Category Archives: Croatia

The race ended in Budapest

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The race is over and we safely arrived in Budapest. It is remarkable how a stick shift can take 30 years off the life of a grown man.

Back to Bill…

Split was a little hard to leave because we didn’t work very hard, it being primarily a beach zig.

There were a surprising number of people exercising at 6:30 am – multiple tennis players, the gym full, swimmers and runners on the beach. The runners, however, had to run on the boardwalk since the beach is large pebbles. The setting is every bit as appealing as the French or Italian Riviera, but none of them have the sand of Tahoe or Southern California.

There is also a spectacular (by definition they must be) UNESCO World Heritage site at the old town of Split, and the uplifting rock mountains are eye-catching, but the landscape is dry again as we climb east.

The 400 km. to Zagreb, Croatia could be a bitch, but the EU road again allows us to chew up kilometers and the landscape greened up. In late afternoon we crossed into Slovenia, certainly the little gem of the region. It starts to feel alpine and like the rest of this region, the farmers are harvesting like ants; hay, grain, corn, vegetables, fruits, burning stubble and plowing under. It is a good site and there is a familiar essence on the breeze.

The Slovenian language is more a romance and Germanic base using the Roman alphabet. The architecture is more Germanic.

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We just turned into the micro village of Brezice – a few hundred wealthy villagers, some churches and a perfect little town castle built by/for Franz Joseph when he was in town. There were 4 restaurants, indoor/spilling onto the sidewalk types, 400 year old buildings and pleasant patrons and help.

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So in the country side (and Austria) of these last few countries I have seen platform stands in the fields – certainly for hunting. I think if they are left up permanently the migratory game get’s used to them. In the fields I think they are for bird hunting, but near or in the tree lines I think deer and bear.

My reference to the quality of the Balkan wines remains true.

Lunch in Paris used to invariably be French onion soup, additional French bread and some non-labeled bottle of red called “vin ordinaire”. This was followed by a hike to the American embassy to read the IH Tribune. That option no longer exists…one can’t get through the concertina wire or past the heavily armed guards on the perimeter nearly two blocks out from most US embassies these days.

But I digress…

Wine making technology has certainly continued to evolve, and this region has paid attention. Most of them that we have tried have been above just drinkable.

BTW, with those meaningless apologies to George Carlin’s memory – if one is homesick when missing home, is one homewell if not missing home?

The drive to Budapest was more fun and uneventful. 400 km in three hours! Our GPS took us right back to Hertz/Marriott on the Danube and shortly we were at that wonderful architectural masterpiece of a station waiting for our 3 hour trip to Vienna.

The station is jammed with all types from backpackers to Muslims in full religious dress. I had 3 or 4 currencies from the Balkans which no Cambio would take, but after a hushed discussion and couple of phone calls by a friend of the Gyro vendor, we were on our way with euro of less value than face, but a whole bunch more than we had expected.

There has not been a lot opportunity for us to use loyalty points for hotels up to this point, but we are now on a roll – we are in the midst of a 20 night stretch in which 16 nights are paid with points!

We seem to being pretty lucky with the concierge floor too, which includes food and drink, so our euro are stretching a little further than these Euro–peans want them to.

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Vienna is as advertised…….. no surprises but no disappointments. Streets are vast, clean and short of horn honking. The city is bicyclists, sausages, museums, classical music and the most robust, substantial, strong, permanent beefy buildings we have seen. Thanks to the Hapsburgs, spelled somehow, a nice piece of history has been built and preserved.

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Bill's next ride...

Bill’s next ride…

Billy Jac Shaw races thru 8 countries with 4 pit stops…

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Road trip with a manual transmission car means Billy Jac Shaw (ex Nascar driver – google Billy Jac Shaw) thinks that every car (competitor) and every mountain pass (road course) is a RACE!!! Thank goodness our car has not one but two “oh shit” handles for me to white knuckle. Where’s my helmet??

Divine coincidence found us in Calcutta learning by chance about the Mother House where Mother Teresa started her selfless missionary work with the poor. Growing up we were able to witness only on the television – pure joy to see it in person – her bedroom, place of work and resting place. Again – by chance, while walking in Skopje, Macedonia we learned that Mother Teresa was born there. Birth place to place of death. It means nothing but everything.

