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Trip Report Parma, Venice, Ljubljana, Croatia, Mostar, and Paris, Fall 2009 + photos!

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Itinerary and Planning the Trip

My trip to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina - and Paris at the end! - in September-October 2009 was a solo trip, primarily for scenic photography.

Just to establish what kind of traveler I am, I don't particularly care for museums (though I force myself to go to them sometimes), but I love cities and prefer using public transit when possible. When I visit a city, I enjoy just walking around and taking pictures, soaking in the vibe, and people watching. I also don't drink (so no wine) and am not exactly a restaurateur - I tend to eat most of my meals as casual as possible: self-service places, take-aways, pizza, even (shudder!) McDonalds at the end in Paris. I don't enjoy dining alone at a restaurant in Europe where service is intentionally relaxed whereas I'm usually just hungry and want to eat ASAP and then go back to my hotel and crash. I still eat at sit-down restaurants now and then when I travel - sometimes it's hard to find anything better.

I began my first trip to Italy in 2007 in Venice and headed south from there. I've had Slovenia and Croatia on my radar for future trips, and somehow I've always assumed I'd start a trip to the Balkans with a return to Venice. So that was the rough basis for planning this trip. From there I constructed the most logical itinerary that included the major cities: Dubrovnik, Ljubljana, and Venice were the top three spots for me. I considered a whole bunch of different scenarios, really, such as starting in Dubrovnik and going counter-clockwise back to Italy. But I also wanted to pin my trip on convenient direct flights between my home airport in Portland, Oregon, and Europe, hoping to avoid troublesome connections in the domestic US. My only choice for direct Portland to Europe flights was a Delta flight to Amsterdam. Flying to Croatia from the states is not always easy without numerous stops and connections, anyway. Eventually I decided to start in Italy (Amsterdam to Milan), work my way up to Venice, go clockwise/east by land to Slovenia and Croatia, then fly back to western Europe for a few nights from Croatia before heading home.

As I continued to plan, I expanded the Croatia portion and added Mostar, BiH. I wound up with three weeks total, starting end of September in Milan:

Fly into Milan
Milan, Italy - 1 night
Train to Parma
Parma - 1 night
Train to Venice
Venice - 3 nights
including a day trip to Verona
Bus (from Meste) to Ljubljana
Ljubljana, Slovenia - 2 nights
Train to Zagreb
Zagreb, Croatia - 2 nights
Pick up rental car in Zagreb
Drive to Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia - 1 night
Drive to Baska Voda
Baska Voda (Makarska), Croatia - 1 night
Drive to Mostar
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina - 1 night
Drive to Dubrovnik
Drop rental car in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik, Croatia - 3 nights
Bus (with ferry) to island of Korcula
Korcula, Croatia - 2 nights
Catamaran to Split
Split, Croatia - 2 nights
Fly to Paris (Croatia Airlines)
Paris - 2 nights
Fly home

Some people roll their eyes when you mention "Rick Steves," but I've used his books as guides for several European trips, and I really like his style and take on things. (I don't always agree with him, but at least he gives you a subjective point of view - I know where he's coming from.) I used his Croatia/Slovenia book as my primary trip planning resource, and that was the only guidebook I took with me to Europe (other than pages copied from a few other books, for Italy). Of course, I used Fodor's and Trip Advisor exhaustively to get questions answered about all kinds of things.

I am not really a "hostel" person and prefer the privacy of a hotel, but on this trip I went for a few sobe (private rooms) and even a hostel (private room) in Ljubljana. I also used Starwood hotel points in Milan, Zagreb, and Paris to book hotels and save money. I used for a few places and also the hostel booking websites and for sobe. I booked most of the lodgings ahead of time but booked a few (Korcula, Split) while I was traveling, since I wanted the flexibility to change if needed late in the trip. I used to book an apartment in Venice where I'd stayed previously in 2007.

Techy Notes: Because the primary purpose of my trip was (digital) photography, I traveled with a nice (Canon 5D digital SLR with assorted lenses), and a "pocket camera," a Canon Elph SD880. (A light pocket camera good for self-portraits and also occasional video, not to mention I could take walks once in a while without the SLR always hanging around my neck.) And because I need regular internet access for my business and want to process my photos daily, I needed a laptop of some sort. I wound up buying an Acer 11.6" netbook (full size laptop keyboard) into which I was able to stuff a 500GB hard drive. I brought along a second 500GB drive as a backup. This way, I had plenty of space for pictures, and I would always have a backup. (I wound up shooting about 110GB worth of pictures - about 7500 total - and videos in three weeks.) Hard drives can and do fail all the time, so you HAVE to have backups.

I also hoped on this trip to pack as lightly as possible. I set what seemed like an impossible goal for me: travel with carry-ons only. I'd NEVER done that before, since I've always got a computer, tripod, and camera and lenses with me! But with a netbook and a newly-purchased light tripod, I was able to get everything into two new bags: a carry-on that expanded to the approximate maximum size specified for carry-ons on the average airline website (they all differ slightly) and a smaller carry-one camera bag that I called my "personal item." Having only carry-ons allowed me great freedom in not needing to worry about losing bags or waiting around for them after flights, of course, but also forced me to pack lightly(!), making it much easier to get around, especially without a car most of the time. You really don't need three weeks worth of clean clothes for a three-week trip, do you? Of course not!

Many parts to follow, stay tuned!

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    Milan (Arrival - 1 night)


    I took the long flight from Portland to Amsterdam and then connected to Milan. Everything was on time, connection was only about two hours, very easy and efficient. I got into Milan around noon local time.

    Let me admit up front that I didn't have a great interest in Milan, except that it's one of Italy's most important cities. Because I was flying into Milan anyway, it was convenient to stop there and "check it off my list." Perhaps that's unfair to Milan and I know some people love the city - sorry, that was just my take on it.

    For my single night in Milan, I wound up staying at the Le Méridien Gallia (Starwood points; hotel was quite nice, really more than I needed) near Milan's central train station. Numerous sources recommended that I take the direct bus from Malpensa airport to the train station and hotel but I wish I hadn't; though the airport train would have required me to change in Milan to the subway back up to Milan's central station, I found the bus ride from the airport uncomfortable and bumpy, and our bus got stuck in traffic too many times. I'll take a train anytime over an uncomfortable bus ride; I don't mind navigating train and metro stations.

    Milan was OK - it met my modest expectations. I took buses and the metro everywhere (day pass) and walked endlessly. Even as a pedestrian, I found Milan's streets confusing, constantly changing names and directions, and I got lost repeatedly even with my map. I spent time wandering around the Duomo area and some of the trendy neighborhoods, just people watching in this fashion-conscious town and taking pictures. I also toured the Milan Monumental Cemetery, which was very interesting - it reminded me a little of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. I didn't even bother trying to see The Last Supper because I'd made my arrangements so late, and I had heard you need reservations months in advance. I ate dinner at some forgettable Rick Steves-recommended pasta place that was OK, with typically slow European service.

    It was raining the next morning when I went out to take some pictures again before departing for Parma. I had intentionally left my umbrella home as I packed extremely light, figuring I'd just "wing it" and buy an umbrella if needed. But where to buy an umbrella on a Saturday morning in Milan? The answer: on the floor of the metro station! There were numerous vendors selling cheap umbrella for about US $4.50. Perfect! Totally better than dragging one alone. (Cheap umbrella or not, I'm still using it months later at home.)

    The people in Milan were generally friendly. In the morning as I was trying to stand far back in the Duomo Square to shoot the Duomo (in a slight rain), a vendor shoed me away from standing in a spot near his storefront. At first I thought he was being rude and was annoyed, but then he pointed out with appropriate hand gestures that I was about to stand in a puddle of urine from some drunken partiers from the night before. Sheeplishly, I smiled and thanked him. (Lesson learned: don't be too quick to judge people's intentions!)

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    Parma (1 night)


    The reason I originally wished to visit Parma at all was that, way back in 2001, when I was first planning an Italy trip (put off until 2007), I was carrying an Italy travel book on the train in Portland, and an Italian guy who noticed my book introduced himself, said that he was from Italy and asked me about my trip plans to his home country. He said he was from Parma and implored me to go there since tourists, he claimed, rarely visited his hometown. I promised him I would try. I didn't make it to Parma in 2007 (only to Bologna), so in 2009 I had a chance to check out Parma so I put it on the itinerary. Bologna offered some amazing food, so how could I go wrong visiting another city in Emilia-Romagna!

