Reposting an old Croatia Trip Report

Old May 13th, 2009, 05:38 PM
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Reposting an old Croatia Trip Report

This was my first trip report on Fodors, and I made a newbie mistake. I felt the report would be a bit long, so I broke it up into six separate posts. I was warned by more experienced posters to not do this, and they were right. Being in separate parts, it is not easy to find, and in the new Fodor's format it was not even flagged as a trip report. In order that I and others can locate it, I intend to repost it as a single report over the next several days.

(Katie, if this is not all right please just delete the new post.)

As I said, it is old, but there are probably information that folks can still use buried in there somewhere.

Croatia Trip Report October 2004.

Just got back from Croatia, and thought I should post a trip report to supplement the earlier reports from other travelers that helped me so much. It may end up rather long, so I probably will break it into several chunks.

A bit of explanation is in order. Our trip was a bit different at first from most tourists as we began by staying with a Croatian family. We live in a small Washington State town, Anacortes, that has a large component of folks with Croatian family backgrounds who have tried to maintain their cultural heritage. Part of this is a social club and a large performing dance group, the "Vela Luca Dancers and Orchestra". Our son, Steve, though not Croatian, dances in the group and plays in the orchestra.

The dance group planned a Fall tour of Croatia to dance in a number of festivals. Though visiting Croatia was not high on my list of vacation spots, when my wife suggested it would be nice to be there to see Steve perform at least once, I agreed and looked for a way to get there. Coincidentally, Anacortes has a "Sister Cities Association", They, and the City of Anacortes, have adopted Sister Cities in Japan, Russia, and Canada, and had recently adopted the Croatian city of Vela Luka on the island of Korcula. The Association had a trip planned for late September to Vela Luka to hold ceremonies to celebrate the union of the two cities. Since they had negotiated a very good fare, we jumped in.

Of course (you must have seen this coming) as soon as we bought the non-refundable tickets the Dance group had to cancel their tour. Sigh ---

Resigned to going anyway, I got on the Forum and began reading the experiences of other travelers. As I read, the trip seemed more and more exciting, and the country more interesting. The plan was for the group to fly Northwest to Amsterdam, transfer to Croatia Air to Zagreb, and change planes for the flight to Split. Overnight in Split, and then an afternoon ferry to Vela Luka. We would then be assigned to stay with a family. Our Mayor and a few other city officials would then join us for the ceremonies with Vela Luka officials. The group planned to stay with their assigned families for ten days. The group would then take a ferry to Dubrovnik and stay another week in southern Dalmatia. I wanted to show my wife more of Croatia, having been there on a sailboat 30 years before, so we decided to only spend three days in Vela Luka with the family and then vagabond to islands by ferry and along the coast by bus; planning to meet the group when they got to Dubrovnik.

The flight went smoothly. Saw a brilliant display of the Northern Lights over Greenland. We had a looooong stopover in Amsterdam because of fog in Zagreb. The delay reached almost eight hours. As interesting as the Dutch have made Schipol, eight hours in any airport when you are pooped from a long flight is agony. We found an area called the "Meditation Area" on the second level that was simply a big space filled with inviting black leatherette lounge chairs that was more dimly lit and marginally quieter that the other waiting areas. We tried to sleep there, but those inviting chairs must have been designed by an evil genius, because they were the most uncomfortable things I have ever endured.

At last the fog lifted and we got to Zagreb where, surprisingly, Croatia Air had a plane waiting that got us to Split. We all (15) caught the airport bus into Split (30 Kuna) and trundled our bags through the sobe sellers down the waterfront a couple of hundred yards to the Hotel Bellvue. Arranged by our group leader, it was adequate, if older and overpriced at about $100. Hate to be there when the temperature was really high. Our room windows opened on what must have been the local bell factory, as the cacophony when they started to clang at 06:00 had to be experienced to be believed. Never did find out why Croatian churches seem to ring and ring and ring the bells. Seems to have no relation to the hour or anything else, just clang, clang, clang ----. Though jet-lagged, the bells got me up and walked along the front and through the town. Fascinating to see the town come alive. Found the fish market near the hotel and watched the chaos of the deliveries and vendors setting up. Saw trays of what looked like "whitebait" a treat I remember from England and France; tiny fish, dipped whole in light batter and deep fried. Yum!

After breakfast in the hotel (good breakfast, knarley coffee) we all took a guided tour of the Diocletian Palace. Very worthwhile. Amazed that something like 6,000 people now live in the ruins. Caught the 3:00 catamaran passenger ferry to Vela Luka with a stop in Hvar (pron: hwar). Cost 24 Kn. each. It was quite warm while waiting in a waterfront café, so someone asked for an iced coffee. When it came it was more like a coffee soda/milkshake, with gelato ice cream and topped with whipped cream. Very popular from then on, but don't order an iced coffee from a restaurant that doesn't have gelato. They do not understand the concept of coffee with ice cubes.

Best seats on the catamaran are on the top deck. You can't carry suitcases or backpacks up there, but must stow them in bins as you board. The trick is for one person to stow the bags while the other races up to grab two window seats.

Arrived in Vela Luka after a two hour ride to be met by our hosts, Marita and Jerolim "Jerry". They grabbed our bags and trundled them about 100 yards to their home, which faced the new promenade along the front. Jerry had built the house on a lot his parents owned with his own two hands, hewing the stones one by one. Only the first floor was finished, and Tammy and I were given their own bedroom, and another visiting couple got the other bedroom opening onto a small balcony overlooking the harbor. The other members of the group were scattered in homes across the small city; population about 4500. The arrangement was that the hosts would be given 25 Euros/person/night, which would include all meals. All of the homes were so immaculately clean and well appointed, I would hesitate to invite them to stay in our home without a major spring cleaning.

We had meals with the couple and their two sons, both of whom spoke good English. Marita also has a good grasp of the language, and Jerry could make himself understood. Grandpa, Marita?s father who spoke no English, also shared some meals with us. We all hit it off immediately. I don't think we have ever before taken to a family quite so quickly and completely. They are truly a warm and giving family who welcomed us generously into their world. They fed us excessively and adventurously with things like raw quail eggs and snails from the garden, and went out of their way to help us explore the island and their culture.

The welcome started immediately when they sat us down to their table on which were figs and nuts, wine, other food, and several big bottles of Rakija; a fiery home-made local brandy. We were told by our host that the custom was that anything put out on the table was "on offer", and we were expected to help ourselves. Rakija was poured for all and we shot it down with a (private) shudder. I explained that this was similar to "Texas hospitality" in our country. I demonstrated this by picking up a full bottle of Rakija, pulling the cork, saying, "Welcome to my home.", and throwing the cork away over my shoulder, before pouring everyone another a drink. This was a big hit, particularly with the two boys, 17 and 20; they liked the "Cowboy Hospitality" idea.

Rakija and wine were always there, but nobody drank much. Wine was taken with meals, but water was always added. As a matter of fact, I found this was the only way I could drink Croatian wine. I'm no wine snob, but any objective evaluation would say it is just dreadful; at least all that I tried. I found if I added fizzy mineral water it made a drinkable beverage with dinner. I'd order a half-liter of house wine, and a big bottle of mineral water at a restaurant and do quite nicely.

The town of Vela Luka, as is most of Croatia is severely depressed economically. The town had a tin can manufacturing plant where Marita had worked for 25 years, and a shipyard. The factory closed, putting Marita out of a job, and the shipyard had just laid off 250 workers. In a town of just over 4,000 this was just devastating. Jerry is an engineer with the town's water district, so they still have some income, but plans for finishing the house, and the kids further education is under strain. We were told that the average wage in Croatia is somewhere between 350 and 450 Euros per month. If it were not for tourism in the coastal belt they would be in even deeper trouble than they are.

I should mention something we learned about Croatia and emigration. I had always wondered why so many Croatians had ended up on the West coast and in Washington State. When you look closely at the island of Korula, or any of the other islands, as a matter of fact, you will see rather new pine forests beginning to obscure the fact that almost every square meter is terraced from the sea up to the tops of the hills. Jerry said that the first task every Croatian does in life is to learn to pile one rock upon another. These terraces contained some olive groves, but mostly vineyards. The islander's livelihood depended on the grape.

In the late 1920s the Phylloxera aphid attacked the roots of European grape vines and wiped out two thirds of all vineyards in Europe. Korcula was particularly hard hit, and in 1927 1,400 young people had to leave the village of Vela Luka in a single day or starve. They describe it as the saddest day in their history. These desperate folks made their way with whatever meager resources they had to places all across the world. The Washington coast and San Juan Islands drew many of the farmers and fishermen as the country and the work reminded them of home.

Jerry and Marita still have olive trees and grow grapes in a number of plots across the island, and took us to them; explaining how they are grown, harvested and made into oil and wine. One plot in the hills had a number of varieties of grapes almost ready to harvest hanging heavy from the vines. All of them were sweet and delicious eaten warm and plump from the vine. We almost hurt ourselves gorging on six different types. November is the month of olive harvest, to which they look forward with mixed joy at the harvest and the back-breaking dawn to dusk work it involves.

Space does not permit the description of all of the things these nice people shared with us; the tours of the island, the local sword dance troupe, the dinner party cooked outdoors in the woods near a nearby village for perhaps 60 people entertained by the really professional local men's chorus, vodka and cookies with a 92 year old local artist in her gallery; who would be world famous if she would sell her works. Suffice it to say we spent five nights with them, rather than the three originally planned, and had trouble tearing ourselves away.

