On Sunday, September 20th Julie and Roc continued their 2015 European Adventure by flying from Prague in the Czech Republic to London’s Heathrow Airport. There we were met by our good Shell friend, Guy, who drove 90 minutes from Southeast England to pick us up and take us to he and Sue’s house, a converted “double Oast” named “Lymden Oast” located near the town of Stonegate! Oast buildings were a type of kiln built during in the 19th century to dry hops. After we unpacked in our bedroom on the Oast’s second floor, Sue made us an excellent English traditional Sunday dinner of leg of lamb, potatoes, mashed carrots, and string beans, followed with drinks by the fireplace in their sitting room.
On Monday, we drove a short distance to the town of Tonbridge Wells to explore town and have lunch. We walked through the village, looking at an old church where Princess Elizabeth once attended, and window shopping the stores that that line the old town built when the town hosted summer visitors for the curative waters that might cure their ills. Now, the town is home to a huge pedestrian street of shops, in addition to an indoor mall with a Marks & Spencer’s store. The day was cool and overcast and so we had lunch indoor. As we left town to return to the Oast, typical English rains began to fall. That evening, we went to a local pub, “The Bull” for drinks and a dinner of fish and chips, ribs and lamb burgers. The evening was followed-up back in the sitting room, in front of a fire, playing a card game called “Frustration”.
Tuesday was a rainy, cool day, and we traveled by car to visit Sue’s mother, Jo, in the town of Bromley for afternoon tea and biscuits. We then returned to the Oast in time for dinner with Guy’s mother, Shirley. That evening we all had a lovely time catching up since we had last met years before.
On Wednesday, September 23rd, we took the train from the nearby town of Wadhurst, into London, where we caught the “Tube” to travel to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium, soon to be the home of the West Ham Football Team.
This stadium would host tomorrow’s World Cup Rugby Match for which we had tickets, and we used this preview to walk around the area and to tour the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the tallest sculpture in England. Located at the top is a beautiful observation deck and a series of inverted mirrors. To get back down, we walked the series of 450 steps and connecting ramps that wrap around the sculpture.
We then had lunch at a sports pub, “The Football Club” located in the adjoining shopping mall, “West End.” We felt completely at home in our rugby jerseys, watching the many soccer games that surrounded us on television. After returning to London on the “Tube”, we exited at the Waterloo Station and began a walking tour to the London Eye. From the giant wheel, we could see much of downtown London. After the 30-minute ride on the “Eye” we walked across the Thames to Big Ben and Parliament, and then on to Westminster Abbey, King James’ Garden, and Buckingham Palace.
We then strolled through the park to Piccadilly Circus for shopping and dinner. After a light dinner, we made our way through Leister Square to Charring Cross where we caught the train back to Stonegate for Rugby Match watching on television.
Thursday morning, we relaxed with Sue & Guy. Julie went out to the edge of the yard and picked blackberries. Later that day, Roc and Julie retraced yesterday’s route taking the train and tube to the QEII Olympic Stadium to attend the RWC Match of New Zealand vs. Namibia. We arrived early enough to enjoy the Fan Zone, including free Coca Cola, signs and flags for everyone. All of the fans were in full rugby attire and there was a big screen showing rugby matches, with volunteers making sure everyone was having a good time. There was lots of food and drinks, and even champagne available. We entered the stands early and people watched, listened to an Irish band and watched the teams’ warm-up. It was a predominantly a New Zealand crowd, but there was lots of cheering for the Namibian team. A large group of fans from France were behind us and there were locals to each side. New Zealand scored in first five minutes and the game was on. Namibia eventually had 2 field goals and one try. But, by the end of the game, New Zealand was out front: 58-14. It was a fun game! The stadium personnel funneled everyone out one direction and we easily caught the tube and then the train arriving back at the Oast at midnight.
Friday, September 25th was Sue’s birthday, and after breakfast, Julie and Roc took a long walk along the local footpaths through the valleys and farmers’-fields to the “The Bull” Pub at Three Leg Cross in Ticehurst for beer and cider. Later that day, we all caught the train into London and walked about Coventry Garden for shoppers, stopping at SoHo for a drink. We then headed to “The Archer” for a celebration of Guy and Sue’s daughter, Nicola, and her fiancé, David’s, engagement. After a bit of partying, we were off to visit nearby Chinatown, for a birthday dinner of duck, scallops, beef and chicken. Eventually, we took the train home, arriving back at 11:30pm.
