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Family & Friends: 2010 Trip to Europe - Croatia and France

Guenter, Juergen's brother, turned 80 this year, and he and his wife will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. Their children arranged for a vacation / family reunion in Croatia. Juergen and I will be representing the American family contingent. This means, we will be leaving for Paris and on to Croatia on Thursday, June 24, and on July 2nd, we will fly to Paris for a week-long trip through the Bretagne before visiting with Pascale and Wolfgang in Paris.

The first part will be showing images of Croatia and the family, the second of our travels through France.

Happy viewing and reading. Well, not yet. First a brief description of our travels to Paris because that is as far as we have gotten so far. If all goes well, our connecting flight will depart Paris in four hours from now.

June 24

The morning was filled with last minute items to complete so the apartment would look ok. Alexander might be staying over at some point, together with Katie, his new better half. This also included a walk to the Post Office where I mailed a package to Germany and checked my corporate P.O. Box for a last time before this trip. By 1430, we were ready to go and decided, based on a text message from Chucky, to go downstairs and wait for him there. He would be there around 1445 anyway.

The trip to JFK was fast - Chucky knows the fastest way and we were there in about 50 minutes. Check-in was completed within minutes. I had printed out our boarding passes at home. All we needed to do was drop our luggage, and since I am a "million miler" on American, I can do so at the First Class counter. We also were able to use the lounge as a result of our American Express Platinum card. We went to the gate at the indicated time. There, we were told that, due to the fact that there is only one runway open (the other one is being reconstructed), all flights are delayed, including ours. About an hour later, we wereinformed that the flight would depart at 1915 only. We went back to the lounge and sat around and read. Shortly before 1900 we boarded promptly. Our actual take off time, however, stretched to 2015, a whopping 2.5 hours later than scheduled. What a blessing that we had tons of time in Paris for our connecting flight!

June 25

The flight was uneventful, except my chicken dish was indigestible and entirely unacceptable and the seats were so uncomfortable even for my frame that it was a night from hell. Worse for me than for Juergen, because I could not sleep (that is nothing new) but the person sitting behind me occasionally kicked my seat, whether to annoy me or inadvertently, in his sleep, I could not figure out. It was more than annoying though. I was so glad when daylight came and I could look at the clouds and then land, and then I even could continue reading my book again. Dietmar had recommended it "Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley - a fascinating book about the Roosevelt years in the US and the Pacific politics during that time. I so far have only read 40 pages, but as an American, I am already embarrassed. I cannot wait to find the time to finish it.

Breakfast was a meesily croissant - not worthy of the French kind - some very weak coffee and orange juice. We finally landed at shortly before 0900. Waiting for our luggage took a while - we needed to do this, because we had purchased two separate round trips, one from JFK to CDG (Paris), the other from Paris to Split (via Zagreb), so our luggage did not get checked through. Once it finally arrived, we saw that our large suitcase was fairly badly damaged. We reported it to American Airlines who - based on our schedule - suggested that we submit the claim once we are back in New York. Juergen thinks, he can push out the really deep dents and the plastic is actually cracked, rendering a repair impossible. We will see.

It took us over one hour to get from Terminal 2 where we had landed to Terminal 1 where Croatian Airlines' gates are located. In between it had been taking a very long walk within Terminal 2, a train ride and then another long walk - all that with my heavy photo equipment and computer in hand (or over my or Juergen's shoulder). It was not fun. Since neither of us could find the Croation Airline desk, Juergen found out that Lufthansa is actually accepting luggage for them. At least by then, we finally got rid of the large and my smaller suitcase. We still needed to carry both our camera bags, my computer, etc.