This is getting a bit long, so I?ll put off until another day telling about our trip to the town of Korcula in search of the mythical Prim, Hvar, Split, Trogir, Omis, Makarska, Dubrovnik, Mline, and Montenegro.

nukesafe is offline  
Old May 13th, 2009, 07:10 PM
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Please don't apologize for length - I for one love reading trip reports, the more detail the better. I am very interested to hear all of your details regarding Split, Trogir, Omis, Markarsa, Dubrovnik and Montenegro in particular...selfishly because I will be going to all of these spots in two months. Despite some reservations we are currently planning to spend 4 nights in Split with day trips to Sibenik, Trogir/Primosten, Klis/Omis. I would love to hear your thoughts. Lots of people prefer to stay in Split but we have heard there is more to do in Split and it certainly is more central. In Omis....was it safe to walk up to the fortress? Was it open? Delapitated? Landmine issues in the area are our concern. Any advice from one who's been would be great!

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Old May 13th, 2009, 07:11 PM
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Oh dear...what I meant to say was many people prefer to stay in Trogir, but we are staying in Split. Typing too fast for my brain.

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Old May 14th, 2009, 08:26 AM
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As you will see later in the report, we did not go up to the fortress in Omis (pronounced O-mish) . Instead we took a delightful trip up the Cetina River in a small motorboat. The river was so clear one could see the fish swimming along the bottom. We stopped at a riverside restaurant and had a lovely lunch outside under the trees.

More details later.

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Old May 14th, 2009, 11:55 AM
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Croatian Trip Report Part 2

I realize I neglected to put the dates of our trip in the first part of this trip report so you can judge weather, crowds, etc. We left on September 19th and returned on October the 7th.

A few more words about our home stay are in order. The food we were served was delightful. For breakfast we would have hard-boiled eggs, various kinds of cheeses, small sausages, local honey and other home-grown fruit such as apples and dried figs. Dalmatian ham was usually on the table as well. It is similar to the dried ham one gets in Spain. Marita and Jerry had several whole hams hanging in their cellar from a pig they had purchased the year before. Since the climate along the coast is not suitable for curing them, they took them to friends in the mountains who dried them over smoke from special woods.

The hosts also raised quail, as it is believed in parts of Croatia that raw quail eggs are the answer to healthy living. Marita would break four or five of the tiny speckled things into a small glass and pour in some sort of fruit juice. One would take a deep breath and they would slide down with no taste and only a small sensation of the yolks bumping across your tonsils. I had them every morning. Tammy tried one.


For lunch, typically the day's big meal, a typical meal would be beef soup with home-made noodles, beef sautéed in a delicious brown sauce, roast potatoes, crusty bread, sweet peppers sautéed lightly with oil and garlic (better than it sounds), red and white wines and fresh fruit served at their outside table under a thick overhanging kiwi tree. Marita kept complaining that Tammy, "Ate like a bird". I ate like a bird too --- a vulture.

One day when there were no big activities planned several couples took the bus to the town of Korcula on the other end of the island. The trip took about an hour and a half to cover the 30 miles, and cost 54 Kuna for the two of us, one way. Korcula is a lovely walled town with lots of churches, museums, shops and restaurants to keep one busy. We wandered around for a bit, but split from the other couples after awhile.

Tammy had been thinking about getting our son, Steve, a Prim as a surprise gift. Never heard of a Prim? I?m not surprised. A Prim (pronounced: preem) is a small Croatian musical instrument that looks like a cross between a Ukulele and a Mandolin. Steve plays a borrowed one in the Croatian orchestra in the Seattle area, and had said he would like to get one of his own someday. Any Mother who hears those words is lost, as is the accompanying Husband!

The evening before, the son of our host had brought his girlfriend to dinner. The girlfriend lives in Korcula, and said she had heard of a fellow in a town nearby, named Nicolai, who made the instruments. We had already asked in Vela Luka, and nobody had any clue as to where such a thing could be found. On impulse, Tammy said, "Let's go to Lombardo and look up Nicolai, the Prim maker!" Off we went to the station and caught the next bus to Lombardo, about a 20 minute ride. We got off at Lombardo stop, and went to a nearby tourist bureau. The young lady did not know what a Prim was, and had never heard of a maker named Nicolai. We started walking in the hot sun along the palm-lined promenade beside the sea, admiring the beautiful views, the blue and green clear water, and the many Oceanside chalets and rocky swimming places. It is truly a lovely, lovely place! After about a mile, hot and a bit discouraged, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant to have a beer and a soft drink. We asked the young waiter about Prims and Nicolai. He knew about neither, but he asked an older cook who knew what a Prim was; but no Nicolai. A bit dejected at our futile search, we started back toward the bus stop. I suggested we either stop at the Post Office and inquire, or just stand on the street corner and shout, "NICOLAI!!!!!".

Well, the Poste was closed and, as we stood waiting for the return bus, I wandered into a market to get some bottled water. I asked the checkout lady our standard question. She said she didn't know any Nicolai, but turned and shouted to a lady customer. The lady said, "Sure, that's my Brother". We explained our quest and she used her cell phone to call her Brother's house, only to learn he was at the seafront working on his boat. She accompanied us about a hundred meters to the boat, and introduced us to Nicolai, himself.

You can tell from this story that Korcula is a small island.

Nicolai said he only made Prims in winter. He had two at the moment, but was playing them. He gave us his number and said we could contact him later in the year, but also told us that he thought a music store in Split might have Prims, and described generally where it was.

Back to Korcula where we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring, drinking mineral water at outdoor tables, and shopping for earrings, as a certain shop had been recommended as having very special workmanship and reasonable prices on gold objects. I don't know about the "reasonable prices" part of it, but the workmanship was lovely (I was informed by my wife, who was reaching for her credit card.)

We caught the 6:00 bus back to Korcula. We had gelatos before we left because we assumed we would be much too late for dinner. To our surprise, there was a huge meal awaiting us, including chicken, rabbit, cevapcici (a most delicious Croatian sausage), roast potatoes, etc. All of these were prepared in the traditional Croatian way, in a fireplace in the separate kitchen, under a steel dome-like dutch oven that is covered with hot coals. We ate and ate! After dinner Tammy presented a gift to our hosts. She is a glass artist and had made a slumped presentation plate with the islands of Korcula and Fidalgo (That's where Anacortes is) outlined and inscribed to Marita and Jerry. It was a big hit, and the next morning we found it enshrined on a stand in their hallway along with other family treasures.

On 9/26, Sunday, we were up at 06:30 to catch the 08:00 ferry to Hvar. Marita and Jerry walked us to the dock. Lots of teary hugs, and promises, and gifts of their own olive oil, as they said goodbye.

Took just over 45 minutes to Hvar, on the catamaran and cost 44 Kuna for the two of us. A rather rolley trip from the swells left over from a high winds the day before. What a wonderfully compact town it is, penned in by the old city walls that march straight up the mountain! Most intriguing, coming in from the sea.

There were no sobe sellers at the dock that early, so we sat at a café and got a coffee and directions to the Tourist Office. I had noticed the ferry ticket office was next door, so I walked over and got two tickets to Split on the 1:00 catamaran the next day. Cost 54 Kunas for two tickets. We then wandered about 100 yards to the main square and into the well appointed Tourist Office, where a nice young lady, after asking what our needs were, picked up a telephone to call someone. She said the room would be nice and would cost about 100 Kuna each. She said we should walk across the square and sit on a white bench, and someone would come for us. We did so, and within a few moments a nice older woman came down the street, grabbed Tammy's bag by the handle and trundled it off down the street to her house about 50 meters down a street parallel to the harbor. The charge for a neat two-bed room, bath down stairs, was 100 Kuna/person, plus 30% for less than three days stay, plus 10 Kuna tax. Came to 250 Kuna for the night; about 42 bucks.

She gave us keys to the room and one for the front door. We dumped our bags and headed for the action. The sun was a bit bright, so I went back for my sunglasses. Damned if I could remember which door was ours. Now I understand why so few people who recommend particular sobes give an address. Many of the houses are not numbered or marked. Same with many smaller streets. I waited until there was nobody on the street and took my best shot. It was a relief when the key turned in the first lock I tried.

We walked along the front to the north along a paved and well maintained path that hugs the shore along a lovely coastline. We climbed to the top of the castle and bought lavender from a vendor as gifts. Lavender oil is one of the few products of Hvar, which has no industry other than agriculture and tourism. We got a number of bunches of lavender blossoms that had the stems tied together and the stems bent back over the blossoms and tied again, forming a cage through which the scent escapes. Make pleasant gifts that are light to carry.

