Archive for October, 2012

DUBROVNIK-Pearl of the Adriatic

October 15, 2012

Dubrovnik, one of the few totally walled cities left in Europe

Dubrovnik is unique among the cities of Croatia for many reasons. It was a city state and was never occupied through the centuries, because with its skill in diplomacy was always ready to forge alliances against foreseen threats. (Minor note—Croatia was the first country to recognize the new country of the United States of America.)

Dubrovnik is the hottest of the hot cities in Europe to visit. We’re talking over 1 million visitors have come to the walled city by mid August this year. We are visiting this city at its pinnacle of success and popularity. There can be 5 cruise ships and 10,000 visitors on any one day, flooding through the narrow streets and along the wall taking pictures, eating ice cream and doing the “touristy things.” My biggest worry about the place is…what’s that Yogi Berra joke—the place is so crowded people won’t go there anymore. Success can kill you just as easily as failure. But the “Pearl of the Adriatic” is far from a failure. I would suggest if you want to come here and don’t enjoy crowds (I don’t) I would visit from November to April. Vacation here, July/August/September and October? Forget ‘bout it!
The city was under the influence of Venice for two hundred years and the people have a strong business sense they acquired from the commerce savvy Venetians — consummate traders and merchants of the 16th and 17th Century. So what is the business of Dubrovnik. As mentioned above the city and the country has sold out to tourism. 87% of the economy is tourism. Within the walls of the city are enough restaurants, gift shop, ice cream stores, clothing stores, and tourism venues to handle maybe double the millions of visitors they receive. To open a business here is a simple process. The good/bad news is the modern day consummate traders of the world, commonly called multi-national corporations, many American, are NOT here…yet. No Starbucks, McDonalds, Domino Pizza or WalMart. The largest franchise we saw was a small United Colors of Benetton. Of course the dominate universal American culture of music, film and television are everywhere playing in the background.
The young Croatian women dress as well as any woman in the world. The Croatian men? Well, most guys just put on clothes. See pictures.
So much for the cultural report. What did we do? We wandered the narrow streets and passageways of this city. We walked the wall around the entire city in two hours (A must.) If you come here and stay expect to climb stairs, lots of them. It would be very rare if you found an apartment within the city walls that didn’t have stairs. (102 stairs up from the plaza to our apartment, 42 stairs down from the street above us—just for the record). The apartments outside of the old city have even more steps up to them. We took a boat ride out to nearby island and spent the glorious day walking around and sitting by the ocean. We took two excursion bus trips to the city of Mostar in Bosnia, heavily hit in the civil war in the 1990s. We took another bus trip to the neighboring state of Montenegro and toured the cities of Kotor and Budva. Montenegro is the favorite spot of Russian and Ukrainian tourists. They are quickly taking over the country via summer homes and luxury hotels and own 60% of Budva. See pictures. We went to two concerts, the symphony which was surprisingly good and a concert of sitar and tabla music. We went by bus to a lovely little village down the coast for an afternoon and took a boat ride back.
In Dubrovnik the ice cream is fab—Anita is addicted to the flavor Don Vito and there are stores selling this gelato everywhere. The curio shops sell the same kitsch you always see around the world. There are hundreds of restaurants and coffee bars. One restaurant recommend by a friend who lives here 3 months of the years is Nishta, it is a vegetarian place. Beside the good food, the bathroom doors have Ken and Barbie dolls on the front to distinguish a boy or girl room and they have Ken and Barbie clothes and paraphernalia in the toilet stalls. Cute, no? A word about prices, not inexpensive, this is a tourist town and the prices show it.
All in all, even with the gangbuster tourists all about, we are staying in an unbelievably quiet apartment several streets UP from the main drag (no cars, roosters, dogs or cojetes). We will undoubtedly miss the quiet. Our next stop is Istanbul. No quiet there I’m sure.

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A Jew in the convent

October 3, 2012

Mertola, Portugal. The city is located in the far southern part of the country. On a map find the city of Faro on the Mediterranean southern coast and go inland, north and east a little on a map to find this village. The village is about 8000 people. Occasionally tourists wander in, but no tour buses or herds of tourists. Don’t worry the village has 4 ATM machines and three, count’em, Chinese plastic imported junk shops. All with as much Chinese plastic weird STUFF you can do without. The main tourist attraction is a castle that dominates the city. The castle was Moorish and the Christians conquered it in the 11th century. Lots of history was there in this small town, a former trading post for many civilizations. (See pictures.)

The artist residency —Convento Sao Francisco —is a quaint and lovely little hideaway. If you go to Lonely Planet they have an glowing account of the place and the the people who run it, two are artists. The place is an oasis of quiet. There is no road noise, no sounds at night except occasionally one of the six dogs barks a time or two. The Convento has a lovely garden and one of the owner’s sons, Louie, spends all his time as ground keeper. The entire property is 40 hectares in size. Anita has spent more time painting there than at any time in her life. I wrote about 6 hours a day. I just finished my first rough draft of a murder mystery, part of it is set in Ajijic.
We celebrated our anniversary here and we have been married…forever. No, 14 years.
This is a dry and undulating hilly country. Crops include olive trees (what else?) citrus and grapes mostly. The days have been hot, 90 plus degrees . The land yearns for rain. All is crackling dry and the drought tolerant flora and fauna are being put to the test. (Again, see pictures) Two days before we left some rains came and you could hear the land absorbing the moisture almost.
Odds and ends: In Portugal every meal served at a restaurant comes with olives, bread and olive oil. I think it’s a law. Before every meal at a restaurant they lay out a basket of bread, the above olives in a small plate, some butter and cheese. The first I thought this was free. It isn’t. When the bill came we were charged for what we ate. One place it was 10 euros, as much as a dinner. I guess you don’t have to eat it. Also I just learned three days before we were to leave that Mertola has scorpions, just like in olde Mexico. Never saw one though, but did see lots of mosquitoes and flies.
This entry was written in Dubrovnik, where we currently are.

Since FB has suddenly stopped putting in a link to use for photos, I am hoping this will work. Let me know if it doesn’t.

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