Colombia Trip Summary

When I was planning this trip I began to see similarities in some characteristics with cities in Mexico where I’ve lived or visited, especially in altitude and climate.

Bogotá and Mexico City, the capitals of each country, sit at about 8,500ft above sea level. The climate is the coldest of the cities I visited. Cold is relative; Bogotá may be colder that Medellín and Cartagena, but compared to Minnesota in the winter, it’s tropical. In Colombia, though, people from Bogotá are called “las neveras” or “the fridges.”

Medellín and Oaxaca, the city where I live in Mexico, are called “ciudades de la eterna primavera” or “cities of eternal spring and sit at ~5000ft. Beyond that they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Medellín has built itself into a totally modern city while Oaxaca has clung to its colonial roots. I like both but for different reasons; as I mentioned in a previous post, Medellín would be my home in Colombia.

Cartagena and Puerto Escondido, my first destination in Mexico, have hot and humid tropical climates.

So you can tell that Colombia, like Mexico, has a climate to suit any desire.

Things I Learned About Colombia

  • One of Colombia’s nicknames is “The Gateway to the Amazon.”
  • It’s also famous for its biodiversity. Colombia’s Amazon region makes up a vast percentage of the country. Almost a third of Colombia is made up of jungle regions, and the south of Colombia is crisscrossed by some of the most important rivers of Amazonia: the Putumayo, Caqueta, Orinoco, Apaporis, and, of course, the mighty Amazon itself. (from Wikipedia)
  • Colombians have an aggressive nature. It’s first evident in their driving. I’ll give an example. Walking in Bogotá’s center in the middle of of a block, I and the four or five people walking near me almost got hit by a car that abruptly turned in front of us. Like, a foot in front of us. How was this possible? He was turning into a parking garage and couldn’t wait until we passed the entrance. Scared the crap out of us.
  • A more humorous learning experience occurred the day I went to Usaquén. Two Colombian women in their 50’s or 60’s were sitting halfway across the patio at the bar where I was enjoying a craft beer. It seemed like they wanted to talk to me and after about 15 minutes, the first one walked over to me. After a couple of sentences in Spanish she began speaking English. Then her friend joined us. Here’s a capsule of our conversation, or their monologs to be more precise.
  • “Do you like Bogotá?” “Have you been to Monserrate?” “Why not?” “Where are you going in Colombia?” “You should go to ____.” “No? Why not? Finally, one of them said, “We’re Colombian, we attack.” We all laughed at that line. It also explained the barrage of questions. In the end, one of the women invited me to her coffee plantation outside of Medellín.
  • Most Americans probably believe a person would have to live in a remote place without electricity not to know about 9/11. Well…I asked a 25 year old in Cartagena if she had ever heard about it. Nope. And a 50-something woman said to me, “I heard something about it.”
  • Sometimes in my travels I find Coca-Cola made with real sugar. Colombia is one of those places. It’s truly the only time I drink it. Takes me back to my childhood.
  • In most of the countries I visit the bus and the train are my main means of intercity transportation. In Colombia I flew. I was advised to travel this way because the buses are uncomfortable, unreliable and the rides through the mountains take forever. For the most part flying intracountry is reasonably priced. My ticket from Bogotá to Medellín cost $22.

Venezuelan Refugees

Because of the turmoil in Venezuela many of its citizens have fled to other countries. It’s estimated that over 1 million Venezuelans are refugees in Colombia as a result. I wondered what impact this has had, so I asked our Bogotá walking tour guide. This is what he told me. I can’t verify the veracity of his claims.

He stated that there has been no discernable negative reaction to the Venezuelans as 75% of them are in Colombia legally. Most of them have been absorbed into the society (economy).

Personally, I’m not sure if that’s totally true because I’ve seen video of women who are prostitutes. And was told by a different tour guide that men work in the informal economy at the intersections, i.e., selling water and snacks or cleaning windshields. Maybe they are the other 25%?

Cost of the trip

I stayed in Colombia for 24 days. The total cost came to $2,225. That’s ~$93/day. That includes plane tickets to and from the country. My Airbnb stays, mostly in studio apartments, averaged $25/night including cleaning and Airbnb fees.

I could have saved money by taking the bus from BOG/MED and MED/CART, but no way was I going ride 12 hours in an uncomfortable bus.

I think Colombia is a good deal, especially if you are a budget traveler like me. As a comparison, my 14-day trip to San Juan in April cost ~$2,000.

Next Trip

Thanks for reading my blog. I don’t have a lot of readers, but they literally live in every corner of the world.

In April 2020 I’ll be traveling to Spain for a month. My route will be Andalucia and Costa del Sol.

Until then…

San Andrés Island

This may be the last island I visit for more than three days. Not because it’s a terrible place to stay (although it’s nothing special), but because of the climate. At one time I luxuriated in hot and humid tropical climates: Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Caribbean islands. Now, I barely tolerate them. Here’s a photo of my shirt after walking outside one morning for 20 minutes.

About the island

San Andrés belongs to Colombia, but lies much closer to Nicaragua. It’s a 1 1/2 hour flight from Cartagena, the closest mainland city. And, you have to pay a visitors’ tax of ~$40usd, which is $35 too much.

The main downtown has 90% of the action. If you stay on another part of the island, like I did, services, restaurants, etc. are scarce. You really need to rent a vehicle to get around (moto, jeep, golf cart) and they will cost you a bit of money. The jeep-like vehicle was quoted at $60/day! The golf cart was $40 but could be driven only until 6pm.

Food

I ate one of my four memorable meals here. Four memorable meals in 23 days. Enough said about that. But, a penne pasta with pears and blue cheese sat at the top of the list. It’s available at Aqua Beach Club.

There was a fast food stand near my Airbnb that opened at 6:30 each evening. The name was The Queen of the Fast Food. The owner, a young woman, sold only five items. I ordered the Chorry Perro (chorizo hotdog). Grilled, topped with bacon and onions, ooh, it was tasty.

I wanted to try a chuzo, but she was out of them. All she told me was that it’s made with chicken.

As an aside, I asked her what it was like living on San Andrés. Sometimes it felt like a prison, she said. She’s been to four cities on the mainland and hopes to travel more one day.

Things to do

Like most islands, snorkeling and diving constitute the main activities, along with hanging out at the beach. I’m sure boats can be rented or tours taken for some deep sea fishing. Beyond water-related activities, there’s not much to see or do. It’s a small island.

One day I decided to walk downtown. It took 75 minutes and I kept to the shade every chance I had. I passed by the oldest church on the island (Baptist, not Catholic as you might expect); built in 1844.

I was totally intrigued by a vacant house I encountered, including a car and a boat in the yard. Someone rich lived occupied it at one time. My Airbnb host told me it’s likely a narco trafficker resided there and had to make a hasty exit.

