Saturday, December 2, 2006

Dubrovnik notes from a broad

Dobar dan!
That's hello in Croatian. Kako ste? How are you?

Dreamy Dubrovnik
I couldn't have asked for a dreamier welcome to Dubrovnik. Crystal clear weather and water, and a sunset wedding in Stari Grad (the old walled part of the city). Beautiful bride. Everyone in the wedding party looked like a Mediterranean model. Well, Adriatic (technically), I suppose. Musicians escorted the newlyweds, guests, and tourists down the Stradun (the main drag) as the guests and the musicians sang some sort of song that sounded old and one can only assume traditional. In addition to singing, the wedding party guests danced and love-jones-ed as the trail of bliss floated outside the city walls at a snail's pace and then into cars and off into the twilight. All the while hordes of swallows swooped and sang from the rooftops. It was way cool man. To say the least. As for Dubrovnik. Perfection. I love it there. The people are wonderful as the city is beautiful. Which is to say, very. Looks kinda like the French Riviera to me, both in terms of the vegetation and the architecture. With a little Italy thrown in for flair.

Save the Kittens
Like Greece, and to a lesser degree Venice, Dubrovnik and the surrounding area is littered with feral cats. And where there are feral cats, there are kittens. My mother used to feed the feral cats at a local park when I was a kid and she firmly instilled in me a bleeding and soft heart for the furry creatures. Especially the wild ones. So it was deeply difficult for me to resist spending all of my allotted money to burn on the wild and wildly adorable kittens here. I'd focus my efforts on the grown ups, but the kittens are just too cute and skinny to ignore. All my concern was for them! Some people (locals) do put out a bit of food and water for them, but if I were here 24/7 these little guys would be heaps plumper. I saw a grown male cat attack a sweet little kitten over some food that was left by a bleeding heart. I didn't think twice before batting him away and trying to coax the kitten back out of the rocks so s/he could eat. To no avail. Another adult lunged and the scraps were gone. Sigh. And this guy is a member of the cutest litter possible. One white and orange, one black, one black and white, one white and tigerish. All with brilliant blue eyes. They are uncannily cute and I wish I could take them all home with me. Seriously thinking of relocating to the area so that I can look after them. And get them all spade and neutered.

Death in Dubrovnik
I watched a dim dove get run over by my slow-moving bus. It waited until the bus passed over it and then tried to fly up, no doubt. As the bus drove off it was trailed by a tail of feathers. No body though. Guess it's still under the bus...

Arguments in Paradise
As you may have learned by now, I like to eavesdrop. It's part of the fun on any good vacation to Europe, in particular. With so many people and languages swirling about, no one knows what you speak or comprehend until or unless you open your mouth. So if you pretend not to understand, people will often keep talking. And louder even. I've heard lots of good arguments in Budapest and Dubrovnik now, but my favorite was the old couple on the bus the other day, on their way into Dubrovnik (I'm staying just outside the old town). The husband apparently assumed they were headed into town to watch the sunset. The wife thought differently: "I've seen a sunset before. I've seen lots of sunsets. It's my 80th birthday and I want to have dinner in peace." The husband: "I know you've seen a sunset. So have I. But sunsets are peaceful. Romantic even. What if we had dinner at a restaurant with a view of the sea and the sunset. Would you like that?" The wife: "I told you. I've seen a sunset. And romance. Ha! Don't make me laugh. You don't know the first thing about romance. So I'll just go with the original plan. Dinner." You get the gist. It got uglier and then I didn't get to hear the end because we reached our stop and all got off the bus.

TV Time
I love satellite TV. It's such a treat since I don't have cable at home. And no, I don't want cable. It's too expensive and all I'd do every night and weekend is sit on my already fat ass and watch shit like 24/7 Law and Order, Flavor of Love, music videos, movies, etc. Anyway. CSI with Croatian subtitles. Ahhh... Gary Dourdan. Glad they don't dub it. But I'm sure he'd still be just as sexy. Even in Croatian (which to me sounds like Slavic Italian and is slightly sexy in and of itself). Next we have German MTV. Huh-larious. You get to see German rappers and hear stuff like, "und meinen homies..." There's weird English peppered everywhere. It's highly entertaining. I also watched a half hour of Pimp My Ride International.

