Monday, July 25, 2011



Split (Day 1)

The MV Explorer docked in Dubrovnik, Croatia around 8 AM, and by 9:30 AM Samantha and I were off the ship en route to the bus station only a two-minute walk away. Of course nothing can go super smoothly for us, and the customs agent would not let us go through the normal line to exit because of our large suitcase. So, we had to walk all the way around, making the bus station about 15 minutes away versus the two we had thought it would take. The next bus departed for Split at 10:00 AM and we really wanted to make this one because it was at least a four and a half hour bus ride to Split. Of course the ticket line was long and we soon realized making the 10:00 bus was not going to happen. Then Sam and I thought maybe it was possible to by the tickets on the bus, so Sam checked which platform the bus would be. After figuring that out it was now 9:58 AM, and I ran up to the bus and asked the driver if we could get tickets on the bus, to which he said yes. I misunderstood his Croatian English mixture and yelled at Sam to leave the ticket line and head to me at the bus. He was actually saying I COULD have bought tickets but the bus was leaving and we were too late. As Sam was running towards me with the large suitcase the driver and I exchanged several hand gestures through his bus in window. These mainly included me closing my hands together saying please, and him pointing at his watch and the clock at the bus station. As Sam staggered over we ran to the bus store with our best puppy dogface and the driver just looked at me completely stone faced, but after a few seconds opened the door and said we are supposed to be leaving. He grabbed our bag and threw it the luggage storage and then we were off to Split!

This ended up being by far the craziest bus drive of my life. Talk about uncomfortable, in addition to the lack of air resulting in extreme heat on the bus; the bus driver drove absolutely insane! I was honestly fearful and thought a wreck was nearly inevitable. To reach Split one stays virtually on the same road, a road that wraps around the cliffsides of Croatia and cuts through Bosnia. The driver of this huge bus would take the sharp curves fast and even pass cars on the curves, yes a bus did this. Once when we were passing someone we nearly had a head on collision because he had decided to pass on a turn, and we ended up less than 20 – 25 feet from hitting some little sedan coming down the lane we were passing in.

There was such a change as we passed through Bosnia. The buildings changed as well as the overall feeling. Hotels were scarce and the ones that did exist, looked like an abandoned hospital. They were large white and looked virtually empty. I do not know a whole lot about Bosnia, so I cannot give much more than my basic observations.

After falling asleep on the bus I was awoken in the most pleasant way; to the bus driver slamming on the breaks and me rolling off the bus chairs onto the bus floor. Sam died laughing and I don’t think I have ever jumped up so fast. Oh well, a couple hours later and we arrived in Split.

As soon as we stepped off the bus Croats were all in our face saying “Apartment” “Stay with us” to which I shook my finger and said, “No, no”. We got a cab and were off to our hotel, Le Meridian LAV, which ended up being amazing! It was not what I expected, in a good way. The hotel had a casino, infinity pool, several restaurants, champagne bar, spa, and much more. When we walked up to the check-in I had to ask if they had any upgrades available, and I got lucky again. They upgraded us to a sea view for free; versus our classic room probably viewing a dumpster or something!

The room was beautiful. When you walked in the big bathroom was on the left, through the hallway was a king size bed with a desk to the right, and also in the room was a large sitting area with a sofa and flat screen TV. The balcony overlooked the Marina full of yachts that sail the Adriatic Sea. We quickly got into our bathing suits and headed for the restaurant.

So good. So good was the restaurant over looking the Adriatic Sea. We had some great appetizers; some of the best calamari I have ever had, French fries, and some chicken thing. The drinks were great and hard to choose because of the vast number they had available. After lunch we headed for the pool overlooking the sea. There was nothing better than laying out by an infinity pool over looking the Adriatic Sea in Split listening to songs like Umbrella, Another Day in Paradise, and Ring of Fire on the hotel surround sound and drinking an Adriatic breeze (vodka, apple, peach liquor, and blue Curacao). Exhausted from the journey, the drinks, and the sun we headed back to the room a few hours before sunset (sunset is MUCH later there than in Florida currently).

A little later Sam hopped in the shower to get ready for dinner and I went back out with my Camera to get some photographs of the sun setting and other subjects. I took photographs of the local Croat children jumping from the marina dock into the ocean, though I later found out this was probably illegal. Apparently, it is illegal to photograph children under the age of 18 in Croatia. Oh well, too late now! On my way back to the room I stopped in the Champagne bar for a Kir Royal. I watched the sun go down some and brought the rest of the drink back to the room for Sam.

