Our last day on Santorini left us with many hours before our flight. So I stayed back to pack, while my traveling companions decided to try the famed trail to Oia (not a boot-friendly experience). They knew they didn’t have time for the whole thing, but it was good for them to get out for a bit.
Afterwards, it was time for a last Santorini stroll — and a little souvenir shopping. Built on a hillside, the town is a warren of tiny, twisty, stair-ridden streets. Both of my travel companions were looking for some clothing — especially the flowy white cotton garments seen everywhere. While we meandered, we plotted — at least, the girl and I did. We plied HWSNBN with another donkey beer (the only way we would support the donkey trade here. Was not about to make one of those poor creatures carry me up the hillside). Then, through much pleading, teasing and cajoling, we got him where we never thought he’d go: to a fish pedicure.
I have always wanted to try one, and Singer Girl was all in. You may remember us discussing it in Dubrovnik, where HWSNBN declared the whole thing was a figment of our imagination. Nope! He cringed and giggled through the whole thing, but he did it. In the picture below, you will notice all the fishies on the left side of my left foot: that’s where the break was. It was like they KNEW!
We had a last lunch at Argo, our fave restaurant in town (http://www.argo-restaurant-santorini.com/menu), then it was time to jet. I had previously remarked how seamless the trip had been so far. Everything I had arranged had not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them. Stupid woman. Should’ve known that I would curse things by saying that.
A shuttle van was supposed to pick us up — and it was late. We were a little panicky, and when we got to the airport the lines were forever long, and we couldn’t figure out where to go. After consulting with many different people, we finally were told to get our butts to the front of the line (as at this point we were pushing it timewise). We rushed frantically — only to realize: no planes were leaving. Don’t know why. But no planes were going anywhere. We stood in the increasingly crowded, unairconditioned airport. It was awful: I actually started worrying about some of the elderly people as the breathing room lessened.
Suddenly they announced our flight — so joined a long line, up and down a staircase, to get there. Then it was another line to get onto the little shuttle buses, all the while not sure if we were on the right one going to the correct plane. Finally boarded for the short, 40 minute flight to Athens. All this delay was worrying me especially, as we had surprise dinner reservations late that evening for which we could not be late!
Safely in Athens, we found our prearranged taxi and headed to our cool but crazy rental. This was our first stop in a true city, so the high rises, graffiti and traffic were not a pleasant shock. I think when you travel to large cities you instinctively are a bit more wary than when in smaller towns. There is a faster pace, and more issues with getting places and concerns of rough neighborhoods. The first time I visited Europe, it was to Rome. It took awhile getting used to the trash and graffiti, but I have since realized that neither are necessarily an indication of a crime-ridden ghetto; it’s just different than what I am used to.
So while in the back of my mind I was nervous pulling into our rather industrial looking neighborhood, I was keeping an open mind. I am relentless in my research, and the reviews for our apartment were beyond reproach, but you never really know until you turn that doorknob. We were not disappointed. I had informed Singer Girl of the special highlight of our place, but not HWSNBN, so he was a bit amazed when we entered.
The apartment had a retractable roof.
There were trees in the living room, and so much room we could’ve slept a dozen or more people in the two bedroom, 2 bath place. But it was just us three, and we had places to go. Check out the listing at https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16935208
Our dinner was walking distance away. We were staying in a newly hip neighborhood known as Ghazi, were an old gas works had been turned into an entertainment complex. Dinner was there — above it. 165 feet above it.
We were dining at Dinner in the Sky, Athens. We had time for a pre-dinner ouzo, a first for me and Singer Girl.
Both agreed we liked it very much! Then it was a mandatory potty break before getting strapped into our seats.
Yes, strapped in — like going on a roller coaster. Then a crane hoisted us up up up — the view of Athens and the Acropolis and the biggest moon ever was amazing. We had a prearranged dinner menu, and the many courses were prepared in the middle of our “table.” We had two servers supplying us with cocktails the whole time, with rock music blaring and so many different languages laughing around us.
Learn more at https://dinnerinthesky.gr/en/. I will totally be looking for more locations on future travels!