Bird Watching
Before leaving the Bay, I thought I'd seen the world's largest hummingbird at my local Longs Drugs. If you're into birds, the one near where I live is the spot. Its huge indoor-outdoor garden selection of plants both local and exotic draws quite the winged crowd. My mom and I asked our cashier if the birds could go in and out: "Oh yes. They have the doors timed. They love it here. Build nests and frequent aisle 11 for birdseed." And just when I thought I'd seen it all, a huge red-breasted hummer cruised the length of the store from gardening down to the pharmacy. Looking for cold medicine, I imagine. Later my mom found the little guy feasting feverishly on five varieties of flowers. She motioned to me to come over and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. This kid was huge and so into his flowers that he could care less that we were only inches away from his royal redness. It was the coolest hummingbird experience I've ever had. Until now. I was sitting on a rock outcrop near my hotel (the Hotel Zagreb in Lapad, which is perfect, by the way and I highly recommend it if you want to visit Dubrovnik), watching the sun rise and shine on the serene blue-green water of the Adriatic when a mammoth hummingbird floated by - hovering low, just above the water. He was majestic. With the golden morning light on his back his feathers blazed a bright turquoise blue - almost the color of the water below him. He later zoomed by me again, headed in the opposite direction, disappearing directly into the blinding sunlight.

On one of my day trips to the crazy-cute town of Cavtat (pronounced Tsavtat; the 'ts' like that in 'cats') I walked straight through the city, which is to say I hiked over it. Cavtat town is mostly on hill. All stone houses and small lanes. All of these towns here remind me of Venice, except for the hills, because Venice is 100% flat (save the bridges and plentiful stairs in all the buildings). Anyway, on this hike through town, I'd reached the top of the city and started down the back way. It required I go through a narrow lane, a stone stairway really, passing by vegetables, figs, and flowers in what looked like a community garden. The garden was to my right, the flowers to my left. It was a little loud and scary because the flowers were being worked over by what sounded like thousands of busy, buzzing bees. It might well have been thousands. But i didn't bother to count. I've never been stung and I was hoping to keep it that way. Just as I was starting to dart cautiously down the hill, a HUGE bee caught my eye and I froze. I'd never seen a bee, bumble or otherwise, that beefy before. And what a weird tongue... I leaned in a little closer and realized it wasn't a huge bee, but a teeny-tiny hummingbird with a tail colored to look like that of a striped bumble. Amazing! After that sighting, I saw another in Dubrovnik (nearly caught and consumed by a hungry little hunting kitten), and one more in the little walled town of Ston. It's the only time I've really wished I had a zoom lens so I could get a good picture of something so small and wonderful, like this. Oh well. I even tried to Google this little guy for you, but came up with nothing.

A special shout out and thank you to Jason for finding images of these mysterious and elusive little creatures. You rock. Click here to see pictures of the wild bumbles. Find even more images and info by surfing on over here.

Inquiring Irish
On my 25 minute walk around the peninsula of Cavtat (amazing panoramic views of Dubrovnik, other towns, and islands in the Adriatic abound) I was stopped by an old Irish man. He wanted to know where I was from and when I told him near San Francisco. With that out of the way, he then wondered if I'd ever been to "Lake Tay'oh" (that's Lake Tahoe for those of you who don't speak Irish; neither do I, so it took me a long pause to compute and respond, "No. Never actually been to Lake Tahoe.").