We were really looking forward to going to the Carpe Diem, whose praises as a wild and wooly club where the jet set hangs out have been touted in magazines and this Forum. We asked a waiter on the front where it was. He said it was right next door, but it had closed the night before for the season! Well, crap! I may be a little long in the tooth for the wild life, but I was really looking forward to trying a taste. To soothe our disappointment, we ate lunch in a really charming patio under a cover of lime trees. I had a beer, seafood risotto, and a salad, while Tammy had some really lovely mushroom soup and "Adriatic Toast". That was thick toast topped with fresh tuna, tomato and, of course, olive oil. All quite good at 190 Kuna

That evening we went to a concert in the chapel of the Franciscan monastery, by a truly gifted guitarist named Tvrtko Saric. He was truly remarkable! The chapel was elaborately decorated, with a rendition of the Last Supper on the wall behind him. I could have sworn I could hear a piano accompanying him, but those wonderful sounds were all coming from his guitar. We spoke to him on the ferry going to Split the next day, and had him autograph his album we had bought at the concert. He will be doing a tour of the U.S. next year.

We shopped and hung around the harbor the next morning, sitting at an outdoor café having a coffee while the boats in the harbor jockeyed for position at the quay, and many yachts trying to find a place to drop an anchor. Much different from when I had tied to the quay in 1973. I think I was the only yacht in the harbor at the time. There were certainly not the rows of fancy restaurants either, under Tito. It was raining lightly, so we found an internet café and e-mailed Marita and Jerry in Vela Luka, saying we hoped it was raining hard there because their vines and olive trees had been suffering badly when we left.

Left for Split at 1:00 on the catamaran passenger ferry.

I'll close this portion as it is getting a bit lengthy. I'll take up Split and Trogir and the further tale of the search for the mythical Prim in Part 3.
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Old May 14th, 2009, 12:30 PM
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Thanks for reposting. This is very useful information for many.
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Old May 15th, 2009, 10:02 AM
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Croatian Trip Report Part 3

Arrived in Split at about 2:00 on Monday and immediately made a mistake. We got off the ferry and I ignored the people trying to rent rooms (sobe). The tourist office ploy had worked so very well in Hvar I was determined to do the same in Split. We waded through a whole gang of people with Sobe, Zimmer, Rooms signs and asked where the tourist office was. Turned out it was at the end of the square above Diocletian?s Palace, by the Cathedral. That meant either going down the front and through the Palace and up those horribly long and steep flights of stairs I remembered from our earlier tour, or going the long way around, up the hill past the bazaars and through the gate dragging our suitcases, bumpety, bump over the cobbles.

We took the long hard, hot way, only to find the Tourist Office closed. The sign on the door said it was open from 9:00 until 6:00, but it was locked tight. As we stood there looking forlorn, a chap came out of a jewelry store across the street and asked us if he could help. "Oh, oh!? I said to myself, suspiciously. This guy could be trouble!" In fact, he didn't turn out that way, but it cost us anyway. He said he knew the lady in the Tourist Office and she lived some distance away and sometimes had trouble getting in to work. He said if we were looking for a room he had a friend --- Tammy and I looked at each other and thought about the long slog back to the ferry to look up a sobe person, or trying to get into the Hotel Bellevue, which we didn't like much and which would cost over $100.

"OK, call her.", I said resignedly. He made the call and said she would meet us close by. We set off through the maze of back streets, generally heading west. We waited on a corner for a bit and an attractive lady in her thirties came up and introduced herself. She said she was in the process of fixing up a building and, though the work was not finished, she had three rooms ready enough to rent, though one had a South African couple staying in it at the moment. We could look at the other two and choose which one we liked. She wanted 400 Kuna per night for the room. Tammy did her bargaining bit and talked her down to 350 Kuna a night, with no nonsense about 33% for less than three nights. We walked another long way and ended up outside a really grungy door that led into an unfinished stairway, past piles of rubble, and finally to the third floor which had some signs of being near completion. Skeptically, we looked at the rooms. They were fine. Scantily furnished, but OK. We chose the one that had a shower in the room. They lacked small things, like a place to hang things, and a shower curtain, but they were clean as a whistle and had a washing machine out in the hall so we took it for two nights.

The original plan was to just drop our bags and head out for Trogir. It was getting too late for that, so we decided to look for a Prim. I thought I knew where the hospital was, which was near the store Nicolai had said might have a Prim, so we headed that way. We wandered for a long, long time, asking in shops and record stores for a musical instrument shop. No joy. Since we ended up near the Tourist Office, which was now open, we went in to ask about music stores. The charming lady told us the hospital was in quite another direction than I had thought. She gave us a map, and we started walking up the indicated street. It was uphill, of course, as is everything in Croatia. We walked, and walked, and walked, stopping to ask helpful people who thought they remembered such a store, "Just 500 meters further up." We, seriously, walked at least five miles up that damned hill and never found the place. I was really pooped, so we took a bus back to the center.

Since we had to pass near the Tourist Office to get to our room, I stopped in to ask what we had done wrong. The lady said we must have passed the place, because it really was only a half mile or so up that road. Being a stubborn soul, I insisted we go back. We did and found she was right. We had walked right past it. Perhaps it was closed, but----. Anyway, we found it. The man said he had no Prims, but we might try another place in a big shopping mall, "About 500 meters." We walked there (uphill, of course) to find the "Musikalle" in the basement. The chap had a Prim on his wall, which gave us hope. He said, however, that it was just for display and was broken anyway. He knew of no other place in Split that might have one, and he was certain that none of the cities we planned to visit down the coast would have such a thing, either. Not even Dubrovnik.

Exhausted, we went back to the room and did laundry, which we hung up to dry on racks the landlady used to dry her sheets. After a brief nap, we decided we deserved a good meal and went to a nearby restaurant named Nosramos, which had been recommended. It was indeed a fine restaurant, and we ate really well and enjoyed what we had ordered, but questioned our choices when other folks who ordered fish were presented with a huge platter of raw fish from which to choose. Cost was about 180 Kuna with tip (~$30).

Next morning we slept a bit late and then caught the #37 bus to Trogir; about 40 minutes. We worried if we would know where to get off, but that was no problem, because the last stop is hard by the bridge to the city. We had originally thought of staying there for a night, but found that a full day was enough for us. We wandered the small island city, shopped, ate lunch outside a hotel, and took in enough of the guidebook sights to satisfy us. As usual, we concentrated on galleries, antique shops and gelato stands. Strattiacelli is my favorite; sort of a chocolate chip.

Back in Split, we wandered into an antique shop. I was taken by an unusual bronze bust and asked the price. The answer, $10,000, cooled my ardor instantly. Turns out I at least have good taste. It was by Ivan Mestrovic, the Croatian born American sculptor. Stupidly, I had neglected to look up and visit his gallery and sculpture garden while in Trogir. Next time.

I idly asked the antique dealer if he ever ran across Prims. He said that while he had none of those, he did have a 200 year old Gusle in the warehouse at his home. At my blank look he explained that a Gusle was a traditional Croatian instrument with a single string, played with a bow. He said any Croatian orchestra would be thrilled to have one of these. He said he was going to close his shop anyway, and if we wished he would walk us to his warehouse and show it to us. He said the standard, "It's only 500 meters.", and we followed him for what seemed a mile and a half, uphill of course. The "warehouse" was really fascinating to an old garage sale addict like myself; piled high with an incredible collection of dusty junk. While he rummaged through the piles looking for the Gusle, I busied myself looking over armor, swords, paintings, spears, furniture, etc., etc., all heaped in a delicious jumble. He found the Gusle all too soon, and we looked at what was obviously very old and heavily decorated instrument. It was carved from a single piece of wood and every square millimeter was covered with elaborate chip carving patterns, as was the bow. To me, it looked too unused to have been other than a decorative instrument that had not been played much, and I reluctantly said, "No, we will continue to pursue a Prim." We called Steve in Seattle just to be sure, but he was not too interested. I have the dealer's contact information, if anyone is interested.

Went to dinner at a really superior Kanoba, up the hill behind the red-brick building by the Hotel Bellvue, named Kanoba Veros. Really good food! Tammy had a mixed salad, followed by Fried Cheese. I had a mixed salad and a Mixed Grill, which consisted of a huge veal cutlet, cevapcici sausage, thick grilled ham, lamb on a skewer, and French fries. A heart attack on a plate, and a Vegan's nightmare, but delicious. A hint; the small cevapcici sausages are served with small onions cut small. The custom is to spear a tiny piece of onion on ones fork, then a bit of sausage. Yum! The bill, with a half-liter of house wine and mineral water was 145 Kuna + tip (about $24).

Part 4 of this journal will take us south to Omis, and Makarska and then, depending on how wordy I get, to Dubrovnik and Montenegro.
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Old May 16th, 2009, 11:47 AM
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Croatian Trip Report Part 4

Up early in the morning to find our laundry dry enough to pack and be off for the bus station. The long haul bus station in Split is clockwise around the harbor from the place one takes the local buses, just past the train station, so we trundled our bags over the cobbles for about 500 meters. The ticket seller said you buy the ticket on the bus, at bay #2. We saw that there were three bays labeled #2, each with a bus in it labeled Makarska. Presumably some are long haul or express, and others just local. We asked the Drivers, “Omis?” (pronounced: o-mish), and took the one that left first. You indicate your bags, and the “conductor” guy opens the luggage bay and puts your cases inside. It cost 20 Kuna to Omis for two, and another 3 Kuna per bag.

