Wednesday, Sept. 6
Relished running around the city -- all those wonderful people! -- doing errands before heading to JFK for our Austrian Air flight at 6:05pm. Smooth passage through a daunting line at the new no-liquids security. We were actually out the other side in just over twenty minutes. Flight was on time, they served a glorious chef-prepared dinner, and we were comfy in the luxurious business seats. Then I slept for six hours while a toddler screamed non-stop. Poor Larry had to turn off his Bose headphones because they only clarified the screams. Even the flight attendants were beside themselves. (Not the parents; they seemed totally unconcerned about the discomfort their little prince was causing.)
Thursday, Sept. 7
We had a pleasant five hour layover in the business lounge at the Vienna airport. Then we had a quick turboprop hop down to Split. Sun baked, red roofs, blue blue water ... Instant vacation! We took a taxi to our very 1950s resort Hotel Split. Everything looks quite prosperous and the people seem very stylish. Our room is small but perfect, complete with balcony overlooking beach and water. We gave ourselves downtime for a quick nap and bath which was delightful and much needed.
We browsed the guidebooks and picked Tifani restaurant in the center of the Palace. Larry managed the mysterious phones to make a reservation for 8pm. We cabbed off to town and were dropped at the harbor just outside the southern gate to Diocletian's Palace. I'm in hog heaven. You enter through a vaulted tunnel lighted and lined with shops. Up the stairs at the end is an exquisite square with church and peristyle. It's such a hanging out spot that they have cushions lying about the steps. There's a café on the opposite side that provides music and drinks.
We strolled through the palace area, all lined with shops both tourist and practical. There are even some inner courtyards with Juliet stairs and upper apartments. Everything is old limestone worn underfoot to glassy smoothness. Immaculately clean; no litter at all.
We ate in the outside courtyard under a full moon, gazing at the lighted church tower. Couldn't be better. Cab back to the hotel and SLEEP SLEEP ... snooze.
Friday, Sept. 8
Woke up around 9 and had breakfast at the hotel. Grabbed a taxi downtown where we strolled around the harbor and the farmers market. It was real shopping: veggies, bread, garlic, solid and stolid women manning the stands. We found Dramamine (for sleep) and sundress and memory cards in the shops and stands along the walls. Then we spent the morning wandering all around the Palace until finally settling in for lunch at a great café in the central square where we were able to gaze at the human parade. It was a very stylish crowd, at least the locals. Fashion note: must get lanyard to wear one's very very slim phone and have instantly on hand.
After lunch we did more strolling, we toured of the 7 th C cathedral (they re-worked Diocletian's mausoleum, dumped him, and installed the Christians), then I climbed the campanile. The stairs were 'way too open for my comfort, but I was determined and the views over the city and harbor were splendid. By mid-afternoon we were back at the hotel for naps and shade.
We met the group - looks great - for welcome drinks at the hotel, then taxied to the Simca restaurant for dinner. We all started out on the terrace and were almost literally blown inside by the wind. A good time was had by all and we were home by 10:30.
Insert group description
Saturday, Sept. 9
We had a leisurely start, then the whole group headed off by mini-bus and taxi to Trogir, a fabulous old island town about 10 miles north of Split. We had a tour led by a local guide Stephen who covered the history, sights, churches, and cathedral neatly. He was brilliant in discussing the iconography and art significance of the carvings around the cathedral door.
We had lunch in a casual courtyard café, then spent an hour or so of wandering before meeting up for the zodiac trip over to our ship, the Bonaventura. It's a gracious and gleaming traditional gulet. It's all fitted out with easy on/off ladders and ramps, deck mattresses everywhere, a sumptuous bread and cheese spread to welcome us. The cabins are comfy with private bath and shower and, best of all, explicit instructions that you can (1) flush toilet paper and (2) the hot water is unlimited. Whee!
We motored for an hour or so before rounding a point and heading into the harbor at Milna on Brach Island. Closer, closer and we see a single mooring left, a parking space between a huge mega-yacht (the "Jo" rumored to be owned by Michael Douglas ... or maybe its Jodie Foster) and another shiny wooden gulet. Captain Peter threw the anchor, pivoted neatly, and backed in against the tension perfectly into the slot. Smooth as can be. It was a masterly demonstration.
The town is charming and we strolled the waterfront, followed a very stylish wedding procession, then meandered back for chatting until dinner around nine. It was a great meal of grilled meats, eggplant, salad, and on and on. Then sleep in a cool, airy bear cave cabin. (The sizeable double bunk extends under the deck where there's only about 24 inches of headspace; it feels like sliding into a mail slot.)
Sunday, Sept. 10
There were church bells at six, but we didn't straggle up for breakfast until eight. We motored for a couple of hours with everyone happily lying around reading or chatting, then moored in a cove opposite Hvar. We all took a quick paddle around the cove and a small island, then back for a swim. The water was startling, super buoyant. It made the grandmother hairdo stroke not only possible but easy!
