Category Archives: Silk Road

From the Adriatic Coast to the Alpine Regions

Tuesday, September 1. Started toward Plitvice Lakes National Park, stopping first at Trogir, Croatia. Trogir’s origins date to the 3rd century BC, a major port until the Roman period. The city was demolished in 12th century by Muslims, but recovered quickly and became an economic center protected by Venice. We enjoyed walking through the historical sites and the harbor.

Main gate. Trogir, Croatia.

Beautiful Venetian courtyard.

Beautiful Venetian courtyard.


Saint Lawrence cathedral. Trogir, Croatia.

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Gazing heavenward.

Gazing heavenward.

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Portal of the Cathedral.

Portal of the Cathedral.

Main door. Saint Lawrence cathedral.

Saint Lawrence

Saint Lawrence

Saint Lawrence

Venetian fortification. Trogir, Croatia.

We ate lunch at a cafeteria “leftover from the socialist era” according to our guide. The main courses were “comfort food,” starches and heavy sauces… so we split a sandwich. The were several animals in pens around the restaurant including live deer, a wild boar and a bear… with taxidermied versions of the same animals inside. The most important attraction was the clean bathrooms.

 

After checking into our hotel we started on foot on our walk exploring the lower lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park, a 5.5 mile trek in high heat. It started with two boat rides, then we walked along a path that lead to the falls. All the water in the substantial, connected lakes are from several mountain rivers coming together. The water was so clear it reflected a sapphire color, and fish could be clearly seen from the shore. The walkways could be treacherous and the climb at the end proved a challenge to some in the group. It was a beautiful but exhausting trip.

Plivice Lakes National Park. Croatia.

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Dinner tonight boasted local food and local music. The food was trout or veal, with the mandatory overkill on the potatoes. The local music was two accordions and a beat up guitar and bass. There were some lively Croatian songs but also standards such as “Proud Mary,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Dinner at a local restaurant with

Dinner at a local restaurant with “local” music. Croatia.

Tomorrow we drive to Slovenia.

Split’s Living Museum

Monday, August 31. We left early to make our way to Split, Croatia. We took the coastal road to experience the coastline and the many beautiful coastal villages. It was the long drive but it was a sunny day and the Adriatic Sea was beautiful.

Within the first half hour we entered Bosnia-Herzegovina. We made a quick rest stop, not that we needed it as much as to take photos and add another country to our list.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There was also a bus of Spaniards at the stop making a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Bosnia-Herzegovina has only a small portion of the coastline and we were driving out of it about as quickly as we drove in, although it added two more border stops to the day. The reason why Bosnia-Herzegovina has this portion of coast is that in the 14th century the Republic of Dubrovnik gifted it to the Muslims to be a buffer state between them and the Venetians. When Yugoslavia was broken up they were required to respect historical borders.

Back in Croatia we paused for another stop with a view before stopping in Makarska for lunch. Makarska has a beautiful harbor.
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We enjoyed a light lunch of calamari before taking a walk in the old town. It was hot and we were happy to get to the air conditioning on the bus. We continued along the coastline enjoying its beauty.

The main reason we are in Split is to see Diocletian’s Palace. Diocletian was the last pagan emperor of the Roman Empire (succeeding emperors were Christians). He built the palace in 305 AD as his retirement palace on the Adriatic. The complex covered 323,000 square feet. We were able to view the foundation substructure which supports the town these 1700 years later, a witness to Roman engineering. After the collapse of the Empire the area was transformed into a medieval village and the palace was divided into dwellings and public spaces. Diocletian was the last great persecutor of the Church, even putting to death his wife and daughter when they converted to Christianity, but his mausoleum is now a cathedral and his temple to the god Jupiter is now a baptistery. Today the palace is the “old town” and part of its architecture is integrated into the medieval and modern structures. UNESCO had named this a “living museum” as life continues within the historic palace walls. Tomorrow we will see Plivice Park.

An original tower from the palace.

The columns are original.

The columns are original.

The substructure upon which the palace was built.

The substructure upon which the palace was built.

Rendering of Diocletian's palace.

Rendering of Diocletian’s palace.