It is only 25 kilometers to the town of Omis, and we had barely settled in on our right-hand seats to look at the spectacular coastal scenery, when we came down into a valley and across a bridge that gave a view of the castle guarding the town and the spectacular cliffs split by the Cetina River. We got off at the stop about 200 yards past the bridge and walked back to town to find the Tourist Office. Our thought was to get a cheap room, dump the bags and take a trip up the river. There apparently is no “official” tourist office, so we walked into a regular travel agency. A chap sitting talking to agents said he could help with both things and led us through the back streets of the town to the river. He said he was an anesthesiologist in a Split hospital, but had business interests in Omis, including a couple of apartments in Brela to the south; which he would of course rent to us for a reasonable fee since the height of the season had past. He would even drive us down there to see them, he said.

He introduced us to a young lady who ran one of the boat excursion places along the river front, and she said we could leave our bags with her while we were gone. They had large boats, holding 15 – 20 people going up river; a German party was going soon, but it looked full, and we preferred to have our own boat. They had a smaller outboard boat, with operator, that we could rent for three hours for 200 Kuna (~$35). Sounded good, so we loaded up and took off. The river and the scenery were simply splendid! The water was clear, and you could see fish swimming below us as the river wound its way past the city battlements on the tops of vertical cliffs. It was truly an idyllic interlude.

There was a road that wound along the south (right going upstream) side of the river, but it was usually out of sight as the stream wound its way beside seemingly untouched countryside. The river flows languidly in the lower reaches, though I understand one can white water raft further up. Our boat driver spoke some English and told us things about the history of Omis and of the river. He pointed out seemingly abandoned farmhouses back in the trees, that he said belonged to locals whose tradition was to use the places to bring the whole family to camp during the heat of the summer. They would party and feast and pretend it was “The old days.”

We went up the river for about an hour until the stream narrowed and pulled into a bank at a place called Radonanove Mlinice. It was a place that had once been a mill, and had several buildings almost hidden in a glade of huge trees. There were a number of tables set up under the trees with paper tablecloths. Our guy told us we could stay for 45 minutes or an hour and have a meal if we wished, or just walk around. We opted to sit at a table and I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich (18 Kuna) and a beer. When the sandwich came it was huge, it had generous slices of Dalmatian ham and tasty cheese between thick slices of crusty bread that was still warm from the oven. Tammy had “Pea Soup”, which appeared to be made from beans, as there were plenty of them, but not a pea to be seen. There was a lot of smoke coming from chimneys above the buildings, and a lot of smoke pouring out from under the eaves. Also, I noticed big round, dome-like things stacked in the windows. I walked up to see what was happening and saw that the cooking was done over hot coals in an open space inside a shed. There must have been an area of ten feet by ten feet covered with hot coals from wood fires. The coals were heaped over dome-shaped iron pots, called Peka, in which the huge crusty round loaves were baked, and meats were roasted on grills. Made me feel bad I had only had a sandwich.

After lunch we started back down the river. About half way down the outboard suddenly raced, and I knew we had broken a shear pin. We were in deep water, so I don’t know what happened, other than hitting a fish. Anyway, our boatman stood up and asked which side of the river would we prefer, the sunny side or the shady side? I told him to choose whichever side would be easiest for him, so he took out an oar and got us to the shady side. We held us into the bank by holding on to branches while he looked for a spare shear pin. No luck. He then found a length of wire that looked like thin galvanized bailing wire to me. Using his knife handle, he bent over a number of lengths of the wire to form a makeshift pin he pounded into the coupling. I held my breath as he pulled the starting cord, but it started right up and held the rest of the trip.

Back at the landing, I tipped our boatman well and then told our Doctor friend that we would not take up his offer of an apartment, but head down to Makarska, instead. He took this with good grace, and we trundled our bags down to the bus stop, where we had to wait only about ten minutes before a bus came along. It cost 34 Kuna, plus 6 Kuna for the bags for both of us.

The scenery on the trip was so spectacular, I am at a loss to add to what others have said. Its closest comparison to me was Big Sur, only with clear blue water, and inviting villages at the bottoms of the cliffs.

At the bus station in Makarska there were two ladies apparently selling rooms. Tammy chose one over the other as she resembled her mother, rather bent and quite old. The lady had almost no English but showed us a pad with the number 65 written on it. She pointed vaguely down the street when I asked her where the sobe was. She nodded vigorously when I pantomimed a shower, so we followed her. She led the way a couple of blocks further down the street from the bus station and then, rather than turning toward the town as we expected, turned left up the hill. Up the hill, and up the hill we trudged until I was about to call it quits. Just at that point she turned in at her gate to reveal yet another set of stairs to climb. We gasped into her kitchen, neat as a pin, and she sat us down at the table. She asked if we wanted coffee? We said only water, please, and she plopped two big glasses in front of us. Then she showed us our room down the hall. An older large room with two beds made up and pushed together, with another with just a spread. A large wardrobe to hang clothes, and a small balcony with clothes lines to hang our almost dry laundry from Split. The bathroom/shower was down the hall, but it seemed only we would be using it. We said we would take it.

Back to the kitchen where we went to talk, the landlady bustled to the fridge and got out a large bunch of white grapes and a bowl of fresh figs to put in front of us. She said she had to charge 70 Kuna per person because we were only staying the one night; total of 140 Kuna (~$24). We paid her and went to our room to unpack. She came right after us, concerned we had forgotten our grapes and figs, which she put on the dresser for us. Now she reminded me of my mother.

We wandered downtown and cruised the shops and galleries. We liked Makarska. Sort of standard Croatian coast town with a palm-tree-lined promenade along the clear water of the harbor, strolling people, yachts stern to, and lots of outdoor tables in front of cafes. We particularly like to sit in the evening in those cafes that have swings; side-by-side seating in a swinging bench under an umbrella. We have a drink, or a coffee, relax, read the Tribune or our novels as long as there is light, and talk about the day. Nice –

We stopped at the Poste and made some calls home. I asked one of my daughters if she still wanted me to bring a Luka back for her from Croatia, referring to the Balkan hunk who plays a doctor on the TV series, ER. Not ten minutes later we found one, working in an art gallery on the front in Makarska. We had looked at the paintings and were leaving when Tammy whispered that the clerk was really a hottie. I hadn’t noticed, but when I looked I saw he was a cross between Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer. I went up to him and said we were taken by the paintings and might want to contact him later. Would he give us his name and contact information? Could we take a picture of him in front of one of the painting that had caught our eye? He said his name was Mario, and did as we had asked.

Now it is up to my daughter.

I also asked Mario for a recommendation for a modest Konoba to have a meal. He recommended one at which we later dined. The Restaurant Brela turned out to be one of the premier restaurants in all of Croatia, according to some of the literature we saw at the front desk. We can believe it, as the meal turned out to be superb! We ate lightly, but the meal was just wonderful. Only cost about $20 for the two of us.

I noticed that the prices at the cafes, restaurants, and even grocery stores seemed much less away from the big tourist centers. A coffee that would cost 12 to 15 Kuna in Hvar or Split would cost only 6 or 7 in Omis or Makarska. After dinner I had a gelato (4 Kuna) on the front, and back to the room, as we were really tired, and I was feeling unwell.

In the morning, just as we were leaving, our landlady came to the door with a tray with two cups of coffee. We went into the kitchen to drink them, and she plopped a glass in front of me and threw in a healthy dollop of rakija. She tried the same with Tammy, but she would have none of it. Just to be polite, I slugged the shot down, sort of as starter fluid in the morning. Gasp!

We trundled on down to the bus stop and waited for the first bus to Dubrovnik. It came along at 08:30 and we had the most WONDERFUL ride down the coast! The scenery was, if anything, even more spectacular than that between Split and Makarska.

I had better break this off and leave Dubrovnik and Montenegro until part 5 of this little saga.
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Old May 17th, 2009, 11:04 AM
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Croatian Trip Report Part 5

On entering Dubrovnik after that stunning bus ride from Makarska, I saw that we were going to bypass Gruz, the commercial port. I had wanted to see where I had moored our boat thirty years before. Even the glimpses I got convinced me it had changed so much I would never find the location. I still owe some Yugoslav a debt from that time. When I was away on an errand, one of my daughters, about five years old at the time, fell off the boat into the harbor. Some guy dove into the water, scooped her up, and presented the dripping, frightened tike to my practice wife. He then just left, before she even had a chance to thank him, much less get his name.

When we got into the bus station in Dubrovnik I had reason to regret not having done my homework. I had neglected to look up where the bus station was in relation to our hotel. We had reservations for two nights at the Villa Adriatica., which I had gotten after rave reviews on this Forum. As we got off the bus we were approached by a guy who wanted to rent us a room. We explained we had reservations, but weren't sure how far a walk it would be; that it was near the Ploce gate. He said it was too far to walk but he would drive us there for 100 Kuna. I felt we were getting hustled, but since I wasn't feeling too well we agreed. It did seem a long way, but he could have been driving the long way, for all we knew. We chatted about Prims, of course, and he said if we contacted him later he would make inquires, "-- because I have a cousin, who --".

He dropped us close to the Hotel Excelsior, and we walked down the hill toward the Ploce gate. We figured it must have been shady for him to taxi us because there was no reason he could not have dropped us right at the Gate, except there is a taxi stand there.

As we walked downhill, we passed a sign for the East West Bar, also touted in this Forum. As we approached the bridge to the Ploce gate we started asking for the Villa Adriatica. One lout, who seemed drunk, dismissed us with a wave of his hand. I asked in a small Konzum (a chain grocery store). They had no clue. Finally, I noticed a small blue awning over a travel agent right on the corner. It was marked "Perla Adriatica". I went in and the young lady said, ?This is it. I'll call them."

