The Fabulous Walls of Dubrovnik… The Mediterranean Cruise

The walled city of Dubrovnik is known as the Pearl of the Adriatic. The walls around the city are listed as a World Heritage Site.

The walled city of Dubrovnik is known as the Pearl of the Adriatic. The walls around the city (seen on the right) are listed as a World Heritage Site. The Adriatic Sea is at the top of the photo.

OK, I’m in love. This walled city of Croatia on the Adriatic Sea is gorgeous.  Once upon a time Dubrovnik was a major sea power in the Mediterranean Sea. At another time it was the first nation in the world to provide official recognition for the fledgling United States of America fighting for independence.

As recently as 1991 it was under a devastating siege by Yugoslavian forces that laid waste to much of the city’s renowned beauty.  Today it has rebuilt most of what was destroyed and is once again a major draw for visitors from around the world. It’s easy to see why.

This is one of four blogs I am going to write about Dubrovnik. First up is a look at magnificent medieval wall that surrounds the city and provides visitors with outstanding views of the Adriatic Sea and surrounding country. Second I will turn inward and look down from the walls on the city and its colorful tiled roofs. Third we will visit the city from street level. Finally, I want to feature some intriguing gargoyles we found in Dubrovnik. (Have I used enough superlatives?)

Any visit to Dubrovnik should include a walk around the mile plus (6,360 feet) wall that surrounds and protects the city. Considered to be one of the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages, the walls were named a World Heritage site in 1979. Reaching a maximum height of 82 feet, the walls were never breached during the 12th through the 17th century… providing five hundred years of peace and prosperity for the residents of Dubrovnik.

A fast walker can easily do the walk in an hour or so but plan on a more leisurely 2-3 hour stroll. You’ll need the extra time for photography, or just staring in awe.

This photo of the walls was taken from Minceta Tower, the highest spot on the walls.

This photo of the walls was taken from Minceta Tower, the highest spot on the walls. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

This photo provides a great perspective on why enemies would have thought twice... or maybe a dozen times, before attacking Dubrovnik.

This photo provides a great perspective on why enemies would have thought twice… or maybe a dozen times, before attacking Dubrovnik.

If the walls weren't enough to discourage an invasion of Dubrovnik, the Fort of St. Lawrence stood on an opposite peninsula. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

If the walls weren’t enough to discourage an invasion of Dubrovnik, the Fort of St. Lawrence stood on the opposite peninsula. BTW, is it just my imagination (admittedly wild) or does the fort look like it is resting on the back of a turtle? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Another view of the Fort of St. Lawrence in Dubrovnik. It was a stormy day as shown by the waves from the Adriatic Sea breaking on the rocks.

Another view of the Fort of St. Lawrence in Dubrovnik. It was a stormy day as shown by the waves from the Adriatic Sea breaking on the rocks.

This photo looks up toward Minceta Tower, the highest point on the walls of Dubrovnik.

This photo looks up toward Minceta Tower, the highest point on the walls of Dubrovnik. The flag of Croatia is seen on the left.

Another perspective on the wall protecting Dubrovnik.

Another perspective on the wall protecting Dubrovnik.

A cannon's perspective looking out from the walls of Dubrovnik.

A cannon’s perspective looking out from the walls of Dubrovnik.

I liked this photo by Peggy with its dark sky, grey wall and red roof.

I liked this photo by Peggy with its dark sky, grey wall and red roof.

A statue of St. Blaise, the Patron Saint of Dubrovnik, looks out on the Adriatic Sea under a watch tower protecting the city from harm. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A statue of St. Blaise, the Patron Saint of Dubrovnik, looks out on the Adriatic Sea and protects the city from harm. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A final view of Dubrovnik wall. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A final view of Dubrovnik wall. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

 

NEXT BLOG: A journey around the walls of Dubrovnik looking down into the city.

 

Athens and A Splitting Headache: Greek God Style… The Mediterranean Cruise

The massive Temple of Zeus located near the base of the Acropolis.

The massive Temple of Zeus located near the base of the Acropolis.

We like our gods to have a touch of humanity. The Greek gods had more than their share. They would party on Olympus, chase after the opposite sex, and constantly intervene in human affairs. They could be jealous, revengeful and petty but they could also be generous and protective. It was good to have one on your side.

The replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee has a replica of what the statue of Athena located in the historic Parthenon may have looked like.

The replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee has a fully sized model of what the statue of Athena located in the historic Parthenon may have looked like. I think the spear alone would have given Zeus a headache.

