We arrived in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, without our luggage. At the time, that felt like a pretty big deal, but we were reconnected with our bags the next morning in time to freshen up before beginning our first tour of Zagreb. Minor hiccup.
Croatia is shaped a little like a boomerang with the top half of the country entirely inland.
For a little orientation, much of the area we visited was part of the former Yugoslavia.
Our first stop in Zagreb, was the National Cemetery. Throughout Zagreb, buildings showed evidence of a severe earthquake in 2020. Rubble cleared, but, due to the pandemic, many buildings still showed the scars of missing plaster and structural cracks. (The photo on the right, below, from the cemetery was taken just after the earthquake.)
We soon transitioned to Slovenia - the only country in the world with the word LOVE within its name.
In the capital of Ljubljana, the city center is completely surrounded by canals; bridges are everywhere.
We found fabulous food, wine, and beer--inspired by traditional foods of nearby central Europe.
The view from the Ljubljana Castle overlooking the city is spectacular and highlights the importance of green spaces and parks to this area.
At night, the city sparkles. The photo on the right was taken by another in our group
Still in Slovenia, we traveled to Lake Bled to visit the only natural island in the country. From the Castle situated above the town, we had a bird's eye view of the island and the Church. We also tasted some delicious cream cake. Here's a recipe, thanks to a Facebook friend. Haven't tried to make it yet, but it looks like no small task. The original, absolutely-heavenly dessert came about by mistake when the chef ran out of ingredients. A few substitutions later, and the rest is history! Slovenia reminded me a little of Switzerland.
From high-flying mountain scenery to underground caverns.
It took over an hour to tour the Postojna caves!
Later that evening, we arrived in Opatija and had our first view of the Adriatic Sea. Opatija is on the eastern edge of the triangular-shaped peninsula at the border between Croatia and Italy.
The girl with the seagull statue was a few steps from our hotel. I imagine, she's giving the seagull tips on where the best breakfast buffets can be found. If you breakfasted outdoors, it was likely you had company.
We spend the next couple days exploring the Istrian Peninsula . . .
. . . Pula, at the southern-most tip of the peninsula, and the site of a Roman arena, the 6th largest in the world, that dates to the first century AD.
. . . Rovinj, on the west coast of the peninsula. We toured the city center and had lunch here. I could have easily spent 2 or 3 more days exploring the narrow streets, shops, and restaurants!
. . . A family olive farm and olive oil manufacturer for an olive oil tasting. (I had no idea that was a 'thing!'). The olives on the branches won't be ripe until October, but they are getting a good start!
. . . And Mošćience. This was perhaps one of my favorite stops. The tiny, walled, medieval town almost feels like it's at the edge of a cliff.
Heading south, we stopped at Plitvice Lakes National Park and walked the trails encircling the numerous lakes and waterfalls.
Back to the Adriatic coast and the city of Split, named after this yellow flower that blooms in springtime.
In Split, we toured Diocletian's palace which dates to the 5th century AD.
The town is built all around the ancient walled city. Parts of the palace are still in use. This area looks like it's being prepared for an event, but it may look familiar to Game of Thrones fans - this is where the 'dragons' were kept.
Our next few days were spent in the city of Hvar on the island of Hvar.
We visited a monastery where the five resident sisters spend part of their devotions making delicate lace from the fibers of the agave plant. When the fibers are separated from the plant, they are stiff and coarse. The fibers are worked by hand to soften them. The lace is made in hand with a single needle. It's not washable.
We visited the monastery on a Sunday, under unusually special circumstances. Of course, I wanted to purchase a piece of lace, but didn't have enough cash, and credit cards weren't an option. Thanks to my traveling companions, funds were pooled, then later repaid, for the purchase. The treasure will be framed and will hang in my sewing room.
The island of Hvar is known for its lavender products. But if you're visualizing rows and rows of lavender plants as you might find in France, guess again. The island's hilly terrain is terraced and parceled to various farmers. On the left you can see the terracing and the patches of land filled with lavender plants. On the right, not my photo, lavender in full bloom in mid-summer.
Of course, I had to sample the local lavender . . . lavender ice cream!
Wine production is a big deal in this area. However, you may have a hard time finding Croatian wine at your favorite liquor store. That's because there simply isn't enough space to mass produce wine. So . . . it's quality over quantity! We got to taste some delicious wines, paired with local meats and cheeses, at this family-owned winery.
Continuing south to Dubrovnik. Within the city walls, a quiet moment away from the crowds at the monastery. A hand-embroidered ecclesiastical robe, and detail.
We are getting used to the narrow streets and endless stairs in all the places we visited!
Warning: Another Game of Thrones reference.
Add some digital mastery, a couple hundred extras, and a bell. . . The site of Cersei's walk of shame.
Even late into the evening, Dubrovnik is alive with tourists. By the way, that shine on the walkway is real. We encountered the high-polish in almost every old town we visited. Fortunately, we had no rain throughout the trip, but I suspect a little moisture would make for slippery going.
Before moving from Croatia to Montenegro, we had a wonderful family-style dinner at a local farm. We had a demonstration of olive oil production - the old fashioned, horse-powered method - and had a delicious meal of traditional foods.
And, of course the beauty-shot of Dubrovnik as we cross over the mountains, headed south into Montenegro.
In Montenegro, we made a short stop in Cetinje, the former royal capital of independent Montenegro. This small, charming city has the look and feel of pre-World War I beauty. And Budva, another walled city with shiny sidewalks and narrow alleys.
Ruins of a Roman villa in Risan. The 2nd century AD mosaics were found by accident in the 1930s.
After a glorious vacation, we were headed back to Croatia to depart for home from the Dubrovnik airport. On the way, a few last thoughts. . . .
Lest you think we did all this touring and nothing to eat. . . One of my favorite Croatian dishes was Mussels Buzaru. The sauce is made from garlic, wine, and olive oil and is best savored to the very end with crusty bread after the shellfish are gone. I may have to try making this one at home.
We've had lots of time to prepare for this particular trip. It was delayed four times due to the pandemic.
In our pre-trip reading materials, one of the manuals (Rick Steves, maybe), said something about ice cream. It seems to beckon to be tried from every location.
Yep. 'Nuff said.
As soon as we reached the Adriatic, Dave was determined to take a swim in 'Homer's wine-dark sea.'
For various reasons, it never happened until the very last day.
You may be wondering if I got to do any stitching!
In fact, I did!
At the pool.
With a mojito.
I could go on and on about everything we saw, everything we did, and everything we learned over last two and one-half weeks. Almost all of that stuff could be gained from watching a really good travel documentary and reading history books.
Nothing replaces the real experiences of interacting with like-minded travelers, learning about local history and tradition, and sharing a meal of delicious food and drink over friendly conversation.
We had a small group for this trip. Two people were missing from the photo above left. Perhaps that made the trip all the more special.
However, besides the travelers, we had a whole host of city tour guides, bus drivers, and tour managers - not to mention drool-worthy places to see - that made this particular trip nothing short of spectacular.
In case you're wondering about the details, this was the Pearls of Croatia and Slovenia tour offered by Smithsonian Journeys. I highly recommend it! Not affiliated, just a fan!