It was almost noon. We were not really hungry but felt that we needed to find a place to sit and have lunch. We ordered a glass of Sauvignon blanc for each of us, a large bottle of Perrier, a croq monsieur and a croq saumon. Dessert was a cup of cafe au lait for Juergen and an espresso for me. Then we wandered again, lugging all our stuff. We finally found a small birthday gift for Waltraut and then proceeded towards Gate 20-28, "our" gate. Getting through security, which only had 2 check points for about 10 gates, took endless time. And, of course, I was asked to get all my photo equipment out so they could go through my bag. In the end, the officer was embarrassed and let me pack up again - but everything had been taken out. It would take me 5 minutes or more to put it all back where it belonged.

Now, at 1420, we are sitting at our gate. Hopefully, all will go well from here so that we have a quick connection in Zagreb and get into Split shortly thereafter. We still will need to drive for about 90 minutes before entering the village of Tucepi. We are curious what it will look like.

Our flight left almost on time. It was a comfortable A319. We even had cabin service including a sandwich. In Zagreb, we needed to go through immigration and customs' though our luggage was checked through to Split. Immigration took a while and nobody cared that there might be people with tight flight connections. In the end, we completed our formalities but then, rather than going to "transfer passengers", we had to exit the secure area to reenter it elsewhere and go through security with our carry-on luggage again. We were apalled. To top it off, they insisted that Juergen take his belt off though he had already removed the buckle. In the end, we attributed this attitude to lack of experience. Juergen actually things that he heard someone reprimand the person for having insisted on taking the belt off. I did not pay any attention to this and cannot comment. It was annoying though.

Then there was a long wait again and a delayed take-off. Our luggage arrived at a different conveyer belt than we had been told. So, after waiting for any luggage to arrive - with no such luck, some other passengers spied their luggage on another belt. Juergen ran over there while I decided to take all our carry-on luggage and meet him on his side, but I exited the area and was not permitted to reender. Thank God he only needed to look for two pieces of luggage, both with good wheels.

Then, all the rental car booths in the terminal were closed. A woman at the information counter, however, told Juergen that he would find the one we were looking for outside the terminal. So much for that. Completing all the formalities was a cinch but finding the car on the parking lot in darkness was not an easy feat. I waited with all our carry-on luggage after having walked all over the lot already while Juergen went on a "car hunt". Eventually, he made it and we packed everything inside. We could, however, not figure out how to open the trunk. The electronic key did not seem to work and there was no latch we could open. So, Juergen ran back to the rental car office and the young man went with him to check this out. The trunk was stuck only. He somehow unstuck it, and the key worked perfectly again. He also confirmed that the gas (diesel) tank was completely full. His last instructions, turn left here and keep going straight all the way to Tucepi.

We did, and we arrived there - with further instructions from Frank who had called a couple of times in the meantime - we were met by him at the corner towards the "Tucepi Centar", a bottle of wine and two bottles of water in his hands.

Check-in was easy and very quick. Frank carried our heavy suitcase, the hotel concierge and we the rest. Then the three of us drank the wine, talked for a while before Frank went back to his b&b - Juergen accompanied him for a while - and had difficulty finding our hotel again. In the meantime, I just unpacked the utmost necessary. As of the third night, we would have another room. So no need to totally unpack and then repack again a day plus later.

We were both exhausted from having been up 42 hours and traveling 34 hours thereof (door to door). We both slept like logs...

June 26 - Waltraut's birthday

Well, we could not sleep that long because we all agreed to meet for breakfast at around 0900. Guenter and Waltraut were to follow 15 minutes later. It was a big welcome by Susanne, Johanna, Marion, Marie and Frank, and we talked for a while before the birthday child and Guenter finally made it. And a little while later, Mira, Susanne's best friend, and her partner Volker arrived.

Susanne had asked for a fruit tart as a birthday cake. What they delivered was something entirely different. Still, we all had fun and talked for a long time.

We decided to take a bus to Makarska, the next town, to have Waltraut's wristband of her birthday present shortened and the battery replaced. Buses are like little minivans for about 8 people max. Since Mira and Volker did not come along, we all fit into one "bus". Makarska is a cute little town with lots of history, historic sites and old architecture, a beautiful bay, its harbor filled mostly with sightseeing boats and tiny fishing boats. Right behind the town are the towering mountains, a gorgeous sight from sea level.

