San Marco Basilica, Venice, Italy

Day 44, Wednesday October 18, 2017

Our first day exploring Venice and my FitBit tells me we walked 21,400 steps and climbed 38 flights of stairs. Is it any wonder I am so tired? I am only going to post our visit to the San Marco Basilica tonight, even though we saw so much more today.

We came across this street art on our walk to San Marco PiazzaOur first view of the San Marco Basilica. I think it looks like the people behind me are carrying the tower!I was being good and not taking any pictures inside the Basilica until I heard a guide tell his group “It is OK you can take photos here as there are no guards watching.” So…when there were no guards watching I took some too.We paid to go up to the  Museum and Horse Terrace, and it was certainly worth the 5 euros each. There are rooms of incredibly detailed mosaics…and the original gilded bronze horses from Constantinople in 1204, that were on the front of the Basilica until they were replaced by replicas.This photo is for our oldest daughter. We visited Venice when she was four and she had such fun chasing the pigeons in this square beside the Basilica. I think it was right down between the two columns in this piazza.
Here I am standing on the little terrace with the replica horses…Bob with the clock tower…and a different view of the horses.Back inside for some more of the fabulous 8,000 square meters of mosaics that cover the walls and ceilings of the Basilica.The Pal d’Oro was created in the 10th Century and is covered with 250 panels of enameled Biblical scenes studded with 1300 pearls, 300 emeralds , 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts and rubies and topazes! This altar piece is the only thing I remember about San Marco from our visit here in 1980.More of the mosaics on our way out of the Basilica.The front of the Basilica with the replica horses standing guard. The terrace we were standing on earlier is on either side and behind the horses above this door.That isn’t fog you see but smog! I still have a hard time with that. I have decide to pretend it is fog and mist and just not think of all the bad stuff we are breathing in.

 

Assisi, Italy

Day 42, Monday, October 16, 2017

On our way to Venice we stop in Assisi, to visit the Basilica di San Francesco, which is the burial site of St. Francis of Assisi. Construction of the basilica began in 1228, two years after the saint’s death.  We only have two hours here as we still have a long drive to Venice, and it is definitely not enough time. We walk through this enormous gate into the town…and emerge here. We do not have time to explore the town, so we turn around and head up the street to the Basilica.We are rather surprised to see armed guards checking everyone’s bags.The basilica is very impressive.Here is the main entrance.I must say I had a difficult time as there are no pictures allowed inside! This is one of the most impressive churches we have ever seen. We are surprised to discover that there are actually two churches in this building, one above the other. The walls and ceilings are covered with painted murals by renowned artists of the day, including Giotto, Simone Martini and Cimabue. It is incredible and I so wanted to take my own photographs. I was a bit disappointed in the selection of postcards and other material that depicting the interior of the church. I guess nothing seems quite as good as taking my own photos. These interior views are photos of postcards. Here is the Upper Church with its beautiful rose window.and this is the Lower Church. I could have stayed here for hours, there was so much to see.The altar area of the Lower Church is incredible.Downstairs is the crypt which contains the tomb of St. Francis.
The cloisters is outside so I get to take photos…and here are some of the Upper Church and the big flights of stairs that lead up to it.All too soon we have to leave as we still have a five hour drive to Mestre, which is just outside Venice. I take one last photo of Assisi and the basilica on the hill from the car window.Here is a different postcard view.I love the drive to Venice, the countryside is so beautiful. I told Bob I feel like I have come home. Perhaps I was an Italian in another lifetime?One thing neither of us expected was the smog and pollution.  It has been hazy but I wanted to believe it was just the hazy weather. It wasn’t! I check on the internet and discover that Italy is the most polluted European country! Northern Italy is the worst so we can only hope the situation improves as we head south.  We can barely make out the hills in the distance.

Day 43, Tuesday October 17, 2017

We spent a much needed quiet day organizing our nice new bnb, getting groceries and planning what we want to see and do in Venice.

Lokrum Island

Today has two posts as I am catching up on our last day in Croatia and our first full day in Italy.

