Montenegro

Tours from Dubrovnik are difficult to find in winter, so I was happy to book a tour to Montenegro with GetYourGuide, a Berlin-based company operating throughout Europe. It was a full day led by local Amico Tours. I’m considering Montenegro or Sarajevo as my next stop and day trips will help me decide.

Mausoleum of Njegos Lovcen Mountain Montenegro

We began at 7 am and returned to Dubrovnik 11 hours later. Our group of five included a Chinese mother and daughter from Shanghai on a long European trip, a young couple from Santiago Chile, and me. Our Bosnian guide and driver shared fascinating Montenegrin geography, culture, history, and folktales with us. As usual the vast amount of information was a bit overwhelming – at least for me.

View from Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum – Old Town Kotor Hostel

Our Lady of the Rocks and Benedictine Monastery Islands Perast – dubrovnik-tours.hr

Winter Weather Croatia and Montenegro

I’m learning about weather in the Balkans and had rescheduled once because of heavy rain. Winter rain patterns come fast and furious and can clear quickly, but not always. When rain is in the forecast it doesn’t necessarily mean all day, and for a winter day trip, rain or shine is usually OK. We had heavy morning rain and a few rays of sunshine in the afternoon followed by light rain. It wasn’t a great day for photography. Even with a raincoat and umbrella, I got a little wet.

Kotor Clocktower

Konavle Valley and Bay of Kotor

Our southeast route to Montenegro passed small villages like Mlini and Cavtat, birthplace of Croatian painter Vlaho Bukovac, and continued through the Konavle Valley to the Bay of Kotor. The fertile valley is sometimes called the Gulf of Croatia. It’s known for granaries, canals, and abundant “waterfalls and watermills” generated from the Ljuta, Kopačica, and Konavočica Rivers.

Croatian Painter Vlaho Bukovac

Budva Old Town – Chasing the Donkey

On the way to Kotor we passed several Montenegrin villages – Herceg Novi, BijelaVerige, DobrotaPerast, and Risan. Over the years, Illyrians, Romans, Slavs, Celts, Greeks, Venetians, Spaniards, French, Ottomans, pirates, and others invaded Montenegro. The small country finally gained independence in 2006.

Church of St. Luke Kotor – Travel East

Although Montenegro just started the process of joining the EU,  the Euro is its local currency. Today there’s a strong Russian influence, and in recent years wealthy Russian investors have changed Montenegro.

Kotor St. Nikola Church

Perast

A UNESCO World heritage site, Perast is a quiet village. We stopped for coffee and even with rain and poor visibility marveled at the bay and its two tiny islands. One is home to Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Škrpjela) Church and the other Saint George Benedictine Monastery. St. George Island is closed to tourists but during the summer, you can take a boat to visit Our Lady of the Rocks Church.

Perast Marina

Our Lady of the Rocks is on a man-made island. “The island’s folklore began on July 22, 1452 when two sailors returning from a difficult voyage discovered an icon of the Madonna and Child resting on a rock in a shallow part of the Bay. They considered their find a miracle and vowed to build a church on the spot. Over time the sailors dropped stones around the spot where the icon was found, slowly creating an islet and then building a small chapel.”

Sokol Tower Konavle Valley – Adventure Dalmatia

Over the years dropping stones in the water around the church became a tradition for sailors. The ritual had a dual purpose – strengthening the tiny island’s foundation and “asking the Virgin Mother to bring them safely home”. Today the tradition is part of “one of Europe’s oldest sailing regattas, the Fašinada“.

Dobrota Village Montenegro – mylittleadventure

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“During the Fašinada regatta, at sunset on July 22 countless local boats decorated with garlands sail out into the Bay to drop a stone around the island and Our Lady of the Rocks Church.”

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Kotor City Walls to St. John Fort – montenegro-for.me

The church contains 68 paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a 17th-century baroque artist from Perast. There are also paintings by Italian masters, and an icon (circa 1452) of Our Lady of the Rocks by Venetian painter Lovro Dobričević.

