A Travellerspoint blog

Bern Switzerland

Switzerland's Capital City

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Hello from Bern,

We arrived here by train from Zermatt which required re-tracing part of our trip on the Glacier Express but we found it just as beautiful the second time. We once again had a first class train car to ourselves and were able to strike up a conversation with the conductor who lived in the Zermatt. He was able to tell us about the enormous land slide that occurred here in 1983 (I think) where a huge portion of stone broke loose from one of the mountains and buried the train track just a few minutes after a train carrying school children had passed. After hearing that story I felt a little less comfortable looking almost straight up at megatons of rock towering above the train as we passed. It was very much like thinking while on roller coaster…”you know that wheel could come off at any moment” but of course we made it through OK.
We arrived in Switzerland's capital city of Bern about mid day and checked into a hotel that was a bit outside the city center. What we call the “vacation burn rate” referring to the amount we are spending on daily basis has been at a pretty high level through Italy and Switzerland so we decided to try to moderate that a bit my moving a hotel a bit further out. Even so, by U.S. standards, hotels and food are very expensive here. We spent the afternoon touring the city and taking in the sights.

Let me show what we saw………

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This is the view from our room at the Ambassador Hotel in Bern. The building in the foreground is the Teppanyaki restaurant located at the hotel where we decide we will have dinner later that night. In the distance you can see some of the taller buildings from the old town Bern city center.

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The trip to the old town was quick and easy on a city tram which runs every 10 minutes or so and costs about 1 Swiss Franc per person. It took us back to the train station where we just paid a taxi 25 Swiss Francs to take us to the hotel. I think we got “worked”. In this old town area they have many beautiful water fountains which originally severed to deliver drinking water to the citizens of the city.

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While I was taking a picture of this fountain a young women decided to hop up on the fountain for a drink. Not sure if this is a common event but it seemed funny to me…but then I find most inappropriate behaviors funny.

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The two pictures above show a couple of scenes from the street market that was going on when we were there. They had just about everything you can imagine for sale from clothes to vegetables. We bought a hot dog from a street vendor and just people watched as we ate them.

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While mostly women were buying goods in the market their husbands seemed to be engaged in a large scale game of chess at the end of the market square. It was funny to watch as two men were playing against each other but each of them had a set of friends giving them advice and bantering back and forth with the friends of the opposing player. They moved with amazing speed with very little head scratching and pondering between moves.

The next 15 pictures were taken as we wondered around the old part of the city. There are a number of fountains, statues and paintings adorning the buildings as well as lovely flower boxes with red flowers adding to the ambience of the city. Since I don’t have much to add to the content of the pictures I will just let you enjoy them.
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Here is Susan with one of the many bears about town. The town of Bern was named after the word Bear in some Romanic/German dialect of the day it became to be known as Bern.

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This sculpture was located near a tram stop in the square next to the Casino. I’m not sure what it is but from the wear it appears to be frequently used as a chair.

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Walking down one of smaller side street we found a few antique shops and this old Micky Maus book caught my attention. I always find it interesting how other countries perceive Americana.

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This is a picture of the Tapenyaki grill where we just had dinner taken from our hotel room window. You can still see the tableware that we arranged so neatly before leaving. It seemed much more cleaver after about 6 hot sake’s and 4 beers than it does now.

Well that about does it for Bern and I guess for the country of Switzerland. We have decided to take a bit longer route to Paris and depart for Amsterdam in the morning by train. I suspect my next entry will be a bit late as we feel like a party may be in order to celebrate the completion of this first leg of our journey through central and Eastern Europe. After Amsterdam we will travel to Paris get settled into the apartment where we will stay for three months. I will try to take some pictures in Amsterdam and make another entry when I can. I really appreciate all of the positive feedback I have received from the viewers of the Blog. I have enjoyed doing it but I am happy I didn’t know how much work it was before I agreed to do it or it might not have happened.
Until next time……Adios (I really want a burrito!)

Posted by Trainwater 04:17 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

St Moritz to Zermatt Switzerland

Riding the Glacier Express

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Hello from Switzerland,

Brrrr! “Can someone find that heater”?

