I’ve decided to shut down this blog for a number of reasons.
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.
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.
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.
Slovenia, the native land of America’s first lady, didn’t thrill me like I had hoped it would. Well, in a couple of areas it did. Perhaps it’s not fair that I’m comparing it to Croatia and Zagreb, specifically–it could be totally better than other Balkan countries–but that’s my only reference point. I was expecting the country to be a cool place simply based on the cool sounding name of its capital, Ljubljana (lube-lee-ahna), but it wasn’t, at least not in the immediate feel, first impression kind of way. What disappointed me the most is that overall, the people aren’t as friendly here and, sadly, as I read in a museum this morning, the xenophobic feeling of Slovenians, which existed for many centuries, is making a comeback.
I liked a few things about the country. You can drink the tap water. That saves money. Drivers are courteous, stopping to let pedestrians cross at every crosswalk where no stoplight is present. The scenery in the countryside is picturesque, some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Even better than Portugal which I was sure couldn’t be surpassed. On the bus from Zagreb I saw hillside houses, farms and fields and thought how nice it would be to live there. Oh, and the beer. The pivo was one of the two highlights of my time in Slovenia. (More about that in the food section.)
The other one was five young people I met with whom I was able to engage in lengthy dialogues. This is one of the benefits in traveling during the off-season when crowds are smaller. Speaking of crowds, I truly believe half of the foreign tourists in town right now (as opposed to national tourists) are from Asia. Japan and China make up the majority, but one store owner told me lots of Koreans, Indonesians and Malaysians also visit. Back to the young people.
The two guys in the photo below are students. They work at a kielbasa shop and we chatted for almost an hour as business was slow in mid-afternoon. They’d like to find jobs abroad. Leah is a bartender who wants to attend a dance academy in Amsterdam. Auditions are next April. Lidja, another bartender, was applying for a higher paying job and when she heard me say I was an English teacher, she asked me if I would help her with her cover letter, which she conveniently had with her. That was total fun. And finally, my waiter at a restaurant near where I was staying told me that he lived in Miami for six years when he worked on a cruise ship. I told him that he probably lived on the ship more than in Miami. He laughed and agreed. The time I spent talking with these locals, well, it was special.
I’m sad that I’m writing about Ljubljana and I still have 2 1/2 days here. I’m manufacturing things to do to get me to Tuesday. One thing I’ve learned in my travels is that not every destination lives up to the self-imposed hype we place on it. My track record has been top notch, but I missed the boat with Slovenia. Two more posts, activities and food , will follow shortly.
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.
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.
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.