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.

Cavtat, Croatia

Day 39, Friday October 13, 2017

We spend the day at a little coastal town named Cavtat, which is about a 35 minute bus ride from our apartment. Here is Main Street Cavtat…which is the birthplace and home of one of Croatia’s most famous artists Vlaho Bukovac, (1855-1922). As a young artist he painted the walls of his parent’s home.Here is the view from a room at the front of the house.His studio was on the fourth floor, with huge north facing windows. It is a beautiful atelier…with a ‘modern’ bathroom!I really like his paintings and studies. Next we climb high above the town to the Račić Family Mausoleum. This family mausoleum now serves as a chapel for the town cemetery. The father, son, and daughter all died from the Spanish flu just a day before the son was to be married.  Račić’s widow ordered the mausoleum built and then she died from grief a year after her family’s deaths. The interior is amazing, the inside of the dome is decorated with 136 heads of angels.A view of the town from our walk down from the mausoleum.          Back in town we have ice cream and sit for a while along the water while I sketch the view below. You can just make out the mausoleum on the skyline.

This photo is Dubrovnik way off in the distance.

All too soon the sun starts to set and we catch our bus home.

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.

The Karaka, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Day 37, Wednesday October 11, 2017

We set sail at 9:00 am on the Karaka, a replica of a historical ship, an important trade vessel that sailed between the 14th and 17th Century. In the 16th Century the Karaka was one of the largest ships in the world. But perhaps more importantly, the Karaka was used in the third season of Game of Thrones. The captain tells us that all the ships in Season Three are this ship with computer enhanced modifications.  The morning starts out quite windy so we are glad that we brought our coats along. We pass some of the 1,244 islands that are part of Croatia but we learned today that only 48 of them are inhabited.First stop is the island of Koločep, which only has 163 residents, There are no cars or trucks are on the island because there are no roads wide enough for them, but we do see motorbikes and golf carts. We only have about an hour here, so we walk to this little church and cemetery dedicated to St. Nicholas that was built in the 10th Century. There was another church we tried to visit but we couldn’t find it so we head back to the ship…

and stumble across this little church right down near the water.Our ship is waiting to head to Šipan, the second island on this Elaphite Island Cruise.The water here is crystal clear.Before we set sail I get a photo of Bob at the back of the ship.Soon we are on our way…and in just 30 minutes we arrive at Šipan which has a population of 436, but it has 37 churches and chapels! At one time there were 30 summer residences for wealthy families from Dubrovnik. Many of these are now abandoned, sometimes because of fighting within families. Read this interesting article to understand why there are so many abandoned buildings in Croatia, like the one in this photo.We climb the hill high above these houses looking for some of the many churches here but once again can’t find them, even though signs promise that they are just down the road. We have 90 minutes here so not a lot of time to go too far, and I don’t want the ship to leave without us!We did find this little road side shrine.
When we get back on the boat a delicious lunch is served.
While we have our lunch the Karaka makes its way to our last stop, the island of Lopud. Its population is only 220, however there are more tourist facilities because this island has sandy beaches.           

We go for another little walk and find this tiny church which was built in the 17th Century and dedicated to St. Jerome. It is right beside a big hotel named the Grand Hotel that is abandoned and not so grand at all.I rent a beach lounge chair and draw our ship while Bob goes for a walk to a beach on the other side of the island.  When Bob returns he goes for his first swim in the Adriatic Sea.  He tells me the water is cold at first but no so bad after a while.

I dip my feet into the water and that is enough for me.

There is fresh fruit for dessert  and a variety of alcoholic drinks on our return trip. The wind has died down and it is a beautiful calm day..We leave a trail in the sea behind us.Our guide told us that the engines had stopped and teased that we would all have to jump into the sea and push the boat, but then the sails were lowered!  I was so surprised, I didn’t expect that the sails would be used, but there we were, wind powered and gliding silently over the waves. It was magical. This is a view of the dining area on the ship. Here is some of the rigging on the ship.We are the last ones off the boat so that we can take just a couple more photos without so many other people. We had an absolutely wonderful day.

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!

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.

Coastal Towns South of Senj

Day 23, Wednesday September 27, 2017

Today we drove south of Senj to explore some of the little towns along the coast. This little fellow thinks that the middle of the road is the best place to take a nap, as do many of the cats that live around here.First stop is Sveti Juraz where we look for the ruins of a medieval church in a graveyard. We find it by accident when we were returning to our car.  Seems that these attractions are not well marked in small towns.While we were looking for the cemetery we find a path up to the top of this hill and climb up there to see what the cross at the top is about. We get to the top but are still none the wiser about why this cross is here but We have great views of the town.
This little chapel has a little shrine with a statue and flowers inside.