We began Saturday leisurely with a light breakfast. That day, we were all meeting for lunch at “The Bell”, including Nicola and David, some of their bridal party, as well as Guy and Sue’s younger children, James and Frankie. That afternoon, Julie and Roc walked some of the footpaths of Lake Bewl, stopping for a drink on the return at The Bull” before walking back to the Oast. That night, we were on our own, as the Kent Family had tickets for the England-Wales Rugby Match in Twickingham – a match disappointedly lost by England. Julie and Roc watched on television and relaxed in front of the cozy fire.
Sunday, we spent time doing laundry and getting ready for our Rugby Match that night – Ireland vs. Romania. Tonight Guy and Sue were our guests, and it so happens that the rest of their family was going, as well, since David’s family is from Ireland. This game was in Wembley Stadium on the opposite side of London from QEII Olympic Stadium that we had traveled to before. We drove to the Wadhurst train station where we caught transport to the game. The crowd was pro-Ireland, and the large Wembley Stadium allowed it to be filled to the max, setting a new RWC record of over 89,000 fans! Romania played well, but they were no match for the strong Irish Team which won handily. Again, when the match ended, we made our way back home for another late night.
Monday, we packed and then took the final occasion to take a longer walk around Lake Bewl. The walk started at the Lake’s Marina, and we made our way across the damn and through the meadows until we exited near the town of Ticehurst and made our way back to “The Bell”, where we had fish and chips for lunch. That night, we watched rugby, played cards and went to bed early to be ready for our trip the next day.
On Tuesday, September 29th, we rose early and Guy drove us the 2-hours back to Heathrow airport for our flight back to the USA. We so enjoyed our time spent with good friends in England and in attending the Rugby World Cup Matches. However, it had been 6-weeks since we had left the USA, and it felt good to finally be returning home to reconnect with friends and family.
After our 3-week sailing adventure along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, we were set to begin the “overland” portion of our adventure. The 6 of us, (Julie and Roc, Nikki and Peter and Terry and Elaine), caught a bus from Split to Zagreb, Croatia. The trains do not move efficiently between these two cities, and so the “Express Bus” is a much better option. The bus was large and modern with coffee service aboard and a stop every two hours, (a 6-hour trip.) Along the way, we passed Roman aqueducts while traveling the “A1” – a very modern highway toll-road and lots of tunnels. Our driver also took the occasion to stop along the way to pick up his family members and gather his lunch bag from relatives. When we arrived at the bus terminal in Zagreb, we took a taxi into the center of Zagreb, and then had a short walk along a pedestrian-only area to our hotel – The Hotel Dubrovnik. This hotel was built in 1929 and our room was in the old, original part of hotel. We were located on the city’s Jelevic square – the center of town – and within easy walking distance to most major attractions of town. On the square, we sat outside and had dinner while watching the crowd that had gathered to celebrate Croatia’s win in Euro-Championship Basketball Tournament!
Sunday began with a huge breakfast buffet at the hotel and was following with a walking tour of town, taking in: the old Cathedral, the local vegetables market, the famous Stone Gate, and St. Marks Church with its “National” tiled roof.
Roc climbed the ancient Fire Tower for a panoramic view of the “old town”. We then boarded a Funicular to travel back to town center when a cannon went off right above our heads, scaring us to death! It turns out that every Sunday at noon the cannon fires and we just happen to catch it while only yards away! We then made our way to the City’s Observation Deck and Restaurant where we had lunch and drinks while watching the changing of the guard in the city square from above. That afternoon, we took a long, walking U-shaped tour of the city’s parks, museums, and botanical gardens, ending up at the train station in front of a large set of fountains and museum. It was a beautiful day, and people were relaxing on the grass, reading books and soaking up the sun. On the way back to the hotel we came across a local food fair and enjoyed BBQ spareribs and local music. We returned to the hotel, went for a dinner of “volcano” pizza on the square and then met up in the Observation Deck for viewing the city’s lights at night. The day was polished-off with nightcaps in the hotel bar while meeting sports fans from the country of Georgia who were there watching Euro-Basketball, but were excited to talk about the upcoming IRB Rugby World Cup which we would be attending later this month.
On September 7th, the 6 of us flew from Zagreb to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines. Although it was only a 2-hour flight, we received drinks, a nice sandwich, salad and chocolate mousse. Upon exiting the airport, our preordered limo met us at the airport and we headed into the city old town to the Skallion Hotel. We checked in and then headed for a walk, exploring Little Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the main Hagia Sophia and its associated obelisk and gardens. We then walked to a little restaurant located on a nearby rooftop (for the view of the city) for dinner of kabobs before wandering to a local Greek-Turkish restaurant for evening drinks and deserts.
