Slovenia/croatia trip report part 1

Old Oct 11th, 2007, 03:10 PM
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Slovenia/croatia trip report part 1

Thank you everybody who helped me plan my tip especially Tracy and Debs.

We came back from long trip in Europe and we had fun. Before Slovenia, we flew to Munich, spent 3 days there and drove to Salzburg and spent 2 nights there. I will not go into details since I want to write about Slovenia and Croatia - a new destination for us.


We took train from Salzburg to Ljubljana. Bought tickets at train station.

We had to drop off car in Salzburg because to drop off car in Slovenia or Croatia was outrageous drop off fee. Therefore we took train .

We figured out where to board. The ticket said to Ljubljana however train went to Zagreb and Klagenfurt. You need to know direction and geography . We finally found the plan of the train which shows which car is first class, which is second, smoking, non-smoking and direction. We thought we need to take either Klagenfurt or Zagreb, and Ljublana is in between. When train came, we were told to take 2 last cars which was marked as Zagreb. It is good thing we bought 2nd class tickets since looks like only these two cars were disconnected and continued on other direction from Klagenfurt (Austria) to Slovenia. . No first class cars. The train was on the train station in Salzburg only 15 mins so you'd better figure out fast which car to board. But train attendants can direct those who are lost.
The 4.5 trip was uneventful if you do not consider annoying factors that there were no announcements whatever (you are supposed to watch for train stations signs). Also our car had light broken so when train went through tunnels it was complete darkness. In US I would be worried about my luggage in front of the train but here in Austria-Slovenia border obviously people are not that affected by petty crime. Other then that, the Alps scenery was spectacular and there was a lot's of extra space to stretch so it was more pleasant then I would say to fly. Less expensive too.
In Ljubljana we could have walked 10 min to hotel however with luggage, we hailed a taxi and he charge 10 eur for few min drive! Our hotel is Grand Union Business (another hotel next door is Grand Union Executive). Owned by the same company. They should be more creative naming their properties. Both are 4* hotels, no luxurious 5* hotels here yet. But it was comfortable enough, relatively new but style is still very much former communist, Eastern European. Furnishing is new but style is more like Russian. Huge Eastern European style pillows , comfortable. The rooms besides bedroom, also had a small business area kind of living room with comfortable 2 desks and chairs for work and even inviting guests. Many closets. Staff was helpful enough. We forgot cable for our laptop (all other places we had wireless), so they brought us a cable. Toiletries are very plain, Holiday Inn type. Breakfast was very good, extensive.
Dinner yesterday evening was i local restaurant Zlata Rubica (Gold fish). It was good but not spectacular. and were sitting outside which was nice.
Next morning, after breakfast, we explored Ljubljana. They still have to restore buildings but architecture is very much Viennese, Art Nouveau. They were part of Hapsburg Austro- Hungarian empire before they became Yugoslavia and then Slovenia 10 years ago.
The city is influenced by Slovenian architect Yozhe Plecnik who is what is Gaudi to Barcelona. If you know where to look, there are his interesting touches around city.
The city center is very small , river is small, and it is very easy to explore it. We also took funicular to castle on the hill. In pre-medieval times, it was Roman settlement so you see the remnants of archeological digs in many exhibits even in town hall. Town hall (Mestny Trg), had nice Renaissance courtyard and fountains inspired by Romans.
Overall very pleasant city. A lot's of people strolling and sitting in cafes. Who is working there? We saw American Embassy, next to Russian Embassy. American embassy is located in a very characteristic mountain chalet but the glass structure which does not fit architecturally was for some reason added on the side.
We had dinner in an excellent restaurant Gostilna S. There is no menu, they specialize on Adriatic seafood and whatever fresh fish they have, the serve it. It was well prepared and beauitufully presented. 3 course dinner and dessert. They offered to us good local Slovenian sparkling wine..

We did not visit any museums in Ljubljana. The only one visit I would visit would be Yoshi Plecnick house, but unfortunately it was closed 3 days in a week. But the city is small enough and pleasant to stroll and .

Tomorrow off to Bled!