    Because I started out in Milan staying across the street from Milan's central train station, getting to Parma was easy - a quick, direct ride on an uncrowded Saturday morning regional train. (Love the trains in Italy!) At the Parma train station, I took the #8 bus into the center of town, to Piazza Garibaldi. I stayed at the Hotel Button, just across the street from the Piazza. The Button is a well-regarded hotel right in center of town and really one of your few choices if you want to stay at the center without a car. Parma is very pedestrian-friendly but not so car-friendly in the center.

    Parma is not heavily touristed by Americans, probably because it lacks the attractions of the "big three" of Venice, Florence, and Rome. Parma isn't even mentioned in Rick Steves' books. Instead of tourists, Parma is full of locals, who were out on the Saturday afternoon and evening of my visit enjoying the warm fall weather, strolling around the pedestrian friendly streets near Piazza Garibaldi where there are plenty of restaurants, bakeries, and trendy stores (even a Nike store of some sort). Not a McDonalds or American restaurant in sight. In addition, there was some sort of celebration going on on this particular Saturday night; the streets around the Hotel Button in particular were mobbed with people, until at least midnight.

    Indeed, there isn't much for the typical tourist to see in Parma proper - beyond the obvious Duomo and the Bapistry. Parma has museum or two I'm sure - I declined to find out. Instead, I simply wandered around taking pictures, taking in the vibe, enjoying hearing almost exclusively Italian spoken. I strolled across the narrow (and fairly dry) Parma River over to the Parco Ducale. There was also some sort of renaissance festival going on - just a lot of events.

    I had a nice lasagna somewhere for lunch; sadly, I waited too long for dinner; everywhere was a minimum of an hour wait and I was hungry and tired so I opted for some take-away pizza. People really were out in droves on this Saturday night. One interesting note: it appears that walking your dog is a common social activity in Parma - I saw lots of well-dressed people out walking their dogs, part of the social ritual.

    Finally, back to my hotel! The Hotel Button was decent - a bit overpriced, modest charm, but the location cannot be beat, right in the center of everything. Even though it was not hot outside, I would have preferred that the air conditioner in the room work (it was not turned on or was broken - I complained several times) because I needed to keep the windows closed, because there was a big celebration going on in the streets (plus it was Saturday) late into the night. That and the combination of being jetlagged meant that I basically didn't sleep at all.

    I'd go back to Parma in a heartbeat - but maybe not on a weekend! It's a great walking town. It would be nice to wander around and be able to eat in even a modest restaurant more easily without waiting an hour or for a table wading through thick crowds. Saturday night meant that Parma had a great social vibe but also made it very crowded.

    Techy note: I brought an unlocked Motorola GSM mobile phone with me to Europe; I made sure it had the right frequencies to work in Europe and then bought a European SIM card (at a TIM store, like a T-Mobile store)_ in Parma for about US $16, which included some free minutes. In Italy that included free incoming calls. I was able to use a London-based call forwarding service called Local Phone to let friends call me via a US phone number for not cost (to them!) if they had free US long distance and costing me only about 15 cents/minute. This was an easy way for people to call me from the states without fumbling with country codes or worrying about how much their call was really going to cost them! To get the SIM card, I did need to show my US passport but otherwise it was easy. The keys were knowing that the phone REALLY WAS unlocked plus that it would work in Europe - some American-market GSM phones do not! I used my phone mostly in Italy but also in Slovenia and Croatia a few times - where roaming got expensive! It was super nice to have an emergency phone to use while driving in Croatia especially. I smartly programmed some phone numbers of my lodgings and rental car companies into the phone memory ahead of time, so I could make a quick call in a pinch!

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    Venice (3 nights)


    I had been to Venice once before - in fact, that earlier visit had sort of inspired me to return and plan this whole new trip. I found a great apartment the last time using a small room/apartment booking service called and because of their pricing (per person), the apartment was a good deal for a solo traveler. (About US $100/night).

    In Parma, I took an early Sunday morning bus from the Button back to the train station. I got to Venice from Parma using two regional trains - a connection that showed up on Trenitalia's website but, oddly, not on the Trenitalia ticket machines the morning I got to the Parma station. So I had to buy my tickets from an actual human at the ticket counter (he knew exactly which trains I wanted - didn't really have to explain). I saved about $15 taking the regional trains and got in to Venice about the same time, with a shorter layover in Bologna. Big deal. I don't mind traveling second class on regional trains at all.

    I was groggy from basically not having slept the night before but I got into Venice awake enough, excited to return. The apartment owner's father had met me at the train station two years earlier and I barely remembered him - but he didn't remember me at all! Oh, well - I guess he has met hundreds of people who rent the place, how can you remember them all? We met and we walked with my two bags along Strada Nova, dodging the crowds. The apartment is in a quiet area in Cannaregio right off Strada Nova, very close to the church of the Maddalena (Santa Maria Maddalena) roughly in between the train station and Rialto - which is to say, less trendy and exciting but also a bit less crowded (compared to Rialto and San Marco!) and still well located to restaurants and stores and a grocery store. The apartment (called the Ca' Maria) was a small 1-BR affair with a little living room and even a full kitchen. Venice isn't exactly known in Italy for its cuisine; the kitchen would be ideal for those who might enjoy cooking a meal and saving their restaurant budget for elsewhere in Italy. One downside of the apartment, though, is that it had absolutely no view.

    If you haven't already gotten this by now, I should point out that my Venice experience is most likely NOT what your was like or will be like. I didn't do a single museum in Venice (I did exactly one, Morano's Museum of Glass, in 2007), and I ate almost every meal as take-away pizza or at Brek (self-service). Almost all my time was spent wandering around taking pictures and really, just soaking in the vibe, thinking, "Wow! I'm in VENICE! Cool!!!!". In 2007 I bought a Vapporetti pass for my entire three days to get around the canals but found using the boats sometimes frustrating. I often found myself running for the wrong boat or waiting too long for one and wishing I'd just walked and often doing so anyway. (You need a boat to get out to Morano though, something I enjoyed in 2007.) So in 2009 I never got on a single boat in Venice, not once! I walked absolutely everywhere. After the third day, my feet were quite sore! Actually, this was as bad as it got.

    Venice has been kind of a challenge for me as a photographer; while it's an amazing, unique place full of irresistible photo ops at almost every turn, it's also a very frustrating place to photograph! One reason I wanted to return after my first trip in 2007 was to do better this time, because looking at my 2007 pictures I felt like I hadn't captured the place very well. Somehow, getting those nice golden hour or sunset shots was really hard to work out. The orientation of the place for one makes it challenging to judge where the sun might be at sunrise or sunset. I got up several mornings early, tripod in hand, looking for sunrise and never really found it. I think my 2009 pictures are better on average than those from 2007 but I was STILL a bit disappointed at what I got - and didn't get! (sigh) Photographers are perfectionists, you know...

    (See my 2007 Venice Photographs if you like:,5D0IMG27173,254,1,0,0-venice-italy.html . A lot of the same kind of shots, I guess...)

    As most people who have been there can attest, Venice is like Disneyland during the day, particularly between Rialto and San Marco - just wall to wall people! It's almost like wading through a crowd at a sporting event and it can be very frustrating. At night things improve as the tour groups head back to Mestre - but it's the MORNING, that I've decided is really the best time to see Venice! The tourists mostly aren't awake, the tour groups haven't arrived, and you can see the "real" Venice: shop keepers sweeping in front of their stores as they are opening, chatting with each other, or parents sending their kids off the school. (Yes, some real people actually DO live in Venice!) And if you are a photographer, not only is the early morning light often the best but there are almost no people to have to shoot around. When I got up one morning before 6am, there was literally NO ONE on the streets and it was still dark! It was almost like an abandoned movie set - a little eerie, at least til it got light again.

    On my third day in Venice I took a day trip to Verona (I daytripped to Padua in 2007). Day trips rarely seem to work out well for me in Europe. Most places seem more fun at night or in the morning. Verona was fun to a degree but as a simple day trip it didn't greatly appeal to me. I kind of wish I'd stayed overnight there for a night instead of just doing a day trip - the river created some nice photo ops. I'll bet an evening stroll in Verona would have been fun, but I was too tired by the end of my day to wait for nightfall and just wanted to catch the train back to Venice.

