Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dubrovnik -- and Rain

As mentioned, the rain started immediately after we ended our cycling yesterday. As it continued on and off through the evening and into today (Thursday) we realized anew how lucky we were for the duration of our tour. Despite the rain, we ventured out around six pm for our visit to the salt works -- a series of 53 pools where sea water is evaporated and crystallized. 
At the Mali Ston Salt Works
This has been going on continuously for many centuries. It is now privately owned, having been rescued from debt by our exceedingly enthusiastic host and guide.It turns out that he is also the owner and enthusiastic promoter of our excellent seafood restaurant. In his imprpomptu "quiz" after the explanation of the salt works, I won a kilo of the prized sea salt.

Dinner consisted of many courses of seafood, starting with oysters, raw or grilled, followed by a bowl of steamed shellfish including mussels, clams and a few that I did not recognize. Next was a course with two risottos, one with squid and the black ink that gives the dish its color, and the other with 11 different varieties of shellfish. The main course was scorpion fish, accompanied by a swiss chard and potato blend. All this was topped off with a choice of desserts. I had a special kind of cake made of pasta and chocolate -- it was delicious.
Cristina tries her first oyster
Assorted shellfish
Black Risotto and Risotto with 11 Shellfish
Scorpion Fish
It was raining fairly hard this morning as we bid goodbye to Cristina, Silvija and Ante our three wonderful guides for the last 12 days. We then boarded a large bus for the trip to Dubrovnik where most of us are staying for various lengths of time before heading for various additional destinations.I had made arrangements in a hotel inside the old walled city back in November; about three weeks ago I learned that it is currently closed for renovations. (Why they didn't know this earlier is a sourced of some annoyance.) It was too late to get a different hotel in the old city, so I am in a modern hotel about a mile away. That wouldn't be bad, except for the rain. 

After checking in, I started the walk to the old city, crowded with almost as many tourists as rain drops. We saw several large cruise ships as we entered town. Most of them will be leaving by midafternoon, so it should be less crowded when I return. I was absolutely soaked by the time I got to the bottom of the hill, but made the best of it for a couple of hours before returning to the hotel. I have a walking tour booked at 4pm (about an hour from now). There seems to be a break in the weather, so I will give it a try, taking along my full rain gear. This looks like a fascinating city, and I would love to see it in good weather.

By the way -- I was the first rider in yesterday, and ended up with the yellow jersey. On that note, my blog for this tour comes to an end. Thanks for reading.

Silvija, Ante, Guy and Cristina

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The brodetto

Day 11 -- Vid to Mali Ston

Our final day of cycling

Before getting to today's grand finale to our cycling tour, I must start with last evening's dinner. Prior to eating, we took a short boat ride through the marshy waters near our hotel where, I suspect, the frogs and eels that were a major part of our dinner came from. That's right -- frogs and eels. The meal started with the best bread that we have had in Croatia, along with some salad of tomatoes, peppers, and onions and the usual platter of prosciutto and cheeses. Then came a platter of what looked like egg plant rounds, but was actually sauteed frogs. Not frog legs, but small frogs. They were delicious, but took a lot of work to get the meat off the bones. After this, was the star attraction -- the brodetto, a delicious stew of frogs, eels and fish (mullet, I think). This was served with polenta. 

The Neretva Estuary
The weather looked ominous as we started out for our last day of cycling. We started off through the bustling village of Metkovic and then through the fertile agricultural area of the beautiful Neretva estuary, before beginning the climb to the Bosnian border. We actually crossed into Bosnia through a small, "unofficial," border crossing point, usually used only by the local population. We had special permission to cross and were expected.The sole Croatian border guard inspected my passport closely, as did his colleague, the sole Bosnia border guard. As they finished, some other members of the group came up and were waved through without the need to produce passports.
The Bosnian Border
 It was only about five miles until we reached Croatia again, and this time I was waved through by the sole Croatian guard ( I never did see the Bosnian guard).

Now we started the descent to the small fishing village of Mali Ston, our destination for this evening. We had great views of the large area in which mussels and oysters are farmed. (Guess what we will be having for dinner tonight!, as well as of the ancient wall built by the republic of Dubrovnik for protection against attacks from the Venetians, Turks, and various pirates sailing the Adriatic.Ston (the larger town encompassing Mali Ston) was the second most important town in the ancient Republic of Dubrovnik, largely because it was the only salt producing town in the region. We will visit the salt works this evening before dinner.

The weather gods were with us today. The rain started about three minutes after the last cyclists arrived in Mali Ston.  Tomorrow we will shuttle to Dubrovnik where I will spend a day. Then I will fly to Germany where I will rejoin Kathleen, Doug, Monica and Sammy for a week before heading back home.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 10 -- Korcula to Metkovic (Vid)

Today was another multi-modal day, transportation-wise. We started by cycling downhill from the hotel to our private ferry.  Just us and the bicycles. This took us about six minutes, so we were definitely ready for the break provided by the short crossing over the Peljesac Strait to the peninsula. We had to cycle across the peninsula, which involved our now routine 400 meter climb from the sea to the ridge top and then down the other side. 