The Diocletian mausoleum that was turned into the cathedral.

Mosaics from the palace

Mosaics from the palace

View of cathedral.

View of cathedral.

The portal of the vestibule.

The portal of the vestibule.

The vestibule.

The vestibule.

The vestibule portal.

The oculus of the vestibule.

Short video of a group performing in the vestibule.

The peristil (peristyle).

The peristil (peristyle).

The entry into the emperor's living quarters.

The entry into the emperor’s living quarters.

The golden gate. The main entrance into the palace.

The golden gate. The main entrance into the palace.

A medieval residence.

A medieval residence.

The clock tower.

The clock tower.

The cathedral bell tower.

The cathedral bell tower.

The silver gate.

The silver gate.

A side crucifix.

A side crucifix.

The pulpit.

The pulpit.

Main altar of the cathedral.

Main altar of the cathedral.

Baptistery in former temple to Jupiter.

Baptistery in former temple to Jupiter.

Baptistery.

Baptistery.

The portal to the temple of Jupiter.

The portal to the temple of Jupiter.

A sphinx that Diocletian brought back from Egypt.

A sphinx that Diocletian brought back from Egypt.

Dubrovnik: the Pearl of the Adriatic

Sunday, August 30. We spent the whole day today in Dubrovnik. We began at a place where we could get a panoramic view, then proceeded to the pile (or main) gate to enter the old city. A guide took us to the Franciscan monastery with their treasury of relics, manuscripts, and paintings, then proceeded to a narrow street that boasted the oldest structures. An earthquake and fire in 1667 demolished much of the town. The bombings from Bosnia in 1991 also ruined many of the roofs but fortunately the town was able to rebuild. We also went to the old port.

We had to break away from the end of the tour having found out Mass was to begin at a nearby church. The Mass was to be in English but the priest was not proficient in English and stumbled through it. We were grateful for it anyway. The Mass was at a baroque Jesuit church, Saint Ignatius. It took some climbing to get to the church. We were able to take photos afterwards.

Separated from our group we decided to spend the rest of the day in the old city. It was an extremely hot day and we planned our day accordingly, to escape the heat. We spent some time at the old port. It is mainly used for pleasure boats; larger and cruise ships must use a deeper new port. Still, the old port was bustling and we enjoyed sitting in shade and people-watching.

Not in chronological order, we also visited the Dominican monastery, the cathedral, walked through various quarters of the city, took a boat along the seawalls and out into the Adriatic Sea, and walked the circumference of the city atop the city walls. This walk atop the city walls was about 2 miles and 1.5 hours but treated us to an incredible perspective of the city and port. We were exhausted when we finally sat down to an excellent dinner of sea bass and the local white wine.

After dinner were able to see the city lit up at night. Tomorrow we travel to Split.

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Statue of Saint Blaise, patron saint of Dubrovnik (he is holding a model of Dubrovnik).

Saint Blaise Church

   

Franciscan church, Monastery Cloister, and detail of door of the Franciscan church.

The Stradun (main street of the old town) Dubrovnik.

The Clock Tower.


Saint Ignatius Church

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The fortifications around Dubrovnik.

Dominican monastery cloister.

Detail: Domini-Canes.


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Dubrovnik cathedral.

Dubrovnik cathedral.

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The old walls, and the Saint Onofrio fountain.

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View of harbor, and Dubrovnik fortifications from atop the city walls.

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The Stradun at night.

Breathtaking Beauty of Montenegro

Saturday, August 29. Today we backtracked through the alpine gorge to return the sea level to experience Montenegro’s coastal beauty.

Our first stop was Cetinje, the old capital city of Montenegro pre-1940s (now it is Podgroica). Cetinje is an open air museum (it reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg) that seeks to preserve the royal capital. Our focus was the King Nicholas I Museum, honoring Montenegro’s last king and his wife who reigned until World War I. Since many of his daughters married royalty Nicholas was referred to as the father-in-law of Europe. The museum displayed clothing, furnishings and personal items as it would have been during their lifetimes. The grounds also contain a tomb chapel as well as a functioning monastery.

Cetinje Monastery. Montenegro.

