In the late 80s a striking hotel was built, jetting 17 stories above the water and situated only a few kilos outside of Dubrovnik. Hotel Belvedere was a five star oasis, boasting gorgeous views of the Aegean and Dubrovnik for the wealthy who could afford it.
Just two years after opening,, Hotel Belvedair was bombed in the civil war. The structure is still standing,, all of its luxury trapped in time with blown out windows and rooms filled with remnants of an extravagant past.
Being one of the most talked about and mysterious landmarks in Dubrovnik, Ruud and I decided to take a look for ourselves.
Approaching the hotel, we were filled with excitement and anticipation of what we might find. It's not everyday that you get to explore a bombed building left untouched.
Entering the hotel was like taking a step back into that fateful day in 1991. It was as if time merely stopped when the rest of the world kept moving. There were cassette tapes scattered on the floor, trays with wine glasses still standing upright, restaurant menus, the "HB" branded clothes the waiters wore and even a guest list of rooms rented out on the final day of Belvedair's existence.
It was exhilarating to be peering around this historical timepiece, but also very eerie. To think that all of the artifacts we saw had been laying in the same place for 20 years was strange. It really made the hotel come alive, seeing the rooms, restaurant, nightclub and pool. It was as if all these fragments of a broken past creating a story for us to experience.
The view from Belvedere
Blown out windows
This nightclub has seen better nights...
I must admit, I am absolutely smitten with Croatia. The more time I spend here, the more attached I become. In America, Western Europe seems to be all the rage. For some reason, we are obsessed with it and tend to forget about the rest of the world when thinking about travel destinations.
Any country that's not "first world" or over three hundred years old seems to immediately get crossed off the list. I'm not bashing Western Europe by any means, I believe it's a great place and has a lot of history, I'm just encouraging us to think with an open mind.
It has always been a struggle for me to "fight" for Mexico and try to dispel the myths about it when the press is constantly ragging on it. I will continue to advocate Mexico and now Turkey and Croatia, two of my favorite "under dogs."
If you like pristine nature, untouched coast lines and deep blue water, Croatia is the place for you. This little country was just established in 1991 when Yugoslavia broke apart into Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Croatia. The civil war from 1991-1995 was devastating and evidence of it still remains in the abandoned buildings around Dubrovnik, however, Croatia has not skipped a beat as a developing country. Dubrovnik is by far the cleanest city I have ever visited and feels extremely safe.
My first morning at the hostel I met Nick and Ben, two British guys on holiday for the week. One of the first questions they asked me was, "does fat camp really exist in the U.S.?" and I instantly knew we would be friends.
We were pondering the fat camp idea (come to think about it, I'm really not sure about the answer, anyone have any insight?) and they invited me to explore Locrum, an island just off the cost of Dubrovnik for the day. Locrum, is uninhabited and covered in green foliage with abrupt cliffs and striking views. We were attracted for the cliff jumping. One side of the island had a sort of "beach" consisting of flat volcanic rock that dropped off into the water. We enjoyed a day jumping off the cliff beaches and wandering the island.
When we arrived at the hostel that evening, everyone was gathered around the dinner table discussing Croatian history and politics. I instantly knew I had picked the perfect place to stay! Everyone seemed to be traveling alone and we had a great time getting to know each other, playing cards, and eventually ended the night bar hopping together. What an experience!
The next day, I made plans to visit a local arboretum with my Dubrovnik BFF aka new Dutch friend Ruud. The trip involved taking two different local busses about 20 minutes out of the city. If you looking for adventure, I would recommend taking a multi-bus trip in a foreign country. It never fails to disappoint.
The first bus was a breeze. After inquiring with several locals and switching between several different bus stops, we finally tracked down the second bus.
The arboretum was nice, but we really just breezed through it because the blue water and crashing waves below were too enticing.
The journey down the cliff to the water turned out to be an enlightening lesson in Croatian history and culture. The path was a winding staircase lined with pomegranate trees and grape vines (making for yummy snacks) and little Croatian homes-all of which were abandoned! I was shocked that so many homes in such prime real-estate were vacant and left to crumble into the sea. We never found out the true story, but I'm thinking it has something to do with the war and bombing of Dubrovnik in the '90s.
Regardless, we found ourselves in a quaint little harbor surrounded by gorgeous scenery. A German man event lent us his snorkel gear! We were surrounded by hundreds of fish and could see for meters.
After a few hours of swimming, we decided to try our luck at hitchhiking. It unfortunately proved quite unsuccessful. We stood with our sigh for about 30 minutes until the bus to take us back finally arrived.
