Seville Before and After the Spanish Empire

The Gold Tower was built during Moorish rule in the early 13th century to guard access along the Guadalquivir River.  The tower's lime mortar gave off a golden glow in the evening sun which led to its name, the Torre del Oro.

The Gold Tower was built during Moorish rule in the early 13th century to guard access along the Guadalquivir River. The tower’s lime mortar gave off a golden glow in the evening sun which led to its name, the Torre del Oro.

Seville, an elegant city of over 700,000 people, rose to prominence as a working seaport on the Guadalquivir River.  It served as the launching point for the exploration voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Subsequent wealth that poured in from the New World making Seville one of the most important trade centers in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.  In addition, the wealth of treasures the conquistadors plundered from the Incas and Aztecs funded an expansion in Spanish military power greater than anything in human history up to that time.  That wealth is nowhere more evident than in Seville.

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville was originally a minaret for the mosque which once stood adjacent.  Over 340 feet high, the top is accessed by 36 ramps which allowed horsemen to ride to the top.  The Giralda is named for the weathervane at its top.

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville was originally a minaret for the mosque which once stood adjacent. Over 340 feet high, the top is accessed by 36 ramps which allowed horsemen to ride to the top. The Giralda is named for the weathervane at its top.

Seville from the Giralda Tower and the Alamilla Bridge's slanted white tower built for Seville's '92 World Expo.

Seville from the Giralda Tower and the Alamilla Bridge’s slanted white tower built for Seville’s ’92 World Expo.

Seville added to its prominence in the era of exploration with the global circumnavigation voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, which left from Seville in 1519.  The city monopolized trans-Atlantic trade with the discovery of the New World and opened a Golden Age of art, literature and music.  It was during this era that Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de La Mancha and the art works of Diego Velazquez and El Greco gained world recognition.  The influence of these and other Spanish artists has carried over through The Renaissance to modern times.

The vast scale Cathedral of Seville inspires awe.  It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world in both area and volume.

The vast scale Cathedral of Seville inspires awe. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world in both area and volume.

Today, the architecture of Seville is a study in contrasts.  The Cathedral of Seville is the largest Gothic style cathedral in the world and third largest cathedral of any type.  The ultra-modern Parasol Metropol is the largest wooden structure in the world, and covers a subterranean archeological site.  On the ground level is fresh market where vendors’ stalls offer extensive choices of meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables and baked goods.  While it is not the largest of public markets, it offers a full range of purchase options.  It is also maintained to a level of pristine cleanliness that outshines any public market I have ever seen.

The Metropol Parasol is believed to be the largest wooden structure in the world - 490' x 230' and 85' high.  On the street level is the public market.

The Metropol Parasol is believed to be the largest wooden structure in the world – 490′ x 230′ and 85′ high. On the street level is the public market.

The public market is housed below the Parasol.  It sparkles with cleanliness and offers the full range of produce, meats and baked goods.

The public market is housed below the Parasol. It sparkles with cleanliness and offers the full range of produce, meats and baked goods.

Seville buzzes with vibrancy like any great university city with lots of young people surrounded by the bustle of commerce.  I found a rich mixture of modern and historic architecture.  There is no denying the artistic elegance of the city which proudly proclaims its class and style.

This vibrant city will resonate with me for a long time.  There is so much to see in Seville that I wish I would have had more time there.  Unfortunately, a single day was all we had.  That was most important thing I learned from our visit to Seville – to not try to fit in everything worth seeing into a single day.

This pavilion marks the entrance to the Park of Santa Maria Luisa, once the grounds of Seville's 1929 World's Fair.

This pavilion marks the entrance to the Park of Santa Maria Luisa, once the grounds of Seville’s 1929 World’s Fair.

© All photos copyrighted by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Cordoba, Spain – Crossroads of History

One of the many pools in the gardens of the Alcazar Palace.

One of the many pools in the gardens of the Alcazar Palace.

Our ride inland through the fertile and most populous region of Spain, Andalucía, revealed a checkerboard of golden acres of wheat alternating with verdant fields of sunflowers.  I have never seen or imagined so many sunflowers, and the fields in full bloom glowed with bright yellow made all the more vivid under the shining sun.

The walls surrounding La Mezquita give it a fortress-like appearance.

The walls surrounding La Mezquita give it a fortress-like appearance.

Our ABC Tour (Another Blessed Cathedral) ultimately led us to La Mezquita (The Mosque), now known as the Cathedral of Cordoba.  There is nothing like it in the world and a bit of history is necessary to appreciate its story.

Pushing back the boundaries of a weakened Roman Empire, the Visigoths built a Christian church in Cordoba on the site of a temple honoring the Roman god, Janus.  The Visigoths controlled most of what is now Spain for over 100 years before the Muslim conquest early in the 8th century.

The courtyard of palm and orange trees leading to the entrance of The Mosque Cathedral.

The courtyard of palm and orange trees leading to the entrance of The Mosque Cathedral.

The Muslims (referred to as Moors in Spain) made Cordoba the capital of their Al-Andalus region in 718 AD.  Beginning in 784, the emir of Cordoba ordered the construction of a mosque on the site of the Christian church, which was demolished.  During this period, Cordoba also became one of the most prosperous cities in the world, known for its advancements in science, art and architecture.  The Christians and Jews in the city were welcomed to stay and worship as they pleased as long as they paid a tithe to the Muslim emir.

The array of columns hints at rows of palm trees in a desert oasis.

The array of columns hints at rows of palm trees in a desert oasis.

Over a period of 200 years the mosque was enlarged and enhanced until it became one of the largest and finest mosques in the world.  It is an impressive structure covering some 250,000 square feet.  From the outside the mosque does not appear that impressive.  While ornate by today’s architectural standards, the mosque gives off a distinctly military feel with forty foot high walls and iron gates at its arched entries.

So magnificent was the finished mosque that when the Catholic Church proposed building its cathedral addition in the middle of the mosque, it was over the objections of the people of Cordoba.  Opposition to the cathedral was overruled by King Carlos V without his ever having visited the site.  In 1526, when the king did witness the damage he had unwittingly allowed, he is said to have remarked, ‘You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world.’

