Category: Travel

Plitvice Lakes

By Ross in Travel on Mon 07 July 2014. Tags: Croatia

The early morning bus to Plitvice Lakes National Park was full, so it's a good thing I bought my ticket the night before. After about two hours, we arrived in the park. I bought a ticket for the 1630 bus to Zagreb, so that gave me about six hours to explore.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most visited sites in Croatia (I was there on a Monday, and the place was packed; I shudder to think what the summer weekend crowds are like). The main attracition is a series of around 15 crystal clear lakes connected by waterfalls of varying sizes. After paying an exorbitant entrance fee (180 kn), I got on a bus which took me to the uppermost lake. From there, I walked down a very well constructed trail which weaves through the park, passing most of the interesting lakes and waterfalls. At some point, the path dead ends in dock and there is a boat waiting to shuttle you across one of the larger lakes. Photography was difficult since the lakes and waterfalls were backlit most of the time (perhaps I should have hiked in the other direction), but due to sheer stubbornness I managed to get some good pictures.

The water is an amazing clear blue color, and in most places you can see all the way to the bottom.

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The water is clear enough so that you can not only see fish but also their shadows on the bottom of the lakes.

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There are numerous waterfalls of all sorts of shapes and sizes.

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Here is the same waterfall photographed at two different shutter speeds.

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I like this reflection photo.

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And here are the large waterfalls at the end of the trail, seen from a distance.

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Split

By Ross in Travel on Sun 06 July 2014. Tags: Croatia

This morning I took the bus from Bosnia back to Croatia. After a few hours, I arrived in Split, a relatively large city which serves as the gateway for many of the Croatian islands. Since my goal was to reach Budapest in three days or so, I did not have time to visit any of the islands (next trip, perhaps). I tentatively planned to spend a night in Split and take an early bus to Plitvice Lakes National Park. When I got off the bus, these plans fell apart, as the only early bus to Plitvice was already sold out and the people hawking rooms at the bus station were asking for too much. After a brief debate with myself, I bought an afternoon ticket for Zadar, a smaller city two hours north (and closer to Plitvice). This gave me about three hours to explore Split.

As it turns out, this was enough time, as there was exactly one thing I was interested in seeing. Diocletian's Palace was built at the beginning of the fourth century by the emperor Diocletian and was abandoned after his death.  Several centuries passed, during which the palace fell into ruin. In the seventh century, the remains of the palace were used as a refuge against invaders, and eventually a city sprung up in and among the ruins, which today is the city of Split.

Eager to see this architectural hodgepodge for myself, I headed to the golden gate, the main entrance to the palace.

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This is the silver gate, another entrance to the palace.

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The peristyle was the colonnaded central courtyard of the palace.

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Here is a closeup of the colonnade.

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The round vestibule was the entrance to Diocletian's living quarters. 

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The acoustics in the vestibule are wonderful, and I saw a vocal quartet performing traditional Dalmatian music there.

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Diocletian's mausoleum was converted to a cathedral.

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A few Roman elements are still present. Just below the dome you can see racing chariots.

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The temple of Jupiter was converted to a baptistry. This is the spectacular ceiling of that building.

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A few areas underneath the palace are empty and can be explored for a small fee.

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Finally, here is the emperor himself.

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And some slacking Roman soldiers.

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At around 1600 I split Split. When I arrived in Zadar, I found more affordable lodging (it was advertised as "10 minutes" from the city center, which ended up being more like 20) and got a ticket for early morning bus to Plitvice. There were a bunch of people from France staying at the same guesthouse, so I ended up eating dinner and drinking wine with them. I also got another chance to practice French, which was fun and made my brain hurt (in a good way). Quite a win, all in all.


Mostar

By Ross in Travel on Sat 05 July 2014. Tags: Bosnia

Rather than heading straight up the Croatian coast, I took a detour inland to visit Mostar in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar straddles the Neretva river and is named after the Stari Most (old bridge) which was built by the Ottomans in the sixteenth century and is the most recognizable landmark in the city.

I had no trouble finding a hostel bed when I arrived in Mostar. The hostel was located in this dreary, concrete building. (It was nicer on the inside than on the outside.)

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After dropping off my bag, I took a walk to the old city. The old city is comprised of a handful of streets surrounding the Stari Most. Its cobblestone streets are lined with shops and restaurants mostly catering to tourists.

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The Stari Most is the main attraction of the old city. It was destroyed in the war in 1993, and was rebuilt as closely to the original as possible between 2001 and 2004. 

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Here is the obligatory picture of me in front of the old bridge.

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These are views of Mostar looking upriver and downriver from the Stari Most.

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The Crooked Bridge is a smaller stone bridge located near the Stari Most.

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After crossing the bridge, I took a walk through the part of the city which had been the front line of the war in the early 1990s. Numerous buildings were reduced to empty shells during the war and have not been reconstructed or replaced.

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This warning sign is everywhere.

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Here is another example of a building of which only the concrete frame remains. A closeup shows   damage sustained by repeated artillery fire over the course of the war.

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Here is the ruins of one of the oldest hotels in the city, juxtaposed with a newer structure.

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And here are a few more pictures of ruins from the front lines.

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This the brightly colored Gimnazija (high school), built in 1902.