We wandered around, took lots of pictures, went to a beautiful plaza where some of us just wandered around again, Waltraut and family went for the needed "repair", and we all congregated at a little cafe to have beer, water, coffee, or whatever everyone's delight. The clouds started getting black right behind the mountains, and I pointed out that we were in for some weather. Before it actually hit, we had purchased sandals (Juergen and I) and the others had checked out plenty of other little stores and boutiques. By the time we had ordered our icecream, it started pouring, and we were glad to be protected from the sun umbrellas in front of the icecream stand. It took quite a while before the rain subsided and the sky turned lighter. In the meantime, a sightseeing boat had returned and the person helping tie up the dock lines held a huge sun umbrella over himself while it was still pouring. It was a sight to see.

We took the opportunity of the lessened rain and went back to the bus stop where we found "our driver" who took us back immediately.

There, we sat around, waiting for Ursula and Heinz who were supposed to arrive "any minute". It was a big hello. Of course, the rest of the afternoon was spent together, and we all went for dinner to a very good seafood restaurant where we enjoyed fantastic fish. It was almost 2300 when we got back to our hotel.

Click on photos to enlarge!

our hotel
view from our hotel towards the town of Tucepi
Waltraut's birthday cake
at our first breakfast
Susanne and Johanna, very happy
The girls with their dolphins - Juergen had bought one for Marie so she could give it to Johanna
"our little town"
waiting for the bus to Makarska
views of Makarska - a beautiful little town with a nice town square and a small harbor
a cafe on the plaza requires a beverage and relaxing time
sculpture of the pulp and paperindustry
Susanne, very happy - again!
Mira and Volker

June 27

I had a night from hell, waking up at 0120, after having read my book till past midnight. I was so awake that I contemplated getting up, but it was difficult to do as Juergen was sleeping. It was past 0530 in the morning when I finally fell back asleep. By that time, the sun was up behind the clouds and the Adriatic Sea and the islands around were in full view.

Today, we would have breakfast at our hotel and then meet the rest of the family. We also needed to move our belongings into our new room. That occurred immediately after breakfast. By 1030 we met up with everyone and spent a lazy morning talking, drinking coffee. Some of us also went food shopping as Frank, Marion, Susanne, Guenter and Waltraut wanted to grill for all of us at their B&B. It was a little bit of a production since one could not get everything in one place. Here our shere number of people helped. Ursula, Heinz, Guenter and Frank took the car back to Makarska to buy fish, Frank and Susanne had earlier purchased some meet. I went to get wine, oil, vinegar, ingredients for our salad, and some grapes to go with the cheese Frank had purchased.

Then we all congregated again where Juergen was sitting to hold court. Some of the family went to the beach - we find it way too cold for that sort of thing and the beach too crowded and rather "pebbly".

We all met back at the same cafe at 1530 to watch the soccer game UK vs Germany. Juergen had reserved tables for us, and we had perfect seats right in front of the large flatscreen TV. It was an amazing game as you all know, and the atmosphere was great, not only in the stadium but also in the cafe.

Then came the highlight of the evening - the incredible meal Frank, Marion and Susanne put together. The salad (tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers with feta and olives was amazing, and the different meats and fish were just incredible). I had bought the wine but that was more than disappointing, and I felt it in my head the next morning. We sat together till almost 2300. Then, I started working on the images from the day before...

June 28

Today, we will drive to Dubrovnik, a town full of history and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mary Lou just sent me an email mentioning that our friend Dietmar used to go diving there when he was still living in Europe. Well, we will not go diving or swimming, but we certainly will enjoy the town.