When Ruud and I returned to the city we finished the evening walking the top of the wall that surrounds the whole city. The views were striking and sunset was wonderful.
On the wall with the city in the background
A view of the abandoned buildings at our favorite swimming hole
I must admit, one thing Greece has going for it is the ferry system. Apart from the ridiculous and inconvenient schedule, they are always punctual and spend a mere ten minutes at port unloading and reloading semi trucks, cars and passengers before they are on their way again. The Greeks don't mess around and their ferrys mean business, unlike those of Croatia.
On Sunday morning mom and I went to the port in Bari to check the ferry schedule and purchase my ticket to Croatia. The terminal was dead. Note to self: never try to get anything done in Italy on a Sunday because everything is closed.
In addition, every travel agency was closed, so I decided to buy my ticket online but the ferry line forbade me from purchasing my day-of ticket on the Internet. Panic. This was another awesome ferry schedule that only came a few times a week and if I didn't get the Sunday boat, I would have to wait until Wednesday night.
Luckily, when we arrived at the port that night, the ticket window was open and I got my fare. Mom befriended an Italian man waiting in line behind us and arranged for me to ride onto the boat with him in his car so I could avoid the security line. After he agreed, she immediately started regretting the decision to send me alone with an Italian we had just met onto a ferry boat...sounds super safe, right? It turns out he was a policeman (or so he said) and everything went smoothly.
The ferry was pretty ghetto. It consisted of five snackbar/restaurants with bright red carpet and a giant mural of an ice cream cone painted on the wall. Less than luxurious. Luckily, I bumped into a Canadian couple we had met earlier that day in Bari and we scoped out a few padded benches in one of the snack bars to stretch out on.
I was abruptly awaken from my slumber at four A.M. when a slew of italians invaded the snack bar for early morning espresso. Even though I had earplugs in, I still felt like I was trying to sleep in a Denny's on a Sunday morning, and the Italian's insistence to ignore the "indoor voice rule" and consistently speak at absurd decibel levels didn't help.
The ferry finally docked at seven A.M. and I was greeted by a hillside covered in white houses with clay roofs and a drizzly Croatian morning.
I left the boat, hit the ATM and was waiting for the bus when a car drove by yelling, "hey lady!" It was the Canadians! They had found a man at the port who would rent them a room in his house and were enroute to the city. The man asked where I was staying and I told him it was a hostel called Fresh Sheets. "Ooh rash sheeets I know where that is, 100 meter from my house, I give you ride!" he replied.
I was a little weary about about the way he said "rash sheeets" and repeated the name while skeptically thinking, "I hope were talking about the same Fresh Sheets." Oh well, it was bound to be an adventure.
He insisted on driving us around town and giving us a proper "orientation" before dropping us off. Finally, we arrived at my "hostel" which turned out to be a hotel called "Rashit." I was worried this would happen. I wasn't sure what to do the man was so helpful and I was appreciative of the free ride, but I was also now lost on my first day in a city I had never been to. I assured the man I could take the bus and find my way to the hostel no problem. Luckily, the hostel directions were good enough that I was able to find it without much trouble.
I was a little worried about being on my own for the first time, but everyone at the hostel was very welcoming and most of the guests were traveling alone also, so it has been easy to find friends to do day trips with. The city of Dubrovnik is part of the Dalmatian Coast and part of the city itsself (where I'm staying) is within castle walls.
Croatia is a gorgeous country, which I am becoming more and more obsessed with each day. My first thought was that it reminded me of the Oregon Coast. The country is clean, well organized, and everyone is calm (a nice change from Italy) and speaks English. It is hard to believe all of this comes from a country that was in a civil war just over a decade ago.
Night view inside of the walled city
Houses in the walled city
Im not gonna lie, mom and I were not terribly heartbroken to be leaving Greece. After one too many run-ins with rude Greeks, an inconvenient and incomprehensible ferry schedule and a non functioning bank card, we were ready for a change in scenery and language. Italy has everything I need to survive-cheap coffee, cheap gelato and delicious pizza. Unfortunately, I only have twenty-four hours to bask in its goodness, then I'm Croatia bound and mom is Rome bound.
Our final days in Santorini were wonderful. We rented scooters again and zipped around the island and spent a final night with our new American friends enjoying live music at our favorite Spanish-themed cafe before our one A.M. ferry departure.
This is where the journey starts to get really interesting, and we start wishing Greece was never even placed on the map. We decided to book a hotel 3 Km outside of the main city on Kos Island. It looked really nice online, and we thought something out of the busy city would be refreshing. Our ferry got in to Kos at 7 A.M. and we thought, "what better way to enjoy a new morning on a new island, than walk to our hotel?"