Day 40, Saturday October 14, 2017

When we arrived in the old town of Dubrovnik we were greeted by a marching band.First stop is Fort Revelin, a fortress that was built in 1462 outside the city walls to help protect Dubrovnik. The ground floor is the Dubrovnik Archaeological Museum which isn’t very big, just a  few smallish rooms, so it doesn’t take us long to see everything.On our way to the port I need to take a few more photos of Dubrovnik’s fantastic old buildings. There is just so much to see here.Here is a different view of the old town as we travel on the ferry to Lokrum Island, and yes, the water is really that blue!First stop on the island is the Benedictine Monastery complex, from the 15th Century where there is an authentic replica of the Iron Throne which was donated by the Game of Thrones. This photo makes me think of a quote on a card a friend gave me years ago. “Inside every woman is a queen, speak to the queen and she will answer!” There is a small museum here with some interesting videos about the filming of the series and a map of all the Croatian filming locations. 

The cloister of the Benedictine Monastery.We find a bench in the gardens for our lunch but need to share our food with the local peacocks and bunnies. I have never seen young peacocks before, and now here they are eating out of my hand!  They do like rice cakes. I don’t know how all the rabbits found their way here but there are lots of them everywhere,A walk along the shore takes us to these strange rock formations which are a favourite place for sun bathing and swimming.We walk across this natural stone bridge, rather carefully as it wasn’t terribly wide.The well of Charlotte, an oval stone pool, was once used for bathing  and perhaps for watering exotic plants but it is now all dried up. It looked like a site for secret ceremonies, accompanied by strange creatures.The Dead Sea, is a little salt water filled lake linked to the open sea.On our way to Fort Royal which is on the highest point of the island we pass some of these flowering yuccas and …
a tree that needed a hug.This photo of the Path of Paradise, or the Celestial Way, doesn’t really show how steep it is, but it is a very long uphill path to Fort Royale, also known as the Tower of Maximilian. Those are people way down at the bottom and we are still only about two thirds of the way to the top.The view from the top is worth the climb.  Those rocks people sunbathe on are way down  on the part of the island that sticks out into the sea.That is Dubrovnik in the distance and…Here is a close up of the old walled town and the walls we walked on…and here is the tower. I was surprised that we are able to go inside, and we both had a laugh when we saw the toilets which are on the top of the tower.Does anyone know what these fruits are?  They are about the size of a large cherry.There are peacocks everywhere on the island. They were imported from the Canary Islands about 150 years ago.The Botanical gardens were the location of the City of Qarth in the Game of Thrones but many of the plantings were damaged last winter by cold weather and high winds and it looks pretty sad now. Only the bigger sturdier plants seemed to have survived. It was actually a very disappointing botanical garden.Soon it is time to return to Dubrovnik. No one is allowed to spend the night on the island because it was cursed by Benedictine monks who were forced to leave the island  by a French Army General. They spent their last night there walking three times around the island with candles carried upside down so that the molten wax left a trail. As they walked they chanted “Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure shall be damned!” At dawn they left and the curse did its work. Every new owner of the island suffered misfortune of some kind including death, murder, bankruptcy, earthquakes, and shipwrecks. As we return to Dubrovnik we see lots of  boats heading out of the harbour.Here we are walking towards the entrance to the walled city…and we pass through the gate with its massive doors one last time. Although we spent a week here we could easily have spent even more time in this enchanting city.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Day 38, Thursday October 12, 2017

After a leisurely morning we return to Old Town Dubrovnik for some more exploring. First we visit Marin Držiç House which is a memorial museum for one of Croatia’s greatest playwrights. I decide to have a little one on one conversation with this interesting fellow.The Ethnographic Museum is next, and it is located in a very interesting building that was the town granary in the 16th Century. Reserves of grain were kept in 15 very large wells carved in stone. The dark grates in the floor of the main floor open into these wells.These little stone trap doors on the second floor were used to drop the grain down into the wells below.There are many exhibits of traditional handmade textiles, clothing, household items and traditional handicrafts. I would love to have a stove like this!
There are some interesting drawings on some of the pillars.
The streets here are so old.We stop for ice cream and some people watching. Men and women are rappelling down the city walls…and getting their photos taken with these exotic birds.The Friars Franciscan Monastery Museum has the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe and a beautiful garden cloister.

They also have an amazing library but unfortunately it is not open to the public because it is upstairs where the priests live. At least there are a few books on display. 