Tuesday was spent “walking the city” – starting in the morning, we took the local tram to the Karakoy district across “the Golden Horn” in search of the world’s best baklava at a restaurant named “Karakoy Gulluoglu”. The historic restaurant was 3 blocks behind the tram stop and it took us a while to find it, only succeeding after asking many locals for directions. We had seen a story on this establishment on the travel channel and decided to go and have a taste for ourselves. While there, we had 5 different kinds of baklava with a Turkish tea for 15 lire ($5), and it was all fantastic! Next we climbed a nearby narrow street up the hill to Galata Tower, where we rode an elevator and climbed to the observation deck around the top. From there, you could see the never-ending city stretching to the horizon. Next we took the tram back to the Sultanahmet, (mosque, palaces and obelisks), walking among the structures hoping to get into Topkapi Palace. However, it was “closed” on Tuesdays. We then headed for the Grand Bazaar, finding a Starbucks along the way, (and acquiring the “souvenir mug”). We walked throughout the Grand Bazaar, finding everything and anything, and purchasing some spoon and bowls as gifts. Outside of the bazaar, we stopped for lunch – a kebab wrap and a fresh-squeezed juice drink. Then, we wandered on to Istanbul University, – a treed and spacious campus surrounding the stunning tower Beyaal. It was also originally used as a city fire lookout, but now it is covered with cell and satellite structures, and used for traffic and weather advisories. Nearby, we visited a huge mosque at the top of the hill (the view was great) and saw Suleimon the Magnificent’s tomb. Back at the hotel, Peter and Roc went in search of bus tickets to get us to Varna, Bulgaria later in the week – an adventure that took them miles around town to find a Travel Agent! Dinner that night was a group affair at the local Greek-Turkish restaurant that we had drinks at the night before. We ordered “The Palace” – a large, mixed kebab platter that arrived with a lit candles located in each corner. The proprietor insisted it wouldn’t be enough, but it was plenty for the 6 of us, and it was delicious.
On September 9th, we arranged an all-day tour of Istanbul through the hotel. It started by on a bus collecting other adventurous people from their hotels, and then making our way to a waiting boat on “the Golden Horn.” We boarded the boat, and began a guided tour of “the Golden Horn” region before passing under the local bridges and into the Bosphorus Sea. We then traveled east along the European side of the Bosphorus, first seeing the old navy yard, several old palaces converted to modern hotels, and the Rumeli Fortress at the foot of the William the Conqueror Bridge. This is the narrowest point between the two continents at 624 meters. We turned around and then traveled the Asian Side of the Bosphorus, seeing homes that cost millions of Euros. Returning to the port, the tour continued with a short bus ride to Pierre Lottie Hill for a view of the city, followed by heading down the hill for a short cable car ride. Next, it was on to see a short, commercial, fashion show for leather jackets (Roc modeled!) and then on to lunch. Our tour lunch was a traditional meal of bread, lentil soup, salad, and mixed kebabs, with a sweet baklava for dessert. Our tour continued with a trip to the Dolmabahce Palace, once the home of Turkey’s last ruling Sultan, prior to his exile. It was built over a period of 13 years, and has the largest reception hall in the world! It is now a fully-restored museum with its original floors, draperies, furniture and glass chandelier from Britain and France. There was even a clock tower and Aviary on the grounds, along with Turkish cannons that were once the largest in the world. Our tour then continued by crossing the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul, and up to the top of Asian Hill for drinks and an overlook of the city. To get there we traveled over the largest Bosphorus Bridge – standing at 64 meters over the water and 1500 meters long (7th largest suspension bridge in the world!) Pedestrians are only allowed on the bridge a single day each year. Our tour ended with a ride back to the hotel for drinks and packing, before getting a quick carry-out from the local Burger King, which we ate while drinking wine in Elaine’s hotel room.