We took a longer paddle in the afternoon around some islands, including Jerolim. What a hoot! It's apparently a big nude beach destination, especially for Europeans. So we kept paddling by fat, older German men, who'd stand on the rocks gazing balefully at us, while showing all their goodies. (We of course, being sunscreen-conscious Americans, were swathed in hats, dive suits, long sleeves, gloves, you name it.) Lillian and I amused ourselves by making up tourist slogans: Hvar ... don't leave 'til you've seen it all!
Later on we took the zodiac into Hvar town for sunset and a grand meal on the waterfront. We were out on the terrace, but the restaurant actually had a glass floor fishtank inside. Pick your meal. Finally back to the ship around 11, these Mediterranean hours are tough on me.
Monday, Sept. 11
We had breakfast on deck, then two hours of motoring to Issa where we dropped the kayaks in a cove and paddled about two hours along the coast and into the harbor of the town of Vis. Once we were moored, lunch appeared - mountains of garlic mussels - followed by a free afternoon that Larry and I used for a nice nap. Later we packed the group into two taxis and drove over the mountain to the fishing village of Komiza. We walked all over the waterfront and town admiring the charming houses, the folks picnicking on the rocky beach, and a tiny church with a rosary/benediction service underway like a theatre piece. Finally ended up relaxing at a harbor café chatting with the Blairs.
Back to Vis for dinner at a neighborhood pizza spot, a cozy wine-bar with a single, very harassed and overloaded waiter. He actually had to go next door to buy the wine we ordered! A fun, but endless dinner which meant we didn't get to bed until 11:30.
Tuesday, Sept. 12
We started out after breakfast with a five hour crossing to Korcula. Many book discussions among the writers and teachers during the early stages, then Captain Peter brought out a silly game with four handsets. Music played and the goal was to press the button when the music stopped. Early or late and you got an electric shock. Much hilarity, especially when Carolyn beat Capt. Peter.
Another lovely lunch on board concocted by crewman Rocko, then we were off to paddle. We swapped paddling partners around and I ended up in a single for a two hour paddle into the wind. Several coves (felt like "many") and we rounded a corner and saw the town of Korcula looking like a postcard. The town is on a tiny thumb of land, with a cathedral at the top, surrounded by water on three sides. A thrill to paddle into town.
We all had a couple of hours walking around the town. We found a lovely Ikone Museum attached to the Church of All Saints. A small collection, but very moving. Larry went café-hunting midway and I ran into the Matalenes and had a quick drink at an, ahem, unusual bar. It was in an old turret on the city walls, the entrance up an industrial stair to a pub-room, then up another flight to a sleek California-style bar, then up a steep ladder to the terrace on the top. Drinks were pulled up by a basket over the side of the wall. What a hoot! You wonder how many tipsy revelers have fallen off that ladder.
We had a great dinner in a small uphill square. I was chatting with Dave about his history from 17-year-old seaman on a freighter, to actor of some success, to buying a farm, to selling the farm, to writing ("something I always felt I wanted to do.") a book short-listed for the Commonwealth Prize. Interesting, thoughtful guy. Then I turned to Mira and heard how she went from controlled Czech to being a pathologist in San Diego. Her student exchange at the University of Miami was fortuitously made permanent by the help of a school friend's father, "the judge in DC." Back down the hill and to bed.
Wednesday, Sept. 13
Motored in the late morning to Mljet, anchoring in a little cove surround by the trees of a national forest. We all took one of Dag's "short" paddles out of the cove, along bays lining a strait, then around the corner to open water with sapphire water sparkling around us, sheer rock on the left, brilliant sun highlighting the Crayola kayak colors on the right. Wonderful. We got back eventually to the little cove, 2 ½ hours later feeling pretty worn out. Rocko revived us with a fabulous lunch of grilled veggies, bean salad, and grilled chicken. Best possible.
A few went out for an afternoon paddle, but most of us were mutineers and hung out on the boat reading, napping, and swimming. Around 7 we took the zodiac into Polace town and a great dinner at Ankora Restaurant. The girls seemed to cluster at one end, the liters of wine kept coming, and we laughed so hard we were sore. There was some serious (with laughs) discussion of Captain Peter who's been getting more and more loquacious and alpha male. We clued Maria in that he'd also been hitting on Lillian -- who can brush him off easily. He'd been harassing Becky too, causing some upset. I had to add, courtesy of Larry's playing with the computer, that Capt. Peter had an extensive set of bookmarks for porn sites. News to Maria and it'll be dealt with forthwith, but thankfully everyone is grown-up enough to get the laughs too. Wobbled back to the boat and most kept at the wine and talk, but I collapsed into bed. Larry and Carolyn got into a tipsy set-to over religion, but all forgotten by the morning.
