “Duty Free” is within EU. A bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum – which costs around £17 in our local Tesco – is £24 at the “Duty Free” shop at Heathrow. Gulp.

It takes forever to load the plane, especially as four passengers are travelling in wheelchairs. Having damaged the ham string in my left knee and sprained the navicular in my right ankle, I am sporting a walking stick (borrowed from my dad) and am offered special assistance for boarding, which I decline. By the time the plane actually leaves, we are already half an hour behind schedule.

The man sitting behind me seems to have mistaken his tray table as a drum kit, but he fortunately stops when the drinks and “meal” arrive. I say “meal”, as that is what it is advertised as on my ticket.

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Reality is, however, very different to expectations. The “meal” consists of five green olives and five small cubes of cheese in olive oil; with a small packet of seven tasty but very dry pretzels. I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

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Picking up the hire car from the airport is easy. Fill in a form, hand over credit card for deposit, check drivers licence and the keys are handed over. The car is parked just a few yards outside the terminal building. We're on our way!

As it is a late night arrival, we have booked a hotel near the airport for tonight. The receptionist surprises me by speaking fluent Swedish when we check in. Despite being late, there is still time for a glass of the (very expensive) Captain before bed.

The trip has begun.

Posted by Grete Howard 02:13 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Returning to Whitchurch

The last incident-filled day of an incident-filled holiday

semi-overcast
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The farmer came along this morning (before I was up) and scooped up the calf in the bucket of his tractor and took it away along with the mother. Glad to know it was still OK.

Today is our last full day on the canals - we have to hand over the boat by 9:00 tomorrow morning - so we want to make the most of it by trying to get through all the locks today and moor somewhere within easy reach of the marina so that we don't have to travel too far tomorrow.

We get as far as Baddeley No 2 lock before things start to go wrong. Now that my ankle is a little better, Lyn and I are taking it in turns to open the locks, and this one is mine. I soon notice something is very wrong. The lock gate doesn't open more than a couple of feet; it appears something is jammed under the water line, preventing it from moving. Taking a closer look, I see that the whole mechanism is broken; the cogs having come away from the wheel.

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We try pushing and shoving, poking around with a pole, manipulating and jabbing, but to no avail. The lock is well and truly jammed.

Not being able to find the telephone number for the Canal and River Trust, David phones the marina where we got the boat from. Explaining that the lock is jammed and broken, he asks them to pass the information on to the right people for assistance.

As we wait for someone to turn up and rescue us, the queue of boats waiting to enter through the lock grows rapidly.

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The receptionist at the marina obviously does not speak the same language as David (and the rest of us) does, as his conversation was translated as “The boat has broken down in the lock” to their maintenance guys, who sends an engineer out. Doh. He takes a look at the problem, agrees with us that it is definitely best left to the experts as tampering with it is most likely to make it worse; and promptly calls the Canal and River Trust for us.

In every crowd there is always someone who thinks they know better than everyone else, trying to take over the situation. This time is no different. In fact we have two. One who is all mouth (little man syndrome), giving it all the talk, suggestions, criticism and sarcasm; but is not willing to get his hands dirty to actually do something. Then there is the wannabe sergeant-major. Marching up to the lock with some “authority”, this chap starts trying to free it. Not listening to our claims of “We've tried that”, he goes through every motion we have already attempted. To no avail of course. Then he starts fiddling with the cogs themselves, and instead of fixing it, he messes it up completely, losing the lot down into the machinery. Good one!

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Eventually the maintenance guys from the trust arrive, and asses the situation. They use a pitch fork to try and free the blockage under water, but that doesn't seem to work either. Mr sergeant-major looks on as if to supervise them. Pratt.

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If everyone had just left it well alone, this would have been an easy job for the men, but as it now stands, they have to try and fish the missing cogs out of the insides of the machinery. Not an easy task. The crow bar does not reach, and it takes many, many attempts with a rope to try and hook it around the top of the cogs to bring it up above ground again.

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Not being one to hold back, I ask Mr Sergeant-Major what happened (as if I didn't know), and then suggest that “That's why it is usually better to leave these things to the experts rather than fiddling with it ourselves when we don't know what we are doing and then make it worse” He is not amused and walks off in a huff. Good.

