A Travellerspoint blog

Vilnius, Lithuania

Sunday, August 17 – Wednesday, August 20, 2008

sunny 70 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I on jhongny's travel map.

I know I'm really behind on my blog, but after 2 months I'm getting a little lazy. Some days when it's a choice between taking a nap and writing the blog, well... :) Here's the post on Vilnius. The rest of the Eastern European trip, Krakow and Berlin, should be up by the end of this week.

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The old town of Vilnius has yet another feel from the other two cities. It's a little bigger than the other 2, and also the most cosmopolitan of the three. The main town square is like the Beverly Hills or Madison Avenue of the city with quite a few brand name shops like Salvatore Ferragamo, just housed in old buildings surrounded by lots of cathedrals and churches.

A lot of activities happen at main square. One afternoon there was a concert to show support for Georgia. The banner on the right in the picture reads "Georgia and Lithuania - Friends Always Stand Together"

Another afternoon people were gathered in front of the big TV screen that's been set up for the Olympics to watch and cheer for the Lithuanian athelets.

An interesting thing about Vilnius is the special beer snack section on the menu. The best one is the fried bread sticks - rye bread sticks rubbed with garlic and salt and then deep fried. Garlicky, salty, and deep fried. Need I say more? It is sooo good with beer. Another local favorite is sliced smoked pig ear and pig snout?! For some it''s even better than the bread sticks. We tried it, of course, but I personally think the Chinese version is more flavorful. :)

For the past month or so, we were really good about not shopping too much. For some reason we found a lot of things to buy in Vilnius. Here's a picture of me sporting my new hat:

Just across the river from old town is an area called Uzupis, known for its bohemian vibe. It's been compared to Montmartre in Paris, but I think it feels more like Berkeley, San Francisco.

People living there declared itself an independent republic with its own quirky 41 point constitution. Some articles in the constitution include:

  1. 3 Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation

  2. 6 Everyone has the right to love

  3. 12 a dog has the right to be a dog

  4. 14 sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties

  5. 24 Everyone has the right to understand nothing

  6. 29 No one can share what they do not possess


We found a restaurant in Uzupis with a nice outdoor deck (restaurant Torres) by the river with a view of church spires of old town to enjoy our last night in Vilnius.

Posted by jhongny 09:56 Archived in Lithuania Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Riga, Latvia

Friday, August 15 - Sunday, August 17, 2008

sunny 72 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I on jhongny's travel map.

Neither one of us have been on as many long distance bus rides as we have on this trip, and the ones in Croatian and Montenegro were not the most comfortable. Therefore, when we found out there are no trains linking Tallinn to Riga we were not looking forward to yet another bus ride (little did we know how many more we had ahead us). The Eurolines bus turned out to be quite clean and comfortable (for a bus). The coolest part about the bus ride, though, was the free wi-fi, allowing us to check emails as we drove through the Estonian and Latvian countryside! It also gave me a chance to get caught up on my blogs. As advanced as we think we are in the US, we are pretty behind when it comes to technology.

There was a slight confusion in the name of our hotel when we first arrived (Grand Palace, Garden Palace – an easy mistake). After lugging our bags through cobblestoned streets for half an hour (have I mentioned that they may look nice, but they are not good for wheeled bags nor my feet), we arrived at the Grand Palace, a 4-star hotel. The lobby reminded me of the nice hotels I got to stay at during my Dannon days. Of course the Grand Palace turned out to be the wrong hotel, and the right one, the Garden Palace, is on the other side of old town. The guy at the front desk was super nice and drove us there – apparently this mix-up happens quite often. While it was not 4-stars, our hotel room was still nice so it wasn't that much of a let down.

Whereas Tallinn had a chill vibe, Riga's old town was more like a party town. It has the winding roads and the pretty town squares (here's one of them):
but Riga also has the reputation of being a big party town. It's popular with stag and hen parties (bachelor and bachelorette parties for us Americans) and you can stay out till the wee hours if you so choose. I'm sure some of it is because we were there over a weekend, and the Riga Festival was happening at the same time, but overall parts of it remind me a little of Key West or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

One of the highlights of the Riga Festival was the “Formula 2 On Water World Cup Latvia Grand Prix”. I never even knew there's a Formula 2 but it was pretty cool to watch.

