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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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

We Made It Just In Time

We Made It Just In Time

Our latest story was just published by BoomerCafe.com, the top U.S. website for Baby Boomers where we submit a monthly story updating readers at BoomerCafe on our travels.  This month’s story shares our transition from Croatia and getting settled in Spain, an effort still in progress.  Link here for our story and perhaps some other articles you might enjoy as well.

Stay tuned for updates as we move into our new apartment in Torrevieja on February 21st, the day before my birthday.  What a gift!  And after we settle we have much more of Spain to see and to share.  La Vida aquí es marveloso!

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.

Transitioning to Spain

Spain's Royal Family no longer lives in Madrid's Palace.  When not in use for ceremonies, it is open to the public.

Spain’s Royal Family no longer lives in Madrid’s Palace. When not in use for ceremonies, it is open to the public.

We have evolved from our initial goal of living in a different country for awhile to being The 6 Monthers, our current lifestyle of moving to a different country every six months.  Our objective is loaded with challenges as far as observing the tourist and visa laws of the various countries in which we wish to live.  We are in a race against time to obtain dual citizenship with Italy which will solve the Schengen Visa issue throughout most of the European Union. 

Standing on the Plaza de Independencia is the Puerta de Alcalá.

Standing on the Plaza de Independencia is the Puerta de Alcalá.

The hardest part of being a traveler in the manner we have chosen is the transition between countries.  Our travels are best done when we start from a base in the country of our choosing.  From there we take single-day and multi-day trips to surrounding areas to learn what we can about the culture and the beauty of the country.  When it comes time to move, we must pack everything we own into our luggage and cart it with us which is burdensome on multiple levels.  Primarily, it is draining to live out of suitcases for any length of time.

Is it a palace or a cathedral?  No that is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, otherwise known as the Madrid Post Office.

Is it a palace or a cathedral? No, it is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, also known as the Madrid Post Office.

We gave ourselves seventeen days for our latest transition from Croatia to Spain which allowed for stops in Rome, Barcelona and Madrid.  These are three world class cities with great history, food, art and culture.  They are cities I had only learned about in school and through my reading over the years.  For me, seeing them for the first time was a thrill I eagerly anticipated.  We got a tiny stateroom on the overnight Blue Line ferry from Split, Croatia, to Ancona, Italy, then caught the train to Rome.  For the 20 hour crossing from Italy to Barcelona, we also got a stateroom on the Grimaldi Line ferry.  In each case we were grateful to have avoided checking bags and paying the fees we would have incurred at airports.  We even got a little sleep along the way.

An evening on the town with my two favorite women in Spain

An evening out with my two favorite women in Spain

Rome was glorious, no question.  For me, our visit to The Vatican was the greatest highlight.  I will always think of Rome as a must-see place, one that made me say “Wow!” with almost every turn.  Among Barcelona’s most interesting sights is Antoni Gaudí’s architecture, and the highlight for any visitor to Barcelona is without question La Sagrada Familia.  For a number of reasons, Madrid was my favorite stop.  Perhaps it was the reunion with our new friend, Ana, whom we met during our Discover Croatia Tour.  Spending time with friends is always a treat, especially while living in a country far from home.  Madrid is unique and beautiful, and there was way more to see and do than we could fit in during three days.

Sometimes called the 'Superman Building' the Metropolis Insurance Company placed their name on the building when they purchased it.

Referred to by some as the ‘Superman Building’ the Metropolis Insurance Company placed their name on the building when they purchased it.

Overall, I am glad we visited these places in the off-season.  We avoided major crowds in each city as well as the summer days which can be insufferably hot.  That part was good.  I did lose my wallet to a pickpocket on the subway in Rome.  That experience made me much more conscious of my surroundings and much less trusting of people on the street.  And like any crime against a person, I felt violated, which impacted me psychologically.  It took me a few days to almost get over blaming my naiveté and blaming other, less scrupulous people for being assholes. 

This apartment building across from our hotel is typical of the fine architecture throughout the city.

This apartment building across from our hotel is typical of the fine architecture throughout the city.