The experts of course, manage to get the missing part back into its rightful place, but the mechanism is still broken.

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However, it does not affect the ability to open the lock gate, and soon we can start getting the boats through, one by one while the men decommission the one paddle.

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As the men are working, a number of boaters and their dogs have gathered to watch what is going on. Bruno decides he wants to play with another dog on the opposite side of the canal, and starts to cross the small “bridge” over the lock (basically just two planks of wood on the lock gates). The other dog has the same idea, and they meet in the middle. Bruno is the first to back off and tries to turn around. Large dog + narrow plank = one wet dog!

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Bruno is no worse off for his little swim, and soon dries off as we make our way – somewhat delayed – along the canal towards Whitchurch.

The rest of the day is totally uneventful, and consists of watching the birds along the bank...

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... or just enjoying the scenery.

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We make it through all the locks with plenty of time to spare, and moor up in our intended place just as a light rain sets in. No chairs on the bank tonight; drinking (and eating) inside instead. We have had a fabulous holiday with great company, beautiful scenery and a few “interesting” incidents.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:01 Archived in England Comments (2)

Another Great Day in Paradise

Time to do a animal midwifery course

sunny 28 °C
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Another glorious day out there today, the hottest one so far. Plenty of suntan lotion and not a fleece in sight – that's the way we like it!

At one of the very first locks of the day, I suddenly hear Chris scream my name from the lock-side as I sit in the bow of the boat. The next thing I see is the windlass flying through the air. Fortunately it didn't hit my head or Lyn's camera, it bounced off the side of Ragnar and sunk to the bottom of the lock. Oops.

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Thankfully there is a chandlery store after the next lock, so we only have one lock to negotiate with just a single lock key. As it turns out, there are other boaters there too, so we get some help opening the lock gates.

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The locks here on the Llangollen Canal are much narrower than they were on the Shropshire Union, some of them having literally just an inch to spare each side of the boat – meaning that you have to lift your fenders so that they don't get stuck.

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Compared with last year's boat trip along the river, we haven't seen as many birds this year. I guess there are different fish in the canal to the river, as well as the type of vegetation that grows along the banks.

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Last year herons were the most common variety, whereas this time it has been swallows. They are so quick the way they dart above the surface of the water, twisting and turning as they go. I set myself a challenge at the start of the trip: to photograph one in flight. I have failed miserably. I did catch this one sitting on a fence though.

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Another unusual bird we have seen a few of this time, is the grey wagtail.

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A wren

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Snow geese

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Pied Wagtail

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My main excitement on the bird front, however; is the reed bunting. I haven't seen one for years and never been able to photograph one before.

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Suddenly Captain Dave exclaims: “Giraffe on the hillside”. It might have looked like a giraffe at first (fleeting) glance in silhouette (giving him masses of benefit of the doubt), but it was of course a deer.

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Not just one deer, several. In fact, a whole deer farm. “As you were guys. Excitement over”.

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Today has been the hottest day of the trip so far, and at times it seems even too hot sitting at the front of the boat. We are glad of the shade when we travel under bridges or overhanging trees. So for mooring tonight, we are looking for shade rather than sun!

We find the absolutely perfect spot: shade from some large trees, a great view, far enough away from other boaters to offer some privacy, and the tow-path wide enough to set up the table, chairs and BBQ. It isn't until we have moored up – after Chris yet again manages to do his signature backward somersault as he tries to pull the boat into the bank with a rope that isn't attached the other end – that we realise we have been beaten to this little piece of paradise by thousands of flying ants! Onward we go.

The next place we stop gets the thumbs down by the crew (Lyn and me) as the local farmer is spreading “fertilizer” on his fields adjacent to the canal. Finally we find a suitable area, with shade and cows in the fields both sides of the canal. Very rural and countryfied.

We'd just settled down with a drink when we notice a cow having very recently given birth. The calf is still limp on the ground and she is licking it.

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We watch with fascination as she tries to gently nudge the little fellah into standing up.

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He manages a few unsteady steps before stumbling down and crumbling into a heap on the ground again.