The next morning we were getting ready to go explore when the travel curse reared its ugly head again. Singer Girl realized she had lost her passport. While my travel companions searched frantically, I called our taxi. No dice. Then I called the airport. Somehow, amazingly, I reached the right person, and he told me they had found it in the airplane seat pocket (always check that before deplaning, folks). So we all ventured to the train station (which was conveniently just a couple of blocks away). But there we split up. They went to the airport while I went and did something I alone wanted to do: watch the changing of the guard at the Presidential mansion.
Unfortunately, I got there too late for the official big ceremony, but just getting to see them in their traditional garb, stylistically marching back and forth in a manner reminiscent of giant horses, was cool enough.
I wandered around a bit more while waiting for them to return.
We reconnected and headed to our original detaination, the Monastiraki flea market. Yes, there were plenty of touristy trinkets, but if we had lived there I would have bought so much. So many quirky, funky things, from cannons to charm bracelets.
HWSNBN wanted to cook dinner in the apartment, so we looked for food stores. Unfortunately, food markets are not open on Sundays, so we really struggled to find what we wanted. But a little pasta, some cheese, olive and wine, and we were just fine. We chilled on the couch watching a World Cup match before heading out for the main event(in our eyes): Croatia v Denmark. Next it was off to the apartment to shower and change for our last World Cup game. I had found a sports bar (aptly named the Athens Sports Bar, http://www.athenssportsbar.com/) and we headed towards the train in our Croatia garb!
I love these bars where there are so many different cultures and languages. The Denmark fans sat on one side, we sat on the other, and a gaggle of Canadians (it was Canada day sat in the middle. Singer Girl is fascinated with the idea of Canada, so she loved chatting with them. We had a great conversation with a couple Englishmen who now live in Athens about soccer in Europe vs the US. And, of course: Croatia won! One last nightcap, and we headed back home to get rest up for a day of sight seeing — and our last full day in Europe.
Fantasy Island was in our rear view: now it was time for futbol.
We limp-hustled to the apartment, switched out some last minute laundry (can I tell you how much fun it was to use that old school clothes line, watching our modern day duds flap in the breeze above that ancient wall?), and head to our recommended venue: an Irish Pub. I knew we were late, as usual. HWSNBN thought I was exagerating, as usual. We arrived to a SRO venue, and I resigned myself to stand for the next few hours. But the atmosphere was great: on the patio they were going to show the Argentina game, inside the main event (Croatia v Iceland). Drinks were flowing, and food looked fanatastic. But HWSNBN did not want to stand, so left and found ANOTHER Irish pub around the corner. We managed to squeeze into a table when some non-soccer fans scurried out. That was the good news. Bad news? No food would be served any longer, and the bar would only sell beer. Singer Girl was displeased. During halftime they had to wander off in search of sustenance!
We were cozy with another table — a couple from Norway. They were rooting for Iceland, but we liked them anyway.
Croatia won! It was fun, but not the same frenzied joy as when we were in the park in Split — but still awesome to be there.
The night was young, even if two-thirds of us weren’t. We wandered around the electric city, finding areas we hadn’t yet explored.
We found an odd little corner, nestled up against the southwestern edge of the wall. It was mostly residential, with so many cats it felt like a trap. Like the cats were in charge, as they lured my companions into a small square…
I stayed behind, just in case I needed to fetch help. but my surroundings were just as creepy:
Yes. That is a guillotine.
We decided to wander elsewhere, and hopefully find a little liquid courage.
We closed the place down, and headed back for our final Croatian sleep. In the morning, we had to be out of the apartment by 11, but we were allowed to leave our luggage there. Our wonderful hosts texted me in the morning and said that becasue it was raining, we could stay until we departed for the airport, which was more than generous. The rain wasn’t enough to keep us inside — we had shopping to do. So with the treachery of slippery steps in mind, we ventured forth.
We finally got a good, uncrowded shot of the infamous “Steps of Shame” from GOT fame. Did you know that was the single most expensive television scene ever shot, as they producers not only had to shut down several streets, they had to pay all the retailers on those streets. Worth it, though. The steps themselves? Go to the Jesuit high school one of our tour gides attended!
