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The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Thursday, May 26

Dubrovnik, Croatia - Paradise On Earth

“Pearl of the Adriatic,” enthused George Bernard Shaw after his visit.

“Those who seek Paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik,” he said.  
View of Old City from my Guest House
It's easy to see why
UNESCO deemed it a World Heritage site in 1979.

I'm staying at a guest house overlooking the Old Town of Dubrovnik. 

The view is amazing. Don't you agree?

But the world almost lost it. My host explains the terror during the 1991-92 siege. 

Mortars from surrounding hillsides hit nearly 80% of the roofs. His mother and family struggled for water and food just to stay alive.

Street life during the year of the siege
Hearing him and seeing the intensity brings history of this siege, like the others that inflicted the Balkans, into an embarrassing awareness. 

Frankly, I know little about the flood of warfare that engulfed the Balkans in the 1990s.

Walls in a museum pay tribute to the men whose lives ended during the siege
A YouTube search helps to fill in my ignorance. I start watching a BBC documentary.  Here's the Link - The Death of Yugoslavia. 

Slowly, I'm beginning to understand what happened after Tito's death and xenophobes gained power. The worse of fear and suspicion and hatred took over. Crazed leaders manipulated the people resulting in Hell on earth...at least for a time.

Meeting a young child along the way
Today I'm walking the wall that encloses the Old City. Much has been restored. Investments from abroad and the hard-work of the people is bring the luster back to the “pearl.” It's a wonder although if you look closely, there are still scars and need for on-going work.

They tell me it's about a 2 hour trek, but at my speed, I'll double it.  

Whatever, I think it's a glorious day to be exploring “Paradise Restored." 

Let's go - up and down and around


Can you spot the few roofs that have NOT been replaced?

Church stands proud  and sea glistens 

I wish that was me in a  kayak 
 
See the different roof colors.
 Nearly 80% had been destroyed

Dubrovnik is a living city alive with daily life

I talk with this man about his garden
Former fishing and trading harbor,
now serves tourists

Fortification scared from war

Mesmerized by the crystal clear water
Colors of Paradise

Saturday, May 7

Kotor Climbing

I  missed  the morning bus, but never  fear, I'll get another.    I have an extra 6 hours in Kotor.  GREAT.

I  look around.

Before me is a mountain cradling a church about two-thirds to the top.

It's a vvvvvery long way up, but I say to myself, "now or never."   Let's go...

Steep incline and 1001  steps 


BIrds sing and flowers bloom along the way
 




How far did I get?   Let's just say that I didn't get to the top.   But then again,  it's not a race to the top... is it?

Take time to see the sights and smell the roses or in this case
the iris!

Tuesday, May 3

Balkan Art Opportunities

Sometimes an art opportunity enters my mind, but so do lots of thoughts.  Then it taps me on the shoulder - pay attention! And then, it introduces me to another artist.  Here's what happens...  

I'm wandering through the old town of Kotor, Montenegro. I'm relishing the atmosphere.  Cobble stones under foot and 18th and 19th century buildings stretching before me, fill my mind with painting ideas.  

I'm enjoying every twist and turn of the streets.  Or I should I say, more accurately, alleyways.  In some places I stretch my arms from wall to wall.  It's narrow and so old Europe.   

As I'm ambling along, I happen upon an art gallery.  Surprisingly, the proprietor is a water-colorist.  Many of his works are on display.  We start talking art.  It's an unexpected pleasure.  Soon he has me at a cafe across from the gallery buying me a cup of espresso.  He sits me down to a tutorial on ink drawing with bamboo pens. 

What fun.   Art has grabbed me! 
   
I spend the rest of the day taking pictures.  Here are a few that could become paintings.  I'm thinking you can help me decide.

Just send and email back with your first choice and maybe a second.  The one with the most votes will become my subject.  In a way we will do art together.

What do you say?  Give it a try and send an email of your choice(s),  Each is labeled below.

I look forward to hearing from you...really.  


Number 1

Number 2


Number 3

Number 4

Number 5



Number 6


Number 7



Number 8



Number 9


Number 10


Number 11
Number 12

Sunday, May 1

Tito's Train

At every station along the way, an attendant stands at attention
and signals the train onward
Here I go for a journey on the Tito train line.  It leaves Belgrade for Bar  Montenegro.   Unlike the luxury cars of Tito's time, passengers sit six to a compartment.  

The seats are covered in plush velvet though no longer prime time.  Think shabby and somewhat stained.  It's an old old train.  Still I'm not here for luxury, but rather the spectacular scenery that lies ahead.  

It's named for Tito since he had it built during his 35 years as leader of Yugoslavia and used it frequently.  


