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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report Back from Dubrovnik, Split, Montenegro, Florence and Venice

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Half the fun of going on vacation is planning for the trip itself. Seeing the hotels, sights and attractions and comparing them with the mental images during the planning process is fun. So we finally made it. We started in Dubrovnik and ended our vacation in Venice.

DBV airport is small and easy to navigate. Immigration line was long ( could be because we were there in peak season in the first week of July) but everything else was fast and efficient. Just outside the airport are the buses that whisks arriving passengers into town in about 30 minutes. We took this bus and were dropped off just outside the Pile Gate which is a mere few hundred yards from our home for the next 4 nights - the Grand Imperial Hilton. From the bus stop, it was a slightly uphill 3 minute walk to our hotel.

The Hilton is well located and we are very pleased with our accomodation, the service as well as the free breakfast and early evening hors d'ouvres offered. We booked using Hilton points, and definitely great value for those points. The free breakfast as well as the evening hors d ouvres saved us quite a bit as we only had to eat out for lunch. In all of the 4 days, the lunch ( usually pasta, some seafood and risotto ) was heavy that we only wanted light snacks for dinner. The unlimited Coke light was also something to look forward to at the end of a busy sightseeing day.

After a short nap, we headed out to the old town by around 6 pm. We had the benefit of long days for sightseeing during our visit, the sun didnt set until past 8. On the other hand, summer travel brought huge crowds into the city. The stradun was packed with tourists and cruisers on day trips. Somehow, we managed to enjoy the old town and its offerings. The first thing I noticed was how shiny the pedestrian-only streets are in the old town. I could imagine how slippery they must be when it's raining.

Our first stop was the old well just as soon as we entered the Pile Gate. Then on to St Blaise's church where there was a costumed choir practicing. They are giving a free concert at 8 pm so we made a note to return around that time. I couldnt help but notice how well they hold up to the heat and humidy. They are all dressed up and made up and have no visible signs of sweat and here we are, in shorts and t shirts and all sweaty.
We sat near Onofrio's column to admire the clock and the tower and the surrrounding architecture. There are several tour groups with guides explaining the sights in various different language. We climbed the clocktower for a nice view of the stradun and the shiny marble street.

We returned to the church to listen to the hour long concert. The choir sang religious songs a capella (sp?), similar to evensong at churches in England. By the time we stepped out of St Blaise, a live band was playing at Troubadour Bar, just to the right of the church steps. Tonight, they're singing songs by the Beatles. We sat down and ordered some cold drinks and the band continued to play and sing English songs.

Our first day is going very well but we decided to walk back to our hotel to prepare for a busy sightseeing day tomorrow. There will be lots of stairs to conquer tomorrow ...

to be continued...

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    On our second day, we were up by 7 am. we headed down to the hotel's Porat restaurant for the morning buffet breakfast, which we prefer to the more limited selection in the exec lounge. hilton has dubrovnik's horde of english speaking guests ( i am guessing mostly Americans ),we we could very well be in Anytown, USA. we had our made to order omelet and slices of various sliced meats from the buffet. and my favorite when in europe, the yogurt!!! it does not have the same sweetness as the yogurt in the u.s. and has a hint of cheesy taste to it. it's my after-breakfast dessert.

    we headed out to the old town after breakfast to begin our exploration with the intent to get an early start in climbing the wall. it was not quite 9 am when we made it to the old town which was a mere 10-minute walk from our hotel. as we got closer to the Ploce Gate where we would begin the climb, all 3 of us ( hubby and daughter who's on break from college ) had a change of sentiment. we looked at the stairs with a bit of trepidation and decided against the idea as we're not going to overestimate our physical stamina for such physical effort on a hot and humid day. there were a few people who were doing the walk. i did not realize how low our tolerance for heat and humidity is until now, as we have always, in our previous trips, more of the spring and fall type travelers.

    so instead, we visited the franciscan and domenican monasteries including the old pharmacy. we're happy to be under the shade most of the time. then there's the lively market near the rector's palace. husband and i like local, colorful markets, my daughter not so much. so she sat in the shade while we explored the market. there were lots of produce - fresh fruits and vegetables in season, lavender sachets and oils, some stalls selling trinkets, dried figs, breads and lots of samples. we liked the dried fig so we bought a couple of small bags to take home. it will go very well with wine and cheese.

