OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN THE OLD TOWN OF DUBROVNIK by Carol Sosa

OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN THE OLD TOWN OF DUBROVNIK by Carol Sosa

CRUSING THE MEDITERRANEAN

CRUSING THE MEDITERRANEAN

It has only been a very short time since the cruise lines have discovered Dubrovnik.  I began to notice the town being added to Mediterranean itineraries just prior to moving here 3 years ago.  Europe’s best kept secret has now become the cruise lines major destination in Croatia.  Little did I realize what kind of impact this would have on the small town of Dubrovnik.

Recently the local newspaper, the Dubrovnik Times, reported that there were over ten percent more cruisers in town last year than the prior year. With over 1.1 million visitors arriving in 856 ships, you know this means a lot of things. Some stimulus to the economy, sure, but for residents, it mostly means crowds.

I moved to Croatia in January 2008 and Dubrovnik was quiet with only local residents in the old town buying seasonal locally grown fruits and vegetables at our green market.  Winter became spring and I began to notice slightly more tourists arriving and suddenly it was May and the flood gates had ruptured.  My first summer here was difficult dealing with the massive amounts of guests, not only cruisers but also land guests who seemed to triple in numbers in August and September.  It was late fall when the crowds began to diminish and finally we had our town back again.

So like any resident in any tourist location, I adapted my pattern.  I kept track of the arrivals of the cruise ships as posted on the Dubrovnik Port Authority website.  During high season I completely avoid the Old City when the town expects over 7,500 day visitors. Those days when 3,500-7,500 people are expected, I will go to the market in the old town by 7am making sure I am gone before 10am. On those days when less than 3,500 people are expected I know I can visit with my friends.

I have the option to adjust my lifestyle and habits as I live here every day. But what if you have chosen to be one of those cruisers?  How can you manage to see what glorious sights Dubrovnik has to offer without crawling at a snail’s pace behind the hordes?

Stradun on a typical summer day

One choice is to take advantage of the fact that there are wonderful day cruises possible, a day trip out-of-town, perhaps to one of the Elefiti islands or perhaps Konavle or Cavtat.  All of these wonderful destinations are a mere 45 minutes to an hour trip.  Each of these magnificent locales deserves their own story, upcoming soon.

The other choice cruisers have is to explore the town in a way that is different from the rest of the people. For those who wish to visit Dubrovnik during high season, here are a few tips:

●       The vast majority of guests walk the city wall during their visit here.  Best time to be on the wall is as early as possible; opening hours begin at 8am during high season.  First you will miss the larger crowds and the heat of the sun will bake the stone wall and hold that heat until the cool dark hours of night.

●       Many guests tend to stay on the Stradun (main promenade), so use the side streets when possible.  Not only is there next to no foot traffic, but it is cooler in the shade.

●       Don’t miss visiting the Rupe Museum; it’s a perfect sight to spend the high temperatures of mid day when our golden sun is cooking the pearly white stones of the old town.

●       Our Dominican Monastery is just outside of the Ploce arch, built into the outer perimeter of the wall and off the beaten path.  The museum is open from 9am to 6pm and filled with many Croatian artworks.

●       Continue up the Ploce walkway to the Vrata od Ploce (Plo-cha), translation is Door of the Ploce, a few meters on the right is Komarda Restaurant, definitely stop for a glass of wine and then stroll down a short few steps to the Lazareti, one of the first quarantine in Europe.  Do not miss the opportunity to enjoy our Lindo Dance troupe, performances every Monday and Friday at 9:30pm under the stars at Lazareti.

Pile Brsalj (square) is the usual starting point for guests arriving into the old town, where you can find our local Dubrovnik Tourist Bureau office.  Pick up printed literature and our detailed town map or you can download it from the website before your trip.  The best option would be to hire a private guide and enjoy the hidden back streets and hidden treasures in the old town.  I can help, or perhaps meet me for a coffee, especially on those less busy days.

THE ESSENCE OF DUBROVNIK by Carol Sosa

THE ESSENCE OF DUBROVNIK by Carol Sosa

CRUSING THE MEDITERRANEAN

CRUSING THE MEDITERRANEAN

During extensive travel throughout Croatia and Europe and a career in the travel industry which spans more than 30 years, I  have always searched out special gems that are perfect for the discriminating traveler who desires to see the Dalmatian Coast not only as it exists today but also as it once was.