Statue in the Trapanj Harbor
This brought us to Trpanj, a pleasant small village where we took advantage of the various shops to buy some lunch supplies and to sip coffee in a cafe with free WiFi. (Free WiFi is very prevalent here in Croatia -- just about every cafe has it.) These cafes often have better signal strength than we have been getting in our hotels.

We then boarded a very large, and not very crowded, ferry for the final crossing to the mainland. From the industrial port of Ploce, we had another 16 miles or so of cycling on flat roads along the Neretva river to the village of Vid in the town of Metkovic. It had been suggested that we might want to stop along the way at one of the roadside restaurants specializing in from "brodetto" (soup). As far as I know, no one did. Not to worry, however, since the word is that frog is on the menu tonight. Also on the agenda is a short boat ride on the river. 
Approaching Vid
A highlight of the town of Vid, where we are staying, is the archaeological museum directly across the street from our hotel. Vid is built on and next to the ruins of Narona, a Roman trading post which prospered until about the 3rd century AD. A museum has been built upon the site where they discovered the most Roman statues that have been found outside Rome itself. 
Ancient Roman Statue

After arriving in Vid, I discovered that my camera has been inadvertently set to "fisheye" mode most of the day. This has resulted in some useless photos, and a few that are unexpectedly interesting.
Our Hotel in Vid

Tomorrow is the last day of cycling. I then have one day in Dubrovnik before I head for Berllin. This would be routine, except that Croatia Air has been on strike for about a week. Ever the optimist, I will worry about that when I get to Dubrovnik.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Day 9 -- Touring the Island of Korcula and Swimming in the Adriatic

It doesn't get much better than this. Today we had multiple riding options -- long or short, flat or hilly, to the beach or to the interior. I did them all, for a total of 44 miles and just under 6000 feet of climbing. The base route today was a loop which started with our familiar climb from the sea. As we neared the top of the climb, I took the optional out-and-back to the town of Cara. This meant descending almost back to sea level and then climbing back up to the departure point. It was worth it, with another descent on a great paved road with magnificent views of the sea. In Cara I stopped for coffee and then made the return climb.

After getting back on the original loop, there was a very steep descent for 5 kilometers (three miles) down to the sea. 
Typical vista (taken on second major descent of the day).
Here I took the side trip to the small fishing village of Racisce where I joined several of our group and two of the guides for an "Orangina." Refreshed, I pedaled back to Korcula (where our hotel is located) and happened to see four more of our group just starting lunch. I joined them and had an excellent seafood platter.

Then back on the bike and past the hotel for an additional three mile ride to the beach just past Lumbarda.
Cycling through vineyards in Lumbarda
 Here I ran into Ante (one of our guides) and George (another of our riders, last seen at Racisce). Ante joined me for a swim -- there was a small sandy beach and the water had a nice sandy bottom with very few rocks. The water was much warmer than on my previous dip. In a pinch, bike shorts make a very good bathing suit, and they dry off quite quickly in this warm weather.
Swimming in the Adriatic Sea

Finally, back to the hotel, with Ante and I riding together. Time for a shower and a blog update before our nightly group meeting to discuss logistics.
Approaching Corkula
Old Town of Korkula
I forgot to mention that yesterday's breakfast included an offering of freshly prepared mint juice. I had never had this before, but it was quite good. Almost colorless, clearly tasting of mint but not overpowering, and slightly syrupy in texture. Today I noticed a lot of mint growing wild on the side of the road.

Day 8 -- Town of Hvar and Ferry to Island of Korcula

We had a relaxing Pentecost Sunday in the town of Hvar, with lots of opportunities for picture taking and shopping. After a leisurely breakfast and getting the luggage off on the van which would proceed us to the Island of Korcula, we met at 11 for a guided tour of the old town. The plaza in front of the Cathedral is the second largest "open plaza" (one side facing the water) in all of Europe, second only to St. Mark's in Venice. (Hope I got all that right.)

We stopped at the exterior of a Benedictine Convent here the nuns have taken a vow never to appear out of doors. They support themselves by weaving an exquisite lace from the fibers of the agave cactus. Unfortunately, we did not get to see their work because it was Sunday

We continued to climb to the fort -- also very old -- which dominates the horizon above the town. After an informative overview, we enjoyed a picnic lunch which Silvija had carted up. After that we were on our own until our 5pm ferry to Korcula, birthplace of Marco Polo. (Our hotel is the Marko Polo, and we will be here for two nights.)

Last evening, I joined Peter and Mary, George and Laura for a very pleasant dinner overlooking the water at  sunset. We made a family style event of it, sharing a tuna salad, tomato salad, greek salad, octopus salad, lasagna and ad "Chuck Norris" pizza.  It was too late to do the blog, so I am catching up this morning. Due to time constraints, I am lumping all the pictures together at the end.
Fortress at Hvar

Cistern from 1475

Silvija prepares our picnic

our ferry to Korcula

Hotel Marko Polo

View from the fortress at Hvar

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Picture that didn't make it to the last post.

Sunday morning update

No cycling today. We will have a walking tour of the old city of Hvar Including the fortress. Then we transfer by ferry to our next island for more cycling tomorrow.
Dinner last night was excellent as usual. We had a variety of local shellfish and a wonderful vegetable soup based on asparagus.