The Mosque covers an area of over 250,000 sq. ft. with over 800 columns spread throughout.

The Mosque covers an area of over 250,000 sq. ft. with over 800 columns spread throughout.

Once we entered the huge courtyard and the cathedral itself is its grandeur revealed.  Florence and I both looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed, ‘Wow.’  (If only there was a word that equaled Wow to the tenth power.)  The expanse of the mosque is filled with over 850 columns made of onyx, granite, marble and jasper, all holding up brightly colored red and white arches which in turn support much higher arched ceilings.

The Roman Bridge featuring 12 arches connects the Old City with the new.

The Roman Bridge featuring 12 arches connects the Old City with the new.

Cordoba today is a tranquil city with parks and plazas with plenty of fountains and statuary.  It is also one of the premier locations in the world for bullfights.  Many people find bullfighting to be a cruel sport.  In fact, bullfighting has been banned in some areas of Spain, most notably Barcelona in the Catalan Region.  However, bullfights remain popular in Andalucía.  There are fourteen bullrings in Cordoba, the largest of which is the Plaza de Los Califas, which seats 16,900 spectators.  The excitement stems from the possibility of death faced simultaneously by both fighter and bull.  It is worth noting that bulls bred to fight are raised and treated gently and fed only the finest food fit for a bull.  As for the moral principle of bullfighting, I personally find it hypocritical to criticize a fight to the death between man and bull when we as a society raise vast herds of cattle to be unceremoniously slaughtered without giving it much thought.

Strolling the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba with our new British friends, Ruth and Mike Steele

Strolling the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba with our new British friends, Ruth and Mike Steele

We topped off our tour of Cordoba with a stroll through the picturesque Jewish Quarter with its artisan ceramic and leather shops and a synagogue dating back to AD 1350.  We passed the museum of the Spanish Inquisition in which about 3,000 people (some estimates are higher) were executed for their religious beliefs.  We also visited the nearby Alcazar Castle with its spectacular gardens.  The royalty of Spain clearly knew how to live in grand style.

The power of the once mighty Spanish Empire came full circle for me after having seen the Spanish influence in colonial Latin America during our two years touring and living there.  Even though Spain is no longer considered a major world power, its place in history is forever set with an elegance that rivals any country.

The ABC Tour

Since this post is partly about me, I thought I should share it with you. Florence and I are on the same tour of the world, and it is good to have more than one perspective. For the past six months, Florence has written of the same subject matter as I have. As your would expect, you will gain a different perspective by reading her version. Enjoy! – Mike

Reflections

Mike has always joked that he is on the ABC Tour. That stands for, Another Blessed Cathedral. In many ways he is right. We have visited the main cathedral or church in every city we have traveled too. However, there are reasons other than my just wanting to light candles.

Many of the cathedrals or church’s we have entered have been around for hundreds of years, some going back as far as the 13th Century. Many of these places of worship were sponsored by the wealthiest patrons of their time so no expense was spared in the decoration or the carvings that can be found inside their walls. These are not modern buildings with stucco drywalls and simple stained glass windows or paint by number paintings. Many of the places we have toured have sculptures and deities leaping from the walls, chiseled in their glory to make them…

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The Story of the Old Tower

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

Until about 1500 the Mediterranean Sea was ruled by pirates from maritime countries like France, Italy, and from as far away as Britain.  Subsequently, during Ottoman rule in Spain, pirates from Algeria and Turkey known as Berbers were the predominant predators who attacked settlements along the coast.  Even inland villages were vulnerable to the threat of pirates seeking food, treasure and slaves to row their galleys or to be sold for profit.

Perfect for St. Patrick's Day - an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

Perfect for St. Patrick’s Day – an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

King Phillip VII, who ruled Spain in the early 1600’s, took a radical step to reduce the threat of pirates.  Believing that Moorish descendants of the Ottoman days in Spain were sympathetic and perhaps even helpful to the Berber pirates, the king ordered their expulsion from Spain.  Over 500,000 ‘moriscos’ were shipped to North Africa.  Many of them became slaves.  Some, either out of desperation or revenge, joined with the pirates.  As a result, King Phillip was forced to take defensive measures. 

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja.  The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja. The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Army engineers were tasked with building a coastal defense against marauding pirates.  This defense was a series of coastal and inland watchtowers from the French border in the north to the south coast city of Cádiz.  The towers were built on coast rocks, cliff tops or elevated platforms.  Most were circular in shape evoking the image of a classic rook piece on a chessboard.  A removable staircase was often used to access an elevated entry door so that it could be removed in the event of an attack.  Guards who spotted threats would ignite a fire atop the tower which could be seen from a neighboring tower.  It is believed that a warning from Cádiz west of Gibraltar could be relayed to the French border within three hours over a distance of 1,000 miles.  Some towers were armed with artillery cannons.  Many had shelter spaces for farmers or fisherman from nearby to seek refuge. 

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja Photo credit - Google images

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja
Photo credit – Google images

Many of the towers in the Alicante Region have survived over 400 years and remain as historic landmarks open to the public.  One such tower was built in the center of what is now Torrevieja, which translated means Old Tower.  The original tower was destroyed by an earthquake.  The only remaining tower in Torrevieja is the Torre del Moro located on the coast just north of the city center.  This area was once a minor fishing village which grew with the development of a huge salt industry.  Vast evaporation lagoons are still used to produce tons of salt annually for shipment around the world.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days.  Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days. Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

One of the signature souvenir pieces representing Torrevieja are salt ships.  These models are prized gifts given to visiting dignitaries or as wedding presents.  Other popular landmarks such as the Coralista Monument or one of the town’s signature cathedrals are also popular salt models.  Many models are displayed in Torrevieja’s Museum of Salt located in the city center. 

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

The salt museum near the colorful sea walk is one of the many attractions that make Torrevieja a popular vacation spot on Spain’s Costa Blanca.  Even though spring has not officially arrived, spring-like weather during the winter months explains the town’s great appeal, especially among the many northern Europeans we have seen. 