Cetinje. Tomb church of Nicholas I & Milena. Montenegro.

Cetinje. Tomb church of Nicholas I & Milena (interior). Montenegro.

A few hours later we started descending toward Montenegro’s Budva Riviera, miles of developed Adriatic shoreline.

We stopped at Kotor. Kotor was a 15th century Venetian walled port city. It is laid out as any Venetian town, with palaces, churches, and state buildings, narrow streets and alleys, and fortifications around the city. We were charmed by the city and would have liked more than the hour allotted to it. One of the highlights was lunch, Montenegro calamari and local white wine taken at a street cafe.

Fortifications of Kotor.

The fortifications of Kotor.

The Venetian symbol on the fortifications of Kotor.

Kotor, main gate. Montenegro.

Kotor relief. Montenegro.

Clock tower.

Kotor. Montenegro.

Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (Roman Catholic). Koyor, Montenegro.

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The ciborium over the altar

Some remnants of frescoes from the early church.

Remnants of frescoes in Kotor cathedral.

Orthodox church. Saint Nicholas. Kotor, Montenegro.

Orthodox chapel. Kotor, Montenegro.

Looking from within the city through the gate towards the Adriatic Sea

Lunch in Kotor.

We continued to modern Kotor and around the Gulf of Kotor which is ringed by cliffs and mountains. It had many scenic views but we did not stop for photos, making us snap them on the move. We saw many people swimming along the ample shoreline. It looked refreshing but our guide told us that due to the unusually hot summer this year the water temp was 85 degrees.

It was a hot and sunny day and we were wearing out as we got to the border crossing into Croatia. There was a long wait at border control making us late getting to Dubrovnik, which is not far from the border. Tomorrow we will have all day in Dubrovnik.

The Majestic Natural Beauty of Montenegro


Friday, August 28. Today we rode along the Tara River. We were treated all day to amazing scenery, from deep gorges to majestic peaks. The Tara River flows through the world’s second deepest canyon, second only to The Grand Canyon. This gave us a real sense of Montenegro, which is 60% mountain area and whose name means “black mountain.” The “negro” or “black” comes from the dark pines that abound in this area. Montenegro is a small country, smaller than Connecticut and with a population of only 850,000 people.

The mountains provide much of the tourism which revolves around recreation, including snow skiing in the winter and camping, hiking and even zip lining in other seasons. Tourism is central to Montenegro’s economy, and we saw evidence in newly constructed lodges and cabins throughout this area. More tourists come to Montenegro each year than the total population. We suspect it is because the prices are so reasonable.

We were also impressed by the clear spring fed glacier lakes. Bottled water is the largest export of Montenegro.

The first stop was to see a glacier lake in Biogradsko National Park, Lake Biograd. It is a beautiful lake, about 3,000 feet above sea level. This is one of seven glacial lakes in the park. It has miles of hiking trails, as well as boats available.

Biograd Glacial Lake.

Our second stop was to see the Durdevica Tara Bridge built in 1940. It has become a destination for tourists who take pictures of the Gorge it spans.
       
There are numerous tourist stands selling food, trinkets, honey and liquors made of the local wild fruits. Industrious companies also offer zip lines and rafting. We settled for sampling a local beer.
      

After stopping for lunch, we entered Dumitor National Park to hike to the Black Lake, another glacial lake at about 3 000 ft. The name sounds ominous but many people go there to boat and swim and the atmosphere was quite festive. We kicked off our shoes to wade expecting frigid water, but it was warm. We hiked around the lake until it was time to return to the bus.

Dumitor National Park. Black Lake. Montenegro.



Getting back to our hotel we went to the nearby town to get supplies including a cabernet made in Montenegro.

Local cabernet.

Local cabernet.

Tomorrow we will travel to the Adriatic coast before crossing into Croatia.

A Monastery in Montenegro

Thursday, August 27. We started the day with another great breakfast on the hotel terrace. Today was to be primarily a driving day to Montenegro.
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We drove several hours, making a rest stop about a half hour from the border of Montenegro, in Shkodra. Shkodra is an ancient medieval town, but also important in the revolution against the Communists. It was a bustling city with a great deal of traffic. Our experience was limited to pedestrian mall with a great many cafes. They were primarily filled with young people. A mosque was on the mall.