Here's a picture of the boats jostling for position right after the race started:
Two boats overturned during the race which added to the excitement.

We also tried to see this “Hot Air Balloon Shining” event, thinking it would be cool to see all these hot air balloons floating over the city at night, but after waiting for an hour it turned out they never had any intention of flying the balloons. They just fired up the balloons on the ground and since the balloons were spread out throughout the city you only see 1 or 2 at a time, so it wasn't all that spectacular. Here's what it looked like so you can decide for yourself (think seeing this go on and off for 50 minutes and nothing else):

For a change of scenery from old town, we checked out a “newer” section of Riga known for its Art Nouveau buildings (Riga has the world's largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings). It's a style of architecture in the early 1900's known for the eclectic and decorative facades.

Here's a close up of the detail from another building:

Anyone who goes to Riga should definitely make time for the Museum of Occupation. It offers a more complete picture of what the Baltic countries went through since WWI (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all suffered similar fates). Whereas the other museums we went to focused more on the cruelty of the Germans and the Soviets, this exhibit provided a better overview of the events happening during that time. It's eye opening for someone who is not a history buff like me. We saw the secret pact between Germany and Russia on how they would split up the area from Poland all the way up to the Baltics. Lucky Poland got divided into 2 parts. Can you imagine? The fate of your country being decided by foreigners without you knowing or having any say in it?! It also showed how the Soviets bullied their way to fake an election in order to install a puppet government who then turned around and “asked” for Latvia to be admitted to the USSR. We think that this is all behind us, but given the situation between Georgia and Russia you do sometimes wonder.

Two days were short and sweet and perfect for Riga, and on Sunday we got on yet another bus headed for Vilnius, Lithuania.

Posted by jhongny 15:34 Archived in Latvia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

From the Balkans to the Baltics: Tallinn, Estonia

August 12 – 15, 2008

semi-overcast 72 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I on jhongny's travel map.

Leaving the Adriatic behind, we flew up north to explore another region of Eastern Europe – the Baltic countries. Instead of the clear deep blue sea, the Baltic is a lot darker and moodier, even on a sunny day.
(the old town of Tallinn is in the background)

Our plan is to start from the north, in Tallinn, Estonia, and work our way south towards Prague. When you look at the map, Tallinn is pretty far north – only 3.5 hours by ferry to Helsinki, Finland, and 4 hours by bus to St. Petersberg.... I think I even saw a sign for tours to the North Pole. :)

The city lived up to its e-Stonia reputation (i.e., being very wired in – after all, Skype and Kazaa, a Napster like music sharing software, were started by Estonians): there was a kiosk for free internet right at the airport which was a good thing as we had no idea how to get to our hotel; our hotel room was equipped with wifi and a computer; and free wi-fi spots were easy to find all over old town. Right away, we liked this city.

Seriously, it's not just because Tallinn's wired in. We were pleasantly surprised by the city overall. The buildings in old town have some Scandinavian influence so it has a different feel than the old towns we've been to. I also liked that old town is a part of the city, and locals as well as tourists go there so you feel like you're seeing what the city is like today. Outside of old town there are some interesting architecture as well. The people here are friendly.... and overall, it just has a very chill vibe. It may be a bit slow for some people, but we like the pace.

(pic of one of the squares in old town)

The rain cloud that was with us in Czech Republic and Hungary found us as soon as we left the coast, and it started to rain the night we got there all through the next day. Nonetheless we made the best of it and climbed the old town hall tower to see Tallinn in the rain:
We made good use of the rest of the day and the free wi-fi in town and booked our accommodations for the rest of the trip so we didn't have to stress about it anymore (and yes, beer was involved).