Teo, the son of the owner, soon came and led us a few doors back up the street to a rather scabby red door. Through the door was the fabulous Villa Adriatica. I noticed a bell beside the door, so presumably one could get admitted if the travel office was closed.

The Villa has been described before in this Forum enough so that I need go into no details, but we had the larger room that does not open onto the terrace, but that still has a view of the old harbor from the window. Among the wonders of this room was not only the satellite TV, but the first toilet roll holder we saw in Croatia. Every place we had stayed before just had a roll sitting on the toilet tank or alongside somewhere within reach.

Occupants of all the rooms can use the living room and kitchen, as well as the terrace. Teo showed us where the pads for the lounges were stored and asked us to bring them in when we were not using them and to take down the umbrellas so they would not blow away. We did not use the terrace as much as we might have, but we did go a few doors down to the Konzum and get crusty rolls, ham, cheese, beer, and other goodies to have a couple of picnics on the terrace as we watched the transport boats from the cruise ships scramble with other water taxi boats for places to unload in the harbor.

What can I say about Dubrovnik that has not been said. It is just wonderful! Too many people, of course, but still just marvelous. There were a series of cruise ships there while we were, but never more than two at a time. I shudder to think how crowded the place must be in high summer when seven or eight arrive at once.

We first went to the East West Bar I had heard so much about. I'll bet it is a really swinging watering hole in the season. The place has a stylish restaurant up above, and the bar is just above the level of the beach, filled with modernistic white, low, benches and curved couches. A curved bar is built into the back wall, and one looks out through structural cross braces, well padded so you can lean against them, at people lounging on beach chairs. Good music is playing, but the mood was muted when we arrived as there was only one other customer, reading a book. We had a drink and talked to the waiter who said things would pick up a bit later, but the season was waning.

We also cast about for the Buza bar everyone talks about. I could lead you to it, but no way could I tell you how to get there. Well, I'll try anyway. If you enter by the Ploce gate and enter the Stradum (main drag), turn left and left again, hugging the city wall. As you must turn right along the wall you will see a varnished wooden sign that says something about "Great view, Cold drinks." As you climb inside the wall, you will eventually see another varnished wooden sign shaped like an arrow, saying, "Cold Drinks" on your right. Dive through the hole in the wall to your left, and you are there. It would be bloody hot there in the heat of a Summer day, but we got there as sunset approached. We sat, listened to the music, and had one of the advertised cold drinks while we watched the light dim. There are steps leading to lower levels, and we watched people swimming off a rock by the sea and a couple of guys fishing. Very pleasant.

I hate to keep cluttering these pages with our search for that damned Prim, I hardly expect any of you will be buying one soon, but it was getting to be an obsession with us. The girl in the Perla Adriatica travel agency said there was a music store up the hill (of course) from the Ploce Gate toward the Blaise Gate, in a side street to the right. We dutifully hiked up, only to find it closed. The sign on the door said it should be open, but it wasn't. We tried twice more that day (Thursday) with no luck.

On Friday we decided to tackle the wall. We were walking along back streets shortly after 08:00, intending to have our morning cup of coffee before heading for the Pile Gate and the Wall, when we were passed by a group of young Croatian kids in folk costume. One of them was carrying a guitar. On impulse, I whirled in my tracks and chased after them. I stopped them and asked the guy with the instrument if he knew where we could buy a Prim for our son. Tammy whipped out her picture of Steve in Croatian costume that she had shown so many people over the past days. The chap said he had a Prim, but played it. An attractive woman with them said she was an event manager, and was with the group on their way to a performance. She said they were going for coffee and while they had their drinks she would make a call to the group's music teacher about where to get Prims. We were welcome to tag along.

They went into a café and we, not wanting to intrude, sat at an outside table to have our coffee. After awhile the event manager came out and gave us a piece of paper with the name of a man who lived in a town north of Zagreb who was supposed to be the best traditional instrument maker in Croatia. We thanked her and I popped into the restaurant, cornered the owner and paid for the group's drinks. We figured we would write the maker from the States and try to arrange to buy Steve?s present.

To the wall. This is the only truly "must do" thing in Dubrovnik. I did not note how much admission to the wall was, but I think it was 30 Kuna for the two of us. I also invested in one of those multilingual tour telephones. You rent them for another 30 Kuna, and it is a wonderful investment. Not so much for the superb commentary and information you are able to listen to at each of the over 20 stations on the wall, but for the perfect excuse they give an old guy to stop at the top of a flight of stairs and recover.

The city itself is bounded by the walls, which are a over 400 meters on a side. That makes the city wall only about 1900 meters long. The problem is not with the length of the walls; it is with the ups and downs. I'm in reasonable shape for a guy in his seventies, but I really got pooped. It was handy to punch the button on the phone and spend a couple of minutes listening to the history of that part of the wall, and then hand it to Tammy. By the time she had listened to that segment of the tour, I had caught my breath to go on without too much loss of dignity. The views, plus the history literally takes your breath away --- without those damned stairs.

We went around counter-clockwise to have our final stop be the top of the highest tower. As we stood, listening to an old guy wheeze (me), we heard cheering coming from near the Pile gate below us. The commotion seemed move from right to left through the town, so we figured there must be some sort of demonstration taking place on the Stradum. Shortly thereafter Tammy pointed out a big cloud of smoke rising from the Ploce end of the Stradum, probably from the square. I thought they must have a fire, as I kept hearing crowd noises. The smoke cleared and then another big cloud arose. We thought no more about it, but came down from the wall and walked down the Stradum toward the Ploce Gate.

As we entered the square by the church we heard amplified voices and music, and ran into a huge crowd who were wildly cheering someone up on the steps of the church. We could see it was a young chap with buzz cut hair that had been shaved and died in the checkerboard pattern of the Croatian flag. It was Mihovil Spanja, a local lad who had won the 400 meter freestyle bronze medal for Croatia in the recent Olympics in Athens. As we watched, the crowd hoisted him on their shoulders and paraded off down the Stradum, with him waving and smiling at the multitudes, with his medals swinging from his neck. Made me think this is how the people of Dubrovnik must have honored their heroes through antiquity. Tammy picked up a torn poster from the steps, so we could remember his name.

We went by the music store three more times that day, hoping to find it open. The Ploce Gate had been closed by street work, and the only way from the city to Villa Adriatica was either to climb the million steps to the city's North gate (Blaise Gate?) and down the street outside the walls, or to follow the route a local showed us. You enter the restaurant just to the left of the entrance from the square to the harbor, and go through the passage outside the kitchen to the shore. From there a series of wooden planks have been laid down from boulder to boulder at the base of the wall. If you walk along these, they seem reasonably stable as they are fastened with iron straps on at least one end. You eventually come to about a 20 yard stretch with no planks where you have to step carefully from rock to rock. This leads to a blind corner where one sometimes meets another person coming the other way, and you do a little dance. Finally, you reach a small area of the harbor just below the bridge crossing to the Ploce Gate. Walk under the bridge and around to the Villa Adriatica, Hotel Excelsior, etc. Sounds hairy, and at night it was, but we managed.

On impulse, I suggested that we try the music store one more time and even climb those damned stairs. We did and THE PLACE WAS OPEN! The nice fellow immediately said he had met a man who made Prims the previous year and picked up the telephone and called him. He quoted a price range for beginning to professional instruments and asked, "Do you want a G, D, or E?" Dumbstruck, we raced down those zillion stairs to the Poste to call Steve. He said he was playing a D instrument. We raced back up the quadrillion stairs as the shopkeeper had said he had to leave shortly. Tammy left me puffing on about the third landing, and by the time I arrived at the shop she had ordered the top of the line Prim. The maker, who lived in a town North of Zagreb said he would find a shipping company that worked on Saturdays and if all went well we could expect it to get there by Monday.

We were leaving Dubrovnik the following morning and made arrangements for the shopkeeper to call us at our next hotel when the thing arrived, and we would come back to pick it up. We left feeling really pleased, and Tammy practically danced down to the hotel.

We had made arrangements to meet the rest of our Sister Cities party at the Hotel Astarea in the town of Mlini (no, that is spelled right, means place of the mills) south of Dubrovnik. We planned to leave by around noon on Saturday. I had a really dreadful night, with almost no sleep. I had been getting sicker since I first came down with what I thought at first was a head cold the previous Sunday ? hacking and coughing and with the "quick step". By Friday night I was having trouble breathing and I coughed all night. I got up early and packed. I woke Tammy and told her I was going to the hospital. She was to pay the Mr. Tonsic our bill, wait until 10:00 and then take our bags out front to the taxi stand and have the driver take her to the Hotel Astarea and check in. I would contact her there.

I got in a taxi and went off to have an adventure in Croatian medicine. Croatian hospitals are not like American hospitals!

The driver took me to the Western part of the city near Gruz to a huge modern hospital built on the top of a hill, and dropped me at the entrance (70 Kuna). I went through the glass doors into an enormous tiled lobby. It had a snack bar and a gift shop to the right, and an enormous reception desk a considerable walk across the impressive foyer.

Nobody was manning the reception desk. I waited awhile, coughing loudly for attention. Nobody came, and I started wandering. I walked down to the radiology department. I wandered through oncology. I meandered past other specialties but saw no staff. There were a few patients wandering around, but nobody who looked like medical personnel.

