Back in April I spent 10 days in Croatia. A week of it was based in Dubrovnik as I previously told you about. The remainder of my time was spent further north in the city of Split. Dubrovnik made a great base from which to explore from. Two of the places we explored were a very easy half day trip from the Old Town. If you are planning a trip to Croatia be sure to include the towns of Cavtat and Kupari on your list. Both are to the south of Dubrovnik and both are accessible via public bus or if you’re lazy like me then Uber or local taxi. But Uber is by far cheaper.
The seaside town of Cavtat is about 30 min south by car. It is an idyllic town with hotels, shops and restaurants. There is a cute little harbour and the water is that prefect shade of turquoise blue. You can walk around the rugged coastline and scramble over the rocks along the shore. While I was there we had the good fortune of meeting up with a fellow travel blogger whose blog I have followed for years but never actually met in person. Gigi writes a blog called The Ramble and has been a long term traveler- she travels with her boyfriend Chad and super cute dog named Luna. The three of them met us and we spend a few hours wandering Cavtat, chatting about life and travel and eating one of the best meals we had during our time in Croatia at a restaurant called Bugenvila. They have a seasonal menu that changes monthly- the fresh oysters, pork belly and blood orange sorbet were fantastic. With full bellies we decided to take a local ferry back which offered great views of the Old Town of Dubrovnik. I would highly recommend doing that- especially if you fancy some great pictures.
This was by far my most favourite thing I did in Croatia. I had previously seen photos of large abandoned hotels on other bloggers websites and Instagram. Gigi had also written a blog post about it a month or 2 before my trip so the images had stuck in my head. Kupari is a town on the Adriatic Sea about a 15min car ride from Old Town. It was a military resort for the Yugoslav Army and consisted of 5 hotel complexes. Most of the resort complex dates from the 1960’s except the opulent Grand Hotel which was built sometime in the 1920’s. The hotels surrounding the Grand Hotel were more of a Soviet era architecture and are strikingly different from the Grand Hotel. The resort complex was used until the early 1990’s when the Croatian- Bosnian War (otherwise known as the Homeland War) started. The Yugoslav Army then razed the entire complex. Everything was looted, and much of it was burned.
The resort complexes overlook the lovely Kupari beach which is used by locals. We jumped in a taxi and told him to drop us at the abandoned hotels. They are just off the main road and it’s a short walk towards the beach and you will see the eerie structures rising above the tress. The complexes are open. You can literally walk right into the abandoned hotels. There is no security guard, no security fence, no warning signs (at least when we visited.) But it goes without saying that entering these sites is not without risk. The windows have all been blown out and there is glass littering the floor. The stairs are in varying stages of decay. The elevator pits are open. There is exposed wire. Don’t let this deter you though. If you are a fan of urban photography then this is a place worth exploring. There were very few other people there although many local people were walking their dogs or strolling in the park area in between the hotels.
We chose to visit the large hotel on the right when walking towards the beach- it turned out that it was actually two different hotels with an attached walkway in between the two. There’s a sad little playground with a plastic slide on the side of the hotel. You enter through what would have been the main entrance but is just an opening on ground level and we climbed the debris riddled stairs 2 floors and did a little exploring. There is graffiti and abandoned bits of furniture and nothing especially remarkable in this first hotel. We then walked into the hotel that is connected to it and over looks the Adriatic Sea. This hotel was quite remarkable in that nature is literally reclaiming the hotel. Trees have grown in the courtyard winding themselves around bits of the remaining stairs and since the windows are missing the sea winds breeze through. You can explore the individual hotel rooms- but nothing much remains. There are bits of tile here and broken bits of furniture there. Anything of value was long ago looted.
From here we exited the way we came in and walked over to explore the Grand Hotel. And grand it is. It has a colonial air to it. Parts of the arched window frame and terracotta tiled roof remain. There’s the lingering remains of the tiled floor and bits of patterned wall paper lining the walls. What was once the grand staircase has been completely destroyed but still makes for a stunning picture. The roof is missing over part of the hotel but still it’s magnificent. Out front of the Grand Hotel is another large ruined hotel and the wall outside is adorned with some artistic forms of graffiti. We didn’t venture into that one but it reportedly has an abandoned in ground pool.