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He receives a lot of attention from his mum in the way of gentle nudging and a lot of cleaning, but the most he can manage is to raise his head up again. Other mothers come and investigate, as if to offer congratulations and advice on the new baby. Nothing. He remains down. After around half an hour of seeing no life whatsoever from the calf, we decide that we should let someone know. Chris goes off to find the farmer, who seems quite unperturbed about the whole thing. He arrives some time later on his quad bike, prods the baby a little and drives over to tell us that all is well and they usually rest like this for ages after being born when the sun is hot.

Still feeling a little distressed about the situation, we keep a close eye on the mother and newborn while we light up the BBQ and grill some sausages and burgers. And have a drink. Or three. Just to calm our nerves you understand.

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Eventually, quite a few Bratwurst (and Captain Morgan) later, the little'un is on his feet and feeding from his mum. Phew. We can sleep well tonight after all.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:15 Archived in England Comments (1)

Starting our return journey via Chester

A rude awakening

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View Life in the Slow Lane on Grete Howard's travel map.

I am fast asleep in the middle of the night when I hear an almighty bang. Sitting upright with a jolt and a shout of “Shit! What was that!”, I put my legs over the edge of the bed, only to find something soft underfoot on the floor. It must have been even more of a rude awakening for David – not only does he fall out of bed while asleep; he also has someone try to step on him while he is down!

Ragnar is a well equipped boat for six people, so has ample room for four plus a large dog. However, space is still very restricted on board, and the two single beds in the stern of the boat are extremely narrow at only 50cm wide. For someone who is used to a 200 cm wide super king sized bed, it can be a trifle challenging to try to turn over. David's mattress leans outward and the shifting of weight during a rotisserie-style manoeuvre in the sleep, meant he toppled over the edge.

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Having travelled on Ragnar two years ago, we were fully aware of the size restrictions, so I came prepared with my inflatable Thermarest mattress this time to try and soften up the bed a little to help my back. It certainly helped me sleep a lot better, without waking up every 20 minutes or so with pins and needles or a backache as I did the previous two trips. The “double” bed at the bow of the boat is if possible even narrower comparatively.

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There is plenty of seating on the boat, although none of it comfortable. The dining area converts to another “double” bed if we so desire, but we chose a six berth to have the extra room – not just for the dog, but because the cabins and separate toilets are at either end of the boat for some privacy.

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There is also room for the crew (Grete & Lyn) to sit at the bow of the boat, watching the world go by as the captains (David and Chris) take it in turns to be in charge of the boat.

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Although Lyn did have a go at steering Ragnar for a while.

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Bruno doesn't like the noise or loud bangs / shaking as the boat hits the side of the locks, so we try and get him off the boat and onto the towpath at the earliest opportunity.

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Going through Northgate Staircase on the way up is nowhere near as intimidating – mostly because this time it's manned by a lock-keeper!

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Some locks are easier to open than others – the gates weigh in excess of a ton!

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Mother Moorhen seem to like our suet pellets (which we brought with us because our garden birds back home refused to eat this particular brand!), which they in turn feed to their young. I have to say that baby moorhen are not attractive – they are scrawny and bald, not at all cute as baby birds should be.

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Chester
While everyone else goes for a walk around Chester, I stay on board reading a magazine in the sunshine as my ankle is complaining loudly after overdoing the walking yesterday.

They come back with black bin-bags and a few other items of necessity (toilet roll, wine, bread and bacon), with David claiming vehemently that he has never been to Chester before. I assure him he has, but it isn't until I show him the photos I took last time we were there (on my Flickr account on line); that he actually believes me.

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A short journey through Chester and its suburbs with some pretty amazing properties along the canal-side, we reach the countryside yet again, with its rabbits, geese and horses; and buzzards soaring above.

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After a hard day's work, Chris and Bruno enjoy a well-deserved snooze in the sun before we light the BBQ. At last a reasonably warm evening. Chris and I are now sporting matching bruises: Chris from hitting his shin with a hammer; me from being pushed into the side of the boat when I asked David for a push ON TO the boat.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:05 Archived in England Comments (0)

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