Tripo Kokolja Sibile from the Church of Our Lady of Škrpjela

Map of Balkan Countries

“The church has a collection of silver votive tablets and a tapestry embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović, the wife of a Montenegrin seaman. It took her 25 years to finish the tapestry she made while waiting for her husband to return from long journeys at sea. She used golden and silver fibers but what makes the tapestry famous is that she embroidered her own hair in it.” The folktale goes that the hair woven changed from dark to gray as she grew older.

Kotor Montenegro – croisieurope

Saint George is a natural island. It’s home to 12th century Saint George Benedictine Monastery and has an old graveyard for Perast and Kotor nobility.

St. Triphon’s Cathedral Kotor

Verige and Risan

Verige (chains in Croatian) is named for chains that were placed throughout its bay to damage or sink enemy ships. Inaccessible limestone cliffs helped protect Risan from pirates and other invaders. Konavle Cliffs are part of the Orjen mountain range in the Adriatic Dinarides. Risan has a famous Roman villa with mosaics dating from the 2nd and early 3rd century AD. Today it’s a popular beach town.

Island of St. George Perast – @poseidonsreach

Side View Church of St. Luke Kotor

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“For about 12.5 miles, the steep inaccessible limestone Cliffs of Konavle sprawl along the coast from Cavtat to Molunat and fall vertically into the Adriatic Sea.”

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Medieval Street Budvar Old Town

Kotor

Kotor is one of the “prettiest towns in Montenegro”, known for its ancient fortified city walls, Venetian-inspired architecture, and maritime history. It’s located “deep down the Boka Kotorska Bay” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kotor Canal Kampana Tower

There are many interesting churches, palaces, and monasteries in Kotor, especially the Cathedral of Sveti Tripun “mentioned for the first time in IX century.” It’s a symbol of the city and the seat of the Catholic Bishopric of Kotor.

Kotor Old Town Clock Tower Montenegro

There are ten churches in Kotor and Orthodox Christians outnumber Catholics. Locals have “acknowledged the peaceful coexistence between the two religions”. Orthodox Christians attend or partake in Catholic celebrations and vice versa. Kotor’s Christmas season lasts into January since Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7.

Kotor Palace Old Town

A hike to the top of the city walls leads to St. John Fortress and a phenomenal view of the Bay of Kotor! I was looking forward to the hike, but heavy rain and a notoriously slippery path made it too dangerous. The weather cleared a bit, and we got some stunning views and photos while continuing our journey into the hills.

Vlaho Bukovac Daydreams – largesizepaintings.blogspot.com

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Lord Byron famously called Montenegro’s coastline the planet’s ‘most beautiful encounter between land and sea’.

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House Old Town Kotor

The annual Lovcen International Hill-Climb Race takes place in the Kotor hills on dangerous curvy roads full of sharp turns. The race is named after Lovcen National Park in the Dinara Alps. During the 2018 race a driver survived a crash that sent his car somersaulting through the air into a boulder!

Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

The Dinaric Alps are part of the Balkan Dinara Mountain Range and a popular adventure sport location for climbing, hiking, skiing, and sky diving. Most of the Adriatic islands belong to this system because in earlier geo history the “western parts of the mountain range were partly submerged by seawater “.

Ferry from Lepetane to Kamenari – Doo Pomorski Saobraćaj

Budva

Budva is a popular Mediterranean tourist town known for its beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. Budva has over 30 sand, pebble, and rock beaches. The sand in some areas is an extraordinary pink from the color of local rocks. Near Budva there are endless possibilities for adventurous recreational activities. Lovcen National Park, Lake Skadar National Park, Durmitor National Park, Mount Ostrog, Tara Canyon, and Biogradska Gora National Park are popular destinations.

Pink Sand Beach Sveti Stefan – depositphotos

Beautiful Painting Vlaho Bukovac

Konavle Cliffs – Agroturizam Konavle

Budva’s famous award-winning nightclub Top Hill is one of the largest and best nightclubs in Europe. Open-air performances are 600 meters (2,000 feet) above the sea with magnificent Adriatic views.

St. Stefan Island – adriaicdmc.hr

I walked Budva’s Old Town in the rain. Smaller than Dubrovnik and Kotor it’s described as a “Venetian maze of cobblestone streets, anchored by a 15th century citadel”. Except for a few shops, it was a winter ghost town.