Here's a picture of Tallinn in good weather (we decided to extend our stay an extra day so we get at least one nice day):
This picture was taken from a church bell tower, which in medieval times was the tallest in Europe. The Soviets set up their KGB headquarter in the building next to it so they could use the tower to transmit signals.

Being so far north, the daylight lasts pretty late into the night. While it wasn't exactly “white nights” since it's already August, the sun didn't set until well after 10pm. Here's a picture I took of the main town square, Raekoja Plats, at almost 10pm:

It was very easy to get around with English, and we were only there for a few days so we didn't learn any Estonian phrases. We did notice a couple of signs that are pretty funny when you try to read it in English:

Read the second item on the menu list fast...

Try to read this sign out loud:

Finally, here are some random pictures from Tallinn:

Near the old fortress wall in old town Tallinn

This is a sculpture at a Soviet War Memorial which is slowly falling out of repair (hmm I wonder why)... I just thought the hands were cool:

Next stop: Riga, Latvia.

Posted by jhongny 14:19 Archived in Estonia Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

Catching Up

semi-overcast 70 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I on jhongny's travel map.

Sorry I'm so behind on my blogs. None of the places in Montenegro had internet connection, otherwise the hot days would have been the perfect time to upload. Ok, the reality is, sometimes nap time took precedence to picking out the pictures for the blog. Ashok found a way to reduce the size of my pictures so it takes a lot less time to load the pictures.

We've gone from the Balkans to the Baltics and are now traveling through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We are liking the cities so far... Internet availability is great here so I should be better with keeping this blog updated.

I've also updated our itinerary for the rest of the month (see the post titled "Our Itinerary & How to Get In Touch).

Here are the posts for our time in Croatia and Montenegro - 5 posts total. Happy reading!

Posted by jhongny 18:54 Archived in Croatia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

In search of the promised beach

Coastal Montenegro (Budva, Becici, Sveti Stefan, Ulcinj) Thursday, August 7 - Monday, August 11, 2008

sunny 84 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I on jhongny's travel map.

But first, finding a place to stay:

We were headed to Becici, the beach just south of Budva and, we were told, the better beach. Nevermind that the woman at Meridian Travel told us her aunt's apartments in Becici are overbooked, and that it's very busy in that area right now (it is THE peak month). Emboldened by our recent experience in Kotor, and armed with all the travel agency info from Meridian Travel, we thought we would find a room for sure. To be fair, we did try to look beforehand but nothing worked out.

"Just ask the people with free rooms at the bus station", she said. "A taxi to Becici is only 3 Euros”, she also said. Neither turned out to be true. The people at the Budva station only had rooms for Budva, not Becici, even though it's only 2 km away. We called the local travel agencies, but none had anything available. Not Good. We took a taxi to Becici – it turned out to be more than double what the woman said... a big deal when you're on a tight budget. There was no one with room available signs in sight. We started to walk into each apartment to ask if they had any rooms... picture Ashok and I hauling our bags going up and down hilly streets with the mid-day sun beating down on us... for 3 hours!... and NOT ONE was available! We got nothing except very sun-burnt.

Finally we gave up and went back to Budva. There, as we were walking down the main street, a group of young guys hanging out yelled out at us if we were looking for a room. After trying for a few minutes to communicate (their English were not that good, and our Serbian even worse), one guy told us to get in his car and he'll show us to the apartment. We did... it turned out to be a good enough place (not that we had many options)... we paid him for the 4 nights in cash.. and we had a room. This was our worst experience yet on this trip, and I hope nothing else comes close.

This is what the apartment looks like from the outside. Our room is the one upstairs:

As in Kotor, we never figured out who the actual owner of the building is. We asked who we thought were the owners for a towel the first day, got only one foot towel (good thing we had our clean beach towels), and never saw them again. The next morning we ran into another guy who got us a small towel (“it's small but at least it's clean”) and a pot so we could boil water to make coffee. He turned out to be an interesting guy that we hung out with the last night but it was never clear whether or not this was indeed his apartment. These things are apparently not that big a deal in Montenegro.