According to "Croatia, History, Culture, Art Heritage" (Forum - Zadar 2008), Dubrovnik is the most Southern city of Croatia and a cultural and educational center of Dalmatia. It is one of the most important maritime merchant cities of the Mediterranean from the period 14th to 17th century and has always been the link between Eastern and Western routes of the Mediterranean. It has been badly destroyed in Yougoslavarmee, the Serbs and Montenegrans during the war in 1991-1992, but beautifully rebuilt. We loved walking around, looking at all the sites - did initially not like all the shopping available, but at least it is tasteful shopping. I personally benefited from Juergen finding is gorgeous leather jacket, one that I had been looking for for over five years. Amazing to find it here, where we would normally never even consider looking.

We had driven in two cars while Frank, Marion, Susanne and the two kids first had to get a rental car. They followed shortly thereafter. I actually separated from the group while some were having lunch (we already did) and walked on the thick town wall all around the town - well, not quite, because we had agreed to meet at 1545, and it was already 1500 when I began my tour. Rather, I wanted to. For some reason, I asked how long it would take - one is permitted only to walk in one direction. They told me at least one hour - which I did not have, suggested that I walk through town to the other entrance and then take the "water side walk" which is what I had wanted to see. So, I almost ran back down the stairs, across all of Dubrovnik's old town, up the humongous stairs, explained to the guard why I came this way. He immediately let me go even without scanning my entrance ticket and off I went. The views were amazing, ever different angles produced ever different sights. I could have spent endless hours. Instead, I had to rush past other tourists who leisurely strolled along the thick wall. To keep things simple, I made it back to the car about 1547, before Juergen, Waltraut, Guenter. I was safe from being "yelled at". We drove a little further South to have another magnificent view of the entire old town and SouthEast from there - incredible - again.

On the return drive, Juergen actually did stop in a few places he had refused to stop at on the way South. Of course, now the sun was often in our way and the photographic opportunities not as perfect, but then, what can we do. You judge for yourself what our images look like.

Click on images to enlarge!

on our way to Dubrovnik
Town Wall of Dubrovnik - one part. You will see lots more.
...more Town Wall images
This chart depicte the damage from the war 1991-1992 - by now all rebuilt
Steep and narrow steps lead into Dubrovnik - many lines with restaurants and lots of little shops
Main passage way in Dubrovnik - most of the buildings house restaurants and shops - at least stylish ones, not cheap T-shirt places
Shop owner where we bought my leather jacket - his family has been in the business for 100 years - he for 30 - a wonderful place
Octopus salad in Dubrovnik - the best ever, tender and delicious
Images taken from the Town Wall of Dubrovnik

Fisher sewing his net
Dubrovnik from above
View Southeast from same hill
Beautiful lakes in the mountains
Juergen's Brother Guenter
From Mountains to Sea...

July 29

Today, we had planned another sigthtseeing trip. This time, we went North, even beyond the Split Airport, to a small mideaval town of Trogir. Frank had arranged for a boat ride to some island (we have not found out the name but will soon) where we walked around and later had lunch on our little boat - grilled sardines, bread, and a salad of cucumber and tomtoes - quite delicious (except that I don't like tomatoes, but you know that by now). Then the boat took off again and went to a beautiful bay with lots of sailboats at anchor. The issue was that there were lots and lots of sea urchins, and after my personal experience with those critters, I heavily objected for people to even consider going into the water. The captain was asked to go elsewhere where we could swim. The wind had picked up quite a bit, and while he found a spot where there were sea urchins, the sea was choppy. There were lots of rocks, and Marion and Guenter cut themselves pretty badly under their feet, while others had scrape wounds of varying magnitude. This was particularly tricky with Guenter who takes blood thinner for other reasons. Despite bandages etc., etc., it only finally stopped bleeding during the night. He seems ok, though.

Click on images to enlarge!

