Tag Archives: Croatia

Leaving Croatia

Tomorrow we fly to Rome, for a couple of days at the same little pensione we stayed at when we first visited the city twenty-five years ago. From Rome, we will fly home. It has been a long vacation, and filled with impressions that will take some time to sort out.

We took a boat to Trogir today to tour extensive Roman ruins–yet another World Heritage site. Everywhere you look in Croatia, it seems, is another amazing landscape.

A few unconnected observations I haven’t previously noted:

Several of the old churches here depict the Madonna and Child as black. I am not sure why, or what the history of such representations is, but I do get a chuckle when I consider how disconcerting those depictions would be to some of our homegrown “Christian” politicos…

As I’ve previously noted, people continue to live in apartments carved into thousand year old walls of the central cities. It’s a reminder that in much of Europe, wealthier people live in the center cities, and poorer folks must settle for what we would call the suburbs. I’m not sure why Americans have inverted that pattern, or when and why density–having neighbors–became something to be avoided. It is density that makes so many services economical, and I have always preferred living in genuine neighborhoods…It’s a puzzle.

Everywhere we’ve gone on this trip we see people wearing English-language t-shirts: everything from Motown to sports teams to University logos to “I heart NY.” And in virtually every case, as the person in the shirt passes by, s/he is speaking German or Italian or French or some other language. For that matter, it is impossible in most cases to tell where people are from. It used to be that you could tell which passersby were Europeans and which Americans with some degree of accuracy; those days are gone. The whole world, it seems, wears jeans and flip-flops, uses IPhones and IPods, and has a Facebook page…

Unless my gaydar is badly malfunctioning, Croatia is a very gay-friendly country…especially the islands. (I will admit to being a bit surprised by a tee-shirt in a local souvenir shop that said–in English–“Just Do It” over a very graphic graphic of male same-sex sex…).

We took a sightseeing bus yesterday, and the guide told us that Croatia is 90% Catholic and 10% atheist….No Protestants, no Jews, and presumably no Muslins, although she didn’t mention them…

I don’t know what my connectivity will be in Rome, but in any event, I will be back in the USA on Friday–air travel permitting–and these posts will revert to the policy and politics subjects that continue to piss me off.


Our week on the Atlantia ended this morning. A minibus picked us up in Omise (??) and drove us the short distance to Split, where we parted company with the other passengers–hugs all around and promises to email. We really lucked out–the crew was exceptional and the passengers were uniformly great companions!

The old city of Split is more extensive than we anticipated, and no taxis or cars are allowed; it is entirely pedestrian. Our minibus left us on the edge of the old city, and we wheeled our luggage past the dock and into a labyrinth of structures that had once been the huge, sprawling castle built by Diocletian. A couple of questions of helpful passersby and we found it.

We are staying at the Vesibul Palace, a sleek, contemporary, 11 room hotel carved out of the walls of Diocletian’s palace. So far, Split is spectacular. We wandered through tiny, winding “ways” lined with cafes and shops and bars; unlike the islands, where one or two places might have Internet, hot spots are–incongruently–everywhere in this nearly 2000-year-old city.

And like everywhere we’ve been in Croatia, it is stunningly beautiful.

Not only is the country physically magnificent, we are repeatedly impressed with the people. One illustrative example: I went into an Internet cafe yesterday, and prepared to pay, when the owner noticed that I had my IPad and needed only wifi. “It will be better for you to go to cafe” he told me, motioning to one down the street. “with a coffee, wifi will be free as long as you need.” This sort of thing has happened over and over. Tips elicit seemingly heartfelt thank-yous.

If you are reading this and come to the conclusion that we really, really are impressed with Croatia, you’re right.

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

This is the last full day of our cruise, and it is raining–something that distresses Tom, who tells me that climate change has affected weather patterns in Croatia. He insists it never rained two days in a row during the summer season until very recently. (We have had rain on this cruise, but so far, at night or a brief shower.)

Tomorrow, we go to Split, where we will have three days before heading home via Rome.

Bob and I are both glad we came to Croatia. There may be a more beautiful place somewhere on the planet, but somehow I doubt it. Certainly, there can’t be one with nicer people.

This has been our longest trip ever. So–as our adventure nears conclusion, what have I learned on my summer vacation?

Well,  first, there is the obvious: people in Europe are much thinner, and if looks can be trusted, much healthier. They are also far more likely to be bi or tri-lingual, probably as a result of living closer together, and the demands of tourism and commerce.

Then there are more impressionistic lessons, with the caveat that the plural of anecdote is not data, and the people with whom we interacted cannot be assumed to be representative.