    we had late lunch at buffet kameneci. the seafood was very good, in particular the octopus salad tasted very fresh and had a great combination texture of crunch and color from the celery and tomatoes. it was prepared with some light vinaigrette type dressing which was just perfect and refreshing on a hot day. along with the octopus salad, we ordered calamari and some fried small fish (small sardines, i think) and some french fries to neutralize the taste.

    it was almost 4 pm when we finished our meal and we decided to walk back to our hotel for a siesta. on the way back, we stopped for some ice cream. this was the first of the many cones of gelatos we're going to have in this trip, with italy still a few days away. the ice cream in croatia, all 3 of us agreed, does not taste as creamy as those in italy. they have a little bit of frozen yougurt-ey taste and texture. but we enjoyed then just the same.

    back in our room, we are both lucky and thankful for the room upgrade we were given by the very friendly and professional staff at hilton. we were put in a corner unit that was quite spacious as my daughter was on a queen size sofa bed set up on the other half of the room (which would have been the sitting area). we had great views of the adriatic and the street leading to the pile gate below us.

    it was around 7 pm when we went up to the exec lounge for some light snacks. the sun was still up and we were still full from the heavy lunch but we did manage to make room to sample the snacks. i had 4 bottles of Coke light (my beloved diet Coke) which tasted even better on a hot day. im sure the attendant at the lounge is quite used to american guests drinking their water or soda with tons of ice. so i filled my tall and slender glass with ice all the way to the top and poured the golden dark liquid coke light to the amusement of the gracious attendant.

    back to the old town, we bought tickets to a quartet concert at the rector's palace. the 2-hour concert started promptly at 8. after the concert, we lingered around and just became part of the party scene that is the old town after dark. we made our way to buza bar II but it was too dark already to appreciate the views so we decided to return the day after next, as tomorrow we're driving to montenegro. on our way down, we passed an interesting jesuit church facing a small courtyard with a restaurant. given that it was already around 11 pm, the church was already closed. we will check it out later when we go back to buza bar, we thought.

    tomorrow, we're off to montenegro...

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    Day 3 is our montenegro day. we picked up our lipstick red VW Up from the Sixt rental office located inside our hotel. not only was the rental office location convenient, it also saved us on hotel parking as we just pulled into sixt's parking when we came back to the hotel at the end of the day. the car was a lot roomier inside than we thought.

    off we drove to the single lane highway. we stopped briefly at a lookout/pullout to admire the view of the walls and the towers from a distance. there were several cars enjoying the lookout as the vendor of embroidered table cloth and cold drinks would know. we reached the border in about 45 minutes and there was no long line or long wait. the process was uneventful but it was not the wave through that we thought. the border control agent leafed through our passports and stamped each of them with the official-looking entry stamp. the whole process took about 5 minutes. my daughter was delighted to have another stamp on her the 5 year old passport.

    not too long after the border crossing, i think it's the town of herceg novi, we spotted a big volip hypermarket which seemed like a big box store in montenegro. we stopped to buy some provisions for the road trip. we picked up some bottled water, chips and chocolate (milka and kinder and another brand that must be local to croatia/montenegro since i have not seen that brand before). my daughter excitedly points out, look mom they're only 1 kuna each!!! of course they're not, we are now in a euro currency zone.

    there were many scenic twists and turns along the way, with the bay on the passenger side. the highway was well maintained and well marked, actually quite an easy and enjoyable drive. the chocolates we bought earlier were all good. the chips, we didnt like as much. one brand, i think it's called chipsy, was too salty and the other brand was too bland.

    our next stop is at the small town of perast. we had to park just a few minutes outside the town, on the waterfront about a 5 minute walk from St Nicholas church. we walked past a couple of small, quaint hotels (comte and admiral)that also operated the charming waterfront restaurants. we were tempted to sit down for lunch here but decided to eat in kotor later.