Many apartments still look sealed up for the winter, so I expect the beaches will soon be more crowded.  In the meantime, we are enjoying the peace and quiet or our urban apartment.  Given the number of friends and family dealing with this winter’s bitter cold, we feel duty bound to make the most of the many sunny days here.  It seems that is the least we can do. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince unless otherwise indicated.

Starting Anew in Torrevieja, Spain

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja.  This beach is two blocks from our apartment.

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja. This beach is two blocks from our apartment. Pedestrians can walk the entire waterfront with shops and restaurants lining the walkway.

We have walked the city streets, learned the bus routes, visited the central shopping mall, checked out the main cathedral and located the nearest supermarkets and the public library.  Now that we have our feet on the ground we are free to check out the interesting sights of the city.

The 'coralista monument' is a tribute to music and musicians.  It references the Habaneras singing style brought to Torrevieja by sailors who brought Cuban-style song and dance back from the Caribbean in the 18th century.

The ‘coralista monument’ is a tribute to music and musicians. It references the Habaneras music adopted from Cuba via shipping trade dating back to the 1700’s.

Torrevieja, or old tower, is a city of 100,000 people with double that number when you count the surrounding suburbs.  The original tower that gave the city its name was built as an overlook facing the sea.  The tower no longer exists except for some foundation stones that mark its origin.  The city has since erected a stone tower representing the city’s namesake.

The Torrevieja area had proximity to sub-sea level lowlands just a half-mile inland from the coast.  Some early settlers dug a ditch from the sea to these lowlands and flooded two areas to form shallow lakes that were used as dehydration ponds to make salt.  These two salt ponds are huge, combining to cover over 9,000 acres.  Salt production still takes place and now exceeds 800,000 tons/year exported mostly to Western European markets.  The shoreline areas of the salt lakes are protected parklands serving as habitat for birds and wildlife.  Wading birds are common as they prey upon fish in the shallow lagoons.

Torrevieja's main church viewed from Plaza Constitución.

The city’s central church was rebuilt in 1844 using stone blocks from the old tower that was left in ruins from this earthquake.

The city does not have a natural port, so the area was overlooked until the 17th century as far as a hub of commercial activity.  Early settlers were mostly fishermen from Genoa and Naples looking for less competitive fishing areas.  To this day Italian surnames are common among the local population.   Modern day Torrevieja features a water-break seawall that extends nearly a mile around the city’s main marina which moors over 300 boats.  People can stroll the entire length of the seawall on a beautiful boardwalk and get an outstanding view of the city waterfront from offshore. 

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The main church in Torrevieja, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, was originally built in 1798.  A severe earthquake in 1829, which would have registered a 6.6 using the Richter scale, had its epicenter close to Torrevieja and devastated the city.  Surrounding towns were also nearly destroyed.  There was little history of seismic activity along the Mediterranean coast, so the local populations were caught completely by surprise. 

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

The current city of Torrevieja is a tourist and expat destination.  Nearly half of the population is made up of British expats who own a home or apartment somewhere around the city.  English is spoken in most shops, restaurants and businesses.  There is an English language weekly newspaper, an English cinema, and innumerable groups and clubs including golfing, cycling, acting, hiking and jogging.  Runners were drawn to the 31st annual Torrevieja Half-Marathon, which took place on February 23rd and draws over 2,000 runners. 

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

While we are not beach people per se, we enjoy strolling along the waterfront on a warm sunny day and feeling the cool breeze.  And now that we have our bearings, we look forward to getting to better know our new home town.

Our New Home on the Costa Blanca

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa, just south of Benidorm.  Too bad we could not afford it.

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa overlooking the marina, just south of Benidorm. Too bad we could not afford it.

Our greatest experiences in the countries we have visited have been the people we have met.  Spain has been no exception.  We were fortunate to have found a room to rent for our first month in Alicante with a welcoming couple, Raul and Esmeralda, which served as our base to search for an apartment.  After a few days decompressing and learning the terrain, our apartment search began in earnest.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats.  Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats. Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm, about 30 miles north of Alicante, is one of the coast cities that has been taken over by the British, either on holidays or as expats.  We liked the city well enough, and there is just as much English spoken as there is Spanish.  However, we became disillusioned with the housing options.  They were either above our budget or just plain dumpy.   

Sensing our frustration, Esmeralda phoned her sister in Torrevieja, about 30 miles south of Alicante, who had an apartment to show us.  We knew the moment we saw the apartment and the neighborhood that we were home!  A city of 100,000, Torrevieja is also a favorite British landing spot.  They have an English language cinema, an English weekly newspaper and several British pubs and restaurants.  An expat city like Torrevieja would not be our typical move.  However, it is pretty with lots of areas to walk and shop, and there are lots of places in and around the city to explore.

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

Having found a place to live freed us up to explore a bit more.  We took the oceanfront elevator 500 feet up to the hilltop Castle of Santa Barbara, about the same height as the ride up Seattle’s Space Needle.  However, the elevator shaft was cut through solid rock, so there were no views until we got to the top.  Although artifacts pre-dating Roman times have been found on the slopes of Mount Benacantil, the fortress was established in the 9th century, a time of Arabic Muslim control.  The castle was taken by Castilian forces on December 4, 1248.  That was the feast day honoring Saint Barbara, patron saint of the military, and that is how the castle came to be known.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

I visited the Museum of Archeology, an award-winning museum that captures the evolution of the Alicante area from pre-historic times up to the 20th century.  The ancient Roman city of Lucentum is only a mile or so from the museum, so there are plentiful artifacts depicting the Roman Era. 

Further exploration has taken us to The Explanade, the city’s colorful mosaic pedestrian walkway along the waterfront.  We explored the nearby suburb of San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante’s university district.  We discovered the Mercado Central and the downtown walking and shopping areas.  We took in the Museo de Taurinos, the Bullfight Museum, which is operated by the City of Alicante and free to the public.  We visited the 17th century Cathedral of Saint Nicholas on the ABC tour (the Another Blessed Cathedral tour for newer readers).  We have also visited the Museum of Chocolate, shopped at the Open Market, and we have eaten tapas, empañadas and seafood paella.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante.  The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante. The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned.  They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies.  The ones in front use various liqueurs.  The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned. They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies. The ones in front use various liqueurs. The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

There is much more we can see and do in and around Alicante.  Unfortunately, our sightseeing was cut short when Florence caught the flu.  Other than catching the flu, our first month in Spain has been pleasant by every account. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince

Life on the Costa Blanca

The palm lined Esplanade in downtown Alicante divides the harbor from several high end hotels, restaurants and apartment buildings.

