Our Trip to Venice, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro

This was a two and a half week trip to the region around the Adriatic Sea, mostly in Croatia. We spent three nights in Venice, four nights at Lake Bled, Slovenia, four nights in Opatija, Croatia, one night in Split, Croatia, and ended up with four nights in Dubrovnik, Croatia. There were lots of interesting side trips, too.

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Wednesday - Arrival in Venice We arrived in Venice at Marco Polo Airport from Frankfurt. Of course, the only way to get to Venice is by water, so the next step was a water taxi, and the first group of pictures is from the water taxi ride. Later, we walked around near our hotel and took some pictures in the glass shops. The light fixture pictures are in our hotel.

Piazza San Marco Thursday, first things first. St. Mark's Square is probably the most famous tourist attraction in Venice. There are pictures here of the Basilica, the Doge's Palace, where the figurehead leader of Venice was virtually imprisoned, the Bridge of Sighs, which was the passage to prison for convicts, and the famous Campanile. Oh yeah, they have a lot of pigeons, too.

Thursday Afternoon, Exploring Venice Just walking around in the afternoon and evening. Venice is a whole other world, so there is a lot to photograph.

The Ghetto The word Ghetto comes from the island of Ghetto, which means "foundry". Jews were forced to live in on this island in Venice until Napoleon invaded in 1797, and ended the practice. There are two sections, Ghetto Vecchio, the old Ghetto, and Ghetto Nuovo, the new Ghetto. The tallest buildings in Venice are on this island, because they were not allowed to live anywhere else, so they built up as their population grew.

Excursion to the Island of Murano Friday morning, we went to Murano, home of Murano glass. We had a glass blowing demonstration and then walked around and took pictures.

Exploring Venice Friday afternoon we did some more exploring and bought sandwiches at a deli by our hotel.

The Gondola Ride I guess it is against the law to go to Venice without having a romantic gondola ride. They have group rides that go out from the hotels, but we walked around and found this owner-operator named Marco (of course.) Marco gave us a tour of the narrow local canals, whistling and singing all the way. There was a little part on the Grand Canal, too. This was the ultimate anniversary present.

Saturday - Driving to Slovenia From Venice to Bled, Slovenia is about 100 miles. There is not a lot to photograph along the way after you have spent three days in Venice, but there are a couple of shots along the road of the beginning of the Julian Alps. Crossing into Slovenia is no big deal, and you just see a European Union sign announcing it. Behind the sign, you see a kozolec, which is a rack for drying hay, and is one of the symbols of Slovenia. Of course, when we arrived at Lake Bled, there was plenty to photograph. This beautiful alpine village was where Marshal Tito had his presidential residence back in the days of Yugoslavia. It is now a hotel called "Vila Bled".

Sunday at Lake Bled The weather was not great, but it is still a beatiful place. Bled is one of the more renowned rowing centers, so you see a couple of rowing pictures. Then there is Bled's version of the gondola, the pletna. These are rowed by one man standing on the back of the boat, and this is the normal way to travel to the island in the lake. More on that later. We had lunch at a Gostilna, which is a traditional restaurant run by a family, often in, or attached to, their home.

Monday Morning - Lake Bled Island Monday was a full day of travelling in Slovenia, but in the morning, we took a pletna ride to the island and visited the Church of the Assumption. In the sanctuary of the church hangs a rope for ringing a small bell. The legend is that if you make a wish and pull the rope three times, your wish will come true if you hear the bell ring.

Monday - Skofja Loka The name of Loka stands for grassland by the river. This town is over 1000 years old, and was our first visit to a medieval town in the Balkans. While we were there, we were entertained by school children dressed in traditional costumes. We visited a traditional house that is maintained by the original family, and were given a tour by the owner. The kitchen is really a smokehouse within the building, and the smoke from the fire goes out a hole in the ceiling, leaving the room covered with pitch and soot. Meats are smoked by hanging them from the ceiling. The same fire that smokes and cooks the food is used to heat the room on the other side of the wall, where you can see the ceramic stove sticking out into the room. During the cold months, they would sleep on the benches around the stove. In the evening, we had dinner at the gostilna in the old town granary in the city walls.