    Verona Pictures:,5D0IMG54133,313,1,0,0-verona-italy.html

    (Techy note: there was no internet at my apartment in Venice and no WiFi nearby. The most convenient place to get it was at McDonalds a few bridges away. Sometimes I picked up open WiFi signals just sitting on a canal somewhere.)

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    Glad you enjoyed the all- Italian life -- with the dogs! -- in Parma despite your jet lag.
    I hope you don't mind my embedding into your thread a note that inside Parma, apart from the Duomo and bapistery, there are a number of sights of artistic and historic interest to people with particular interests - including sites for Verdi lovers, Stendahl lovers and theater lovers -- and some legendary shopping and tours of Parma's most famous products: parmesan cheese, parma ham and parma violets (and violet products). The rural area just around Parma is filled with castles and other interesting sights:

    Hope you get back "in a heartbeat"!

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    I enjoy your style of writing. The little incidents which make me laugh are great (for instance the street vendor who saved you from the nasty puddle). I have been looking at your pictures as well. You have some real stunners in the lot! Thanks for sharing your adventures and pictures. I look forward to more!

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    Agreed--great photos, great report. Hotel Button is cute as a...guess. Parma looks very appealing. Many moons ago I used cross-pollinate to get a cheapo apartment in Rome. Glad to read they're still reliable. I like the "less trendy" parts of Venice (if there are such things) better because one tends to have a bit more breathing room.

    Thanks and looking forward to more!

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    Ljubljana (2 nights)


    Getting from Venice to Ljubljana by public transport isn't as easy as it once was, apparently. The most direct way these days is a highly inconvenient night train (arrives too early to be able to skip a hotel but perhaps too late to check in somewhere). If you take a day train, you have to change once at least (probably in Austria) or take a train to Trieste, Italy, and change to a bus to Ljubljana. Luckily, just a few days before leaving for Ljubljana, I found out about a direct bus from Mestre to Ljubljana operated by a service called DRD (Slovenian-operated). I think it cost 25 Euros one way - direct service, only one stop for a rest about halfway through the three-hours-or-so ride. That worked out quite well though the bus driver was a bit crazy and should have been paying a bit closer attention to the road...

    Ljubljana - wow, what a beautiful town! Everything I'd read about it was true: it's a delightful, charming place to stroll around, stop and get a pastry and just wander. The core of Ljubljana is split by the tiny Ljubljana River (more like a big stream or canal) with quaint bridges crossing it, willow trees here and there, and sidewalk cafes all around. Ljubljana is also a huge college town (no central campus - it's spread all over town), and students fill those riverfront cafes at all hours, making the place feel young and alive, dwarfing the tourists (so you can almost pretend you aren't one). Yet the architecture of the place - people say it reminds them of Saltzburg, a place I've never been - somehow makes the city itself feel warm and welcoming, too. (It does feel Austrian.) Great photo ops abound - the place seems made for taking pictures. Ljubljana is adorable.

    I stayed at a hostel (Alibi M4) in Ljubljana, because all the hotels seemed way overpriced. The Alibi M4 hostel, only a few blocks walk from the train/bus stations, had a private room - a modest, funky, but clean room to be sure but it was a decent place and a better value for sure than the nearby hotels. (And it was quiet; if some hostels can be rowdy, this one wasn't.) I basically used the hostel as a hotel (no curfew) and didn't interact much with the other guests. If you are considering a visit to Ljubljana, keep a few things in mind: first of all, the core downtown is quite small, which also means it's easily walkable without a car, plus many of the hotels and hostels are a lot closer together than they might appear on a map. Second: Ljubljana gets COLD outside of the summer/late spring/early fall months. In early October the city was just starting to turn cold; by the end of October I'd expect it would be quite cold indeed.

    I arrived early enough the first day to catch a walking tour that I picked up at the main tourist office downtown, near City Hall. Our young tour guide was an ethusiastic engineering student who positively gushed about the town. Our tour included a trip up to the castle (seasonal) but sadly, it was a bit hazy to take nice pictures from up there - great views on a clear day, though. Unfortunately, much of the old town (near City Hall) was under massive reconstruction in September 2009 - they were ripping out the old street and putting in the old cobblestones. A year later the place will probably be much more fun to visit. Ljubljana seems to have excluded most cars from the center now, making it even more pleasant as a tourist walking town. Very smart.

    The first night I was in town, a big stage was being put up in the main square for a concert the next day - something to do with the start of the fall college term, I take it. Lots of loud rock music. Lots of people. Unfortunately all of this sort of ruined my pictures of Preseren Square - doh! But it was a festive vibe.

    I'm big fan of bridges (not a surprise to anyone who has seen my photography). Ljubljana's little river is spanned by several notable bridges, particularly the famous Dragon Bridge, with two of Ljubljana's famous mascotts guarding each side. But the triple bridge at the center at Preseren Square is more elegant. The Cobbler's Bridge nearby has its own sense of beauty. Away from the center a bit (near the Pletnik house) is another interested bridge - called the Mol Bridge I believe (the tour guide referred to it as such).

    I even did a couple of museums in Ljubljana. The Josef Pletnik house (a museum of sorts) was fantastic. It's the house the famous architect lived in in the years before he died, but it was really cool - only a half hour tour but the tour guide (I was the only one on the tour) made the place truly come alive. I could almost see the old man himself still sitting there in his rooms, busily working on his next project or invention. Pletnik really transformed Ljubljana as a city - you can see his work everywhere. On my last morning (raining) I took in the City Museum, which had everything from Roman ruins in the basement to Cold War exhibits on the top floor - and a "Napoleon in the Balkans" exhibit. The City Museum was OK - a fairly nice museum but not an unforgettable experience (whereas the little Pletnik house seemed like something unique and special). I was definitely past my attention span by the time I reached the top floor of the museum.

    I tried some burek from a vendor at one of the markets (meat and cheese I seem to recall) and it was...OK, probably not something I'd want again. I had pizza at Pizzeria Foculus, a renowned sit-down pizza restaurant. Actually, if you want something casual, a pizza-by-the-slice place called Pizza Šestinka on Miklošičeva (same street as my hostel) had excellent pizza slices - if you want to grab a slice and sit in the park across the street on a nice afternoon...

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    Hello Andrew. I am enjoying this. A trip down memory lane from 2008 for me. When I was in Ljubljana the Art Museum had a great exhibition of Slovenian Impressionist stuff. I too did the City Tour and we saw a lot. I stayed in a little hotel in downtown but would certainly try your recommendation for the hostel next time.
    Loved your pictures too, especially the ones of Parma. I was there about 10 years ago. Like you say, not many tourists and a very attractive city.
    Venice goes without saying.

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    Thanks, gertie. I'd stay at the Alibi M4 hostel in Ljubljana again only if one the hotels were again expensive. Nothing wrong with the hostel, though, but my next stop was at the Westin in Zagreb so quite a step-up in lodgings!

    Yes, catcrazyaf, I enjoyed Burano too! Tempting to go back on my 2009 Venice visit, but as I recall it was a fairly long boat ride out there, so I concentrated on other things. I do enjoy re-visiting places I've liked before. So many places, never enough time...

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    Zagreb (2 nights)


    The afternoon train from Ljubljana was about an hour late so I didn't get in to Zagreb til about dusk. That was the plan though - to have more time in Ljubljana. Otherwise, it was an easy train ride, with some beautiful scenery in Slovenia. The border crossing into Croatia seemed to take a long time, though for me it was just a quick scan of my passport.

    I didn't necessarily need two nights in Zagreb, but it was convenient to arrive late the first night and pick up my rental car early after the second night to drive to Plitvice Lakes. Plus I got a great price (with hotel points) at the Westin - a luxury especially compared to the modest hostel room in Ljubljana the previous nights. The hotel was easy to get to by tram from Zagreb's Glavni Kolodvor Train Station; it's on the "horseshoe" (so called because of green parks and museums shaped on a map sort of like a horseshoe).

    Once I got checked in, past dusk by now, I took a tram to Jelačić Square to shoot some pictures at night with all the people mulling around and the trams moving through. The Square is a lively place, with all the people and huge billboards, etc. Some kids got in front of my camera on its tripod as I photographed the square, waving at me and fooling around; that happened a couple of times on my trip (fun for a few seconds...then, OK, OUT OF MY WAY, please!).