We took the North bound train from Milan into the Swiss Alps. We were not expecting how picturesque the views would be on the trip to St. Moritz. As luck would have it the storm that brought us some rain in Milan delivered a large snow fall in the Alps but by the time we traveled the storm had passed and we had beautiful clear skies to view the newly fallen snow. It is very early in the year for a snow fall of this amount and the locals seemed only moderately happy it arrived as their winter just got a lot longer. St. Moritz is a pretty upscale ski resort town with Cartier and other similar retailers along its main boulevard. It was very nice but you could tell they are geared toward the winter ski season and this early snow took them by surprise. Only one restaurant in the entire downtown area was open for dinner…so we ate there.

The next morning we boarded the Glacier Express train for Zermatt. The trip takes about 8 hours as the train moves pretty slowly. There are delays for passing trains as well as one stop to change engines. It seems there is a limit to the amount of incline a standard train with smooth steel wheels can drive without slipping. In these cases a special engine is used that engages a rack & pinion system to give the train traction. This is basically a straight gear strip in the center of the two traditional tracks into which the engine engages a round gear to either help pull the train up the hill or to provide braking for a decent. Overall we saw some of the most beautiful scenery and alpine towns. You almost expected to see Heidi yodeling from the nearest hilltop.

Before we get to the pictures I feel like I need to apologize for their quality. As I mentioned it was a very bright day and the reflections from the inside of the train car reflecting on the panoramic windows was pretty tough to escape.

Let’s get to the pictures………..

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This was the view from our hotel room in St. Moritz. I did not expect the train ride from Milan to be so beautiful so I packed the camera away and only retrieved it when we arrived at the hotel in St. Moritz.

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Early morning at the train station in St. Moritz getting ready to leave on the trip to Zermatt.

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A view of the inside of our Glacier Express train car. Very nice and new and basically empty except for one other couple from Germany and us…..SWEET!

OK I have to admit I have no idea of names of the towns or places we encountered along the way. I only know that they were spectacularly beautiful so I will just show you the few pictures I picked out and hope they can somehow convey the beauty of the trip.
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We enjoyed a three course lunch and a bottle of wine along our journey as well as other assorted coffees and some schnapps as memory serves….Very Civilized!!!

Below are four more pics taken along the way including one of me lovin life!
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We finally arrived in Zermatt which is a great little town that is classified as “car free”. Everyone arriving by car must park in a large parking structure about 5 miles out of town and ride in on the train. You can get around town pretty easily by walking (except when there is an inch of ice on the ground) or you can take an electric cart taxi. Kind of like Catalina Island back home. Lamb is very popular and we had dinner that evening at a restaurant that grows their own lambs. We enjoyed some lamb chops, fillet, sausage and even cooked lamb slices in a fondue pot. Very very good meal!

Here are a couple of pictures from our Zermatt hotel room balcony one during the afternoon when we arrived and another later that same night. That peak to the right is the real Matterhorn. It looks much more impressive than the one at Disneyland!
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Well that about completes this blog entry. This leg of the journey certainly wins the award for best natural beauty of anyplace we have been so far. In the morning we depart for Bern which is the capital of Switzerland. We are approaching the end of this first leg of our journey to Paris where we will live for 3 months. We are looking forward to putting our things away somewhere and not lugging these suitcases around.

Until next time…….Chow!

Posted by Trainwater 01:24 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Milan & Bologna Italy

Examples of the diversity of large and small Italian cities

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Hello from Milan,

We took arrived in Milan after and an uneventful train trip from Venice…certainly as compared to the trip to Venice. We were torn about coming to Milan because we had been told it was mostly an industrial and fashion city without too much accommodation or attraction for tourists. However we found it very interesting. We stayed in a hotel on the Piazza Diaz very near both the Duomo and the Gallery. This area is among the oldest in the city and there were very interesting sites and things to do 24 hours a day. We were here for four days but used one of those as a down day from traveling to do some laundry and just take a break and another of those to take a day excursion to Bologna. We had planned to also visit Parma but somehow the time got away from us and we didn’t make it. The weather was pretty decent but for really the first time on the trip we had to deal with a little rain and had to purchase our first umbrella. However, overall we feel so lucky to have had the weather we have experienced on the trip.

Well enough rambling!