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Shkodra mosque.

Shkodra mosque.

We reached the Montenegro border, stopped at the border crossing and went from a country with a Muslim majority to one with a Eastern Orthodox majority. We drove along Shkoder Lake, shared with Albania. This is a fertile area with vineyards and fruit orchards.

Shkodra Lake, Montenegro

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Balkan Alps near Moraca Monastery.

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As we continued we ascended into the Balkan Alps with steep peaks and deep gorges. In time we made another rest stop at a roadside restaurant where we sampled the local grappa. In Montenegro they infuse the grappa with fruit. We tried the apricot and quince. It is strong drink but fortified us for the rest of the journey. Maybe it was the fruit.

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High in the Alps we came to the Moraca Serbian Orthodox Monastery founded in the 13th century. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and a small chapel is dedicated St. Nicholas. It had incredible frescoes and a beautiful crucifix on the icon screen. The grounds were beautifully landscaped backed by high peaks. There were many people there and the monks were attending them. Father Tom wondered how much peace they enjoyed as it was on a busy highway.

Church of the Assumption.

Church of the Assumption.

Facade of the Assumption Church.

Facade of the Assumption Church.

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Gazing heavenward.

Gazing heavenward.

Church of Saint Nicholas.

Church of Saint Nicholas.

We arrived at the ski lodge in Kolasin where we will spend the next two nights (elevation 3000 ft).

Tomorrow we spend the day at Dumitor National Park.

 

Ancient Illyria, Modern Albania

Flag of Albania

Flag of Albania

Wednesday, August 26. Today was our first full day of the trip. After breakfast today began the Tirana city tour. Tirana is the capital and largest city of Albania (1 million pop.). The city has gone through a tremendous redevelopment in the last decade following suppression under a strict Communist regime. Today it is made up of streets of tightly packed small shops and restaurants. Still, there are many parts of the city needing redevelopment.

Albania is largely Muslim (60%) followed by Orthodox, then Catholic. One of our first visits was the Et’hem Bey Mosque. In 1991, 10,000 surrounded the mosque in defiance of the Communist regime. This was the beginning of the fall of communism in Albania. Under Communist rule all religions had to go underground. There is a history of the religions living in harmony. The mosque is located on the main square. The interior is covered with frescoes, which is rarely seen in mosques. It is small so a much larger one is being constructed.

The women’s gallery.

The Islamic pulpit.

Mosaic of Albania History, National Historical Museum, Tirana.

Next we visited the National Historical Museum which had an incredible mosaic on the facade which recounted Albanian history.

This was called Illyria or Illyricum, which is mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 15:19). It was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century despite the heroic leadership of Albanian hero Skanderbeg. Their independence from the Ottomans came in 1912, followed by a monarchy until the Communists came following WWII. The Socialists followed the Communists until it became democratic in 1990.

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A Roman mosaic.

A Roman mosaic.

We were even more interested in the religious pieces representing its Christian history.

Epitaphion of Christ, National Historical Museum, Tirana

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Iconostasis, National Historical Museum, Tirana

Tribute to Mother Teresa in national museum.

Tribute to Mother Teresa in national museum.

In the afternoon we went to the mountain city of Kruje, named after the water springs. This was the hometown of Albanian hero Skanderbeg, who had resisted Ottoman occupation.

Skanderbeg, National Historical Museum, Tirana

Ruins of his castle mark his memory.

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There is a large bazaar which sells both inexpensive souvenirs next to antiques and textiles.

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We toured the Ethnographic Museum giving us a view of family life 250 years ago.

 Following the museum we had a typical dinner at a local restaurant with an incredible view.

Kruje Castle and Watchtower, built on ruins of Skanderbeg Castle.

The weather was stifling today. We decided to end the day by sharing the local beer.  A good way to conclude a day that has been hot and uncomfortable.

Tomorrow we travel to Montenegro.

Monastery in the Mountains

The day concluded with a visit to a replica of a Thracian tomb discovered accidentally in 1944 near Kazanlak. You can no longer gain access to the original tomb however they have created a model so it can be appreciated.