Summary

Anyone traveling to Colombia who wants to visit an island, I would suggest switching San Andrés for the Rosario Islands, just a short boat ride from Cartagena. Closer and much more beautiful.

If you still want to see San Andrés, bring money. Most everything is expensive. If you want to stay away from the downtown area, I’d recommend House of the Sun Hostal. It’s where I stayed and it made my time on the island tolerable.

One more post coming after this summarizing the entire trip.

Cartagena

Before I Arrived

I believe it has been scientifically proven that if you want to change your answer on a test, you shouldn’t. It’s correct more than 50% of the time. I suppose the same can be said about lodging reservations. Well, I decided percentages be damned and canceled my Airbnb two days before arriving in Cartagena, switching to a hotel. It cost 3X as much but since the Airbnb was only $10/night, the move didn’t bust my budget. I can’t say with certainty that the right choice was made, but I’m pretty sure it was.

I canceled because of two reviews posted after my reservation had been approved. It’s the rainy season in Colombia and a review mentioned rain leaking into his room. Another guest wrote about excessive noise keeping him awake due to paper-thin walls. When I contacted the host about the leakage she talked about a broken door instead. That was all I needed. I’m writing about this mainly because it’s not in my nature to cancel. I trust my judgment and it works 99%, as it did this time. Thankfully, I changed my answer.

Street art across the lane from the hotel.

Pleasantly Surprised

I discovered something at my hotel (Hotel de Leyendas del Mar) that were absent at the first two. A glass. Of course, my immediate thought was, ‘I can drink the water.’ But, I didn’t until Maite, a walking tour employee) told me Cartagena has the best drinking water in Colombia. It’s great! As good as NYC’s which has been ranked as tasting better than some famous bottled waters.

I had heard about the African and Caribbean presence in Cartagena, but didn’t realize how large it was. I passed by several Caribbean restaurants near my hotel and ate at one. Given where I’ve lived and my friendships and relationships over the decades, my comfort level skyrocketed during my stay in Cartagena.

Activities

Another city, another walking tour. Edgar, a 50 year old Cartagena native, led this one. Being interesting, funny and a little full of himself (not in an annoying way) made for a delightful 2 1/2 hour walk inside the city walls.

Cartagena, being a port city, had a wall built around it dating back to the 1600’s; it was ordered by the Spanish who controlled Colombia at the time. Since none of the residents wanted to do the work, Africans were brought over as slaves, hence the African population. Other blacks from the Caribbean islands also found their way to the city over the years.

I’ve included some photos of the city center.

With nothing to do on a Sunday I selected a tour at the Vivarium (a park or preserve for small animals). It was cheap and sounded sufficiently boring that it would draw a small group. It did. Me. For the 3rd time on my trip it was just me and the guide. I love when that happens.

Brian, a 22 year old studying tourism, and I discussed his studies, goals and the importance of knowing English as he wants to work with foreigners. His English is barely past beginner level. As usual, our discussion transformed itself into a language class of sorts. Even though I help these young people with English, I also learn as they talk to me about their lives and country. When the van dropped me off Brian shook my hand and thanked me for my advice and support. Such a good feeling.

I took a day trip to La Isla del Encanto which is part of Tayrona National Park (made up of several islands). I used the day to enjoy relaxing at the beach and working on a new play. The most exciting part of the day was riding in the speed boat for 45 minutes each way, wave hopping and getting doused with water occasionally.

Food

I ate some more delicious food in Cartagena, but it wasn’t Colombian. The first photo is sea bass, comparable in taste and quality (at a lower price) to the best I’ve eaten in other countries.

These photos are from a Caribbean restaurant. BBQ chicken and fish soup. I talked with the cook. She’s from Trinidad.

Summary

One thing would keep me from living in Cartagena: the weather. Hot and humid, just like Puerto Escondido which I could only tolerate for a year.

I met several fun, young people working in tourism here. Most spoke English very well. I’ve mentioned Maite and Brian; the photo below is Wendy, me and Carolina. The work scheduling tours for a hostel.

On to San Andrés for a week of writing and hopefully, I will finally learn to scuba dive.

Medellín

The City

No city in Colombia can compete with Medellín, in my opinion. It has overcome being the most dangerous city in the world back in the late 20th century to become a modern, active metropolis. It’s public transportation includes a metro system, separate dedicated bus lanes (the best I’ve ever seen) and ski lift-type cable cars that connect the sierra with the rest of the city.

Medellín’s climate is similar to Oaxaca, where I live; both are cities of eternal spring. I think the pleasant weather affects people in a positive way. The city is not perfect, no place is, but it’s where I would choose if I lived in Colombia.

The People

My Airbnb was situated in an upper-middle class neighborhood called Laureles. Many of the apartment buildings hired private security. One of those guards was a 20 year old graphic design student named Sebastián. We chatted about his work goals and whether he could achieve them in Medellín. He thought he would need to work as a freelancer with a presence online so he could find clients outside of the city. He didn’t want to move to Bogotá. He also stated that he needed to learn English to help him be more successful.

Cosechas is a health drink chain. One store was located around the corner from my apartment. I’d passed by it a few times before I stopped. Turns out the manager/franchise owner (?) spoke English. He learned it when he was a child but said he didn’t speak it very often. I ordered a drink and an energy bar. Remember, this is the first time we met. The guy gave me a sizable discount on the drink and the bar for free. Maybe he was happy to have a chance to speak English.

Uber and taxi drivers in Medellín spoke as little English as their comrades in Bogotá. However, I found a taxi driver who spoke a little and when he heard I was an English teacher, our 20-minute ride turned into a language lesson. He had so many words and phrases he wanted interpreted. We laughed, he learned (will he remember?) and at the end I realized I had just taken the most enjoyable cab ride of my life.

Activities

As has become my habit, I took the free city walking tour. The name of the tour misleads the uninitiated. It doesn’t cover the city; impossible to do in three hours.

In most cities we usually meet near a statue in a central plaza, the old town or historic district. In Medellín we met at a metro station. Medellín has no historic center. Because of that there were few photo opportunities of interesting buildings, statues, etc.

Our informative tour guide kept our attention with stories about the history of the city. Coffee, cocaine and Pablo Escobar were featured as were other characters and incidents. Quite an interesting tour, but not picturesque.

I took a tour called La Sierra Barrio tour. The tour guide and I needed to take a tram and a cable car to reach the barrio at the top of the mountain.

Strolling along the streets and listening to Milena talk about the struggles and solidarity of the people there, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the people I knew in Kyrgyzstan. Poverty brings communities together; wealth separates them (gated mansions).

Because I was the only person to sign up that day, we were able to discuss many off-tour topics, similar to my food tour in Bogotá. I can add two more enriching travel experiences to a growing list.