Each Greek city-state would choose a god to be its special protector. With Athens, it was Athena. Both the Parthenon and the Erechtheion on the Acropolis (featured on my last blog) were built in her honor. Athena, according to Greek mythology, sprang fully grown and armed from the head of Zeus. Not surprisingly, Zeus had a massive headache prior to her birth. You might call it a splitting headache. His son, Hephaestus, god of the forge and blacksmiths, took his mighty chisel and split opened Zeus’s head, thus releasing Athena and relieving Zeus.

Zeus was also honored in Athens with a massive temple located near the base of the Acropolis. In addition to being the king of the gods and father of Athena, he was a notorious womanizer. He married his sister Hera, who was constantly trying to thwart his womanizing ways. One of Zeus’s more famous trysts was with the renowned beauty Leda. Zeus seduced her in the guise of a swan, so the story goes. It was a favorite subject of Renaissance Painters. One result of the seduction was that Leda went home and laid an egg, from which the even more beautiful Helen of Troy was hatched.

Our guides took us to see the Zeus temple and then on to visit site of the 2004 Summer Olympics. We stopped off to watch the changing of the guards in front of the Prime Minister’s official seat of government and hurried on to a very expensive restaurant that our guides had selected.  I assume they received a handsome kickback. Sadly, our time was running out and we returned to the ship. Other sites would have to wait for another time.

A side view of the Temple of Zeus in Athens looking grey against grey skies.

A side view of the Temple of Zeus in Athens looking grey against grey skies.

Another photo of the Zeus Temple in Athens. This one features the upper part of the columns with their Corinthian tops.

Another photo of the Zeus Temple in Athens. This one features the upper part of the columns with their tops decorated in the Corinthian style.

In 1852 a storm topped one of the massive columns from the Temple of Zeus and it has remained there ever since.

In 1852 a storm topped one of the massive columns from the Temple of Zeus and it has remained there ever since.

We watched as guards high stepped their way through the Changing of the Guards at the Prime Ministers seat of government.

We watched as guards high stepped their way through the Changing of the Guards at the Prime Ministers seat of government. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

I found the choice of shoes, um, interesting.

I found the choice of shoes, um, interesting. At least the guards were guaranteed warm toes on a cold night.

The site of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens features a statue of a discus thrower winding up to throw.

The site of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens features a statue of a discus thrower winding up to throw.

One of several courses from our expensive Greek lunch.

One of several courses from our expensive Greek lunch.

Peggy and I and pose with our two Greek guides.

Peggy and I and pose with our two Greek guides.

NEXT BLOG: We journey to the enchanting Greek Island of Corfu on our Mediterranean Cruise adventure.

Athens… The Cradle of Democracy and Unrest… The Mediterranean Cruise

The Acropolis with its graceful Parthenon shown above is probably the wold's most famous historic site.

The Parthenon, standing proudly on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, is probably the wold’s best known historic site.

Athens was grumpy. Several years of extravagant spending by the Greek government and its citizens had come home to roost with the worldwide financial crisis of 2009. The European Union had required steep austerity measures in Greece as the price of a pulling the nation back from the brink of fiscal chaos. Nothing was sacred from spending cuts including social services, wages and pensions. A massive influx of impoverished immigrants and a nascent neo-Nazi movement added to the country’s woes. Everyone was expected to make sacrifices to help solve the crisis.

Since sacrifices are best made by someone else, there had been massive strikes and violence in the country.

Standing near the Temple of Zeus, we watched as yet another group of protestors hit the streets of Athens.

Standing near the Temple of Zeus, we watched as yet another group of protestors hit the streets of Athens.

We didn’t know what to expect but had decided to see Athens on our own. Tours offered by the cruise line were very expensive. It helps assure a healthy profit margin. There is neither encouragement nor support for independent exploration. No handy-dandy sheets are handed out saying this is what you should do if you want to see such and such on your own.

Normally our self-guided tours worked great but Athens proved to be challenging.

From the moment we stepped off the ship, taxi drivers offering tours inundated us. Tourism had dropped with the fiscal crisis and was dropping even farther with the end of the tourist season. The air of desperation turned to rudeness when it was discovered we were planning to use public transit. Finding the right bus stop and the right bus turned out difficult, however. When we finally did find the bus it was pulling out of the bus stop. Out of frustration I turned to a taxi driver. We were able to hire two taxis for an all day tour for the six of us that was substantially less than the cruise tours.

Was it worth all the hassle? Absolutely.

Much of who we are in the West evolved from what happened in the City State of Athens between 500 and 350 BC. We visited the cradle of democracy and walked where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had walked. We climbed up the Acropolis and admired the Parthenon and other buildings that have been a major inspiration for Western architecture for 2000 years. We watched the changing of the guard at the Prime Minister’s residence, visited the site of the Athens 2004 summer Olympics and concluded out tour with an expensive but excellent Greek meal.