Silvana Jakus, in The Thousand Islands of the Croatian Adriatic, beautifully describes my emotions for Dubrovnik, which I hope to pass on to you.

CROATIA

CROATIA

 cavtat-993380_1280The first journey to Croatia is always an adventure, a trip into the unknown. On subsequent explorations, familiarity refines the hidden depths of beauty; personal recognition enhances sights and sounds. Like good wine, true fulfillment comes only after anticipation, cultivation and dedication. You will know when you feel it. It is like an emotional longing, which has suddenly been satisfied.”

My love affair with Croatia, the country of my heritage, began with my first visit to Dubrovnik in 1971.  There was an intense feeling of homecoming, which grew profoundly through many repeated visits.  After a 2007 journey exploring the Dalmatian coast in a small sailing vessel,gorch-fock-261088_1280 I decided to act on this feeling and made my dream come true by making Dubrovnik my home.  I relocated from California in January 2008 and once again walked down the Stradun to my beloved ancestral home and the adventure truly began.

Living a local lifestyle but raised in the United States offers an interesting perspective. While it is easy to miss certain items and foods, it provides a spectacular appreciation of the everyday things here that the natives take for granted. I do not define myself as an American ex-pat; I am striving to fit in and live as a Croatian.

Becoming a local resident has been a series of trial and error. My language skills in Croatian have improved but keeping my small English/Croatian dictionary available helps me through conversations that are more intellectual. I watch the local English language TV shows with Croatian subtitles, which give me insights that sometimes what I heard as one word is actually three!

DUBROVNIK

DUBROVNIK

The assimilation to the Croatian culture continues and it is with this insight, this “outsider trying to fit in” view, I can offer you a unique vantage point. Writing the “Essence of Dubrovnik”, I hope to share things that stand out to make this a very special place, both as a tourist and as a resident. Other travel writers from this area are either lifelong residents or people who have only been tourists. They write about the typical, the things everyone has on some list of things to do.

Come visit with me and we will share what is behind, underneath, and inside this marvelous town…

ADVENTURES IN MUMBAI, INDIA (Part III) by Gina Marie Stanley

ADVENTURES IN MUMBAI, INDIA (Part III) by Gina Marie Stanley

I spent most of the day in the dental office being fitted for new dentures that I will wear until my implants are stable enough to receive crowns. My dentist took at least seven impressions of each arch and then spent an hour making adjustments to the cured latex impressions. My dentist at home, who shall remain nameless here, took only one impression of each arch. Does anyone think that his lack of effort had anything to do with the fit? I left the hotel at 10:30 A.M. and didn’t return until 7:15 P.M. I spent four hours in the office waiting for the impressions to cure between sessions. It was a long day. I was tired and hungry and my mouth hurt when I returned to the hotel.

Indian Buffet

Indian Buffet

Pan Singh served my dinner. He is from a part of India near its border with Nepal. He has a wife and three children in his home village, and he not seen them for a year. He will leave on Wednesday for a two month holiday at home. I asked him about the photo thing. He told me that Indians love sharing photos of themselves taken with white people on social media. Maybe I’ll be a Facebook celeb in India.

I did have a chance to walk a bit around Colaba after breakfast and to take some more photos. I call it my morning “drip” because I am always dripping with sweat when I return. Night is the only really comfortable time here.india-698826_1280

I found the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India yesterday. It is a magnificent structure with beautiful gardens located near the Taj now known as Chhatrapati Shavaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. It is the main museum here. I can’t go home without a visit. I was by too early yesterday since my appointment with the dentist was at 11:00 and the museum doesn’t open until 10. I see him at 4:30 today so I will have time.

There is a rare public restroom near the gate of the museum. People who live on the street, often women with children, tend to congregate around them as do food merchants selling a bowl of rice for a few rupees. I gave one of them 100 rupees yesterday to serve 10 people. That is about $1.50 and the vendor made money. I hope that it wasn’t the only meal that they had. I see toddlers walking around with exposed genitals. Probably healthier than a diaper that would be impossible to keep clean on the street. The gap between rich and poor is starker here than any place I have ever been. And there are those in my country who would treat our poor the same.