Bay of Grey
It was an unfortunately very grey day when I visited the bay and town of Kotor in nearby Montenegro. Montenegro is officially it's own country now, by the way. Literally just happened. Serbia is on it's own now, too. But it's still Bosnia & Herzegovina together. For how long, I have no idea. Despite the dreary weather, it was a lovely trip. The Republic of Montenegro is picturesque and poor. People only make 300 Euros per month, on average. Makes Croatians seem rich, which they are absolutely not. The bay is huge and amazing and the town of Kotor is wonderful. It was inevitable that I would like it because for many 100s of years it belonged to and was carved out by my favorite old republic; that of Venice. Unlike Venice though, it has hills. And like Venice, it is also an UNESCO World Heritage site. I visited Kotor and its bay via the Elite travel agency; one of many travel agencies here that arrange day trips in the region. As I suspected, I was one of the youngest (the youngest) day trippers and one of the only ones without a plethora of white or silver hair. It was a long day and I was blessed with the natural entertainment of what I regard as the world's funniest people: the British. There were two couples whom I was planted in between for the duration of the long boat ride out on the bay and they were bloody fucking hilarious. One in their 40s and the other in their 50s, they were also among the "younger" couples on this excursion. They had me in stitches with jokes ("This is the English speaking group, love. You sure that includes you?" - Poking fun at Americans and our "English") that spanned everything from politics, to sheep, to Germans, Australians, New Zealanders, and the French. There were a few off-color jokes from one of the wives about "Negroes" that I let slide because they weren't hyper-offensive and I didn't feel like getting into it since I was having such a good time otherwise. The boat came complete with a kitchen in which whole fish were grilled (with the heads) and served up for lunch along with feta, tomatoes, onions, and plenty of wine. The fish were bony and I decided to dine on the dried figs I'd brought along (typical of the region). My English friends proceeded to get sloshed and tell ever dirtier jokes and stories. It was fantastic. The one brief serious moment came when I asked what they all thought of Romania and Bulgaria being approved to join the EU in January of 2007. The former banker in his 40s quickly sobered up and let rip his disapproval and began to explain to me in strictly economic terms why the EU was headed for disaster and break-up. Each of the four agreed. And then it was back to bashing Germans. One husband told a true story of six Germans killed on a safari (via hot air balloon) in South Africa. "Bloody shame about that. I hope they were able to fix the balloon." Ouch.

Damn Them Dirty Old Men
I made the mistake of venturing into a shop at the end of a small lane of the Stradun, at the beckoning of what seemed a nice shop keep. Wrong! The nasty old man grabbed and kissed my hand, shuffled me into his store, and then tried to kiss me! Can you fucking believe that? He was mumbling something about "nero" and as I pushed him away I said "Black?" "Yes. Black. Black is so beautiful. Your skin is so... (kissing sound). I close shop at 7. May I take you for a drink?" Hell mother fucking no you can't take me for a drink! (Shudder) You're like what, 65, fat as hell, and butt ugly. What would make you think in your wildest dreams that a girl my age would consent to some sick shit like that? Men. I'll never understand where they muster the nerve from sometimes. That's now one of two little lanes I'm avoiding like the plague. The other...

Younger Man, Still Dirty
On my way to buy pastries and dinner from this great bakery (Niko) I was stopped (grabbed, really) by this guy in his early 40s. "Where are you from? Do you live here? I have seen you every day and I find you to be very interesting. I have a restaurant, just here. May I cook something for you and talk to you for a while?" Again, hell no. I get that I'm something of a pink poodle within this haven of homogeneity, but the attention is creepy nonetheless. I just can't get used to it. And the methods for getting my attention are a lot too hands-on. I don't feel unsafe, I just feel mildly violated. (Well, more than mild in the case of the old man.) Why do people think it's okay to put their hands on you? Look, talk. But don't touch. Is that not a basic, universal code of conduct between strangers?

Tiny Dubrovnik
is tiny. For some reason I was expecting something more on the scale of half a Venice, which can take at least a month to get to know intimately. You can know Dubrovnik like the back of your hand in a day. Two, tops.

Itsy Bitsy Korcula Town
I thought Dubrovnik was tiny. Well, the town of Korcula on the island of Korcula is itsy bitsy. I was worried that two hours to wander around wouldn't be nearly enough. Wrong again. You can know Korcula Town like the back of your hand in oh, say 30 minutes. 45, tops.