Food

One opinion I’ve formed is that people don’t travel to Colombia for the food. The only dish I’ll remember is the soup I ate on the food tour in Bogotá. I enjoyed a couple of other meals, one Italian, the other Chinese.

The best amatriciana I’ve eaten in almost seven years.

Some of the best tasting Chinese I’ve eaten since leaving there in 2015.

On to Cartagena.

Bogotá – Days 3 & 4

Where I Stayed

I needed four keys to get into my apartment. Three of the several hotels within two blocks of it (one next door) were named Love 62, Hotel Secret and Temptation. On every corner at the busy intersections pieces of paper were offered for a variety of businesses and services. Sometimes the offers were verbalized, such as the young guy who tried to lure me with “chicas, chicas, drogas.” In spite of, or likely because of all that I truly enjoyed my stay. During my few days there I didn’t see an obvious native English speaker. My kind of area. And as you’ve seen in a previous post, it had great street food. If one wanted to venture to the upper middle class section of Chapinero, it was only a 15-minute walk. Which I did because I wanted to visit a highly-rated cocktail bar, Huerta Bar. I ordered a mezcal cocktail. Very expensive ($10USD) for an average tasting drink. Mezcal is meant to imbibed straight, in my opinion.

La Puerta de la Catedral

My ViaHero guide recommended this restaurant in El Centro. I ordered the ribs; I’ve had trouble finding good ribs at home so these tasted like the best in the world. They were really good, actually. One thing I can’t understand is rice and a potato included in the same meal. I saw this in Portugal, too. Coincidence or correlation? Club Colombia dark beer is tasty. After drinking this one, I bought a 6-pack at the store.

Food Tour

The best way to discover local cuisine can usually be found by taking a food tour. Due to a couple missing their flight I had what could be considered a private tour.My guide was a Chinese guy born in Malaysia who lived for a while in Papua New Guinea and eventually moved to Australia and became a citizen. That’s just a small part of his life.In between eating we traded travel stories and discussed our individual experiences living in countries around the world.The tour took place mainly in the largest farmers market in Bogotá. After the market we took an Uber to the center dessert and coffee.

Description of photos: 1) a type of passion fruit, as slimy as it looks but sweet and delicious breakfast soup 2) sancocho de pescado, a popular breakfast soup 3) pitaya (if I remember correctly) 4) mangosteen, sweet like a lychee with a little tartness 5) the empanada on the left is made of yucca (pastel de yucca) 6) zapote, tastes a little like pumpkin 7) Colombian coffee sweetened with panela. I’m not a coffee drinker so if it was great I would not know it. 8) mil hoja, “thousand leaves” in English. Too rich for my taste. http://www.bogotafoodie.com/bogota-food-tours/

Usaquén

Took a trip to the northern part of Bogotá. Usaquén was an independent city until it was swallowed up sometime in the last century. Still has a colonial feel in parts of it. I ate a good pizza and relaxed in a park, away from the hustle of the city center.

Summary

Almost every person I encountered was cool, but overall I wasn’t impressed with Bogotá. Can’t say why exactly. It just didn’t measure up to other large cities where I’ve lived and visited.

ViaHero – trip planner

About a month before my trip I discovered a fairly new trip planning company called ViaHero. They operate in in only a few countries, but seem to be expanding into new ones at a steady pace. One of the countries they have a presence in is Colombia.

Their unique approach to trip planning is to assign a local resident to a traveler. Or the traveler can choose the resident. Although I’d never used such a service I decided to give it a try; more out of curiosity than anything. I chose Naomi based on the match of my interests and her areas of expertise, and let her plan my 4 days in Bogotá.

From what I saw you can’t get one planner for an entire country. I’m visiting 3 cities on the mainland. If I had wanted my 5 days in Medellín planned, I’d have had to find a local from there.

Anyway, to say Naomi surpassed my expectations would be an understatement. The details, the options and her knowledge of the city shone through on every page of the itinerary; thirty-nine pages for four days including what scams to watch for, whether certain areas were safe or not, etc.

I didn’t follow Naomi’s plan religiously. In fact, I used only 50% or so, but it was still worth $30/day. I probably won’t use ViaHero again because I love planning my trips and I have the time to do it. For travelers who are ultra-busy or like a professionally designed schedule to follow this is the trip planner for them. http://www.viahero.com

Bogotá – Day 1 & 2

The more I travel the more my trips focus on food and people. Museums, churches and ruins–well, I’ve seen enough of them to last me until my final breath. There will be exceptions, of course, as I found a museum here that intrigued me.

I’ve taken 5 Ubers so far and none of the drivers spoke English. I don’t expect that to change over the next 3 1/2 weeks. This means my Spanish improves with each ride; my confidence has surged and I have found that my knowledge of grammar and vocabulary is greater than I thought. We’ve had some wonderful conversations once I say, “Habla lentamente, por favor.” (Speak slowly, please.) 😁

Graffiti Tour

If you want to be educated about the social and political struggles and issues of the indigenous peoples of Colombia, take the Graffiti Tour. Led by actual graffiti artists, they explain the background of the artists whose work you’ll see, the messages behind the works as well as the history of graffiti and street art in Bogotá. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but are different. Graffiti is word-based; street art is image-based. We saw mostly street art on the tour.

We had the opportunity to watch artists working on a new project. They are funded by the organization that gives the free tour. A percentage of the tips they receive they give back to the community. Very cool!

The Botero Museum

Fernando Botero Angulo (born 19 April 1932) is a Colombian figurative artist and sculptor. Born in Medellín , his signature style, also known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume, which can represent political criticism or humor, depending on the piece.

The black and white piece is Adam and Eve.

Street Food

While I ate food from the street vendors when I lived in New York City, it wasn’t until I got to China that I became a street food fanatic.

We’ll start with photos of lechón, arepas and empeñadas.

Next is a dessert/snack made with shaved coconut, nuts and panela. Panela is raw, unrefined cane sugar from Colombia. With a lightly sweet molasses taste and warm, caramel undertones. It’s a unique ingredient that’s flavorful and aromatic. Panela has been traditionally handmade for centuries by dehydrating
raw sugarcane juice over low heat.

This is my new favorite street food sweet. 😋

That’s it for now. Next post will include some restaurant food, a description of where I’m staying in Bogotá and other stuff, I’m sure.

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A Night in Mexico City

I usually spend the night before my flight at an Airbnb near the airport. I go out for dinner and hit the sack early so I don’t oversleep and miss the plane. Last April before my Puerto Rico trip I found a restaurant called Kitchen 424, an oasis in an area with no decent places. Kitchen 424 is a mid-priced, high quality restaurant specializing in meat dishes, among other offerings.

