We have an unwritten rule against two art museums in one day, but I have found that I can do two medieval, walled cities, in two days, in 90-degree weather.
Pat and I are on a tour of the Balkan countries of the former Yugoslavia with a group called Outdoor Adventure Travel (OAT.) I am being careful in this blog not to claim as my own work or knowledge the details passed on by the tour’s excellent guides, so I will try to restrict the subject matter a little and not cheat. Because this is my first guided tour, I want to talk a
little bit about tours in general and whether other folks might like them – as opposed to traveling independently, as we have always done in the past. I am not sufficiently experienced to evaluate OAT tours versus those by other groups, but I hope by the end of this blogging experience to make some worthwhile comments on tours in general.
The group is small – 16 – and many of them have been on OAT tours in the past. One couple has been on nine. One other thing I can tell you about tours – as opposed to independent travel – we are working harder than we might have otherwise. Thursday began at 8:20 a.m., and yesterday at 7:45 a.m. It was in the 90’s both days, but you can’t just give up and go back to
the hotel pool if you get too hot and tired. I also can tell you first-hand that some of our colleagues are unbelievably fit. There is a couple from Long Island, N.Y. who have been married for 67 years. I heard the male half say that he is 91, and they are hiking the rest of us out of our socks.
The first full day of our tour was in the old walled city of Dubrovnik – a republic for centuries until conquered by Napoleon in 1806. The old town was shelled heavily during the wars in the 1990’s over the split-up of Yugoslavia, but as a UNESCO world-heritage site, it received some significant financial help to restore buildings. There is a map at the entry gates that shows the vast number of buildings which were damaged, but it was difficult for me to tell that as we walked around. The city was jammed with people, and this is mid-September; our tour guide said it is nothing compared to July and August.
If I were coming here again, I would wait a couple of weeks until early October. It’s plenty touristy, but I don’t think that takes away from the beauty of the setting and architecture. And, completely unexpected, we saw an amazing Salvador Dali exhibit at one of the galleries. Kind of a contrast with the 14th-16th Century construction right outside. One day in the old city is enough, but there are beaches and one-day tours available for people who want to enjoy the Dalmatian coast. I don’t think you need a tour group to see Dubrovnik.
The second day we traveled to Kotor, Montenegro, via another amazing little town, Perast. Kotor is on a beautiful bay, with limestone mountains immediately rising outside of town. It was not as crowded as Dubrovnik, and the attendant in the 12th Century cathedral and basilica told Pat it was a “peace day.” He meant that it was a day without cruise ships. Our guide told us they had ruled against building a bridge across the bay because of the need to get cruise ships through. So the route is a winding road with beautiful views, or a car ferry with beautiful views. Tough choice.
While Dubrovnik was an independent city-state from the middle ages, Kotor was part of the Venetian Republic. Interestingly, they were on opposite sides in the last war – Dubrovnik as part of Croatia and Montenegro allied with Serbia. The next post will explore the war issues and its aftermath in more detail. (I suppose that will keep people from reading further, huh?)
Again, amazing history and architecture, protected by UNESCO, and clearly worth our day. The question is, would Pat and I have done this on our own? Sure, we would now, knowing what it’s like. But Kotor wasn’t on my original list, and getting there and back from Dubrovnik was easy on the tour bus but complicated on your own. So the tradeoff is the convenience of the tour versus the freedom to come and go as you wish. It’s definitely worth a day trip from Dubrovnik. Montenegro has an international airline and international flights — there are no non-international flights because the country is too small for that — so I could see just coming here and spending some time on the beaches as well.
A couple final thoughts on Vienna: Our actual trip began in Vienna, which we saw on our own, and the tour began three days later in Dubrovnik. Two reasons: 1) We wanted to see Vienna, and 2) we also didn’t want to start the tour jet-lagged.
Vienna is so rich in history, music, art and architecture that you need more than a couple of days there. Personally, I can do one historic site and one museum in one day, or two historic sites, but not two art museums.
We made it to the Shonbrun Palace and the Leopold Museum, but not to the Belvedere. There were other museums in Vienna’s “Museum Quarter” that we did not even attempt. We heard a concert in the Palais Augsburg, where Mozart had both written and played music, and ate a Sacher torte – they call it Sacher Cake here – at the Sacher Hotel for which it is named. I think the city needs a week anyhow, not three days like we did.
The subway is very modern and easy to use, but it is of limited utility in the old town because of the few number of stops. It was a good way to get to Shonbrun. I suspect it is very good for getting to the outer areas.
It’s also an expensive city. We ate meals out but not at especially fancy places, and still managed to run up some good bills. It is comparable to Rome, I think, and perhaps not as pricey as London or Paris. We also found that they often charge to use the restroom at museums and other places. At the Museum Quarter, it was either 20 Eurocents or 50 Eurocents, depending on your intentions when you got inside – at least for men. If you go to a restaurant, you can use the restroom for free. Plan ahead.