If you are a history buff, as I am, having your photo taken with the Parthenon as a backdrop is a true privilege.

If you are a history buff, as I am, having your photo taken with the Parthenon as a backdrop is a true privilege. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

This corner shot shows one of the few statues that remain of many that once decorated the Parthenon. (Many can be found in the British Museum.)

A close up of the corner  shown behind me above features one of the few statues that remain of many that once decorated the Parthenon. (Many can be found in the British Museum.)

Extensive renovation work is being done on the Parthenon, as well as other buildings on the Acropolis. ( Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Extensive renovation work is being done on the Parthenon, as well as other buildings on the Acropolis. ( Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A full-scale replica of the Parthenon as it would have looked like originally can be found in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped by to check it out after our Mediterranean tour while visiting with our daughter and her family.

A full-scale replica of the Parthenon as it would have looked like originally can be found in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped by to check it out after our Mediterranean tour while visiting with our daughter Natasha and her family.

My grandson Ethan provides an interesting perspective in this Nashville photo on the original size of the Parthenon.

My grandson Ethan provides an interesting perspective in this Nashville photo on the original size of the Parthenon.

Another impressive building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. An olive tree decorates the front of the building.

Another impressive building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. An olive tree decorates the front of the building.

Another important building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion, which includes the Porch of the Caryatids, lovely Greek maidens who have been turned into graceful columns.

the Erechtheion  includes the Porch of the Caryatids, lovely Greek maidens who have been turned into graceful columns. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A close up of the Elechtheion, windows, and an olive tree representing Athena's gift to Athens.

A close up of the Erechtheion, windows, and an olive tree representing Athena’s gift to Athens.

This is a shot looking upward at the end of the Erechtheon opposite the Porch of the Caryatids.

This is a shot looking upward at the end of the Erechtheion opposite the Porch of the Caryatids.

Looking upward at the Temple of Nike on the Acropolis.

A final view: The Temple of Nike on the Acropolis.

NEXT BLOG: We continue our exploration of Athens with a visit to the huge temple of Zeus, see the site of the 1904 Olympics, watch guards do the kick step and eat fish and moussaka for lunch. Note, in order to make more time for other writing projects, I will be blogging on our Mediterranean Cruise Adventure on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Petros, the Magnificent Pelican of Mykonos… The Mediterranean Cruise

"What a wonderful bird is the pelican, whose beak can hold more than his belly can." Pelicans are my absolute favorite bird and I have never met a more impressive specimen than Petros of Mykonos.

“What a wonderful bird is the pelican, whose beak can hold more than his belly can.” Pelicans are my absolute favorite birds and I have never met a more impressive specimen than Petros of Mykonos.

One sight you are almost guaranteed to see when you visit the Greek island of Mykonos in the Aegean Sea is Petros, the Great White Pelican. He’s easy to locate. Look for a large flock of camera-pointing tourists.

I googled Petros to see what I could discover about this magnificent bird. Sorting through the various “facts” was challenging. Here’s what I learned. In 1954 or 1955 or 1958 a fisherman found a wounded or exhausted Pelican and nursed it back to health. He then freed the bird so it would return to his wild ways of summering in Europe and wintering in Africa. The pelican, however, had discovered that life in Mykonos was quite sweet. Why spend all that energy flying thousands of miles, swooping over the waves, and diving for dinner when he could waddle around town and have people toss him fish? He decided to stay.

The Mykonosians fell in love with the big bird and named him Petros after St. Peter or maybe after Petros, a popular World War II Greek hero. Once, a neighboring Island stole him. It almost caused a war. In 1986… or there about, he was run over by a car. The driver was lynched. (Actually the driver wasn’t lynched. I just made that up. But look at it my way. With all of the misinformation floating around on the Web about Petros, how could one more piece hurt?) Anyway, Jackie Kennedy Onassis felt for the grieving Island and found them a new pelican that was promptly named Petros. Or, more likely, Jackie contributed a mate for Petros before he was run over and the Hamburg Zoo in Germany provided the replacement (or two, or three).

Whatever the truth about Petros, there is no doubt that the Mykonosians love their mascot, that he continues to enjoy his life of leisure, and that tourists flock to take his picture. In fact Petros has become a major tourist attraction in his half-century on Mykonos and a community that depends on tourism can never have enough tourist attractions. Petros is worth his weight in gold, or at least Hungarian Goose down.

Petros seemingly enjoys cool water dripping down onto his beak.