Needless to say, 3 Km+not speaking Greek+20 lbs backpacks+hot sun=no bueno. It took us a total of two hours wantering around the boonies and asking every passerby (there weren't many, only cats and chickens as far as the eye could see) where Oasis Hotel was.
We finally arrived, and it was MUCH different than we had imagined, or the pictures had depicted. I'll just leave it at that.
On Saturday we had a flight to Bari, Italy. Finally, we were escaping the island (or so we thought...I'm pretty sure it tried to hold us hostage). We were told in broken engligh where to catch the bus to the airport and at what time it would come. We arrived at the bus stop and started flagging down each passing bus--tour coach or city bus--to ask if they went to the airport. After about 30 minutes and 13 busses, things were looking down. I started rummaging through my bag for a piece of paper and pen right as mom suggested we try to hitchhike to the airport. Great minds think alike!
I scribbled, "AIRPORT" in bold letters and held the sign as mom put up her hitchhiking thumb. Cars passed and waved, but no luck. Finally, right as we were ready to flag a cab, a bus pulled over to pick us up. I asked three times, "airport, you go to airport?" just to make sure we were not being deported to some remote location.
Kos International Airport is truly an experience that I suggest you avoid at all costs if you ever get the chance to set foot inside. Another institution I suggest you avoid is Ryan Air. They do everything they can to make air fares low by finding every possible chance to charge customers fees for not complying with their ridiculous rules or failing to take part in pre flight requirements.
You need to check in online and print your boarding pass at home or you will be charged 40 Euro (60 USD). In addition, all your luggage must fit into one small carry-on, no luxurious carry-on plus personal item like in the United States, or you will be fined. We had to get our ticket stamped by someone before going through security (or we would be fined) then, thinking we were home-free, we grabbed two seats by the gate in an airport so full that there was only standing room, and one could barely walk through the crowds.
Our flight was delayed. We waited and waited, and finally heard our names called loudly over the intercom to report to the gate. We pushed through the crowd and met an attendant who manually checked our luggage to ensure that it complied with size regulations and checked our boarding passes once again. Then we waited some more.
I have always considered airports to feel somewhat homely since I do so much flying. I like seeing new airports, sitting by the windows and watching the planes come in and out--it's a pasttime. This airport felt like a prision. We sat sharing one seat surrounded by people standing and pushing through the crowd, and all I wanted was to get out.
Another announcement, "this is the last call for flight 7777 on Ryan Air to Bari, the gate will be closing in one minute." Shoot! We almost missed our flight, and if I had not heard the announcement, we would have. Mom and I ran to the gate where a bus took the two of us to the tarmack to board the plane.
We were shocked that we didn't hear any of the pre-boarding announcements and more so that we didnt even notice that enough people to fill an airplane had left the terminal. Fail on Ryan Air's part.
We got on the plane and waited another hour to take off because there were so many planes coming in and out of the airport.
We arrived in Bari three hours behind schedule and immedieatly found the first restaurant and enjoyed a delicious Italian pizza feast. Somehow that made everything better. We were relieved to be out of Greece and in a country where you actually get soap at the hotel and can drink the tap water. The Italians can even understand when I speak to them in Spanish which is a huge plus!
The moral of the story? Greece is like Hotel California, "come any day you like, but you can never leave." Ciao for now!
You know the classic question, "if you were stranded on a desert island what would you bring?" let me give you some insider tips; air conditioning, a book in English and some snorkel gear!
We got to the island at two in the morning and spent our first half hour in paradise siting in a small car waiting and wondering where our driver taking us to the hotel had vanished to. Luckily, we were accompanied by a nice Australian couple headed to the same hotel. Together we watched all the cars and people disappear. The ferry departed on it's journey to Athens, and we were left alone, in Santorini at two in the morning.
Finally, mom found our driver at his second job...a car rental shop, and we were soon on our way.
The next morning, we saw the view out our hotel room and realized that Santorini is merely a giant sparsely populated volcanic rock in the middle of the Aegean. We began to wonder if the beautiful Santorini seen in the postcards was a big scam.
The town we are staying in is quiet and has a black sand beach lined with sunbeds and swanky lounges as far as the eye can see. Not too bad for relaxing, but still not the sea cliffs and white houses we had imagined.
We spent the first day swimming and exploring our town. The majority of people are tourists (which is funny, because there aren't that many people here!)
Day two we rented motor scooters and rode all over the island! Finally, all of our hopes and dreams of Santorini had come true.