Every time we went up this staircase, HWSNBN suggested I reenact it (you know, nekkid). I politely declined, but if I had, I would’ve availed myself of the nearby bar’s tribute cocktails:
Another thing Dubrovnik is famous for is having the oldest working pharmacy in Europe. Originally part of a Fransciscan monastery, it was founded in 1317. They didn’t allow photos inside, but these are some shots of the surrounding grounds (with some more doors to feed my obsession):
I tried to google translate the Italian above the door, and it has something to do with beating an infernal enemy. Dante’s Inferno was published a few years after this place opened shop, so maybe it was kind of the in thing. You know, hell and purgatory and all that. Good times.
We were looking for a few different things. I was smitten with the traditional Dubrovnik jewelry — fillagree metal balls were in stores all over the city, and we searched street by street until I found the one shop I had seen the day before that looked more traditional than all the rest.
I wanted one for a Christmas ornament, but one of that size would’ve cost me a thousand dollars. So I hemmed and hawed and pondered and finally settled on one as a pendant. Singer Girl also found some fantastic keepsake jewelry. If you are in the area, go see the father-daughter team at Beni, od puca 25 (that’s the address). Singer Girl couldn’t decide what she wanted, so they created something on teh spot — took one bracelet, cut it down to her size, and made earrings out of the removed pieces. Very cool, very special.
Our last stop was to get a necktie for Drummer Boy. Why? Evidently the cravat was invented in Croatia. Who knew?
Purchases in hand, it was time to retrieve our luggage and head to the airport. It was not easy saying goodbye to Croatia. What had started as an afterthought, the second fiddle to our trip to Greece, ended up being so much more. But now we turned our eyes southward, to the land of gods. First stop: Santorini. I’ll save the details for the next entry, but I’ll tease you with these snaps of our hotel upon arrival:
I don’t know why this place captivated me so, but it surely did. The only thing that would’ve made it better were folks in immaculate white suits handing me a cocktail as we arrived. But maybe if we had come in on zee plane…
We had heard of Lokrum, just a 20 minute boat ride from Dubrovnik. We had seen it from afar. It didn’t look spectacular, but everyone said if you have the time, it’s a must. It’s also cursed.
The island was home to a Benedictine monastery, which founded in 1038. According to legend, Richard the Lion Hearted shipwrecked there, and vowed to build a church — which he did. Centuries later, the French decided they wanted it, so told the monks they had to leave. They fought it, but lost. So the night before they were evicted, they all lined up with candles, and walked the whole island three times, chanting and pouring wax. Thus came the curse: “Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure shall be damned!”
Three Dubrovnik aristocrats forced the move. One jumped out of a window, one drowned, and the third was killed by a servant.
Another shipwreck brought Archduke Maximilian to its stunning shores. Captivated, and more greedy than grateful, he decided to buy it. Max moved in, built a mansion, and thought all was great. Then he went to Mexico, to be Emperor. He was soon executed there. His wife Charlotte moved back to Lokrum. She went insane.
Over the successive centuries, people died, were financially and socially ruined, and on and on until finally, after the last owners were assassinated in an act that actually kicked off World War I, it became a park. And that is what we visited.
Our original goal was to find the salt lake, which was supposed to have healing properties due to the higher-than-the-ocean concentration of salt in the water. That took us awhile, so we made a detour to the botanical gardens. We met some English guy in a huff — he was unhappy with the state of the gardens. Not quite up to British snuff, evidently. Yeah, they weren’t manicured or lush (hello, desert environment…). But: they had wild peacocks and bunnies galore. That were tame. And ATE FROM your HAND!!!
I wonder if random peacock sightings aren’t unusual in this part of the world, like they are in the US. Some people just glanced and walked on. But us? We were like Australians on tour in the midwest, freaking out over every squirrel (hi Kim).
We were also fascinated by the cactus displays. Again: yeah, I knew it was more arid than tropical here (although palm trees were everywhere in Split and Dubrovnik), but I didn’t expect such a Wild West display of fauna. If the peacocks were the Croatian Road Runner, did that make the bunnies Wile E Coyote? I am so confused.