After breakfast, we walked to Ljubljana rail station and picked up our second rental, Skoda from Sixt. It was a small car and George after driving a bit, declared it powerless
We drove to hotel, took our luggage and departed for one night in Bled. The GPS did not cooperate and could not recognize Bled at all on the map. The hotel's ported gave us directions which turned out pretty much simple and in about 1 hr we arrived to Bled in Julian Alps. It was beautiful, mountain lake setting. I do not recall after Switzerland seeing such scenery - lake amidst mountains. Castle in the middle of the lake was unique. There was another castle "grad" on the hill which we explored as well, so the car proved useful.
Our hotel is also on the lake with spectacular setting. I chose Vila Bled for it's historical significance. It used to be owned by Hapsburg Imperial family and later on was summer residence of Yosip Bros Tito (Yugoslavian President). Also some reconstructions was designed by Yoszi Plecnik (the same architect who designed many Ljubljana' buildings). This villa had VIP visitors from over the world, including Khruschev, Indira Gandhi, Madeline Albright, Prince Charles just name a few.. Many were entertained by Tito. Now it is Relais and Chateaux hotel.
We were upgraded to large suite and we just marveled if Tito slept in this room.
It is not much to do in Bled except walk around lake and boat ride. The famous castle ("Otoc" ) is in the middle of the lake and one can get there by boat - special boat "Pletna" - as Venice Gondolas only with more people.
We had a a quick snack pizza in the Bled center and rested at hotel. The air is very invigorating so this probably put us in sleepy mood. Dinner at 6pm at villa Bled and early to the suite to do some work and early to bed. Not much to do here but relax. Dinner was suppolsed to be exquisite and it was good, only few guests in the dining room. But not that spectaclar... Maybe we started to have restaurant fatigue....

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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 04:12 PM
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It's a good idea to add each part of the trip resport as a "reply" to the initial post. That way, the report remains together and people can follow the chronology. Otherwise, your posts will fall down to the bottom, and the wholeness of the trip report will be lost. I'm copying and pasting the sections that I saw.
Author: emtravel ([email protected])
Date: 10/11/2007, 06:17 pm
We left Bled, it was raining.

The lake and the castle still looked beautiful even in the rain and mist of clouds. Such a fairy tale setting! The GPS did not have enough info on Slovenia so we navigated to closest large city Novo Mesto where we were about 10km in our next destination – Krka therme – Thermal waters, spa hotel Vittarium.

Without GPS, we have to a bit of backtracking, but finally found this spa. The company through which we booked spa, owns most hotels in that area (there are not too many). The most famous is castle hotel Otocec and hotel Vittarium, both 4*. Slovenia does not have yet 5* hotels. I chose Vittarium since it has mineral water pools on premises and we like to soak in waters.
We checked in and immediately felt out of place. The setting was beautiful however hotel caters to local residents who go to spa for a treatment period. I know this setup in Europe and former Soviet Union – it is called sanatorium. Not in the sense as sanatorium for mental patients
but in Europe most government and insurance companies cover spa treatments as medical insurance. Therefore, you will see people, mostly older who went for about month treatment for mineral waters and medical treatment. Hotel even had a medical floor. The food was like cafeteria food and setup was depressing...

The people stared at us and we stared at them. They were friendly however and tried to communicate in Slovenian but of course we could not do much talking … We went to spa. But the pools were huge and spectacular, newly redone and we enjoyed soaking in the waters. There was even outdoor pool, you go from inside and swim outdoors and temp was 32C so it was terrific. A lots of different massage showers... Very enjoyable. The price included half board, but after lunch which I could not eat L , we did not want to eat dinner there. We drove to castle Otocec but did not see decent places to eat. The area is very rural. We finally found supermarket near hotel and bought our shopping there and ate good “picnic” in our room.

In the evening, we used free wi-fi at the lobby areas where we also found some younger people with laptops. We went for a walk in the evening and then to bed determined to leave early as as possible. Next morning we went for buffet breakfast. Good find for us was buckwheat groats which we love from childhood. I am not sure who else likes it! After breakfast we were waiting for rain to stop but it continued. We checked our email in wi-fi area and left for 1hr trip to Zagreb.

What can I say? The area has great potential and natural mineral springs but not ready for Western Visitors yet.. That was one place on this trip we did not enjoy...

We arrived in Zagreb in rain. The road was good. In Slovenia we quite frequently paid tolls. We crossed the border to Croatia and got our passports stamped. Then paid another toll. Croatia has Kuna money but they took 1 eur.