Boarding my flight the next morning I encountered something I hadn’t experienced since right after 9/11. Every passenger’s carry-ons were thoroughly inspected. My agent opened every compartment of my backpack. After asking me how much money I was bringing with me, she proceeded to look in my wallet and document pouch. She also wanted to know how long I’d been in Mexico and why. Does this only happen on flights to Colombia?

Colombia

I can’t state exactly why I chose Colombia for my inaugural visit to South America. The best reason could be ignorance. Aside from FARC and Pablo Escobar, I know close to nothing about the country.

I’ll spend 24 days in three cities and an island: Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena and San Andrés (the island).

I arrive in Bogotá on the 24th and my first post will appear shortly thereafter.

Nicaragua – Recommended travel professionals

I totally recommend Katherine Torres from Vapues Tours if you are planning to visit Nicaragua.

She put together a month long itinerary for me, then redesigned it down to three weeks. We skyped to make sure she had all of my changes, all the time being patient and professional.

My itinerary included everything I wanted; I had a personal guide and the trip was filled with eco lodging and activities.

In the end I decided not go to Nicaragua, but not for anything having to do with Katherine. I just chose Colombia instead.

http://www.vapues.com

Pulque – The Sacred Drink of Mexico

Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. It is traditional to central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It has the color of milk, somewhat viscous consistency and a sour yeast-like taste.
The drink’s history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period, when it was considered sacred, and its use was limited to certain classes of people. After the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the drink became secular and its consumption rose. The consumption of pulque reached its peak in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, the drink fell into decline, mostly because of competition from beer, which became more prevalent with the arrival of European immigrants. There are some efforts to revive the drink’s popularity through tourism.

Yesterday I visited Pulquería Miktlan, one of the better known pulquerias in Oaxaca. It’s not a large space, but pleasant with several tables. Local men played cards, a small family gathered to share some pulque, as did my friend.

While you can drink pulque natural, most people opt to mix it. Yesterday’s choices included beet juice, celery juice and oatmeal among others. Gaby chose beet and I selected oatmeal topped with a little bit of cinnamon. Both tasted really good to me.

If you want a change from mezcal look for pulque.

Béisbol in Oaxaca!

One overlooked activity in Oaxaca is watching their Triple-A Mexican League baseball team play. The Oaxaca Guerreros arrived in the mid-1990’s. They play their games at Eduardo Vasconcelos Stadium located on Hwy 190 not far from El Centro.  The season runs from the end of April to the end of July (April 26-July 19 this year for the regular season, then the palyoffs).

I’ve been to a couple of games and each time the tickets were 2 for 1. Where I like to sit the tickets are 60 pesos ($3) so you only pay 30 pesos for each one if you come with a friend. Beers are 70 pesos, but they are also 2 for 1. You can buy tortas, crepas, slices of Dominos pizza and other assorted snacks if you get hungry. Last night I took a couple of friends. They had never been to a baseball game and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They wanted to know when we could go again.

Weeknight games begin at 7pm; Saturday and Sunday games start at 5pm.

If you like baseball watching the Guerreros play is a fun and inexpensive night of entertainment.

Stadium2Stadium2.jpg

Puerto Rico – Final Thoughts (and a video)

Travel Tips

Before I dive into my final thoughts I’d like to let my fellow travelers know about a couple of things I ran into on my trip.

  1. I flew Mexico City-Panama City- San Juan on Copa Airlines. When I arrived in PC, I walked to my next gate only to find a mini-security station. These weren’t at every gate and I don’t know why some flights warrant them and some don’t. I had just purchased a bottle of water for the 3.5-hour flight to SJ of which I drank half before tossing the bottle into the bin. If you ever find yourself at the PC airport for a connecting flight, you might want to check your gate first.
  2. When you arrive at San Juan’s airport forget about Uber. You have to use an airport sanctioned taxi to get where you are staying. I had rented a studio apartment fairly close to the airport and my fare was $21 plus tip. Now, going back to the airport you can use Uber. The cost? $7.
  3. Leaving San Juan the ticketing agent told me I had to show proof that I was leaving Mexico because I didn’t have a resident visa, only a tourist stamp. Thinking I had to buy a one-way ticket to somewhere I wondered how much this was going to cost me. Ticket agent to the rescue. He directed me to http://www.gotobus.com where I bought a one-way ticket from Tijuana to San Ysidro, CA. He needed to type in a ticket number for Copa Airlines requirement. Of course I was not going to use it, but it was only $10. I’ve read about this happening to other travelers, but the first time for me.

Travel Thoughts

It took me 10 hours to get from MC to SJ including crossing a couple of time zones. I could have saved a couple of hours by taking an airline that flew a more direct route, stopping in Florida instead of flying all the way down to Panama City. At what time point does saving money not matter so much? Basically, I saved $150 to spend three extra hours in the air. Since I was going to stay in Puerto Rico for two weeks, the extra time didn’t bother me. But, what if my trip were only a week? Does everybody ponder about these decisions?

Food expectations. I overestimate the food quality of every place I visit. I thought all the dishes in Poland would match what my grandmother made. I figured pizza eaten in Italy had to taste better than anywhere else. I’m usually wrong. And disappointed. The lone exception was China.

Puerto Rico experiences

Puerto Rico is a Latin American country so for the first day or so I would begin each encounter I had with Spanish. That changed quickly. I would say “Hola” and the local would reply, “Hi.” For me, being there was a strange mix of the United States and Latin America. Perhaps this changes in the countryside and small, non-touristy towns, but in San Juan 99% of the people I met spoke English. Of course, I was in tourist areas mostly.

One day at the beach two teenage sister were playing paddle ball near me. Speaking to each other they would alternate between Spanish and accent-free English. That was a little weird.

Overall the most interesting people I met were Uber drivers. (I used it a lot.) They give honest opinions, positive and negative, and generally loved to talk if I engaged them. One driver in particular told me it would take 10 years for Puerto Rico to fully recover from the recent hurricanes because of corruption. Now, I’m no fan of America’s lying president, but in this case he wasn’t. Still, the corruption factor was a convenient reason for him not wanting to give Puerto Ricans the money they’ve been allotted when the real reason is they have brown skin. Ok, no more political opinions because this is a travel blog.

I can see why Puerto Rico is popular with Americans. For one thing, because it’s a US territory you don’t have to worry if your 30 or 90 days is up and it’s time to leave. People are friendly. The two beaches I visited were clean, a couple of guys would come around to sell beer and water and the sea water was warm. Still, I won’t return. While I enjoyed myself I didn’t feel an attraction that said ‘man, you have to come back here.’ Also, it’s a big world and I’m not 25. There are many countries I want to see for the first time that repeat visits don’t fit into the schedule.

Let me finish by uploading a one-minute video of some street art near where I stayed.

Thanks for reading. Next big trip will be in October but I hope to blog about a couple of short in-country jaunts before then.

