That’s right. Surprised us. But why not? They’re all over Europe. We didn’t notice the way signs until we went to the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows high up on a hill. A steep hill. The kind where you feel as though your nose is about to meet the ground steep. Must’ve been a 13% grade. See that little building in the upper right corner? That’s the chapel.
Signage at the Chapel had the Pilgrim shell on it. After that we saw way signs everywhere throughout town. And the Pilgrim shell inside St. Vitus Cathedral as well.
We called on Sunday and the chapel was open so we hiked up again – a different route, slightly less steep. The small chapel is surrounded by a wall with information on its history and various sculptures and iconography. The chapel itself is quite diminutive with soft music playing and some local ecclesiastical artwork.
Following our visit, we took to the marked trail through the woods…
We were on the ferry leaving Dubrovnik, heading north to Split, Croatia, when I recognized we were making our way back home. Dubrovnik is the furthest point of travel on this trip and we have been retracing our steps with still some days left until we get home. It’s clearly too early to start thinking that this trip has ended, but I have been reflecting on the trip in anticipation of that end. I find myself considering the entirety of this “vacation” as if it is already complete. It is too early to reminisce, but in anticipation of the time it will be appropriate to reminiscence, I will engage in some pre-reminiscence, that I will refer to as my preminiscences.
Let’s go back in time to the hazily remote past when Paula and I decided to undertake an international venture. For quite a while I had been reluctant to consider leaving the country, particularly for Europe. Initially I was deterred by the COVID travel restrictions since I wanted neither to enroll in the global medical experiment designed by mad scientists, nor allow strangers to stick swabs up my nose, into my brain, before boarding a plane back home. But those restrictions have been paused. That reticence was replaced by a concern that we really didn’t know how bad the situation would get in Europe due to the economic and political fallout from NATO’s war with Russia. (BTW we still don’t know and since we are leaving for Germany tomorrow, I have some concerns still.
It was Paula’s idea, I must admit, that we should put aside any misgivings and hit the airways rejecting cowardice and just accepting the uncertainty. Why let concerns like potential food and fuel shortages, runaway inflation and social unrest stop us. She was right, of course. Any belief that we are not in a period of uncertainty at any given time is merely a superstition. Existence is uncertain, and though we cannot determine whether the British Pound or the Euro will collapse as a medium of exchange in the next few months, we can also not be assured that we are safe from asteroids crashing into the house next door. “Crappy Diem,” I said,” Let’s make a plan.”
We decided on a modified version the long adventure we had planned for April 2020. I still haven’t forgiven the world for forcing us to forgo that plan. We got most of our money back from the deposits and non-refundable payments we had made, but that is faint recompense from missing the celebration of my 70th birthday (a few days late) on the summer solstice at a pagan stone circle in the Orkney Islands. That experience was to be the culmination of a three-month trip starting in Italy and including a tour of Central Europe by train before trekking through Scotland.
This trip we would take the train tour of central Europe, but not as a one-way journey from south to north, but as a loop, starting at one end and ending at the other (if you are unsettled by the notion that a loop has ends, please refer to Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov). We settled on a detailed itinerary: start and end in Berlin with many stops in between. That’s the degree of specificity we had when we made our flight arrangements.
We prefer to take the fewest flights to any destination, and in this case we made the journey to Berlin in two flights: a red eye from Albuquerque to New York City (JFK) and a second overnight flight from JFK to Berlin. That plan gave us an eighteen-hour layover at JFK. “Well,” we thought, “we’re still young and there is no reason we can’t do two all-nighters in a row with a full day of activity in between.” After all we could do that with ease fifty years ago, so what has changed?
A recently bygone prophet announced that “first we’ll take Manhattan, then we’ll take Berlin.” (yes, I know who said it: it was the same guy who is referenced implicitly in another reference later on.) That was our theme as we headed on to the wild of New York City. Taking Manhattan is not such a big deal, provided you were born there or had spent enough time to understand the city. We did not fare quite so badly as some other noteworthy out of towners (another cultural inference, if I may be blunt) we actually did sort of okay once we figured out how to get out of the airport and into the MTA.
