God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Random Notes

Random Note #1—Dubrovnik, the new Italian City

Our trip to Croatia has now come and gone. We are home in Greve and it is fa caldo—hot! We had hoped to leave the heat behind when we left the Dalmation Coast but no, it followed us here. My hair resembles Phyllis Diller (for those of you old enough to remember who she is) minutes after having coerced it into some semblance of presentableness. I will hide behind the menu when we go out tonight—it is much too hot to cook—always a silver lining!

Yesterday in Dubrovnik was comical. We had been there five days, surrounded by the many languages coexisting in harmony with each other. When needed, English became the common language as most of Europe is bilingual (the US may be the only nation myopically raising monolingual children.)

So yesterday morning, we saunter across the bridge, through the towers, down the marble road and discover that the Italians have arrived in mass—it is August, when Italy shuts down except for unaware tourists who find that the country has closed for holiday.

Dubrovnik became an extension of Italy between when we went to bed at 11:30 and the next morning. There were large tour groups filling the streets, small groups co-opting available seats at the outside cafés, jewelry stores that had been empty were full and clothing boutiques were experiencing a brisk business. All the menus displayed on tables were open to the Italian page. It was as if the rest of the world had ceased to exist—except for the cruise boat folks who generally were easily distinguishable from the Italians.

Random Note #2—Crossing Borders

Thursday we entered the twilight zone of pre-EU when crossing borders was not always easy—or maybe equitable with the 21st century experience of crossing from Mexico into the US.

We took a bus tour to Montenegro as we had turned our car in on arriving in Dubrovnik but wanted to taste that country. My quick observation of the country is that it is much less developed and poorer than Croatia both because it has traditionally been so and because its independence from Serbia is recent. I have a friend who just spent several weeks there and so need to talk with her to learn more.

The twilight zone came when we were returning—supposedly to be in Dubrovnik by 7 pm which didn’t happen. Crossing the two borders became a nightmare which took 4 ½ hours. Traffic was literally stopped; people were picnicking along the side of the road. We finally rolled in at 11:30. For a while I thought perhaps the borders had been closed as the stability of the Balkans is still questionable.

The explanation I was given is that Croatia is diligently trying to control the illegal entry of Albanians which is viewed as a problem through much of the EU and emerging EU countries.

The result for us was that we missed our final night in Croatia and the special dinner we had intended to enjoy. Instead we went to bed hungry but tired enough not to care.

Random Note #3—Eavesdropping

Yesterday we needed to be at the airport by 2:30—which gave us time to enjoy the restaurant we had missed the night before—due to Random Note #2.

Proto Restaurant was not a disappointment--offering excellent food, sophisticated but pleasant service, a nice roof top terrace and upscale touches. It was a nice way to end our time in a lovely country.

This note, though, is about the unintended entertainment provided by 5 Windsong Cruisers—3 heavily made-up matronly women with much costume jewelry and two men and a patient, kind forbearing waiter. It was a comedy, but one that accounts for the bad rap Americans sometimes get. There must have been 15 minutes, minimally—Ken says longer, of questions by the women ascertaining the ingredients, preparation, portion size, presence of garlic, thickness of mussel broth and things I can not even remember regarding everything on the menu. Then there was amazement when they learned that the wines being suggested were Croatian—“Croatian wine? How interesting. Imagine that.”

In the meantime, one of the men spent the time hiding behind the wine list, held up to completely shield his face from view. The other man just stayed out of it all, pretending not to be there but then ordered half a liter of wine for the 5 of them. The waiter never became impatient or rude—he was a perfect gentleman throughout it all, patiently answering every question. Once in a while he would look over at Ken and give a little quirky smile—we had already spent some time talking with him, not about food. It was all Ken and I could do to control our laughter.

When we left, I mentioned to the waiter that he was an amazingly patient person. His response was “There were many questions, weren’t there?”

Random Note #4—Mostar, Bosnia

One day we had our landlord’s son, Teo, take us to Mostar in Bosnia. This is a town that experienced much action during the war with Serbia as it is a strong Muslim area with many minarets and mosques. We knew this but were surprised by the strong resemblance to what we had seen in Turkey. The bazaar and shops were very much like being in Istanbul and other areas of that country both in their atmosphere and wares. I had, ignorantly, expected to find the culture much like that of the Slavic cultures we saw elsewhere in parts of Bosnia we drove through and in Croatia—just with a difference in religion.

It was an interesting day as much in the driving and seeing as in the stopping at places. Much evidence of the destruction of the war is still very evident and eye-opening for those of us who have not experienced the violence of war. There seemed to be greater poverty in the border area than in the places we saw further into the interior. But—as with Montenegro, we were there for just one day and so our observations are quite superficial.

Random Note #5—Fish

If you like fish—as fresh as it comes—then Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is the place to head. Never, ever, have I enjoyed fish and shell fish more than the 15 days we were there. For the most part, it does not matter whether you go to a fancy place or a very plain one, the fish will be about the same where ever. It is so good.

Random Note #6—A Favorite Drive

One of my most favorite Italy drives is the one from Rome to Tuscany, even if it is on the A1 (but not the other direction.) Along the way begins the trail of hilltop towns in Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany, mysteriously perched on towering, steep rock formations. One can only be mystified as to how that was accomplished so many centuries ago. There are green fields, stands of trees, and, if lucky, golden-red sunsets to savor. I always feel like I am coming home when we are welcomed by these sights and the excitement mounts.. I love it!

Random Note #7—Casey

Finally, no entry is complete without Casey. Ken and I were so anxious to see him after two weeks plus, that we broke speed limits all the way from Rome to here. In fact, we forgot to check the rental car for damages and now see that there is an ugly gash on one side for which I suspect we will be held accountable. But, the running into our arms and the huge, crushing hug and shower of kisses make up for that. He was so happy he began giggling just as he had in pre-school days after we had gone away for a while. Then today, assured that we were here and loved him, there was little time for us as he played with friends. As he told us, he is growing up.

Now tonight, he has already left us as he, Camilla and Alessandro have gone overnight to a Tuscan beach town. But, such memories are ones he will carry for a lifetime and we are happy he will have them. Everyone here marvels at the relationship of these children—as Casey told someone “we're closer than best friends.”


janie said...

Thank you once again! Love the picture of the kids.

Jane said...

Janie, thank you!! Did you notice Casey's new hair style? When we got back here, he had a mohawk!

jmisgro said...

I love reading about your travels!! One ? where did the people get the food to picnic with while they were waiting to cross the border? I wonder if they had done that before and knew what to expect!

Judith in Umbria said...

Jane, wonderful post. Thank you.

Jane said...

Joanne, it wasn't so much a full picnic but the bringing out of drinks, snacks and fruits that they carried with them as many of us do when traveling--or maybe they did not know what to expect.

Judith, what a great comment coming from you, my friend. See you soon and can't wait--except that will signal the end of our trip.

Terry (teaberry) said...

Jane, I have really enjoyed your observations and insights about Croatia and the surrounding region. I am so glad that you enjoyed your visit. Sorry to hear about the long wait at the border. Again, what a difference a month or so makes - when we were there (mid June), it almost appeared abandoned - we were the only ones crossing the border (early evening).

Enjoy the rest of your stay in Italy - can't wait to see you in the Desert again!

Kathy (Trekcapri) said...

Hi Jane, I have really enjoyed reading your posts. I don't know very much about Croatia and I find your observations so interesting.

Great photos especially the ones with Casey and his friends!

Thanks you so much for posting and sharing your experiences.

jerry said...

Jane - glad to hear that you are coping with the expected trip wrinkles with your usual grace and competence!