Ladies tour Croatia as part of Eastern Europe excursion
By Marguerite Kirkpatrick

Posted on September 11, 2016 6:14 PM

This is the third in a series of a summer tour of Eastern Europe.

Tuesday, July 5


This morning we are driving toward Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. Our lovely local guide, Katia, greets us in the city center as we arrive and tells us that Ljubljana was designated as the “2016 Green City of Europe.” We stroll across the Triple Bridge—a group of three limestone and concrete bridges on the Ljubljanic River, which connect the historical, medieval town on one side of the river to the modern city on the other. This city center is closed to traffic but is busy with pedestrians, bikers, and small, green electric buses. We stroll across all the bridges, enjoying the bright sunshine and the clean beauty of the city. On one bridge “Willie Nelson” strums his guitar and sings “Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” His guitar case stands open to receive tips.

It is morning, and people are gathered in many outdoor cafes enjoying coffee. We pass an area of covered stalls where the city's residents can find all manner of open markets: vegetables, fruits, fish, pastries, coffee, flowers. There are many flower stalls about which Katia says, “Slovenians like beauty, order, serenity, good food.”

After this area was closed to traffic, air pollution dropped dramatically. Katia speaks highly of her mayor for enacting many positive changes in the city. He promised 70 projects when he was elected and has accomplished 69 of those promises. American politicians could learn from this example. Ljubljana’s population is young with 25 percent being students attending the free universities. Too soon it is time for us to part from Katia, but before we go, she points out two competing gelato shops, both of which claim to have the best gelato in Ljubljana. Too bad we only have time to sample one!


Leaving Ljubljana, we drive south and cross the border of Croatia. Marisa, our Trafalgar travel director, tells us that northern Croatia is lush and green while southern Croatia is rocky and barren. The two areas are different in mentality and culture also, as the north evidences Hungarian influence while the south took their influence from the Italians. Salt was the most important commodity during the Middle Ages; Venetians traded salt they harvested from the Croatian coast. Today Croatian salt is noted for its flavor. I must buy some to take home!

Our first stop in Croatia is Karlovac, an ugly city which shows much evidence of the 1992 war. We stop at a war memorial and see bombed out buildings, a burned war plane, tanks. Croatia still has much land that is covered with land mines. A method of finding these mines is to drop corn seeds from a plane. When the corn grows, the plants over metal will not bloom, signifying a land mine.

Leaving Karlovac, we soon enter the forested National Park of Plitvica Jezera, another UNESCO World Heritage site, and arrive at the beautiful upper and lower Plitvice Lakes. We meet our cute little ranger guide, Andrea, and begin a six mile walk around the lakes. Andrea tells us he has the “greatest office in the world.” Much of our walking is done on narrow paths across the shallows, made of small saplings linked together to form a sort of bridge over the water. A few inches below our feet is the blue/green crystal clear water teeming with fish. Andrea points out the travertine created by the large amount of calcium carbonate which builds up in some areas to form beautiful cascades. Ninety-two waterfalls and cascades add to the astonishing beauty of these lakes.

The path is sometimes rather harrowing since tourists travel in both directions on the narrow walkways. One could easily be knocked into the water by oncoming traffic! At the end of our hike, we board a small ferry to cross the upper lake, then climb a long series of steps to reach Hotel Jezero, a no-frills accommodation that was built during the time of socialism. Dinner tonight in the hotel includes delicious local trout with the head still attached. Not sure I like seeing the watchful eye of my dinner staring up from my plate!



Wednesday, July 6

A special day for me since it is the birthday of my firstborn. Leaving Plitvicka, we travel south. The day is overcast with an eerie light that casts a purple haze over the mountains on our left. Bosnia lies on the other side of these mountains. We pass fields of sheep, fields of fennel. Marisa tells us products from Croatia include goat cheese, essential oils, lavender, herbal remedies. There is much abandoned farm land in Croatia because so many people left after the civil war of the 1990's. Now the government is offering grants and other incentives to young people encouraging them to return to the land. Education in Croatia is free and very good; therefore, everyone has a college degree and there are not enough jobs. The countryside is rough and weedy, full of rocks.

arisa points out signs that read “FKK.” This means free body culture and marks nudist beaches used primarily by tourists, as Croatians are shy by nature. She points out a large hotel that was once a nudist hotel. Everyone, including the staff, was nude. The manager, however, did wear a tie. I suppose that was appropriate since the tie was invented in Croatia.

Soon we arrive in Split, once a part of the Roman Empire. Split lies in a valley protected by mountains and the Adriatic Sea. The rocky coast gives way to blue/green waters that fan out to dark blue. We see stone houses with red tile roofs and dry stack stone walls. A riot of color is provided by the oleander and bougainvillaea.

First on our agenda is a visit to the Palace of Diocletian, another UNESCO site, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, where some scenes from the popular TV series Game of Thrones were filmed and will be filmed for season five. One thousand people live in apartments within the palace walls. The Emperor Diocletian was a persecutor of Christians; now the Cathedral of St. Domnius is built over Diocletian's mausoleum, a fitting bit of irony. St. Domnius is thought to be the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world, consecrated in the seventh century. Just before we leave the palace, we come upon five Croatian singers dressed in traditional costume who entertain us with their a cappella rendition of some Croatian folk songs.

After lunch we board a ferry for a two-hour trip across the Adriatic Sea to Hvar, “one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world.”

To be continued....


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