San Juan Food – Part 2

The food scene improved the second week as I found a few places frequented mostly by locals.

The first was Cafetería Quisqueya, a Dominican restaurant where I ate succulent BBQ pork ribs. I also drank a couple of Cuba libres. I had to stop at 2 because as you can see from the photos, the 2nd one had much more rum than the first. I think the waitress liked me a little.

In Old San Juan across the street from Plaza Colón is the San Juan Food Court. It’s really only a bar in front and a cafeteria style restaurant in the rear called Grandma’s Kitchen. I had baked chicken, the tender, fall off the bone kind with a sweet macaroni salad, which seemed to be very popular in Puerto Rico. Tasty and inexpensive.

Then I went on a taco binge. Of course, the tacos in Mexico are better, but the Puerto Rican style wasn’t bad. Just different. And not as delicious. 😉 The first stop was 4Puntos Café. Two fish tacos and sangria.

One afternoon I walked to Plaza Santurce, an area of restaurants and bars that gets quite lively in the evenings, if you know what I mean. 😁 Too lively for me, anyway. I headed for El Coco de Luis. They pour a signature drink of whisky and coco water. Mine was 90% whisky so I didn’t get the proper taste. The highlight of the visit, and perhaps the food highlight of my trip, was their ceviche. Made from grouper fish, this was the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten. Simple and delicious.

The next place disappointed me because it calls itself a Mexican restaurant but doesn’t serve Mexican style tacos. La B de Burro is where I ate a carnitas taco. The meat’s flavor came close to what I’m used to and the cranberry cinnamon margarita (2×1 all day) tasted good, but I question how much alcohol it contained. Not much is my guess.

My final taco destination was a small bar that serves food, Pa’l West. I have no idea what the name means. Here I ordered one spicy crab and two fish tacos, and a gin-based house drink. None were no better than average in my opinion. However, let me say that all three places where I ate tacos are highly rated by the masses on Google Maps. I doubt many of the reviewers live in Mexico.

To find the best local food I’m a firm believer in walking a few blocks beyond where 99% of the tourists draw their “safe line.” That’s how I found the tastiest pernil al horno ever at George’s BBQ. While I was waiting for my food, Alfredo tried to sell me a beach house. He was a really nice guy whose family runs a real estate business.

I’ll finish this post with pastelillos, small empanadas. I ordered codfish, spinach and mozzarella and corned beef. They are great snacks and can be found at Cafe D’Luna.

I will publish one more post, a summary of sorts, about San Juan, travel thoughts and a cool video of a street mural.

More San Juan Sights

After the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico the governor wanted to show that the city of San Juan was recovering. He wanted a positive symbol to illustrate this so he hung the colorful umbrellas on a block in OSJ. I believe the light blue building at the end of the street is the governor’s mansion. On another block near La Plaza del Mercado de Santurce. I discovered more umbrellas, all white. Regarding the hurricanes San Juan is functioning well but I can’t say about the rest of the island. Much work must be needed somewhere because an Uber driver told me it would take 10 years for PR to fully recover.

One day I went shopping at Plaza las Américas, a mall with more than 250 stores. Of all the places to choose from I ended up at J. C. Penney’s. 😁 It was a good choice because I paid $70 for $160 worth of clothes.

Sales tax in PR is outrageous. 11.5%.

Two castles were built to protect San Juan from foreign invaders (French, British, Dutch and Portuguese). The larger of the two is San Cristóbal Castle; the smaller one at the point of the island is San Felipe del Morro Castle. Next to El Morro is a cemetery. Seems odd to put one right on the water’s edge. These photos are of both castles and with a couple of exceptions aren’t too interesting. A castle (I would call them forts) is better seen in person.

The last photo is a room where soldiers slept.

This next photo shows El Morro in the distance and the cemetery on the right. All white grave stones.

Puerto Rico doesn’t only worry about hurricanes. These signs are found on the streets around the two beaches near where I’m staying.

That’s it for today. There will be another food post in a few days, then back to Mexico.

San Juan: The Food

My opinion: the more places I visit, the more I realize there are just a few countries where food is a major attraction. Puerto Rico is not one of them. I’ve eaten a few “local” foods so far and only two were better than average.

The maintenance guy where I’m staying has been a wealth of knowledge. He told me about the cafe at the rear of the grocery store. My fish filet makes the top two list. Nothing fancy here, just tasted good. And it was $5.99. 👍

After leaving my intended restaurant for lack of a seat, I found Jauja Street Food & Spirits. It’s actually two food vendors under the same roof. I ate at Arepas Rellenas. According to my waiter, the arepa is a Venezuelan food. The Puerto Rican version uses wheat instead of corn to make the bread. An arepa is snack size so you need 2 or 3 to make a meal. I ordered the shrimp. Nicely seasoned, I’ll return for some other options.

The sign on the far right says Perurrican. That’s the other vendor, more of a full plate place. Many people start with an arepa then have the big plate.

Next up is Areyto Puerto Rican Fusion. I believe fusion is a word that translates to “our scam to charge higher prices.” I ordered fried pork with an Asian sauce. The meat was so dry I had to ask for additional sauce. Didn’t help much. The sauce was a few fried onions in soy sauce. The pleasant surprise of the meal was the malanga, a root vegetable. I tasted garlic as one of the seasonings. Whatever else they added made for a tasty side dish.

I don’t usually drink smoothies, but I have changed my mind about them after trying one yesterday from Crush Juice Bar. Mine had strawberries, banana, peanut butter, almonds and some other stuff. So delicious!

Most of my meals pass without any drama save for the occasional “sorry, we don’t have that today.” Not so yesterday. I’ve copied and pasted my Google maps review of Café del Ángel below.

“I’d give a zero star rating if I could. After sitting for 30 minutes waiting for my food, I asked where it was only to be told that the waiter never put in the order. Not only that, but he left the restaurant for half of the waiting time. We discussed for a couple of minutes what kind of mofongo I wanted so it wasn’t like he didn’t know. And the $10 drink the bartender concocted was worth half the price. Other people ordered and ate with no apparent complaints. Just my bad luck.”

From there I walked down the street to Ruben’s Café. I ordered mofongo con pollo but the waitress thought I said arroz con pollo, so that’s what I got. I was so happy to see food on a plate in front of me that I decided not to say anything. Towards the end of the meal a different woman asked me about the food. I jokingly told her that it was good but not what I ordered. She must have been the manager or owner because she gave me mofongo free of charge. That was my dinner last night. The good and bad in life usually evens out.

Shiner Bock is the featured image. I stopped in a bar in OSJ and asked for a dark beer. Thought I’d get a Puerto Rican artesanal, but was given a Texas brew.

That’s all for the food update. I’m going back to OSJ tomorrow or Thursday so there will be more photos.