NYC does not come with instructions. It seems there should be some type of information system at the airport, with giant arrows in blinking lights, instructing newcomers where to get the instruction manual for New York before trying to operate in it. I did not find that kiosk, but did see a big sign saying “Welcome to New York: Deal With It.”
I’ll forego most of my complaints, but will just say that the expression “if you don’t know where you are going you will probably get there” should have a New York City corollary: you must already know how to get there before you can know how to get there. Enough said. For now anyway.
We arrived at JFK at a few minutes before 6AM, and given this, that and the other thing got to the subway about 8 having achieved lifetime satiation for Dunkin Donuts coffee. We started out heading to the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park, but sidetracked ourselves thinking a walk on the High Line would be a better strategy to stay awake than strolling at museum speed and lolling in the park for a few hours. After about 10 minutes on the High Line we decided coffee and breakfast would be a better idea, so we departed the High Line, heading towards the Flatiron building hoping to find a good place to satisfy out cravings.
What we found, unintentionally, was the Chelsea Hotel, which started me thinking about unmade beds and limousines waiting in the street.
After a couple minutes debating whether we could ask for a room with hourly rates we decided to head on to see the sights. The hotel has outlived its Bohemian past and such a request would probably be misunderstood. We headed on to the Flatiron Building where we made a few observations.
One: you can see the Empire State Building from there.
Two: there are a lot of street food outlets in the parks adjacent to the building
Three: It appears to be not so unusual to order beer with breakfast in NYC.
Seeing the Empire State Building from our breakfast table, we headed that direction but decided not to stop, passing the building and walking on to the New York Library where we went for a tour. The Library is an interesting place to visit for the architecture and for the exhibit. It is a museum of the history of recorded thought, including exhibitions on the evolution of written languages, the development of printing technologies, up to the current period where pluses and aughts record our thoughts. This is one of my favorite images of a self-organized exhibit situated serendipitously below a painting of Guttenberg making a demonstration of his press.
The Library holds an impressive array of artifacts: a Guttenberg Bible, a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, the handwritten notes of George Washington’s farewell address, and an original hand written copy of the first twelve amendments to the US constitution, ten of which were adopted as the “bill of rights” and one of which was finally adopted in 1976 as the 26th amendment. Here are a few images highlighting our visit to the Library.
After leaving the library we noted that St. Patrick’s cathedral was a mere few blocks away and
On the way we passed by Rockefeller Center.
What better way to preview a trip to Europe than to visit a cathedral, since there are so few of them to be seen over there. Well I was impressed. A few photos.
Of course no trip to New York can be complete without a trip to Grand Central Station, where we headed for dinner. Unfortunately the restaurant we were heading for appears to no longer exist, so we took the obligatory photograph, grabbed a bite in a different restaurant and headed back to the airport.
I’m not satisfied with this post, but I’ve been toying with it for two weeks so I’ll post it now.
When in Czechia do as the Czechians do – drink beer. České Budejovice is a 47 minute regional train ride from Česky Krumlov, both of which are in southern Bohemia. It’s the home of Budweiser Budvar beer, most famous and best, according to many, of the Czech beers. You may have heard of the legal wrangle between them and Anheuser Busch Budweiser.
We went to take the brewery tour and found so much more! Yes, the tour was interesting and we got a glass (plastic cup) of fresh beer (really fresh!) at the end. We walked through the bottling, labeling, capping, etc facility, but it wasn’t running – big disappointment. More interesting was the Czech-Irish accent of our guide. And this good sport in the tasting room.
As for the “so much more” we found an old square and ornate architecture, another bell tower to climb, and a city that maybe, just maybe, may be the European home base for a period of time we’ve been bandying about for a while now. It’s certainly affordable; not too big; on main train lines and bus routes; has a really fine feel about it. Of course, Ed reminds me that this is the third or fourth time I’ve said that about a city. But this time I mean it.
