Una Avventura in Croazia

Okay, no more Italian. Anne and I have another night here in Trogir, and so I am going to see if I can’t begin a blog post of our 60th birthday reunion ebike cruise on Islandhopping.com or islenhupfen.com, a German company. Our cruise is: E-bike & Bicycle Cruise South Dalmatia Plus.

Our boat was the Melody with 25 guests, seven of which are us! Or “the girls” as we came to be known.

Our boat: Melody

Spritz before the cruise in Trogir

We all met up in Trogir, a small town near Split, the port for our boat. Our Airbnb hostess invited us to her organic farm for a delicious authentic peka dinner. Peka is where they cook the meal underground for over two hours. They also served us six different strong liqueurs, such as cherry, walnut, and chocolate. Everyone loved the octopus, but I loved the mussels.

Peka cooking

We were so happy to be altogether again at last!

Day One: Anne’s Birthday

Trogir to Stari Grad on the island of Hvar. We spent the morning exploring Trogir’s island Old Town, bought sun dresses, visited St. Lawrence cathedral, and climbed the bell tower. We got on the boat about 2 pm and set sail at 3 pm.


Wonderful medieval sculptures of Adam and Eve at St. Lawrence cathedral

From the bell tower

All seven together!

On the Melody

Setting sail

Vance decided since there are seven “girls,” each day we would celebrate someone’s birthday! It was so fun, and the rest of the boat played along. First up: Anne. When we’d been at sea for awhile, we dropped anchor for our first swim break. It was magical.

Anne’s “60th” birthday!

Outside our cabin: Laura and I are roommates.

Sunset stroll Stari Grad on the island of Hvar

One of my favorite photos of a sunset

Boys playing soccer in Stari Grad

It was a gorgeous night for walking around the town in the sunset. We found a beautiful little bar out on a peninsula.

Day Two: Helen’s Birthday

We have all our meals on the boat, and they are delicious. We have a big buffet breakfast with lots of protein, strong coffee, and then a fabulous lunch and dinner onboard. There are three large dining tables to share, and at the end of our meals our guides, Muriel from Germany, and Karlo, Croatian, ring the bell to give us the “briefing” of what’s coming next. Every day we have a “swim break” when they anchor the boat. It is wonderful and refreshing. They also tell us about the bike ride and how many kilometers, although we made a joke about “Croatian kilometers” because they seem much longer! Today’s bike ride began at 9 am on the island of Hvar. We rode 25 kilometers or 16 miles to Hvar, the town.

Our wonderful guides: Muriel and Karlo


Sylvia in Hvar

Dressed for biking success

Jan and Helen

Sara and Laura

Here we come!

Sylvia’s always first, though!


Sylvia and Laura waiting for Muriel to “sweep” me up

A delicious lunch. You choose the day before from three options: meat, seafood, vegetarian

Sadly, Jan got sick on the ride up and had to ride into Hvar with her bike in a van.

After our bike ride, the boat met us in Hvar and took off for the island of Vis. We disembarked for a hike to St. George’s Fort, sadly closed for an event, but we had great views and took a group photo. This island was a military base under Tito, the Yugoslavian Communist dictator, and has only been opened up in the last twenty years.

Group photo

View from Fort George on Vis Island

Tonight we walked all around the lovely promenade of the town of Vis. I think it is my favorite town we visited. We found a wonderful bar by the sea and tasted our first Hugo Spritzes. They are Prosecco with Elderflower syrup, fresh mint, and lime. The bar gave us a big bottle of the homemade elderflower syrup to take on the boat.

Sylvia, Helen, Vance, Laura, Anne


Day Three: Laura’s Birthday

Today we woke up and biked 28 kilometers from Vis to the town of Komiza on Vis Island. We had tremendous views on the ride down to Komiza, but sadly I panicked coming into the town and fell off my bike! I was very lucky to fall in the weeds and only skinned my knee. After a lemonade break in the little fishing village, we were back on the bikes for the ride home to our boat.

Before the fall

Bike wound: Luckily Karlo and Michael bandaged me up right away!