Passegiata a la Croatia
As in Italy, everyone takes an evening stroll before dinner. It's not called a passegiata here, but it's essentially the same thing. Tons of old people, couples, and parents with kids in strollers. Strolling. And all these women with the babies and toddlers. How is it that they all have size 0 to 6 figures? They all look like models. Seriously. It's very intimidating. You'd never find this many shapely, attractive women in the States. Even in a town like Los Angeles or Miami. There everyone looks plastic. These women are au natural and they're all perfect. It's sick. In a good way.

Kids Will Be Kids
On the bus ride back to Dubrovnik from Cavtat, it was just about the time kids were getting out of school. I sat in the back of the bus with about five bad asses under the age of 13 who were throwing trash out the windows, flipping off cars and passersby, yelling to their friends and probably cursing to strangers (it was all in Croatian, mind you).

Figs, Olives, and Pomegranates Galore
The terrain here is very rocky, watery, and green. Dubrovnik and the rest of the region is surrounded by white limestone cliffs peppered with the happy apple green of the same pines you find in the south of France, the deep green of the same cypress trees you find in Tuscany, fig trees, and olive trees. In some parts there are also vineyards. The ones on the hills remind me of the vineyards in the Cinque Terre town of Corniglia. It's actually harvest time, so you see people out working in the heat, collecting the grapes.

Illegal Dumping in Plain Sight
I was on my favorite little beach one afternoon, near my hotel, and was unfortunately witness to some illegal dumping. A little Australian girl, old enough to know better, had taken a crap in her bikini and then disposed of the waste on the shoreline. Na-sty. Her mom didn't see and everyone else was too zoned out in a sunbathing stupor to notice.

Getting Treated Like a Local
I patronized Niko so many times that the ladies there all know me. One was particularly nice and told me which items were fresh and which weren't. Prior to helping me I watched her sell day-old pastries to tourists.

Death Defying Drive
I'm going to Sorrento for two-and-a-half weeks in April to explore the Amalfi Coast. My day trip to Korcula proved good prep for Italy, I think. The driving here along the coast is similarly death defying. On the way back the bus was hugging the outside lane and if you looked over the edge and down the rocky cliffs, you could indeed see many (too many) rusted out skeletons of vehicles past.

Immigration Issues
There was an interesting, though sensational, series of articles in the September 11th international edition of Newsweek that I picked up for kicks. Made me wonder if Hungary and Croatia are really as homogeneous as they seem (I couldn't tell a Croat from a Serb from a Montenegrin from a Bosnia-Herzegovian if you were offering to pay me my weight in platinum for the correct answer), and for how long this will hold true. The articles addressed the causes and effects of various international immigration (and integration) issues. Here are some stats to think about...

In 2002, the number of Moroccans moving to Spain
outnumbered Ecuadorans doing the same thing. In 2005 the Ecuadorans are now coming to Spain in larger numbers than Moroccans. Similar situation in Italy where in 2000 more Moroccans moved to Italy than did Albanians. Now more Albanians are moving in to call Italy home than are Moroccans.

In 2004 unemployment among Britain
's 1.6 million Muslims was 3 times the national average. For Muslim men in the UK the unemployment rate is 13% vs. the 3-8% for men of other religions.

600,000 Eastern Europeans came to live and work in the UK
in 2004-2005. This is the single largest wave of immigration in Britain's history. Most of these immigrants from the last two years were Polish. According to the UK's government stats, 97% of these 600,000 immigrants found employment.

Quote from a Muslim business owner in West London
, "If your name is Mohammad and you speak English, or Richard and you don't, employers will pick Richard."

Burmese are moving to Thailand
for a better life. As are people from Bangladesh, moving to Mozambique. Argentine job ads are placed in Bolivian newspapers.

Of 191 million total global migrants...

...61 million people move from developing nations to another developing country. (poor to poor)

...62 million people move from developing nations to developed nations. (poor to rich)

...53 million people move between developed nations. (rich to rich)

...14 million people move from developed nations to developing countries (rich to poor)

War Photo Limited Exhibition Center
has an excellent little museum of war photography. There is a standing exhibit of images from the recent war, and then exhibits that come and go. I saw a really heart-wrenching exhibit here of images from war-torn Africa. Really gruesome, awful stuff. Sigh. But no one cares about Africa. As Anderson Cooper said on CNN the same night.