In our short time there, about 8 hours, we also found two city parks, one of which has a trail along the river. Interestingly, few retail shops were open on a Saturday. Plenty of cafés. On the brew tour we heard of a good Czech restaurant to try, from a local, Masné Kramé. It was crowded, with lots of reserved tables, (discovered this by sitting at one) but by rearranging a few tables and chairs, they found us a place. We both ordered from the specials of the day menu: venison meet balls on a skewer with mushrooms and a rich sauce for me and fried boar with almonds in a plum sauce for Ed. He made the better choice, though both were delicious. For dessert – walnut palačinky (crêpes, but they call ’em pancakes) filled with plum sauce and pistachio ice cream on the side. A little pear eau de vie to complete the meal and off we trundled for a night walk around Budejovice.
Like many people I know, I have concerns about the power Google has over access to information. However when they have technical innovations like “Translate” they will continue to have adherents. Check out these two photos to see how much more accessible are the signs and posters in the native tongues.
This works well for signs, monuments, menus, and instructions that are helpful to understand when traveling.
We are here on the shoulder of the shoulder season. It’s so quiet, minimal tour groups, many pensiones closed already for the season. Restaurants have few people for the most part. When dinner time rolled around, after a steep climb up to Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel (more on that later), we strolled around determined to find a place with energy. We were rewarded with The Gypsy Bar.
The light lager was a perfect accompaniment to the salty smoked ham, cabbage, and potato pancakes. A traditional Czech meal for sure.
After that gut buster of a meal, a post dinner perambulation was definitely in order. Česky Krumlov is beautiful at night.
We returned to Split for 4 nights, 3 days, arriving late on the 7th October, a Friday. Saturday found us in Trogir, a tiny island a 45 minute plush bus ride away – getting there. We enjoyed wandering the many narrow streets, finding charming courtyards, a church (and another bell tower to climb!), a fort, and a youth fútbol game. The game was sparsely, but enthusiastically attended, the chants and cheers rousing! The bus ride on the return was a different matter as we found ourselves on the local stopping every ten feet. Unlike the buses in Albuquerque this one was well used!
At some point I decided I wanted to attend mass at St. Dominus Cathedral, the one that was originally Diocletian’s mausoleum. Ed decided to join me. We put on our Sunday best for the event. Most people were casually dressed, though one woman was outfitted head to toe in an acqua color ensemble, with a hat that you might have found adorning the head of Queen Elizabeth.
Raised Catholic, but not attending mass for the past 45+ years I noticed that I could tell the prayers being recited by the rhythms, by the actions accompanying them. The format was so familiar. There was genuine warmth in the smiles and eyes of those greeted during the handshake of peace.
And then it was time to hit the beach! It was a perfect day – not too hot, a gentle breeze, the water cool and deliciously clear.
Marjan Park and Bene Beach
Marjan Park is on a peninsula of land jutting into the Adriatic. It’s known as the lungs of the city. It is lush and steep and has many informative plaques along it’s many paths. We walked 12 miles on Monday exploring and making our way to and back from Bene Beach (my least favorite of the 5 beaches on the Dalmatia Coast we went to.)
This wall is noted on the park map for rock climbing. We felt fortunate to witness some action.
Another magical moment:
And then, suddenly, it was time to say goodbye to Split. And hello again to Zagreb. It’s a good feeling to return to a foreign city and have it not be foreign.
Tomorrow – Vienna! We’ll have just a late afternoon and evening ada stopover on our way to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. So, until then, I bid you ‘dobro dan’!
As we are using backpacks, and this trip is serving as a mini test for my leg and foot – (can I walk a distance with an 18 pound pack) – we were making the 45 minute trek to our digs. It was along a city street. I had just remarked how the feel had the tenor of some parts of the Caminho. Then I spotted a sticker we saw all along our hike in Portugal: J’EXISTE. I exist. I was here. The exact same sticker. Same person? “J’existe” – leaving a mark, yes, but such an anonymous one.