We rode along the beach, up hills, around cliffs and were stunned at the breathtaking views of the sea and the Greek style houses. We ended our day in Oia, a small city built on cliffs (that looks just like the postcards and what you see in movies) and watched an amazing sunset with about 300 other tourists lining the streets, restaurants and ledges to get a glimpse. Once the sun went down, everyone clapped and it was a mad rush to get out of town.
Mom and I have become quite the socialites on the island. We spent part of the morning sharing stories and talking about traveling with a Swedish couple we met. They invited us to dinner that night, but we already had plans to meet the Aussies for drinks.
At lunch, we met two Americans working in a restaurant for the summer. It turns out they were studying abroad in Athens and just graduated, then decided to spend the summer working on Santorini before traveling for a few months. We shared travel plans and it turns out they will be in Asia the same time as me. They said they were looking for a fourth person to join them and asked if I was interested. Mom said that I could travel with them under one condition, as long as I didn't go to any topless beaches. It took me about two seconds to accept the deal. Hellooo Asia!
Finally, they invited us to a concert with them that night, but we were committed to the Aussies. So many people, so little time!
Our night with the Aussies, Belle and Rich was great! They have been traveling since April all over Western Europe and are headed to Africa from here for another two months. Apparently, in Australia it is really common for young adults to take off an travel for several months. A lot of companies actually give travelers the time off (as is Belle and Rich's case). Wow I really think America needs to take a page from their book!
Our evening was great and we are excited about our new travel friends and everyone else we will meet along the way!
The sunset in Oia
On my scooter, ready to go!
Friday evening we boarded a huge ferry to Santorini arriving at 1am sat. Ferry was larger than our San Juan Island ferries, 9 stories high, 2 decks full of 18 wheelers & cars, the rest was like a cruise ship. We snuck into the movie theater room, laid out on 3 comfortable seats & slept. Kris woke at midnight to the unmistakeable sounds of Grey's Anatomy & watched her favorite show in the middle of the Aegean Sea!! Upon picking us up, our host drove very fast up a series of narrow switchbacks to the top of the island with Kris telling him that "it was ok if he wanted to slow down!" Sunday found us renting motor scooters, driving around the whole island, swimming at the Red Beach, saw an awesome sunset at Oia - traditional Greek cliffside town, square white houses nestled into the hillside, narrow winding road transporting people up on donkeys! Oh yeah, we're livin' the dream :)
So em &i are on the ferry to santorini. Hope to get in around 1-2 am. Our hotel will pick us up, thank God! Time tables are very vague, Em & I have been very lucky so far. Great bus system throughout the country. Got around Istanbul fantastically. Weather in the 80 s-90s, cool breezes @night; no humidity! Our bus ride from Ephesus was great: ac, individual tv, juice & snacks served for FREE, seats that leaned back, etc countryside looks a lot like western CO. , low hills, deciduous trees, bushes; yet Arid. Now the coast is a different story! Rocky coast with white square bldgs. Built into the hillsides forming small villages; just like in the movies! Our biggest challenges are finding free American-like toilets, changing our money, and finding places to fill our water bottles. Most folks think we're French or European. So we're working on our French accents Merci! Miss news about the States. Saw Obama w/Turkish President; don't know what happened; maybe one of you could fill us in. We love you all &are safe & happy & having a blast. God bless!
Coming from a country that's only a few hundred years and learning about Colorado history that only stretches back a few centuries, it's hard to imagine something eight thousand years old, or 6,000 B.C. And grasp my mind around the idea that historical figures such as the Apostle Paul used to walk the same streets.
Ephesus used to be the capital of Asia back in the day. It was built and rebuilt and added on to and became one of the largest cities of it's time with a population of 200,000 before it's fall (sometime around 300 A.D.)
The ruins that we visited have a main street that extends the length of the town and is just over two miles long. The city is complete with marble roads, an underground sewage system, fountains, a library and two stadiums-one of which holds 24,000. Wow!
The most shocking thing for me was seeing the architecture and layout of this ancient Roman city and comparing it to what the American Indians were building two hundred years ago. What a stark contrast! And how interesting it is to see what kind of building structures each culture made to suit their specific needs, completely unaware of the other culture. I've gotta give it to the Romans though, sorry Native Americans...you were a close second!
I am partially convinced the ancient Romans got around to inventing machines long before our society did-archeologists are just keeping it a secret from us. How else could someone 8,000 years ago make columns so round, carve intricate decorations and statues from marble and build a stadium the size of a modern opera house? Just saying, food for thought!