Tucepi's Beach in the early morning hours
Boat ride - we all banged our heads getting on...
Marie - very happy
Guenter, Mira, Volker, Heinz
Admiring the view of Trogir
Town Wall of Trogir
Marie, Johanna, Susanne, Frank, Marion - all enjoying the sun and the beautiful boat ride
Susanne and Marie
Visit to the island of Solta
Marie, Marion and Frank
Ursel and Guenter
Marie, the photo model - with Frank
Ursel and Heinz, happy couple
"our boat"
Approaching Trogir again
Sights of Trogir, its castle also a UNESCO Heritage Site

It was a fun filled day which ended with a beautiful walk through Trogir, whose castle is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and dinner before heading home to Tucepi.

July 30

A lazy day at the beach, holding court at a cafe, swimming, talking, all in preparation of tonight's festivities - we will be celebrating Guenter and Waltraut's 50th wedding anniversary.

It was an amazing affair. Frank, Marion, and Susanne had arranged for a beautiful table outside in a gorgeous restaurant right by the water. The weather could not have been more cooperative. A three piece band was playing the music requested by Frank, Marion and Susanne. As we got there at exactly 2000, Johanna was standing at the entrance, handing out a newspaper relating to Guenter and Waltraut's 50th anniversary - with a gorgeous history of their 50 years in word and image - made out like the famous German "Bild" newspaper. That in itself was already wonderful. We all sat at the table, but there were three settings too many. In my naivete, I asked who else was coming to which Susanne said, they just put three settings too many. And while we were sipping our aperitif, Johanna escorted three surprise guests: Guenter and Waltraut's eldest with his two kids, e.g., Michi (Michael), Svenny (Svenja) and Chris (Christian). You can imagine that the tears of joy were flowing as Michi was hugging his dad and then handing a bouquet of flowers to his mom. The evening was perfect, the mood wonderful, the food great, the wine flowing. There were some speeches (by Heinz, by Waltraut, by Juergen and then, because he could not read it in the available light, I read what Silvi and Luise had put together for them). See the images and you know it was a perfect celebration which, by the way, lasted to about 0200 the next morning.

Click on images to enlarge!

Michi, Christian and Svenja, escorted by Johanna - the big surprise
Marion, very happy because the surprise was a full success
Waltraut and Guenter, still teary-eyed
Susanne - very happy as the surprise ws a full success
The Band
Ursel and Susanne
The Happy Couple
The Chorus - read the lyrics below
Frank, very content due to the complete success of the evening

The Song (lyrics written in collaboration between Susanne, Marion, and Frank):

Jetzt sind's ueber 50 Jahre, dass ihr zwei zusammen seid, meine Guete ist das irre, war das nicht 'ne tolle Zeit? Heute feiern wir 'ne Party, ja das ist wohl allen kla:r 50 Tage, ein paar Stunden, dann seid ihr ein goldnes Paar.

Schon lang ist's her - Ada wurd sie genannt, Guenter sah sie und war gleich angespannt. Nach kurzer Zeit hat er sie schon gefragt, woll'n wir uns trauen - sie hat gleich Ja gesagt.

Klein Mimi war schon laengst da, das war auch super so, dann kam noch Sanne, Franki, und alle waren froh.

Jetzt sind's ueber 50 Jahre...

Eine grosse Fammilie, das war schon immer das Ziel. Es wurde geackert, manchmal 'n bisschen zuviel, auch Spass wurd gemacht, wie Ausflug und Reisen. Es ist kaum zu glauben, doch wir koennen's beweisen.

Und deshalb ist es Klasse, so ein Riesen-Clan - wir alle gehoer'n zusammen, was niemand besser kann.

Jetzt sind's ueber 50 Jahre...

Jetzt sind's ueber 50 Jahre....

Jetzt sind's ueber 50 Jahre!