After we were both ready we headed to the Champagne Bar for a few drinks before dinner. I do not remember the drink I had, and Samantha had a really good apple martini, made differently than those here in the USA. It was much more dry and less sweet, so better tasting. We also had a shot of my choosing, mint and vodka shot. It was like drinking mouthwash, but in a good way. Kind of hard to explain, but if one likes mint, one would like it.

We had decided to just eat dinner in the hotel because we thought it would be cheaper than the alternative. The alternative was one of the restaurants by the marina below our room. I thought this would be a cheaper option and checked it out on my earlier walk. I was wrong! Lobster was 650 Kuna, which is over $125. And taking a cab into town would have been too expensive on top of dinner. The restaurant at the hotel had a buffet option for 200 something Kuna (around $40 something dollars), but we decided to do A La Carte because the main course was any pasta of your choosing. Just coming from Italy we certainly did not want pasta and being in Croatia we really wanted to sample all of the fresh seafood. This was a good choice on our part, a very good choice. We sat outside on the balcony overlooking the Sea. It was a beautiful night and was so romantic. Our waiter was so friendly and we chatted about Croatian life throughout the meal. We ordered everything all at once; to start Samantha ordered the grilled octopus and I ordered the Foie Gras Pate, and for dinner she had the Monkfish and I had the Amberjack. We also asked the waiter for a bottle of dry Croatian white wine with our price range (below 200 Kuna). He obliged and the wine was perfect, Croatian wine is spectacular. Not only was the wine amazing, the food was out of this world! I was expecting your typical hotel restaurant food and in return got food worthy of at least one Michelin Star or a high Zagat rating. The Foie Gras was rich and succulent, the octopus crunchy and loaded with flavor, the monkfish was succulent and complex, and the amberjack was simplistic and modern. The meal really was award winning, at least a 27 out of 30 in my opinion. Sadly, desert was not an option for my overly full belly. The check came and I do not remember the exact amount, but I know excluding wine the bill came to less than $100. Though I really am not in the position the be dining at such places, the meal would have been twice as much in American and probably three times the amount where the Euro is used.

Split (Day 2)

The next morning we got up and went back to bed. After re-awakening around 10:45 AM we checked out of the hotel and had breakfast there why waiting for the shuttle to town, which was considerably cheaper than the cab ride previously taken. Breakfast was the best kind of breakfast, a slice of cake with a hot cup of cappuccino.

Once in town we headed to Diocletian’s Palace, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, with our giant orange suitcase in tow. Going up and down the ancient cobble stone streets and various staircases was more than a challenge with a suitcase. The black Sphinx taken from Egypt when Diocletian ruled could not currently be viewed, most likely for some sort of restoration. The woman at the tourist information center told me, “come back next year, it will be done then,” just wonderful! After getting lost in the labyrinth of the palace we found the main entrance where I met two friends. I do not remember there names, but there were so playful, cute, and furry. They were dogs of course. I will put their pictures on Facebook when I upload the Croatia photographs.

We then accidently went to a café that we though served food and actually only had drinks. Since we had already ordered water, we shared one cocktail. Then we went across the street to the actual café and had some lunch. Sam had an extraordinary risotto with shrimp and I had the strangest but best pizza topped with hot dog, onion, bacon, chili peppers, and egg! We made a friend there too, his name was Alfy Romeo. He was a black and white stray cat with a cut on his back. He was very skinny and seemed to know we were animal lovers as he just nuzzled us and meowed. So, of course we fed him so shrimp and other left overs under the table until he got his full and left contently.

The bus ride back to Dubrovnik was so long because our bus driver felt the need to make three break stops of 15 minutes each versus the normal one stop. We finally arrived in Dubrovnik around 7:45 PM. We then met up with Lauren, Sam’s roomate and took a cab to our apartment in the old city if Dubrovnik.

Once again, our giant suitcase became a problem. To tell you how heavy it was, the driver of the taxi asked me if I had a body in there. He recommended a restaurant to us called proto. Once we got the street our apartment was on, we had to climb three flights of very steep stairs. This was definitely a challenge for me with that giant suitcase. I breathed a sigh of release when we got to our apartment door. Only to be disappointed when I saw three more flights of stairs ahead of me to get to our room. Finally, we made it to our quaint little apartment at the top of the building.