When we got back to the ship, Karlo told us lunch was at 2 pm, but Sandy and Mark didn’t realize the boat was leaving at 1:30 pm, and so they got left behind. Sandy was so embarrassed. She said, “My boys make fun of me because I insist on being at the airport three hours early!” They didn’t have their phones with them, but they got another captain to call ours, and our little boat went back to retrieve them.

We stopped and dropped anchor for a swim break! Helen bought us all Turkish towels for her birthday!

Turkish towels

Laura celebrates 60 with a Hugo spritz

Laura’s Birthday Dinner

Laura bought us blow up rafts and inner tubes on her birthday, and we enjoyed them on our swim break off the boat.

Then we sailed to Vela Luka on the island of Korcula. We walked way up over the town to see an ancient cave with three “skylights.”

Vela Luka Cave

Vela Luka

Day Four: Jan’s Birthday

Today was our longest bike ride! 60 kilometers! We biked from the town of Vela Luka on one side of the island of Korcula to Korcula town on the other end. We rode more inland today and through beautiful vineyards. We stopped at a place for a long lunch that seemed like it was in the Texas hill country. I loved the carafes of mint-flavored water. We were so hungry and had all kinds of food served in bowls and platters.

Luncheon feast to refuel for the next half (30 more kilometers!)

Meanwhile, Jan and Helen take a day off to chill with crew and in Korcula

View from Korcula

Then we continued to the beautiful town of Korcula and the medieval walled city. On the way down we had to go down some steep, hairpin turns on a one-way street, but Muriel was great at coaching me down. The last part of the ride was a beautiful coast along the water. We stopped and had a swim beach break before heading back to the boat.

Tonight we celebrated Jan’s birthday in Korcula.

Jan’s Birthday!

Cathedral in Korcula with strange sculptures, including the sirena from Italy

Strange Eve sculpture outside church

Street scene Korcula

Rooftop bar in a tower

Korcula is the hometown of Marco Polo

Day Five: My Birthday

Today we sailed to the island of Brac and had an extended swim break on the way. Sylvia and Jan rode the hot dog the crew pulled behind the little boat, and I swam to the shore and walked into a nudist (Naturist) beach without realizing it.

When in Croatia… Sylvia, Jan, and April want to blend in with the Naturists!

We rode our bikes in the afternoon from Sumartin to Postira, the captain’s hometown. It was a nice bike ride. I’m always last, but it doesn’t matter, and now that I’ve done the 60 kilometers, it all feels easier. Tonight after dinner we went out in the tiny town. We found a hotel with two musicians playing Croatian music and sat down. Jan began to dance by herself, and then we all joined her. The musicians began playing old Beatles songs, Johnny B Good, La Bamba, and other American classics. The other Americans from our boat came up and joined us, and then everyone in the bar joined in. It was so fun and crazy: people from all nationalities dancing together in joy. Oh, and it was my birthday!

Sunset from the boat

Sunset kissed

Birthday Girl!

Dancing Girls!

Day Six: Sylvia’s Birthday

Today we had a break from biking and went rafting outside of Omis in the Cetina River Canyon. We got on a bus to take us to the water rafting site. We had a raft to ourselves with Fran as our young guide. It was not scary except for one big rapid where we had to sit down, and Anne and Sylvia jumped off a cliff.

Rafting in the Cetina River Canyon: their bottled water comes from Cetina

Our boat

We filled our water bottles from the Cetina springs flowing into the river. The bottled water comes from Cetina. After lunch a big surprise luncheon on the boat, we sailed to Split and stopped for a swim break. In Split we took a city tour through Diocletian’s. Palace. It is so interesting. The Roman city of Salona, where Diocletian was born, had 60,000 inhabitants during the Roman times. Diocletian, the last emperor to persecute Christians, retired before he could be murdered and built a gigantic palace complex near his hometown. It took only 20 years to build with the labor of many slaves. When Salona fell to the Barbarians, the residents moved into the palace and built their houses out of the palace walls. To this day the palace is a mixture of ancient structures and those pieced together during the Middle Ages. When the Christians took over, they removed Diocletian’s body from his mausoleum and replaced it with the body of a Christian martyr. It’s also the heart of the thriving city. We loved walking around and had dinner there.