Dubrovnik is a wonder. The town of storybooks and legend. Some of Game of Thrones was filmed here. I’ve not watched it so that means nothing to me. I simply felt as though I’d wandered into another time. We’ve been to fortressed, walled medieval towns, but nothing this grand, of this scale. Only a few photos can begin to describe the scope of what a walled city of the 9th century was like.
This is a great time of year to be here. The hordes of tourists are gone – though there are still plenty – but it’s not the congested molasses throng of July and August. Especially if you get to the wall shortly after it opens. And while the sun spreads its warmth, there’s a coolness to the air that makes for a quite comfortable time.
In 1438 the leaders decided to bring water to the city from a spring 12 I’m away. Part of the water supply system is the Big Onofrio Fountain. 16 sided with a carved mask on each side from which potable water flows.
Don’t groan, but I’m going to post another meal. Lunch at Tavulin in old town Dubrovnik. For a prix fixe of 120 Kuna, about $17.00 I had tender grilled squid with potato salad with sundried tomatoes and a fresh green salad, bread and a very rich brownie with sabayon sauce, caramel, and Chantilly cream. Wine not included, but the local Proçip is delicious!
That’s it for Dubrovnik. Went to a beach, but didn’t get a photo. Oh, and our studio apartment was great! Roomy, well outfitted kitchen (not that we used it), and a host, Jelena, who brought us espresso and a bakery item each morning. In the next photo, you’ll see the white umbrella on our garden terrace.
Diocletian was a Roman emperor who ruled from 284 to 305. His imperial residence\military fortress\fortified town took 10 years to build. Built in the 3rd and 4th centuries! Much of it still standing. Lustrous white stone imported from the island of Brač; marbles from Italy and Greece, sphinxes from Egypt.
And while much is still standing, much has changed over the millennia. What you find here in the labyrinthine streets are shops, bars, restaurants and lots of people. The historical aspects include the Peristil, a colonnaded courtyard (with the gorgeous Hotel Luxor on one side) that still boasts one of those 12 sphinxes; the Cathedral of St. Domnius, octagonal in shape and one of the best-preserved Roman buildings still standing. Ironically it was built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, last famous persecutor of the Christians.
There is also access to a tall Romanesque Bell tower, the treasury which is rich in reliquaries, icons, illuminated manuscripts, etc., and the baptistry, which was originally the Temple of Jupiter, king of the gods, and guarded by another of those imported sphinxes. BTW, those sphinxes we’re literally defaced by the Christians as they were considered to be pagan images.
There was a lot to see within this complex. And that’s mostly what there is to see in Split. There are intriguing areas near Split, so we’ll return post Dubrovnik.
Last image is a photo of our room window, just because I love the exposed stone and brick.
AND NOW – Korčula! (Pronounced Kór-chula)
It’s a 2.5 hour ferry ride from split to Korčula, including a stop at Hvar Island where all the young folk disembark, that is to say, most of the people on the ferry.
Thank goodness we are here during the shoulder season! It must be unbearable in high season, with the narrow meandering streets and stairways packed wall-to-wall. (Same can be said for Split.) This is a perfect time for a visit – still sunny and warm, the Adriatic Sea still swimmable, and not overrun by tourists.
Korčula Town is small and designed in a fishbone layout to best take advantage of cooling winds in summer and to protect from cold buffeting winds of winter. There are directions of winds involved, but I don’t remember the details.
We climbed another tower. Saw another ancient cathedral. I love it all. Each is so distinctly different. There are so many details to relish.
Korčula is also known for is wine and olives. We had both the red and the white and found them to be smooth and flavorful. Unfortunately, we are both sneezing and sniffling, so taking it easy on the intake. I still swam in the clear gorgeous waters today! And had a grand time sifting through the smooth rounded pebbles that make up the beach. Some are coming home with me.