There are also some vestments with incredible embroidery.

The Franciscan church beside the museum is beautiful but it has a couple unusual features.

The paintings here are certainly different, and…

notice the hand holding the crucifix.  

We walk to the Art Gallery Dubrovnik which is located in a former palace of a Dubrovnik ship owner. There are several portraits I really like. 

We make our way back through the old town, stopping for tea and some more people watching before catching our bus home. There were street performers and…happy children chasing pigeons.

Dubrovnik (Kings Landing), Croatia

Day 36, Tuesday October 10, 2017

We want to book a day trip to three islands, sailing on the ship that was used in the Game of Thrones, but we were having a bit of difficulty doing so. We end up going to their office which takes about an hour but we finally get it booked for tomorrow.

On the way to Lovrijenac Tower we stop at this pier which is another Game of Thrones filming site. We climb up to Lovrijenac Tower which was the Red Keep on the Game of Thrones. Check the link out for photos of these sites in the show.Cersie walks down this hall…Joffrey stands here on the middle deck for his name day.  A guide was telling a group this as I stood here looking down. He said I needed to pretend I was Joffrey, so I waved to my adoring crowd!This corridor is used for several scenes, including the one where Sansa is attacked and the Hound saves her.The scenes shot here are in the link above.
Of course there are more steps to climb!There is a great view of  Minčet Tower which is the House of the Undying where Daenerys goes to look for her dragons. We were there yesterday on our walk on the walls.We also saw where Cersei did her Walk Of Shame, which actually takes place in three different places.This is where the crowd gathers to harass her on the walk.
Bob prepares for his own Walk of Shame on the third section of Cersei’s walk!St. Dominic Street is where many of the Market scenes take place…and Ploče Gate is also used as part of the Red Keep.

This is Bokar Fortress where Tyrion and Lord Varys plan the defence of King’s Landing. I guess I should have mentioned that King’s Landing is Dubrovnik. There are so many places here that were used in filming the show. We are thinking we might have to watch the shows again now that we have visited Croatia.The Rectors Palace is now a museum but in the show it is the residence of the Spice King in Quarth.
These hand rails made us chuckle.Check out this link for scenes shot in the Old Town and this one for scenes shot on the walls. This post is getting bit long, trying to tie in the filming scenes with our visit, so if you are interested be sure to check out the links for more information.

Bob is in a standoff with pigeons who are trying to get some cat food behind him. He isn’t a fan of pigeons but he had fun with them!In the Rector’s Palace there is an exhibit of photographs from the war in 1991 that caused a lot of damage in Dubrovnik
There is also a dungeon known as the dragon dungeon because a little dragon is chiseled into the stone on the doorway.

We manage to visit the Maritime Museum… the Natural History Museum…

and a couple of churches before the end of our day! I am hoping tomorrow will be a relaxing day on our boat trip.

Split, Croatia

Day 29, Tuesday October 3, 2017

I wanted to post my journal pages in order but I am a bit behind so I am just going to post them as they are finished. Fountain pens, watercolours and pencil crayons aren’t my usual media and I don’t usually draw buildings or landscapes so this is all a bit of a learning curve. I always enjoy working on the pages but sometimes the finished results aren’t what I envisioned. In any case, it will be a nice keepsake of our trip.

We visit Split this afternoon. Although we like to spend our time in the old parts of these Croatian towns and cities the old town is surrounded by the new town.These photos are taken as we entered Split.

There are also the very touristy areas.We make our way into the old town through the Iron Gate…and emerge on the square beside the Cathedral of St. Dominus. This was originally the mausoleum of the Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd Century but it was converted into a Christian church in the 7th Century. It is regarded as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that remains in use in its original structure. It is hard to believe this all happened over 2,000 years ago, and now here we are.  There is much to see in every town we have visited, and we are only scratching the surface in the. month we have here.

Our ticket to visit the Church also includes climbing the bell tower, which also has a sign saying that we do so at our own risk.  I wonder about doing this after our last bell tower adventure. This tower is 187 feet tall, 23 feet taller than the one in Trogir but somehow it is not as scary to climb. The stairs and railings feel more substantial, just safer somehow.
Here we are at the top…and here are the views in all four directions.