Finally, the Beach:
Lonely Planet described Budva as the beach where you can build sandcastles. Not that I'm complaining about the rocky beaches of Croatia, but the idea of a soft sandy beach was really appealing. With the sleeping arrangement finally out of our way, we headed out to check out the beach and to cool down. We were very disappointed in Budva's beaches. The fact that it's a pebbly beach is the least of it. There's a boardwalk along the beach packed with open air bars that don't start to get crowded until 10pm, cheesy T-shirt and souvenir vendors, fast food stalls, and an old-style amusement park. It's clearly a party beach, but not a hip one like Hvar. For those of you that know New Jersey, Budva reminds us a lot of Belmar. The beach is jam packed with beach chairs for rent, and the water was not so clean. I'm sure lots of people love the fact that it's a party beach, but it was just too crowded and cheesy for us.

The next day we set out to check out Becici beach. It was better... still crowded but not as bad as Budva, but it's still pebbly... so we moved on to Sveti Stefan. Sveti Stefan was at one time a fishing village but is now a private hotel (currently closed for renovation). Here's a picture of it so you can see how pretty it is:
There's a stretch of beach right in front of it (the 3 white lines in the lower right corner of the picture are the beach chairs). It's still pebbly but less crowded and you can't beat the view of Sveti Stefan so we stayed.

On the bus to Sveti Stefan, we passed by some beaches that looked very nice so in the evening we walked back looking for them to see how they are. By this point we have actually walked through the entire 7 km stretch of beaches from Budva to Sveti Stefan. I know we sound like beach snobs but really we're not. It's not just about sand vs. pebbles. The thing is, people here are not very environmentally conscious, and don't think twice about leaving their cigarette butts and food trash on the beach. In comparison, the waters we swam in in Croatia were clean & clear. Maybe it's because the Montenegrans are so laid back they don't care and don't realize the environmental consequences. Sveti Stefan was the best of the bunch, Budva the worst, and the rest in between.

Not loving any of the area beaches and since Montenegro is not that big, we took a day trip to the southernmost beach, Ulcinj, just north of the border with Albania. Here, we finally got our sandy beach.... although it's just like any other beach in New Jersey/ New York or Los Angeles, which is probably why the people there are all locals or from nearby Albania. Don't get me wrong, we had a fun day on the beach. I'm just saying it's not a beach that's worth traveling to. The water was slightly warmer than the other beaches and there were actual waves (all the other ones were really calm). I don't know how clean the water is... there's 12km of beach for people to spread out, and the water's murky with the sand and the waves... probably a good thing.

Overall, I would say Montenegro was a disappointing experience. At least we got to see almost the entire Montenegro coast. It's a shame because the people are so easy going and friendly, and the coast is very pretty. We saw a lot of new development going up all along the coast, and I'm sure they will do well... it's just a question of which type of crowd it will attract. I wonder how long it will last if they don't take measures now to protect their beaches.

One final note... the relatively short ride back to Croatia turned into 6 hours including a 3.5 hour wait at the border. All because we got stuck behind 3 buses of Russians going into Croatia without Visas so they had to get issued on the spot and each person had to be manually typed in! Urgh!

Posted by jhongny 08:35 Archived in Montenegro Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

Kotor, Montenegro

Tuesday, August 5 - Thursday, August 7, 2008

sunny 95 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I on jhongny's travel map.

The old town of Kotor sits at the bottom of a mountain, and its fortress walls stretch up the steep mountainside. The old town is much smaller than that of Dubrovnik but has lots of winding cobblestone streets and small squares to wander through. In comparison, it's not as "picture perfect" as there are still plenty of old buildings that have not been renovated.


As in Dubrovnik, the sun is mercilessly hot starting from around 9am to 6pm, and all the heat gets trapped inside the walls making it even worse. There's not too many people on the streets during this time. They either head to the nearby beach or sit in outdoor cafes drinking cold drinks to try to cool down. Both were still too hot for us so we ended up getting up super early to walk around and hike up the fortress walls while it's still cool.