Unlike in the US, we have encountered no one who expressed contempt for education; no one who sneeringly dismissed expertise or intellect as ‘elitist.’ I have also been struck by the nature of informal political discussion and debate–I have heard lots of “these people make a good point, but those who disagree also have a point”–arguments employing much  less name-calling and much more consideration of the merits of competing arguments and points of view.

Then there were the issues we were questioned about repeatedly: American gun laws, the large numbers of people who reject evolution and global climate change, and America’s incomprehensible lack of a universal medical system. These aspects of American culture do not evoke admiration, to put it mildly–although people are generally too polite to criticize  directly. Instead, they ask questions, trying to understand why we haven’t joined the rest of the western world.

These questions have reminded me once again that ‘American exceptionalism’ originally referred to our outlier status, to sociological distinctiveness– not to some assumed superiority. Heretical as it may seem, there is the possibility there are some things we could learn from others.

The Old (Wo)man and the Sea

I am learning–painfully–to exist in a world of intermittent internet, and to seek out hot spots and internet cafes when possible (i.e., when in port.) In Dubrovnik, we found a small cafe in what would have been an alley at home, but in this city of small warrens perched precariously on hills, was a thriving commercial way. 

The price for an hour’s connectivity was 20 kuna (seems high until you realize that converts to around 3 dollars), and the young man in charge could not have been more helpful. That made me feel even worse when I threw up in the only bathroom–I evidently caught a bug, and that episode began a rather embarrassing series of times I proceeded to “decorate” the Aegean coast.

I was still feeling uneasy when we boarded our boat,The Atlantia. We settled into our cabin (approximately the size of our bedroom’s walk-in closet) and were sitting on the back deck getting acquainted with the other passengers, when the boat took off in what I was to learn was a (thankfully) unusually rough sea. Let me just say I did NOT make it to my tiny en-suite bathroom.
The crew could not have been nicer or more helpful, and later that day, I would discover that one of our fellow passengers is a doctor. Thanks to her tube of magic pills and a much calmer sea (and the evident passage of whatever it was I’d caught), things on that front improved dramatically.

Every trip has its surprises; in this case, it has been the boat and crew of the Atlantia, and the surprises have all been wonderful.

If the crew of three has a motto, it is “no problem.” Whatever we need, whatever we ask, is “no problem.” Moreover, they are all amicable, personable, and just plain nice. Dom, the captain, and Ivan (who may be his brother, we aren’t sure) are handsome young men who seem to speak a number of languages, as does Tom, the cook.

Tom is older, and the biggest surprise. To call him a cook is an insult; even calling him a chef doesn’t do him justice. We found out that this trip isn’t his day job–off-season, he and his son run a large catering operation out of Zagreb. The ship provides breakfast and lunch, and the quality of the meals has been absolutely superb; local seafood, homemade pastas, wonderful fresh breads….we think they are missing a potential market by failing to advertise this as a gourmet cruise!

Another pleasant surprise has been the other passengers. As I noted in my last post, there are 11 of us: five French, four Australians, and us. The French include Natalie (the miracle doctor), her husband Bruno and son Paul, and two single women friends, Isabel and Michelle. Bruno and the other women are all in pharmaceuticals and evidently worked together for many years at Pfizer. The women look  just like we all think French women look like–not just slender, but svelte, with great figures. If they weren’t all so nice, I’d hate them. Paul, Bruno and Natalie’s 14 year old, is one of the most pleasant children I’ve been around–sunny and polite. All the French speak halting English–much better than the rest of us speak French.

One Australian couple is young–both engineers. The other is a couple a bit younger than Bob and I. Neil is a retired engineer, and against all odds, Barbara is a retired professor of public administration! We have had a great time comparing governmental structures and public policies.

(Speaking of policy, discussions with our fellow passengers–as well as the student I mentioned in my last post-have all included questions about US gun laws, which all other people seem to find absolutely mystifying. It is hard to explain the concerns of the NRA to civilized people .)

Our daily routine is as follows: we have breakfast at 8, then most of us lie sunning on the white mattresses on the ship’s bow. Others read or kibbutz. Most take swims in the sea, which is crystal-clear (Paul dives right off the bow). Yesterday, Ivan lost his cell-phone overboard, and they all dived for it. They could see it clearly on the bottom, although it was too deep to reach. 

We then have lunch, and sail to our next scheduled port. We go into the island (so far, they are magnificent–old, old cities, flowers everywhere, shops and restaurants), returning to the boat at our leisure, since it stays moored until the next day, when we do it all again.

Umm…remind me why I am coming home?