Konavle Canal – Just Dubrovnik

You can’t help but notice that many palm trees in Budva, Kotor, and Dubrovnik look dreadful. Our guide said this is because palm moths and weevils are killing them and no one has discovered a remedy. It’s really sad.

National Restaurant Konavoski Dvori Ljuta River Konavle

There are many stray cats in Budva and Dubrovnik. Our guide explained that the cats were brought to Montenegro and Dubrovnik during the great bubonic plague to kill rats carrying the disease. Thousands died during the epidemic. To address the situation, Dubrovnik “issued an interesting decree where anyone who lived abroad had to spend 40 days in quarantine at one of the nearby islands before entering the city”.

St. John Fortress Kotor – Afar

Sveti Stefan, Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, Sokol Tower

Three interesting places we didn’t visit on our tour are Sveti Stefan Island near Budva,  the Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, Montenegro’s greatest writer, and Sokol Tower, a medieval remain near Dubrovnik. I’d like to visit Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, and Sokol Tower, but they’re both in isolated locations and would require hiring a guide for a private tour – very expensive in winter.

Verige – Montenegro Travel

Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan is one of the “most famous and prestigious places in Montenegro”. It’s a tiny island near Budva. Once a fishing village, it’s now a high-end five-star luxury resort. It’s connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge, with “stone houses packed together on top of the rocks”. Guests “stay in individual rooms or rent entire villas with private pools, terraces, and magnificent sea views”.

Orjen Mountain Range Dinaric Alps – discover-montenegro.com

Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum

Petar Petrovic Njegos, Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, was a revered ruler, poet, and philosopher. His magnificent mausoleum is situated at the top of the second-highest peak on Mount Lovćen, Jezerski Vrh (1657 m). “To get there you climb 461 steps to the entrance where two granite giants guard the tomb of Montenegro’s greatest writer”.

Our Lady of the Rocks, Venetian Painter Lovro Dobričević

View from Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum

Sokol Tower

The earliest records of Sokol Tower appear in Dubrovnik archives from 1391. The isolated location “suggests that a fortress existed on this spot since the time of the Illyrians, Greeks, and Romans”. Sokol Tower was “a weapons arsenal and used for storing emergency supplies”. The tower survived the great earthquake of 1667. It’s now owned by the Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities.

Inside Kotor Cathedral

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The view from Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum is breathtaking – “it’s the best panoramic view of Montenegro”.

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Side Street Old Town Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

Luxury Yachts and Resorts

Montenegro and Croatia are popular summer destinations for Europe’s rich. Rapid development in Montenegro is obvious from the unseemly mix of new architecture in some areas. Wealthy Russians and Germans purchased land and built apartments and luxury resorts that are out of character with existing medieval architecture. This is especially noticeable in Budva, known for government corruption. There are no building restrictions or codes, but hopefully this will change.

Saint George Benedictine Monastery Perast Montenegro – Emerging Europe

Owners of luxury yachts often visit Montenegro and Croatia. I forget the details of a new port being built near Herceg Novi to accommodate the summer onslaught of superyachts. One superyacht, Eclipse, owned by German billionaire Roman Abramovich visits the area annually.

Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

Back to Dubrovnik

At the end of the day we took the ferry from Lepetane to Kamenari to cross the Bay of Kotor heading back to Dubrovnik. There were few tourists on the ferry and it was fun mingling with locals. Of course each way we had border crossings which in summer can require as long as 10 hours of waiting!!! Compared to borders in Africa and South America, the border crossings were tame.

Yugoslavia

This blog post is long, but there’s so much to learn about the area, including Adriatic cultureYugoslav and Balkans Wars, and the Croatian War of Independence. Every village along the Bay of Kotor has an interesting story. Glad I have more time here!

God Hypnos on Mosaic Risan Montenegro

Church of St. Mary Kotor – Travel East

Dubrovnik’s Fortresses

Fortress of St. John – Dubrovnik Guide

Dubrovnik’s Old City has endless treasures and yesterday I took a guided tour of the five major fortresses around its walls. I’ve been waiting for the right time to take the two-hour “wall walk” and wanted to learn more about the medieval city first.