The outside walls of Diocletian’s Palace

The medieval church tower: wedding cakes are made in its shape for good luck

Entrance to Diocletian’s. Palace

Aperture of the foyer

This piazza in Diocletian’s Palace is the hot spot in the evenings

Temple of Jupiter and Helen

Vance in Diocletian’s Palace

Hotel Cornaro Rooftop Bar: celebrating Sylvia’s birthday in Split!

Day Seven: Vance’s Birthday

Here is a map of our cruise and bike rides:

But what’s not on here is that we went from Split to the island of Solta. We went on a morning bike ride from Rogac to Maslinica, only 20 kilometers and a very easy ride without much elevation. Still, it was a beautiful ride, and I’m finally getting used to it. Ebikes are amazing. They open up the whole wonderful experience of cycling to non-bikers. Maslinica is a lovely fishing village where we stopped to rest.

The only person to bike without an ebike ever was Michael from Switzerland. His wife Brigit was also on the trip, and they were a lovely couple. When Michael passed me on his bike, he’s say with his accent: “Super, Sara!” When we turned off our power to coast, we called it going “Michael mode.” He also took many photos of us and was an enthusiastic dancer. There were three American couples from Philadelphia, but April Showers (real name until she added her married one) was the one who took our photos and joined in with the dancing first. We also enjoyed getting to know the Kiwi couple, Sandy and Bruce. Sandy is a school principal. And the other Sandy and her friend, Mark, from Australia.

Vance, Helen, Jan at Maslinica

Before our last swim, Vance made us pose in the t-shirts Jan got us on her birthday! Mine makes a very comfortable nightgown.

Vance’s Birthday: Notice how she incorporates chair cover into her outfit!

After our swim we sailed to Trogir and wandered off from the town tour to do a little shopping before our last dinner on the boat. Afterwards the crew led us out on the deck for a farewell toast. Then Karlo played dance music, and even the more uptight Germans loosened up and danced with us all.

Everyone left yesterday, but Anne and I stayed. I spent most of the day trying to get these photos to load on weak wifi, but I was determined to record this trip until all the days blurred together in mush. I will add more text to fill in later, but in the meantime, I’ll send it to Paul, whose critique of my blogs is: more photos, less text! : )

One final anecdote: Anne and I were having pizza yesterday, and the waiter brought us some cherry liqueur at the end. I said the toast we were taught on the Melody: Sheevali! Well, the waiter blushed and said, No no! You cannot say that. It’s Zsheevali! It makes a big difference. Take note!

Last chance shopping in Trogir. I bought some cameo earrings to use up my Croatian kuna.

View of the harbor from the medieval tower built when the Venetians ruled Trogir

Straggler dinner: Anne and I are the last to leave

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L’ultimo Giorno a Montepulciano

This morning I am blogging to distract myself from travel anxiety. We soon drive to Chiusi, return rental car, catch train to Rome, then another train to the airport, and then I make a tight flight. I have prayed to La Madonna del Buon Viaggio, who presides over San Biagio, so now it’s out of my control.

Our class was really fun this week. Costanza had to work in Heike’s place at the front desk, so we had another teacher: Gaia. She is lovely, kind, patient, e tranquilla. We also had Cinzia again who is very vivace and extroverted. Both encouraged us to talk, and Dilah was great about keeping the chiachiarrare going. I told Barbara she is mia figlia italiana (Italian daughter), and she kindly said I was her sorella (sister).

La nostra classe: Dilah, me, Barbara, Guido

Gaia and me with my intermedio certificate

After lunch we made the most of our little car again. This time we drove thirty minutes to Bagni San Filippo, some other free hot springs that mingle with a stream in the woods. The giant calcium formation is called the balena bianca or white whale, and it really does seem like one. The water was fun and relaxing. I found my own private little natural hot tub.

La balena bianca

Judi in the warm shower

Sandra and I chose to eat again at our favorite restaurant, Osteria del Borgo, nella terrazza. We had a wonderful la ultima cena in Italia with a tramonto (sunset). Later we walked to Piazza San Francesco and saw Judi at the wine bar. She took us for our first gelato in Montepulciano, and the other Vincenzo, very cute, was the gelataio and remembered me warmly. I then called Barbara to meet me and brought her by. Vincenzo asked if I was public relations! Barbara and I walked around, and she showed me her huge apartment. It’s in the old quarter of town and is ancient, full of hidden nooks and crannies and layers of reconstruction. I even discovered a door that led to another floor with another bedroom she didn’t even know was there! Barbara is here on a borsa di studio or study grant, and it included her apartment. We all said arrivederci. Sad to leave but happy to soon be meeting my friends in Croatia for another adventure.