Here's just a part of the hike:

Speaking of being laid back, the previous evening we had asked the woman at the fortress entrance whether we could pay the 2 Euro entrance fee up front since she's not there until 8am. She basically told us not to worry about it and to just go (there's not gate at the entrance to lock it up)... and then she offered to just let us go in at that point. She also told us that there's no need to hike all the way to the top (1 hour of uphill climb), and that you can get a beautiful panoramic view from the church which is only a 20 minute hike. We took her advice. I'm sure the view from the top is more spectacular but I'm not sure the difference is worth the extra effort.

We then headed back to the apartment to nap. We had found this English movie channel (it went in and out and switches channels every so often) so we got sucked into watching a couple. Did you know that Montenegro is mentioned in The Great Gatsby? How appropriate. You take what you can get when it comes to English TV. In Budapest the only thing in English was BBC so we were very up to date on world news that week. At another place it was really bad TV shows that I've never heard of, and here, only movies.... not that we watch that much TV but I do miss having the option (and my Food Network and The Amazing Race).

We went out in the evening to walk around again. There's not much more to do so 2 nights was the perfect amount of time to spend in Kotor. With all this heat we're really looking forward to a few days of R&R by the beach in Budva.

Posted by jhongny 08:14 Archived in Montenegro Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

The newest nation in the world: Montenegro

Tuesday, August 5

sunny 95 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I on jhongny's travel map.

Don't ask me why, but Montenegro was one of the must-do destinations when we planned this trip. Maybe because I had read about it in a travel book and the experience sounded cool. In fact, the reason we went to Croatia is because it's a easy ride down the coast to coastal Montenegro. The first city we are headed to is Kotor, which is tucked inside a fjord. Kotor is a relatively short bus ride from Dubrovnik (2.5hrs), but there is a world of difference between the attitude of the two people.

I always thought a country's consulate gives you a good feel for what to expect in that country. For example, the exasperation one feels at the long wait and chaos at the Indian consulate is a good indication of what you will experience in India. When Ashok got his Visa for Montenegro, the people at the consulate were super laid back.... having a drink at 4 in the afternoon and offering to give him the Visa on the spot. That's pretty much our experience with the people in Montenegro. Instead of being very careful so as to not get taken advantage of, we were pleasantly surprised by how lax everyone is. It's a nice change from some of the curt, rude people we've had to deal with (most recently the bus driver who barked "toilet? no toilet! back to your seat!" when I asked if there would be a bathroom break before Kotor).

We had emailed a travel agent in Kotor and the response we got was "come see us when you arrive and we will help you find a place".... hmmm.... ok. I mean, we're pretty last minute, sometimes booking a room the night before, but this is truly a test of our flexibility. Not having any other options, we got on the bus, figuring at the very least we'll be able to get a room from one of the people that crowd the buses upon arrival with "room available" signs.


The people at Meridian Travel turned out to be EXTREMELY nice! They didn't have a room that met our needs (private bathroom and AC... there are certain modern conveniences a girl can't give up!), so they gave us names of the other agencies in Kotor and even let us leave our luggage in their office while we went to check!

At the 3rd agency (there are only 3 in old town), the woman flipped through a notebook with handwritten notes and postcards of apartments (not very sophisticated here), made a phone call and announced that she has an apartment for 65 Euros right in old town... we hesitated... she came down to 60 Euros.. done deal! A few minutes later, a guy showed up to take us to look at the apartment (we've learned it's a must). It was newly renovated and spacious so we said we'd take it. The guy turned around to leave. We tried to follow and asked if he wanted the keys. He responded, "take it, I already have one", and took off. Keep in mind at this point we hadn't paid yet. That's the only time we ever saw the owner of the apartment.

By the way, when it came time to check out no one contacted us for the keys or gave any instructions for leaving the keys. We just stopped by the travel agent and dropped them off. I wonder what would have happened if we had taken off with the keys? Or stayed extra days at the apartment? Would they have known?