One more picture of the stairs on the way down, and it is along way down! those are the bells you see in the bottom of this picture, and they are near the top of the tower!

We stop on this landing for another look around…before we reach the very narrow stone steps that take us back to ground level .Yes, we were way up there!

Next stop is the Baptistry of St. John which used to be the Temple of Jupiter. I love the large hands and feet of this sculpture, and the gorgeous ceiling.We also visit the crypt below the church which is dedicated to St. Lucia of Syracuse. She was tortured and killed because she dedicated her life to God although her parents had promised her in marriage. She is the patron Saint of the blind because she was also blinded before she was beheaded. This is part of the old Palace walls.  Notice that there are apartments on the right hand side that are still occupied beside windows that are open to the sky.We leave the old town through the Golden Gate…and find this enormous statue. We are told by a taxi driver that it is good luck to rub his toes, so that is what Bob is doing.I decide I can use a bit of luck too!  Those are very big toes!

Exploring Trogir

Day 27, Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trogir is known as one of the jewels of the Dalmation Coast and it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. It is only a ten minute walk from our apartment to the island where the old town is located.  Almost as soon as we pass through the town gate we arrive at the Cathedral of St. Lawrence which dominates the town square. I notice that there are people up in the bell tower so we decide we should do that too.  Little did I know what I was letting myself in for! I don’t think that many things really scare me but I have to admit that climbing the steps to this bell tower did that. There is a sign that says you climb the tower at your own risk and no one under the age of 14 is allowed to do so. I soon find out why. It starts out OK, with pretty solid stone stairs and a railing .This reminds me a bit of an Escher etching, the one with all the stairs. This is looking up, way up towards that little bluish green circular opening which is in the floor of the last landing. Please note that the stone steps change to black metal ones…which I can see through! I discover that I can not look down here or I just can’t keep climbing. Remember, this tower is 154 feet tall.This platform almost does me in but I am determined to get to the top, so, laughing rather nervously I continue.This is the last bit, up even narrower metal stairs and through a little hole in the floor above us. Those are the bells that you see through the hole in the floor.

We arrive at the top much to my relief and yes, the views are amazing. This is looking towards the more modern part of the town…and here is the view over the old town.

I forgot to take any pictures of us up here or even any pictures of the two enormous bells.  Does that give you some idea how rattled I felt after that climb? I did manage to peer over the hole in the floor and take a photo looking downwards. I didn’t even notice the guy climbing the stairs.   

I mustered up the courage to start down. Bob went first, as he was a bit braver than I was.Here he is laughing at me as I rather slowly make my way down, and down and down!

When we got to the bottom I did need a few minutes just to compose myself. I haven’t been bothered by heights before. I climbed Notre Dame Cathedral and the tall tower at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and I was just fine. I found this account of  another person’s experience climbing this tower and it was eerily similar to mine. Make sure you check it out.

The door to the Cathedral was built in 1240 and has been beautifully restored.I particularly liked the two lions guarding the entrance.

These ornate pillars were inside..and this chapel with the tomb of Ivan Troginski from the15th Century. Take a look at the interesting upside down sculpture in the ceiling.

We wandered up and down the narrow streets… and ended up outside the old town walls where we sat and had tea and cookies in the sunshine and I sketched a castle. It was nice having time to do that.There are palm trees, lots of big boats, and some good people watching too.This is the Kamerlengo Castle that I drew…from the bench where Bob is sitting.We figured out what these were, can you?A typical commercial street.The local old guys meet in the park for chess and cards.We pass this lady bringing home a couple fish.

On the walk home we pass a lot of grapes growing that were never picked and are now more like raisins than grapes,,,and this is what olives look on the tree. It has been quite the afternoon and we are both happy to be back home.

Zadar, Croatia

Day 25, Friday, September 29, 2017

It was a beautiful day for our drive to Zadar. The sun was shining, and the sky was blue. The Adriatic Sea is amazing, it is so clear and has such incredible shades of blue, everything from aquamarine to indigo.I keep snapping photos from the car window and telling Bob about all the different colours of the water. There are little inlets all along the coast…

and many of them have beaches.  This one was below a lookout where we stopped to have our lunch.