Just returned from the CSMVS. It does not disappoint. I might return and spend another half day. They charge 500 INR for admission and 100 INR to photograph the collections. The total cost in about $10. I took a few hundred photos. I’ll write more about it and post photos when I return from the dentist this evening. I am cooling down and my clothes are drip drying.

I left for the dental office at 2:50 yesterday. The trip took twenty minutes. I was there with Dan Brown’s Inferno until 7:00. The ride back to the hotel took 40 minutes because of the traffic. I saw the dentures that I will wear until I return to have my implants loaded. They are white and perfect, the exact opposite if the ones that my dentist made for me at home. I was told then that dentures didn’t come in a whiter shade.

It is almost 6:00 here and the house crows are announcing the beginning of a new day.

Indian House Crow

Indian House Crow

They are smaller than our crows, unafraid of people and differently colored. I have heard a sporadic horn instead of the usual cacophony outside. I need to check out before I leave for my 11:00 dental appointment. I’ll stow my luggage in Glenn’s room today. I hired a driver to take me to the airport for 700 INR (about $10) tonight. It is a one hour trip at 10:00 P.M. My flight leaves at 2:25 but I want to see if I can book an earlier return to the US at the Delta desk so I won’t need to clear customs in Amsterdam. I don’t know when Glenn sees the dentist today. He had a root canal done yesterday. I don’t want to take a “drip” since I won’t have a shower of my own or time for my clothes to dry. We did plan dinner later if he is up to it. I’ll change into my cool weather clothes this evening. I brought jeans and a long sleeve top with me. Time to shower before breakfast so that my hair will dry. There are no hair dryers in the rooms here.

crowded streets

crowded streets

I have a little time before breakfast to record a few interesting observations. This city is very dirty due to its poverty and over-population. Everyone must drink bottled water so there are plastic bottles everywhere. The resources and infrastructure cannot support a population of twenty million souls. There is also much wealth here in areas like Bandra West, Mumbai’s gold coast, with its mansions, malls and Rolls Royce limos. The climate is tropical, but I have seen no mosquitoes, few flies and no vermin. The birds are mostly scavengers and I have seen no small reptiles. There are only cats, dogs and cows here. I have more flies in my house when I cook meat. I need to ask the Great Google about this.

The answer is that the insects, like flies and mosquitoes, are well controlled here.

I left the hotel on Thursday in a beat up old taxi with A/C and a bad transmission driven by a man who had ferried me often between the hotel and the dental clinic. I had negotiated a rate of 700 Rupees (about $9.50) for the nearly one hour drive. airport-385294_1280Aryan delivered me at Terminal 2, the International terminal at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at 10:45. I paid him 1000 Rupees (about $16), very reasonable by US standards for an airport transfer, but a very good days work for him. Aryan drove me by the outskirts of one of the largest slums in Mumbai on the way to airport. The experience at night is surreal. It rather reminded me of a few of the more ‘hellish’ scenes from “Apocalypse Now”.

Chhatrapati Shivaji has two huge ultra modern Terminals. abstract-1415034_1280It shames every US airport that I have visited. Leaving the country is almost as difficult as entering. There were long queue lines everywhere and it took me two hours to reach the departure lounge. Jet Airways is an Indian owned partner of Delta and KLM. It owns a modern fleet of Airbuses. I flew on one that could hold up to 475 passengers. I was almost pinned to the seat during takeoff by the thrust of its four engines. We departed Mumbai on schedule at 2:25 A.M. (about 5 P.M. EST, 19 May). The route included flyovers of Pakistan, Afganistan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey at 38,000 feet.

We arrived in Amsterdam around 7 A.M. CEST (10:30 in Mumbai and 1:00 A.M. in Detroit). I picked up my checked bag after a long wait and made my way through Dutch immigration and customs to the KLM counter and another queue line. I was able to buy a ticket for a flight leaving at 1:20 yesterday, May 20. We left on time which was 1:20 P.M. CEST, then almost 4:00 P.M. in Mumbai and 6:30 A.M. in Detroit.