With various changes throughout their history, Dubrovnik’s forts are some of the greatest fortification systems of the Middle Ages. Old City became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Gradska Kavana Arsenal Restaurant Near Fortress of St. John – Nautika Restaurants

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“Dubrovnik’s spectacular fortresses were never breached by a hostile army.”

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There are four defensive stone fortresses around the wall – north tower, east side harbor, southeast side, and at the western entrance. The fifth fort – Lovrijenac – is outside the wall.

  1. Minčeta
  2. Revelin
  3. St. John
  4. Bokar
  5. Lovrijenac

Minčeta Fortress – Dubrovnik Jetliner Games

Minčeta Fortress

Minčeta was built in 1319 along the north wall facing land. It’s the highest point in the city wall and is a large round tower topped with a Gothic crown. The Menčetić family owned the land where the tower was built. Croatian builder and architect Ničifor Ranjina designed Minčeta.

In 1461, Italian architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi enhanced the round tower making it “adapt to new techniques of warfare”. The walls of the new tower were 6 meters (20 feet) thick with a series of protected gun ports.

Minčeta Fortress – The Dubrovnik Times

Croatian builder Juraj of Dalmatia designed the bottom portion of the fortress and created the fort’s recognizable Gothic crown. When active, Minčeta had 9 guns including a cannon designed by Ivan Rabljanin, Croatian Renaissance master of bronze bells and cannons. Rabljanin also designed the bell in Dubrovnik’s Bell Tower.

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“Minčeta Fortress stands high above the rest of Dubrovnik as a symbol of the unconquerable City. It tells the story of Dubrovnik’s love for its precious, sweet liberty.”

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Revelin Fortress – dubrovnikdigest.com

Revelin Fortress

Revelin is a massive irregular quadrilateral fortress outside Pile Gate in the eastern part of the City. The fortress was built for protection in 1463 after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople and began occupying nearby Bosnia.

Revelin was built as a “detached fortress to provide more protection for the eastern land approach to the City Gate”. The name comes from the word ravelin, a “term in fortification architecture referring to forts built opposite the weakest points in a city’s defense system to reinforce a defensive position”.

Revelin Fortress – dubrovnik-travel.net

Revelin protected the City from Venetian attackers. Dubrovnik hired Antonio Ferramolino, an expert Spanish fortress builder, to strengthen this eastern point in the fortification complex. In 1549, after 11 years of construction, an enhanced Revelin became Dubrovnik’s strongest fortress for safeguarding the eastern land approach. “Perfectly constructed,” Revelin wasn’t harmed during the 1667 earthquake.

Culture Club Revelin – dubroivniktoday.net

The top of Revelin features a huge stone-paved terrace sometimes used as a stage for Dubrovnik’s Summer Festival events. The inside of the fortress has a popular nightclub – Culture Club Revelin. Different night life “happenings” take place there, including rock concerts and techno displays.

Fortress of St. John – ExPoAus Planner

Fortress of St. John

The Fortress of St. John was a key defense complex on the south-eastern side of the old city. It controlled and protected the port entrance.

Aquarium and Maritime Museum Fortress of St. John – Go Dubrovnik

Initial construction began in 1346, when Dubrovnik connected an existing defensive wall and its gates – Dock Gates – with an old quadrilateral fort called Fort Gundulić, named for Croatian poet Ivan Gundulić. In 1500, the city decided to upgrade the old fort and build one with a semicircular form and a pentagonal bastion in front.

Statue of Croatian Poet Ivan Gundulić at Green Market – tzdubrovnik.hr

Master Croatian builder and architect Paskoje Miličević designed the improved fortress merging existing forts into a single building named The Fortress of St John at the Dock. Construction completed in 1557. Today the large interior of St. John fortress houses Dubrovnik’s Maritime Museum and Aquarium.

Bokar Fortress – MyTravelAffairs

Bokar Fortress

Bokar Fortress is at the top of a steep cliff on the south-western corner of Dubrovnik’s city walls. Bokar and Minčeta were the key points in the defense of the city’s western land approach.