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Un giro a Pienza e San Quirico d’Orcia

This afternoon was so much fun. Sandra and I drove in the car with Judy, a woman from Australia who speaks Italian beautifully, and Barbara, the young woman in my intermediate class who studies Italian at Yale. It’s great for my self-esteem that Barbara and I are in the same class. I may still speak haltingly, but I’m understanding more, especially the grammar, and I just enjoy learning and being in class and trying. Last week I considered giving up on my dream to study Italian, but this week I decided not to, that I enjoy the challenge too much.

Before Pienza, we stopped at the Pieve di Corsignano. Corsignano was the name of the town before Papa Pio II, who was born here, became Pope and decided to transform his hometown into the ideal Renaissance city. Well, town, really. The Pieve di Corsignano was built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style. It is austere and simple and beautiful. I especially love the carvings on the front and the statue of the woman in the center of the top window, holding the church up with her head.

Barbara and I learned from our teacher, Cinzia, that Papa Pio II was so stubborn that when the architects told him the church design was too large for the space, he made them extend the foundation. Today you can see the cracks in the floor and the walls and feel the way the floor slopes down at the end of the church. He also built a Papal residence, and if his bishops refused to move there, he fired them. It is the Palazzo Piccolomini where the Zafarelli film Romeo and Juliet was filmed in the early 70s. The Duomo was consecrated in 1462.

So beautiful with so much light

Palazzo Piccolimini

Dopo Pienza siamo andate a San Quirico d’Orcia. It’s about five miles away but another beautiful little medieval town. We had a spritz in the piazza and then had the most delicious dinner at Il Forno Vecchio nel giardino (in the garden). Sandra remembered Stefano, the kind owner, from when she was here two years ago, and we had a lovely dinner. As soon as we sat down, the cameriere poured us a sip of delicious Prosecco, and we ordered fiori di zucca con porcini fritti and the paccheria, a pasta with pistacchio, pancetta, and scallions. The town is very quiet but lovely. Each contrada or neighborhood in town has its own flag.

This tiny chapel is often on Italian calendars. It’s on the road between Pienza and San Quirico.
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Sentiero Vin Santo

Sandra and Kurt had read about and tried to find the VinSanto Trail two years ago. We asked Maria, our hostess, about it, and she kindly offered to hike it with us. What we didn’t know us that we would retrace the exact trail to Montefollonico that we took the day before. Still, it was un bel giorno, and Maria pointed out some things I’d never noticed before, like two rocks sculpted by a local artist forty years ago into the shapes of elephants.

Maria with Sandra at a shrine by Della Robbia

At Montefollonico, we stopped to refill our water bottles from a fountain and to have refreshment at the only bar in town. From Montefollonico we found the beginning of the Vin Santo Trail, which has recently been cleared and marked more officially. It was a beautiful hike through woods and hills and over a stream. The trail winds past the ruins of several old abbeys and convents where people in the Middle Ages would stop and stay along the way. We also saw tremendous views and chatted along the way. When we got to Torrita di Siena, Maria had parked her car to take us back to Montepulciano. All in all the hike took us about four hours at a leisurely pace in the afternoon and evening, so it wasn’t hot.

Maria e Sandra a Montefollonico Bar

On the way to Montefollonico

Looking back at Montepulciano from Montefollonico

Fiori a Montefollonico

Sandra a Montefollonico

View of Montepulciano from the Vin Santo Trail

Towards the end of our lovely passeggiata

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Siamo a Montemareno

We are having a weekend adventure. After class yesterday we took a bus to Chiusi to rent a car for the week. School was getting out, and the station was full of teenagers. We felt like the field trip chaperones, but it was fun to talk to them a little in Italian before they put their earbuds back in.