We landed in Detroit around 3:30 EST. Arriving passengers must go through immigration, customs and another security check by DHS including scans of all checked through baggage. The DHS officer asked me if I had any agricultural products and other things on my bags from India. I told him that I had some spices and an amethyst geode.

amethyst geode

amethyst geode

He had no idea what a geode is, and seemed genuinely curious, so I found it my bag and opened it for him. I was hoping that he would ask me about the source of the spice. I would have told him that it is the worm. I had my third body scan of the day and found the gate for my connection to Atlanta. I arrived back in Charleston in the rain on May 20 at 10:20 P.M., still the same day that I left India and only about 21.5 hours later, but more than thirty hours in real time. I had traveled more than 10,000 miles with four lauches and and landings. I finally went to bed at 2:00 this morning but awoke at 6:00 anyway. I have showered and washed my hair, had breakfast out, did the grocery shopping, did two loads of laundry, some hand washing and cleaned the kitchen floor. Everything is unpacked and put away and it is only 1:00 P.M. here, but it is 7:00 P.M. in Amsterdam and 10:30 P.M. in Mumbai. Hey Burnsy: g’night Mate. Maybe I should try to sleep now, too.

This end our adventure in Mumbai, India with Ms Gina Marie Stanley. Ms Stanley is an exceptionally fine chronicler of her travels and adventures. She lives in West Virginia.
ADVENTURES IN MUMBAI, INDIA (Part II) by Gina Marie Stanley

ADVENTURES IN MUMBAI, INDIA (Part II) by Gina Marie Stanley

I just returned from dinner with Glenn at the Cafe Mocambo which is very near our hotel. It is a very small air-conditioned restaurant with fewer than eight tables and sixteen chairs.  The restaurant serves everything from Italian food, sea food, Chinese food and lamb chops. Glenn had lamb chops and described them as some of the best that he has ever eaten which is high praise from a sheep-eating Aussie. I had penne pasta with basil and tomato-based gravy.  It was good. I had not eaten for more than twelve hours and I couldn’t eat any more rice and curry tonight. The pasta was a nice change. I’ll take that ferry ride tomorrow. I’ll choose the luxury cruise even if it does cost 150 rupees (about $2.50). I also intend to see the caves at Elephanta.

Indian River Ferry

Indian River Ferry

I visited Elephanta Island, also known as Gharapuri, with Glenn and several thousand Indians today. It was 40 degrees C (104F). We rode one of several dozen ferries which crossed the 10 kilometers of the Arabian Sea from the

Gateway of India

Gateway of India

Gateway of India, a monument in Mumbai harbor next to the Taj Mahal Hotel, to Elephanta Island. There are several caves high on the island which were hewn from solid basalt stone sometime between the third century BC and the 5th century AD by persons unknown. There are Hindu and Buddhist temples on the island but the temple dedicated to Shiva is the largest of them. The Portugese desecrated the temples in the 16th Century. They were partially restored in the 1970’s and they are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We left the hotel at 9 and took a taxi to the Taj Mahal, a one hundred year old five star luxury hotel with 560 rooms and 44 suites, located just to the south in Colaba. The Taj was heavily damaged in the 2008 terrorist attack against Mumbai. At least 167 people died in the hotel during the attack. There is a tower located adjacent to the original building built in the 1970s.

Taj Mahal Hotel

Taj Mahal Hotel

The docks were full of the usual hustlers who target westerners. The round trip ride cost 180 INR apiece (about $3). The ferry ride lasted about an hour each way because the ferries must use channels which are not direct routes. I estimate that each ferry carried about 80 passengers and it was not equipped with life jackets or other flotation devices in the event of an accident. We passed Indian navy warships and many vessels large and small on the way. I was able to gain a real sense for the first time of the size of Mumbai. It is vast and the skyline stretches for miles along the shoreline of the Arabian Sea.

Mumbai Skyline

Mumbai Skyline

We arrived at the dock of Elephanta Island and took the small train from disembarkation point to the village. The ride cost 5 INR each (about 7 cents). There is very long stone stairway from the water’s edge up the hillside to the caves, I imagine the builders wanted to get closer to God. The climb is one huge bazaar with stalls on either side of the stairway. We passed several very friendly monkeys, two goats with swollen udders and a young bull. We paid the 500 INR (about $8) admission fee charged non Indians. Indians pay 30 INR or about half a dollar US. They pay taxes here, and it is their country. Besides, $8 isn’t much money for me.