At last I came back and wandered down another corridor, which took me behind the reception desk. I could see an older guy in jeans sitting in front of a TV monitor in a small room behind the reception desk. I got his attention and asked where I could find a Doctor. He had mostly German, but I gathered I was in the wrong place. If I was sick, I shouldn't have come to the hospital but to the Emergency Room. He gestured that it was out the front doors and to the left down the hill. Out I went and, as I passed some folks in white clothes having a smoke outside another entrance, I took the opportunity to ask them the same questions. They had English and assured me that this was the Hospital Department, and I needed to go about two blocks down the hill to the Emergency Department.

I trudged down the hill until the sight of ambulances parked by another building gave me hope. I went in the entrance to find no medical staff about here, either. I found a young lady typing in an office and told her my tale. She asked me to wait and went away to rustle up a Doctor. In due coarse a lady Doctor appeared and took me into an adjoining space and had me strip to my waist. She thumped me and bumped me and listened to my chest. She said I had a respiratory infection, and that one lobe of my lung sounded funny to her, indicating possible pneumonia. She said that a full workup would take days, and since I was leaving gave me three prescriptions, including strong antibiotics, along with instructions to drink lots of fluids, see your doctor at home, and blah, blah, blah.

I thanked her and got dressed. I asked the young lady in the office whom I should pay; here or at the hospital? She said I should pay her, and wrote out a bill. I had trouble reading the number. "Is that 68 Kuna?" I asked? She nodded, and I handed her a 200 Kuna note, the smallest I had. She looked at it dubiously, handed back the bill, and said, "Nothing." When I looked puzzled, she said, "Go away and get better."

When I could speak again I said, "Now I know for sure I am not in an American hospital!" She grinned and I went back up the hill to the hospital to catch a cab.

There were no cabs, so I had to wait for an hour or more until the bus standing there left. The driver said I could wait in the bus if I wished, but I preferred going inside to the coffee shop to wait. The driver said one had to have a magnetically coded ticket to ride the bus, or put the exact 10 Kuna change in the fare machine. The tickets could be purchased at the hospital gift shop for only 8 Kuna. Since I only had my 200 Kuna note, I first went to the coffee shop for something to drink and a roll. I paid the waiter, and he had to run all over the hospital to get change. He got a big tip. Then I went to the gift shop and was able to buy my ticket.

The bus dropped me at the Pile gate and I hustled along the Stradum. It was already past 10:00 and I feared I had missed Tammy. I really didn?t feel up to climbing those stairs, so elected the restaurant kitchen scramble over the rocks route. I came wheezing up to the Villa Adriatica and looked up at our room window, which faced the street. I managed to croak a weak "Tammy?" She had been pacing the room anxiously waiting for me and was rather concerned. We put the bags in the hall and hopped from rock to rock back into town to the nearest pharmacy, which happened to be right on the Stradum.

While the hospital was free, the medicines were not. I don't know what kind of super antibiotic the Doctor prescribed, but they cost $8.00 per pill.

While we were in the pharmacy, three Italians came in. They were all upset about something, with the biggest fat guy shouting at the woman, who was in tears and near hysteria, screaming back at him and trying to tell the pharmacist something. I couldn't hear what the pharmacist was saying to me about how to take the medicines and the pharmacist had to shout to the Italians to quiet down. They just got louder, and the Pharmacist just exploded, and she really told them off. Told them to leave or the cops would be called. I had noticed an antipathy by the Croatians toward some Italians before, but it was really apparent that day.

Back to the Villa Adriatica for our bags and then a puff up the hill outside the walls and one street over to a bus stop to wait for the #10 Bus. When the bus came we motioned to the driver that we had bags. The conductor guy got off and put them under the bus, but indicated that in future we should do it ourselves. It cost 10 Kuna to Mlini, and he didn't charge us extra for the bags. We weren't sure of where to get off for the hotel, so as we approached Mlini I asked a passenger about the Hotel Asterea. She said it was well beyond the town and the driver would stop at the driveway, which he did.

I see this is getting too long, what with my superfluous tales of Prims and Hospitals, so I'll leave Mlini, Cavtat, and Montenegro until the next part.
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Old May 17th, 2009, 05:33 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 14
Really enjoying your trip report. We will be going to Croatia in June and love hearing others experiences. Thanks,

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Old May 18th, 2009, 08:47 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,838

So glad you can make use of this old report. In re-reading it as I re-posted I wondered how much of it is still relevant. I usually read the Croatia trip reports of others and, other than prices going up a bit, things seem much the same. If you post your own trip report when you return, I hope you will point out any differences.

Do you intend renting a car? We relied entirely on public transportation, and found it easy to use, cheap, and convenient. It also channeled us into some place we would not have been able to enjoy, had we been tied to a car.

You will love Croatia! Have a wonderful trip.

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Old May 19th, 2009, 09:21 AM
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Croatian Trip Report Part 6 (The Final One!)

In our last installment, dear reader, we saw our heroes just disembarked from a bus from Dubrovnik, at the top of the drive of the driveway of the Hotel Astarea in the Croatian town of Mlini. We did the ploy of Tammy standing in the doorway of the bus, smiling at the driver, just to reminding him we had luggage to unload, while I opened the compartment and snaked out our two bags. We then trundled them down the very long steep driveway from the highway to the hotel and checked in.

The hotel is a very modern place with over 700 beds in the main building and in cottages scattered on the ground. Our trip organizer had booked it because space for our large party would be difficult in Dubrovnik, even in the "shoulder" season. Besides, it was considerably cheaper, at about $100, than places like the Excelsior or Argentina in town. We chose the Bed & Breakfast option. Most of our party chose to either have the Half Board (breakfast and dinner) or the Full Board of three meals a day. We figured we could join the group for breakfast, and always choose to have dinner with them for an additional 100 Kuna each ($16).

Our room was just fine, on the third floor, with two beds, satellite TV, shower, hair dryer, and a balcony with both a lovely view of the coast to the west toward Dubrovnik, and clothes lines for our laundry. It also had a toilet roll holder; what more could one ask? The hotel had a pool/spa, workout room, gift shop, a couple of bars, and even a lending library in the lobby travel agent's office. It was about 50 yards from a nice pebbly beach, and that same path led to a super palm-lined beach front promenade that led westward for miles, past restaurants and stunning views.

Transport was not a problem, as the hotel was only 11 kilometers from Dubrovnik, and the hotel shuttle would take you into town for 25 Kuna. The alternative, which we used exclusively, was to go by boat. Launches left on a regular schedule for points both up and down the coast. Cost 50 Kuna round trip to Cavtat, 60 Kuna to Dubrovnik, and took about a half hour.

I was not feeling too chipper, so we limited our first day's activity (Saturday) to a stroll along the front to a lovely restaurant, the Konoba Lanterna. The dining room was a few steps up from the promenade, and we got a table looking out on the small harbor and the sea. There was a big trunk of some sort of tree growing right up through the dining room floor and going through the roof. I popped outside to see it was really a grape vine that spread, outside, over the roof and to a neighboring roof. Bunches of ripening grapes were hanging down --- nice.

I had a green salad and a pork cutlet, while Tammy ordered a chicken dish, which turned out to be wonderful. Chicken breast stuffed with scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese, dipped in a light batter; all crispy. I tasted some of hers and concluded I had made the wrong choice, even for a guy trying hard to stay on a low-carb diet. We both had it a few nights later.

I then had a nap to let the antibiotics start to kick in, and at nine that evening we went to a free concert of three classical guitarists who played in a small chapel, hard by the hotel. We arrived a bit late and could not sit together. Tammy ended up sitting directly in front of the lead guitarist, and I sat on a side bench actually within touching distance behind him, looking over his shoulder so I could follow the music. The music, and the golden decorations of the church made the experience truly heavenly. I was even able to stifle my coughing so I only hacked in the musician's ear between movements --- which I?m sure he appreciated.

The next morning, Sunday, happened to be our 17th wedding anniversary. To breakfast, where we met most of our party who had arrived late the previous evening from Korcula. They told us of all we had missed by leaving early from Korcula, and we filled them in on our adventures. Breakfast was buffet style, with cereal, cold scrambled eggs, cold cuts, breads, coffee, and some processed excuse for orange juice. All right, but not special. That was fine, though, as we seldom eat a large breakfast.

Later, we took the launch over to Cavtat, on a bright, warm, blue day, on a clear calm sea, past incredibly lovely scenery --- things don't get much better!

Cavtat is a charming little town. Bigger than Mlini by far, its harbor curves around a brilliant bay, lined with shops, restaurants, yachts, and palm trees. (I know, I say this about every Croatian seaside city but, damn it, every one we visited was better than the last!) We strolled the front, got money out of a wall, sat at a bakery and got coffee and delicious cakes with whipped cream. Strolled further until we found a news stand that had the International Herald Tribune and sat at another sea side café for another coffee and mineral water; later a light lunch, while we read the paper and our novels, and Tammy did the cross word puzzle. As I usually do, I walked along the front trying to chat up folks on yachts tied to the quay. I try not to even mention my trip to these waters years before, but they are often happy to talk about their trips, and the new gear they have. Lord, some of them even have air conditioning!