On September 10th, Peter and Nikki and Julie and Roc checked out of the hotel early to transport to the city’s bus station. Terry and Elaine would be flying out later to Budapest. Upon checking out, the Hotel Skallion gave us a nice box of candies as a “thank you” gift. The taxi took us to another part of town where the bus station was designed very much like an airport. We found our Gate (122) at Terminal 2, and waited for our Metro Busline bus to Bulgaria to arrive. While there, we watched a very orderly process of buses loading and unload, including an extended family who apparently unloaded their entire household from the bus luggage, (including dishes, clothing, and sleeping mattresses), which they proceeded to set in the middle of the road. Once we boarded the bus, the attendant collected all of our passports and tickets, later returning them to us after they had been entered on a ledger. Shortly into our 9-hour trip, we were serves a mid-morning snack of hot chocolate and raisin cake. After another hour and a half of travel, we exited the suburbs of Istanbul, and countryside finally became pastoral, dotted with crops of grains and vegetables. After a lunch and bathroom stop, we traveled a few more hours to the coast of the Black Sea where we finally arrived at the downtown bus station in Varna, Bulgaria – a popular Eastern European resort town that caters to Russian tourists looking for an inexpensive holiday. We caught a taxi to our hotel, The Panorama, located across the street from the beach at the Black Sea. After dropping our bags and admiring the view of the coast from our windows, we explored the local area for a grocery and pharmacy. With “shopping” take care of, we walked to the end of the local pier into the Black Sea and ate at restaurant that was built into an old, converted, grounded Galleon.
The next morning, we decided to walk-tour this historic town of Varna. In the center of “old town”, we strolled through open markets and Russian Orthodox Churches, and ended up at the region’s Archeological Museum, where 5,000 years of the city’s history were chronicled. We then made our way to the “Sea Garden” – a scenic vista park along the coast of the Black Sea with flowers, a zoo, an amusement park, monuments and lovely, tree-covered walks. Finally, we ended up at a public beach where Peter and Rocky took the occasion to take a swim in the Black Sea. After drying off, the group collected at a local beach bar for drinks, before returning to the hotel to prepare for dinner on a beach restaurant.
The next day, we checked out of our hotel and walked to the nearby train station for our trip to Bucharest, Romania – a 9-hour trip with beautiful scenery and interesting activities along the way. Crossing between the two countries was an exercise in transferring train engines and cars at the border and completing immigration aboard the train. The Dining Car was part of our train, but it was empty and unmanned making the decision to take lunch along with us a wise choice. Upon arriving in Bucharest, we walked to our nearby hotel and then began a late evening a search for dinner. After walking the wrong direction for a bit, we finally found a very nice Italian restaurant about two miles from our hotel.
Sunday, September 13th was Roc’s birthday! We celebrated by walking to Old Town Bucharest and taking in the views of the remnants and ongoing restoration of the destruction remaining from World War 2 bombings. In spite of the work, the streets were lined with shops, cafes, street musicians and many tourists looking for bargains and exploring the historic sites. We ate lunch at a Greek Gyro shop and then walked to south of town to visit the Eternal Flame, National War Memorial and beautiful city parks. We even ran across the Romanian Rugby Federation Headquarters where preparations were just completed for the upcoming Rugby World Cup. We would be watching their team play against New Zealand in a few weeks in London. Later, we returned to Old Town and had celebrated Roc’s birthday with dinner at a traditional Romanian restaurant.
Monday’s weather was beautiful, and we took the occasion to walk north to city’s Arch de Triumph at Herastrau Park, which was beautifully landscaped with flowers and swans and lakes. We then returned to de Gaulle Piata for lunch – a piata that had been renamed for Hitler and Lenin during past occupations. After lunch, Roc and Julie walked through Park Kiseleff to Victory Square, and then onto Ion Voicu Park – a pretty little square surrounded by old mansions and populated with children playing.
Tuesday morning, we checked out and walked back to the train station for an early train to Budapest, Hungary. At the train station, we were the first people into McDonalds for breakfast when they opened at 4:30am. We then picked-up some KFC chicken strips to-go for lunch aboard the train. This trip was to be about 13 hours long, and we were a little worried about the growing Syrian Refugee crisis ongoing in the Region. During the long trip, the 4 of us played cards, ate food, and drank wine. This train was an “Express” and so there were only a few stops and one delay at the border, where the engine was again changed. We finally arrived at 7:00pm, squeezed into a taxi, and went for a ride to Buda side of Budapest to check-in at the Burg Hotel. This was an elegant little hotel, overlooking the Cathedral and the Fisherman’s Bastion. After unpacking, we walked 2 blocks down the street for a traditional Hungarian dinner of boar ravioli, chicken paprikash and cucumber salad.
Wednesday would be spent sightseeing in Budapest – a city that we have been to before, and one of our favorites. After a huge, buffet breakfast at the hotel, we met up with Peter and Nikki and walked to the Fisherman’s Bastion, down and around the Castle and to Government Offices for Peter to pick-up his new Hungarian passport. We then shortcut back through the tunnel under the Castle, where we crossed the Danube River on the famous Chain Bridge into Pest. Once there, we strolled through the pedestrian shopping area, stopping for drinks and shopping. Later that evening, we had dinner of traditional Hungarian Goulash, back on the Buda side of the river, in a local restaurant only a block from our hotel.