It is hard to drive in Zagreb. Small streets where 3 lines in each direction are also shared with trams. Impatient drivers who beep you on yellow light (in Croatia, the light changes from red to yellow and then to green). We navigated successfully to our hotel, GPS again did not let us down. We parked at hotel's garage.

Sheraton is 5* business hotel in the center of town, good location. After our last night fiasco and bad weather George is a bit let down.
At least this is 5* hotel with all convenience and comfort of Starwood, which we are preferred guests. We got a room at preferred guest floor but I do not know what privileges on this floor...

We walked to the center, Jelacic square. We went to the recommended restaurant Vinodol for lunch. We were not impressed with food. After lunch, we took funicular to Gradec (medieval old town) and walked there. Croatian president works there in Sabor. Not like our president, not that much security.. The buildings were interesting but they are still in process in being restored and there is a lot's of graffiti.

Zagreb has great architecture, built by the same architects who built Vienna , in Austro-Hungarian empire. But being under Tito many years and then there was the war so you really need to see beyond a neglected buildings. Cathedral was beautiful but half of it is closed , one tower under renovation.. You can see beautiful church or building and to it next a delapidated one.

To me it is an interesting city. To George and maybe to other American travelers, it does not stir his imagination. He likes impressive European cities, which are clean and filled with beautifully dressed people, theaters and good museums. Paris is his favorite. So to sell him Zagreb was hard.

He said he liked some parts of Zagreb but overall not that interested. What is bizarre, we like to explore food markets so we had some fun there..

We called a day and went to Sheraton and rested in a pool. After lunch at Vinodol we were not hungry so we ate salad and tea at cafe in Sheraton.

Next day, the sun was shining. We returned the car and afterwards went in the lower part of the city which was developed in 1800 and it has Renaissance and post-renassance building, "Green horseshoe " which is a series of beautiful parks and Zagreb finally started to grow on us.

We took a ride in tourist train but mostly were local people with kids there.. The tour is silent. They really need to do a better job to attract and keep tourists. A young Croatian woman with a child sitting next to me on the train explained to me sites! She concurred that restorations are taking too long.

We also witnessed a silent demonstration in the main square. It was a commemoration of victims of Vukovo when Serbs executed people who could not flee the city, mainly bedridden people in hospital. The town was completely destroyed. The Serb's officers were convicted by tribunal in Hague on Sept 27 (yesterday). They were obviously not punished enough (and one even acquitted) as Croatians hoped. So the war is over but nation is still recovering from pshycological wounds..

We had a nice walk and city and it's people gradually grew on us. We bought some fruit at the market and I had not tasted such delicious apples and grapes for any years.

Evening was to do some work in the business center (free Internet connection there), and we had a quick dinner at hotel's restaurant.

Next day we went for breakfast in nearby bakery. The baking goods are delicious and breakfast cost about 3 eur, comparing with 20 eur breakfast at Sheraton.

After breakfast we took a last walk around hotel before our 2pm flight to Split. I found a good outlet store with Sisley and Benetton clothes and did some shopping while George chatted with young and pretty saleslady
Otherwise, it is not much to shop in either Slovenia or Croatia. Except some delicious jams we could not find much shopping,

We took taxi to airport . The flight was delayed 1 hr without any explanation. I realized that that was a mistake to returning car and fly to Split (45 min flight). The taxi driver told us the highway to Split is in good shape now and ride takes 4 hrs. We would rather drive...

Eventually we made to Split around 3:30pm and took taxi to our Le Meridien Lav Hotel about 10km from downtown Split , in Podstrana. It is a stunning new hotel in the form of the ship by the sea, most rooms have wonderful seaviews and nice beach (but gravel), huge pools (indoor and outdoor ), and nice marina for promenade.
The lobbies, restaurants and spa are very stylish. They must have had some problems with acoustics so nice music was overlapping from different sources . Or it could be just place we were sitting at.
We had dinner at hotel's restaurant, it was quite good and lately we've been sticking to local seafood.. The hotel has design so from the sea it looks like a ship, it is quite spectacular .

They have free shuttle to and old town and Diocletian Palace so we will be exploring it tomorrow.

The Split is second largest city after Zagreb located in south, on Dalmatian coast on Adriatic sea. The landscape is sea and Mediterranean although it is Adriatic.