Back to Mlini where we had an early dinner (7:30 is early, here) at the Konoba Astarea, a separate old building down by the shore, which I assume has a connection to the hotel. Tammy had a delicious cream of mushroom soup, and I had another salad and mixed grill. Not a very exciting anniversary, but very nice, non-the-less.

Before we went to dinner we had made arrangements with the travel agent in the lobby to go on a trip to Montenegro the next day, Monday. It cost 300 Kuna apiece ($50), and it turned out to be well worth it. The trip was on a very modern air-conditioned bus, and had a very knowledgeable guide, and an apprentice guide who mostly took notes (both were great looking, too!).

Before we left, I asked the travel agent if she knew where I could get a map of Montenegro, so I could see where we were going. She replied that I would not be able to buy such a map anywhere in Croatia. At my puzzled look she said, "We really don't like those people!" She then said she actually did have such a map she had picked up when she was in Montenegro. She unlocked her desk drawer and pulled out the map, which she had laminated, and showed it to us while she traced the route we would follow. Then she carefully locked it away again.

We got the idea.

The bus picked us up promptly, and we had about a 40 minute trip to the border, with only more of that awful, repetitive, dull scenery to bore us out of the window, as the sea turned from dark to bright blue.

Before the border, the guide gave us some information about the war and its aftermath. She said that while the average wage in Croatia was somewhere between 350 to 450 Euros per month, the average wage in Montenegro was between 150 and 250 Euros. Top that with 40% unemployment and you have serious problems. Another problem is the water supply for Montenegro. The soils are quite porous and rainfall quickly drains away. The Kotor region used to depend upon water piped in from the Dubrovnik area, but that is now out of the question, so there is an acute water shortage. When Yugoslavia split into all of its six component parts, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Montenegro were officially joined. In 2005 there is to be a vote to see if Montenegro will split off as a separate country. The guide said 70% of Montenegrans are in favor of the split, but Bosnia is not, and she predicted some problems. Watch the papers.

The border formalities were not like the ones on our bus trip from Makarska to Dubrovnik, in that nobody got on the bus to check our passports. I had mine out, but it was not needed. Our brunette guide and her equally stunning blond apprentice guide got out and disappeared into the customs building, and some wag on our bus said, "They are not bothering with us old farts, but I'll bet those two get a full body search!"

We went through lovely scenery, none-the-less, as we came along the shore into Kotor. I recalled the long, winding, approach by water, down the gorge that leads from the sea, when we sailed there in 1973. It seemed little changed. We had a short time to explore the city of Kotor. As we gathered by an open-air market to get instructions from our guide, a fellow started shouting at our guide in an obviously angry way. When I asked her what he had been shouting, she would only say, "He knows we are from Croatia and they don?t like us very much either."

Part of the information we got as we looked at the cathedral was that when the French had occupied Kotor during their early history the French soldiers were most impressed that the city had three brothels. Paris, at the time, had only one.

Some of our party bought fruit from the wonderful displays in the open air markets, and the guides said that fresh produce cost only one third of the price in Croatia. We had about 45 minutes to explore the town; not a lot, but it is a small place. Tammy had her eye out for ladies stuff. She had picked up some neat patterned stockings in Split and Dubrovnik. She saw some really interesting Italian lingerie in a shop on one of the squares, so I had to stop at a wall and pick up some Euros as the shops would not take Kuna.

We left the town of Kotor and began one of the most spectacular 45 minute drives of my life. All the way up you could see the walls of Kotor getting smaller and smaller, way down there below. There are 26 hairpin turns going up the mountain toward the tiny town of Njegusi. When I say going up the mountain, I mean going UP the mountain. And when I say hairpin turns, I mean I really couldn't see how the bus could make the corners. I shuddered to think about meeting a truck on that road going the other way, and yet they told us that they hold road races here every year. They must be MAD!

As we climbed, the guide said something about this being a National Park; but, "---look out the windows". It was obvious that the edge of the road had been used as a garbage dumps for long stretches. The contrast to the cleanliness of Croatia was striking.

Over the top of the pass, the bus stopped in an Alpine valley at the tiny village of Njegusi for a break. The town, on what used to be the only possible road from the interior town of Cetinja to the Montenegrin coast, is a haven for vacationers from the coastal summer heat, which sometimes reaches 45 degrees centigrade; 113 Fahrenheit. The small valley, which is cut off from the outside world for three or four months each winter, has the feel of a Swiss village. The valley has no pigs, but its main industry is using the dry mountain winds in smoking and drying hams imported from other parts of Europe. The main attractions for bus travelers, other than the bathrooms, are the ham sandwiches, red and white wine, and a low-alcohol mead drink made from honey. I got a sandwich and red wine for myself. The sandwich was good, but I had to dump the wine and go back for a beer.

The next stop was Cetinje, the old capitol. We walked briefly around the old town while we waited our group's turn to go through the King's Palace/Museum. Nothing much caught our eye, other than the fleet of tiny go-cart like vehicles that kids rented to go careening around the square.

We entered the rather ordinary (for a King's palace) red-with-white-trim building with a Montenegrin guide, as our guide was not allowed to do more than escort us in the country, or she would lose her license. The place was furnished with elaborately carved baroque furnishings, but the whole place bespoke the fact that Montenegro nobility represented the underprivileged end of the scale for European royalty.

The thing that grabbed me the most was a display of captured Turkish weapons in a case, from one of their wars. In the case was a Yataghan, a distinctive Turkish sword with a grip made from some sort of animal bone, and the blade hooked toward the point. I happen to have one in my small collection of swords. I only collect swords that might have been used as tools of war. Ceremonial swords bore me. Anyway, this sword had obviously actually been used in battle. The point was bent and twisted, and the edge was deeply cut in a number of places as it had parried blows from another sword. You see guys sword fighting in the movies, and later the edges of the blades remain smooth and unmarked. Doesn't happen that way in real life. I would really like to know the history behind that particular sword, but had no chance to ask the guide.

It was hot inside the museum. It was only about 80 degrees outside at the most, but uncomfortable in the cramped rooms. I would hate to do that tour in the heat of summer!

Back to the bus and on to Budva on the coast. Budva seemed a really interesting town. We had some time to explore, and there were a lot of interesting shops. We stopped at an outdoor café near a church and had an elaborate ice cream concoction. Had to wait in a line of six ladies for the use of a unisex bathroom. They each exited giggling. I saw why when my turn came. The bathroom was spotless, as usual, but the toilet seat was made of clear acrylic into which was embedded, beneath the surface of course, a circle of stainless steel barbed wire. Most intimidating and conducive of brief stays.

We wandered through the narrow streets for a while. When we came to one of the main squares fronting the sea, I looked over the sea wall to look at the boulder-covered beach. Boulders were the least of what was there. There was a layer of trash a foot deep covering the beach. Bottles, paper, beer cans, metal ---- just crap! And this was at one of the prime tourist spots in the country! The business man in me says that if I were Mayor of the town I'd slap a tax on every business that benefited from tourism and hire a man to clean that stuff up. Also, with 40% unemployment, it would be easy enough to hire a couple of big, mean, men with sticks to pound on the swine who caused the litter.

We cut short our town exploration as Tammy had seen someone selling handmade wool sweaters on the street in a park outside the wall, near where the bus had parked. We went back, and of course she bought one. After all, I had not brought an anniversary gift with me to Croatia. Actually, it was a really lovely sweater, more of a jacket, really, thick and with an original pattern of mountain scenery. The lady said she designed the sweaters and her mother made them. Tammy, who knows about such things, said it would have cost four times as much in the States. I should say that we saw few other bargains anywhere on our trip. Most of the stuff in the high-end shops appears to be from Italy, and spendy.

I also had time for an informal survey of relative prices. I like to do this just to compare cost of living in various countries. When I traveled for a living I found one reliable index, other than the "Big Mac" index, was the price of hookers. I hasten to add that I never used their services, but when I was approached in a bar I would always be pleasant, chat a bit as many are charming ladies, and inquire as to the cost. Anyway, another other index is the price of a beer. A beer in a seaside café in Dubrovnik, Split or Hvar would be 12 to 15 Kuna. The price of a beer in Makarska was 10 Kuna. In a Konzum supermarket in Dubrovnik a tall can of beer was just over 7 Kuna (~$1.25). In Makarska the same beer in a grocery was 6 Kuna ($1). In Budva, the same size beer was the equivalent of $0.60.

Back on the bus again for the ride to the ferry that took us across the strait of Kotor to Herseg Novi; a ten minute ride that saved hours of driving. As we awaited the ferry?s arrival, I noticed a snack stand just outside the bus. On the menu board was the word "Garice". That is the kind of tiny fried fish (whitebait) I had been asking for all over Croatia, with no success. There it was, just in front of me, and the damned place was closed!

We got back to the hotel about 6:30, to find a note in or box saying, "Your Instrument has arrived!" Smiles all around. Tammy called and left a message that we would come to Dubrovnik the next day before noon to pick it up.