    The next morning I took a quick little walk around the horseshoe (and got a diet coke and a pastry at a local bakery to start my day! The price of diet soda in bottles declined the further I got away from Italy), took a few pictures, then headed back into the center to see more. As a city, Zagreb met my modest expectations. Compared to where I'd just been in Venice and Ljubljana, Zagreb seemed more "ordinary," much larger, and less charming especially considering...but it was still an interesting place to spend a day. Zagreb is full of trams (streetcars), which go everywhere. Some are old, some look brand new. In the center, there's a "free tram" zone (we have the same thing at home in Portland) where you can ride the trams for free, only one stop from the Westin, though I still wound up doing a lot of walking.

    On my single day in Zagreb, I did the usual tourist stuff: wandered through Jelačić Square and the nearby markets, walked up to the cathedral, and of course took tons of pictures wherever I walked. I even visited one museum in Zagreb - the Museum of Native Art (Hrvatski Muze), a museum of paintings by peasant (untrained) artists; it was interesting enough (and small enough) to hold my interest for a half hour. I also visited the Botanical Garden, a nice short walk from the Westin and a pleasant diversion. At dusk, I tried to shoot pictures from the Upper Town down on Zagreb's city buildings, but they simply weren't lit up enough to make flattering pictures. In the end, the best shots I took in Zagreb may have been from my room at the Westin with my tripod pointing out the window; I had a nice view of Zagreb at daybreak there.

    One other little detour late in the afternoon was a walk over to the Four Points by Sheraton (hotel), where I'd be picking up my car the next morning at the Sixt office. It wasn't easy to get to by tram - should I take a taxi in the morning? I'm usually too cheap to take a taxi unless I have to. The front desk woman at the Westin assured me it was far too far to walk, but it didn't look far on a map, so I decided to try it; I think the walk took 15 minutes tops and I didn't get lost, though it wasn't a particularly scenic walk. (I could have stayed at the Four Points instead of at the Westin and saved some money - but the Westin was in a far better location, on the horseshoe close enough to walk to Jelačić Square and the trams, plus the Westin is supposedly a much nicer hotel.). The next morning I walked back to the Four Points, picked up my car, then drove back to the Westin to pick up my bags, and for me that was all very easy.

    I ate both evening meals in Zagreb at the same restaurant, Nokturno, an Italian place (recommended by Rick Steves) up from Jelačić Square. The lasagna turned out to be quite good. For lunch the one day I was in Zagreb I had some pizza slices somewhere forgettable.

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    Plitvice Lakes National Park (1 night)


    I booked my car in Zagreb from Sixt using a US agency called Auto Europe. It seemed the best price I could find - for an economy car with a 5-speed transmission, the cheapest kind of car you can get in Europe, usually. My orange Fiat Punto (gas, not diesel unfortunately) smelled like an ashtray and felt more used than its 36,000 km, but it was fun to drive. Lucky me that it had papers to drive into Bosnia and Herzegovina! I had forgotten to ask, and this was the last car they had on the lot. (I obtained an International Driving Permit from AAA before I left; it was nice to have but I think a valid US driver's license would have been sufficient in Croatia.)

    I picked up the rental car at the Sixt office first thing in the morning and promptly headed out to Plitvice Lakes, about two hours away. I'd driven in Europe only once before - in France, in Normandy for a few days, which was super easy - but I was still nervous about it. Driving in Croatia turned out to be fine, though. My only worry was the aggressive passing techniques of the local drivers. Impatient drivers passed on two lane roads with very little sight distance. Numerous times I'd see an oncoming car coming toward me in MY lane passing cars and swerving out of my lane seemingly at the last second! But I kind of got used to it and found myself even passing like that a few times!

    The two hour drive to Plitvice from Zagreb was fairly simple - it could be done as a day trip without a problem, if you don't mind about four hours total driving in one day. The only issue really is how crowded the park is by late morning. The best way to avoid the big tour groups, it seems, is to arrive first thing in the morning, and that's hard to do if you are picking up a rental car in Zagreb first thing as I did. If you were going to do this as a day trip from Zagreb, I'd consider picking up the car the night before, driving down super early to the park the next morning, then heading back by mid-afternoon and return the car in the evening - rather than trying to get the car when the rental place opens (like I did), the most obvious way to do it.

    The park is all people say it is: amazing! (And I live near the beautiful Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, so I'm familiar with natural beauty.) The best way I found to describe the lake: imagine turquoise lakes full of trout (no fishing allowed!), surrounded by hiking trails, man-made wooden walkways, trees, and, of course, dozens (hundreds?) of waterfalls! It's a huge park, but you can see it relatively quickly, at least the highlights, if you are a half decent hiker. The park runs some shuttle buses to get you from point to point and also a few boats to cross the lakes. On a map, it seems all rather confusing, but several possible tour routes are numbered/lettered and you can just follow the signs for one particular route if you wish. (Beyond this, it's sort of pointless to try describing the park itself in words - just look at the pictures.)

    I spent hours that first afternoon marching through the park - it was beautiful but grueling in a way, trying to take pictures around the numerous tour groups and keeping an eye on the sun (the buses and boats stop running at some point - didn't want to get stuck on the wrong side of the park and have to hike hours back to the hotel). Because I was staying at one of the park hotels, I had the added benefit of being able to re-visit the park a second day for no extra entrance fee - just have the hotel front desk stamp your previous day's pass. So I spent the next morning back in the park - what a contrast to the previous day! Almost no tourists in the morning!

    Stupid photographer mistake: waterfalls are often most flattering when shot in long exposure with a tripod; you can get that "misty" effect in the falling water. I was well aware of this, but the first day, trying to shoot a waterfall with my little tripod was almost impossible because of the constant crowds of people in the sometimes narrow paths. You'd either get in their way or they'd get in yours. Eventually I gave up and shot most everything handheld, without that "misty" effect. I was so frustrated about this that I didn't even bother to bring my tripod the second morning (since I'd lugged it all over the park the previous day and almost never used it), but there was NOBODY in the park that morning! I could easily have used my tripod then!

    My hotel, the Hotel Plitvice, was the mid-ranged hotel out of the three(?) the park operates. It's overpriced, like a communist-era Motel 6 with a bigger lobby and big dining room, but still clean and...decent. (wouldn't call it "nice") And convenient. And it has that kitschy former communist flavor that's kind of fun. (The hotel had no internet service at all, but I was able to go nearby to its sister hotel, the Jezero, and use the free Wifi in the lobby there.) Breakfast was included in my room rate (cold cuts and bread mostly), but on a Monday morning in early October, I was about the only person in the huge breakfast room. Perhaps in August on a weekend it's packed. I drove slightly away from the hotel into a little village and found a bar that had decent pizza for dinner - wound up eating lunch there the following day as I left town as well.

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    Good report. We loved Ljubljana, too. Sitting out on the balcony at Hotel Plitvice, sipping a cocktail and looking out at the park, was nice. What, no slivovitz??? Well, that was probably a smart thing.


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    I think I did much the same as you in Zagreb except that I stayed (also for just one night) in a room in a house on a street off the main drag and had a hard time finding it! Very eccentric place but full of character. Loved the trams; you seem to have bumped into the blue one quite a bit!

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    Baska Voda (1 night)


    In planning my trip, I was nervous about driving in Croatia (though I need not have been - it was fairly easy), so when planning how to get from Plitvice Lakes to Mostar, I worried about driving straight through (about an 7-8 hour drive I believe). I decided to stop in between and I picked the Makarska Riviera as a convenient place. This also gave me two fairly relaxed days of driving - so I could spend more time at Plitvice Lakes the first morning and get into Mostar at a decent hour the second day and not feel rushed, with the ability to stop along the way whenever I felt like it. For the night, I really just needed a place to crash, so my hotel search was based mostly on price - and I wound up in the Makarska town of Baska Voda, at a little place called the Pension Palac (rooms above a restaurant).

    I had an easy drive (mostly the A1 highway) down from Plitvice Lakes down past Split to Makarska. The A1 felt empty in October - very modern, almost new, and well marked. I stopped a few times here and there. I arrived in Baska Voda about an hour before sunset - my first sunset on the Dalmatian Coast and wow was it beautiful!

    (Random pictures of driving, bus, and train travel in Italy and Croatia:,SD8800IMG07432,314,1,1,0-europe.html )

    Baska Voda is a sleepy little tourist town (originally a fishing village) with a little town center, the ubiquitous church bell tower, and a marina full of boats. (Some of them had US markings - e.g. one from Delaware.) The Pension Palac was right across the street from the marina; I was able to park my car right behind the hotel. It was a fun area to stroll town and the marina around but nothing special. A nice place to relax and enjoy the quiet pace. It was fairly dead in early October, probably busier in the summer.