Started our 10 hour long road trip with a dead camera battery – the first time – the on button left on all night. Bummed.

If the border crossing process says anything about the government of these EU countries – they are in big trouble. Pure chaos – LONG lines – some upwards of 3 hours. They make the Mexican border crossing look like a greased wheel.

Hungary, Serbia, Kosovo (two times), Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro (worst borderline), Croatia (two times) and Bosnia Herzegovina were our stomping grounds so far. Tomorrow we hit Slovenia before returning the car back to Hungary.

Our pit stops – Skopje, Macedonia – Dubrovnik, Croatia – Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina and Split (just south), Croatia.

The race car driver talks to his fans…..

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Dubrovnik old town must be the frosting on the cake (until we see more}. The town and port are made entirely of marble and white limestone – from ramparts to churches to substantial villas and hotels. It is like a movie lit up at night and crowded with fun/sun seekers. The advertisements claim that the Adriatic Sea is the only water which shows blue from satellites it certainly does from eye level.

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Climbing about one km out of Dubrovnik we hit the Bosnia and Herzovina border and another landscape. It reminds me of Baja Sur in May or June, and particularly the road from La Paz to Buena Vista – dry, with the same white rock and wilted flowers and bushes – even the narrow patched road and rusted – through barriers that won’t stop a car from careening into space.

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Almost as sudden, after an hour, we crest into Yosemite. No dirt can be seen – green begins at the edge of the pavement and continues to the sheer rock walls at 7000 ft. in the distance. Wildflowers tangle profusely up against meadows which run to forests and rivers. It’s quite a shock.

As pretty as it is, 3 or 4 hours is sufficient and we’re ready for Sarajevo. Hard to believe they held the Olympics here in 1984, we have dropped back down to 1550 feet.

After Prince Franz Joseph was assassinated here in 1914, lighting off World War One I think it was pretty quite until 1984, and then again until it’s famous one seige and bombing as Yugoslavia took nearly 20 years to come undone.

Pock marked wall

Pock marked wall

It still shows the signs of war, lots of buildings pock marked, shot up and burned. Then of course there are the cheap ugly replacements which down help dispel the tired and worn out look of the city. But the people still get out at night and fill the old center cafes adjacent to the quite dirty and stagnant river.

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It was always referred to as the Jerusalem of Europe because of the co-existence of churches, mosques and synagogues —- but the mosques, old and new, win out now.

A similar trip out of the mountains back to Baja took us through Mostar, a historically and architecturally noteworthy city, but still recovering too. These places just don’t seem excited to wake up in the morning.

Then we experienced evidence of entry into the EU. The two lane road, always behind 30 kph trucks and busses gave way to a 4 or 6 lane divided autobahn straight along and through the mountains with a 130 kph “advisory” limit. So the EU loans the money, or guarantees it, some German company builds it, and some of the toll proceeds [steep] left after the local skim go to pay down the loans at too low a pace and we have the markings of a debt crisis!

Back near Split Croatia we are at a nice hotel on the Adriatic (we haven’t seen a ripple on the sea here in a week) and the navigator is programming the GPS for our assault on the final Balkan piece–Slovenia.

Another few days and we are back to the Western European capitals of Vienna and Prague—–which we KNOW will be overrun with turistas, hot humid and rainy-but we’re still looking forward to them.

So I was led on this string of thoughts while writing. The Balkan countries all have broad selections of home grown wines and we didn’t have a bad one. This made me think that they are all better than virtually all the wine I drank in Paris while attending a semester of law school 40 years ago (tearing into the Treaty of Rome, and wandering if this dream of a “European Union” would ever materialize,
and “Contract law with the Eastern Bloc countries” which has disappeared).

This led me to think just about doing this trip– and how many of our friends have preceded us – some for much longer and some much longer ago! At least Joe, Clark, Clint and Barb, Scott, Preston,  Chloe, George (probably 3 years cumulatively), Rich, Steven, Shannon, Sally and Kayla have all lived and travelled in Europe for long periods of time. Quite a well – travelled group of friends we have.

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Pilgrims - she was carrying a cross

Pilgrims – she was carrying a cross

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