Bokar Fortress – theimmagine.eu

Built in the 1500s as a “two-story casemate fortress”, Bokar’s purpose was defending the town’s main western entrance – Pile Gate and its bridge and moat. One part of the fort is on a detached rock. Arched supports were built to bridge the gap. The sea still passes beneath the fort as it did when it was first built.

Florentine architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo designed Bokar fortress. Construction began in 1461 but wasn’t completed for a long time. Upgrades occurred in 1555 and 1570. Bokar is a popular Game of Thrones filming location.

Lovrijenac Fortress – Flickr

Lovrijenac Fortress

Lovrijenac Fortress is built on a 37 meter (121 ft.) high sheer rock overlooking the Adriatic Sea! It’s the most dramatic fortresses in Dubrovnik. Lovrijenac was important for defending both land and sea attacks. The fortress has a triangular plan that follows the contour of the rock where it was built. It faces the western suburbs and opens toward Bokar Tower and the western wall, protecting Kolorina Bay. Today Kolorina Bay is a clam location for launching kayak tours. It was the location for filming the “bloody Battle of Blackwater scene in season two of Game of Thrones.

Kolorina Port

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During its service Lovrijenac Fortress was a 25 man garrison with 10 cannons and a fort Commander appointed by the government.

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Bell Tower Old Town Dubrovnik – Wikimedia Commons

Chronologists date the fort to 1018 or 1038 but first records are from 1301 when the city council voted on Commander of the Fort. According to legend, in the 11th century Venice planned to conquer Dubrovnik by building a fortress on the rock. When Dubrovnik learned of the plan, its citizens rushed to build their own fortress, thwarting the Venetians before they arrived with ships carrying troops and supplies.

The fortress received upgrades during the 15th and 16th centuries and after the 1667 earthquake when builder I. K. Zanchi repaired parapets and buildings throughout the city. The fortress has a quadrilateral court with mighty arches and three terraces looking south towards the Adriatic Sea.

Lovrijenac Fortress – Flickr

Lovrijenac had 10 large cannons designed and cast in 1537 by Renaissance bronze master Ivan Rabljanin. Rabljanin also designed the cannons at Minčeta Fortress. One cannon, known as “Lizard” (Gušter in Croatianwas “marvelously carved and decorated”. Lizard never fired a single shot and is now sadly lost at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea below Lovrijenac .

Ivan Gundulić Croatian Poet

Austrian troops disarmed Lovrijenac in the 19th century. While hoisting and transporting the cannon, a rope broke and it fell into the Adriatic and was never recovered.

Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Florentine Architect and Sculptor – intranet.pogmacva.com –

Lovrijenac was a “dominant fortress'”. Its capture would threaten Dubrovnik’s defensive position, so a “fail-safe mechanism was designed into the fortress”. The walls exposed to the sea and possible enemy fire are almost 12 meters thick (40 feet). However, the large wall facing the City doesn’t exceed 60 centimeters (2 feet).

This was because the Republic was not only cautious about attacks from foreign enemies but also a potential rebellion of the Commander in charge of the fort. Nobility replaced the Commander each month. In case of trouble, the thin wall facing the city could never hold against the firepower of mighty Bokar Fortress facing Lovrijenac.

Cannon Lovrijenac Fortress

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An ancient inscription at the entrance to Lovrijenac Fortress reads – NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERTAS VENDITUR AURO – Freedom is Not Sold for All the Gold in the World.

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Lovrijenac was the stage for a memorable production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it’s a popular Game of Thrones filming location. I explored this fortress during a Game of Thrones Walking Tour. It’s magnificent!

Bathed in light at night, this massive fortress is visible for miles. My apartment looks down on Old City and massive Lovrijenac is the most prominent building from that vantage point. It’s known as the “Gibraltar of Dubrovnik”.