The pictures always do a better job of showing you a city than I can explain

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Not sure as I write this how the views from our hotel rooms have become a standard entry in this blog. I guess it is because Susan has done such a great job finding the hotels and we have been very lucky in the rooms that we have received upon check-in. So again…here is the view of the Duomo from our hotel room at the Hotel.

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Here is a shot of the outside of one end of the Duomo. I’m not sure if you can really appreciate just how big this church really is from this picture but it is HUGE! We were told that it was build to this size and in the Gothic style to impress other heads of state that Milan was a city of influence and power. In those days the church and the government were basically the same thing.

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A wide shot of the Piazza showing the front of the Duomo, the statue of Vittorio Emanuele and the Piazza entrance to the Gallery on the left can all be seen from this view.

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Next we took a tour of the inside of the Duomo. There were signs outside saying “No Photo” but inside everyone was snapping away so after a while making sure the flash was off I took a few as well. These columns are the size of Sequoia trees. I am not sure just how high the ceiling of the Duomo is but I would guess close to 80 feet.

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These incredibly high ceilings allow what I believe are the largest stained glass displays I have ever seen. Another interesting feature was a tiny hole in the ceiling that allowed a beam of sunlight to enter the church and fall upon a line that ran along the back of the church. Long that line were both the times of the day as well as the Zodiac signs of the year. Although it was a cloudy day when we visited I have been told it is extremely accurate. Those guys really understood the rotation of the Earth back in 1734.

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The floor of the Duomo is a masterpiece with incredible designs of hand inlayed marble. What I thought was interesting after all of these years I that the black marble seems to be harder than the rest and thus is beginning to stand taller as the others wear down from foot traffic.

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This is a statue sculpted by Marco d’Agrate an apprentice of Leonardo Divinci of St. Bartholomew one of the 12 apostles and a martyr who was skinned alive . That is not a robe he wears draped around him but rather his own skin. The detail of the sculpture was spectacular but rather macabre.

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Susan standing in the piazza near the Duomo as we discuss what we want for lunch….Tough choice but everything is great! It’s Italy!

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Not sure if coconut is a delicacy here but one of the street vendors had created this elaborate coconut fountain that I (if not Susan) found amusing.

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Inside the Gallery where all the high end shops are located. It was a very beautiful building but we escaped without melting the credit cards.

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Inside the Gallery are these mosaics on the floor and this one of the bull is especially famous. It is said that if you spin around on the bull’s testicles you will have good luck. We were there on a weekday afternoon and I can tell you one thing….this bulls gets no rest. There is about a four inch hole in the solid concrete floor from people (like me) spinning around on his balls. Not sure what he might have done to deserve such treatment but “when in Rome or Milan” so here I am doing it also.

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Leonardo Divinci spent a significant part of his life in Milan and this sculpture of him commemorates his life and contributions to the city of Milan.

Maybe one of the most amazing things we saw in Milan was the cemetery. It was unlike any cemetery I have ever seen. It was a cool damp and overcast afternoon when we visited and I think the weather contributed to the feeling I hope these next 10 pictures can convey. The statuary was so opulent and personal and varied in style and approach that it, at times, seemed more like a museum than a cemetery but always you maintained a sense of reverence.
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Next was our day trip to Bologna. We took a train that only took about 90 minutes. You may recall that the train station in Bologna was attacked by terrorists on the morning of August 2nd 1980 and killed 85 people and wounded more than 200 more. The train station has been rebuilt with a memorial listing the names and ages of all of the people that lost their lives there that day.

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The bomb went off at 10:25 AM the clock on the outside of the station was damaged and stopped at that time and remains set to that time today as a remembrance of the event.

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This is one of the most famous fountains in Italy. It was quite controversial in its day and in some circles remains so today. You may notice that the statue features what the creator called lactating nymphs which are four women with water spraying from their breasts. I kind of liked it…. You know…from an engineering perspective 

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This picture just doesn’t do these towers’s justice. In Bologna there were two wealthy families each trying to out-do the other by building the tallest tower. Obviously much more effort was spent on expediency than quality as each tower is leaning in opposite directions. The one closest to you in this picture is leaning left while the other is leaning right.

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This was taken in a side street delicatessen in the old town area of Bologna. The owner was very nice and we got into a large discussion about why there is no “Italian sausage” in Italy when we eat so much of it in America. He didn’t even know what it was. We ended up buying some nice Salami and getting directions to a mushroom shop down the alley where they had fresh white truffles.