Palms remind us our home in Florida..
The interest to the tourist is that the old town is built within bounds of Diocletian Palace. It said to have some Roman ruins on Adriatic. Roman Emperor Diocleatian was born nearby in Salonia and became Emperor. He wanted to build huge palace in Split for his retirement. The palace never been completed although it took 11 years to build and many slaves to die on construction. Therefore since emperor never moved in, the locals used it' bounds to live therein Old town. So Old Town is actually within bounds of the Palace.

Next morning we had a breakfast, which was included in the price and it was general buffet spread.

The weather was very nice and warm, just like Mediterranean in fall. We took hotel's free shuttle to Split. It was sunny, blue sky, and the setup of the palace was spectacular. It has a lot's of nooks and crannies to explore. I was armed with books and maps so I think we did OK.

The thing is do not expect Palace, but ruins. The Palace was abandoned and used by common folks. It has a lot's of build-in buildings. I wish they forbade construction. You can see some Venetian elements besides Roman but also so many hodge-podge built-up as people moved in. I've seen many people asked "where are the rooms of the palace?". There are none, just use your imagination how Diocletian must have lived. One area had a round room without coupole (was destroyed in medieval wars) but acoustics was incredible. There was a trio singing dalmatian sngs.

We also walked seafront promenade and sat on the sun. We had nice seafood lunch in the Diocletian Palace. We sampled local gelato on the street, called "sladoled" (in Slavic languages means "sweet ice"). In the afternoon we got a return ride on a shuttle back to hotel.

We liked people watching. Young Croatians are so tall and good looking!
On the way in the shuttle the driver was trying to flirt with a young russian lady. He did not speak Russian and she did not speak English nor Croatian. George offered them to translate and of course he killed the deal.

We rested at hotel and went to cash our complimentary 10 eur gift card at casino. Turned out that with this 10eur card you need also to add your own 10 eur but - they give you one extra chip. Yeah right. We are not gamblers but since they lured us to the casino, George played Blackjack and won 10 eur. So we are ahead 10 eur. Then I promptly lost it in slot machine. We still had 5 eur chip left and wanted to put it on red color roulette. But they told us this is a gift chip (read: cheap chip) and we can ony bet on certain number. We put 13 - the number my husband avoids like plague and of course lost. We must as well throw away that chip but at least we tried that chance.

We had nice walk on the Le Meridien Marina , the weather was warm and sunny and people swam on the beach and in the pool but for us it was too cold to swim. We had Ok dinner but beautifully presented and well served by friendly staff. This is very nice hotel but they still need to iron out some wrinkles in service but they fixed problems promptly with a smile.
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 04:14 PM
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Slovenia/croatia trip report part 3

Author: emtravel ([email protected])
Date: 10/11/2007, 06:19 pm

We checked out from Le Meridien , took taxi to airport. Flight was on time, it is only 20 min flight. At 12:40 we arrived Dubrovnik airport and were met by driver who provided transfer to our apartment.

In Dubrovnik, we are staying in studio apartment. It turned out to be pretty basic, but it has private bath, kitchen and refrigeration but location cannot be beat. We are just a step from town walls, at the old port. There is restaurant Poklisar in the pier and we are on top of this restaurant (2nd floor). The setup might seem confusing but it is norm in Europe. You walk into restaurant, pass kitchen and find a door (no sign), and go on second floor where few apartments are, one of them is ours. The owner - young man by name Darko met us , gave keys, gave us access to free wi-fi internet, let us a bowl of fruit, explained everything and left. He lives next door. This will do for next 4 days since we are out of budget for expensive hotels for the rest of the trip. The pro's - you cannot be more central then this and when you open windows, the sea is below at Dubrovnik walls. We slept with windowns open and fresh sea air was great. The con's - you fall asleep with restaurant music at night (which droe us nuts) and wake up with bell tower rings.

We had orientation walk through Dubrovnik and had dinner at Nautica restaurant. It was good but not that exceptional for the price they charge!