I took this to show how very clear the water is.  I now understand why so many people come to the beaches in Croatia, and yes, the water really was that blue!

I also saw these and wonder if they are buoys maybe for lobster traps?  Maybe someone reding this knows what they are and can let me know? I forgot to post a link to our apartment in Senj and here is our home in Zadar for those who are curious about Airbnb accommadations.  We have had very good luck with all our Airbnb bookings on all of our trips. We decided to visit Zadar because I read about the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation, two amazing art installations by local architect, Nikola Bašić.  I recorded my own Sea organ music but I need to learn how to load videos to YouTube so I can include them in my blog.  The link I have included was a video I found online.  We sat at sunset and listened to some phenomenal music created by the ocean waves, It really was quite magical.

Next we checked out the Sun Salutation, and it was pretty unique as well.  

We decide that we might as well climb the Radar Cathedral Bell Tower. The entrance fee is only 15 Kuna, which is $3.00. The tower is 56 meters, or 184 feet tall.

Only 209 steps later and we are at the top platform with the railing, right below the roof. which has great views of the city lights.

This is looking up at the angel on top of the roof…and here is Bob.It was a little bit scary climbing the narrow winding steps right near the top. We were above the bells, and there didn’t seem to be much holding up those metal stairs. This is looking down from the top of the stairs.

And here are some views of the bells, which are enormous. They also rang for 9:00pm just minutes after we left the tower!

The Church of St. Donatus is open until 9 pm so we visit there next. This is a 9th Century church which is built on the ruins of a Roman Forum.

Here are some interior views.  This is very different from any of the other churches we have visited in Europe.

Some of the stones used to build this church were from temples that were built to Juno and Jupiter. It is hard to wrap my head around just how old these stones and buildings are.

You may or may not know that I love trees, and that is a Roman Gate in the background.

We wander up and down a few of the streets and we are surprised at how many of the shops are still open.Restaurants often occupy very interesting buildings.This was such a pretty window I just had to take its picture… and then we walk back across the bridge to our car for the short drive home.

Rabac, Labin and Senj, Croatia

Day 19, Saturday, September 23, 2017

Today we drive to Senj, about four hours south of Pula.  We wanted an early start so we can visit a couple of towns along the way.  First stop is Rabac, which is a popular seaside resort.Even if we could afford these five star hotels we both think we prefer our little Arbnb’s .We wandered along the beach and found place to sit and then remembered that we had left the cell phone in the car, sitting in plain view, so we cut short our beach visit. I was surprised at how warm the water was. Of course our car is parked way up at the top of the hill overlooking the beach!

Rabac is only 4 km from the town of Labin, pop. 12,000.

We wander the streets of Labin and end up at the Gothic Church of the Blessed Mary’s Birth. I liked the book stand that looks like a little dragon. Closer inspection revealed it was only a bull with wings, but I so liked the idea of it being a dragon.

We decide to climb the bell tower. The entrance fee is only 7 Kuna each, about $1.40, which is so reasonable.  I am surprised at how inexpensive the entrance fees to museums, churches and monuments are in Croatia.  I don’t suppose it will be that way in Italy though.  We climb up 68 very old steps that are almost like ladders to get to the top of the tower. This is the view looking down the opening beside the stairs which has the two ropes for ringing the bells hanging here. It is a long way down!

There are two bells at the top…

and great views. This is looking towards Rabac.

The narrow streets are paved with stone which is rutted from centuries of passing wagon wheels. At the front of this photo you can see that these stones are placed on edge so that they will not shift easily, They are at least ten inches deep which surprised me.

Many of the streets are only wide enough for pedestrians, or perhaps a burro or two?

We have seen lots of cats in Croatia but this is the first kitten and it is so tiny.There are several artists displaying their work along the streets.  I wonder who buys this kind of art?

This stone wall was growing plants and purple flowers, they are some sort of campanula I think. There are hills to climb…and lots and lots of steps…

and then more steps.  