So if you’re heading to Dubrovnik and like odd places to take interesting pictures this is the place to go. That being said- I wouldn’t go alone, and I wouldn’t go at dark. Wear very sturdy shoes because as I mentioned there is glass and nails on the floor. The entire complex has been privatized and sometime soon a new 5 star resort will be built on the land, so go now while you can. During my research I did find mention that the Grand Hotel will remain though, as it’s a protected historical building. Time will tell……
Have you even explored abandoned places while traveling? If so where- I’d love to add them to my ever growing travel list!
Last month was Mother’s Day and I wrote a post for my Mom, so with Father’s Day this weekend it’s long overdue that I wrote a tribute to my Pops as well. My Dad responds to a variety of names, but mostly I call him Pops or Daddio, if he’s acting especially hip. In fact several of my friends refer to him as Pops as well. Pops and I have a unique bond- I would reckon we are tighter than your average father/daughter combos. I mean we did walk across a country together after all. We are close, and yet we are really quite different. Pops has a type A personality- he is a hard worker which means that he is an incredibly loyal employee and will work long hours to get the job done. He likes routine. He is financially responsible and careful with his money. He is the kind of guy who would cut his neighbours lawn when he knows they’ve injured their back, or visit someone in a nursing home even when the person will for sure not remember. He is reliable and hard working.
Over the years we have had several adventures. Many many moons ago I decided to move from Philadelphia to Phoenix Arizona. In December. So Pops flew out and we road tripped down the eastern coast of the U.S. and then across the south for a week in this ridiculous sports car that I used to own. We (me) drove long hours staying in motels along the way. Stopping off at Cracker Barrels to eat and rent audio books, and taking in the scenery. Two of my favourite memories from this trip where going to return my cable box the day before we were to leave and a couple girls jay-walking across the street. I probably could’ve stopped but I didn’t and one of them yelled “I’m gonna whoop yo ass.” Another time we stopped in Alabama or Louisiana and we asked a lady at a cashier somewhere how far the next state line was and she replied in a very southern accent “Golly. I never been that far before.” Both those lines we still quote to each other every now and then and laugh.
In 2009 I really wanted to visit Scotland so I invited Pops to come with me and he jumped on the opportunity to visit the place where our “people” immigrated from. I think we spent about 10 days traveling around the country. It was a great adventure and we even got to meet the Clan chief of our Scottish ancestors. We rented a car. Because I am a little (more often than not) scared driving with Pops it was agree (I made the executive decision) that I would be the sole driver. I told Pops that I couldn’t read a map in the car while it is moving (which is true because I get bad motion sickness) and he seemed cool with it. Plus I had already once mostly successfully (minus a few scratches) driven on the opposite side of the road, so clearly I was the most experienced choice out of the two of us. So after a couple days in Edinburgh we rented a car. Flash forward like 3 hours later and we are driving through the stunning Scottish Highlands. The scenery is gorgeous. We are having a nice time. We approach a narrow bridge. At the same time as we drive onto the bridge so does a rather large truck coming the other direction. In hind sight I could’ve stopped. But I’ve never had cat like reflexes at the best of times. So I moved over to the left as much as I could. Pops let out a heart stopping scream at about the same time as the passenger mirror collided with the bridge. I pulled over on the other side of the bridge and the mirror was literally holding on by a thread and Pops composed himself and pulled it off and we put it in the trunk where it stayed for the rest of the trip. We both just kinda looked at each other like “well that happened.” I know he was dying to say more but you can’t really scold an adult child can you? The rest of the trip Pops would reference things like “well I would be able to see that if I had a side mirror” and such and we would laugh. That trip was really quite fun. One night I booked us to stay in a room on top of a local pub. They had a band and Pops and I drank with the locals and Pops chatted up the band and we had a great time. We also visited a Scotch festival, saw sooo many castles and visited the actual homestead area where our people immigrated from. It was awesome.