Concrete forms criss-cross the mountainside.  
It was a big public work project as you can see the immense amounts of cement used to stabilize the track's slice through the mountains.  
   
Yesterday I attempted to visit  his grave site,  but it was locked down.  I didn't get to see much - just the outside of a memorial/museum building.  

After all It's Good  Friday,  according to the Orthodox calendar, or as they say in Serbia, Heavy Friday.

I had promised Neshko's father that I would honor Tito by going.  

He tells me that he owes his good life to this leader.  With little education, he always had work and raised a fine family. On several occasions, I enjoyed his hospitality.  His son, my friend Neshko,  has a graduate degree and now works for positive social change in Macedonia.  Many say that Tito made communism work.  I'm sure there's a shadow side too, but the people of this region talk about a lot of good. It makes me curious to learn even more.  


The train ride connects a land locked Serbia with  the coastal mountains.  One hour into this 10 hour trip, I've passed through 14 tunnels.   I know, cause I'm counting on the back of my ticket. Just a little obsessive compulsive - huh?

Outside,  I'm slowly leaving the city and entering a mixed area of ex-urban living.  
Notice the clusters of newer homes - all with red tile roofs.  See the more traditional villages and fields lush with Spring life.  And then there're nasty belching industrial stacks.  Where's the EPA?

I'm thinking this scene will become a watercolor
Within a couple more hours,  I enter a rugged mountainous area thick with forest.  A few isolated homesteads dot the hillsides.  Two men tend several dozen bee hives.  There are no other houses in sight - so very interesting.  

The tunnels keep coming at me.   I count over 50 now. In total I'm told there will be over 260.  It's beautiful.  My train compartment window frames each landscape.   I'm captivated.  Enjoy a few as I'm doing.... 
Notice the aqua blue colors in the water

As I enter Montenegro, granite peeks through the forested mountains

Clouds are marvelous 
Underneath a high tressel a river zig-zags towards the sea

Imagine living in such a beautiful place
Do you know what this might be?  The signage says 1921,
I'm clueless.
By the way, I stopped counting tunnels after about 4 hours.  My total was 123 - although I nap for about 20 minutes.  I guess I'm not so obsessive compulsive after-all. 

Thursday, April 28

Arriving for My Balkan Odyssey




The beginning of my Balkan Odyssey is uneventful.  It's a short hop from Skopje to Belgrade, but the flight attendants still manage to serve us a snack.  And it's free!  
Imagine being treated like a human by an airline.  Thank you Serbian Air.

Ivan, my host, greets me at the airport with a "Jud Dolphin" sign in bold letters.  It's not that I'm likely to miss him.  He's almost 7 feet and was a professional basketball player.  On our way into the old town of Belgrade, we pass through the Soviet section of mostly cement block buildings.  It's the same throughout Eastern Europe.  Ivan tells me, "they had no style."  I have to agree.   

I get settled in a lovely room with a bright balcony - made for morning coffees and afternoon blogging or maybe even a watercolor.  

Then it's off for a stroll and a traditional Serbian meal.  Ivan has made a suggestion.  As I walk into the place, the owner, greets me with a warm hello.  When she hears me speak, she knows I'm from a-way.  When I tell her Washington DC, she says, "Obama!" and asks me about Trump.  I say, ne ne ne and she smiles.

Dinner is a fresh tomato salad, home-made lamb soup and a plate filled with a meter of sausage.  If you're not familiar with metrics, you'll need to think about 36 inches.  That's like a yard of sausage!  I'm only able to eat about 20 inches leaving a nice amount for tomorrows lunch.  

My first day in Belgrade is a trek to the Fortress known as Kalemegdan. There has been a fortification here from before Roman times.  Every warring empire has claimed this land and they say the citadel was razed and rebuilt no fewer than 40 times.  

Much of what I see is from the 18th century.  I wander through the gate and follow the wind from one buttress to another looking out upon the convergence of the Sava and Danube Rivers.
 . 

The morning mist has given way to a sunny day as I approach the Fortress

Layers of iron scales on the door make for extra protection





A more ancient section.  The spiky purple flowers caught my attention.
Nebojsa Tower along the River's edge.  Here it is in honor of my colleague from Public with the same name.  
A maintenance man explains the writing on this stone.  It's ancient Serbian or so I think I understand.

Of course, before the fortress was a place for locals to stroll and tourists to see the sights, It was a place of war and blood.  Here's a reminder next to the military museum.  

I don't go inside.  I guess I prefer a walk in nature instead of imaging human carnage. 

A hot chocolate at the renowned Hotel Moscow ends my day.  It's so thick -like sipping melted Hersey Kisses.  

Soon I'll be back in my room relaxing before I'm off to a ballet tonight at the National Theater.