Thursday, Sept. 14
We motored before dawn to get through a passage before an expected storm. Into the kayaks after a late breakfast and paddled with Lillian around the open, windy and choppy side of Olipa and then on the inside of Jaklyan and into the harbor of Sipanska Luka on Sipan Island. I finally had my rhythm and felt great through the whole two hour paddle. We took a quick swim and then had a great lunch of spaghetti carbonara and beef goulash.
After an hour or so of lying about in the harbor, we took the zodiac into town and walked around, then about 2km out of town through farms and vineyards. Strange: it's a ghost town. Deserted buildings and farms all over. Caved in cottages like Ireland, only right by the main church square. Elaborate old homes with courtyards, arches, and stonework, now empty and filled with junk. Even along the harbor past the sleek sailing boats, half the buildings are grand and empty. Our best guess - since no one will tell us - is that there was a large proportion of Serbs who left during/after the war. Very spooky.
Not surprisingly, there was a set-to between Dag and Captain Peter in the zodiac. Dag jumped out (safely) before Peter gave the ok, and Captain Peter went absolutely crazy, yammering on and on and on. Technically in the right, but hysterically insecure and thin-skinned. Key query: How many alpha males can you fit in one boat? I also suspect that Dag had had a stern talk with the captain about hitting on guests. Doubt if Capt. Peter will be the choice for future trips.
Back into town for dinner at an upscale (no jug wine) spot. Excellent food, but staff problems. We got there at 7:30 and didn't get home until 11:30.
Friday, Sept. 15
There's a storm coming so we motored early to the harbor for Dubrovnik, then breakfasted in wind and sprinkles. Given conditions - and the mundane harbor area - it was decided to bag any paddling and spend the day exploring town. In the general discussion, Larry interrupted Captain Peter - to agree with him! - and our good captain jumped down his throat, "Do you speak this way to people who work for you?" "All the time." "Well do not speak so to me." Huff huff huff. We said later that it's a good example of the Croat national character: insecure, needing control, always needing the last word ... word ... word. No wonder this region is perpetually at war.
We lit out immediately via the local bus to the Old City. Glorious. The first priority was the 2km circuit of the city walls, with spectacular views of sea, fortifications, domes, rooftops, squares. Next was a stroll down the main drag, the Stradun, visiting the Jewish museum and synagogue before pulling up for an excellent spaghetti lunch. On to the cathedral, St. Ignatius Loyola church, and more exploring until 4pm when we circled back to a promising jewelry artisan and bought me a gorgeous silver and enamel ring. Bus back to the boat for shower and rest. A farewell gathering for drinks and tips for Rocko and young Peter (the captain nowhere in evidence) then a casual dinner across the street. Much fun discussion including a spirited defense of Plato by Josh in the face of Carolyn's forceful (but unsupported) opinions. Not your average dinner conversation!
Saturday, Sept. 16
Off the boat by mid-morning. Captain Peter did appear (to collect the bar tabs!). He made a solid apology to Larry, but apparently was "rather volatile" with Maria and Dag. Strong wind and waves were kicking up as we watched from the Hotel Neptun. Lunch on the terrace en group, then sleep and hanging out while the rain and wind battered outside.
We headed into town around 5:30 for the farewell dinner. We had to taxi into town, then strolled a bit to meet the group at the Old Harbor. More walking to get back to our dinner location - indoors - near the Old Town gate. Given the weather, I had my hair pinned up under a baseball cap and my sundress tied around my waist over shorts and covered by my kayaking jacket. There was much laughter and surprise when I "dressed up" by pulling off the shorts and baseball cap. We had a great evening and there was more admiration when Larry slipped out and presented me with another ring by Ivana Bacura, a real art piece with silver shoreline and blue sea swoosh. Ivana called it her "masterpiece."
After dinner the group headed off to buy jewelry (!) so we cabbed back to the hotel with David and Josh, stopping briefly to hear a gifted trio playing Pachelbel's Canon under the city walls.
Sunday, Sept. 17
We had an easy morning joining the Blairs and Dag and Maria for breakfast. Less rain, but pounding wind. Dag and Maria had already been out interviewing new boats for next year's trips. Captain Peter is just too over the top. We took the bus to town and walked along the Stradun, into St. Blaise Cathedral, then up into the higher residential areas. Back down to last night's restaurant where we sat out a spate of rain with an early beer while watching restaurant umbrellas blow away.
We were back at the hotel in time for a quick shower and lunch on the terrace watching the lifeguard being soaked by spray as he tried to raise the red no-swimming flag. David and Josh joined us briefly before we headed out to meet our pre-arranged taxi for the airport. A couple of quick photo-ops for panoramic views of Dubrovnik and then we were checking in and settling down in the business lounge. There was a 15 minute weather delay which was worrisome since we only had ½ hour transit time in Vienna, but Austrian Air made it work and with some hustling we were settled in our business seats and happily winging on to New York.