Since the people at Meridian Travel was so nice we wanted to try to give them some business, so we went back there the next day to see if they can help us with accommodations in the next place, Budva. However, all the travel agencies only deal with local lodging so they didn't have anything. Instead, we got names of 4 travel agencies in Budva plus a lot of tips on the beaches around Budva from them. Hands down, they were the most helpful people we met on this trip.

Here's the info for Meridian Travel if you're in that part of the world:
Meridian Travel
email: travel@cg.yu
tel: 381-82-32-34-48

Posted by jhongny 08:12 Archived in Montenegro Tagged lodging Comments (0)

The Pearl of the Adriatic: Dubrovnik, Croatia

August 3 – 5, 2008

sunny 95 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Croatia on jhongny's travel map.

If you can only go to one of Croatia's coastal cities, Dubrovnik is it. The city sits inside fortress walls built on scraggly rocks right by the water, backed up by the mountain.

Dubrovnik's old harbour:

Many of the buildings were destroyed when the Serbs & Yugoslav army bombed it during the war in the early 90's, but it's all been rebuilt with the same style of architecture. The new buildings all have red roofs so you can tell which ones were damaged (and there are lots of them).
Old vs new roofs:

The city was under siege for 2 months during the war. I'm not sure how they survived with food, but there's a fountain that's 400 years old that ended up supplying the city with water the entire time and it's still working. Now every one goes and touches or drinks from it for luck:

It is scorching hot during the day so there's no much to do except to go see some exhibits in nicely air conditioned museums (really missing the mid-day swims now). We went to two – one of Picasso's sketches which was really cool. The other one was at the War Photo Limited where there were photos from the war(s) in the Balkans and an exhibit on Child Soldiers. The photos of the Child Soldiers were from various regions of the world (Middle East, Asia, Africa) and the sad thing is, some are as recent as 2007. In some areas (think it's in Africa), kids are abducted and then given drugs before being sent off to the frontline to fight so they would be fearless, and if they resist they are beaten and tortured. Sometimes all the groups fighting each other are equally brutal so no matter who wins the people are screwed. I know that there are lots of wars going on in the world, but seeing the photos really drive it home. It also makes me realize how lucky we are to live in the US, and be shielded from much of the violence that are going on.

Once the heat got more bearable we walked on the fortress wall around the city. Everyone says it's a must do and I agree. You get a great view of the entire city with the Adriatic in the background, and in the parts that are alongside the water, you can look down and see the water slapping up against the rocks. It's just beautiful!

Dubrovnik rooftops from the wall:

View of main town square in Dobrovnik old town:

Next to the old town is the best beach in Dubrovnik, Bana. It's a pebbly beach but the clear water is so inviting:

In addition to the normal rules of conduct for the beach like no pets on the beach, they also had this as the last one on the list:


It was a good place to end our time in Croatia.

One note about Croatians. People are generally nice and helpful, especially once you get to know them. Our travel agent and the people on the boat were super friendly and explained a lot to us. However, when it comes to business you still have to watch out as what you get is often not what you're told. Our bait and switch incident on the boat was not our only experience. The room in Dubrovnik ended up costing slightly more than what we were told (at least we got to store our luggage there and they did our laundry which was very much needed); the owner of the apartment told us there is wi-fi but once we got there the wi-fi is not working due to some “technical difficulties”, etc, etc.. We also learned that it doesn't pay to be nice or polite and to be firm or they will just take advantage of you. It's marred an otherwise great experience to have to be on our toes all the time.

Posted by jhongny 08:10 Archived in Croatia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

101 Dalmatians

Dalmatia Coast of Croatia (Mljet, Hvar, Brac, Makarska, Korcula, Sipan) Monday, July 28 – Saturday, August 2, 2008

sunny 92 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Croatia on jhongny's travel map.

Here's a map of the islands we went to on this leg of the trip:

As mentioned before, we're on a small boat (14 cabins) for 7 days going between the islands of Croatia. Here's what it looks like:

The coast of Croatia is called Dalmatia collectively but no one on the boat knows why it's called that.... maybe because the coast of Croatia is dotted with 1700+ islands, some of which look like this:

The amazingly blue and clear Adriatic sea is a nice break from visiting cities. The water is on the chilly side for us, but after sitting in the scorching sun for a while it feels so refreshing, especially that first moment when you jump into the water.