Elephanta Island Monument to Shiva

Elephanta Island Monument to Shiva

The main cave is about 100 meters by 60 meters in size with many round columns supporting the roof. Many people nakedly stared at me on the island, and several asked Glenn to photograph them with me. They were either impressed with my height or thought me to be someone important. We will ask Pan Singh why I attract so much attention here. We walked through all of the caves, made our way back to earth from heaven and returned to Mumbai by ferry drenched in sweat. I jumped in the shower fully clothed. I am cool now and my clothes are hanging in the shower to dry.

Gina Marie Stanley is an adventurer, traveler and diarist. She lives in West Virginia.
ADVENTURES IN MUMBAI, INDIA (Part I) by Gina Marie Stanley

ADVENTURES IN MUMBAI, INDIA (Part I) by Gina Marie Stanley

Mumbai Skyline

Mumbai Skyline

I went to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to have extensive oral and sinus surgery. The first week was taken up mostly by surgical procedures and recovery.  Following is a diary-like account of my time in this huge city with some random facts thrown in.

[Editor’s Note]  I have performed minor typographical editing on Ms. Stanley’s observations; otherwise it’s pretty much as she submitted it from Mumbai.  Ms. Stanley graciously gave me permission to edit and publish the following account.]

My chin and jaw are grotesquely swollen this morning. It started setting in yesterday afternoon. The gums are also very swollen now. I have maxillary surgery scheduled at 4:00 this afternoon. It will be even more invasive due to the sinus lift needed.

It’s the beginning of my second week in Mumbai. There is a noticeable reduction in the amount of swelling after a steroid injection last night. I do have visible bruising on my chin, though. I have another appointment for post surgery follow up this afternoon. I am very impressed with my surgeon. He seems to be highly skilled, and he is genuinely caring person. He gently cleaned the inside of my mouth and my face after each surgery. In the US, those tasks would not have been performed by doctors. By the way, all surgery assistants are male here. There is female office staff and my dentist is female but that is it. Everyone else is male.

I’ll likely spend the day until my appointment in my room. I have a very thick Dan Brown novel purchased used from a book stall for $3. It is hardback. I have learned that the literacy rate in Mumbai is nearly 90%. There are many book stalls on the streets that sell only books. sikh-897859_1280According to my young Sikh friend, Babu, education for poor children is free in Mumbai but only Hindi is taught in public school. If children want to learn English they must pay to attend private schools or for tutoring. He also explained that there are twenty-two official languages spoken in India and more than 1,500 mother tongues still spoken. My belief was that all writing was Sanskrit-based, but many written languages in northern India are Urdu-based. The Indian subcontinent is vast with many climate zones and there are tens of thousands of small villages in rural India. On a map, Goa seems to be nearby, but the reality is that it a ten hour train ride. Babu is from a city that is twenty-two train hours distant from Mumbai.

I just learned that there are 1000 men for every 870 women in Mumbai. There are roughly 20,000,000 people here. Do the math.

I just returned from my most recent trip to the dentist. Today’s trip was more adventurous than usual. The taxi driver had an idea how to locate the section of Malabar Hills known as Kemp’s corner but he had no idea where the dental office was located. He drove more than a kilometer in the wrong direction before I managed to get him stopped. He knew no English and I don’t speak a word of his language whatever that might be. I ended up walking back to the clinic in the 90 degree heat. The dentist took impressions for the temporary dentures that will be given before I return to Mumbai after the end of the forthcoming rainy season. The dentures made by my dentist in Huntington (WV), whom I shall not mention by name, have never fit correctly and made sores in my mouth. I had them relined when they were only two months old.  The bill was $400; a bill I will never pay! My surgeon gave me another steroid injection to deal with the swelling. I imagine that I will look as normal as I can without any teeth tomorrow. Happily, I am more than 8,000 miles from home, and I don’t know anyone who will photograph me and post the photo on Facebook!