Tuesday - Ljubljana Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenja. It is a nice old city on a river with lots of picture opportunities. The two bronze doors on the Basilica of St. Nicholas (Stolnica Sveti Nikolaja) were added in honor of the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1996.

Bled Castle After our day in Ljubljana, we visited the castle on the cliff in Bled and took pictures of the lake and town from there. The building with the red roof is our hotel.

Wednesday - Postojnska Jama After packing up on Wednesday, we headed toward Croatia and stopped in Postojna for spelunking and lunch. The cave is not too different from other limestone caves we have seen, but you get a train ride through the first couple of miles of the cave and then get out and walk. Inside the cave live eyeless salamanders the Slovenes call "human fish" because they swim like fish and have skin like humans. We had lunch at the restaurant at the cave (nice place) and then took pictures around the park. You can see where the river goes into the cave.

Wednesday - Arrival in Opatija, Croatia After lunch in Postojna, we headed to the top of the Adriatic Sea, and Opatija on the Croatian Riviera. But first, everybody had to get their Croatian Kuna at a cash exchange just over the border. We stayed at the villa of the Millenium hotel a few steps from the water. The statue of the girl with the sea-gull was made by Zvonko Car in 1956, and he called it "Salute to the sea." Opatija does not have sandy beaches. Instead, there are concrete decks with steps into the water, and you can see what happens when the sea is rough.

Thursday - Excursion to Rijeka Rijeka is a few miles from Opatija, and is a pretty good sized city. It is also the hometown of our program director, Biba. Her grandma made us some goodies and her mother brought them to us on the bus. We started in the part of town called Trsat, and the church "Our Lady of Trsat" where pilgrims have brought gifts to Mary and even left messages on the walls. After that we went to the main part of the city and walked around taking pictures. They have one of the nicest McDonalds I have seen anywhere, but we still didn't eat there.

Thursday Morning and Evening There are pictures here from before our trip to Rijeka, and a walk along the Opatija promenade later that day.

Friday - Kosljun Monastary We visited the island of Krk, Croatia's largest island and the much smaller island of Kosljun, where there is a Franciscan monastery and an Ethnographic museum. There are also peaceful walking paths and lots of olive trees.

Friday Afternoon - City of Krk Yeah, I know. Krk has no vowels. It is pronounced by rolling the r - krrrrk. Back in pre-roman times, the Illyrians called it "Kurycta", and later, in the 4th century, the Romans called it "Splendidissima Civitas Kuryctarum." These pictures include the ride from Kosljun to the city of Krk, starting with a picture our our faithful bus driver and friend, Gordan.

Saturday - Istrian Peninsula Opatija is at the end of Kvarner Bay, which is between the Croatian mainland and the Istrian peninsula. Istria is a kind of Italian-Croatian mix. They are very big in things like olive oil, special brandies, different kinds of cheese and jellies and jams. We stopped along the Limski Canal to sample some of these things where they were being sold.

Saturday afternoon - Rovinj This is a picturesque old city with the historic part, dating back to second to fourth century, crowded onto a small peninsula. The church tower that you see from all angles is part of the boroque church of St. Euphemia. Rovinj is on the Adriatic side of the Istrian peninsula.

Saturday - Istrian lunch and Pula Arena We stopped at a country Konoba after visiting Rovinj. The pictures show the smokehouse where they do the cooking, the dining room, and the house and owners. After lunch, we passed through Pula, and stopped to tour the very well preserved remains of the Roman arena there. Pula is the oldest town on the east side of the Adriatic, having been inhabited 3000 years ago. The arena was built in the third century. The pictures show both the arena above ground, and some of the underground passages beneath it.

Sunday - Dalmatian Coast On this day, we left our hotel in Opatija and headed south along the Dalmatian coast. We spent most of the day on the bus, but we managed to take some pictures anyway. We stopped for a bathroom break outside of the city of Sibenik, which you can see in the distance in a couple of the pictures. Andrea thought the toilet was cute.