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Another meat market counter in Bologna. Porky’s naked!

Well that just about does it for Milan and Bologna…and I guess Italy (for now) as we head North from here into Switzerland to visit St. Moritz and then take the famous Glacier Express train to Zermatt. We are buttoning up our overcoats and heading off to the train station.

I will catch up again as soon as I can…Chow

Posted by Trainwater 06:03 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venice Italy

A modern city without cars

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Hello from Venice,

The trip here was a long one…about 20 hours all together. We left Dubrovnik by car for a four hour drive up the Dalmatian coast to the Croatian town of Split. It is interesting that between Dubrovnik and Split there is a small section of land where Bosnia comes all the way to the coast line so you must transition through Bosnian border control stations for a few miles until you re-enter Croatia. After some confusion about the location of the correct Split train station was solved by the tried and true best 3 out of 5 suggestions from random people on the street we board a train for Zagreb through the rural Croatian countryside. Zagreb train station at about 10PM is a pretty scary place. We had about 90 minutes until our overnight train to Venice departed and we didn’t want to stay there so we put our luggage in a locker and hailed a cab. We asked the driver if he could recommend a good restaurant and in about 15 minutes we were sitting down at a wonderful restaurant where we had a great traditional Croatian diner of vegetable soup and veal stew with paprika. We hung around the restaurant as long as we could so to limit the time back at the station until we boarded our overnight train. This sleeper cabin was MUCH smaller and MUCH older than the one we had taken from Krakow to Budapest a week or so ago. We were awaked by pounding at the door for passport and customs inspections from Croatia just after we went to sleep and then again by Slovenia just after we had gotten back to sleep. We arrived in Venice about 7AM REALLY tired. We swore an oath we weren’t doing any more overnight trains.
Once we got checked in a rested up a bit we began to explore the city of Venice.

What an amazing city! Of course walking or boat are the only way to get around and that makes for some very unique experiences. We did the basic tourist agenda I suspect including San Marco square, a tour of the Doge’s palace, took a gondola ride and enjoyed some REALLY good food and wine.

Let’s get to the pictures…………

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This is a picture of our hotel. We stayed on the Grand Canal near the train station on the opposite end of the city from San Marco square. Our hotel is the building with the gondola in front.

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Picture of the Grand Canal from our hotel window.

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Picture taken on the Grand Canal. As you can see the weather was beautiful. Our luck with the weather on this trip has been amazing.

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There was a high tide the following morning and the water flooded many areas of town including San Marco square. The city has these portable walkways they deploy when this happens.

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The monastery across the lagoon from San Marco square.

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Approaching San Marco square from the lagoon.

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A picture of the cathedral at San Marco square.

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The famous clock tower at San Marco square.

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This is one of many lions with wings that became a symbol known the world over when Venice was a powerful city. Venice gained much of it power and influence through facilitating trade between the Eastern and Western worlds in the middle ages. Because Venice had relationships with both sides, it negotiated many agreements and treaties; of course, it also found some benefit for itself in most of the deals.

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This is a beautiful example of mosaic work in gold adorning the entrance to the church of San Marco.

These next six pictures were all taken inside the Doge’s palace in San Marco square. The palace was opulent for its day and was a place where governments would come to negotiate trade agreements with others.
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This is a picture of the ceiling in the grand ballroom of the Doge’s palace. The room is approximately 50 meters long and 25 meters wide. When it was built it was the largest open span ceiling in the world without columns to support it. Many people were afraid to enter believing it would collapse.

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One of the dungeon hallways below the Doge’s palace.

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The grand staircase in the courtyard of the palace where royalty and visiting heads of government would greet the people.

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The very famous Rialto bridge over the Grand Canal.

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Maybe my personal favorite picture we took in Venice.

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This is my funny street scene for Venice. We notice there are a LOT of dogs in Europe and people seem to take them everywhere. This one was apparently dressed for work.

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Like I said before in Venice you either walk or ride in a boat. There are Police boats and this picture is of an Ambulance.

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Ahhh the requisite gondola ride. I would recommend finding one in the back alley canals as opposed to being bounced around up and down the Grand Canal.