After settling in we were starving and headed to Proto for dinner. The dinner was very good. We had a bottle of Croatian white wine and Sam and I split a stuffed lobster tail au gratin. For desert we had the tastiest crepes filled with brown sugar. After dinner we decided to search for Buza, a bar literally on a cliff overlooking the sea. After wondering around I saw this small niche in the wall like I read that would lead to Buza. I was sure this was it because on the wall in cave leading to the cliff I saw the sign, “No tourist, No nudist” which I had read was the entrance. Upon coming out of the small cave my jaw dropped. An amazing little bar lay out in front of me with fewer than twenty tables that overlooked the vast ocean and the port of the old city. To my disappointment they were not serving cocktails that night because they had run out ice and some other weird circumstance. But, we wanted to take in the atmosphere so we each had a glass of wine and enjoyed the marvelous views.

My thirst for cocktails not yet quenched, we head to another bar we had heard of in a square nearby. On the way we ran into many friends, all stray cats, there is an abundance of them in Dubrovnik’s Old City. We got to the bar and ordered an XXL Specialty, which was there special drink in a huge glass meant for three to six people. The drink was wonderful, and we also had some Kamikazes before capping the night. We returned our quaint apartment and hit the bed hard!

Dubrovnik (Day 3)

After cold showers and getting ready we sat out for lunch. Starving we wondered the streets of the old city in search of a place that did not have pictures of food outside their restaurant, as those are never any good and usually tourist traps. We found a little place that happened to be shaded from umbrellas and knew it was the one. We started out with some local mussels that proved to be very good. For lunch Sam was going to have Spaghetti and me some sort of small fish entrée. But, the waiter was a little pushy (in a good way) and persuaded us otherwise. He asked if we wanted to see the fresh fish to which I said sure. He brought our three whole fishes, a sea bass, a sea brim, and a fish from Ston, Croatia. He informed the ston fish was the best and would be enough for Sam and I to share. They weighed the fish and we negotiated a price, and that was that. Whole fish was on the way for Sam and I. When they brought it out it was not filleted or anything and I began to get a little nervous, as my experience with this is virtually none. Luckily, the waiter asked if we would like him to do it for us, which was an obvious yes. Needless to say it was some of the freshest fish I have ever tasted and it was spectacular. Really out of this world good. That was a perfect lunch.

Now, full, we decided to explore the Old City and all it had to offer. Mind you, the city is very very small and can easily be viewed in a day or half a day. We saw churches, the old port, and awesome fountains. Not soon before long we were dying from the heat and in need of some form of shade. We went back to Buza, the Cliffside bar, and decided to go for a dip. The cliff at this bar is not really a cliff at all and you can virtually just climb into the sea. It was so refreshing and freezing at the same time. Definitely the saltiest water I have ever swam in. We then returned to the room and watched Big Brother for a little bit and relaxed for a couple of hours.

A few hours away from sunset we decided to leave the apartment and brave the city walls. The entire city is surrounded by huge walls that protected it years ago, and you can walk these walls for a small price. We had waited until later in the day to do this because of how long it would take and because of the heat. It ended up being the most hot excursion ever! It was long and beautiful, but so hot.

After that we had an amazing dinner at Gills. This included pork belly and suckling pig for me. Amazing.

Dubrovnik (Day 4)

This day we were up early and back at the ship around 8:00 AM for a service visit to an orphanage and children’s hospital. This was clearly an error because the orphanage was actually what we in American would consider where social services would put children, and the children’s hospital was actually a pediatric wing in a hospital. Although, both were great experiences.

Highlight of the visit: Niko. When taking a tour of the orphanage there were two babies, a 5 month old and a 2 month old. The five month old was named Niko. I asked if I could hold him and was allowed to do so. I must have held him for 30 minutes. He was chunky, which was good, but also had a bald spot on the back of his head from where he had been left in the crib so often in his previous home. The little guy loved me, seriously. He nuzzled me and canoodled under my neck, as he laid there, Sam went to hold his hand and he grabbed her finger and held on the whole time. It was so hard to put him down and say goodbye. This was something I will never forget and an experience that changed my outlook on babies and children alike.

Once coming back we departed for Greece!

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