    I had a decent dinner at the Palac, served by the woman who also seems to manage the hotel. The room was OK for the price - I think it was a whopping $35/night - EXCEPT for the incredibly musty bathroom - disgusting!!! Oh, well, you get what you pay for.

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    Mostar (1 night)


    I'd heard it was easy to drive into Mostar from Croatia. It was. Just drive south on the A1 til it ends (currently around Ploce), continue on the coast road to Opuzen and turn east, following the signs to Mostar. I never worried about which direction to drive - plenty of signs for Mostar, just follow them. (at the Croatia/BiH boarder I flashed my US passport and was waved right through the checkpoint). The roads were fine (moreso in Croatia, still OK in BiH), though I had to wait for road construction crews in BiH who closed the road for brief periods - just like driving back in the states! I got into Mostar about noon without much stress.

    I had booked the Hotel Pellegrino (on the east bank, the "Croat side" of town), which was easy to find (signs for it everywhere as you are driving into Mostar) but parking a car near it was a challenge. The hotel advertises free parking but they don't actually have a dedicated lot; they have to find you a space nearby. The Pellegrino is in a sort of strip mall adjacent to the old town, and there's a crowded little parking lot a block away that serves the stores in this little strip mall. ("Strip mall" is one way to describe it - but it's more urban than an American strip mall.) When I drove up to the last Pellegrino sign (You are here!) there was nowhere to park in the lot or elsewhere; after driving around in circles along the narrow streets for a bit I finally parked along the side of one of the narrow streets so I could dash a block to the hotel and say, "I'm here! Where shall I park so my car isn't towed???" One of the people working at the hotel had parked in that little lot and I just took her spot. So we worked it out. I didn't move my car the rest of the time in Mostar, lest I risk losing this coveted spot.

    The Pellegrino is a really nice place - though it seems like a hybrid between an apartment and a hotel. One downside: no elevator and there are a few flights of stairs up to some of the rooms (not a problem for me though). The location is great, in an urban part of town - modern with plenty of retail and eateries but really close to the old town and famous Stari Most (old bridge). Excellent wireless internet. The hotel staff handed me a list and map of local tourist sites within driving distance, but I chose to limit myself to walking around and near the old town. A hot breakfast the next morning was included in my rate and was whatever you wanted - quite nice. Everyone seemed to speak English well enough and were very nice. Most of the other people there seem to have been business people. The Pellegrino may have been the most expensive place in town but like everything else in Mostar, it seemed dirt cheap (something like US $70/night). Croatia seemed cheap compared to Italy, but BiH seemed cheap compared to Croatia.

    Mostar itself was a lot more touristy in the old town area than I'd expected. It was fairly busy with tourists and this was October! I imagine in peak travel season in Croatia that Mostar is positively mobbed during the day. Day trips from Dubrovnik, etc. have become very popular it seems. At night (at least in October) the old town is dead - all the shops close but some restaurants stay open, though you'd barely know without looking carefully. The more modern strip of retail near my hotel (walking back from old town) is much more alive at night, though, with a few bars and even a sort of little casino thing (never ventured intisde). I walked numerous times from my hotel through the modern part through the old town, across the bridge and beyond then back. In this part you can barely see any signs of the war anymore - except a cemetery full of people who died in the 90s, clearly from the war. Beyond this core area, though, you can still see some bombed out buildings, and further away the area is still rebuilding.

    I'd never been to a "Muslim country" before - I guess that made me slightly wary. Mostar is split (mostly) between Catholics and Muslims. But clearly, the Catholics (Croats) hold sway in Mostar over the Muslims (Bosniaks). The Croats dress like any other westerners, and Croat women dress in modern, stylish clothes, sometimes not so modest clothes. The way you know you are also in a Muslim country is from the minarets from mosques sticking up everywhere - and from the sweet-sounding call to prayer heard from mosque loudspeakers five times a day. Compared to all the Croat women, I saw very few Muslim women out and about, and those few were usually wearing veils. Mostar is really a city with a split personality.

    As a photographer, the rebuilt Stari Most (old bridge) was by far the highlight of Mostar - I shot it at different times of the day. (The reconstruction was done so well that no non-expert would have a clue that it wasn't still hundreds of years old.) The minarets in Mostar made the city seem very exotic, too. As everywhere else, mostly I just wandered around and shot pictures of everything, from the bridge in different framings to a perfectly-preserved Yugo to the stone structures of the old town. I wandered away from the old town a bit to photograph some of the bombed-out buildings too.

    I had considered two nights in Mostar, but one really was enough for me. I got a feel. However, I wound up liking Bosnia and Herzegovina in general and really wanted to explore more beyond Mostar. I really wish in retrospect I'd been able to fit a few days in to visit Sarajevo. But I was also put off by fear of driving in a Muslim country - when even driving in Croatia made me nervous at first. I hope to be more bold next time and branch out and see more.

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    Dubrovnik (3 nights)


    I took my time driving back to Croatia from Mostar. In BiH, a few miles east of the Croatian border, I detoured over into the wetlands of Hutovo Blato Nature Park (Park Prirode Hutovo Blato) for a little while, got out of the car at the park entrance to check it out a little, and walked up a trail until I saw several snakes! I then chickened out and got back to my car and headed back to Croatia! A beautiful area, though - with time and planning, it would be on my list to explore on a future visit. I also stopped along the coast in Croatia a few times in little towns and at viewpoints.

    Once I got into Dubrovnik, I had to figure out how to return the car. (Plus finding a gas station before returning the car was another fun adventure!) I'd been told the Sixt office was at the Hilton Imperial; the hotel is easy to find, right outside the Pile Gate, but when you drive by the hotel, there are no signs that say "Sixt" - unlike the Sixt office at the Four Points in Dubrovnik. And there's nowhere obvious you can pull over near the Hilton and just leave your car for a few minutes! Driving in Dubrovnik in fact wasn't all that fun - quite stressful, with a lot of fast traffic along curvy, sometimes narrow roads. I finally used the remaining minutes left on my Italian mobile phone to call the Sixt office and ask them where to drop the car - only to be told there was no one at the Hilton's Sixt office. Just drive into the Hilton parking garage and LEAVE the car, they told me, with keys in it - ha! That made me a bit nervous! But once I drove into the gated, secure garage at the Hilton, I found an area for Sixt cars and an open spot, so I figured this was routine. Still, when I return a car, I like to make sure there are no unexpected charges on the car, no dispute about the fuel level, no charges for damage that I didn't cause, etc. But I just left the keys in it and left it - no problem, no extra charges later. I guess this is just how they do it.

    I'd booked a soba (private room) just outside the Pile Gate, at Edi's Sea View Rooms, and that was only a short walk from the Hilton; I've carried my bags in airports longer distances. My room at Edi's was small and very basic, perhaps a bit rundown, but clean, at least. The "sea view" of a shady cove was pleasant but not particularly memorable (no brilliant sunset or anything and no view of the old town). I asked for a sea view room anyway because it was the same price as without; I chose Edi's because it was close to the Hilton and Pile Gate and had free WiFi. I'd stay there again (but hope to pay less) because the location was excellent: no stairs at the Pile Gate! Edi himself is quite a character - he speaks English well from having spent time outside Croatia so you can ask him anything, plus he's full of stories and recommendations. I even went swimming with him in the cove below his place one afternoon; it's an easy walk from the rooms down to the cove.

    Once I settled into my room, by now perhaps an hour before the sun went down, I was anxious to find a place to shoot the sunset as quickly as possible. I'm here only three nights, sunsets are few! I grabbed my camera and tripod and headed into the old town to find a place to shoot. And then I got really lucky. Even though I really had no clue where I was going, I around wandered inside the city walls and sort of stumbled upon the Buza Bar at the absolutely perfect time to catch an amazing sunset! I got a few nice shots from above the bar. Pure luck - timing was ideal, because had I taken another turn I probably would have missed the sunset entirely.