Old San Juan (OSJ)

My new “must do” when arriving in a capital city: take the free walking tour. The guides’ extensive knowledge of the history of the city and country  always make for a most enjoyable history lesson. Be sure to tip well as this is how the guides make a living. Many are students or artists.

For the San Juan tour we met in Plaza Colón (Plaza Christopher Columbus).

One of the oldest buildings in OSJ sits across from the plaza, the national theater. It’s named after Puerto Rico’s most famous playwright.

While I’m on the subject of theater, I spotted this cafe while meandering through OSJ after the tour.

OSJ doesn’t have any “oh wow” architecture, in my opinion. Still, I saw a couple of interesting buildings.

This next photo looked like a typical OSJ residential street.

After the tour it was time for lunch. I headed for El Jiberito, a combination restaurant/cafeteria. You order off a menu, but the food is already prepared. Quick, tasty and relatively affordable. I chose sawfish with onions and peppers and a side of amarillos fritos (fried yellow plantains).

These tours offer highlights of the city which give me an idea of where I want to explore further. I’ll go back to OSJ in a few days, take more photos and post.

Since this visa run centers on writing a new play, there won’t be a lot of sightseeing pictures. Just letting you know. 😁

San Juan First Impressions

Where to begin. I’m staying in a tourist area called Ocean Park. My studio apartment is 1/2 block from a park and 2 blocks from the ocean. You see a lot of houses with signs like this around here advertising rooms/studio apartments for rent.

Long or short-term and a phone number

Last night I ate at an Italian restaurant near my place. I ordered a personal pepperoni that reminded me of a NY slice. It also cost $11. San Juan is expensive. When I told my host my opinion, he laughed and said it didn’t take me long to figure that out.

Medalla is a local beer. I didn’t know it was a light beer when I ordered it. I drank it but it’ll be the only one in this lifetime.

Went to the beach this morning and had to walk through a gated community to get there. The beach is nice and kite surfing is very popular, especially on a day like today when the wind was blowing 20-30mph.

If you look closely at the 3rd photo you can see 4 kite surfers.

For lunch I visited a barbacoa restaurant. The area around it is a little sketchy. Two businesses near it have security guards that buzz you in. The BBQ place is really nice though. I opted for the lunch special, garlic roasted chicken with rice and beans. It almost tasted like the delicious chicken I used to eat at a Puerto Rican restaurant in Brooklyn. Almost.

Ocean Park seems to be divided into two sections. The area near the ocean and the area beyond those 4 blocks. Calle Loiza is a mix of hip, upscale bars and restaurants (restobars, I’ve learned), and empty businesses. Maybe it’s going through a renaissance or the small businesses lost everything in the hurricanes. I discovered some street art, which I’ve read is plentiful in San Juan.

Tomorrow I’m taking a walking tour through Viejo San Juan. More photos to come.

A Word About Mexico Before I Leave

Because I usually have an early flight from Mexico City to anywhere I go, I stay at an Airbnb near the airport the night before. Case in point, I have a 5:45am flight tomorrow morning.

The point of this post is that of all the places I’ve lived, the most welcoming, helpful people are Mexicans. The example I’ll give here is just one of many.

My Airbnb is not located in an area with lots of eating options. When I asked my host for suggestions, she said, “Un momento.” A few minutes later she brought her daughter to take me looking for food. Thank goodness because I would have gotten lost on my own. To top it off she took me to a guy selling tamales on the street. Molé tamales.

Such fabulous people live in this country!

Molé tamale en un bolillo

San Juan, Puerto Rico

This is my next destination. A short trip by my standards–2 weeks–I’m truly excited to be going there. I had a favorite Puerto Rican restaurant in Brooklyn when I lived there and can’t wait to taste all of the delicious foods that await me in San Juan. After doing my research I know this will be a food-centric trip. Lots of food trucks offer local fare and I will eat some seafood. How can I be on an island and not do so? 🙂

I going to partake in a few organized activities, but my main focus for this trip will center on food, talking to locals and the beach.

I will be there April 2-16. If you sign up to follow the blog you’ll receive an email each time I publish a post. Hasta luego!

I have a new blog!

While I love to write about my travels, an equal passion is theater. I’m a playwright and have just created Michael’s Plays and Other Writings. Most of the plays I publish on the blog have been produced; some in English, some in Spanish. Hope you enjoy reading them and if you happen to be a theater professional, you can produce them royalty free. Contact me to discuss. Thank you.

Here’s the link: https://michaelsshortplays.wordpress.com/

 

Free Book!

From 2010-15 I lived in China and taught English at a Chinese university. I wrote emails to family and friends about my experiences in a new country, culture and more, including all the countries I visited during my school breaks. I have written a book with the emails and my added thoughts, things I couldn’t write about when I lived there.

For the next few days, until January 6th, I believe, the e-book is free. Here’s the link to find it. Please share this and leave a review on Amazon if you wish:

Thank you.

My Second Book Is Finished!

I know that this has nothing to do with Croatia, but I can justify posting about it as it falls under “& More.” 🙂

Below is the promotional blurb for the book on Amazon.

When my Peace Corps service ended (Kyrgyzstan 2008-10) I knew I wanted to continue living and teaching abroad. The first offer came from China, a country that mystifies many and is understood by few. I accepted a teaching position at a university in Nanchang, Jiangxi province and began an exciting, adventurous new chapter of my life. Thinking I would only stay a year, I lived there for five as I taught, traveled and most of all, learned much about a part of the world that was previously a mystery to me.

The format of the book follows that of my first one, “Mail from Kyrgyzstan: My Life As An Over-50 Peace Corps Volunteer.” It includes the emails I wrote to friends and family, and in addition to them I have added my personal thoughts, expanded on stories and added new material that I didn’t think appropriate to write about at the time.

Only $0.99 for the ebook. Please share this post and thank you for your support.

 

No More Posts

I’ve decided to shut down this blog for a number of reasons.

  1. I looked at the photos I took over the past four days and they are all of old churches, old buildings and old statues; pretty landscapes; food you’ve almost certainly seen before. They are not exciting when I look at them, I can’t believe they would be for you.
  2. Readership is way down from my Portugal blog which tells me that the Balkans aren’t so interesting or my posts aren’t. Most of my several followers haven’t even read a single post. Friends of mine who signed up for email notifications haven’t read anything, either. I know this because I know where they live and their country hasn’t shown up on my map widget.
  3. Most importantly, I’m not excited about this trip and what I’m seeing. It’s a rehash of other countries I’ve visited. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between Poland and Croatia/Slovenia. Churches, castles, similar foods. Writing about it is work, not joy.

I chose Croatia because of the hype. It was the new hot place to go. My curiosity was piqued. In the future I will listen only to my instincts as I’ve done in the past.