Dubrovnik is magical. It is called The Pearl of Adriatic and rightly so. Was always free and rich republic until Napoleon. After Napoleon it became under Hapsburgs (Austria) and then was part of Yugoslavia under Tito. In 1991 when Tito died and Serbs started attacking other nations of Yugoslavia, Oct 1st 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked. The siege lasted 9 months and cost 300 lives. Finally Dubrovnik citizens pushed attackers back but there were sporadic attacks afterwards from Serbs. We just arrived at commemoration of this event when Dubrovnik was attacked. There was an exhibit "Defenders of Dubronik" and services in the Cathedral. Afterwards the city was rebuilt and now if you do not know history, you would not think what happened just 15 years ago... If you walk walls you can see how 70% of Dubrovnik was destroyed and most of the roofs are new. Thee is a map of the city which shows the damage it sustained during the war.
Now the the usual tourist the city seems to be back to normal.
But we sensed from local that there is little love between former Yugoslav nations. The tension still exist . Especially few days ago there was Hague Tribunal who did not punish enough Serbian war criminals therefore people are angry again.

The town is very compact and everything in old town , "Star Grad" is within walls. There is main street called Placa or Stradun and it is great for people watching. No cars within old town so you see locals carrying their goods on mechanical carts. Very medieval.

We also got by car to the top of the Dubrovnik hills and saw city from there. It is also a place of memory of Dubrovnik defenders with a large cross which is seen from almost everywhere.
Dubrovnik has sea from one side with islands, and windy roads which lead to the top of the mountain. It used to be a cable car which connected top and old town but it was destroyed at the war and now when city has money to rebuild it, the residents complain that it will bring noise so one needs to take scary road to the top.... The driver brought us there.

Bosnia In Herzegovina, Mostar/Medjugorje

Today we are leaving Dubrovnik for a day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

Our driver Pepo picked us up at 8am and were on the way west. We passed Trsteno, botanical gardens and saw huge 500 year old tree.

The road was beautiful, compared to Amalfi Coast in Italy. Mountains on one side, sea with island on the other. We again were thankful that we left driving to someone else and we enjoyed beautiful views.

We passed small town Ston which is a best source of mussels in Adriatic and also this town has the longest wall in Europe.

Later on the part of the road become Bosnian and we had to pass border control , and show passports. Pepo explained to us that centuries ago Croatia sold this part of the road to Ottomans therefore when Yugoslavia was separated to different countries, that part became BiH . Therefore the coastal road is not totally Croatian. Croatian is connected by sea but not by land. So government is planning to build the bridge from Croatian coastal road to the Croatian islands and then from the Island Korcula back to the coastal road to connect the roads and avoid going to BiH. Later on we saw map in Dubrovnik by this new project and local people seemed to be happy about it. Obviously some harassment still goes on on Bosnian border of Croatians and tourists.

We wanted to see Mostar and it's famous bridge. I've read about it quite a bit and to me it is very inspirational site in Europe. Like all of Yugoslavia, Bosnia's history is very complicated. Originally it was inhabited by Slavs and Illyrians (ancestors of contemporary Albanians), then Romans came and then Ottomans. At Ottoman's times many Slavs converted to Islam and called Bosniaks. The rest are Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. There are 3 languages, 3 religions and 2 alphabets. Hapsburgs forced Ottomans out in about in 18 C,BiH became part of Austro-Hungarian empire. Then BiH was art of Yugoslavia under Tito.

As I said, in town Bosniaks (Muslims) and Christians (Catholic Croats) lived on opposite sides of the Neretva river. First it was a simple suspension bridge which was guarded by bridge guardsmen called "mostari" - means bridge watchmen in Slavic hence the city's name became Mostar. In 16C the ruler Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned the construction of the bridge which was the marvel of engineering of that time. It was something as Rialto to Venice or Ponto Vecchio to Florence.
Everybody was coming to see it. After Ottomans were defeated by Hapsburgs, the emperor Josef Franz Hapsburg walked on this bridge.. Then Nazis drove tanks in occupied Yugoslavia and bridge sustained tanks as well.

As for citizens of Mostar, they lived peacefully on the opposite parts of the bridge. They had their differences but they got along. It was a showcase for Tito how under his rule people lived peacefully and the bridge was the gap which symbolically connected two cultures..

In 1991 Tito died and the country erupted in the war, Serb-dominated Yugoslav army attacked Bosnia and Mostar. Jointly Croats and Bosniaks pushed offenders away. But strangely, later on they started fighting each other. The city was divided and two sides were shooting at each other. Finally the world watched how the bridge was destroyed in relentless shelling. Strategically, Croats said they needed to cut off Bosniaks from other side of the river so they destroyed the bridge but it sounded symbolic as attack of Serbs on Dubrovnik, that it was designed to hit where it hurt the most ...