Thursday, September 17th was time to move on again to the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. In taking the train from Bucharest to Prague, one had to pass through Budapest anyways, so it was an opportunity to be taken advantage of. This train trip was a bit different, as in addition to several planned stops along the way, there were two unplanned stops for technical problems. Tickets were checked not only at every border crossing, but at every stop! In addition, police swept the train at each crossing, checking passports and identification in response to the Syrian Refugee crisis. The trip required us to cross first into Slovakia then into the Czech Republic. When we arrived, we left the train station and walked uphill to the hotel, only to find that we had been “bumped” from our reservations, and moved to a sister hotel around the corner. We were apologized to and told that the reason was that the local soccer team, AC Sparta, had a game in town and their hotels was fully booked. After settling in, we walked into the center of town for a dinner of pork ribs and goulash.
The next day, we explored Prague by walking first to Old town and then across the Charles Bridge to explore the Cathedral, Palaces and Castle on the other side. We sampled the street food and local wines and beers. We ended the day with dinner in an old, rustic pub with kolbasz (a type of sausage) and rabbit legs.
On Saturday, we walked through Old Town to finish our shopping and then stopped at a little island beneath the Charles Bridge where Nikki and Peter put a lock to demonstrate their love. We then decided to hike up to the old city wall and observatory at top of the hill. The view from there was beautiful, but we were disappointed that no one can walk on the top of old wall. So, we had a drink before trekking back down the hill and back to island for a traditional Czech meal of goulash, cheese board, pasta, and chicken escalloped with sauerkraut. After lunch we went in search of the local football jerseys for AC Sparta, finally finding them in the local Nike Store. After picking up gifts and jerseys, we walked to the Dancing Towers for a drink on the rooftop and to watch the sunset. Then, we went to dinner at a local patio waterfront restaurant, complete with heaters and blankets for the cooling evening.
Sunday, September 20th would be our last breakfast together with Peter & Nikki, before we headed to the airport for our flight to London. Our trip of Eastern Europe was over and took us on boats, planes, buses and trains as we got a chance to experience people and cultures that we had long wanted to do. But now, it was time to switch gears, and to get ready to experience the 2015 IRB Rugby World Cup with friends in London.
Our 2015 adventure began with leaving Washington, D.C. after celebrating Julie’s 39th birthday for the 22nd time with our sons, their wives and our two grandchildren. We flew Delta to London-Heathrow, where we stayed at the Hilton for the night ready to fly British Air to Split, Croatia early on Wednesday, the next morning. Once in Split, we took a short taxi ride to Trogir Marina – a well-positioned boutique marina located on an island between an industrial port and an “old-town” marine trading village. We met up with our close friends and traveling companions, Peter and Nikki, and, after depositing our gear into our cabin on the boat, began a walk through the ancient town of Trogir. The streets were lined with all sorts of local vendor booths and shops selling heather sachets, olive oil, soaps and souvenirs, along with all sorts of market foods and clothing. The light rain that developed did nothing to dampen the activity, as we stopped at a local shop and had a big lunch of mussels (as a starter), followed by grilled octopus, beef, kolbasz, cheese and zucchini fritters. It was all washed down with pivo (beer) and cider. We then walked off our gluttony by shopping through the Marina stores finding a unique shop that sells bags made of sail-material. After returning to the boat to relax, visit, unpack and stow our gear, we waited for the skies to clear before setting out again to ogle the yachts in harbor, and make our way to a nice, little restaurant where we dined on mixed mussels and grilled prawns – Awesome!
Thursday, August 20th began as a day of perfect weather in the 60’s and 70’s, ideal for the day’s sail to the island and town of Vis. The island of Vis is farthest west from Croatia’s coast and was historically controlled by Italy, and the Italian influence is prevalent even today. The harbor was full of sail boats, all backed-in to the wharf, as is common in the Mediterranean. Once we were set, we set out to explore the town, only steps from our boat’s stern. While there, we walked to the neighboring town of Kut, a quaint seaside town of old stone with a church from the 1500’s and a fortress with cannons to protect the town. We then returned to Vis and traveled to the far side of the bay to investigate an old cemetery, ringed with olive trees. In this town, the markets were again filled with seashells, heather sachets, and olive oil. We ate ashore in Kut at a small, local restaurant, where the island’s specialty: mussels, followed by eggplant casserole with anchovies, pasta Faggioli, and grilled sea bass. We then stopped and had street food for dessert -12 mini donuts with powdered sugar and chocolate, (white and dark), made to order for us while we waited. These, of course, we ate with a pear liqueur as a nightcap.