When I returned to the hotel, I had new prescriptions to fill. There is only one pharmacy in the area and it is poorly stocked. The store is probably about 12 feet by 16 feet in size. There are multiple paper merchants on both sides of every street in the area, but only one little tiny pharmacy. There is a 7-11 on every corner in Bangkok, where I spent some time a few years back and a pharmacy somewhere on every block. I have not seen a single 7-11 anywhere in Mumbai. Maybe that is because there was a terrorist attack here on July 11, 2006. The Indian press called it 7/11. Anyway, I was able to get my prescriptions filled. I have no need to visit the dentist tomorrow, but I doubt that I’ll leave the hotel even though I don’t know anyone here.

I did take a walk this morning. There are more banks in this section of Mumbai than any other business, including paper merchants. They are not large banks but there are many dozens of them. I did find the Hermes store, but I didn’t go in. I have no reason to believe that the line costs less here than elsewhere.

I was looking for the Cafe Leopold and Gate to India and the Taj Mahal. The Tajtaj-mahal-hotel-390779_1280 is the Tata-owned hotel attacked by Pakistani terrorists in November 2008. I did find the naval yard and had no problem finding my way back to the hotel using a different route. I returned drenched in sweat, though.

I met Glenn, the Aussie man next door, this morning. He is also a dental patient with the same clinic. He seems like a nice enough “bloke”, and likely less dangerous than Babu who is only 31 and has sex on his mind. He knows my age but doesn’t seem deterred. Could that be because there are so few women in Mumbai? Glenn is 50ish and seems harmless. I learned from him that the minimum wage in Australia is $23 an hour. Aussies don’t tip because there is no need for working people there to supplement the wages of other working people in that way. I had to explain the need to do so here. Australia has not embraced supply side economics. Maybe I’ll ask him to take the ferry ride with me on Sunday, teeth or no teeth. I’ll take a taxi to the Taj then. The quality of the shops improves the closer one gets to Colaba. The Indian Navy is located there, so there is probably more money to be spent. Its presence did not deter the terrorists though.

I had dinner with my new Aussie “mate” last night. I had Dum Aloo which is potato in curry gravy and rice. I was able to mash the potato and mix it and the gravy with the rice. “Aloo” means potato. Glenn is a working nurse in a small town in Queensland, one of Australia’s Territories on its eastern coast. He lives in a part of Queensland that is temperate. Right now it is winter there and cold. I learned much about the difficulty of controlling introduced species, plant or animal, into an environment where they are not native and about life in rural Australia. We both have appointments this afternoon, mine at 3:00 and his at 3:30 and we will share a taxi. I have met many interesting people here.

Presently, there is a group of young Germans here. I have had also had conversations with Scots transplanted to Australia.

A young Indian journalist stopped into a cafe one day while I was there. She was meeting a French crew to film an interview of a local politician. Pan Singh would not serve her a requested beverage because she was not a guest of the hotel. I asked if she could be my guest and if he would serve her then and he did. She is part of India’s middle class. Mumbai has a large middle class of university-educated people and a large number of very wealthy people but also millions of poor people who come here from the rural areas of India to work so they can earn cash to send home to support their families. My guess is that it is one of the reasons why there are many more men than women here. The men are the sons who must now support their extended families due to the loss of their father. India is a patriarchy where any job is first reserved for men and where labor is undervalued and everything is labor intensive. No women work in this tiny boutique hotel even though the staff is large. There are usually three men at the front desk and a door man. The dining room can only seat sixteen at a time but there are always four wait staff.  There are three men responsible for cleaning the nine rooms on my floor. This hotel employs many people who work very hard for little pay. I suppose that the Indian economy must work this way because of its huge population, but I am bothered by it.

Patriot Ghandi

Patriot Ghandi

I walked over to the Back Bay and met an English speaking taxi driver with air-conditioning who offered a two hour tour for 200 INR (about $3 US). I toured the house where Gandhi lived for seventeen years between 1917 and 1934. I also visited a beautiful Krishna Temple.iskcon-485467_1280 I was soaked with sweat when I returned, so I jumped into the shower fully-clothed and then hung my clothes in the shower to dry. It is 95 degrees today with 70% humidity. I’ll rest in my room until my afternoon dental appointment.

Gina Marie Stanley is a woman of many talents. She recently went to Mumbai, India to have oral and sinus surgery. She shared extensive notes of her experiences and graciously gave us permission to edit and share them with our readers. Ms. Stanley lives in West Virginia.