If you really want to learn more about this part of the world, there are thousands of blogs online written by people who are enthusiastic about the Balkans.

Until next trip…

 

Zagreb – Food & Drink

My first night I walked about 5 minutes to Baranjska Citadela. It serves food from the Baranja region of Croatia in the far eastern part of the country. I ordered ćobanac, a beef and dumpling soup with a spicy paprika broth. I envisioned my Polish grandmother standing at her wood burning stove tending to the soups she made. I drank a beer brewed in the same region, Osječko.

In a park not far from the main square (Zagreb has many green spaces.), 20 or more hamburger restaurants were grilling all kinds of fancy fare. Burgers with black truffles, with white truffles, with a Jameson whiskey sauce and who knows what else tempted hungry tourists and locals alike at a Burger Festival. My burger, along with a locally brewed stout, made for a delicious lunch.

Based on a recommendation from Kristina, our walking tour guide, I visited a small local eatery near the square called Heritage; small as in 2 tables, 5 stools and no toilet. A winner of Best Chef of Croatia and a couple of his friends opened a tapas-like place that uses only ingredients made and grown in Croatia. The food was so good that I went there twice. The server explains the origin of each ingredient in each tapa you order. I drank a tasty artisanal beer and a glass of blackberry dessert wine there, as well. Click on the tapas’ photos to learn the ingredients.

Cheese and olives tapas
Cheese, olives and capers with a blackberry dessert wine

Another wonderful restaurant in my heighborhood (menu only in Croatian) introduced me to čufta–which is meatball in Croatian–a large minced pork patty topped with melted cheese and bacon. Good thing my diet doesn’t begin until I get back to Mexico. This meal was also accompanied with a dark beer, Korlovačko crno. Crno means black.

 

I ate my favorite meal today. It rained all morning and it was quite chilly, but I knew I had to go out to find something to eat. As I was leaving, my host Izidor told me he had made some soup and would I like some. He didn’t have to ask twice. It was a savory bean and barley soup with homemade bacon. He offered seconds and I readily accepted. What a great way to end a week at my Airbnb!

I encountered an interesting practice at a few restaurants, all of them in my neighborhood, not the tourist area. Here’s an example: I ordered spaghetti bolognese at an Italian restaurant near my house. On the receipt pictured below you can see that I was charged for both the spaghetti and the sauce. It was not a surprise; it’s listed that way on the menu. If I had ordered penne, I would have been charged 12kuna instead of 14. And carbonara was a different price than bolognese.

Restaurant receipt.jpg

Tomorrow morning I take a 2.5 hour bus ride to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. I’m excited about the week I’ll spend there. Not sure what’s up after that.

 

 

Zagreb – Lots to Offer

Activities

This city of almost 1 million people–the country has 4 million–offers something for a wide range of tourists’ interests. I love zoos and Zagreb’s is located inside a lovely lake-filled park, Maksimir Park.

Zagreb Zoo.jpg

As soon as I took the photo, it turned its head away

One of the best ways I’ve found to learn about a city’s center is to take a walking tour. In Zagreb, a free tour is available through https://www.freetour.com/zagreb/free-spirit-walking-tour. Our guide, Kristina, covered the important sights over two hours, added some historical context, and sprinkled in her personal thoughts and experiences. It was informative and enjoyable as Zagreb is her hometown.

I visited two museums. I wanted to see the retrospective of the Croat impressionist, Izet Đuzel, at the Mimara Museum; the Museum of Contemporary Art featured a fascinating look at life in the 1960’s in Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia and under the control of Russia. The decade seems to be one of rebellion, avant-garde ideas in the arts and product innovation. I took a few photos of products that looked like what we had in the US at the same time.

Mimara Museum.jpg
Mimara Museum

Talk about sightseeing rarely includes cemeteries, but Mirogoj is an exception. Huge crypts can be found everywhere because entire families are buried together. I saw one headstone with 10 names. If cemeteries can be beautiful and architecturally interesting, Mirogoj fits the description. Two main features of Mirogoj are the wall surrounding it and the impressive looking tomb of Franjo Tudman, the first president of Croatia.

Zagreb – Where to Stay

This post isn’t specifically about Zagreb, but I’m going to use it for this one. Zagreb is home to close to a million people and as with most large cities, the action is downtown, or as it’s called here, “The Centar.” Most people choose to stay where they can find everything they want within a few blocks. I usually do that. But, this time I chose an Airbnb outside the center in a middle-class residential area called Ravnice. My room was $12/night; rooms in the center averaged $25 and up.

From my house I had to walk 10 minutes to reach the tram (cheap, popular and lots of them); the ride downtown took 10-15 minutes. It never seemed like a long trip and I saw some of the city that I otherwise wouldn’t have, like the big football stadium.

Negatives: time spent commuting unless you use Uber, which is pretty cheap, too; not as many of anything to choose from, especially restaurants; menus only in Croatian because the clientele is 99% locals, but most of the waiters speak English and are happy to translate.

Positives: seeing how the locals live; finding unexpected restaurants that serve quality food at non-tourist prices; being closer to some popular attractions such as the zoo and a beautiful park with many small lakes; peace and quiet.

I’m still a city guy at heart, but I’d do the occasional stay a short distance from the tourist hub again. You can’t put a price on peace and quiet.

 

Zagreb – First Impressions

I hadn’t been on the ground five minutes before making my first mistake and encountering my first understanding Croatian. At Passport Control I found myself at the EU citizen booth because I saw “All Passports” without checking to see if I could just go to any line. Of course, I’ve traveled enough to know that nationals and tourists go to separate lines, but I was really lacking sleep when we arrived in Zagreb. Anyway, after telling me my error, the agent said not to move, that he would stamp my passport. This saved me the embarrassment of moving to the end of the correct queue.

To get to my Airbnb I needed to take the tram, but didn’t know which direction would move me to and not away from it. The man I asked not only told me the direction, but also counted the stops and told me mine was the second one after the big stadium. Once off the train I became confused at a fork in the road and didn’t know which street to follow. It soon became obvious that I was walking in circles. And because my phone hasn’t been working so well, Google maps couldn’t help me. All of the five people I eventually asked for help did so happily, even though they didn’t actually know where my house was located. I eventually found a spot where I could use my phone and found my way. What should have been a 15-minute walk took an hour. I prefer to say I wasn’t lost, just exploring the neighborhood.

This leads me to my final first impression. Everybody I asked–from students to seniors–spoke decent English; some spoke it very well. It’s almost as if English is a co-first language in Zagreb. Perhaps this isn’t true outside of the capital and the tourist areas, but for now it’s helping me learn a lot about Croatian culture firsthand instead of having to search the Internet.