Friday was again perfect weather, and after morning cappuccinos and breakfast pastries, we set sail for the famous island and town of Hvar. Hvar is a protected bay shielded from the sea by another island. The water there was crystal blue, but the small bay is dominated by super yachts with names such as: “Lotus”, “’joy Me”, and “Spirit”. Hvar is a high-end playground for the rich-and-famous, and luxury tourist spot for us! The wharf there is reserved for luxury liners only, so we were required to take a mooring ball and longline our stern to the shallow, rocky wharf. Lunch was a traditional Croatian goulash, mussels, and grilled shrimp and scallops! Walking about the town, we ran across the youth hostels and local topless beach. Since the view was good, we stopped for drinks where we met some young British recruiters on holiday and talked rugby with them. Roc and Peter then decided it was time to “burn some calories” and hiked to the top of the local fortress above the town! From that vantage point, the harbor and town, with its luxury ships, offer a beautiful view.
Saturday morning, we set sail back to another marina in Trogir to trade in our 3-cabin boat, (“Martana”), for a 4 cabin boat, (“Kaja”). Another day of great sailing weather allowed us to get there before midday, dock-up next to our “new” boat and move all of our gear from one boat to the other. However, problems with “Kaja’s” GPS System and a non-functioning head, (toilet), delayed us for all afternoon. These problems, coupled with an incoming storm and the mass exodus of all of the marina’s other sailboats for “Yacht Week”, convinced us to “stay put” for the night! So, in consolation, we walked down the coast to a wonderful restaurant, “Frankie’s”, where we sat outside in the upstairs balcony overlooking the bay and treated ourselves to a lavish meal of mussels, veal and chicken!
The storm passed in the night, and, in the quiet of the morning, we had the full attention of the marina staff in trying to ready “Kaja” for us to be able to leave. With one of the boat’s heads permanently nonfunctioning, we convinced the staff to “jet blast” the waste storage from its tank (a very nasty job), which would allow us to proceed with an acceptable situation. The boat would then have only a single functioning head! We finally left port and laid course to Vela Luka on the northwest end of the island of Korcula. This would be on-route to Dubrovnik, where we would rendezvous with other friends coming aboard in a few days. Vela Luka is a quiet, historic town with a town quay that we tied-up at. Down the street, we found a nice family restaurant, where we dined on mussel risotto and shared an excellent order of lamb chops! That evening, we shared cocktails on the boat, played cards and toasted with local pear “palinka”!
The next morning, we set sail for the city of Korcula, an ancient town for which the island is named. Korcula is famous for being the birthplace of the famous explorer, Marco Polo! We were lucky enough to get there at a reasonable time to avoid the rush for boat space on the wharf. However, this port does leave the boats tied-up there open to the waves directly from the sea. That means that ferry traffic and large ship passing by the bay drive waves onto the moored boats, requiring them to be carefully tensioned in order to keep their sterns from hitting the pier. Once getting water and electric hooked-up, we went to explore the old-town. This is an ancient “walled-city”, with stone walls surrounding it, and narrow walkways crisscrossing within, up and down steep hills. Nikki and Julie explored the shops while Peter and Roc climbed the local church’s bell tower for a panoramic view. That night we sat at a table on the wall’s water’s edge, enjoying the starry sky, the ocean’s gentle breeze and great food! Strolling back to the boat, we stopped for gelatos and finished off the evening with “toasts” to the places we visited thus far.
The morning was Tuesday, August 25th and it was Peter’s birthday! For breakfast, we had traditional walnut fig pastries with our coffee, and then set sail for Polace. The sailing was great, and we ate a light lunch aboard as we enjoyed the blue seas and fair wind. In Polace, we backed the boat up to Spongo Restaurant’s private wharf where we would incur no docking fees. We preordered dinner (a fish pot for two and a mixed pot for 2), and then walked to explore the 2nd Century Roman ruins that the city is built upon. We took note of the local paths that would allow one to explore the area further, and decided that tomorrow would be a good time to journey on them. Back at the boat, we met new “neighbors” who had docked next to us – 9 men – former schoolmates on a “reunion” sailing trip – who were having a great time! At dinner, we had grilled octopus for starters, followed by our “pots”. However, we had obviously made a key mistake, when we found we had enough food to feed 8 people, instead of only the four of us. To celebrate Peter’s birthday, Nikki ordered a birthday cake! We all sang “Happy Birthday”, ate cake, and polished dinner off with joyous shots of grappa, before we called it a night.