Ultimately, traveling for over two weeks with daypacks and suitcases is too much.  We need closets and a washing machine and a kitchen of our own so we do not have to eat restaurant food every day.  That does not diminish the wonder and beauty of the places we visited during our transition.  It does, however, diminish our ability to maintain our energy and to fully appreciate what we are seeing.  Such is the learning curve of The 6 Monthers.  We are not on vacation – this is our life.  I believe we will get better at it as we go along.      

All photos: © by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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 Top 10 Best Things About Croatia

The Neretva River Delta grows enough citrus to serve several countries.

The Neretva River Delta grows enough citrus to serve several countries.

Counting down, these items make my list of the ten best things I discovered about Croatia.

10. Fresh fruits and vegetables

There is a great choice of fruits and vegetables during the harvest season.

The fresh markets offer a great choice of fruits and vegetables during the harvest season.

Everything grows fresh in Croatia.  We were fortunate to be living in Croatia during harvest season.  There were melons, pomegranates, figs, plums, grapes and apples.  And there was citrus.  Almost the entire Neretva River Delta is planted with citrus – mandarins, lemons and several varieties of oranges and they are quite affordable.  Other fruits like bananas and tropical fruits are imported.  The variety seems endless and prices are quite good. 

9.   Coffee

Every place we have visited has a coffee bar (or two or three) on every block, or so it seems.  I am not saying that the coffee is as good as what we could purchase at every market in Panama or Costa Rica where it was grown and picked and roasted within walking distance of our house.  But every café, bar and coffee shop in Croatia has an espresso machine, and it is a custom in Croatia to ‘take coffee’ for almost any occasion.

8.   Olive oil and wine

There are countless vineyards and olive tree groves throughout Croatia.

There are countless vineyards and olive tree groves throughout Croatia.

I think everyone in Croatia either has their own olive trees or is related to someone who does.  The same goes for vineyards.  They make a lot of olive oil in Croatia, and they also make a lot of wine.  Production numbers seem small compared to wine growing regions in other parts of the world, but Croatia’s population is only about 4.5 million, and they consume most of what they produce.  However, wine lovers who get a taste of the finer Croatian wines will likely wish to add some bottles to their collections.

7.   Cheese

Farm fresh is not just a saying in Croatia.  Yes, this was my first time milking a cow.

Farm fresh is not just a saying in Croatia. Yes, this was my first time milking a cow.

I confess I love cheese.  And I have come to learn that not every country has great cheeses.  Croatia got it right!  There is probably as much cheese-making tradition in Croatia as there is making olive oil and wine.  Lucky for me!

6.   Bakery breads and other goodies

You should not expect to find a bread aisle in the supermarket.  All breads, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods are made fresh daily in a bakery.  There are in-store bakeries and independent bakery shops on nearly every block in the commercial areas.  Many Croatians still bake their own items if they have time.

5.   Natural beauty

The waters of the Lika River are scenic and pure.

The waters of the Lika River are scenic and pure.

Where do I begin?  The Dalmatian Coast, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Skradinski Falls in Krka National Park, the Neretva River Delta, Lake Vrana, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the natural springs.  Croatia is so diverse that the list of scenic spots seems never ending. 

4.   Clean air

To me there are two key items that define ‘quality of life.’  Being able to breathe clean air is one of those things, and it is not a given everywhere.  It is in Croatia, especially on the Dalmatian Coast with its steady breezes.

3.   Clean water

These springs in Lika County have provided fresh water to the area for two thousand years.

These springs in Lika County have provided fresh water to the area for two thousand years.

This is the second key ‘quality of life’ item, and Croatia has abundant resources of clear, clean water.  Many of their rivers are spring-fed at their sources.  You can dip your cup or water bottle into most streams and expect to get pure water better than the bottled water for sale at the market.  Wherever I travel I compare the water with what I experienced in my youth hiking past creeks and streams in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.  Clean water is not a given everywhere.  It is in Croatia.

2.   History and Culture

The medieval fortress near Samobar reminds of the civilization that existed here long ago.

The medieval fortress near Samobor reminds us of the civilization that existed here long ago.

Croatia may have finally appeared as a country on geography maps in the last twenty years.  However, as a region with a distinct culture, Croatia has a history of its own dating back over 1,500 years.  Many of the traditional foods, dress, music and dances are still common today.  They have their own language, their own art, their great legends and their heroes.  All of these traditions are woven into the fabric of everyday life.  One of the great things about traveling in Croatia is the people are eager to tell their stories and share their culture.