    we went inside st nicholas church to check out the baroque altar and the treasury. other than the altar area, the interior was mostly unadorned. the time on the clock at the church tower was frozen at 3:30 if i remember correctly - the time when the earthquake hit in the 60s. outside the church, there's some low key souvenirs for sale, where i found my favorite souvenir from this trip - a bunch of painted wooden sardines hanging off a rope. approriately, as st nicholas is the patron saint of fishermen. the vendor, a young girl, had to be summoned from her house next door from the church, to complete the transaction. (3 euros per sardine)this will look nice inside the pantry, back home, i thought.

    as we rounded out the bay, we had more views of the island of st george and our lady of the rocks, as well as another view of the verige strait. this narrow strait was made the towns inside the bay easy to defend as it served as some type of a checkpoint for would-be invaders. there were canons strategically placed that can be used to shoot potential invaders, some are in perast.

    as we reached kotor, there was a huge costa ship docked just outside the main gate. we thought it's going to be crowded inside, but surprisingly it was not. by now we are really ready for lunch. we ate at la pasteria just right in front of st tryphon cathedral. we ordered seafood pizza and some pasta dish. the food was just ok, nothing memorable. after we nourished oursevlves, we're ready to tackle the twin towers of st tryphon. we went up the church to view the icons and the relics. the descriptions were not translated in english, so the displays were somewhat difficult to appreciate.

    we walked around to look at the karampana well and the small st luke's church. the church was closed to visitors. we walked further, past the church until we came upon the town walls which looked like a mini "great wall of china". the walls were thick and ran a zigzag line that stretched all the way to the top of the mountain, in between are some imposing turrets. kotor back in those days was indeed a well fortified town. just like in dubrovnik, we did not climb the walls mostly due to the heat.

    it was past 5 in the afternoon when we left kotor and headed towards lepetani to take the car ferry that crosses the narrow verige strait. the crossing took about 5 minutes and we did not have to wait long for the ferry to leave port. it costs 4 euros per car for the crossing. back on the other side of the bay, we headed back to dubrovnik. the drive back was much shorter because the ferry unloaded us right before the the narrow mouth of the bay.

    we were back in the hotel in time for evening cocktails and hors d ouvres. we finished off the leftover chocolates while watching the sunset and street scene below us from the balcony of the lounge.

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    Day 4 is a much less busy day as we prepare to leave for Split tomorrow morning. We're back in the old town to check out the ethnographic museum and granary. along the way, we passed many sobes and houses occupied by locals(?). a middle aged man with 2 teenaged looking kids passed us. each one was carrying 2 24-pack water bottles. then there's the lady wearing 3 inch heels climbing up the steps better than i could in my easy spirit walking shoes. if i lived here and climbed these steps everyday, i'd probably have buns and thighs of steel after a short while. the low key museum was dimly lit and had some low tech decriptions of the exhibits. the granary can be viewed through cut out holes on the floor that's covered with steel bars. we would rate this museum as just mildly interesting.

    we went back to buffet kamenice for lunch and ordered octopus salad for each of us, and shared the fried fish and calamari. we lingered and nursed our coke light and mineral water while watching the market scene just in front of us. then by mid afternoon we're back to the hotel for some siesta and a bit of a respite from the midday heat.

    when we returned to the old town later, we are ready to check out buza bar II. my daughter stayed in the hotel to connect with her friends on facebook and cyberchat with her pals. we negotiated another set of steps. it was ok, it wasnt too steep and is probably less than 100 steps. soon after, the yellow sign with an arrow that reads "great views and cold drinks" greeted us and we knew we came to the right place.
    we entered through a literal hole in the wall and stepped into a glorious view of the adriatic with tables perched on the rocks. the agile and nimble servers are amazing. we wonder if there's such thing as workmen's comp in these parts. the servers hopped from one table to the next with the agility of a wild cat. the views were very peaceful and calming. i recall maitaitom's trip report written awhile ago where he decribed the whole buza bar experience. i will say that buza bar is not overrated.

    back to the hotel by around 8 for cocktails and coke light. we handed out envelopes with a thank you note and modest tip to the servers at the lounge for being such gracious hosts. we packed our bags and got to bed early to we can get on the 8 am bus to split tomorrow.

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