Sunday, January 9
Walked around the marina at Split during the sunrise. Beautiful, cloudless Sunday. I saw and held my first live polychaete annelid (marine worm); several of the bizarre invertebrates were being sold on the street as fishbait. After coffee, we paid a small fee to climb to the top of the 75 meter tower. It’s amazing to think that it was put together without machines or mortar, and that it’s been standing for several centuries. We also stopped by the fish market, and saw live cuttlefish and octopus for sale, along with huge tuna steaks and morays.
We drove away from Split and into the mountains that straddle the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. After some trouble at the border, we rented another rental car for several hours to be able to enter into Herzegovina at Medkovic.
The countryside was noticeably different than that of Croatia just a few miles away, with half destroyed buildings, trash along the highway, and fallow grapevine fields between towns. We drove northeast through a meandering river valley into the city of Mostar for lunch. As we approached, we saw the city blanketed in a thick smog, presumably from all the wood-burning stoves. Rising from the hazy stratum were minarets and spires from Mostar’s many mosques. As we drove in, we quickly noticed that the city was dotted with abandoned buildings spotted with bullet holes. The most striking aspect of the city was the juxtaposition of these war-scarred buildings and newly constructed, brightly painted ones. After visiting the famous bridge in old Mostar, we, returned to Croatia (via Medugorje) and found a lovely, private apartment in Dubrovnik in which to stay the night.
Monday, January 10
We woke up relatively late and were having coffee in a cafe in old Dubrovnik by 0900. The walled city has been rebuilt and restored over the ages, and has modern inhabitants living within it. We walked along the perimiter of the city on the 150 foot wall and looked out over the sea of red clay shingles that is Dubrovnik.
We set out for Montenegro (our ninth country of the trip) at around noon. We crossed the border without incident and visited the city of Herceg Novi. This city was less charming than the Croatian walled cities we had visited (probably from a less successful tourism industry) but still very beautiful in a very genuine way. I found a couple of 9mm bullet casings on the ground in an alley (?)
We drove along the coast of the Bay of Koper, ate dinner at a restaurant in Perast that overlooked the mountainous body of water at sunset, then returned to Dubrovnik. On the way back, Rod recorded an original piece as a vocal accompaniment to the Tron soundtrack (be sure to check for this and other original music inspired by and recorded during our trip through the Balkans at: www.terrillmast.bandcamp.com).
Friday, January 7
Slept in until seven, had breakfast, and drove through thick fog from Koper to Divaca. Stopped at the Škocjan caves, a UNESCO world heritage site (google image it now) and hiked up a forest trail to a lookout point overlooking a deep gorge carved out by a roaring waterfall. Beautiful “Classic Karst” landscape with caves, grottoes, falls, and steep cliffs covered in a thick fog. Not to mention a castle overlooking the gorge. Despite the awesome immensity of it all, I couldn’t stop taking macro shots of the wide variety of mosses and lichens caking the trees. That night, My father gave a talk on his work at the Famnit faculty in Koper. The students seemed very engaged and receptive. Had dinner with a professor, some other faculty, and a couple of biology students afterward.
Saturday, January 8
In the morning, we left Koper for Piran, a small Slovenian town with a church overlooking it. We walked through the old, Venetian style streets in the old town and walked up to the church before continuing on into Croatia.
We crossed the border without consequence, but quickly found out that our trusty GPS didn’t work in this country, and that we were caught in a thick fog in unfamiliar territory. We found our way over to Rovinj, and spent tome time exploring the old town, which had a feel similar to that of Piran. We bought apples from an old woman who spoke to us in Italian. She told me that her son was passing through DC on his way back from school in Pennsylvania. “Il mondo es piccolo.” I jumped off of the dock in to the crystal clear (and freezing) Adriatic before we headed out towards our final destination for the day in Split.