I had a little nap and then to Dinner at the same restaurant with the vine, Konoba Lanterna. Another couple from our group was just finishing their dinner there, so we joined them. They had ordered the chicken dish Tammy had for our first lunch, and were raving about it. We both ordered the same. When it came, it looked quite different from what Tammy had at lunch. It was still delicious, but looked different --- much thicker and puffier. When asked about it, the proprietor said, "Different Chefs; one likes to make the eggs fluffier. One never tells a Chef how to cook." I know it sounds strange, eggs in a dish that resembles Cordon Bleu but, believe me, it was just lovely, and a bargain at 50 Kuna. I should mention another thing I found nice about Croatian restaurants. They never tried to sell you up. By that I mean there was none of that maddening, "My name is Bruce, and our specials are ---". They never looked disappointed when you just ordered a mineral water. They never said, "Do you want fries with that"? Nor did they try the equivalent, "Coffee?" or "Are you ready for desert?" They assumed you were adults, knew what you wanted, and cheerfully and efficiently wrote down what you told them.

We also noted in some Croatian restaurants, if you have been pleasant with the staff, they ask if you would accept a complimentary glass of brandy after the meal. Of course you have to nod and smile; then chug down a shot of Rakija or dump it into your napkin. We had chatted with the proprietor the evening, and he gave us a little history of the town. He said the name Mlini was the plural of mills, of which the town had a number, fed from many streams coming down off the mountain above. There were no mills or many streams now because most of the freshets had been gathered together to build a small hydroelectric project. Since the chat was so pleasant, the owner really poured a healthy slug of Rakija in two glasses. He stood there, smiling, so I had no choice but to smile back and chug them both down (Probably a bad idea for a guy on antibiotics.). On the way back to the hotel, we noted a single millstone displayed in a small park, but it somehow looked blurry to me.

We never regretted not having meals at the Hotel. Others from our party who ate there reported that, while the food was adequate, the scrimmage around the buffet tables and the overwhelming racket of a thousand conversations and clattering cutlery made mealtimes less than enjoyable. As a matter of fact, the design of most of the big Croatian hotels we visited left something to be desired. Acres of tile and glass and mirrors made for dreadful acoustics. We had a drink in the lounge of the Excelsior in Dubrovnik, and another in the lounge at the Astarea. The noise was deafening, and the bright lighting and antiseptic atmosphere made the surroundings seem sterile and uninviting. We much prefer more intimate, darker, and private settings in which to relax.

Tuesday morning, and, after another indifferent breakfast in the hotel, we took the 10:00 water taxi over to Dubrovnik. The launch first went to Cavtat, in the other direction, before heading for Dubrovnik. Fine by us, as we got a great tour of the coast and we got a close up of the two cruise ships that were anchored off the old city harbor, one of which was the Marco Polo.

We were at the door of the music store shortly after 11:00 and took delivery of the mythical Prim. We had bought a case with it and, as the fellow unzipped the container and pulled it out, we could tell it was a superior professional instrument, just as we had hoped. Tammy paid the guy and we were on our way, with Tammy cuddling the thing like a baby.

As we passed through the North gate (Blaise Gate?) again, and stood at the head of the stairs down to the Stradum, we paused once more at the poster that showed where all of the shells that rained on Dubrovnik had fallen. You should climb those many stairs just to see that. It brings home the huge number of explosives landed in that besieged city, and what misery that constant bombardment must have brought.

We went into town to await the water taxi and went into the church on the square, mainly to see the stained glass since Tammy is a glass artist. Striking stuff, but obviously modern, both in design and construction. I suppose the originals were destroyed in the shelling. We went out the side door and sat in a nearby café. Idly, I asked the girl who took our order if by any chance they had Gerice, the tiny fish that ---- "Oh, you mean Gerrr-e-chay. Of course we have them." I had been saying it all wrong the whole time! I ordered some and, with that, the last of my quests in Croatia was completed. They were delicious!

Back to the hotel on the water taxi to have a brief rest. The antibiotics were doing their job, and I was feeling better, so we went down to the beach for a swim. We are not really beach people, but we felt it would be criminal not to try that crystal clear water. It was super! A bit of a shock getting in, but warm enough for an extended swim; and this on the 5th of October. That pebbly beach is a killer, though, on tender bare feet. If you intend to do the beach scene, a $10 investment in a pair of those blue, nubbly, rubber beach slippers they sell in every beach store, would be a necessary investment. Later we went for another meal in the Konoba Lanterna, and then had an early night.

The next morning we were up at 04:45 to eat a scratch breakfast of bread and pate the hotel laid on at 05:30. We caught a hotel-provided van at 06:00 to the airport, which is only about 10 minutes away. At the airport we waited, and waited and waited in the departure lounge. There was fog in the airport in Zagreb again.

Through all of this, Tammy refused to let go of the Prim. Would not check it, and would barely put it down. We even have a picture of it strapped into an empty seat beside us on one flight.

We finally got off around 11:00 from Dubrovnik, and at Zagreb raced to board a flight to Amsterdam. In the rush, one lady in our party lost her passport, and the last we saw of her was her waving her arms about on the other side of security. They later told us she would be taken to the American consulate and well taken care of. I had no chance to spend our remaining Kuna in the airport in Zagreb, so we bought duty free booze and chocolates which, happily, totaled exactly the number of Kuna we had in our pockets.

When we hit Schipol in Amsterdam we were directed to a transfer desk and told we had missed our flight by 20 minutes. We were booked on a Northwest flight to Minneapolis, with a long layover there, and then to Seattle. Our alternatives, we were told, were 1. Catch a much later Northwest flight into Minneapolis that day, with the potential of having no connecting way to Seattle, Meaning perhaps an overnight in Minneapolis, or 2. To stay in Amsterdam overnight and catch a direct flight to Seattle in the morning. To us that was a no-brainer. To overnight in Minneapolis or Amsterdam ---- duh?

Most of our party chose to go on and, luckily, were able to catch a flight to Seattle out of Minneapolis, but that got them in at some ungodly hour in the morning. They got in so late the shuttle should have stopped running to Anacortes and they faced the prospect of having to bed down in Seattle for the night. Luckily, the shuttle service is a really accommodating one, and a driver volunteered to wait up for them.

We had a wonderful time in Amsterdam. Those of us who stayed went first to the airlines, both Croatia, and Northwest, to ask for a free overnight package; even though we knew there was no hope. They explained that fog is not the fault of the airline. Mechanical failure, sure, but not weather. OK, says we, and off we go to the Holland Information Service desk, where the nice young ladies fixed us up with rooms in our price range. Some chose to stay in hotels near the airport, at about 55 Euros, while four of us elected a hotel down town, the Port van Cleve, just behind the Royal Palace on Dam Square, for 70 Euros. The young lady even sold us tickets on the train, gave us clear instructions on how to catch it, and how to use the ticket machines. The ride took about 20 minutes and left us off at Central Station. A ten- minute walk got us to the Hotel. The clerks were very nice, and gave me a shaving kit as mine was in my bag. Heavens only knew where my bag was.

We settled in and then went out for a walk, as I wanted to show Tammy the city I had lived in 30 years before. She had been there as a young tourist something like 40 years before and had memories too. We first went for a long walk down the Kalverstraat, the premier Amsterdam shopping street. I was clever about it, though. It was just going on 6:00, and the shops started to close as we walked along; the iron lattice shutters rumbling down, so we could look but not buy. (He, he.)

I felt like having a Loempia, a big, big, sort of spring roll they serve in some Dutch restaurants with all sorts of goodies inside, like shrimp; one makes a meal. We randomly chose an Indonesian restaurant off the Singel, which turned out to be really superb. They had Loempia, but tiny little spring roll things. Didn't matter, though, because whatever we ordered from the menu, almost at random, turned out to be just wonderful.

After that, it was quite chilly for people just from Croatia, so we went back to the hotel for our coats and took a walk through part of the red light district. Of course we saw very little of it, as there are something like 450 windows in which to peer. We both thought the girls looked better than we remembered. When I walked through there 30 years ago they were dressed in "Teddy" nightgowns, looked blowsy, fat, and used; looked like what they were -- whores. The ones we saw that night were dressed in scanty panties and bras that glowed fluorescent in black lights they had behind the windows. They looked like models; very attractive -- the kind of girl you would take home to Mom. A little bit of that sort of tourism goes a long way; perhaps another 30 years -- so we went back to the hotel for a drink, bath, and to bed. Tammy had noticed that the hotel room had a big European style bathtub, and she really felt like a long soak.

A drink in the hotel was a mistake, as two drinks cost us 15.80 Euros. Much better to have stopped off in any one of the cozy Dutch local "Brown Bars" we had passed. Other than that, we did not regret a single moment we spent in that vibrant city.

Up in the morning and on the train for an uneventful and rather pleasant trip home.

Our general impression of Croatia is overwhelmingly positive. Nice people, good food, moderate prices, spectacular scenery, and nice weather. If you are going to enjoy the above, our advice is to go in a shoulder season to avoid what you can of the crowds and the hot weather. If your main purposes for going are to party, get a tan, sweat a lot, and perhaps exchange genetic material, you might want to go in high summer.

Whatever your reason for going to Croatia --- go. You will not regret it.

The End!
nukesafe is offline  
Old Jun 23rd, 2009, 12:05 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 91
Great report. How is the Prim?
yoonny is offline  
Old Jun 23rd, 2009, 03:22 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,838
Thanks for asking. Steve still plays it regularly as the Prim is the lead instrument in the Ruze Dalmatinke Orchestra, that often accompanies the Vela Luka Dance Ensemble. They most recently played at the Seattle Folk Festival.

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