The palm lined Esplanade in downtown Alicante divides the harbor from several high end hotels, restaurants and apartment buildings.

After arriving in Spain via a Grimaldi Line cruise ship ferry from Italy, we divided a week between the two great cities of Barcelona and Madrid to spend time sightseeing and to visit friends.  There is no question that the highlight of Barcelona was La Sagrada Familia, although I will admit that the sights of Madrid impressed me somewhat more than did Barcelona.  They are both beautiful, world-class cities.  However, the rich history of Spain seemed more evident to me in Madrid with its parks, palaces, cathedrals and art museums. 

We walked past Alicante's Plaza of the Bulls.  Bullfights still take place in the arena during the summer.

We walked past Alicante’s Plaza of the Bulls. Bullfights still take place in the arena during the summer.

I will also admit that playing tourist after leaving Croatia in early January left us both mentally and physically drained.  So it was with more than a little relief that we rode the motorcoach for the five hour ride to Alicante.  We emailed our host family of our estimated arrival, and they were waiting to greet us as we landed on their doorstep, just a 10 minute taxi ride from the bus station.

The Castle of Santa Barbara has stood watch over Alicante for over 1,000 years.

The Castle of Santa Barbara has stood watch over Alicante for over 1,000 years.

I had read quite a bit about Spain and its many great cities.  Somehow I was drawn to the region known as the Costa Blanca, thus named for the pale color of the sandy beaches on the Mediterranean coast.  I now know the decision to come here was absolutely the right one.  Alicante is approximately halfway between Barcelona and Gibraltar on the Spanish Riviera.  Here people enjoy over 300 sunny days per year.  There is a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally, and the area is so gorgeous that it is mind-boggling.   

The beachfront of Benidorm, one of Spain's most touristic cities.

The beachfront of Benidorm, one of Spain’s most touristic cities.

Our host family is helpful and kind beyond any expectation.  Our arrangement with them is to rent for a month while we look for a more permanent setting.  This has given us the gift of time to get our bearings and explore the area.  Our first venture was to explore the city of Alicante itself.  We walked the mile or so into the city center and discovered the Central Market, the City Center and the Esplanade, the colorful, tile-paved waterfront pedestrian walk.  We did not think we could find anything finer than downtown Alicante.

Overlooking the sea is Benidorm's Church of St. James.

Overlooking the sea is Benidorm’s Church of St. James.

The next day we hitched a ride with our host, Raul, to the touristy seaside town of Benidorm, about 20 north.  We were struck by how many tourists there were in January.  We heard English, French and German spoken by those we walked among along the beach.  And we noticed almost everyone was at least our age or older.  Clearly, the pensioners of Europe come here to escape the cold weather up north.

This beautiful promontory divides Benidorm into north and south halves.

This beautiful promontory divides Benidorm into north and south halves.

We have yet to explore further south to Torrevieja and Murcia.  Considering how much we have enjoyed each of the cities we have visited in Spain, it is hard to imagine we will not also enjoy our upcoming visits there and points beyond.  Spain has proven to be comfortable and hospitable.  The prices for essentials are affordable on our budget, which means we can also afford to tour more of the country in the weeks ahead.  In the meantime, we should have a place to call our own in time for my February birthday, and that will be the finest gift I could wish for.

The Ultimate Barcelona Experience

One of Gaudí's earlier projects, La Pedrera incorporated innovations like a self-supported façade and underground parking.  Under renovation during our visit, this photo is from Wikicommons.

One of Gaudí’s earlier projects, La Pedrera incorporated innovations like a self-supported façade and underground parking. Under renovation during our visit, this photo is from Wikicommons.

My first surprise about Barcelona, a metropolitan area of five million people, is that the city is only about 150 years old.  The roots of the city go back to Roman times, but the city as we see it now has few remnants older than the mid-19th century. 

Gaudí loved color.  He did not much like square corners. Photo credit: Wikicommons

Gaudí loved color. He did not much like square corners.
Photo credit: Wikicommons

Barcelona underwent major changes in the 1800’s.  In a controversial move, the powers of that time decided to tear down the medieval wall that contained the city.  Along with the wall, many medieval era buildings were also demolished.  A master plan was developed which included plazas, parks and tree-lined streets that were over 100 feet wide with wide sidewalks.  Although some property owners fought these zoning restrictions, today Barcelona has lots of wide boulevards, plazas with beautiful artwork, and public parks providing spectacular vistas of the city.  The result today is a feeling of wide open spaces with lots of light, nice breezes and lots of green space throughout the city.  Further improvements were made in preparation for hosting the 1992 Olympic Summer Games, including new beaches and modern construction.

Stylish architecture is what catches my eye in Barcelona, and none is more striking than the inescapable designs of Antoni Gaudí.  I was prepared to be amazed by the unusual shapes and bright ceramic touches of Casa Batlló, Park Güell and other famous Gaudí works.  I was hardly prepared for the spectacle that is La Sagrada Familia, the Catholic Basilica of The Sacred Family.  As we walked from the nearby Paseo de Sant Joan, my heart began beating faster as the glory of spires towering more than 500 feet over my head came into view.  Everything about La Sagrada Familia demands that I look up. 

The spires of La Sagrada Familia pierce the sky over 500 feet above street level.

The spires of La Sagrada Familia pierce the sky over 500 feet above street level.

I can hardly get my head around what I am seeing.  Is this art?  Is it architecture?  Is it the creation of a crazy man or a genius?  What sort of mind is able to bring such a remarkable vision to reality?  These thoughts go through my mind as I gaze upward in amazement and awe.  Interior pillars start out five feet in diameter at their base.  As my eyes follow their upward taper, they seem to grow sixteen evenly space ridges.  These ridges split in two as I follow the lines upward.  The vertical lines then dissolve until further up the column is perfectly round.  Suddenly, the column splits into multiple branches that taper and disappear into the ceiling they support.  The effect of the multiple pillars is like a forest of giant trees supporting an elaborate ceiling 200 feet overhead.