As many of you know this past fall I invited Pops to walk the Camino de Santiago with me- something that had long been on my bucket list. He very quicky said yes and we started planning. Together we walked 700km across Spain over about 5 weeks. We shared a room every night for those 5 weeks. I like to think that I push Pops out of his comfort zone (which I purposely do because I want him to have new experiences.) The great thing is that he just goes along with things most of the time. It was wonderful to travel with him and see things through his eyes. To watch him interact with a vast variety of people, to see him forming friendships and having new experiences. I want those things for him. After all it’s stuff like that, that life’s made of. Also Pops is down to take selfies anytime. Sunrise selfie. Action shot selfie. Night selfie. He’s on board for all of them! I have a few really special memories from that trip. One was early on in the walk where we stayed in a small town. It was Pops first experience with staying in a mixed dorm room with bunk beds. We were in a room with probably 6-7 bunks and Pops and another fellow were the only men. Both Pops and I had bottom bunks and there was a young lady on the bunk above Pops. In the morning we woke early so we could get to the top of a ridge in time to see the sunrise. While packing up our things Pops tried to pack his sleep sheet into its bag but it wouldn’t quite fit. Turns out the gal above him had washed her panties and they had fallen onto Pops bunk and he had mistaken them for the bag. Sooooo funny the look on his face when he realized what happened. I still laugh about that one. Anther great memory was when Pops left his prescription sunglasses in a church but we didn’t realize it until we got to our hotel in the next town. I jumped into action and got us a taxi which took us back to the town only to find out that the church was closed and the priest didn’t live in that town and the church wouldn’t open until 10am the following morning well after we would already be on the road. The taxi driver didn’t speak English but I was able to convey via uber basic Spanish and sign language that Pops couldn’t see without his spectacles and the driver drove us to the convent where the Priest lived. Here’s the thing: I’m a huge believer that most people are good hearted and I like to see how a situation plays out. Anyways the Priest wasn’t home, but the taxi driver stopped a local guy on the sidewalk who had the Priest’s phone number and called him. Later that evening Pops was driven back to the town where the Priest had unlocked the church and the sunglasses were reunited! My other favourite memory was getting day drunk with Pops when we completed our Camino which happened to coincide with his birthday. You guys know I’m a fan of getting a buzz on while the sun is up. Turns out Pops is as well. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
So Pops here’s to you on Father’s Day. Thanks for the adventures of the past and I look forward to the new ones we will make. The offer still stands- I’d love to show you around the Middle East if you ever feel up to it!
Back in April I spent 10 days in Croatia and I wanted to talk a little about the history of the region specifically, the Croatian-Bosnian War, before I tell you more about my time there. Just to preface this- you all know I’m relatively smart, but I’m definitely no history scholar, and even though I was a teenager when this war took place I don’t really remember much about it. I do think it’s a good idea though to have a bit of understanding of the history of a place before you visit it. So this is my 7th grade history summary of the events that took place in the early 1990’s.
Remember that country that used to be call Yugoslavia– or more accurately the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? Well it was made up of the present day countries of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. This socialist state was formed after World War II and was ruled by Josip Bronz Tito until his death in 1980. Following his death things started to heat up in terms of ethnic pride in the region and economic challenges. The late 1980’s saw increasing Serbian pride (Serbians are the largest ethnic group in the area) and increasing popularity of a Serbian communist named Slobodan Milosevic. 1990 saw increasing violence especially in Croatia between Serbian Croats and Croatians. Neighbouring Slovenia voted for independence and Croatia followed in its steps- both countries declaring independence on June 25, 1991. The following day the Yugoslav army mobilized troops and moved towards Slovenia. Slovenia gained its independence over a period of 10 days with minimal casualties and damage. Croatia did not fare the same.
August and September 1991 saw increasing sieges and massacres in Croatian towns by Serbian forces of the Yugoslav People’s Army. The Battle of Vukovar for instance saw complete destruction of the city with territory being seeded to Serbia and ethnic cleansing of the non-Serbian population with hundreds of civilians killed and some 20,000 people forced to relocate. Then in October 1991 the Yugoslav Army started advancing towards Dubrovnik from Montenegro capturing the territory surrounding it. Full scale war broke out across Croatia. The Dubrovnik attack lasted nearly 8 months and resulted in a Croatian victory but more than 50% of the buildings in the Old Town were damaged and some 80 civilians were killed. By the time the war ended in 1995 some 20,000 people had been killed as a result and half a million people were displaced.
1992 saw Macedonia and then Bosnia and Herzegovina declare their independence. In April the Bosnian War started and the siege of Sarajevo began. This conflict was between the Yugoslav Army forces made up of Serbs against Bosniaks (mostly Muslim) and Croat forces. It lasted nearly 4 years and resulted in massive civilian death and displacement. 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million were displaced. The Bosnian war used ethnic cleansing, genocide and rape which later resulted in war crime charges. The Croatian-Bosnian War is the most devastating conflict in Europe since WWII.