Dubrovnik Reflections

Stradun Old Town in Winter – Culture Trip

It’s an understatement that Dubrovnik is a vast change from Berlin! With the 90/180 visa rule, I had to exit EU Schengen countries and there weren’t many options. Croatia was the right choice.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

Dubrovnik in Winter

Some say visiting Dubrovnik in winter is crazy, but I love the time here, even though it can get windy and cold. Locals clearly prefer warm Mediterranean weather and grumble when it gets below 50. Winter temperatures are steady in the 40s – 50s with chilly nights in the 30s. Most days are crisp and clear emphasizing a backdrop of sea and mountains! I met a tourist from Chicago who said Dubrovnik’s winter weather seemed almost like spring. It’s ideal for hiking and winter festivals are fun. 

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik – Total Croatia News

Long-Term Travel

Long-term travel is a much different experience than short-term group or family trips. The goal is staying a while and being low-key, forgetting yourself, getting comfortable mingling, and learning to understand a country’s culture, people, and day-to-day life. I no longer try to explain the value of this to those who don’t understand and are even critical. However, as a solo traveler you must be self-reliant and cautious. I’ve made and survived many mistakes. Imperfection and the unknown are part of the adventure.

Stradun Old Town During Winter Festival

Getting Around

Getting around Dubrovnik requires effort but you grow accustomed to climbing and descending a series of steep stone steps. I started a morning yoga routine that seems to keep me limber. I enjoy daily walks, short hikes, and climbing the stairs on the way to and from my apartment – especially at dusk and sunset when the sky and sea are vivid and dramatic. With a car, good luck finding parking near Old Town.

Winter View of Old Town and Lokrum Island from Mt. Srd

Internet is fast and unlike Berlin, you don’t get slammed with excessive advertisements. Almost everything closes on Sunday which reminds me of South Africa years ago.

Dubrovnik’s Islands in Winter – Total Croatia News

People, Cats, Food

I’ve met some lovely locals and learned about Dubrovnik’s history. Most people speak English fairly well. During business hours they move quickly, but after hours it’s a different scene.

Winter Sunset Dubrovnik

People in Dubrovnik are down-to-earth and don’t make life complicated. Some men are flirtatious :o)… It’s fun to be noticed, but even at my age, flirting back isn’t always a good idea for solo women travelers.

Old Town Cat

Winter Adriatic Sea

I don’t know but think locals are slightly overwhelmed by the ever-increasing hordes of tourists. Of course they’re a great source of income, but the summer invasion makes a huge impact. I imagine they must grow weary of the onslaught when Old Town is literally teeming with bodies.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

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Winter is the time when locals “take back Dubrovnik”!

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Mt. Srd January 2019

I’ve noticed many stray cats – nothing like Istanbul. Most of them look healthy and like to be petted, but some are skittish and clearly feral. They’re clever and streetwise knowing when to run, which people to trust, and who in the crowd is likely to feed them at outdoor restaurants.

Statue of St Blaise Old Town Stari Grad Dubrovnik

Only a handful of restaurants are open during the winter – some better than others. Usually you can’t go wrong with seafood. So far, my favorite treat is olives! Green or black they’re absolutely divine – BIG smile. Croatian honey, dates, and oranges are also delicious. Markets around my apartment are small locally owned places with fantastic fresh produce and cheeses.

Mini Market Prima Dubrovnik

Winter Dusk before Sunset Dubrovnik

Politics, History, Money

Understanding politics in any country is a challenge, and I’m learning about Croatia through on-line newspapers and conversations with locals. What little I know about the complicated history of conflict between Dubrovnik and its Serbian neighbors is interesting, as is the Bosnian War from 20 years ago, and the Venetian, Napoleonic, and Ottoman invasions.

Church of St. Blaise and Orlando’s Column Old Town Dubrovnik

Croatia hasn’t adopted the Euro yet, but talks are in process for entering the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Some services quote rates in both Croatian Kuna and Euro – it’s confusing and there’s a big difference between the two! Taxi drivers give a price that sounds reasonable in Kuna and then when it’s time to pay, they say the price quoted was in Euro – usually an outrageous amount… My experiences with taxis in foreign countries haven’t been positive.

Portion of Steps Leading to Old Town

More Steps

Winter Limitations

It’s disappointing that during winter there are no swimming, kayaking, or boat excursions to Dubrovnik’s fabulous islands – that is unless you’re a polar bear swimmer. I’ve seen several brave souls venture out in the cold Adriatic Sea for brief early morning swims. It’s a daily ritual like with San Francisco’s Dolphin Club members who swim near Alcatraz in the cold Bay.