The war was over and as a poet said "We shall pass and leave the bridge behind".
The people of the world had an effort to raise money for restoration and finally the bridge was rebuilt exactly by ancient specifications and even methods (stones were hand carved). Now it is UNESCO Heritage site. President Clinton was one of the participants of reopening ceremony in 2004. The re-opening was endorsed by the world and and also citizens of Mostar and it became symbol by reconciliation of two cultures.

So this might explain why I wanted to visit a small city of Mostar. Also after relatively prosperous countries Slovenia and Croatia, visitors are still haunted with remnants of the war. We encounter daily in news information on bombings and destruction and we become used to it. But when you see the landmine signs and broken buildings and bullet shots in the town you come to see, it becomes real. Besides Old Bridge, other parts of the town, especially Muslim's side are still destroyed. It is not a regular sightseeing.

The roads also has holes in ancient stones and bridge is slippery so it is very hard to walk. Some steps in town are very high and uneven so it would be difficult for some people with limited mobility to neogitate these streets. These are very difficult cobblestones. We managed it but I worried about George. Some parts he stayed in one place to sit when I climbed very difficult stairs to the local museum - just one example.

The town has distinct Middle Eastern feeling. It resembles Turkey with it's minarets, and bazaars. The tourists might feel somewhat uncomfortable but we came with driver/guide and we were just fine. We confined our visit though, to Old town and bridge only.

I also noticed yellow public buses in town which has sign that they were donated by the people of Japan and has a flag of Japan on the back of the buses.

After that, we went to visit Medjugorje. It is a major site for Catholic Pilgrims. We are not Christians but I was asked before we went if I will happen to be there, so I became curious for my future clients. It is high in the mountains about half an hour from Mostar. It is a windy road and out of nowhere suddenly appears the site. It has been said that Virgin Mary appeared to local people. Officially not recognized by Vatican but this small village became a center of Pilgrimage and already about 30 Millions of Pilgrims visited that site. The site has shrine and modern Church and big crowds of people and usual souvenir's stands.

After that we went back to Dubrovnik. We crossed again the border twice. Back in Croatia, we had lunch and brief stop in Ston. In the late afternoon, we were back in Dubrovnik.
And that was yet another memorable day.

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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 04:15 PM
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Slovenia/croatia trip report part 4

Author: emtravel ([email protected])
Date: 10/11/2007, 06:24 pm

Today we are taking a day trip from Dubrovnik to Monetenegro ("Crna Gora" or Black Mountain).

It is a new country, only 1 year old. It is one of the most ancient settlement in Europe. Illyrians (ancestors to Albanians) lived there in 3rd century b.c. Then it became part of Roman Empire . After Rome's decline, Slavs came in and some people converted to Christianity. So currently there are Serbian Orthodox and Catholic religions. The Bay of Kotor has despotic serbian ruler who punished people severely for small crimes so it was very safe place. It was rich country thanks to unique locaton - narrow Verige Strait of the sea to protect from invading ships and deep for keeping their own ships in the bay. They would jut put a chain from one side of the bay to another to prevent from intruders ships to get it.

After Serbians, Ottomans tried to conquer it, since it has unique location on the sea. The geography of the country is that it the fjord - a dramatic Adriatic sea and monuntains meet together. The Slavs turned to Venetians for help and Venetians ruled for about 5 centuries. After that was Napoleon and then Hapsburgs. Then it was Yugoslavia under Tito after WWII.
After seccession of other Yugoslav countries, Montenegro stayed with Serbia. Years later, they wanted independence and it was trial perior from 2003 and then referendum in 2006. By narrow margin of votes, the seccesionists won. In 2006, the country voted for Indepedence therefore becoming the newest country in the world.
It has some dark history with Yugoslav war and there are still tensions between Croatians and Montenegris. We were shown the place where concentration camp was in 1991-1992 where people of Dubrovnik were taken and tortured. Later on Montenegrins prime minister apologized.

