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Posts Tagged ‘Croatia’

It’s winter – cold, snowy, and grey – and I am longing for the return of patio season. After six months or more cooped up inside, nothing feels better than to spend time outdoors and restaurant patios here in town are packed full of people on warm summer nights. I love a good patio, and Dubrovnik was the ultimate place to hang out outdoors with a coffee or gelato and soak up the sun. But Dubrovnik at night is the main reason I hope with all my heart to go back and visit again.

We had spent almost a full day driving down the coast of Croatia and arrived in Dubrovnik in late afternoon. After settling into our rooms and cleaning up, we headed out towards the old walled city to find somewhere to eat. It had fallen dark at this point, and we could see a part of it, all lit up and looking gorgeous, out our window. It’s always very exciting to arrive at a new place and discover its charms, but I swear when we walked through the gates and into main square, I was blown away. I felt as if I had stepped into a fairytale world.

The city has a long and storied history, and between earthquakes and wars, it’s amazing that so much of it is still preserved. The stone streets are worn smooth from years of pedestrian traffic, and the architecture is typically Old Word, classic with ornate touches, all topped with those iconic red tile roofs. Hanging from every building are electric lamps shaped like lanterns that give off a bright warm glow.

For me, coming from a much newer city with not many buildings older than the 1930s and asphalt streets which are flooded with fluorescent lights, the effect was breathtaking. Great effort has obviously been made by the city’s caretakers not only to preserve this piece of history, but to ensure that it still has life. People still live and work and hang out within these walls, much as they did 500 years ago – some things have changed, of course, but the rhythm of life continues on in Dubrovnik. A modern city has sprouted and spread out around the walls, but the heart definitely still beats within.

And so we found a place to rest, drink a little wine, and have a bite to eat – the only soundtrack was the chatter around us. It was a perfect evening, and though we could not wait to explore the city the next day, nothing could quite top our first glance of the square, glowing and full of history and magic.

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So much of my time travelling is spent as an observer, whether with my own eyes or through the view screen on my camera: I pause and I look, but then I move on. So it is a visceral thrill for me whenever I get a chance to touch as well.

Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin), Split, Croatia

By that I mean the kind of things that look like they should be behind glass or a velvet rope, but the point is to reach out and touch them. Or specifically, rub them for good luck.

Picture it: Salt Lake City, 2002: a loonie was buried under centre ice at the Olympic hockey venue (for totally legit reasons), and both the Canadian men’s and women’s hockey teams went on to win gold medals. A nation goes nuts. The great Wayne Gretzky himself had this lucky loonie dug up from the ice and donated it to the Hockey Hall of Fame where it went on display. I, who had never had any desire to step foot in the Hall of Fame before, found myself making a pilgrimage to see this fabled coin and, even better, touch it. Together, thousands of Canadian hockey fans had rubbed this coin for good luck to the point where you could barely make out the loon usually in relief on the face; it had been worn practically smooth.

For me it was one touch, but it was one among countless and we live in a world where everyone is looking for a little piece of luck, because good luck charms are everywhere – and I rub them all any chance I get, just like everyone else.

La Chouette, l'Eglise Notre-Dame de Dijon

Have you laid your paws on “La Chouette”, the owl carved in stone on the corner of a church wall in Dijon, France? If you haven’t, you might want to go soon before it’s completely unrecognizable.

How about the vaguely Dumbledore-ish statue outside the gates of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia? If you rub his big toe, it’s good luck – his toe is currently about 5000 times brighter than the rest of him thanks to the regular polishing it gets.

On a more spiritual note, Catholics can pay their respect to the Virgin Mary and Jesus while at Montserrat in Spain. The basilica on the mountain holds the famous La Moreneta, the Black Virgin statue. She is mostly contained behind glass, but one of her hands (holding a sphere) is exposed for pilgrims to touch and people have been making the trek to Montserrat for centuries to do just that.