St. Blaise Holding Croatia in His Hand

In winter many Dubrovnik businesses close and locals take a break for a few months. It’s more difficult finding services like tours of Montenegro and Bosnia, but I’m considering the options. Of course you can rent a car and drive yourself. My last visit to Croatia was over five years ago in the summer, when I passed through Dubrovnik on the way to Split and Zagreb.

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik

Festival of St. Blaise

The Festival of St. Blaise of Sebaste, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It began as far back as 971 AD. This year, Dubrovnik celebrates St. Blaise from January 24 through February 3.  On Candlemas Day they release white doves (called The Blessing of the Throats) in front of the Church of St. Blaise and then raise St Blaise’s flag at Orlando’s Column. The ritual is dramatic and colorful. Activities include “concerts, exhibitions, and theater performances dedicated to the patron saint”.

Feast Day of Saint Blaise Dubrovnik – Dubrovnik Coast

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“Statues representing St. Blaise holding Dubrovnik in his hand are the most common sight alongside Dubrovnik’s City Walls.”

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Old Town Dubrovnik in Winter – Total Croatia News

Croatia & Surrounding Countries – infohost.nmt.edu

Next Stop?

I’m working my way south and considered Malta as the next stop, but it’s part of the Schengen visa block, so it won’t work. Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Albania are of interest with Cyprus being the warmest climate. Since my last stop will be Cape Town, traveling via Cyprus is a good route but I’m doing research… Hopping over to Montenegro and spending a few weeks is an option. I’m enjoying the quiet, peaceful environment and of course Croatia’s people and incredible natural beauty!

More later…

Dubrovnik Croatia

Dubrovnik – easyvoyage.co.uk

I arrived in Dubrovnik yesterday afternoon to clear skies and a Mediterranean climate warmer than Berlin but nippy at night. My apartment is in the hills overlooking Croatia’s stunning Dalmatian Coast, Old Medieval City, and Adriatic Sea.

Dubrovnik Franciscan Monastery

Getting anywhere requires climbing lots of stone steps. Although Old City and the Franciscan Monastery are less than a half mile away, it’s all downhill and then, you guessed it, up, up, up on the way back – good exercise.

Defense Walls Dubrovnik Medieval Fortress

In June 2013, I passed through Dubrovnik quickly on the way to Split, Zagreb, Rijeka, and Opǎtija – hectic and only a short day, not sure that counts as a “real visit“. Glad to have more quality time here, and it’s off-season so there aren’t many tourists.

Steps Old City Dubrovnik

I walked to Old City for dinner last night and then had the fun surprise of seeing the Gypsy Kings perform at Orlando’s Column right in the middle of everything!! I’ve long been a fan and to see them performing in such a spectacular outdoor setting was fantastic – love their music! There was a crowd but not overwhelming. Old Town has a beautiful Christmas Market and Winter Festival where the New Year celebration will take place tomorrow!

Dubrovnik from My Apartment

On the way back I forgot which steps took me down to Old City : o( and got lost in the dark. After a long day I ran out of energy, took the easy way out, and called Uber… My landlord, a former ballerina, is active in the community and has great pointers on hiking, tours, restaurants, and cultural activities. More later after I settle in a bit – it’s a huge change from Berlin! I’ll be in Dubrovnik through January.

Dubrovnik Croatia – Croatia.hr

Gypsy Kings Performing at Orlando’s Column Old City

Galerija Meštrović Split Croatia

Galerija Meštrovic

Galerija Meštrović

Today I toured Galerija Meštrović which houses Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović’s masterpieces in marble, bronze, wood, and plaster. Meštrović designed and built the gallery between 1931 and 1939. It was his home, studio, and exhibition space.

Mestrovic Gallery2

The magnificent gallery is surrounded by a Mediterranean garden with large bronze sculptures and a view of the Adriatic Sea including Central Dalmatian Islands. Observing its spectacular beauty is one of the highlights of my time in Split!