There are lots of wild flowers here; these little pink ones are everywhere and there are several different aromatic herbs growing wild too, thyme, rosemary and some others I didn’t know the names of.

The next stop was a ‘lets get out of here’ visit. Lukovo supposedly has a pretty pebble beach and great views of the rocky islands off shore.  The road to this town was the narrowest, windiest road we have ever driven on. It is really only wide enough for one car but it is a two way road and the corners are so tight that it is impossible to tell if there is another car approaching. It was pretty scary, and then when we get to the town, the roads are still very narrow, just barely wide enough for our car!  We make our way down to the harbour but there are no street signs or any way to find the beach so we make our way back to the highway which is high above the town. We never made it to the beach that looks like a lake in this photo. 

Starigrad was the next town but the road looks even narrower and has potholes so we decide not to even attempt it. We did make it to Jablanac, and headed to the beach for a late picnic lunch. The beach was cement! but the sun was shining and we enjoyed sitting and relaxing, watching people swim in the ocean and the boats going in and out. This photo is for my friend Pat. I told her I would dip my toe into the ocean for her today. The water was a bit cool but not too bad, and it was beautifully clear and clean.

We walked about looking for an alpine hut that is supposed to be the lowest altitude alpine hut in the world. After climbing 122 steps up to the hut we discover that it is no longer an alpine hut but that it is now a private home.  The owner kindly let us come into her yard to take a couple photos. The hut is the white building with a red roof on the right hand side of the photo below. Seems nothing today is as we thought it was going to be!Here is the view from the ‘alpine hut’ and you can see the cement beach along the left side of the photo.While we were walking through the town I peered into an abandoned building and saw all this.  There are so many buildings in Croatia that are abandoned and empty, often falling into ruin. I wonder why?  Perhaps so many young people are leaving the smaller towns and heading to the cities to find work?  Sometimes we are so busy looking at the big things that we miss the little ones.  This plant growing by the steps down to the beach was covered with white snails.So, any guesses as to what this is?Our last stop for the day was the pretty little town of Stinica.  The new ferry port to the neighbouring islands is located here. You can just make out many stone walls in this photo. These walls are all over the hillsides, sometimes on very steep mountain sides and I wonder who built them and why?  Perhaps they are terraces for gardening but the ground is so very rocky everywhere it doesn’t seem likely. Sometimes they are on such steep hillsides that it would seem impossible to grow anything. I guess it remains a mystery for now. 

In spite of everything not going exactly like we expected today we still enjoyed our drive and the scenery. Oh, and the funny little cubicles were changing rooms at the beach.

Senj, Croatia

Day 20, Sunday, September 23, 2017                                                                                            Day 21, Monday, September 24, 2017

Sunday was a quiet day. We had planned a rest day Sunday anyways, so the fact that it rained most of the day didn’t really matter. I rested, l journaled a bit and worked on the blog. I was a day behind, so it was good to get caught up. Thanks to everyone who has either ‘liked’ a post or commented on one. It is really nice to know that there are people out there actually reading this. So thank you.

Monday afternoon we visit the Nehaj Senj which is a fortress that was built in 1558. It is high on the hill above Senj.

The main floor of the fortress is now a restaurant.We climbed stone steps up to the second, and third floors, which have historical exhibits, mostly weapons and soldiers uniforms.This is the uniform of the Uskoks, the Croatian soldier of the 1500’s. They sure carried a lot of weapons.

The top fourth floor was open to the wind. The Bora! We were nearly blown off the top of the fortress!

The Bora is a cold wind that blows from the continent through the mountain pass towards the sea.  Senj is the windiest part of the Eastern Adriatic. Of course we didn’t know that when we booked our apartment here!  It is terribly windy up here but the views are great.

This is an etching done in the 1600’s showing the town of Senj, with the walls that protected it and the fortress up on the hill.  

There are still remnants of the old town wall visible today. We see the bell tower and use it to find the town church. I wonder what is behind the curtain on this side chapel …so I peek inside ( I know… I probably shouldn’t have) and find another mummified saint.

The sky isn’t looking too promising, weather wise…but when we return home we are treated to this view from our apartment window. At least we can see a bit of sun. We are planning on visiting the Plitvice Lakes tomorrow so we are hoping that the weather improves a bit.