Anderson Cooper on Africa
He gave a great report on CNN. Discussing Chad, Sudan, and the Congo region and the worst atrocities taking place in the Darfur region at the moment.

The Whitest Person on the Beach
While I was reading one day on the beach, this Australian couple next to me got up to leave. The girl started singing, "I'm the whitest person on the beeeach! I'm the whitest person..." I started laughing and she nearly screamed. Wasn't expecting anyone nearby to speak English. We had a little chat and I informed her that, actually, the Irish couple over yonder was, technically, the whitest on the beach. And the most likely to be burnt at the end of their holiday.

You Know, the Italians Eat Cats
This old man who lives near the harbor stopped to talk to me as I was playing with four of the locals (cats). "You like cats? You want to take one home with you? Take your pick. We all love animals here. We all feed them. You know the Italians eat cats. They have a special recipe. During WWII you could get good money for a big cat. Big like a rabbit. We also had Jews in Dubrovnik in WWII. Did you know that? We had Jewish streets and a synagogue and about 30 Jewish families. We took the names off the streets and had everything Jewish removed to protect the people." After this ramble, he went on to tackle the United States for me. "America is a very bad country. You seem like a nice woman, but your country is evil. I am sorry to tell you. [Yes, yes. I am well aware.] It does some good things but many more bad things. Democracy is good, but not the American way of democracy. America is not a democracy. It is corrupt and does as it pleases. Like all other bad republics, it will pay a price. It is too bad, America." He then went on to explain to me that after a hellish muddle through miles of red tape, Croatians can still be denied entry to the U.S. when they arrive at customs. Visa or no visa.

A Silent Sentiment, Spoken
I met a very nice (and very handsome) Croatian painter from Zagreb (the capital city) who comes to Dubrovnik for 6-7 months each year to sell his work. He was 36 and old enough to remember life in the former Yugoslavia. Says it was much better than capitalism. He lit a cigarette and launched into a 30 minute tirade about the evils of capitalism (and, of course, of the United States) and how much better the former system had been. I was surprised and said, "No one ever tells you that." He said that it's a common sentiment, but not popular to give voice to. For fear that you'll be labeled nostalgic. "People used to have the money to buy a car. Everyone had a flat and plenty of food. We could all take a summer and a winter holiday with friends or family. Life was better. Now we have rich and many more poor. Too many."

Furball Fiesta
I broke down and bought a bounty of food for the local felines. Thought they deserved a free feast on my last kuna (Croatian money). Bought 25 USD worth of food and walked all over the city feeding my favorite cats. It was wunderbar.

From Me to You
My friend at the popular Niko bakery in the walled portion of Dubrovnik gave me everything I bought on my last day as a gift, she said, "From me to you."

Queue at Your Own Risk
Before I'd been to Europe I'd only ever heard the rumors that Europeans don't know how to line up according to the unwritten rules of common courtesy and etiquette. Well, that's a generalization that I'm afraid is true from France to Croatia. The Too-Short "get in where you fit in..." song comes to mind. Little old ladies will literally push you out of the way to climb ahead of you onto the bus, in the checkout line at the market, at the deli. It's a free-for-all. You've got to be either wacky patient or an asshole. When the little old lady with a cart full of groceries tried to cut me in line at the market, and I had only a bottle of water to pay for, I decided to be the asshole. I'm quite happy with my decision. She was not. She huffed off to a line nearby and nearly ran over a woman and child with her cart to fly ahead of them. I think she caught them off guard enough that they didn't protest and let her in.

Others Abroad
Short video of Michael Palin's travels in Croatia.

Questions? Ask away! Please use the comments feature to ask questions rather than contacting Marisa directly. That way everyone can learn a thing or two, too.


  1. the hummingbird moth is around in the u.s. too! i've spotted one in the raleigh area and many in the asheville area.

  2. I'm jealous. I've lived in California all my life and seen not a one. They're curious little creatures, eh? Cute, too. If I'm ever in Raleigh or Asheville, I'll be on the lookout!



Related Posts with Thumbnails