Wednesday morning, we had a light breakfast, and then set off hiking the trails we had noted the day before, heading into the hills to a place called “Velalike Jezzerra”, a “inland” lake. The lake is brackish waters with intermittent overflow from the sea, and along its shore we saw fish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. The mountain path was very old – made of huge stones – obviously set in place through massive manual labor over a thousand years ago. After we returned to our boat, we set sail for Sipanska Luka, (“Luka” = Bay), on Otuk Sipan, (“Otuk” = Island of). Another day of excellent sailing weather brought us a pod of playful dolphins off our bow. Good sailing, saw dolphins. Sipanska Luka is a very protected bay and a quaint little town of only 500. The island of Sipan is the largest of the Elephanti Islands located just offshore and to the northwest of Dubrovnik. Here, for the first time, we were required to actually anchor and test out the dingy and motor. Upon getting to shore, we noticed a crowd in the center of town, where the locals had turned out for a Bocce Ball Tournament – serious stuff – with spectators crowded around the court and a local bar. We joined the crowd and were amazed at the skill these people had rolling a ball over a bumpy, uneven surface. After we walked around the town, gathered a few supplies, we returned to the boat where we cooked pasta onboard. We finished the evening with a rousing game of cards, music and nightcaps.
On Thursday morning, August 27th, we took our dingy back ashore for a breakfast of fresh croissants. While waiting for the local supermarket to open, Peter and Rocky explored the local church grounds before we all eventually returned to the boat to begin our short trip to the city of Dubrovnik. There was no wind today, so we motor sailed our way into port. Along the way, we passed 4 large cruise ships, as Dubrovnik is a major port for tourists and travelers. The Marina Dubrovnik is up a small river that flows to the sea and is some ways from the city proper and old-town, but it was an excellent marina with laundry service, 3 restaurants, great showers and a refreshing swimming pool. Peter and Roc hiked up the mountainside to explore an old Church and graveyard, and after getting lost at least once, finally found their way back before darkness fell. That night, we relaxed on the pool patio and took dinner poolside at the local restaurant.
Friday we had breakfast onboard our boat, and then took the bus to old-town Dubrovnik where we were to meet our friends for the day, and explore at the sights of the old walled city. Roc and Peter went ahead first while the girls waited at the marina for a special delivery of liquor. Once in the old city, Roc found their way to the “Buza” (hole) bar, located seaside outside of the wall on the edge of the cliff. Eventually, the girls found them, as did Terry and Elaine, and Rick and Mary Jane, our guest and friends that would be joining us for the last week of sailing. It was great having drinks with old friends, and grabbing some lunch in the middle of old town. The afternoon was spent catching up on news from “the states” while walking and shopping about town. We decided to ride the panoramic airway tram to the overlook above Dubrovnik, walked around the old town Marina, and had drinks in an old Irish bar. As the sun fell, we returned to the Marina on the bus and enjoyed a casual pizza dinner overlooking the marina’s yachts.
Saturday started with a light breakfast, and we prepared the boat as Terry and Elaine, and Rick and Mary Jane, arrived and settled into the two stern cabins. Once aboard, we set sail for Otuk Mljet and a small town called Okukjle. The wharf there was small and underdeveloped, with room for only a few boats. But the locals were welcoming, and we had our first group dinner at the highest peak of a local residence/restaurant, served by their family members. It was a great dinner of grilled fish and grilled prawns that everyone enjoyed. The dark, night-time trek back to the boat, however, was another matter as everyone was exhausted from the long, adventurous day.
On Sunday, we ate breakfast on the dock of a local family restaurant and then set sail for the port of Lastovo on Otuk Lastovo. Unfortunately, there was little wind that day, so we occupied ourselves “dragging” from the swim ladder behind the boat, and finally motoring our way into port. Lastovo was another small but pristine port with a welcoming wharf and a hotel with restaurant right ashore. We all met on the hotel’s balcony for dinner that night, before retiring to the boat for a lively game of cards and some ill-advised drinking!