An archway in Ephesus
Traveling outside of Istanbul has shown me a completely different side of Turkey. We are staying in the small town of Selcuk which is just outside of the ancient city of Ephasus and only a few km from the coast. Here, the lifestyle is much more relaxed. There are only a few mosques and ruins mixed in with the city. The Turks spend afternoons sitting in cafes playing games, smoking and sipping on Turkish tea.
Many of the eateries here have a name something like "(enter Turkish name) Restaurant and Cafe." I spent several days thinking how redundant and funny it sounded to say, "restaurant cafe." Clearly, there was no one fluent enough in English to inform these people that the second label was not necessary.
Finally, after noticing certain "cafe only" places I learned the secret. The place where the Turks spend their afternoons drinking tea and playing cards are cafes...or drinks only! And restaurants serve food. I found this really interesting and such a precise use of two English words that had evolved to be almost synonymous. Kudos to the Turkeys!
With that being said, I have become very fond of the cafes and think the US needs to implement something similar (that's not Starbucks). The cafes here are outside in large spaces such as parks in the city center or along the sea shore. No wi fi, no laptop plugs, but good camaraderie and small glasses of cai.
In addition to my cafe vs. Restaurant enlightenment, I have learned a few more interesting knowledge tidbits that I feel should be bestowed upon you.
1. No one wears deodorant...I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe the stores don't carry it (I haven't checked yet)
2. There are stray cats everywhere. They are actually kind of cute and cleaner than stray dogs.
3. Some toilets are a mere hole in the ground...eew!
4. Overall, the country seems to be pretty safe and well developed. People don't heckle you on the street or in the market (which is a major plus after living in Mexico) and the Turks can be very nice and hospitable if you just ask for help.
If you ever visit Istanbul, you will notice that the skyline is scattered with unusual dome shaped structures with spires extending from each side. This typical mosque outline resembles a spaceship sandwiched between two rockets ready for blastoff...something surely from a sci-fi movie.
With a population of four million and 99% Muslim, there are mosques nearly everywhere you look. Mom and I counted ten from just standing in one spot! Along with the mosques comes the five-time daily call to prayer, announced through the loud speaker attached to the spires on each mosque and many many women clad in burkas and head scarves (not sure of the official term for this). Mom and I have become really skilled in singing the call to prayer. It goes something like this, "uhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhh-uh-ohh-ayyyy" and so on. This doesn't nearly do it justice, so ask for a personal demonstration next time you see one of us!
Our four days in Istanbul have been jam packed! We explored much of the city on foot and became quite familiar with the mass transit system (which is very nice!).
The city is divided into two parts-west and east or Europe and Asia-by a strait called the Bosphorous. The European side is more modern and urban, while the eastern side is lined with Victorian houses and has much more greenery.
On our first day in the city we took a boat tour of the Bosphorous and got to see the cityscape and architecture of both sides. The coastline is so beautiful, the water is clean and dark blue, and all the buildings are vibrant colors. It looked like pictures of Greece and Italy, and I had to keep reminding myself I was in Turkey and not somewhere else!
Afterward, mom and I enjoyed a fish sandwich (traditional Turkish lunch) and were befriended by a young man named Toga-my first Turkish boyfriend! Toga asked if I was my moms son, and I knew I was going to like him! We talked for awhile (mom enjoyed making references to her "son" when possible). When it was time for Toga to leave, he insisted on buying us a present. We each picked out a postcard and he signed them for us.
The Turks as a whole were very hospitable. Our host, Ayse (we rented a room in an apartment of a local) gave us detailed directions for getting around, loaned us her bus pass and even paid for us to take a taxi to the city center. While it was hard to come by English speakers, we did a pretty good job getting by pointing and gesturing. Ayse told us about the city, government and Turkish culture, something you surely wouldn't get in a hotel. It was also cool to see how the locals live.
Some other highlights of our visit were:
-The Egyptian Spice Market: a large market with spices, food, clothing, jewelry, and pretty much anything else you could dream up!
-The Bosphorous shore: it's lined with tables and chairs and the locals relax in the sun drinking cai (small glasses of tea) and playing backgammon.
-The Prince's Islands: a cluster of six islands off the coast of Istanbul. We took ferries to three of them and spent the day wandering around. There aren't any cars on the islands, so everyone uses horse carriages or bicycles to get around. The view of the city is incredible! Skyscrapers and high rises stretch for as far as the eye can see, we didn't realize Istanbul was so big!
We're on the plane now headed to Ephesus to see the ruins! Farewell Istanbul-you are a lovely city and hello to a new adventure!
Mom & me drinking Cai on the boat