    There is something magical and unique about the walled city of Dubrovnik; people compare it to a "Venice without the canals" for a reason (though the Dubrovnik old town is far, far smaller than Venice.) Almost no cars, save an occasional delivery van or emergency vehicle, are allowed inside the old town. Not that cars would be able to navigate most of the narrow "streets" (other than the Stradun) or steep stairs anyway. Walking around Dubrovnik is almost like walking around a maze - it's more "grid-like" than Venice for sure plus most pedestrians streets are narrow and the buildings tall. The city was built on a hill; much of the center is flat but away from the water the "streets" turn into steep staircases. Claustrophobics, beware!

    Yet Dubrovnik didn't quite grab me the way Venice had. Venice is full of tourists too, but if you get away from Rialto and San Marco you can temporarily escape them, in part because Venice is huge. Dubrovnik is smaller and seems more overwhelmed by tourists, less by locals. I enjoyed my time there and would have been disappointed to have missed it (and I shot more photos there than anywhere else), but I haven't put it on my "must return" list. Like most people I "take" to a place or not depending personal bias, I guess. Dubrovnik was great, it just wasn't a favorite.

    Dubrovnik in early October was quite warm - "shorts" weather. Several people I talked to claimed it was unseasonably warm. The day after I left, it turned colder and started to rain, so my timing was perfect!

    As in Venice, amazing photo ops were everywhere in the old town of Dubrovnik. The best shots can be had from walking the town walls, which you can pay to do; it takes about an hour or so to walk around the entire city. From the walls you can get a different view down into and around the city or out to the sea at every turn. But I wanted to shoot the town itself. Fort Lovrijenac gives you a nice side view of the city but I wanted to get above it. Without a car, how to get up there to find a good location looking down? Some people take a taxi to a high viewpoint, I guess. Instead, I wound up hiking above the old town amongst the view homes and found a nice, unobstructed viewpoint to shoot the old city. I hiked up there three times at different times of the day. (Afternoon, sunset, and daybreak.) The sunset with the old town in the foreground was gorgeous; I couldn't see the sun rise from up there but did get to shoot Dubrovnik at first morning light, which I think is the most flattering. Later, down in the old town itself, I enjoyed shooting long exposure photographs in the early evening; the stone streets kind of glisten in the lights awith people milling around on the way to a restaurant.

    There are, as previous visitors to Dubrovnik know, lots of stray cats around the town, more obvious than anywhere else I've ever visited. Kind of sad for animal lovers. The cats survive by the kindness of both locals and tourists feeding them. I especially fell in love with a beautiful calico kitten who hung out at the entrance to the Pile Gate - she looked exactly like a friend's cat back home, and I wound up feeding her lunch meat and dry food every day (fun trying to ask for "turkey breast" at the lunch meat counter at one of the markets; I settled for ham.) I felt so bad for her - until the last night I saw a local woman dropping off a can or two of wet food for her and a few other strays. Turns out this woman feeds them every night as she walks home! There really are animal lovers everywhere, thank goodness. I really wanted to take my little calico home with me and seriously would have considered it (my mom begged me to!) had I been flying directly home from Dubrovnik - but I had too many stops including Paris to make, I'm sure I would have needed lots of health papers, and I'm sure it would have been super expensive. Oh, well - I hope someone adopted her! She was really friendly compared to some of the other strays.

    I found something else unexpected in Dubrovnik: the local swallows - like barn swallows - who at dusk fly above the old town corridors hunting bugs, I guess, before finally settling into the nooks of the buildings themselves to spend the night. Swallows are skilled fliers and fun to watch as they swam around at high speed above you. I looked forward to them every night I was in the old town when they were flying around.

    My one museum visit in Dubrovnik was to War Photo Limited, an exhibit of war photos photos not just from the Balkan war but from elsewhere. There were definitely some haunting photos there - so different and much more daring than what I shoot!

    As with everywhere else I visited on this trip, I looked for casual food, bakeries, pizza places. Casual food options seemed limited compared to the other places I visited, though - most sit down restaurants than anything else. There were plenty of grocery stores in which to purchase snacks and diet sodas; even though there were two conveniently located outside the Pile Gate by my soba - including the ubiquitous Konzum (big chain of supermarkets), I preferred a store inside the walls - seemed to have the best selection and prices. I had some delicious gelato at La Dolce Vita - a great gelato place that was worthy of its reputation. And after weeks of eating alone, I finally had a "real" meal and had the pleasure of dining with Fodorites Julia and Barb at Rosarij, a Dubrovnik seafood restaurant they knew well. What a treat to be able to enjoy some dinner conversation for a change! Actually, I had met few Fodorites before - at home once, so this was I suppose my first "get together" and it was great, even if there were only three of us. Julia and Barb both knew Croatia better than I did and it was fun to swap travel stories (and Fodor's stories) and get tips from them. While I had to endure a little probing about my picky eating habits (sorry, I know I was in Dubrovnik, but I'm just not a big seafood fan!), they coaxed me into trying a delicious meat dish. Thanks for a pleasant dinner, ladies!

    On my last full day, I wasn't quite sure what else to do. Day trip to Montenegro? I just didn't feel like hassling with a tour or renting a car; staying put in Dubrovnik seemed easier. By now I guess I was starting to feel a bit weary. I was too late in the season for some of the island excursions you can take in the summer. After walking the walls in the morning, I wound up taking a bus over to the resort area of Lapad, which was a slower pace, a nice place to relax on the beach or something, but not particularly interesting to me. I probably could have planned my time better and walked the walls my last morning in Dubrovnik (before heading to Korcula), but walking the walls was at the top of my list - so I did that earlier. With another day maybe I would have given Montenegro a shot.

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    Fantastic pictures!
    Looks like you were lucky and there was only one cruise ship in. I think there were 3 when I was there and there were queues to even get up onto the walls. Isn't walking the walls a great experience.

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    Thanks for a very informative report. I will be there in July and am also a photographer so your photos and info are very useful to me. Couple of questions - those first few photos, the "classic" shot of the old town, where did you take them from? And the over view shots (about half way through your gallery) - is that the one you had to walk up the hill "amongst the view homes" to get? Is it pretty obvious how to get up there? Your night shots are great. I hate carrying a full size tripod so I take a mini one that needs to be balanced on something. You did use a tripod for most of those didn't you?

    Also interested in your comment about food. We also prefer to find pizza, sandwich shops etc for most meals. I had feared Croatia might not be as easy to eat like that than some places. Those grocery shops you mention, can you get picnic type food there? Any other tips on inexpensive, quick eating?

    We are also going to Korcula and Split so keep the report and photos coming.

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    Hello Andrew!

    Great to see this, though I think I remember reading some of it on your blog, especially the bit about the cats.

    I just got back today from my road trip through Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had a terrific few days (though it was terrifying at times!) and will be posting about it before long.

    I was in Mostar yesterday for lunch, and got to see my first bridge diver! They seemed to want about 25 euros for him to jump. I put 3 euros in the hat. The guard rails are the same as when I was there in 2007, they've not changed.

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    Hi Julia!! I've been thinking about you and your trip through BiH - I look forward to hearing about it!!!

    In October, FYI, I never saw anyone jump off the Stari Most in Mostar (but I was aware of the tradition) - maybe it was too cold??

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    Worried now I'm getting long-term memory loss.
    I'm sure there were no guard rails on that bridge and I definitely saw men of impressive physique jumping ... or was it diving?

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    isabel, I'm not sure which pictures you mean in Dubrovnik; the "classic" shot (the entire old town in frame) was the one I had to hike above the town to get to; I just crossed the street up from the Ploce Gate and walked up the stairs past the homes and kept walking and walking and walking...til I hit a sort of dirt road and not far up from there, I found my viewpoint. Other pictures of the town were shot from Fort Lovrijenac just north of the old town. I used a tripod sometimes (especially in low light), hand held other times. I bought a compact tripod (about 5 feet or 1.5 meters tall fully extended) that folded up to be tiny in my carry-on bag - I highly recommend one. This one cost me about $180 USD and was a great investment.

    Casual food was limited in Dubrovnik (at least inside the old town) compared to other places in Croatia I visited. Take-away pizza slices I tried were terrible. I bought a whole pizza at Mea Culpa as take-out and walked over to the old port area (where all the excursions leave from) and just ate it sitting there, a sort of picnic. (Pizza was far superior to the crappy take-away place but nothing amazing.) You can buy whatever you need for a picnic at the grocery stores, though.

