Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Belatedly, Bamberg

Last month we spent a great day in Bamberg with our friend Karo as host. I'm a little late posting pictures of this beautiful World Heritage Site town.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Mainz Christmas market

The Christmas market here in Mainz opened on Thanksgiving. The Mainz Christmas Market has been operating since 1788 and is one of the more popular markets. On the weekends and in the evenings it is very crowded, with lots of people shopping and even more hanging out with friends, eating lots of food, and drinking mulled wine.

Market and cathedral at night

Market at night
Rather than try to really describe it I'll let the pictures tell the story! I was waiting for a sunny day to take some pictures, but we haven't seen the sun since the market opened! Hopefully these will give you a feel for what it's like. Last night, rather than cook, we just walked over and ate at the market. Then this morning we went and did a little shopping.

Candle stand

Manger scenes

A bus to store your stuff when you buy too much to carry!

mulled wine stand

At the regular Saturday market, shifted to accommodate the Christmas market

Large Pyramid


Smaller Pyramids

Roasting pig

Christmas stars

Look, the Germans love food on a stick, too!


Christmas villages. Wish I had an unlimited budget for shopping and mailing!

More food!

Outdoor cafe. What I love is that Germans don't stop eating at outdoor cafes in the cold. Restaurants just put a blanket on each chair and they're good to go.

The regular Saturday market, shifted to Gutenberg Square

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Croatia - Dubrovnik

We spent a little longer in Dubrovnik, so it was nice to have some relatively relaxing time. Still, we kept busy with a walk on the town walls around the old city, a guided walking tour (we were the only customers, so we had a private tour), a trip up above the city on the cable car, and a trip to Lokrum Island, a 10 minute boat ride away from Dubrovnik but a world away from the city. Lokrum has more peacocks and peahens than I have ever seen in one place, and they are completely unafraid of people.

The old city's streets are made of polished limestone. They are very clean and very shiny and look like they would be very slippery when wet. Luckily it didn't rain on us! We quickly learned that Dubrovnik is best enjoyed starting in the afternoon. The cruise ships come in in the morning and can add several thousand tourists each to the streets. But for the most part, cruise passengers have to be back on board by early afternoon, leaving things fairly peaceful. 

Stradum at night

Walking along the wall. 

Gail was the only one brave enough to try a swim!

Dubrovnik from Lokrum Island
The old port of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik was heavily shelled the winter of 1991-1992. According to our tour guide, everyone had believed up until that point that the old city would be respected and not targeted. Two-thirds of the buildings and many of the streets in the old city were damaged in the war, but virtually everything has been repaired. Even the buildings completely burned out have been rebuilt, with craftsmen using old techniques and original materials where possible. I had been worried that maybe it wouldn't be as I'd long heard it described, but other than some shrapnel marks on a few buildings and a map depicting the damage you'd be hard pressed to know that anything had happened. Our tour guide told us a little of what it had been like, cut off from the rest of Croatia, seeing their old town bombed, living without water or electricity.

One of the museums we visited was a war photography exhibition. It had some pictures from the wars in Croatia and the other parts of the former Yugoslavia, but also many from African conflicts and some from the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts. Many, many pictures of children involved in wars as victims, combatants, or both. We skipped another war museum, mainly because the entrance description was all about the heroism of the Croatians and the villainy of the Serbs. Things are rarely that black and white, and evidence abounds that there were atrocities on all sides. According to our guide book Croats and Serbs are ethnically identical: the only differences are religion (Catholic vs. Serbian Orthodox) and language (though the languages are closely related). We noticed on our drive from Plitvice Lakes toward the coast that virtually every small town had a ruin of a church. I wish I had some way of finding out whether that resulted from a natural shift of population away from small towns or if those Catholic churches were targeted during the war.

To get to Dubrovnik by road you have to pass through Bosnia Herzegovina. I wasn't aware, until looking at the map planning our drive to the city, that there is a narrow section of land called the Neum Corridor that gives Bosnia access to the sea. It meant we had to go through customs twice (once for Croatia and once for Bosnia Herzegovina) each direction. Luckily it was just a glance at the passports and a wave through each time, but at border crossings one never knows.

Today we drove back to Zagreb. It was a very uneventful drive. No snow, no major road closures, no major traffic jams. More on Zagreb later.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Croatia - Split and Trogir

It was quite a change to go from snow in Plitvice Lakes to palm trees in Split! We used Airbnb for the first time, and we are fans. We had a very small apartment less than 5 minutes from the waterfront/Dioclesian's Palace. The only problem - parking!

But the waterfront was beautiful, and certainly a big change from the snow we'd woken up to in the mountains!

The most famous part of Split is Diocletian's Palace. For those not up on Diocletian, he was a 3rd century Roman emperor who built the palace/fortress for his retirement. He was reportedly so worried about assassination that he slept in a different room every night. It is now a warren of museums, shops, restaurants, apartments, hotels, etc.

This is one of the remaining gates of the palace.

We climbed the Cathedral tower within the Palace complex for wonderful views over Split. The large ship is one of the ferries that goes to the many islands in the Adriatic.

From Split it's an easy one hour bus ride to Trogir, another World Heritage site with a beautiful old town. And of course, there was a cathedral tower that needed to be climbed!

This was the view from the fortress on the waterfront.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Croatian holiday - Plitvice Lakes

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from Croatia, other than that it would be beautiful. It is. My first impression was that it is a cross between Poland and Italy. I know that sounds VERY weird. But the architecture (the newer, post-WW2 architecture), the shops, the open-air markets for clothes and food (including meat), the bus stations, the language, all remind me very strongly of Poland. The beauty of the old architecture, the white-stone streets, the light, the coast, all remind me of Italy.

We were very lucky with the timing of our departure from Germany, as the train engineer's strike ended at 4 a.m. the day of our departure (the train is by far the best and least expensive way to get to the airport) and the pilot's strike of Lufthansa began at 1 p.m. Our flight was at 12:20. Note to self and visitors: it took us an hour and a half to get to our gate and that was without stopping anywhere not required: check in, security, and passport control all had significant lines.

We arrived in Zagreb, picked up our rental car, and headed for Plitvice Lakes National Park. Along the way we stopped for dinner at a place in a beautiful town. The restaurant has a trout farm in the middle (and resident cats hoping to share in your very fresh dinner!).

Plitvice Lakes National Park is gorgeous. It is a series of cataracts and waterfalls with walking paths along, under,and around them.

The walkways are mostly boardwalks. In a few sections it was pretty overrun with busloads of tourists, (I can't imagine what the high season is like), but in others nearly deserted and very peaceful. We have been astounded at the number of Asian tourists. I don't know why it surprises me that Croatia is a big destination for them. Some of the busloads of tourists were day trips from cruise ships - that would be a pretty long day trip from the coast! And some of the passengers looked pretty surprised to be walking in the forest.

The weather at Plitvice Lakes is important as it's a day of hiking. We were lucky. Although we didn't have sunshine, which would have been nice, it wasn't raining, either. And it turns out that we were fortunate it was not snowing, as on our departure day we woke to this.

Sorry, I got distracted by the homemade doughnuts made by the owner of the place we stayed. Just like Polish paczki! THIS was the surprise that morning.

While it was certainly beautiful, we did not come equipped to hike in the snow. It made the first part of that day's drive to Split very exciting!