Our little red car is only 164 Euros for the whole week. It’s much cheaper if you drive standard. We drove for about an hour and 45 minutes and arrived in the “cuore del cuore medievale” (the heart of the medieval heart-shaped town) of Montemareno in southwestern Tuscany.

Jacopo, our host, met us in the Ape (three-wheeled Italian truck), loaded our bags into the back, and then we followed him up steep stone streets to our apartment with a beautiful balcony view and rondelle (swallows) darting all around us.

Jacopo con Ape

In our apartment a fig crostata, made by his nonna, greeted us along with a pile of fruit and other amenities.

We wandered around our little town, stopped for a spritz, and then ate dinner on the terrazza at Al Moro.

Un vicolo stretto

This morning we went to the free hot springs, Le Terme di Saturnia: gorgeous turquoise warm water with sulfur that cascades over little natural tubs into the stream. We knew we were close when we could smell the sulphur. Sandra read it was less crowded and more shady if you climbed up, which we did. When I first got in, I was carried away by the strong current, but an Italian helped me climb out. The whole time we were there an Italian woman held onto a rope to keep her place in a swift part of the current. We went early and really enjoyed it.

The base of the baths were full of rocks pearled by the water.
View of Le Terme di Saturnia from road above

We returned for lunch at Il Nibbio, which means kite, and sat outside in the shade for a lovely lunch. The little boy Alessandro, the son of the cuoco (cook), kept talking to us in Italian and gave me a flower. His father came out to pick fresh thyme and oregano from the side of the patio.

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Una Passeggiata nella Campagna

Too tired for text. We had a great hike to Montefollonico.

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Dare alla luce un bambino

Dare all luce un bambino means to have a baby. The literal translation: to give the light to a baby. Che bello!

Last night we celebrated Sandra’s compleanno (Birthday) at Osteria del Borgo with delicious food and a great view. Today Costanza told us that last year Michelle and Barack Obama ate there! Earlier we took una passeggiata and relaxed nella terrazza.

I’ve never seen these iridescent green bugs before
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Siamo a Montepulciano

We’re here, moved into our commodious apartment and have completed our first two days of classes. Not sleeping well and feeling spacey, but at least I’m in the intermediate class with two German women (tedesche) and an 18-year-old who goes to Yale. Sandra is the star of her class as I knew she would be. My teachers are Cinzia, new teacher for me, and Costanza. We have fun as we are tutte le donne. The weather è perfetto!

Con il mio gatto preferito

Questa Chiesa di Santa Lucia sembra abbandonato

Il tramonto

La vista panoramica di Politian appartamenti
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Un bel giorno

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La Domenica

Yesterday we tried twice to reach someone to give us a private tour of the chapel made out of the room where St. Francis slept in San Francesco a Ripa near our apartment. We rang a bell and were shushed by the priest, but at least we got to see the beautiful late Bernini statue of Beato Ludovica, a tertiary Franciscan after she became a widow. She baked bread with one coin inside each loaf for the poor. The statue is similar to Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, but less erotic.

So this morning, after Mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere, we tried again. This time an American Franciscan named Jason gave us our tour. He was so knowledgeable! He reminded me a lot of an old colleague, Chad Evans. He led us to the room where St. Francis slept when he visited Rome. The room is now a chapel that includes the stone he used as a pillow. Jason pulled a gear, and the panels opened up to reveal all these reliquaries filled with the bones of martyred Christians, many from Roman times. It was a marvelous surprise. We learned so much about the Bernini sculpture, St. Francis, and the current mission work which houses immigrants until they learn the language and are self sufficient. He said that was why he joined. Jason was a wonderful guide.

So this morning, after Mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere, we tried again. This time an American Franciscan named Jason gave us our tour. He was so knowledgeable! He reminded me a lot of an old colleague, Chad Evans. He led us to the room where St. Francis slept when he visited Rome. The room is now a chapel that includes the stone he used as a pillow. Jason pulled a gear, and the panels opened up to reveal all these reliquaries filled with the bones of martyred Christians, many from Roman times. It was a marvelous surprise. We learned so much about the Bernini sculpture, St. Francis, and the current mission work which houses immigrants until they learn the language and are self sufficient. He said that was why he joined. Jason was a wonderful guide.

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