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    Korcula (2 nights)


    I really wanted to avoid the long bus ride from Dubrovnik up the Peljesac peninsula to Orebić (and quick ferry to Korcula) - because I don't care for long bus rides, plus the bus times were not the greatest: leave mid-afternoon, get into Korcula at dusk. On a Saturday in mid-October there seemed no better option to get up to Korcula. I checked into Korkyra travel agency shuttle I'd read about: called 'em, nothing running on Saturday. The daily catamaran service ended in September for the season. The twice weekly Jadrolinija ferry didn't run on Saturday, either. Oh, well, suck it up and take the bus, I decided. So I had much of the afternoon in Dubrovnik to kill, with my departure sort of looming after I checked out of my soba, but the ride wasn't so bad and it was somewhat scenic. Still feeling a tad isolated after traveling solo for two weeks and not knowing a word of the local languages, I was grateful to chat on the bus and at breaks with a nice couple from Minneapolis. That definitely helped pass the time. Once we got to Orebić, there was another short wait for the ferry - the bus just takes it across to Korcula Town.

    It was interesting to see how regional bus service works in Croatia. The buses keep schedules and regular stops, of course, but the drivers seem to operate in an "ad hoc" manner and seem to stop basically for anyone who flags them down. Our driver stopped simply take a guy up a few kilometers to where he needed to go, to and from unscheduled stops. The passenger simply worked out where he needed to go with the driver. Other times, you could tell people regularly commuted home via these buses that were not officially "local buses;" at one of our rest stops, one of the servers at the local watering hole getting off work got on our bus toward Orebric and got off a few miles later. Very informal. I can't imagine Greyhound in the US operating in such a fashion, but it seems to work in Croatia.

    Our bus arrived in Korcula via ferry about dusk. I had booked a place at the Apartments Lenni. One of the owners met me at the bus stop, and we walked a short distance to the apartment which was up in the old town in a nice but quiet location. The apartment owners rent out a few rooms as well as apartments; a room would have probably have been fine for me alone, but I chose to pay a tad more for an apartment that had a small washing machine (since I figured I'd need to wash some clothes by this point). The studio apartment was tiny with one double bed, one twin wedged behind the dining table, a tiny kitchenette, but a nice place - tastefully decorated, with a fish tank, even! Small but very comfortable - I'd definitely stay again.

    Although Korcula has the same "walled fortress" feel as Dubrovnik (but smaller), otherwise the two cities felt like night and day. While Dubrovnik buzzed with people, Korcula felt like a ghost town in the evenings, even on a Saturday night. (I'm guessing August would have been quite busier than October, the end of the season.) There were restaurants open in the evenings but sometimes you could only tell by looking closely as you walked up to them...are they...oh, wait, they ARE open! I ate my meals at a couple of decent Italian restaurants, which were fine but nowhere I would write home about. Sunday afternoon mid-day in Korcula was busier than the evenings, with a few tour groups wandering around, but I still had the distinct feeling of being isolated, on an island. I could imagine island fever setting in had I stayed a few days longer. It was in some ways a welcome relief from the manic pace of Dubrovnik and at the same time, unnerving. Yet Korcula was delightfully charming. It's got the same type of narrow streets, old buildings, steep staircases as Dubrovnik yet is considerably less imposing.

    Since I'd arrived late Saturday and was to leave early Monday morning via catamaran to Split, I really had only a full day to explore the town. Without a car, I could have rented rented a scooter I guess to get out of Korcula Town and see more of the island, but I had my camera stuff with me, plus the weather was turning cooler and wetter. I decided just to chill, casually explore the town between rainstorms, do some wash, relax. Buy a few snacks and some laundry detergent at the nearby Konzum (which like everything else closed early on Sunday). Thank goodness I had a netbook and the apartment had good wireless internet! By now I was starting to feel weary, after a couple of weeks of solo travel. The cooling weather didn't help. Sunday was a mix of storms followed by clearing here and there, so I was lucky to get some decent pictures with good light.

    I visited none of the few museums Korcula has to offer. Korcula is supposedly the birthplace of Marco Polo; I walked past his supposed house (or family's house) but didn't go in. Didn't get to see the Moreška dance - I was there the wrong time of week I guess. But I walked all over and through and around the old town more than once, up and down the stairs, trying to get to know the place and enjoying the easy walks without mobs of people blocking my way. Of course, I took plenty of pictures. At dusk I didn't exactly get a sunset but got a beautiful red-ish sky that made a nice backdrop for photographing Korcula Town.

    My apartment had that little washing machine - IMPOSSIBLE for me to figure out, not one English word on the thing just symbols that made no sense to me - but somehow I got it to work to do a few loads. Unfortunately - no clothes dryer. The apartment had a drying rack so you could dry your clothes outside, like the locals...and this worked great until the first rainstorm came in. Then I had to run back to the apartment and put my clothes inside. There were still a little damp by the time I finally packed up and left the last morning...

    Sunday afternoon I figured out where to buy a ticket for the Monday morning (6:00 departure) Krilo Jet catamaran to Split: turns out there was a ticket booth open ONE HOUR a day in the afternoon, near the western ferry dock near the Hotel Korcula. (I could have bought a ticket the morning of departure I suppose but I didn't want the slightest worry I'd not get on.). Another point of confusion: from which ferry dock (east or west) would the Krilo Jet depart in the morning? I asked a few people; no one seemed to know. I saw the Krilo Jet arrive at the western dock the Sunday evening but it wasn't clear it would depart from there. Guess I'd figure it out in the morning. Fortunately, it's only a short walk between docks on the opposite sides of the town.

    A bigger worry though was: would the catamaran go at all the next morning? A big storm coming in was supposedly going to be bad - maybe enough to keep the catamaran from going, according to my landlords! Would I be stuck in Korcula another night? When I went to bed the 2nd night, the rain was POURING down, in buckets, and it was so loud I could barely sleep. Wow, I'm NEVER going to leave in the morning, I thought! But I was lucky; when I woke up at 5am, the rain had completely stopped. The catamaran went off as normal without a hitch (from the eastern dock). I was lucky, because the next day an even bigger storm came in and the Krilo Jet indeed did not run that day!

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    Split (2 nights)


    The catamaran ride up to Split was easy and not bumpy at all, despite the threats of bad weather. We stopped once in Hvar (no time to get off and walk around; I totally would have). On a Monday morning, the catamaran was full of commuters up to Split and Hvar. I imagine students in Korcula take advantage of the better educational opportunities up in Split and commute, maybe once a week or daily, not sure. Anyway, by the time I got to Split (early in the day, by 9:30), I was just feeling weary, as I felt like my trip was winding down - and the weather had turned cooler and more rainy, less fun for taking pictures. But I was still looking forward to Paris!

    My first task upon arriving in Split was to find the local Croatia Airlines office on the Riva. I'll try to keep the story of my plane ticket from Split to Paris as short as possible. I'd purchased my ticket for a Croatia Airlines flight via a company in the US called Europe by Air, which sells you discount tickets (passes really) on European airlines: $99 one way (plus tax), for each leg - so if you connect from one flight to a second one, that's TWO legs (two $99 passes). The Croatia Airlines flight I'd booked was direct (one pass) from Split to Paris, only once a week on Wednesday afternoons, so no connections and no getting up in the middle of the night to catch my plane. By booking it with Europe By Air I saved about $160 total. The only supposed hassle was that I'd need to pay the taxes at the airport before departure.

    Unfortunately, Croatia Airlines canceled my flight a few days prior to departure! (Good think I checked - Europe by Air had no ability to notify me nor did anyone else.) Croatia Airlines automatically re-booked me on an early 6:00 (yikes!) connecting flight through Zagreb, which I'd painstakingly planned to avoid with that afternoon flight! But there was this flight pass thing - how would they deal with that? (one flight pass for now two flights?) I had to deal with this entirely myself - Europe by Air certainly couldn't be reached on a weekend and never responded to my email queries. Suffice to say, since I was departing out of Split at 6am, I wasn't about to risk trying to clear all of this up airport right before their first flight of the day and still make the plane. The Croatia Airlines office on the Riva helped a little by letting me pay the taxes I owed, but I still needed to head over to the airport itself to get my flight pass thing figured out. (We did get it figured out thank goodness.)