The days quickly settled into a routine: breakfast at 8am (they're strict about their meal times - if you miss it you get yelled at!) as the boat pulls out of the marina and heads to another island, then sit on the deck under the sun and enjoy the view of the blue Adriatic and islands that dot the coast. Here's the view from my perspective:

Ashok relaxing on the boat (sitting in the shade because he doesn't need a tan):

Shortly before lunch the boat drops anchor somewhere so there's time for a refreshing swim. More swimming or a nap in the afternoon until about 4pm when the boat heads into town and docks for the night, in time for us to walk around and explore the old town. Yes, life is tough.

Other than 2 Canadian girls and 2 German couples, the rest of the people on our boat are Croatians so we got a good taste of the local culture - one of the things we love about traveling. We found out from the locals that the way to drink white wine in Dalmatia is to mix equal parts water and wine and then add ice. The drink is called Bevanda. Just imagine trying to do that back in the States and the looks you'd get! One sip of the local wine and we knew why it is necessary to add water... it's really strong and not that good so adding water to dilute it makes it easier to drink (tastes even better with sparkling water).

Being here also makes me realize how prudish North Americans are. Not sure if it's all Europe but the women here think nothing of taking their tops off as they lay under the sun. As the week went on and people got more comfortable with each other the number of topless women (all in their 20's) and the times they're topless went up (sorry no pictures). Ashok's definitely enjoying this cruise.

The funny thing is one of the Canadian women swam really far away from the water to take her top off for a little while just so she can say she went topless in Europe. She told us this on our last night as we were sitting on the top deck drinking whiskey. Later that night we ran into the Croatians who insisted that we try the local liquor (a hazelnut drink called Orahovica) and then out to the disco with them. This was, of all places, on the tiny little island of Sipan where it takes about 15 minutes to walk thru the harbor but the best times happen when it's unplanned.

Some interesting tidbits:

Apparently in Croatia you don't want to park where you're not supposed to. Instead of giving out tickets, here's their version of a tow truck:
The picture is a bit dark but the truck is basically picking up the entire car and moving it. Alternatively, you could avoid getting towed by getting a big car.

As I mentioned before, looking for free wi-fi somehow became a past time. In general you can't tell if there's free wi-fi or not, but in this case it was pretty obvious:
We jumped in but the wireless card on the MAC is too weak so it didn't work for us.

Here's a little info on each of the islands we went to:
Mljet (pronounced Millet): Mljet is a national park with two lakes in the middle of the island, and a small island in the middle of the lake. There's a bridge where the two lakes meet where Orson Welles use to sit on for hours. The current under the bridge carries you from one lake to the other. There are lots of nice hikes but we're not nature people so we probably could have saved the park admission fee and spent the afternoon on the beach along the coast instead.

Hvar (pronounced Hevar): is apparently where the rich and famous visit. There are lots of nice yachts docked in the harbor, and everyone walking around was dressed up in some hip outfit (EVERY woman was wearing some dress or skirt). Ashok and I felt very under-dressed in our shorts and tank tops. There's a nice old town and a fort at the top of the hill to add to the charm. The fort has a great panoramic view of the town.

Makarska: is a coastal town, not an island. After Hvar this seems a lot more casual as you see the normal shorts and t-shirt tourists (we fit in better here). It's pretty but not as much compared to the other islands. Ashok did get some good shots of these kids at swimming practice:
(Ashok is making sure I note that I copied his shot)

Korcula (Korchula): the small old town is at the tip of the island and is one of the most picturesque of all. It's also Marco Polo's birthplace. Here's a view of the sea from the Marco Polo House.

Sipan (Shipan): One of the Elifiti islands, a group of islands near Dubrovnik. It's the smallest village of all the places we stopped at... I think because we were on the non-touristy side of the island so it's still a sleepy town.