Sun Evening - Split We arrived at Split just in time to get settled in our hotel and have dinner. The view from Hotel Split was mostly of some of the large apartment blocks nearby and a glimpse of the Adriatic over the tops of some other buildings. The apartment blocks had a stark beauty of their own, and made a couple of interesting night shots.

Monday Morning in Split First thing in the morning, we were packed and ready to move on to the old part of Split, but not before a spectacular sunrise and a look at the harbor. The aerial picture shows the old walled city center built on Diocletian's residence.

Monday - Diocletian's Residence Diocletian (Caius Valerius Diocletianus) was Roman emporer at the end of the third century. He was born at Dioclea, in Dalmatia around A.D. 245. He ordered the construction of his residence in Split around the year 300, just before he retired. The walls of the residence enclose 9.5 acres. In 639, the early citizens of the current city converted most of the residence into a town, and it is still the Split town center today.

Monday - Split to Dubrovnik After our visit to Diocletian's residence, we headed further down the Dalmatian coast to Dubrovnik. Lots of mountain pictures here. The mountains come right up to the water. Most of the pictures in this group were taken out the bus window, but there are a couple from our room that night in Dubrovnik.

Tuesday - Dubrovnik This was our first day just to walk around the medieval city of Dubrovnik. An interesting piece of history is that when Dubrovnik was a city-state, also call Ragusa, it was the first state to recognize the independence of the newly formed United States of America. One of the pictures here is of me holding the original document while visiting Croatia on business in 2002. The city's old flag has the word Libertas (freedom) on it, and the entrance to the Lovrijenac fortress just outside the city walls bears the inscription Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro, meaning "Liberty is not sold for any kind of gold".

Tuesday Night - home hosted dinner We had dinner as the guests of a family in a Croatian village not too far from Dubrovnik. We started out in the smokehouse that serves as their kitchen. After that, we had dinner in their house and were treated to some light entertainment. These people work hard all the time, and everything they served us was from their land. The father even played a musical instrument he had made himself.

Wednesday - Croatian southern tip We headed out for a day trip to Montenegro in the morning and took some pictures along the way. Also some early morning pictures of the old city. This group also has Dubrovnik at sunset that night.

Wednesday - Boka Kotorska The Bay of Kotor and surrounding area, sometimes called a fiord because of the high mountains surrounding it. We drove around the bay and got some spectacular pictures out the bus window. There are also pictures of the ferry crossing on our return and the border crossing into Crna Gora, or Montenegro.

Wednesday - Kotor This is the old city of Kotor in Montenegro, with the remains of St. Ivan's Fortress in the hills behind it. At the Serbian Orthodox church we met a very friendly priest and fell very welcomed to learn more about the Orthodox religions. Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wednesday - Budva, Montenegro Budva is a 2500 year old town in the central part of the Montenegro coast - the oldest town in Montenegro. In Greek times, called Buthua, it was a center for theater and trade. Budva was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1979, and rebuild from the original stones. One picture shows some of the stones still with numbers on them from the re-building project. We had one of the best meals of the trip at Restaurant Jadran in Budva.

Thursday - Dubrovnik 1 The wall walk. Today we walked most of the way around the Stari Grad on the city walls. These are the pictures we took after climbing several stories worth of steps to get up there. We started at the east gate and walked around the sea side of the wall, ending at the boat harbor.

Thursday - Dubrovnik 2 Pictures around the old city, outside the walls, and around our hotel.

Thursday - Dubrovnik 3 The last evening of the trip. We had a farewell gathering on the terrace at the hotel, where we took pictures as the sun went down, got a picture of our entire group, and then went for dinner with entertainment at a Konoba in the old city. The dancers are our program director, Biba, and our bus driver, Gordan. The music was provided by the Dalmatian Klapa group, Nava. Their CD cover is among the pictures. After this party, it was time to do the final packing and get ready for our 4 AM wakeup call.