1.   The people

The friends we made in Croatia will be our most lasting memories.

The friends we made in Croatia will be our most treasured memories.

I have said this before and it bears repeating.  The people of Croatia have been among the most welcoming, most hospitable and most caring of any we have met in any country we have visited.  They care how you feel about their country and about them.  They want you to appreciate the beauty, the history and culture, the food, the wine, and their hospitality.  And I do!

One more thing, the women in Croatia are quite style-conscious.  In the cities and towns women seldom go out in public without putting on makeup and nice clothes.  At first I thought there was simply a high percentage of striking-looking women.  Then I realized that women of all ages take great care to look their best in public.  The men, not so much.  They may be ruggedly handsome, but they do not dress up unless they are hoping to impress the women.  That however, is a whole new story.

 

Time to Split, Croatia

A view of Split, Croatia's harbor and the Old City

A view of Split, Croatia’s harbor and the Old City

Diocletian, Emperor of Rome 284-305 AD, lived in this palace until he died in 311.  He addressed his subjects from this balcony.

Diocletian, Emperor of Rome 284-305 AD, lived in this palace until he died in 311 AD. He addressed his subjects from this balcony.

Split, the second largest city on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, is our point of departure by ferry to Italy later this week.  In English ‘split’ means to leave.  Although we are less than eager to leave Croatia because of the bonds of friendship we have forged here, as The 6 Monthers we must answer the call to make another country our home for the next six months.  The excitement of moving someplace new is building within us as we complete our second year of living in a new country every six months.* 

Outside The Golden Gate of Diocletian's Palace stands this statue of medieval bishop, Gregory of Nin by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia's most famous artist.

Outside The Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace stands this statue of medieval bishop, Gregory of Nin by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s most famous artist.

We have twenty days between our departure from Croatia and our scheduled arrival in Alicante, Spain.  Thus, we will use surface transportation to travel first to Italy.  I have seen Naples, Florence, Pisa, and Sicily, but I have not yet visited Rome.  Florence informs me one needs at least a week to see and appreciate Rome.  So we will do just that.  We will then take another ferry, which is more of a cruise ship, to Barcelona and divide our remaining time between Barcelona and Madrid.  In each city we plan to reunite with Spanish friends we have made during our travels.  How great is that, to have locals help us discover the wonders of their home country!

Rubbing the toe of Gregory of Nin's statue is supposed to bring good luck.

Rubbing the toe of Gregory of Nin’s statue is supposed to bring good luck.

Why Spain?  One reason is that Spanish is my only other language.  In fact, after living in Latin America for over a year I developed this habit.  Whenever someone speaks to me in a foreign language, I automatically answer in Spanish.  It seems I now have the ability to confuse others in two languages.  At least I understand the language of laughter.  Since I have learned a few words in Croatian, my pronunciation has also elicited some laughs and smiles.  Fortunately, most Croatians speak English, and many quite fluently.

Ivan Meštrović lived in what is now a museum a few block's from Split's harbor.

Ivan Meštrović lived in what is now a museum a few block’s from Split’s harbor.

If I were to attend school in Spain, my Spanish might be good enough to get me into the third grade, which is to say I have plenty of room for improvement, and I look forward to that.  The history of Spain also intrigues me.  The Iberian Peninsula played a strategic role in the expansion and development of modern civilization, and Spain ultimately served as the base of one of history’s most dominant and influential empires. 

Republic Square near Diocletian's Palace bears striking resemblance to St. Mark's Square in Venice.  Our guide says Croatia's painted it pink as a poke at the Venetians, who once ruled here.

Republic Square near Diocletian’s Palace bears striking resemblance to St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Our guide says Croatian’s painted it pink as a poke at the Venetians, who once ruled here.

Now we get to learn about this beautiful land and culture firsthand.  So many names of Spanish cities evoke thoughts of something exotic and unique – Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Valencia (the only Spanish city I have visited).  I want to visit them all and more:  Basque Country, El Camino de Santiago, and of course, the Spanish Riviera which we plan to call home for the next six months.  I expect to have many stories to share from Spain. 

If you have traveled to Spain, what was your finest memory?  If you have not visited Spain, what would you most want to see?  I would love for you to share your thoughts. 