Well….that is about it for Venice. We have decided to go North from here to Milan and use that as a base to visit Bologna and maybe Parma.

Until next time….Chow

Posted by Trainwater 22:01 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Dubrovnik Croatia

Gem of the Dalmation coast

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Hello from Dubrovnik Croatia,

Well the trip here has been harrowing to say the least. We had a flight from Budapest to Dubrovnik on Lufthansa with a plane change in Munich. We had 40 minutes to make the connection and when we landed on time we thought…great no problem. Then because of the heightened security measures (they claimed) they routed all landing passengers out of the secure area immediately. This now meant another trip through security and passport control. The Germans are notorious for strict security enforcement and since my electronics bag has EVRYTHING you might need the Germans always require a full teardown. Needless to say we missed our connection and there were no more flights until the next morning so we were stranded in Munich overnight. Oh and by the way….we couldn’t get our bags. So off to the airport Marriott we go where we beg to use the lovely hotel amenities like the toothbrush kit which features artichoke flavored toothpaste and razor and combs. Sigh……. The next morning we were finally on our way to Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik is beautiful walled city that has been very well preserved. This is especially true considering it was under attack including fire bombed by Bosnia and Montenegro in October 1991. Throughout our trips we have learned of the history of many cities with attacks and counter-attacks but to think this occurred here less than 20 years ago gave us a very different feeling. I think this was partially due to many of the current residents we talked to actually experienced the attack. It was odd that I didn’t sense more bitterness toward the countries of Bosnia and Montenegro. I somehow got the sense that people here have many centuries of history of attacking each other and then getting over it or maybe they were just being polite to the tourist….hey it could happen. 

On to the pictures………….

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This picture was our view from the hotel room which was about 5 miles north of the old walled city of Dubrovnik.

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This was one of the fortifications just outside the old walled city

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Here we are in front of the North gate to the city. You can see one of the defensive turrets behind us to protect the city from the Adriatic Sea. While the city was founded by the Romans in the 7th century AD the main wall you see today was erected in the 13th century.

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Here is a picture of the North gate. It actually has a draw bridge and a mote. Very cool!

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Here is a picture of the new cable car. It takes you up to a mountain top just east of the city. The cable car has been open only about a year as the old one was destroyed in the Bosnian attacks of 1991.

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Here is Susan on one of the lookouts on top of the mountain. You can get an idea of the old walled city and the four main towers to protect it as well as the sea port. You may also notice there are no guard rails. We have noticed the rest of the world is not as protective of the population as the USA is. Probably not as many attorneys. 

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A picture of the city roof tops on the decent from the cable car.

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One of the very quaint alley ways that honeycomb the city. Made for very interesting exploring.

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One of the courtyards of an old building that was being used for a photography exhibit.

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One of the several churches that were built within the walls of the city in the 14th century.

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One of my favorite pictures of the harbor just to the South of the city.

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One of the old palaces of the city now a museum.

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Inside the courtyard of the palace

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These boxes were used to carry royalty around both outside and INSIDE the palace. Wow! That’s lazy!

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Another of the beautiful churches inside the city

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An open air market where you could buy just about anything.

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The short domed structure to the left of this picture was the original source of drinking water for the city. People would come here to fill containers for drinking, cooking and other uses. All waste (...and I do mean ALL waste) was just dumped into the street and was flushed away with the next rain. Yikes!

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This is a picture for my friend Phil of a seagull in the air as we were having lunch in Dubrovnik.

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OK this is my (kind of) funny scene for the Dubrovnik blog entry. To be honest this cow statue was actually in the lobby of the Marriott in Munich where we were stranded. We were kind of bummed with the airline about missing the flight and losing a day in Dubrovnik but by this point we had decided to just make the best of it so we made this German cow wear my hat and have his picture taken as retaliation for Lufthansa. 

I guess that is about it for Dubrovnik.

Aside from Prague probably the most beautiful and original old world city we have visited. I would highly recommend it. Next we leave by taxi to Split Croatia which is about a 4 hour trip then a train through the Croatian country side to Zagreb followed by an overnight train to Venice Italy. That will be a long day of traveling but Susan is very excited to see Italy for the first time.

I will catch up with you all as soon as I can.

Zbogom

Posted by Trainwater 06:51 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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