The West entrance to Sagrada Familia is also the oldest.  It depicts the Nativity in sculptures high over the portico.

The West entrance to Sagrada Familia is also the oldest. It depicts the Nativity in sculptures high over the portico.

La Sagrada Familia was not completed in Gaudí’s lifetime.   In fact, the construction that began over 130 years ago continues to this day.  This was not a commissioned project.  Gaudí utilized only money that was donated in order to carry out the construction.  To this day only donations from entry fees and benefactors are used to pay for the construction.  It is estimated that 2.8 million persons annually visit La Sagrada Familia.  The base admission is about $27/person without a personal guide or audio guide and exclusive of a trip up one of the towers.  The two newest towers are equipped with ultra-modern elevators.

The interior of Sagrada Familia is light and open.  Color is added with the extensive use of stained glass windows.

The interior of Sagrada Familia is light and open. Color is added with the extensive use of stained glass windows.

Gaudí believed that all great efforts required sacrifice.  He felt paying the ongoing costs of constructing La Sagrada Familia was exactly the sort of sacrifice that was required to achieve success.  It is estimated the project could take ten or more years to complete.  I do not think Gaudí would mind. 

In 1926, Antoni Gaudí was struck by a tram on his way to his local church.  He was knocked unconscious and taken in a coma to the hospital.  No one recognized him at the time.  During the night he awoke and asked to have last rites administered.  He died later that night.  He is now buried in the crypt below the main altar of La Sagrada Familia.  Catholic masses are conducted there daily.

Interior columns evoke images of a forest with branches high overhead.

Interior columns evoke images of a forest with branches high overhead.

The elaborate ceiling is braced by the many-branched columns soaring 200 feet overhead.

The elaborate ceiling is braced by the many-branched columns soaring 200 feet overhead.

The colors and details throughout the cathedral dazzle the eyes/

The colors and details throughout the cathedral dazzle the eyes.

Our Tour of The Vatican

Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel.  This photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Nothing quite prepares you for viewing The Vatican.  Vatican City looks small on the map, and compared to the rest of Rome it is fairly small.  However, it takes four hours just to walk through the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica, so it is not small.

Although everyone has seen a photo of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which was painted by Michelangelo 500 years ago, a photo cannot begin to do justice to the experience of seeing the ceiling through one’s own eyes.  The photos do not provide any indication of the scope or scale of the artwork.  Also, the appearance of three-dimensional columns on the ceiling is an illusion.  The arched ceiling has a smooth surface.

Even though the Sistine Chapel is no bigger than a high school gymnasium, there is so much to take in visually that we took a bench along the side of the chapel and we sat for half an hour just looking at the artwork.  Our necks hurt from looking up constantly, so we took in the murals along the side walls as well, which are the work of other Renaissance masters.

So much history has taken place within these walls.  This is the chapel where the Congress of Cardinals votes to select a new pope.  This is where, after over a four year span, Michelangelo stepped out of his primary artistic role as a sculptor to paint over 5,000 square feet of frescoes on the ceiling and high walls of the chapel.  Unlike the portrayal of Michelangelo played by Charlton Heston in the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy, he did not lay on his back to paint the entire ceiling.  The artist did spend a great deal of time bending over backwards, however, and that had to be agony.

Michelangelo had many helpers who most likely mixed paint and made the many trips up and down the scaffolds which reached over sixty feet above the floor.  Assistants also probably did the messy job of mixing fresh plaster since Michelangelo took on the difficult task of painting frescoes by applying paint while the plaster was still drying, thus creating the strongest possible bond between paint and plaster.  Even if some talented assistants had been tasked with painting a bit of sky or scenery, Michelangelo gets the credit for designing and painting the masterpiece that is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  He hired and fired so many assistants that no one else could take credit for any significant contribution to the finished work.

Twenty-five years after the completion of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was approached on behalf of the pope with the commission to paint the vast wall behind the altar which now holds his other chapel masterpiece, The Last Judgment.  He was hesitant to take the job thinking it was a test that would taint his reputation if he failed to live up to the standard he had set with the chapel ceiling. 

Photo credit:  Wikipedia Commons

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Last Judgment was the largest fresco ever painted up to that time, and it was a controversial piece given the amount of nudity that was depicted.  When the pope’s Master of Ceremonies, Biaggio di Cesena, proclaimed the painting was more suitable to a public bath or tavern than a holy place, Michelangelo painted a likeness of Cesena on the body of Minos, Judge of the Underworld, with donkey ears to symbolize foolishness and with a snake coiled around his middle to cover his genitalia.  (bottom right corner)  Cesena complained to the pope, who is said to have joked that his judgment did not extend to hell, so the painting remained unchanged.

During the ecumenical Council of Trent, nudity in religious art was condemned.  In 1564, after Michelangelo’s death, the genitalia referred to as ‘objectionable’ in The Last Judgment were painted over with drapery, which is how the painting has been viewed to this day.

Getting to the Sistine Chapel involves strolling through extensive galleries and museums.  You will begin to appreciate the vast treasures of The Vatican when you join our walk in this short video.

First Impressions from Rome

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome's highest hill to escape the stench of the Tiber River.

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome’s highest hill to escape the smell of raw sewage which flowed down the Tiber River.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

This is my first visit to Rome.  My wife, Florence, has visited Rome on five occasions prior to this visit, so she is excited for me to experience awe and wonder of The Eternal City.   She loves to describe the sights I am about to lay my eyes on for the first time, and she is eager for my reactions.  However, her descriptions do little to prepare me for what I am experiencing.  There is simply no way to describe Rome to the first-time visitor.  It would be like trying to explain Disneyland to an alien.  One must see Rome for oneself.

Florence loves roasted chestnuts.  I bought cookies.

Florence loves fresh-roasted chestnuts.