*Note:  We created a list of countries in which we would like to live that spans the next ten years.  Link here for our list and more about The 6 Monthers.  Do you think we overlooked a country?  Tell us which country and why.  We are open to suggestions.

Reflections on Croatia

The medieval town of Šibenik has been our home for the past few months.

The medieval town of Šibenik has been our home for the past few months.

We made a good choice to make the medieval town of Šibenik our home for our time in Croatia.  I cannot describe the feeling of living in a town where the buildings date back to the 15th century and the history of the town dates back to Roman times.  I love the stone-paved streets just wide enough to let donkey carts pass through, which is how they were designed 500 years ago.  I love our apartment which is divided off of what was once the residence of the Bishop of Šibenik.  This we know because of his statue on the wall as we enter the courtyard outside our door.

The weather is nice most of the time.

The weather is nice most of the time.

I love the weather here on the Dalmatian Coast.  There have been December days where we walked along the seawall without need of a jacket as the sun shone brightly on us.  I never tire of the view of the bay and the surrounding hills as we enjoy taking coffee at any time of day, just like the Croatians.  We have been taken through the surrounding countryside by our Croatian friends to experience amazing sights like the medieval village of Primosten, the vineyards of prized babić (BOB ich) grapes grown almost exclusively in this region, and the viewpoint overlooking Lake Vrana, the largest lake in Croatia.  There is so much history here that it takes more than one visit to take it all in.

Good food is the standard fare in Croatia.

Good food is the standard fare in Croatia.

I have experienced so much good food and drink during our stay.  The Croatian people live close to the land.  If someone does not live on a farm, they are closely related to someone who does.  Everyone has home-pressed olive oil from the olives grown on their land or the land of their families.  Everyone has homemade wine as well as rakija, the distilled beverage made from freshly pressed grapes.  Everyone eats fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally.  Everyone gets fresh meats from the local farms and fresh seafood from the coastal waters.  I need only walk a few blocks to the open market whenever I wish to restock our kitchen.  And now my favorite baker and produce vendor greet me by name when I show up.

We love the friends we made in Croatia.

We love the friends we made in Croatia.

The best part of Croatia, of course, is the people.  To say they are warm and welcoming would be an understatement.  One of our acquaintances told me Croatians are sometimes better hosts to visitors than they are to one another.  I do not know to what extent that may be true.  All I know is that we have been treated incredibly well.  Our landlady, Nina, has been more than a business contact.  She has been our most reliable friend.  She took Florence to her doctor when Florence was ill.  She used her beautician skills to give me a haircut and to give Florence a hairstyling for our anniversary. 

Biljana and Tina toured us off the beaten path to reveal the Croatia we would not have seen otherwise.

Biljana and Tina toured us off the beaten path to reveal the Croatia we would not have seen otherwise.

Our friends, Tina Vickov and Biljana Lambasa*, took pride in showing us local hidden treasures that are off the beaten tourist paths.  We have seen enough of the islands, lakes, waterfalls, fortresses, and historic landmarks that some of the local people say we now know more about Croatia than do many Croatians.  All I know is we have come to appreciate and love Croatia because the people we have met during our stay have not only opened doors for us.  They have also opened their hearts to us.  We know whenever our path should bring us back to Croatia that they will welcome us back like family. 

Overlooking Lake Vrana, Croatia's largest lake

Overlooking Lake Vrana, Croatia’s largest lake, with the Dalmatian Coast and islands in the distance

Thanks to the friendships that have been forged, Croatia will always occupy a special place in our hearts.

*Note: For information about lodging and tours, here are links for
Tina Vickov and Biljana Lambasa.

Cruising the Hidden Waterways of Croatia

The inland waterways near our hometown of Šibenik are scenic and peaceful, at least in the off-season.

The inland waterways near our hometown of Šibenik are scenic and peaceful, at least in the off-season.

Today was a day of discovery for me.  Nothing was disclosed ahead of time about where this excursion would be going.  My friends have been plotting to surprise me with an outing hosted by diving boat skipper, Emil Lemac.  It was finally revealed that our boat trip was to take us into the fjord-like waters near the mouth of the Krka River.  What did not come as a surprise was that I was offered a shot of rakija as we started off. 

Emil welcomes us aboard his comfortable powerboat.