We wandered some more, and just couldn’t find the salt lake. I was getting tired, as the paths were very uneven. We were getting frustrated, and started backtracking. Eventually we figured out the not-so-helpful map system, and got pointed in the correct direction. On the way we passed a place to get massages (Fantasy Island! I’m tellin’ ya!) and fish pedicures, which we discussed, 2/3rds of us excitedly, one not so much (if I were still an English major, my highlighter would’ve marked this last sentence and written “foreshadoing”in teh margins…)
Before we reached the lake, we stumbled upon a big soccer field, flocked with our furry and feathered friends. So, naturally, we needed to detour yet again.
The following three pictures are indicative of the types of relationships the three of us had with the critters:
Finally we found the salt lake, and the girl was IN THE WATER. So was my foot, and, briefly, HWSNBN. I mostly took pictures, though!
After our respite, it was time to wander back to the boat launch. Of course, critter ADD set in when we saw a mama peahen and her babies. We assumed she would shuffle her babies away from us, but no. She basically pushed them aside to eat our proffered snacks.
Ok, ok. You get it. The critters were cool. Yawn.
Fine: the scenery, sans fauna, was amazing everywhere we went
We hopped back on the boat, and pointed towards our walled home town, Dubrovnik, eager to enjoy our last night there.
You may recall our decision to avail ourselves of tour guides for the rest of the trip while floundering about in Split. On our second full day in Dubrovnik, we took two.
First up: a walk-the-walls tour. As always, I was in charge. I don’t necessarily mind that, but being responsible for all the info all the time means I am not always on top of things. I knew roughly where we needed to meet, but I had negelected to get precise info. There were tons of tour groups, speaking so nay different languages. I was trying to hobble, leading my crabby crew up and down the stone staircases. I have no pride, or qualms, when it comes to asking for help, so I grabbed a tourist guide and asked: where does the Dubrovnik Walks (http://dubrovnikwalks.com/) tour meet? I was right: all the guides know each other. The gal rolled her eyes and gestured outside the city walls, so we scurried off. Found another large group — asked them — and they pointed me to a group that was already walking away. The guide said yes, this is the right group, but no, we couldn’t join without first checking in. We rushed to the proper place, checked in, attached our little headsets, then frantically (with the aide of a sub-guide) to catch up with our crew, about about 10 minutes late. Like every other person we met in this magical town, everyone was gracuious, kind and understanding of our touristic feebleness!
So: we started our tour hot, late, sweaty and grumpy wth one another. The hot and sweaty part never went away, but the grumpy part sure did.
There is no persepctive from which this city doesn’t captivate. Our tour guide was terrific: all of his speech was peppered with deferential references to his beloved speed metal, which of course endeared him to this rocker chick and her musical daughter. But he was appropriately sober when required, especially when telling us what it was like as a child fleeing from the under-siege city with his mom and living in a refugee camp.
I took tons of pictures, and they say more than I can. Here are some of my favorites, with periodic captions:
One of the funniest moments on the tour was also one of the most weirdly charming. While strolling about at ground level the previous day, Singer Girl notced what we thought was a tennis court, stashed behind a small alley entryway. But up on the wall we got a closer look.
Croatians love their sports — and especially basketball. But the city walls of Dubrovnik are not very forgiving when it comes to space. So when the city needed a public basketball court, they changed the court configuration. Our tour guide said he rememebred when this was a dirt area. He and his friends celebrated Croatia’s historic third place win in the World Cup 1998 by kicking up a storm in this spot. The court may be fancy and new, but nestled into the centuries old city walls, it retains its whimsical appeal.
We completed this tour, then went tograb some lunch and regroup before our next one. We had lots of time — I had selected a city tour for early evening, so it wouldn’t be so hot. So that meant two things: back to the beach, and then a nap. Our trek to the starting point of this tour was easier, since this time we knew where we were going (of course, we still had to DO the trek. By the end of our 3 1/2 days in Dubrovnik, we would walk about 37 miles, or 322 flights of stairs, or more than 90,000 steps. And yes. I was in das boot).