As we start walking from our hotel near the central train station, I begin to notice the numerous locations that sell pizza.  My comment – ‘Look, another place that sells pizza!’ becomes tiresome, so I begin noticing shops with baked goods.  I had to stop.  After stocking up on a few essential goodies, we wander toward the President’s Palace, known officially as the Palazzo del Quirinale, the historic home of thirty popes dating back to the 16th century.  It is the sixth largest palace in the world and the largest home to any head of state.  From outside we have no idea about the scale of the palace on the inside, and the guards at the gate were not about to let us wander in to see for ourselves.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Descending from Piazza Quirinale on Rome’s highest hill, we see crowds of people ahead.  A quick check of the city map confirms they are converging on the Piazza di Trevi and the iconic Trevi Fountain.  There is so much happening artistically in the massive fountain that I can hardly take it all in at one time.  Also, I now realize how fortunate we are to be visiting Rome in the off season.  I think we would have had to wait an hour or more to get the photos that were available to us just by walking among the crowd to the edge of the observation area.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

A few blocks beyond the Trevi Fountain is the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Plaza) and the Spanish Steps.  These 135 steps ascend to the Church of Trinitá dei Monti.  This day was the eve of The Epiphany, the day when the three magi appeared in Jerusalem following the birth of Jesus, so there was still in place a Nativity scene on the upper terrace of the steps.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

We encountered numerous sights on our initial stroll through the city.  The fascinating thing about Rome is one can walk a mere block or two in any direction and suddenly you come upon a park, a plaza, a fountain, a palace, or one of the dozens of architectural wonders which abound, and we have barely scratched the surface.  Fortunately, Florence scheduled our stay here for a week.  She knew not to cut short our time in this great city.  All these legendary places are now coming to life right before my eyes.

The 6 Monthers Prepare to Move Again

Looking back on our time in Šibenik, we will remember living near the iconic Cathedral of St. James.

Looking back on our time in Šibenik, we will remember living near the iconic Cathedral of St. James.

My wife and I are The 6 Monthers because we choose to live in a new country every six months.  We chose the six month time span because we now have time to visit more places and see more of the sights each country has to offer.  We also choose to live like the locals.  We rent an apartment to use as our base.  We shop where locals shop and we eat like locals eat.  Six months may seem like a long time in which to stay in a country, but it goes fast because here we are preparing to move once again.

The 6 Monthers overlooking Sarajevo, Bosnia.

The 6 Monthers overlooking Sarajevo, Bosnia.

This current six month interval was divided into two three month periods for a couple of reasons.  First, we were invited to visit Croatia in September as photo and blog journalists by Dhar Media for a Touristar production called Discover Croatia.  Our intensive 24 day series of excursions opened our eyes to the beauty and historic wonders of Croatia, and we knew we would love to return.  Second, we found our move to Scotland forced us to live at the extent of our budget because there were hidden costs to living there.  Perhaps ‘undisclosed’ is a more accurate term.  Florence wrote a story with details for anyone who is interested. 

Outside the walls of the medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Outside the walls of the medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

We have a month left before we depart.  We will celebrate our sixth anniversary the weekend before Christmas by throwing a party at a waterfront restaurant for all of our friends here in Croatia.  We will also celebrate Christmas and New Years here in Šibenik.  We have been the grateful beneficiaries of much kindness and caring on the part of our Croatian hosts, and celebrating with them is an appropriate way to express our appreciation.

Picturesque Mlini, just south of Dubrovnik

Picturesque Mlini, just south of Dubrovnik

We have completed most of our research for our next move.  We leave January 3rd to catch the overnight ferry from Split, Croatia, to Ancona, Italy.  I have not yet seen Rome, so we will spend a week there to take in the many sights that must be seen.  We will also submit our papers for dual citizenship with Italy while in Rome.  The application process has been time-consuming.  We are hopeful the final approval will be forthcoming in the next few months.  Traveling in Europe on Italian passports will solve a lot of issues when visiting Schengen Alliance countries.

Vela Spila cave, an archeological site on the island of Korčula with human remains 20,000 years old.

Vela Spila cave, an archeological site on the island of Korčula with human remains 20,000 years old.

After Rome we will fly to Barcelona, Spain, where we will spend at least four days seeing the sights.  I look forward to strolling past the shops along La Rambla and visiting La Boqueria Market, sampling tapas, and viewing Gaudi architecture.  Maybe we will even get inside La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s crowning achievement that has yet to be completed.  Tourists line up for hours to view the cathedral during the high season.  We simply cannot overlook this landmark on our ABC Tour.*

Vineyard and olive country on the island of Pag

Vineyard and olive country on the island of Pag

We will visit Madrid for a few days before settling in Alicante, Spain, for the next six months.  I look forward to improving my Spanish during our stay.  We will soon be sharing our stories from Spain on our next adventure, life on the Costa Blanca.  There are so many places to visit with romantic and familiar names:  Cordoba, Granada, Seville, Malaga, Bilbao, and more. 

If you have a favorite memory of Spain or a destination you wish to see some day, please share your comments.  I would love to know.

*Note:  ‘ABC’ stands for Another Blessed Cathedral, a reference made numerous times on this blog.

Within Bosnia Beats a Beautiful Heart

The iconic symbol of Mostar Stari Most or The Old Bridge is renovated after its destruction in 1992 by pro-Serbian forces.  The cross in the background sits atop Hum Mountain.

The iconic symbol of Mostar, Stari Most or The Old Bridge is renovated after its destruction in 1992 by pro-Croatian forces. The cross in the background sits atop Hum Mountain.

Before we set out on our weeklong visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, our Croatian tour guide friend, Biljana, informed me that we would find the Bosnians to be among the warmest and kindest people we would ever meet.  That was encouraging because I had no idea what to expect.  Neither Florence nor I have spent time in strongly Muslim countries.  It felt strange and exotic and we quickly felt at ease.

The 16th century Dervish monastery, Tekija Bragaj, is built overlooking the largest natural spring in Europe.

The 16th century Dervish monastery, Tekija Bragaj, is built overlooking the largest natural spring in Europe.

In the United States, we have a perception that Muslims do not like us.  We hear words like The Great Satan and infidel attributed to people from nations we call enemies.  This is the insidious tool of media that helps formulate public opinion.  Our tour guide, Selmir, stated it best when he said, ‘The only thing real on television is Animal Planet.’  On our tour of beautiful sites, Selmir told me a marvelous story of how the true Muslim people accept all others.