Emil welcomes us aboard his comfortable powerboat.

Emil was our skipper back in September for our island boat excursion to Kornati National Park.  Summer is when he takes scuba divers to the islands for amazing underwater exploration.  Winter, when there is not a commercial diving job, is when Emil and his brother maintain an oyster and mussel farm they just seeded this year. 

Some villages hug the hillsides near the shoreline

Some villages hug the hillsides near the shoreline

There are only a few villages clinging to these sheltered shores.  The area remains quiet and unspoiled, at least at this time of year.  Emil informs me that as many as 800 boats per day cruise in and out of these inland waterways during the summer months including fancy yachts.  The townspeople of Skradin seem unduly impressed by the rich and famous celebrities that vacation there, and that, of course, gives the town its appeal.  Famous people can escape their busy lives here with some degree of anonymity.

The water is like glass as we enter the Gudića estuary.

The water is like glass as we enter the Gudića estuary.

Our cruise takes us to a quiet estuary at the mouth of the Gudića (GOO dee sha) River.  No Entry signs are posted in Croatian and English along the shore.  I am told the area is a bird sanctuary.  I can see by the reeds crowding the shore that this is an ideal nesting area for migratory waterfowl. 

A swan swims by to see if we have any food to give away. (We don't.)

A swan checks us out while we stop for lunch.

This tranquil spot was our lunch stop.  Emil and his friend, Boris, readied fresh fish for the frying pan.  I helped make a green salad.  A fresh loaf of bread and a bottle of wine appeared and we feasted while basking in sunshine and listening to pop music playing softly on Emil’s onboard sound system. 

Standing at the mouth of the bat cave

Standing at the mouth of the bat cave

On the return trip Emil led me up a hillside scramble to a bat cave he knew about.  It is not visible from the water below, so not many people visit this cave.  There were plentiful signs of bats which Emil informed me were numbered in the hundreds and were sleeping somewhere another 200 yards deeper into the cave.  There were also signs of wild boar which are common in this habitat.

The surrounding countryside is beautiful.

The surrounding countryside is beautiful.

As we headed back to the dock, we meet up with an interesting older gentleman named Zivko.  He rents apartments in his modern building near the shoreline.  He has created sculptures in his garden which symbolize our galaxy and Earth’s fragile place within it.  His site serves as a message to all who visit that we are stewards of this beautiful place, and he warns us we must all tread lightly to keep from destroying the planet for future generations.  Having just spent the day in the garden-like setting of this stunning landscape, I also hope this place retains its unspoiled beauty for all the generations of visitors who may pass this way.

 

Holiday Shopping in Croatia – What’s The Hurry?

 

There is always a nearby coffee bar.  Radoslav chats with a friend where we had coffee together.

There is always a nearby coffee bar. Radoslav chats with a friend where we had coffee together.

Each week Florence and I stroll to the local market to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.  A vendor named Radoslav has noticed us shopping every week, so one day he asks us, “Do you live here?”  We tell him, “Yes, we live here in Šibenik.”  Florence gives him our business card with our photos and the caption, The 6 Monthers, which we explain means we move to a different country every six months. 

Rado and his wife at their fresh produce stand

Rado and his wife at their fresh produce stand

That wins us a big smile.  However, he is curious.  He seems surprised like so many people when we tell them Šibenik is currently our home.  Šibenik is not as well known as Split and Dubrovnik, the big cities on the Dalmatian Coast, and people are always curious why we chose to live here.  The people are so proud of their city that it warms their hearts to learn someone from the United States would choose Šibenik in which to live.

Last week, Rado as we call him, invited us to join him for coffee so we could sit and visit the next time we come to the market.  His wife tended to their vegetable booth while Florence and I accompanied Rado to a nearby coffee bar.  There is always a nearby coffee bar.  Rado had not practiced his English for a long time.  Because his English is so much better than my Croatian, we managed to understand one another. 

The variety is amazing at the open market.

The variety is amazing at the open market.