This mural represents a Thracian couple at a ritual funeral feast.

Notice the beauty of the horses.

The tomb waa a vaulted beehive structure from 4th century BC and it gives an insight into the opulence of the culture and its high degree of technological advancement in architecture.

Koprivshtitza Village

Koprivshtitza is a village of authentic Bulgarian architecture of the national revival of the 19th century.

On this bridge the first shot was fired that initiated the April uprising of 1876 against the domination of the Ottoman Empire.

An outstanding example of domestic architecture.

Troyan Monastery

Troyan monastery was an ascent into the incredibly beautiful mountains.

The monastery courtyard.

The Troyan monastery is dedicated to the Holy Mother Assumption.

It was built at the beginning of the 17th century by hermits from Mount Athos.

The hermits brought the miracle-working icon of the Holy Virgin Troerouchitsa, the three handed Holy Mother from Mount Athos.

Gazing heavenward.

The frescoes are an eminent work of Zahary Zograph.

The iconostasis is a supreme masterpiece of woodcarving.

The monastery was also a hospital during the Russian-Turkish war.

The monastery was a literary and revolutionary center. They gave asylum for rebels resisting Ottoman tyranny.

Dryanovo: The Cradle of Freedom from Tyranny

Dryanovo monastery

Today it is so peaceful that it is hard to comprehend it was the scene of such brutality and violence inflicted on a people who only wanted freedom from 500 years of the Turkish yoke of oppression.

Entrance to Dryanovo monastery.

Bulgaria-020511This is in memory of and houses the remains of those who fought for freedom to be liberated from 500 years of the yoke of Turkish oppression.

This was a fortified monastery that played a role in the 19th century rebellion against the Islamic oppression under the Ottoman Empire. The fortification and monastery was leveled by the Ottomans.

There were 200 inside the monastery and 6000 outside but they held out for 9 days. The guide said the ongoing brutality of the Turks and this dramatic slaughter instigated a European outrage so Russia entered into a war with Turkey that freed the Bulgarians. He said the Russians were ready to take Istanbul and restore Hagia Sophia and take down the minarets and restore the cross and  Christian worship but the British said if they did such a thing they would enter into war with Russians.

Tryavna Village

The church has to be a structure with no height because this would demonstrate the superiority of Islam. And it could not look like a church but a barn or a shed construction.

Although the village of Tryavna has been inhabited since Thracian times, the village today is noted for its well-preserved neo-revival architecture. During the Ottoman occupation the locals defended the pass and so were given privileges such as no Muslims would live in the village and they could build a church under certain conditions.

The church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel.

The icon screen is a masterpiece in a town dedicated to carving.

To give interior height they excavated so you have to step down into the church.  The exterior in no way relates to the interior.

And today [May 24] is a special and a national holiday in Bulgaria called Alphabet Day when they commemorate Saints Cyril and Methodius who created an alphabet known today as the Cyrillic alphabet.

The entrance

The city is also known because the first secular school in Bulgaria was established there.

The school courtyard.

The clock tower.

Tryavna: a model of neo-revival architecture

Where the rebellion against the Turks was proclaimed.

      

The Bridge.

The cloister.

The church at Sokolski was founded in 1833 and today is an active convent.

The church is dedicated to the Assumption. As we were leaving the guide pointed out a large meadow and remarked each year on the feast or saint to which a church is dedicated people come and grill and enjoy each others’ company.

The church played a role in the April uprising against 500 years of Islamic domination. The monastery housed resisters and in fact in the Russian-Turkish war in 1877-8 it was a hospital.

Today I have come to a deeper appreciation of the Bulgarian people who have held on to their identity through 500 years living under the yoke of Islamic domination then for a brief period of freedom before 70 years of Soviet tyranny.

This is a monument to a decisive but bloody victory of the bulgarians over the Turks.  If they had won the battle today Bulgaria would be part of Turkey.

The Shipka Memorial church was dedicated in 1903 to the 14000 Russian soldiers who died in the Russo-Turkish war for Bulgarian freedom.

Gazing heavenward.

The icon screen.

The apse.