July 1

Another day, another sightseeing trip, and still, I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of what this gorgeous country has to offer in land- and seascapes and in history. So, we are enjoying every opportunity we could get to see as much as possible. We all took the trip together, in four separate cars. Generally either Frank or Michi led the way. We went to Omis (pronounced "omish"), another little old town with a castle. This time, we did not visit the castle. Instead, we drove up along the Cetina River all the way as far as one could go by car, then take a serpentine-like route, extremely narrow and extremely winding, through woods, fields and even through tiny villages, if one can call it that. We wanted to get to water falls people had been talking about - but could not really find them, instead, we found others which, however, were not that impressive and our vantage point was all wrong, much higher than the falls, leaving them almost invisible to us - see for yourself. We finally decided to drive back to the Cetina where we had seen a nice looking restaurant. We finally found it and had lunch around 1600.

Dinner was easy - leftovers from the formal party last night. All we had to do was buy some more wine, some cucumbers and tomatoes and we had brought a home-baked bread from the place of the afternoon lunch.

Frank, Marion, Susanne, Mira, Johanna and I had talked and agreed to take one care very early in the morning to drive up Biokovo Mountain to watch the sunrise. This has been written up and talked about being the most gorgeous mountain sunrise - I don't know where, maybe, in all of Croatia, or Southern Europe - I have no idea. Still, it is supposed to be spectacular. So, as Juergen and I got back to our hotel around 2300, we asked for our car keys and the garage keys so I could take the car out at 0330 the next morning. We thankfully also mentioned our plans. The owner/manager of the hotel informed us that it was impossible to go there without prior arrangements because the gate to the park (the mountain is a national park) would not open before 0600 (we later found out that it won't open before 0700). At the moment, this all was unpleasant news. They all had started to go to bed, Mira had left quite a while ago and was for sure fast asleep. I tried to call Frank to inform him of the issues and to cancel our plans - no answer. So, I ran back to their place to ensure that they would not get up around 0300 to find out that there is no such possibility of getting up that mountain. With a number of complications, we also finally managed to wake up Mira. At least nobody would get up in vain this early. Frank even walked me back to my hotel though I told him that this was not necessary. Even at this late hour, there are people around, and the area is totally safe and fine. Gentleman that he is, he insisted nevertheless.

Click on images to enlarge!

Searching for the waterfalls
Map depicting the area
Can you see the waterfalls?
Johanna offering to serve us drinks - make believe
Cetina River near Omis


July 2

Today is our last day with the family. Since our flight on Saturday will depart Split at 0615, we had made a hotel reservation in Trogir, just a few car minutes away from the Split airport. So, instead of our early morning adventure, we decided to drive up the mountain to see the beauty of the nature there. Frank drove Michi's rental car, Juergen ours. Both cars will (almost) filled. Frank's had Mira and Volker with him, Juergen Guenter, Susanne and me. It started out being a very winding road, and we knew it was going to get a lot worse. At some point, Frank indicated that Mira and Volker wanted to talk with Susanne and could he, Frank, drive in our car and actually drive it? Juergen finally agreed, and so we went up the mountain - it was an amazing ride. Frank stopped often for photo ops. He also had to reverse frequently due to oncoming traffic. It all worked out really well as everyone was curteous and well behaved. The only ones giving us a little psychological traffic were the bicyclists. You should have seen some of them go down the mountain - scary and we had not seen any accidents.

At the very top are huge antennae, surrounded by a large fence. I was wondering whether anyone would ever want to be there for a period longer than half an hour or so. There is a tiny chapel - it was locked but through a small window, we could see a beautiful mosaic. We all took a walk there and enjoyed the view of the "other side of the mountain". Then, we began the drive down. Frank stopped often, again, to let us (Volker and I mostly) take pictures. I found a number of butterflies, some as tiny as a dime, in bright blue and yellow, lots of flowers, mostly coming in patches of color - on the top of the mountain, they were mostly yellow, further down, they were blue, white, and gray. There were also a number of thistles of different hues of red and silver - just gorgeous. And then, there was the scenery. It is impossible to describe, and I don't think that my images to nature any justice - but I tried. It was very hazy and I often took pictures out of the car as we were driving because the road ws too narro to stop. Hopefully, you will forgive (just this time)... Have fun checking out the images I selected for this.