It was a tiring, nine hour drive, but we reached Split just after nightfall. We were met by Ante, a Croatian marine botanist that specializes in algae. He showed us around the old town, which is comprised of the well preserved ruins of Roman emperor Diocletian’s walled city, which dates back to the third century and sits right by the sea. Today, people live and shopkeep in and amongst the historic ruins. The main tower, which now houses bells and a church, took several centuries to complete. After seeing most of the historic downtown, we ate at a seafood restaurant that sits right next to the open market, which is supposedly the only fly-less fish market in the world (apparently, high sulfate content in the air from sulfur deposits below the city deters any flies). I had a full squid, while Ryan had cuttlefish rizzota. We stayed in a cozy apartment by the sea, in which all If the heating is powered by electricity (like most of the city). Electric bills must be ridiculous in the winter.
Thursday, January 6
My biological clock has yet to be reset, so I woke up at 0230 and wrote for an hour. We hit the road before 0500 and headed southwest from Trento to Venice listening to “Living for the City”. The outline of the towering Dolomite mountains was barely visible in the east.
Arrived at 0730; it was barely dawn. Had breakfast and coffee and started walking through the beautiful, mind-bending maze that is Venice. My normally acute geospatial navigation sense was severely impaired by the absence of any kind of logical arrangement of streets and buildings. We accidentally walked in circles more than once. The only other form of transportation within the pedestrian city is by boat.
We happened to visit Venice on “Dia de los Reyes”, the national holiday that commemorates the day that the three kings visited Jesus. Mr Leatherback made a special appearance in St. Marco’s square during the celebration. After visiting the gloriously decorated main cathedral and resting place of St. Mark, we retraced our steps through the maze of bridges and alleyways to our car.
We rested our legs on our drive to Slovenia. Upon our arrival to the center of the main port city, Koper, Ryan and I spent about twenty minutes searching for our hostel on foot. We met a nice student who showed us the way, which was twice as complicated to reach by car. Dinner was pizza (maybe better than Italian) and Slovenian beer on tap.
Tuesday, January 4
@Terrill Mast, @Ryan Hawes, @Roderic Mast, Angela Mast, and I landed in Munich on Tuesday, Jan 4. We loaded up our rented Ford Mondeo and drove from the airport to the city center. Our first stop was the famous Hofbrau Haus, where we had the most kingly breakfast imaginable: brotwurst and freshly brewed, unfiltered Weiss beer. Mr. Leatherback made his appearance and was promptly removed from the premises by the manager.
We drove southwest across snow covered fields and pine plantations until the Alps loomed into view, lined with red and orange clouds at sunset. We checked into a hostel in Feldkirch, Austria and spent the night in a room with ten other people, mostly skiers on winter vacations.
Wednesday, January 5
I awoke on 1/5 at 0400 and quietly packed. We all regrouped at seven and had a magnificent breakfast in Feldkirch before driving into Liechtenstein. Mr. Leatherback made another appearance and we continued on to Davos, Switzerland, a winter wonderland swarming with skiers. We attempted to conquer the beautiful Swiss alps in our wagon (now dubbed “Helmut”), but were forced to go under the mountain on a train-ferry when traction on the Fluelapass became impossible.
On the other side of the mountain, we passed through Stelvio National Forest, was a beautiful, pine-blanketed montane landscape. The difference in bird diversity within the reserve was noticeable. We drove on and passed from Switzerland to Italy, where all of a sudden our path was flanked by fields of grapevine lying dormant for the winter. We drove through valleys insulated by humbling mountains, passing another small town every hour. Each seemed to have it’s own architectural uniqueness in both their common shops/dwellings and their historical buildings, the most apparent of which were lofty castles that overlooked each town from a precarious perch on the adjacent mountain.
Famished and tired after a long day of driving (we missed the narrow window when restaurants served lunch and were forced to wait until dinner), we reached Trento and found an affordable hotel on the outskirts that was attached to a pizzeria. After gorging ourselves on delicious pizza, we paid for two rooms and passed out.