Overlooking the Neretva River from the fortress tower in the 13th century town of Počitelj.

Overlooking the Neretva River from the fortress tower in the 13th century town of Počitelj.

When Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis Powers led by Hitler’s German forces, the Jews living in Mostar knew their synagogue was going to be destroyed.  To preserve the building the Mostar Jews donated their synagogue to the City of Mostar to be used as a public theater which it remains to this day.  Since World War II the Jews in Mostar have not had their own synagogue.  In recognition of the sacrifice made by the Jews to preserve their holy site, the Muslims decided to build them a new synagogue.  This story is remarkable when you take into account that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are generally poor.*  I found this story all the more extraordinary when I was told that there are just 43 Jews still living in Mostar according to their most recent census.  When was the last time we heard a story of such respect between Muslims and Jews?

The Roman Villa Mogorjelo was built to provide agricultural goods to Narona, a 1st century Roman stronghold.

Villa Mogorjelo was built to provide agricultural goods to Narona, a 1st century Roman stronghold.

Overlooking the City of Mostar is Hum Mountain.  In 2000, the Catholic Diocese of Mostar had a 120 foot tall cross erected overlooking Mostar which is illuminated at night.  While the cross is said to represent the devotion of Christians to their savior and serve as a symbol of peace to the world, it is also seen by some as a symbol of triumphalism in Mostar by the Catholic Church due in part to the destruction inflicted on Mostar by artillery fire from Hum Mountain by pro-Croatian forces.  When I asked Selmir about the cross and what it might mean to non-Catholics in Mostar, he shared an anecdote:

A reporter asked a Muslim grandfather what he thought of the cross overlooking Mostar.  The old man replied, ‘I think it is a big plus (+).’  The reporter asked a Muslim grandmother the same question.  She replied, ‘It is nice, but the moon and stars are still higher.’  (The crescent moon and stars are symbols of Islam.)  The reporter then asked a young Muslim guy what he thought of the cross.  The young fellow replied, ‘There is a nice road leading to the top of the hill.  It is a nice spot for a picnic and a good place to meet Catholic chicks.’

Looking through the mist of Klavice Falls at its highest water level of the year.

Looking through the mist of Klavice Falls at its highest water level of the year.

It is sort of a funny story and it also provides a glimpse into the hearts of the local Muslims.  They are a loving and peaceful people.  They are tolerant of the views of others.  While young people will cross the river that divides Mostar mainly along Muslim and Catholic lines, the older generation will not cross the river. These are the people who are old enough to remember the war which ended less than 20 years ago. These people are also the victims of resentment by those who believed the media propaganda that originated with Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and his culture war against ‘The Turks’, his label for Muslims who have lived in Bosnia for 500 years. 

I asked our well-educated young tour guide in Sarajevo what she foresaw for the future of Bosnia.  She replied, ‘I don’t know.  The future looks too foggy.’

*Note: Unemployment rate: 44.8%, Youth unemployment rate: 57%, Average income: ~$850/month (Source: tradingeconomics.com)

Expat in Croatia

Pozdrav Hrvatska (Hello Croatia)

Overlooking the Old Town of Šibenik and the waterfront

Overlooking the Old Town of Šibenik and the waterfront

One of the most interesting sensations I experience when coming into a new city for the first time is how new and different it looks from any other city I have seen.  My eyes try to take in as much as possible.  Are the streets straight or winding?  Is the town flat or hilly?  Are the buildings interesting to look at or quite plain?  Are there sidewalks, and if so are they wide or narrow?  Where do people shop, eat and stroll?  And perhaps most important, is it clean?  There is so much you can tell about a city based on these initial impressions.  For me, all of these questions lead to the ultimate question, would I want to live here?

St. James Cathedral sits on the largest plaza in the old town.

St. James Cathedral sits on the largest plaza in the old town.

When we first visited Šibenik, Croatia, I saw only the main streets.  It was hardly enough to make an impression.  I spent a whole day on a boat tour to Kornati National Park, a chain of islands twenty miles up the coast from Šibenik.   Florence stayed in town with our group and got the all day city tour.  She loved it so much that when the opportunity to live in Croatia presented itself, Florence proclaimed, ‘Let’s go to Šibenik!’  Since there are few places in Croatia that I would say no to, I said, ‘Okay.’

narrow-passage

Passageways winding through the old town are worn smooth from centuries of use.

There are many stairs leading up the hill of the old city.

There are many stairs leading up the hill of the old city.

Šibenik is different from any place we have lived.  The old city was pieced together over nearly 1,000 years.  What they call streets I would call passageways.  These passages wind and weave in a seemingly random way.  Some of them lead to a small plaza with shops and restaurants.  Others dead end at the steps of someone’s apartment building.  All of the buildings are three or four stories high.  There is no way to spot landmarks except to become familiar with the shops on any given passageway.

At the top of the hill is the largest cemetery in town.

At the top of the hill is the largest cemetery in town.

All the stairways and passages are paved with stones the size of cinder blocks.  They are all worn smooth and shiny from the footsteps of countless thousands of people over hundreds of years.  At first, I feel like a lab rat in a maze trying to figure out where I am and how to get back to my own apartment.  Then, something special happens.  The streets and passages no longer look strange and unfamiliar.  I begin to recognize an intersection, a café and a shop.  Now I know where to go when I need to purchase groceries or a gift. 

We found the ice cream shop in our new home town.

We found the ice cream shop in our new home town.

Šibenik is not a big city.  If I wanted, I could walk from one end of the old town to the other in about ten minutes.  However, I would never do that.  It is too beautiful and interesting.  All the strange new sights I remember from our first day in town now look familiar.  The comfort comes in getting to know someplace new.  I can only describe it by saying it feels good to be home.

 

Discovering Croatia’s Krka National Park

Looking down the Krka River valley

Looking down the Krka River valley

In 1985, 45 square miles of the Krka River basin was proclaimed Krka National Park.  Flowing only 45 miles from its spring-fed source to the Adriatic Sea, the Krka River offers stunning scenery.  Like most of the rivers in Croatia, the Krka is clean and pure enough to drink, which may be why the Romans saw fit to build structures in the area now included in the national park.  Several sites are undergoing archeological study and preservation.