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Meštrović is Croatia’s most famous artist – sculptor, painter, architect, and writer. He’s the first living artist to have a one-person show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and known as “the greatest sculptor of religious subjects since the Renaissance”. Many compare his art to Michelangelo and Rodin.

Mestrovic Gallery4

In addition to the main gallery there’s a separate 16th Century Renaissance summer-house complex (chapel) which Meštrović refurbished as a place of “peace and contemplation”. The summer-house – named Holy Cross Chapel – is within walking distance of the gallery but secluded on a cliff above the sea.

stone best

The complex has a cloister with stone Doric columns and a crucifix in the chapel’s sanctuary. The chapel has “a cycle of 28 wooden reliefs portraying the Life of Jesus of Nazareth along the walls”. Renovation of the wooden crucifix in the sanctuary is in process.

It took almost 35 years (1916 – 1950) for Meštrović to complete the cycle of wood reliefs and they remain “a masterpiece of European sacral sculpture”. The reliefs are so beautiful they almost take your breath away – the detail is amazing! It was difficult getting a good photo with my little camera.

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Meštrović’s works received many rewards and he accepted several commissions for public monuments. He lived and worked in European cities such as Rome, Paris, London, Cannes, Geneva, and Zagreb. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower personally presented Meštrović with his US passport. Meštrović had various US university offers for positions as professor of sculpture.

Ivan Meštrović

“In 1952 in his will Meštrović made a donation to the Republic of Croatia, which made possible the founding of a museum institution – the Ivan Meštrović Gallery. The Gallery ceremoniously opened to the public on 9th September 1952. The Gallery was under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Institute for Dalmatia until 1955, when it became independent and placed under the Culture and Education Department of the City of Split.“

Chapel

Holy Cross Chapel

Wooden Relief

Wooden Relief

Meštrović was born in the small village of Vrpolje in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. A master stone cutter from Split noticed his talent and took him as an apprentice. His artistic skills improved by studying the monumental buildings in Split.  A wealthy mine owner from Vienna paid for Meštrović to move there and funded his admission to the Academy of Fine Arts – the rest is history.

split mestrovic gallery sculpting

Meštrović obviously had a fondness for the human figure – especially the female form. His magnificent work is awe-inspiring. The gallery and its setting couldn’t possibly be more beautiful!

Meštrović suffered personal and family tragedies during World Wars I and II. In 1946 when Syracuse University in New York offered him a professorship he moved to the US. He died in 1962 at the age of 79, in South Bend, Indiana.

Split Croatia

Split Croatia

Split Croatia

Split is beautiful and the Mediterranean climate phenomenal! Not sure how long I will stay but after the exhausting trip from Athens don’t want to think about moving for a few days. The distance covered wasn’t that great, but the connections and layovers were difficult and tiring… It will be nice to stay in one place for a while.

Croatian National Theater

Croatian National Theater

There is much to see in Split, including the gorgeous Adriatic Sea. The coast and a swimming beach are only a short walk from my apartment. Split’s hiking possibilities are exceptional so I will explore the trails and potential hiking groups to join.

The owners of the studio apartment where I’m staying, Mirko and Olivera, are friendly and helpful and gave me some good pointers. My apartment is in the Lucac District in the center of Split and it’s a great location – close to shops, restaurants, transportation lines, and points of interest. Lodging seems a bit more expensive than Turkey or Greece but the cost of other things is reasonable.

Square in Split

Square in Split

After arriving I went out for dinner and discovered a small outside bistro recommended by Mirko – Bistro Toc – delicious but inexpensive food and a great European atmosphere. Of course I didn’t know anyone there but the people were friendly and gracious. Everyone who finished their meal said goodbye on the way out and everyone coming into the bistro said hello. The bistro is in a lovely old neighborhood with stone houses and cobblestone streets.

Split Croatia

Split Croatia

Today I’m moving slowly but plan to orient myself by exploring the city and spending time enjoying the beach. Two of several historic places I plan to visit are Diocletian Palace and the Croatian National Theatre – both are nearby. Croatia has its own currency – the Kuna. One Croatian Kuna equals about 0.17 US dollars.

More later…