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I next visited the Mosque of Karadjozbey, the central mosque of Mostar. 

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Although much of the mosque dates from the sixteenth century, the dome was destroyed in the war and subsequently reconstructed.

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I was only able to visit for a few minutes, since prayer was about to start, but I got a chance to climb the minaret (95 steps), which afforded these views of Mostar.

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After descending, I talked to the caretaker of the mosque for a few minutes. He told me that the wars in the 1990s were so bad that for the most part, people don't talk about them.

I then visited this villa which belonged to an Ottoman noble.

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I really like this lamp fixture.

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There is a loom in one of the outer rooms.

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After eating dinner, I walked back to the Stari Most and took one more picture as the sun was starting to set.

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Trsteno

By Ross in Travel on Fri 04 July 2014. Tags: Croatia, gardens

I dragged myself out of bed early so I could see the old city before it became swamped with tourists.

Here is the main gate of the city along with some of the walls seen from the outside.

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The main street is nearly empty.

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Here is the Column of Roland, a central meeting point for Dubrovnik, in front of St. Blasie's church.

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As the tourists started to filter into the city, I headed to the bus station and caught a bus to Trsteno, about 14 km north of Dubrovnik. Trsteno is the site of a villa and gardens dating from the sixteenth century. The grounds were turned into an arboretum in the twentieth century, and although it is by no means the most impressive horticultural display I have seen, it was a wonderful retreat from the hubbub of the city.

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The centerpiece of the gardens is this fountain and pond, complete with a statue of Poseidon, waterlilies, and goldfish.

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This aqueduct brings water to the fountain.

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There are Canarian date palm trees all throughout the gardens.

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And beautiful bougainvillea.

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There is a spectacular view of the Adriatic from this porch.

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From the main part of the gardens, I walked out a side road and turned left into another section of the arboretum.

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The path led downhill towards the water.

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On the way, I passed these ruins, which it turns out are a folly.

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I finally made it down to the water.

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There was nary a soul in sight, so I cooled off by skinny dipping in the Adriatic.

After having a picnic lunch, I took the bus back to Dubrovnik, where I visited the old city one final time. On the bus ride, I noticed that I was feeling a little queasy, but I did not think too much of it. In Dubrovnik, I stopped by War Photography Limited, a gallery specializing in wartime photography. In addition to their permanent exhibition on photography and film from the Homeland War, they had an exhibit on the war in Syria by the Pulitzer Prize winner Narciso Contreras. Contreras snuck into Syria and the images he captured from the front lines of the conflict are chilling.

At some point I noticed that I was experiencing literal chills as well, and as I still had some nausea and abdominal pain, I diagnosed myself with food poisoning (source unknown, but likely the cheap prepackaged deli meats I purchased for lunch). I quickly left the gallery, and a few minutes later, the diagnosis was confirmed. I made my way back to the place I was staying, and rested for the remainder of the evening. 

Since it was the Fourth of July, I had planned on seeing whether any other Americans were celebrating in Dubrovnik. That did not happen, but I did get to Skype with my friends at 618 in Brooklyn for their annual Independence Day party, which was a wonderful conclusion to a less than ideal day.


Exploring Dubrovnik

By Ross in Travel on Thu 03 July 2014. Tags: Croatia

I set out early in the morning to explore the old city of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is a medieval walled town which was rebuilt in the seventeenth century after an earthquake. It was severely damaged by war in the 1990s, after which it was meticulously reconstructed using period building techniques and restored to its former glory. It is (deservedly) the most popular tourist destination in Croatia. Although there is plenty to do in Dubrovnik, the main attraction is the old city itself. I begun my exploration by walking a complete circuit around the city walls, which, while expensive (100 kn), is the one must-do activity in Dubrovnik. Luckily I was there during the week, and the walls were not as crowded as I hear they often get in the high season. I took more photos than I know what to do with. Here are a select few, which I will mostly allow to speak for themselves.

Here is the old city, seen from the walls:

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Here is the old port:

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Here are some spires and domes:

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The Minceta tower is the highest point of the walls.

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Here is the Croatian flag flying atop the Minceta tower.

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Several buildings were completely destroyed by fire during the war and have not been rebuilt.

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Towels hang on lines strung between buildings in one of the less touristy districts of the old city.

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A group of musicians was singing traditional Croatian songs.

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The Stradun is the main street of the old city.

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Onofrio's Large Fountain (to distinguish it from the Small Fountain located at the other end of the Stradun) is located right inside the main gates to the city.

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There is even a basketball court tucked in among the roofs of the old city.

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After spending several hours on the walls, I visited the Franciscan monastery to escape the bustle of tourists.

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The monastery contains a beautiful cloister with a garden in the center:

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There is an apothecary shop in the monastery which was established in 1317. They claim it is the oldest continually running apothecary in Europe. The monastery museum contains many historic items from the shop.

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Outside the monastery is the large fountain.

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I took some photos of the narrow alleys of the old city. They are lined with shops and restaurants and turn into staircases as they ascend towards the city walls.

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There is one item on this sign which I'd never seen before (but which you see all over Croatia).

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In the evening, I took a walk up the hill behind the old city to get some panoramic views of Dubrovik. (You can also take a gondola to a small fortress above the city, but it is expensive.)

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I have more photos of Dubrovnik in an album on Flickr.