Our tour guide strolled us around Dubrovnik on street level, where we admired architecture, lamented war damage (this guide, too, was a war refugee), marvelled at history and folklore, and fell deeper in love with the city.
We saw so many cats — I have never seen so many stray cats so well loved. Everywhere you looked there were water and food dishes set out for them.
So much charm and color!
After asking for restaurant suggestioins, and what we should do on our last day, we said goodbye to the guide then went home to clean up to go eat. The next day was going to be good: a trip to fantasy island, and another Croatia World Cup game!
Let me just remind you I was in a boot.
We arrived in Dubrovnik late — like after midnight. It was rough on some folks, and another airport nap was in order.
Again, I had arranged transportation, so again we had someone waiting there to whisk us away. Again: we were immensely grateful. We each had carry-ons and checked bags, and Dubrovnik, like Split, is an ancient area with no cars allowed. We were dropped off at the Pile gate (pronounced pee-lah: the city is walled, which we will get to later), and basically walked across a drawbridge to enter the amazing city. If we hadn’t had our guide we would NEVER have found our way. Dubrovnik is a warren of alleys and stairwells. How many stairs? According to a study, there are 5,423 steps in Dubrovnik. On a daily basis we essentially SLAYED the Fitbit.
The city reminded me a bit of San Francisco, with steep staircases instead of streets. And the little shops and residences tucked into every square inch reminded me of that as well. Upon arrival, we wandered down the Stradun, an awe-inspiring marble main street, with centuries old buildings rising on either side (featured on lists worldwide as a street you have to walk before you die). It was about 1am, and people were celebrating life. In a weird way, it reminded me of Vegas — but like under the Venetian on the Strip, where it’s so cool but it’s fake. This was real. It was like everything Disneyland, Epcot and Vegas wish they could be.
Our VRBO host had a porter with him, who skillfully took all three of our checked pieces of luggage and disappeared into the night. Somehow he made it to the apartment before us — and our luggage was waiting. The apartment had two beds and one bath, like our last place, but oh my the terrace! And the windows and the steps we climbed hinted at what the view would be like in the morning. And oh. Oh wow. Take a peek at the VRBO listing here and see what I mean: https://www.vrbo.com/868272ha?unitId=1211599
When we woke, here were the views we saw out the windows:
Sunday, our first full day in Dubrovnik. We wandered a little bit, finding some pastries on which to nosh, and getting a general lay of the land.
Then Singer Girl wanted to hit the beach — of course. Again: no sandy beaches nearby, but this walled city is right on the Adriatic, and there are two famous “beaches” cut into the wall: Buza 1 and Buza 2. We wandered a few minutes from our apartment (which itself is built into the ancient wall) and climbed down precarious stairs to find a flat section of rock. I relaxed (and watched lizards cavort) while my travelling companions took to the water.
After a nap and a shower, it was off to the famed cable car of Dubrovnik. We sailed to the top, and the view was spectacular. How did we not know more aout this incredible place? The Adriatic was dotted with islands, and the orange roofed houses of the walled city below us just radiated charm.
We had another fun activity planned, but first it was time to absorb some more “recent” history.
Some background: the Soviet block dissoved in the late 80s, which was in the long run a good thing. But in the short term, it meant countries had to find ther way again. The communist country of Yugoslavia fell apart in 1990 when Croatia declared its independence. A new war broke out. In 1991, the Yugoslav army attacked Dubrovnik, which had been thought safe due to its coastal location. But it was an important seaport, and the city ended up being under attack and isolated for seven months until international peace talks settled things.
Beside the incredible view at the top of the mountain, there is a great museum about the war and the siege. It is hard to separate the breathtaking landscape from the bullet hole riddled fort at the top. During our time in Dubrovnik, we met many people wo lived through the siege, being evacuated to refugee camps as children. It was sobering.
After we were through with the museum, we made a radical shift: we were going to drive dune buggies. Actually, HWSNBN and Singer Girl drove: I was a passenger. It was so fun — and we were nice and mud splattered by the end. But along the way we got to see an amazing sunset!
Afterwards we went to dinner, then climbed up and down the many stairs to our apartment, ready to rest up for a full day of guided tours in the morning!