More on Dubrovnik and Region
Now I am back in Rijeka as of a few hours ago -- the Marko Polo ferry, named after the historical figure who is by the way from the lovely Croatian island of Korćula, which I saw from the ferry twice on this trip, pulled into Rijeka with its load of weary tourists at 7 am. I had a cabin again this time on the 21 hour ferry ride. A Slovenian man I met on this leg of the trip, Sylvester, told me that these ferries (the Marko Polo and the Liburnija, which I took in April to Split) are the same ferries that have been in use since the old Yugoslavia, 40-70 years old. And they do show their age. For instance in the cabin I had last night there was an awful lot of rattling all night long, and I heard other passengers saying the same thing as we waited to pull into dock this morning.
My remaining time in Dubrovnik and region was enjoyable and inspiring. I went to Mljet on Monday, an island near Dubrovnik that is a national park. Like national parks everywhere I guess, it was full of lovely views of nature, including two little salt water "lakes" (really inlets connecting through a narrow channel to the sea), lots of trees and other vegetation (many flowers this time of year), and the mountains that are a ubiquitous part of the Croatian coast and islands. There are also some interesting little towns, like Polače, where our catamaran docked, that has ruins of a Roman settlement right in the middle of the town (the main road goes through the arch created by them).
And the jewel of Mljet, in my opinion is the islet of St. Mary of the Hill in the "big lake." Here is a Benedictine Monastery (including it's limestone church with colorfully decorated -- painted -- altars), the ruins of an older church, a couple of little chapels, and foot paths through it all. You can walk all around this islet and get spectacular views of the turquoise to deep green waters, the mountains and trees, various interesting vegetation (huge alo vera plants, wild and cultivated flowers, pine and palm trees, lavender, sage, etc.) and stylistic architecture. Paths circle near the little tiny chapels (just large enough for a little altar and shrine and maybe four people maximum to squeeze in), up to the ruins (being excavated) and down to the seaside. There are a few cafes on the island too, where the boats dock. The boats are part of the park. You get a free ride to and from the islet with your park entrance ticket (which costs about $17). The one less-than-ideal scene on the island that day, though, was a donkey tied up near the top whose leg was all mangled (bloody and bandaged). When I saw him he was lying there looking pitiful and I remain haunted by that image of his suffering. But other people on the catamaran going back to Dubrovnik said they saw him standing and eating and looking not too bad (though we all noticed his leg -- you couldn't help it).
After my time on the islet soaking up mostly beauty, I rented a bike and biked around much of the "big lake" for a few hours. Tourists were biking away (and hiking and canoeing) everywhere, some with their own bikes, some with rented bikes (or rented canoes). It's been a while since I biked so far and over bumpy (gravelly) roads, so I was sore and had a headache by the end. But it did give me some good perspectives on the park. I also sat by the "little lake" for a while where some people were swimming. Actually people were swimming all over the island's beaches, but it was too cold for me (and I did not bring a suit).
By the way, Mljet is thought to be the island where Odysseus holed up for a while with Calypso. And it's also thought to be "Mileta," the island where St. Paul was shipwrecked and bitten by a serpant before continuing on to Rome. According to my guide book, the island was once plagued by snakes until they imported the mongoose from India. Supposedly you can still see the creatures (mongoose), though I did not see any while I was there.
Later that afternoon I hiked along the road back to the spot where the bus took me back to the town where the boat was docked. All in all, through walking, hiking, and biking, I had an active day filled with lovely scenery. While waiting for the ferry I had an early dinner on the balcony of a restaurant that had a TV set up there to play a soccer game (Australia vs Japan) from the world cup. World cup fever has hit all of Europe and probably much of the world. The day Croatia played (Tuesday), half the Croatian people I saw that day were dressed up in country colors (shirts, hats, etc.) that look like part of the Croatian flag (like a red and white checkerboard). And they were joyous in their revelry, blowing horns, waving flags in front of tourists faces, etc. Sadly, they had to play Brazil in their first game and lost. On the catamaran back to Dubrovnik from Mljet, we watched the game on the boat playing then (U.S. vs. the Czech Republic), so I saw the U.S. lose their first game rather ingloriously.
Tuesday I spent exploring Dubrovnik more, particularly a number of churches and museums, like the ethnography museum. One especially interesting thing there (to me) was some art made out of palm fronds (like the kind you get on palm Sunday) -- the fronds are woven and twisted into beautifully patterned designs. My Croatian grandmother (born in the U.S., but parents from Croatia) used to do that and teach us how to every year at Easter time. I never knew it was a folk custom that came from Croatia until I saw this display of similar art in this ethnography museum.
That afternoon I took a bus to Cavtat, a nearby coastal town that has a lovely sea front, but it is overrun with tourists. Well, most places in that region are overrun by tourists, but maybe since Cavtat is smaller, it seemed even fuller of tourists and tourist oriented businesses. I did walk up many steps to a cemetery where Ivan Mestrovič (famous sculptor) designed a famous mausoleum. I saw no other tourists in that part of town, though it was well worth the effort of the climb to see it.
Then Wednesday I took an organized (Atlas) tour to Montenegro. Many people had told me how lovely Kotor is, and that is what I most wanted to see. But the whole trip was good, from the bay of Kotor with its church filled islets and towns, to the mountain tops of scrubby little villages known for good wine and cheese (our lunch), and where the king of Montenegro lived -- we saw his palace. But I think the place I most enjoyed was Budva, a walled coastal town similar to Dubrovnik. The unfortunate thing about a package tour is that you don't get enough time to see everything in the way and time frame you want to. So our stay in Budva was short, only an hour. But still, I'm glad I got this overview of Montenegro, a small but lovely country. The churches in Kotor and Budva (some Orthodox, some Catholic) were among the best (most architecturally interesting and well designed and decorated) that I've seen in this part of the world.
Overall I felt I could have used several more days to really appreciate Dubrovnik and region, but at least I got that almost-week there.