This has been a great week and we're going to miss the cool Adriatic and the beautiful scenery. I think we may have to go on a round-the-world's-beaches trip next.... maybe on a one of those yachts we saw this week (yeah right!).

Posted by jhongny 08:27 Archived in Croatia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

It's time to Split

Bratislava, Slovakia; Bosnia; and Split, Croatia Saturday, July 26, 2008 – Sunday, July 27, 2008

semi-overcast 80 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Croatia on jhongny's travel map.

It's a good thing we got our rest in Budapest because we had 2 long days of travel afterwards. Ashok found a cheap flight to Split from Bratislava so despite our previous bad experience we got on the train and headed back there. Something to be said about second chances (or really low expectations) because we actually had a good time. As soon as we got to the old town, we saw a group of Slovakian women dressed in traditional costumes sitting around. It turned out to be quite a scene when Ashok asked to take their picture as a crowd gathered to see the “Photographer from New York” take pictures.
They were so nice and started to take out pictures of their family and gave us their backgrounds. Their ancestors settled in northern Serbia 250 years ago (the queen at the time was giving incentives for people to go there), but they haven't forgotten their roots and still consider themselves Slovaks and were in Bratislava to visit their homeland.

Most of Bratislava is very new and there are lots of construction around. The old part of Bratislava is fairly small and sits on the other side of the Danube. Think pretty old buildings with cobblestoned alleys, but the town is basically a tourist spot as all the store fronts are either cafes, souvenir, or various clothing and craft shops. We hiked up to the palace (most of it is being reconstructed) and were rewarded with a view of the old and the new part of Bratislava. Ideally we would have spent a full day in Bratislava but 3 hours were enough to give us a sense for the place.

After the usual tasks upon arrival in a new country (get money, buy SIM card for our cell phone, figure out how to get to the hotel, etc.), we finally arrived in the town of Split at 10pm. We soon realized why the airfare deal was only good for today - it's the 250 year anniversary celebration of the Diocletian Palace (world heritage site and main tourist attraction of Split). We missed most of the celebration but were still able to catch some of the festive atmosphere, and even saw an outdoor club in front of a really old facade where people were dancing to Latin music. This is when salsa and all those ballroom dances looks so much cooler than regular people dancing. We found out the next day that the old facade is THE Diocletian palace which made it that much cooler.

Here's a view of the waterfront in Split the next morning:

The next day was another long travel day. We woke up really early to have some time to walk around Split before lunch, then on to the bus for a 6 hour ride to Dubrovnik for our cruise. At least it was a very scenic ride since the road hugged the coast. The coast is separated from inland by these scraggly rocky mountains which provide a dramatic backdrop to the blue waters.

AND we accidentally went to Bosnia! How does one “accidentally” go to another country? Well, smack in the middle of the Croatian coast is a small town called Neum that belongs to Bosnia so to get to the southern part of Croatia you have to go through Bosnia. Luckily no additional Visa required for Ashok... we were worried for a minute. Neum is the only access Bosnia has to the coast and it has managed to hold on to this spot throughout time... they REALLY wanted to have their own beach. We were told by Stejpan (our travel agent who decided to go on the same cruise as us... wonder how much he's making off of our trip!) that Croatia is building a bridge so they can bypass the border control. They are also building a highway inland so in the future the trip from Split to Dubrovnik would take less than 2 hours (but no view).

It was nice to finally get to the boat but we couldn't rest just yet. They tried to pull a bait and switch on us and was trying to give us a cabin below deck when we clearly specified a cabin above deck (even confirmed it that morning). We stood our ground, and it was good that Stejpan was there to work it out with the Captain. One thing we have learned is not to be too nice when it comes to travel arrangements otherwise it's easy to get taken advantage of.... I mean we were nice about it, just firm about what we want. I'm sure it helped that we had only paid 30% of the fee. In the end it all worked out and the captain even bought us a beer. Glad the 2 days of travel are finally over!

Posted by jhongny 08:25 Archived in Croatia Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

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