So that's about history. The country is located about 45 km from Dubrovnik, in opposite direction then Bosnia. Again the drive was on another road past airport and Cavtat and again it was beautiful rugged coastal mountain road. After border check-in, the first town was Herceg Novi. It was unattractive town and we passed by. Unlike Dubrovnik, the Montenegro was neglected by Tito mostly except famous Montenegrin Riviera (Sveti Stefan) where all celebrities came to relax in this beautiful and quiet location. in 60s and 70s Sveti Stefan beaches saw Sylvester Stallone, Sofia Loren, Kirk Douglas - just a few. By the way, in James Bond movie when he played in casino on Montenegrin Coast, it was actually filmed in Czech Republic, not in Montenegro.

We were told that Montenegrins are very laid back and easygoing people and nothing moves fast there.

The scenery soon improved and we saw fjords, with calm Adriatic sea, unusual dim blue color and mountains in the back. It was almost unreal. We thought Croatia was beautiful but this was rugged and beautiful fjordsside road fishing villages. We stop in Perast, it is a well preserved Venetian town on the fjord. In middle ages, Perast succesfully protected themselves with their cannons aimed at Vertige straight across the Bay of Kotor so no one can go through the strait. So Venice rewarded Perast with tax-free status and the ton prospered until Napoleon and then declined. Therefore architecture is Venetian . In the sea across Perast, we saw two islands - St. George (natural) and Lady of the Rocks (man made) with churches built there.

We continued beautiful road with fjord scenery and arrived Kotor - the most famous and I think the only one town restored enough for tourists. Like all towns we've seen before, it was fortified by walls, sea in front and the river on the sides. It has again cannon at the ain gate. It is a very ancient town, first said to be mentioned in 1st centuryt a.d. Through many turbulent years, Kotor avoided destruction by war but it was damaged by earthquakes in 1667 and 1979 . It was a nice and compact town to stroll and we enjoyed it. We've seen Catholic and Orthodox churches and Venetian like palaces. It was very pleasant. It is not too much to see, but very pleasant for strolling.

The currency in Montenegro was eur so one needs to pay attention to drawing money from atm. We needed Kuna but got euro's instead.

We decided to skip Budva Riviera with it's communist style cheap hotels and at this time Svet Stefan was under renovation, Pepo told us. So we continued back to Dubrovnik by taking shortcut on a narrow strait by the car ferry, it took only 10 mins to cross and we took nice pictures from the sea as well.

Once on the road, we got to the border and there was a line, another confirmation that everything in Montenegro is very slow. I do not know how they work... We saw many ads in Russian for buying real estate and hotels and Pepo told us, Montenegris have good relationship with Russia. Many investors buy properties in this new country so the economy is on the rise. Maybe not as fast as Croatia but still they should be OK due to their unique resources and location.

After crossing the border, we stopped in Cavtat to see Konavoski Dvir, the popular restaurant, it is located in nice forest with a cold river and waterfalls. However we ate in a restaurant across this touristy place, in a small family owned restaurant. The appetizer platter, smoked meat and cheese was delicious and olives were freshly salted. The specialty is "Lamb under the bell" - cooked in ashes and then grilled but it takes 3 hr to prepare it so it has to be ordered in advance. We got mixed grill but we probably should have skipp it whatsover, it was dry. Appetizer was large and tasty enough for lunch.

After Cavtat we continued to Dubrovnik and came back after yet another interesting day.

Our driver Pepo was terrific , spoke fluent English and gave us interesting information from local's perspective about war and current life in Croatia. It was well worth it to hire him. Guide was not neccessary for this trip.

Last day Dubrovnik/London

We spent last day relaxing in Dubrovnik. No more trips and we've seen most of that area. George caught a cold so he stayed at apartment.

I had few business meeting with hotels sales in Dubrovnik so I went on my own. Later own I went to the market and bought fresh vegetables and fruit and did small shopping in the bakery and local supermaket "Konzum". This food lasted us for a day. It was a long trip and we are tired to eat at restaurants. Besides, fresh fruit and vegetables are very good quality here. Croatian Prosciutto ("Prsut") is delicious.

We also loved Croatian gelato, it is very similar to Italian.

The apartment we stayed turned out not a good choice . The sound insulation was very poor and we were hearing all neighbors at night. In addition, local nightclubs were playing the most annoying music most of the night and every half an hour bell tower rang. So sleep deprivation also got a toll on us.