Petros seemingly enjoys cool water dripping down onto his beak.

Petros playing ghost? Or possibly drying his wings cormorant style.

Petros playing ghost? Or possibly drying his wings cormorant style. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Ah, that feels good.

Ah, that feels good. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A final cose up of Petros, the White Pelican of Mykonos.

A final close up of Petros, the White Pelican of Mykonos. If you have enjoyed these photos of Petros, I would highly recommend that you check out the blog of my friend FeyGirl at  Serenity Spell out of Florida who is producing some of the most beautiful bird photography to be found on the Web..

NEXT BLOG: Continuing our exploration of Mykonos on our Mediterranean Cruise adventure, we get lost in the town’s confusing, narrow streets, find windmills, and discover a church to match the beautiful churches of Santorini.

“Psst, you want to buy a fine rug?” Kusadasi, Turkey: The Mediterranean Cruise

Dozens of Turkish rugs were scattered on the floor in Kusadasi, Turkey, thrown out in a frenzy of encouraging us to buy.

Dozens of Turkish rugs were scattered on the floor in Kusadasi, Turkey, thrown out in a frenzy of encouraging us to buy.

The rugs were flying, quite literally, and landing on the floor in front of us. Twenty minutes earlier they had been neatly rolled up at the back of the room. Now five Turkish Rug salesmen were expertly flipping them out onto the floor, a new one every ten seconds. We had been wined; we had been dined; we had been educated. Now the final push was on, the push to get us alone in a room where more multi-thousand dollar rugs would be thrown at us and we would eagerly pull out our credit card with the highest limit.

Part of the show was an interesting demonstration on how carpets are made. Hundreds of hours are involved.

Part of the show was an interesting demonstration in the craft of carpet weaving. Fine rugs can take over a year to complete.

Peggy was ready. The falling rugs had hypnotized her. Her eyes were glazing over and she was levitating out of her seat as a handsome dark-eyed Turk wooed her with fine words. The last time I had seen that look we had ended up with a timeshare in Mexico. This time I was fortified, however. When the salesmen was passing out drinks to soften us up, I was one of two from our tour group of 30 who ordered arak or raki, the unsweetened Middle-Eastern anis drink with the smell of turpentine and the kick of a mule.

I admit the rugs were beautiful works of art, but I was arak strong. Our cabin in the woods of Southern Oregon did not need a Turkish carpet. “I’m sorry,” Peggy explained to her new best friend. “My husband doesn’t want a rug.” I was truly the bad guy in this scenario and the salesman gave me the look to prove it before he sidled off to corner another victim… oops I mean client.

Buying a rug in Kusadasi is reputedly the quintessential Turkish experience and a whole industry is set up to make sure you have it. The cruise industry is a major partner in this endeavor. Lectures on bargaining and quality are given on board the ship before arrival. Lists are provided of safe, preferred shops (i.e. those that share their profit with the ship). Our tour guide hurried us through ancient Ephesus sergeant-like to make sure we would make it to the shop on time. Tours are tightly scheduled. Each tourist needs the opportunity to buy a carpet.  Everyone profits. For the cruise ship this can mean a 50-60 percent kickback.

I hurried Peggy out with the promise of lunch and the opportunity to buy presents for the grandkids. Her brother John and his wife Frances stayed to buy a carpet, however, and ended up with two. Later we celebrated with them in their rambling Texas home as they rolled their children’s inheritance out on the floor.

Dozens of small shops were located in a modern Turkey bazaar near the port. It was touristy but fun. Since we were one of the last ships of the season, we found true bargains.

Dozens of small shops were located in a modern Turkish bazaar near the port. It was touristy but fun. Since we were one of the last ships of the season, Peggy found numerous bargains to make up for carpet we didn’t buy.

I was amused by this shop that offered genuinely fake watches... truth in advertising.

Truth in advertising. (grin)

As we wandered through the shops of Kusadasi I was attracted by the rich colors.

As we wandered through the shops of Kusadasi I was attracted by the wealth of colors.

This plate was another example of the rich colors found in the shops of Kusadasi.

This plate closeup is another example of the rich colors and intricate patterns found in the shops of Kusadasi.

Francis unrolls John and her new silk carpet in their Texas home.

Frances eagerly unrolls John and her new silk carpet in their Texas home.

A closer look at the carpet. It really is beautiful and John assured me they bargained for a good price.

A closer look at the family heirloom. It really is beautiful and John assures me they bargained for a good price.

NEXT BLOG: We visit the Greek Island of Mykonos on our Mediterranean cruise adventure and meet the island’s famous Pelicans up close and personal.