Dave's Balkans

May 14 - 26, 2009

In life, one thing if I had a chance to do over would be to have gone on active duty in the Army- I would have chosen to be stationed in Germany (maybe even found my little German honey there?) and everyone in my class that went there were immediately sent off to peacekeeping in the Balkans. I feel America really made a difference there, and it would have been meaningful to have on the "life resume".

So Croatia is another country I had been making plans to see within the next two years, with this extended time off I thought "why not"- let's save the miles and go directly from a Turkey trip to a Croatia one as well. Carpe diem.
I narrowed my tour choices down to Gate 1 (great itinerary, but a big bus full of old people and the most expensive- they would later start to significantly reduce their price) and Insight Vacations (no single supplement, good itinerary). Gate 1 couldn't guarantee my dates would go and Insight did, so I put my deposit there, plus and extra $169 for cancelation insurance on the off chance I found a job and had to start.

Catching back up with old friend Kevin Walbrick who also had stopped working, he was interested in Turkey and mentioned that Peter Tadin was putting together a trip for Hyde Park Baptist Church, where I had made some friends back around 2001. I asked him to send me the info right away- it turned out to be a very similar itinerary and almost the exact dates I was planning to go already- additionally it was about $1000 less, plus the HUGE bonus the trip being folks from the Texas area- increasing the chance of developing friendships where you might actually see this person again. Score! Done.

In back- our guide Toni, Victor Smith
Standing- Wanda Fontenot, Teresa Clark, Janet Tadin, Heidi Player, Jenn Cerda, David LS, Tracy Perkins, Doug Tune, Della Wells, Kathy Hoke, Betty Wells, Katherine Hauser, Karrie Kendall, Craig Freiburger, Mary Jo Bjornstal, Donna Freiburger, Peter Tadin, Dax Pallotta
Front- Andrea Dougherty, Allister Chang, Dario Pallotta, Lindsay Kopp, Carol Langer, Randy Crutsinger
Not pictured- Phil Clark, John Tadin
Thanks to Andrea for this picture

Several people in our group liked to take tons of pics and even had the philosophy of carrying both a SLR and pocket camera, so I was no longer always at the back of the pack.

It was impressive how much detail and information Peter provided before the trip, and I have included much of it in the pages below in addition to my own usual research. We seem to have much in common with our travel desires, as I found out: almost the same Jordan/Israel trip was done by Peter at almost the EXACT same time as me November 2008, there is a China trip being put together for this November- I am already booked to go to China in September.

I want to be sure to say that any notes of things that did not go perfectly on the trip I feel were likely due to the local issues.

I generally prefer to travel for 10-14 days. Although I knew I would be tired by this time I kept the energy up and really had a great time on this trip. Great company, good sites.

Thursday May 14th

I fly from Istanbul to Zagreb
$389 Turkish Airlines 12:40 - 13:50

Best Western Premier Hotel Astoria
Tripadvisor #4 of 48
Travel agency got me the room for $67 vs the 96.50 euro internet rate.
Great location, modern, comfortable, safe, fantastic staff.

This is a long way from Turkey figuratively- while websites such as youtube were blocked there, our room in Croatia had free hardcore porn.

My other tourmates in town- Craig and Donna Freiburger
They had used frequrent flyer miles booked relatively late, so they had like 50 legs to get here, coming in from Budapest about an hour after my flight.

View of the sunset from my room.

I had the included dinner at the hotel restaurant- fries, chicken schnitzel that was pretty good, noodle soup.

I went and saw " X-Men Origins: Wolverine" with Croatian sub-titles at the Blitz-Cinestar.
This was about a 10 minute walk from the hotel, got a reserved seat over the internet (with help from the hotel front desk), looked like brand new stadium seating for 29 kuna (significantly less than the US).

Friday May 15th


Late morning I motivated out for a walk of the town area near the hotel.

Wasn't sure what to make of this- a gay pride parade perhaps?- but it turned out to be a graduation day celebration for the local high school kids.
It reminds me of the time I was walking around New York City in the summer of 1998 and ran into a gay pride parade there, which in turn reminds me of the scene from Borat, "You telling me the man who try to put a rubber fist in my anus was a homosexual....?"
Also no "young turks" here, I thought the kids were really well behaved. I would later learn that our folks were on the bus when they ran into this and there was some rocking of vehicles and nervous commuters.

Trg Josip Jelacica (a main square at the heart of the city) with the statue of 19th century governor Ban Jelacic.

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (formerly St Stephen's)

Dolac fruit & vegetable market

My lunch

"Group arrives Pleso Airport in Zagreb 11:40 a.m.
Afternoon & Evening: Upon arrival in historic and elegant Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, we will go through customs and passport formalities. We will then be greeted by our tour guide and be transferred to our hotel. Along the way, we will witness the signs of a city and country prospering anew after falling on hard times. Western visitors are once again warmly welcomed here! Lunch (included) will be at a local restaurant. We will then begin our sightseeing tour with a local licensed guide who will show us the some of the highlights of gracious Zagreb. Our sightseeing tour will take us along the historic Upper Old Town, to see St. Mark's Church, the St. Catherine's Church, the Cathedral, the Parliament and the Government Palace, the Croatian National Theatre and University. We will also visit the historic Mirogoj Park Cemetery, known for its opulent sculptures and arcades. We will return to our hotel for dinner and overnight."
Apart from walking through the Old Town and by one of the churches I don't think we did the other items.

Our local guide
Upon returning to the hotel from my morning touring, I saw some of the group in the lobby and I went and introduced myself to Peter- he asked funny questions like: you don't sound like you have a Croatian accent? do the ladies have to wear a scarf in the churches? etc. I had reasonable answers, but wasn't sure where he was going.
Tracy was sitting next to him, and then we figured out he thought I was the local guide for Zagreb- always good to be able to blend in with the locals!

First we walk south by the Tomislavov trg

King Tomislav

Then swing back up north to the area I was in the morning.

I think this is Matija Gubec.

A performer in the main square where the graduating students had started hours before, now all cleaned up.
We'd break here for ATM use, water, toilet, etc.

We stopped for lunch here at Agava
Communication wasn't clear here, as originally lunch was to be included, then was changed to lunch on your own before the tour, then unbeknownst to me was changed again. So while I had already eaten lunch and dinner was only a few hours away, some of us thought this lunch was included (it was a set menu for instance)- while others knew better and walked around or split a meal.
It turned out to be around $20, and something like $4 per soda, which I know Peter didn't like ; )

We had soup and a turkey dish, which was pretty good.

The six pics below are the Stone Gate area.

St. Mark's Church

The brilliant scientist Tesla who made huge contributions to electricity and wireless communication.
As a high schooler I of course heard of him via an 80s metal band being named after him.

A viewpoint where we see the furnicular that links the Upper and Lower towns.

Heidi, Victor, myself and a few others would head back over to the Zagreb Cathedral and go inside, almost getting locked in at closing time.

Click for Zagreb, Croatia Forecast

1 Croatia kuna = .18 US, 5.8 kuna = $1

Croatia links:
Croatia National Tourism Board
Wiki- tourism in Croatia
US Dept of State
Croatia Embassy
Wikitravel Zagreb
Lonely Planet

For this trip's pages I seem to be using a ton of U2...why I wonder? The songs all fit, and in my third decade of listening to them they seem as relevant and energizing as ever to me. Kudos.