Next time if I ever to get to Dubrovnik, my choice would be Hotel Argentina or Excelsior or Dubrovnik Palace. I visited them and they were beautiful. Not too many choices of 4* hotels though.. Many locals rent their rooms and apartments and the quality is varied and not possible to put control on it.

As for shopping, there was not much to shop. Our driver Pepo told us that Croatians shop in USA and Europe. So if you come to Dubrovnik, you can spend time browsing Old Town, going to the hill to see memorial to Dubrovnik defenders and great view of the city (car is needed there).

Take a drive on Coastal road - beautiful but better let someone else to drive. Nearby towns Cavtat and Ston are great for strolling. There are also Lokrum Island and Elafiti for nature enthusiasts but we did not go there.

Our flight to London Gatwick was at 4:20pm so the driver came in to our apartment and took our bags to the car, that was a big help.

The flight was on time. We arrived to London at 6pm. Next flight was next morning from Heathrow so we took National Express shuttle to Heathrow. It always amazes me the size of that airport, it is like a city! We stayed overnight at Renaissance airport Heathrow. It was older hotel of Renaissance more like 4*. Strange shower operation....Next morning, we took a flight from Heathrow to Miami to connect to Tampa.

In Heathrow there were a lot's of security checks. One at entering departure gates and second at the gate. I was delayed at departure security beacuse they random (I was told - chose my purse). I did not have any liquids. They flipped my book pages and that's was it. On another side, they let 2 women in burqas where you cannot even see the face, only eyes - pass securty faster then us. Go figure. Second we went to departure gate and it took 20 mins to walk there. On arrival to the gate, they checked everybody. Patted clothes and checked all carryons. Worse then in USA.

Anyway the flight was fine and we finally arrived home after 18 days of travel. I promised my husband, next trips will be shorter. It was a long time.

So, final thoughts... We visited 7 countries, (incl London on the way back one night), stayed at 8 hotels. Out of 8 hotels we stayed in Castles, Villas, 5* hotels, 3 , 4* hotels and one budget apartment. We also stayed in one spa which is frequented by local Slovenians.

Former Yugoslavian countries are very interesting and have great potential. But not easy to tour and the traveler must come with open mind. Remember, 15 years ago they were at war. I would say they are doing great.

Again, thank you for your help planning this.

I hope my feedback will be helpful to Fodorites and please let me know if you have any questions.

progol is online now  
Old Oct 12th, 2007, 07:07 AM
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Very nice report, Sophia. And thanks, Progol, for putting it all together!
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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 08:09 AM
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I loved reading this - thank you so much for taking the time to paint us a picture of your trip! Planning my own trip to the region, this gives me lots of food for thought.


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Old Nov 6th, 2007, 05:42 AM
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Old Nov 6th, 2007, 06:40 AM
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I really enjoyed your report, Sophia! Thanks for all the details.
thank you also, Progol, for putting the report together in one place. I think I read part of this before but missed most of it.
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Old Nov 6th, 2007, 06:53 AM
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Very unique report which I really liked. Thanks for the history lessons---that adds perspective. The Bay of Kotor was a highlight for me--have you seen my photos from there?
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Old Nov 6th, 2007, 07:16 AM
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I found your report on Slovenia and Croatia right on the mark
It is a new destination, there are some spectacular spots, but, for now, I prefer to visit Spain, France, Italy, Portugal...
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Old Nov 18th, 2007, 02:35 PM
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a wonderful and informative report which I will save to reread before our trip in April to remind myself of the history lessons you give. thanks.
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Old Nov 18th, 2007, 04:00 PM
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Full name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus
Born c. 245
Dioclea, near Salona
Died c. 316

it is not surprising there " are no rooms in the palace " !
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Old Nov 19th, 2007, 07:56 PM
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Can you tell me the information to reach your guid to Mostar. Also, do you mind sharing what the cost for the guide was and if you still feel that was the way to go instead of driving yourself. There will be 4 of us. Did you spend the night in Mostar or do it as a daytrip from Dubrovinik. I am sorry if you've already answered some of this in your report.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 12:59 AM
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I also am interested in your guide PEPO to go to Mostar & Montenegro. How did you contact him, did you like him and how much did he cost???? We will be there in June. Would it be possible to just take public transport to Montenegro? Thanks
lajolla is offline  
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