In fact, I often can’t help myself from reaching out and touching things I’m probably not supposed to. At Parc Güell, I couldn’t resist giving the mosaic lizard a light pat on the head as I passed him on the stairs. Just be careful if you follow my lead – that poor lizard has been through enough.

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I think we can all agree – the best moments are never planned, they just happen.

A few years ago, I accompanied some friends on a trip to Croatia. The last few days were spent in Dubrovnik, and we had rented a three-bedroom flat for the eight of us about a ten-minute walk from the old walled city. Our landlord, a long-time resident of the city, graciously took us on a walking tour our first morning there. We bought him lunch to say thank you, and before we all split up, he offered to take us out on his sailboat the next day. What a treat!

We could not have been luckier: in addition to being an avid sailor, he was also a semi-regular tour guide. We toured around the Dubrovnik harbour, listening to all the stories and history he shared with us. Between the walking tour the day before and that morning’s sail, we had been spoiled: we booked a tour with a professional company for the “wall walk” along the walls of the city later that day, and all later agreed it could not compare to our time with Maro. He was blunt, colourful and knew so many interesting facts about the city, particularly with regard to the siege of the city that occurred about 15 years prior.

This was the colour of the water around the dock. This shot was taken from the edge of the dock, looking straight down.

After sailing for a while, he anchored the boat in a bay so we could go swimming. He took his snorkel and fins and went octopus hunting while we, one by one, jumped into the clear blue sea. As I bobbed around in the water and looked down, it seemed as though I could reach down and touch the sea floor, but after diving underwater, it became apparent how deep the water was where we were. As someone who grew up swimming in the cold, murky lakes of Ontario, I was mesmerized by the crystal-clear water in Croatia.

I lay on my back for a while, floating, drifting, soaking in the sunshine. It was an absolutely perfect moment: relaxing, peaceful, and one I could have lived in for a while. There were a few “sun-kissed” red cheeks and shoulders by the time we pulled anchor and sailed back to the docks, but it was so worth it!

The sail that morning stood out for many of us as a highlight, if not the highlight, of our trip – and to think, it happened all by chance.

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I used to have a poster on my dorm wall in university, a photo of a beach somewhere in the Caribbean or South Pacific. There was a lone palm tree stretched over white sand which merged into water the colour of a robin’s egg. I dreamed of seeing water this colour someday, and just looking at this poster during exam times or whenever I was stressed was so calming.

When some friends and I were planning a trip to Croatia, I saw a picture of Plitvice Lakes National Park in a guidebook and no matter what, I knew we had to go there. It ended up being about a three-hour drive from where we were staying on Pag Island, but it was worth it to see this natural wonder.

There are 16 lakes (12 Upper and 4 Lower), which are fed by the runoff from the 3 mountains that surround them. The national park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, which affords it some protection and hopefully ensures its preservation for future generations. The lakes are probably its best recognized feature, but the park also consists of a lot of forested land, marshes and caves for visitors to explore.

It was a bright sunny summer day when we visited, so the lakes were at their finest turquoise blue. Apparently, the colour is due to the minerals in the water and also depends on how the sun shines on the lakes (so time of day factors in as well). I guess if we had gone on a cloudy day, the water would not have seemed as bright a blue, but darker or more grey maybe.

The park is filled with walking trails, some lining the edge of a few of the lakes. As I walked along the path, I couldn’t help but notice how clear the water was. Filled with fish, and with numerous ducks paddling about (their webbed feet chugging along under the water), you could see down to the lake bottom. At first glance, it looked deceptively shallow until I would see a tree branch or something that made me aware the water was probably deeper than I thought.

With all that crystal clear, turquoise blue water surrounded not by sand but by craggy cliffs and forests, it’s definitely a place where pictures speak louder than words. I must have taken a least a hundred photos; at every turn of the trail, I would come across another breathtaking scene that deserved to be captured in a photograph. I will one day sit under a palm tree on a white sand beach, staring out at the baby blue water in front of me, but until that time, I have my memories of Plitvice Lakes to soothe me.

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