    In any event, soon after the catamaran arrival and a brief stop at the Croatia Airlines office, I found my little soba in Split - a modest little family run place called the Peruzovic Rooms - that was close to Diocletian's Palace (and really close to the National Theater) and seemed an excellent value for $42/night. It was a very modest - but clean. The bathroom wasn't musty like the Pension Palac in Baska Voda, but it was also the smallest bathroom I have ever seen! My room had only two single beds (so much for booking last minute) and what was some sort of either a shower for kids or a small bathtub. In any case, I declined to use it at all. I had two nights there and managed to get a different room with a conventional bathroom (and full bed) for the second night.

    Once I settled in, I started exploring Split. I had few definite plans beyond "people watch on the Riva" and "explore Diocletian's Palace." (And take lots of pictures, weather permitting.) I actually never took any sort of formal tour of the palace, other than wandering in and around it numerous times. I wandered away from the Riva and the palace more toward the outskirts of Split into the "regular" neighborhoods, some of which are a bit run down. (Fun to see "Hajduk" (local soccer team) graffiti everywhere!). Split is more of a real city not just a tourist destination that Dubrovnik tends to be, and I usually prefer that in cities. So in some ways Split was more inviting than Dubrovnik, but there was certainly far more to see and photograph in Dubrovnik.

    Monday night a REALLY bad rainstorm came in (Tuesday the catamaran from Korcula really DIDN'T run so I am lucky I came a day earlier!). I ventured out in the downpour to the Riva and into the shelter of the Buffet Fife, a restaurant favored by locals for the good food and the cheap prices (according to one of my landlords). Decent enough place. Otherwise, I frequented a couple of pizza by the slice joints on the Riva (both right next to each other, basically interchangeable, cheap but good slices). In fact, after the weather improved Tuesday I grabbed a soda from Konzum and a couple of pizza slices and just enjoyed sitting on the Riva where people were out again.

    Tuesday the weather cleared considerably and I got some nice sun to get some decent pictures. The best views of Split seem to be from Marjan Hill - a nice walk up a bunch of steps but well worth the views at the top! Tuesday was also the day I took a bus out to the airport to get my ticket issue cleared up. Had I planned this better I could perhaps have visited Trogir since the airport bus from Split ends up there (the city bus, not the Croatia Airlines bus). But after I was done at the airport, I had no idea what the bus schedules were, so I just took a Croatia Airlines bus back into town rather than risk waiting around for hours.

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    Paris (2 nights)


    Getting up at 3:45am to catch a flight in Split - or rather, getting up to catch a Croatia Airlines bus from the Riva in Split to the airport to catch a 6:00 flight - not fun!!! I'd done everything to avoid this flight, including picking this particular Wednesday to take that once-a-week direct afternoon flight to Paris. CANCELED anyway! So I could have removed this constraint entirely and flown out any day of the week. Oh, well. The upside also was that I got to Paris a half a day earlier than originally planned. My time in Paris was already too short.

    The Croatia Airlines flights (connecting in Zagreb) were pleasant and uneventful, all on modern jets, a little late out of Zagreb into Paris but no big deal. The flight attendants were women dressed and made up like stewardesses from before feminism, kind of a throw back to old times. I bought a two day full Metro pass at the airport but couldn't use my US credit card (I thought it was the magnetic strip issue but they simply claimed their credit card machine was down) so I had to use Euros left over from Slovenia and Italy. I took the RER from CDG airport into Paris, to my hotel, the Le Méridien Etoile in the 17th arrondissement.

    I used the rest of my Starwood hotel points for the Le Méridien Etoile one night and then the Airport Sheraton for my final night, for the convenience of walking directly from the hotel right to CDG terminal 2. (Early Air France flight to Amsterdam to connect to the long flight home.) I left my bags at the Le Méridien for the day after I checked out late, took pictures all day, then picked up my bags early evening and took the RER train back to CDG and the Sheraton. As far as hotels go, the Le Méridien was just OK but the Sheraton was actually quite nice, nicer than I expected.

    Paris is probably my favorite city in Europe, but I hadn't been back since 2002! It wound up in my itinerary in part because I needed to stop over in some city in Europe to return via Amsterdam directly to Portland, and Paris worked out best - a nice bonus after the Balkans and Italy! Since I hadn't been to Paris in seven years but had seen most of the "highlights" before, I limited my short time back mostly to re-visiting favorite spots and trying to shoot new photos. Since childhood the Eiffel Tower has been an icon of the Exotic and Exciting, and I'm still drawn to it, so I photographed it a couple of more times. I re-visited the Jardin du Luxenbourg and the Parc Monceau - all beautiful in the fall. Went back to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica and the Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe. I wandered around the 17th, where I'd stayed on my first visit in 2000, and wandered around the area of my old hotel - once a Quality Inn, now a boutique hotel well out of my price range - that was impossible to find back in 2000 and created a stressful but nostalgic first memory of Paris.

    Another fun memory I re-lived from an earlier visit was to get up before daybreak and photograph the Eiffel Tower at first light (with a much better camera than I owned in 2002). The last time I did this I had just arrived in Paris and was jetlagged; this time I wasn't, but I had been getting up early the last few days anyway! The Tower is not lit in the early morning but there's almost nobody around and it's quite peaceful and beautiful. It was also chilly; Paris was cold. The hot days of Dubrovnik from a week ago were long gone.

    Being back in Paris, though - who cares what you do? Cliche as it sounds, I did enjoy just riding around on the Metro and wandering the neighbors again taking pictures of things. It's a beautiful city - a joy to be back.

    For lunch one day I grabbed a sandwich at a bakery in the 17th. I dined at a restaurant one night and got - you guessed it - a pizza. My last meal in Paris was, sadly, at McDonalds, because I needed to sort of eat and run before catching a train back to the airport/hotel. Actually, let me be honest and admit that I visited McDonalds a few times in Paris, because they had free WiFi, and I snacked there a few times while checking my email!

    On my last evening, I planned to catch a certain RER train back to the airport to get to my hotel at a decent hour but also wanted to photograph one last sunset for good measure. But where to shoot? I finally decided on the Pont Alexandre III, which has a view of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. This turned out to be a great idea - I got some nice shots with parts of the bridge in foreground and the tower in back - and a beautiful dusk sky! I actually had both my bags with me right there on the bridge while I had my tripod setup, shooting, with people milling all around me. Once I felt "done" I simply packed up my stuff and got on the RER back to CDG. My trip was basically over.

    The CDG Sheraton was great - too bad I had so little time there. I got in about 21:00 and had a flight at 7:20 the next morning - but at least I could walk to the terminal in the morning! I was a bit too wound up to get to sleep early and hung out in the Starwood members lounge to use their WiFi and eat snacks - where people were buzzing about "balloon boy" back in the US, before we all realized it was a hoax.

    The Air France connecting flight from Paris to Amsterdam the next morning was routine. The flight home from Amsterdam was long but surprisingly flew by (so to speak). Flying direct between the US and Europe with no connections is the ONLY way to go, if you can! I hope Delta keeps this flight so I can use it in the future!

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    Andrew, I am enthralled with your trip report. Your manner of writing which makes one feel they are taking the trip with you and your thoughts and reactions during your trip. Now I have the pleasure of enjoying your pictures which I know will be fantastic as I have always enjoyed your photography ability.

    And of course I am looking forward to your next installment!

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    Loved your red sky photos of Korcula.

    In Split, how long did it take you to hike up the Marjan hill? I'm trying to figure how long I need to see the highlights of Split. I have two nights there, and during the one full day want to go to Trogir so am deciding between arriving on the early ferry from Korcula (which I think you did) or stopping for a few hours in Hvar. But that would mean only an afternoon evening in Split (plus whatever part of the day we aren't in Trogir). I notice you spent some time wandering the "other" (non touristy) parts of Split so does that mean you didn't spend that much time in the old town (Diocletian's Palace and arround)?

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    I don't think you necessarily need a full day for Trogir. I got the fast bus out there from the bus station and the slow local 37 bus (which goes right past the airport) back.
    And in 2 half days you can see a lot of what there is to see in Split. I didn't go up the Marjan hill so can't comment on that.

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    Isabel, it didn't take long to walk up Marjan Hill. You start on a city street and then march up a series of steps, at first through a neighborhood then further up the hill. At various points you'll see viewpoints back on Split.

    I certainly walked around and through Diocletian's Palace numerous times; my soba was close by so whenever I was coming and going I tried to walk through the palace in various ways whenever I had the opportunity. Much of it is open to walk through and is just used for retail businesses. But I never took a formal tour of "the palace." Some of it isn't open to the public, so I guess you can see that on tour, too.

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