On Monday, the last day of August, after a breakfast buffet on the hotel’s balcony overlooking the bay, we set sail for a return to Vis. Again, the wind was poor and we needed to motor sail for most of the day, but we arrived in Vis, eager to show our friends one of our favorite locations thus far. We again backed into a prime spot on the wharf right in front of café tables within a step from our boat’s ramp! After re-exploring the towns of Vis and Kut, and shopping at the local market, we settled into a little Italian restaurant between the two towns where we dined on a lasagna casserole and all of the accompanying Italian sides. We again had desert on the street with the same local vendor selling chocolate donuts and corkscrew fried potatoes.
Tuesday morning, after breakfast, we set sail for the short trip to Hvar. Along the way, we took the time to marvel and sail alongside a large square-masted ship also heading to Hvar. Again, we took a mooring ball and long-lined our stern to the shallows by the rocky wharf. This required us to use the dingy to line-ferry ourselves from the boat back-and-forth to shore. Unfortunately, with 8 people now on-board and a very small dingy, this required multiple ferry-trips to move us back and forth without the ability to stay dry! However, everyone made it onshore and took the opportunity to explore the town. Again, a group climbed to the ancient fortress up the hill, while others took the time to shop or chill at a local vendor. That night we visited a waterside Croatian restaurant that served a delicious local specialty of potatoes and onions with Cevipicci (lamb). After making it back to the boat safely, everyone relaxed with a drink and shared their day’s adventures.
Wednesday morning, we took a leisurely start with a light breakfast ashore, the stowing of the dingy, and a short sail to the town of Stari Grad. Because the wind was again poor, we again took the occasion to drag behind the back of the boat and enjoy the crystal-blue seas. Stari Grad was a very nice town with a beautifully wide wharf. The only issue, however, was that the showers and mariner’s restrooms were a 1/4-mile up the hill at a campground! An electrical problem with our shore-power plug forced us to hunt the local stores for a replacement and repair, and while the women shopped for local crafts, the guys finally fixed it. That night we made reservations at a little hillside, traditional Croatian restaurant where we ate a traditional Croatia dish consisting of potatoes and lamb cooked for 3 hours under a cast iron bell on a wood fire – it was so tender and delicious! The group also sampled lobster salad, grilled lamb chops and grilled sea bass. That night we moved our party to the wharf with music from our ipod and drinks from the boat, and were soon joined by passing locals who danced and drank with us into the evening hours. All-in-all, one of our favorite towns!
The next morning started lazily with everyone rising at their own preference and wandering off to the many cafes that lined the wharf. We, (Julie and Roc) took a leisurely walk to the far end of town where we found a waterfront café that looked over the local protected swimming area, where residents were getting their daily exercise. After cappuccinos, we returned to meet up with everyone at the boat, and set sail for the city of Bol. The recreation peninsula at Bol is one of the most photographed and popular beaches in Croatia, but the public wharf is at the quaint, old harbor of the waterside town, a few miles away. Julie, Roc and Nikki took a water-taxi to the Bol Beach, which was composed of smooth, white stones of varying sizes. Located there were lots of lounge chairs, music clubs, and cafes right at water’s edge and plenty of activities for everyone, including water slides, parasailing, tubing, banana boating, etc. Nikki and Julie took a 10 minute wild “inflatable sofa ride” behind a manic speed boat! After barely staying aboard and landing on each other from jumping over waves, they decided they needed to be rewarded with some local Limon ice cream! What an adventure! After returning and joining up with the group, we found a nice restaurant for diner, before everyone set off to find a quiet place to people-watch.
The morning of September 4th we were awoken by the waves of the morning ferries arriving into the town’s port. We grabbed coffee and some croissants before setting sail for the trip back to Trogir to return the boat. The weather forecast was for storms later that day, so we decided to take up a spot in Marina Trogir Seget that afternoon before it would arrive. Arrive it did, and the evening was a wet affair with everyone beginning to pack and doing laundry at the local marina’s facilities. We also had dinner at the marina, eating local gnocchi, before calling it a night under drenching conditions.
On Saturday morning, September 5th, it was time to leave our boat. Everyone was busy packing and moving gear off the boat, receiving our “check-out”, ordering taxis, and getting breakfast. The continued storm from last night didn’t make things any easier! Since Rick and Mary Jane would be staying in Split a while longer, and the other 6 of us would be traveling by bus to Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb, we all caught a single taxi for 8 and headed into the main terminal/port of Split. Split is a large, industrial city with lots of 1950’s-style high-rise apartment buildings. Mary Jane and Rick said their “good-byes” to us to check into their hotel there, where they would explore for 2 more days before continuing the vacation in Germany. The rest of us got lunch and waited for our bus to start the next leg of our adventure.