The weather has been a pleasant surprise. The afternoon temperature yesterday and today was about 28C. The forecast calls for cooler weather in a few days but still warm.  Yippeee!!!

On my Portugal blog I wrote one post for each city I visited. I think for this trip I’ll post whenever I have enough information to do so.

 

Week 1 – New York City

New York City, my adopted hometown. I lived there for 10 years, leaving in 2008. It has changed so much and not for the better in my opinion. While I enjoyed my visit, walking the city confirmed my long-held belief that I left at a good time. I still think it’s the best city in the world, but a city for the wealthy, now more than ever.

And now that I’m over 60 I see that it’s a mecca for the young, trying to prove themselves in any number of professions, the arts and Wall Street foremost among them.

Wealthy NYC.jpg
New luxury residences near the Hudson River

My greatest pleasures were seeing my friends. I ate lunch with my tenant of many years (until I sold my apartment)(no photo); my boss at Citibank (until I left for the Peace Corps)(left photo); and my dear friend, a stand up comedian and theater director (middle photo). To give you an idea of how expensive NYC can be, the three lunches totaled ~$300 and we didn’t go crazy with drinks. At one place I ordered a cheeseburger; $20. But, hey it came with fries.

The man I call my brother (right photo) took me to a Yankees game. We also hung out as often as we could when he wasn’t in rehearsal for his latest play.

I stayed in a northern Manhattan neighborhood called Inwood. It’s labeled the last affordable area on the island because you can still get a one-bedroom apartment there for $2000/month. Inwood is also a very green area with three lovely parks. One side note: the neighborhood is predominantly Dominican so one hears Spanish spoken everywhere. I felt like I hadn’t left Mexico.

Dyckman Farmhouse
Dyckman Farmhouse, one of the last remaining in NYC
Fort Tryon Park entrance
Entrance to Fort Tryon Park

My final night in the city I visited my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Such wonderful memories and yet, I wouldn’t want to live there again. It was a very special time in my life, but lots of world to see for me. I’m happy I made the stop in NYC because I have no idea when I’ll be back. For that matter, I don’t know when I’ll be back in the US. Several years, I’m thinking.

A Short Stop before Croatia

Because I lived in NYC for 10 years and it’s (sorta) on the way, the first week of my trip will be spent there visiting friends and seeing what’s new since my last visit, like the High Line Park and the new WTC. It’s a good thing I’m not superstitious. I’m flying to JFK on September 11th.

I can tell you now that my blog is misnamed because while I’m going to explore some of Croatia, my journey will also take me to Slovenia and Trieste, Italy. I might spend more time outside of Croatia than in. It’ll depend on how much of Italy I want to see. That’s okay as I’m pretty sure this won’t be my only visit to the Balkans.

One of the matters that must be dealt with on a multi-country trip is money. Slovenia and Italy use the Euro and while Croatia is also part of the European Union, they have their own currency, the kuna. So, with my pesos, dollars, euros and kuna I could be a cambio. I’m bringing a few plastic ziplock bags to keep them separate.

The weather forecast for my week in Zagreb is 20-22C. Ljubljana is cooler at 16-18C, but Trieste is supposed to be 20-22C even in the 3rd week of October which is very welcome. After the Arctic chill I endured in Portugal in January/February I’ve earned some good weather. : ))

I’m totally looking forward to this trip and should have some interesting posts to publish here.

Travel Bloggers

While planning my trip I have learned more about what I call “professional” travel bloggers. These are the people that make money when potential tourists click on or buy something that’s mentioned in one of their posts, or profess to be very knowledgeable about their topic. While I have no doubt they want to enlighten travelers to the country or products/services they’re pushing, I believe money is their main motivator. My opinion covers bloggers everywhere, not just Croatia.

I began following a few Croatia travel blogs on Twitter. It didn’t take long for me to see that 90% of their posts focused on the coastline; the remaining 10% talked about Zagreb and the surrounding area. It’s as if all the inland cities and towns don’t exist. Within a couple of weeks, after seeing posts that were basically variations on a single theme (Croatia’s coast and its islands/cities), I unfollowed them. I wasn’t seeing anything new and nothing about the other parts of the country.

These bloggers say that they are there to help, so if you have any questions, please email them. I thought this was a great idea, so I did. I emailed two bloggers asking for a few places of interest as I travel from Zagreb to Vukovar in the far eastern part of the country. That was weeks ago and no response from either. Perhaps they can’t be bothered because that’s not a money-making section of Croatia for them.

I don’t blame bloggers for “following the money,” publicizing the most popular parts of a country, but don’t say you cover the entire country, because in my limited experience, that doesn’t seem to be true at all. I’ve decided to check TripAdvisor where I can read about the experiences of regular travelers; I’ll also rely on the people I meet at the places I stay (hotels and Airbnb) for advice. I’ve been assured by one host that she’ll help me with my itinerary.

I’m less than one month from arriving in Zagreb and very excited about my trip. Please share my blog address with anyone you feel might be interested. Thank you.

Planning My Itinerary

Normally when planning my itinerary I look at the map of the country I’m visiting and decide whether to go north or south first, write down the names of some cities and go from there. I’m trying to do the same thing with Croatia, but it’s a little more difficult because of the country’s irregular shape. It’s not always easy to get from here to there.

area-map-of-Croatia

Most tourists fly into Zagreb, spend a few days and make haste for the coast. Croatia is a country of 1200+ islands, lots of beaches and a couple of “must see” cities, Split and Dubrovnik. I plan on taking a different route.

I want to stay mostly inland for two reasons. One, two-thirds of my trip is in October which is past the sunbathing season and two, so many of my previous trips have centered around beaches that I’m not as enthusiastic about them as before. I’ve also read that Croatia has mostly pebble beaches. I’m sure they’re nice, but I’m a white sand kind of beach guy.

After a week in Zagreb, I’ll visit towns/villages around it, such as Varazdin (north of Zagreb), Samobar (20 km west) and Plitvice Lakes (a day tour). From Varazdin I can take a bus into Slovenia for a few days if I want.

Making my way back to Zagreb, I will then bus my way to the far eastern border city of Ilok, across from Serbia. Places to see on the way include Vukovar, Marija Bistrica and Osijek, among others. There are regional foods and wines to be tasted and I believe the culture will be a little different than the capital and the coast; fewer English speakers, too, is my guess.

From there I have two choices. I can fly from Osijek to Dubrovnik and make my way up the coast, or I can take a bus into Bosnia-Herzegovina to visit Sarajevo and Mostar before returning to Croatia.

These plans are very flexible and I’m still doing some research. I have six weeks to plan for and I’m thinking I won’t stay in Croatia the entire time. You can see from the map how close I am to Italy, so a week there is also an option.

That’s my update. I’m getting more excited by the day. If you become a follower you’ll be notified every time I publish a post.