He told us about his family farm 10 miles up the coast.  He told us he gets up every morning except Sundays at 4:00 a.m. to drive his farm fresh vegetables to our market.  He beams with pride when he tells us he has two sons and five grandchildren.  We learned his farm has 1,200 vines for growing grapes and enough olive trees to produce about 70 liters of olive oil for his family and the families of his four siblings.  His grapes are for selling at the market except for enough to make a personal store of white wine to serve with dinner.  When I asked if he also made rakija (ROCK ee ya), the popular Croatian brandy he said, “Of course!  You come back tomorrow and I will give you some.”  These Croatians – they are always so generous!

Christmas decorations going up around the town will be lit up ten days before Christmas.

Christmas decorations going up around the town will be lit up ten days before Christmas.

Rado used to work at a produce distribution center in the capital city of Zagreb.  He lost that job last summer when the big retailers came in with their own distribution system.  It is challenging enough to find good paying work in Croatia.  Big corporations have pushed out the little guys which makes it harder.  I asked why we do not see more young people at the market.  He said, “Young people go to the supermarkets to shop so they can charge everything on their debit or credit cards.  They do not have enough cash.”

Decorations are up at Šibenik City Hall.

Decorations are up at Šibenik City Hall.

That tells us something about Croatia.  There is not enough work for the young people.  About 4.5 million citizens remain in Croatia while over a million have left their country to find work in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, and another million Croatians have moved wherever there are jobs like Canada, United States, Chile, New Zealand and Australia.  Having found better lives elsewhere, these Croatians are not coming back.  That is Croatia’s loss and the other countries’ gain because Croatians are not only wonderful people, but also hardworking. 

One thing I have learned from our time in Croatia is how to enjoy living at a comfortable pace.  We made time to enjoy coffee with a friend.  We sipped instead of gulped.  We relaxed without looking at the clock.  We made a memory out of a routine shopping trip, a timely reminder this holiday season that the little things are often the greatest gifts. 

 

The Šibenik Regatta

Three dozen sailboats moored along the seawall waiting for the start of the 14th Annual Šibenik Regatta.

Three dozen sailboats moored along the seawall waiting for the start of the 14th Annual Šibenik Regatta.

Saturday morning arrived and we met Nina and her husband, Marjan, along the seawall about a block from our apartment.  Marjan’s friends met up with us and designated me as the fourth crewmember on their sailboat.  I had done little to prepare for the day because the whole episode was put together as I was going to bed the night before.  And that was okay with me because sometimes the most interesting experiences are those that are least planned and most unexpected.

St. Nicholas walked among the crowd handing out candy to children.

St. Nicholas walked among the crowd handing out candy to children.

Florence , who is not a big boating fan and has no prior sailing experience, opted to join Nina on the tourist boat that the City of Šibenik provided for family members of regatta teams as well as dignitaries and special guests.  She waved at us from the observation deck as we lined up on the course for the starting gun. 

Thirty-five boats hit the starting line as the clock counts down to zero.

Thirty-five boats hit the starting line as the clock counts down to zero.

Let me share an observation I have made about sailing.  There is not a lot to do on a sailboat during a race.  The skipper picks your course and you stick with it.  That does not mean you do not need to pay attention because wind direction changes and tacking require quick reflexes and teamwork to change course efficiently in a race without losing boat speed.  I would guess about ninety percent of the time is spent sitting and just watching things which makes for long periods of stillness punctuated by brief moments of pandemonium.

The waterfront of the beautiful medieval town of Šibenik, our Croatian hometown.

The waterfront of the beautiful medieval town of Šibenik, our Croatian hometown.

Some people would say the still times make sailing boring.  Although I would not take issue with that statement, I would add that boredom is a condition that is undervalued and underappreciated.  After working for forty plus years, I used to long for the days when I could regale myself in sustained periods of boredom.  You may, if you wish, think of me as an ‘aficionado of boredom’.  Thus, I had no difficulty adapting to my day aboard the Champagne, our regatta entry.

Mike and Captain Vlado and our sailboat regatta entry, Champagne.

Mike and Captain Vlado and our sailboat regatta entry, Champagne.

During the longer legs of the course there was time for a beer or two and there were prosciutto and cheese sandwiches for when we got hungry.  We also found a couple of things worthy of a toast which called for shots of scotch all around.  Let’s see – we toasted the sunshine because it was a beautiful day.  We toasted each other, and we toasted the end of the race.  I think we came in third in our class, but I cannot say for sure because I was pretty much toasted by then.  What a great day.  Here’s to you, Šibenik!

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.