We both like exploring these little towns that are not so ‘touristy’ but soon it is time to make our way to Senj. We decide that we will avoid the toll highways, which we soon discover is a bit of a mistake.  We have about two hours of driving on very hilly winding roads with quite a few hairpin turns.We are both rather relieved when we are back on a major highway. It is much easier driving and certainly a lot faster.  Not all of Croatia is old, we just like the old parts the best.  There are more modern areas around the old parts of towns, with new fancy buildings and quite a few of these generic sort of apartment blocks.  They are not very attractive and many of them look quite neglected and in need of repair. These are some of the nicer ones that we have passed along the highway.
This is our first glimpse of Senj, our home for the next seven days, and yes, of course it has a church on a hill!

Vodnjan, Bale and Rovinj, Croatia

Day 18, Friday September 22, 2017,continued.

I am not sure what was going on last night, but nothing was working as it should have. I do love blogging about our trip. It is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family and it is a keepsake of our trip for ourselves. It does take quite a bit of time and effort to post every day, especially when I am not the most computer savvy person, so when things don’t work it can be quite frustrating. My hope is to one day turn these blog postings about our trips into books.

We walked by this interesting mural on the side of a building in Vodnjan as we returned to the car park. Finding parking in the old part of town is always a challenge, but we have been pretty lucky finding public car parks with reasonable rates, anywhere from 4 to 8 Kuna an hour ($.80 to $1.60 an hour)

I love the old towns, with their passage ways and doors leading into interesting little streets, courtyards and gardens. On our way to Bale, the next town on our itinerary today, we stop to visit this Kažun Theme Park, which has the four stages of building a kažun demonstrated and several other examples of different styles as well as dry stone walls.  A kažun is a shelter for peasants and shepherds that was built in areas where it was necessary to clear the stone in order to farm the land.The next town we visit is Bale, pop. 900. It is a quiet rather sleepy little town with very old buildings and very narrow winding streets. There is a gate leading into the town through a tower in the old town wall. The Church of St. Elizabeth has wonderful paintings on the ceiling and walls. This narrow street seems to be serving as someone’s garden.

There is another tiny church here dedicated to the Holy Spirit and built in the 15th Century.  It reminded me of the cave churches we visited in Cappadocia, Turkey.
We find a playground with a picnic table and have our lunch. I peek into a crack in a nearby fence and spot these crocus in bloom. Seems strange, crocus bloom in the spring at home but in the fall here.This abandoned building is just across the field from where have our lunch. We see these sort of buildings everywhere in Croatia.  Old stone buildings in various stages of disrepair or collapse. They are not demolished but left just as they are. Perhaps some day someone will decide to renovate? In any case, it seems like nothing is ever torn down here. Everything is left just as it is, a reminder of times past.Just fifteen kilometres down the highway is Rovinj, pop.13,000. This was originally an island port that was joined to the coast in 1763 by filling in the channel separating it from the mainland, creating a peninsula. We walk up this street looking for the cathedral. Yes, another one! Every town, no matter how tiny has a church or cathedral and usually a tall bellower that is the highest point in the town. The streets here are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops catering to tourists who seem to be quite a younger crowd than we have seen elsewhere.We get sidetracked, (lost) and end up on the backside of the cathedral, so we sit to have little rest and a snack on a park bench, I draw this view while Bob amuses himself with a Games magazine.We finally find the road up to the Cathedral which is dedicated to Saint Euphemia, whose remains are preserved in a sarcophagus inside.Another beautiful Madonna…and we discover that the church is decorated for a wedding.Just a short time later we see the bride and groom arrive with the photographer to take their photos before the wedding.  They are both wearing colourful running shoes. The bride’s were bright turquoise.We slowly make our way back down the streets towards the marina exploring as we go.Little shops are tucked into the tiniest of places, often displaying most of their wares right on the street.

There are lots of bright shutters and laundry high above us.

This street is entered through a low archway. I think Friday might be laundry day as we see laundry hanging from so many windows. Also notice the street pavers that are worn so smooth and shiny.  I wonder how many feet have trod on these stones over the centuries?Soon we are back on the street by the water and we sit for a while in the sunshine, enjoying the warmth and the people watching.
There are also a lot of boats to watch as well! We walk back towards our car which is parked on the street past the very far right of this picture. It is a long walk back to the car and then about an hour to drive home to our cozy apartment. We both really enjoyed the day. It sure is nice to have sunshine after all the rainy windy weather of the first two weeks of our holiday.