Skradin welcomes luxury yachts to its quiet harbor

Skradin welcomes luxury yachts to its quiet harbor

The coastal entrance to Krka National Park is via Skradin, a picturesque town just upriver from the Dalmatian Coast city of Šibenik.  Skradin is accessible by yacht from the sea.  The locals are known for respecting the anonymity of the rich and famous people who visit their town.  They are proud to drop a few famous names of visitors like Prince Rainier, the Sultan of Brunei, Bill and Melinda Gates, and assorted movie and sports celebrities who come to Skradin to escape the paparazzi and autograph seekers.

The Krka tumbles 200 feet over 17 falls

The Krka tumbles 200 feet over 17 falls

Just upriver from Skradin is one of Croatia’s best known natural wonders, Skradinski Falls, a series of travertine falls formed by calcium deposits.  A series of bridges and footpaths allow for year-round viewing of the falls, the renovated water mills, and the site of one of the world’s first hydroelectric power plants.  Nikola Tesla, the inventor of the AC generator, grew up nearby, and the power plant that provided electricity to the coast cities of Šibenik and Split incorporated his design and began operation only two days after the world’s first hydroelectric plant opened at Niagara Falls in 1895.  A nearby plant still operates as part of Tesla’s legacy.

The Romans based a legion along the Krka R.

The Romans based a legion along the Krka R.

Due to the rising sea level over the past 10,000 years, the water at the base of the Skradinski Falls is a mixture of fresh water and the salt water estuary from the coast.  All the water flowing over the falls is pure and fresh.  This unique environment provides habitat for over 800 species of plants as well as a variety of amphibians, reptiles and fish.  The Krka basin is also important as one of Europe’s foremost spring and autumn bird migration areas.

Opposing fortresses face each other across the Krka River.

Opposing fortresses face each other across the Krka River.

The Krka basin is often referred to as the cradle of Croatian History.  The Krka River served as the dividing line between powerful ruling families in the region during the Middle Ages.  Each family built fortresses along the Krka River, basically to keep an eye on one another.  Wars only broke out when invaders from the Ottoman Empire or Eastern Europe encroached on the territory.  The strength of the ruling families along the Krka allowed for stability and trade in the region. Economic growth gave power and prestige to the ruling families whose descendents remained in power until the 16th century.

The last fortress along the Krka was abandoned 500 years ago.

The last fortress along the Krka was abandoned 500 years ago.

Today, visitors to Krka National Park are treated to the natural beauty of the upper Krka River, the historical treasures of earlier civilizations, and the modern comforts of some of Croatia’s most charming villages and towns along the Dalmatian Coast.  When the weather gets hot there is the inviting clear water of the Krka River and the beaches along the coast.  And when you get hungry you can sample the great food, the local wines and the hospitality that makes people who discover Croatia keep coming back.

Discovering Croatia’s Proud Heritage

Looking down on Zagreb from Mt. Medvednic (Bear Mountain)

Looking down on Zagreb from Mt. Medvednic (Bear Mountain)

If someone were to ask you, “What do you know about Croatia?” your answer would probably be a lot like mine – not much. Today, that perception is changing as we were shown around by professional guide, Hrvoye Kuček, or just ‘Harry’ to us Croatian-challenged types.

Entering Mirogoj Cemetery near central Zagreb

Entering Mirogoj Cemetery near central Zagreb

We first visited the 150 acre Mirogoj Cemetery. What sets this cemetery apart from amazing cemeteries like Recoleta in Buenas Aires, Argentina, is the greenery of gardens, trees and lawns that give the site a park-like setting with over 30,000 gravesites. Harry tells us families will come to Mirogoj Cemetery to walk stroll. November 1st, All Saints Day, is when everyone comes to place flowers or light candles at burial sites for loved ones and national heroes.

One of the most famous Croatian heroes is former NBA star Drazón Petrovic, who died in a tragic auto accident at the peak of his career. He is pictured at his burial site in the uniform of the Croatian National Basketball Team, which he captained.

In a newer section of the cemetery is The Wall of Pain on which are inscribed hundreds of the names of the 16,000 soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the War of Independence in 1991. Not all of the names are known to this day. This is one of the memorials with an eternal flame honoring those who fell.

St. Stephen's Cathedral is undergoing complete restoration.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is undergoing complete restoration.

We visited the main square of Zagreb with its shops and banks lining the perimeter. This is one of the few city squares in predominantly Roman Catholic countries that does not feature a cathedral. One block away is the Cathedral of St. Stephen which has undergone complete restoration. Also within easy walking distance is the open air market featuring a vast array for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fresh breads and pastries. One floor below the street surface are the refrigerated stalls for fresh meats, cheeses, fish, and everything you could want for your kitchen.

We took in two museum tours, the Natural History Museum which sits on one corner of the medieval city of Zagreb, and the Technology Museum featuring the inventions of Croatian inventor, Nikola Tesla, whose contributions include neon and fluorescent lights and the alternating current induction motor upon which all generators and alternators in use today are based.

A warm summer day in Zagreb is perfect for water sports at the Jarun rowing center alongside the Sava River.

A warm summer day in Zagreb is perfect for water sports at the Jarun rowing center alongside the Sava River.

We enjoyed a feast for lunch prepared by our hosts at the family-owned Hotel Puntijar, which we were informed was a typical sit down lunch in Croatia. For the non-vegetarians there was a cheese-based soup starter, grilled pork fillet with bacon, a grilled veal steak in an egg yolk and pine nut coating, and veal sautéed in lemon sauce. Dessert was traditional apple dumplings served with a plum sauce and ground cinnamon.

Our tour took us to the Jarun athletic park which includes a two kilometer long rowing lagoon. Several of us got into kayaks for an invigorating paddling experience and an informal race. I am pleased to say they did not throw the victor in the water to celebrate.

We are in love with the people and the sights of Croatia, and we are just beginning this amazing adventure. I am learning this country offers an amazing quality of life. We look forward to living here one day.