11 June 2017

"People don't take trips...

...trips take people."  John Steinbeck

From Mostar, Dana and I hopped on another bus, this time heading for Dubrovnik, Croatia.  If you glance at a map, you'll notice that Croatia is split in two at the south end; Bosnia and Herzegovina claim a small bit of coast along the Adriatic Sea.  We're not quite sure why, but passing from Mostar to Dubrovnik, you'll cross into Croatia, then back into Bosnia, then back into Croatia (= lots more passport stamps!).  The ocean views along the way are beautiful, rain or shine.

And we got rain.

Dubrovnik is a medieval walled city on the Adriatic Sea, made up of light stone architecture and winding streets with no shortage of hidden stairs.  We uncovered plenty of those hidden stairs during our mad dash through sheets of rain from the bus at the city gate to our hostel.

Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, Kotor
After a good night's sleep through plenty of thunderstorms, we were back on another crusty Balkans bus for a day trip to a new town and a new country: Kotor, Montenegro.  Kotor is a small, secluded town deep in the Gulf of Kotor, surrounded by hills and limestone cliffs.  With its picturesque bay, it's become a popular cruise stop and we heard plenty of American English there.  The history of the town dates back to the first couple of centuries B.C.; despite struggles with the Republic of Yugoslavia over the past few decades, Montenegro is now recognized as its own entity (and just became the 29th member of NATO a few days ago on June 5, 2017).  It is not yet a member of the European Union, nor is it part of the Schengen Zone.

Because of its well-preserved medieval town center, Kotor is a UNESCO world heritage site.  It's also the site of countless stray cats, and even has a cat museum (but no, we didn't visit).  Dana and I were interested in doing some hiking up into the hills behind Kotor; the most popular are the trails up to the ruins of an ancient fortress.  The fortress itself is part of a fortification system from the 1500s.

Our hike was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.  Though clouds hung in the sky all day, the rain held off; the weather for the climb was pleasantly cool and the views spectacular.

The island Lokrum and Dubrovnik from above
Back in Dubrovnik the following day, we quickly discovered that it's a good idea to stay out of the center of the walled city from about 10am to 4pm to avoid the tourist infestation.  Dubrovnik's town center is also a UNESCO world heritage site because it is so well preserved.  It's also an important spot for Game of Thrones lovers, about which I know nothing, but I know that you can of course take a tour of the series' filming sites.  Unfortunately, it being my last day in Croatia, I didn't have a lot of time to explore much or to admire the white stone architecture; there were just too many people.  Dana and I decided instead to take the funicular up a nearby hill to relax and take in the city from above.

Up at the top, there are several viewing platforms for admiring Dubrovnik; you can also see the island Lokrum, the coastal hills, and the blue sea that stretches on to the horizon.  We found a café and restaurant where we enjoyed the breeze (well, cold wind) while sampling a typical robust Croatian red wine.  You can descend via funicular, but we decided to walk down the rather steep hill on a back-and-forth path that features the stations of the cross on plaques at every turn.

Back in the walled city, we zig-zagged through the tourist throngs and huffed and puffed our way up some steep and seemingly never-ending steps to reach a restaurant recommended to us by an employee of our hostel.  We were lucky to snag a table at the tail end of the lunch hour at Lady Pi-Pi, a place with a variety of delicious Croatian specialties and a beautiful patio where you can smell your meal being grilled.  I couldn't resist one last ćevapi dish, this time served without the pita bread.

There's more to do in Dubrovnik and on its surrounding islands, but I enjoyed my relaxing day there as a bookend after a very busy ten days of traveling.  That evening, I experienced a picturesque sunset plane ride up along the Dalmatian coast and back over to Paris.

Jardin des Plantes
Jardin du Luxembourg
Spring and fall are my favorite seasons to be in Paris - many perfect-weather days and not too many tourists.  Since my flight got in so late, I spent a night and day in the city before returning to Lille.  Armed with a selection of good books on my Kindle, I did some serious walking and garden-hopping to admire the spring flowers in the Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes, and in the flower shops along the rive droite of the Seine.

Between gardens and miles of walking, I also made some headway on a new Paris project, discovering quirky non-brasserie-style Parisian restaurants.  One of my new favorites is called Frenchie To Go, a few blocks north of Châtelet, a breakfast-all-day plus lunch place (but closes before dinner).  I had an amazing mid-afternoon pain perdu (the closest the French get to French toast) with eggs and bacon.

Later, just before my train back to Lille, I stopped for dinner at Balls, close to the Père Lachaise cemetery.  This is a restaurant where everything comes in a circular shape; you pick what kind of meatball or vegetarian ball you want, and then choose a sauce and side dish.  The lunch menu is probably a better deal price-wise, but the restaurant concept is an interesting break from the usual.

And with that, I ended another successful travel saga.  April is always one of my favorite times to travel around Europe, and this time I left eager to return to the Balkans again soon.