This is obviously just a brief summary of the events that took place- the history of conflict in this region is complex. The effects of the war are still evident, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina where bullet holes are still visible on the sides of buildings. The buildings like the people carry the scars of this war. Dubrovnik itself was rebuilt and from an outward appearance the signs of the conflict are hidden. Shiny new roofs adorn buildings that sustained damage and if you weren’t aware you might wander its old cobble stone streets none the wiser. You could spend hours and hours reading the history of the conflict pertaining to the different countries, and like all wars each side has their own story. While in Croatia I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina and also spend a day in Montenegro which was largely unaffected by the conflict. The guides spoke of the history of the region but cautioned against speaking to locals about it as the wounds are fresh and the loved ones they lost not so long ago buried.
In the next few weeks I’ll tell you more of my time in Croatia. I’m heading on vacation tonight on a solo trip to Azerbaijan and Georgia for some R&R which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve been laying low the last few months from a foot issue I likely developed as a result of walking the Camino de Santiago this past fall but yesterday I had a steroid injection so inshallah I’ll be back to my normal activity level in the next few weeks….fingerscrossed!
Last weekend while I was away in Switzerland, marked the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. So Ramadan Mubarak (a Blessed Ramadan) to my Muslim readers and fellow ex-pats in the Middle East. I know people back home have some basic understanding about what Ramadan is, but I thought I’d take a little bit of time and tell you more about it, and what it’s like to live in a Muslim country as a non-Muslim during Ramadan.
First off, Ramadan takes place during the 9th month of the Islamic Hijri calendar. This calendar is about 10-11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar so Ramadan shifts forward by nearly half a month from the preceding year. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with believing in only one God, praying 5 times a day, giving to charity and making pilgrimage to Mecca. This year Ramadan started on May 27th and will likely end on June 24th or 25th depending on how visible the moon is. For the entire month Muslims will fast from the morning prayer (dawn) until sunset. Here in Saudi this is from around 4am until 6:30ish pm. Children, the elderly, those traveling, people who are sick and in the hospital, diabetics, and women who are pregnant, or breastfeeding or menstrating are exempt from having to fast. In addition to fasting Muslims are also to abstain from gossiping, smoking, daytime intimacy and sex, and really anything that would make their fasting efforts less noble. Fasting basically means no food, drink (including water) or chewing gum or candies.
So what’s it like during Ramadan for non-Muslims? Well it’s a whole lot quieter during the daytime that’s for sure. Grocery stores are open in the day but restaurants are all closed. No lunch time McDonald’s drive-thru or delivery. Starbucks is closed. Most things open after sunset and stay open until late into the night. At sunset Muslims break their fast with dates and Arabic coffee. This breaking of the fast is called Iftar and throughout the Middle East there are Iftar buffets which is basically like a dinner buffet. Here in Riyadh Iftar buffets are often very lavish and often on the pricey side between 200-400 riyals ($50-100 U.S.) Next week I’m going to the Iftar at the Ritz Carlton with a group of friends which I imagine will be well worth the splurge.
For non-Muslims it’s advised to not drink or eat in public or chew gum. If you’re going to eat and drink than just be sneaky about it. The hospital I work at has a cafeteria and restaurant that are open for us to eat at, but the main public coffee shops and restaurants are closed during the day. I’m working night shift for the entire month so for me this isn’t a problem. Muslim hospital staff are not required to work the full amount of hours as they would during the rest of the year. They can chose between working 6 hour shifts, or chose to work night shift instead. Clinics and such are open but on shorter hours so usually 9am-3:30pm or so. Saudi culture (especially during the summer) tends to stay up late into the night and sleep during the day because of the heat. This is especially so during Ramadan. Working night shift is actually like working day shift as the patients are awake the entire night often going to sleep around 5-6am and sleeping most of the day. Medications often have to be re-timed around this sleep schedule especially if they are food related and the patient is fasting. Sometimes patients who are in the hospital will want to fast and will decline things like IV fluids which would interfere with their fast- I have found that to be pretty rare though.
Ramadan ends with the sighting of the new moon in Mecca, or after 30 full days of fasting if the new moon isn’t visible because of clouds. The new month is kicked off with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr in which the fasting is broken. I will be away for about 10 days later this month as I’ll be traveling solo to Azerbaijan and Georgia. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country but everything I’ve read says restaurants and coffee shops will be open for non-Muslims and Georgia is a mix of Muslim and Orthodox Christians so traveling during Ramadan shouldn’t be an issue.
So to those of you who are celebrating Ramadan I wish you all a Blessed Ramadan and may your prayers be answered!