Monday, October 25, 2010

Ken and Ivy

After two days and one night on the train and another night in New Orleans, it was so very, very, very good to be back in Houston with Ken and Ivy.

What a beautiful couple they are!


We toured all over downtown Houston, saw enough to make us want a return visit, ate great food, and were thoroughly entertained!

We hope to see you again real soon!

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Day with James and Amanda

Our flight was long but uneventful. We pulled and rolled and carried our bags through Dulles airport, onto the bus, into the metro station, and down the street to College Park Quality Inn, our home in the DC area. It was time to retrieve the dreaded large bag I had stored with them before leaving for Europe.

James and Amanda met us in College Park and helped us rattle and drag the suitcases to the Metro Station, through Union Station and into the Acela Waiting Room. What an introduction to us this must have been for Amanda. She was a great sport about the whole thing and a big help.

After all that, the least we could do was buy them lunch. Off we went to Stanley's favorite Washington DC watering hole and feeding station - Capitol City Brewing Company!

When we asked what they might like to do with the afternoon in Washington DC, they said they would like to go to the National Cathedral.
Graciously, they added that if we would rather not see another church, they could easily make another choice.
Well, what's a person to do when the kids suggest a nice, cultural experience? You certainly can't say, "Sorry! The churches, mosques, synagogues, and pagan temples started blurring on me several days ago."
No, of course you don't say that!
You say, "National Cathedral? Sounds good!"

The cathedral is a very, very special place and if you haven't ever visited, I suggest you move it to the extreme top of your list of places to see in Washington DC.

The architectural detail is amazing!

And the windows are in a class all their own!

Actually, it was a great choice. After all the European exposure, it was good to be reminded of the beauty we have here in our own country.

We left James and Amanda still roaming the cathedral grounds and we headed back to Union Station.
For once, we had a decent departure time, but it was time to head out!

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Good-bye! Szia! Do videnija!Na svidenje! Zbogom!

In less than a month I had been in five countries (England, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Slovenia); I had been exposed to so many languages I lost count; I had consumed vast quantities of great food and wine; I had climbed more stairs than I knew existed in the world; and I had enjoyed the time of my life!

We had come to the last day of this glorious trip! As I looked over the courtyard of our Budapest apartment with its exuberant potted plants, wouldn't you know the sun would come out just enough to light up my picture.
After three days of dreary, it was high time for some light!

The taxi would arrive at 5:00AM the next morning.

Soon I would be back in the US and then home to Mexico.

Oh, the memories! Sweet, sweet memories!

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Great Market Hall

I was prepared to love this place! It had been at the top of my MUST SEE list from the very beginning, but three things went wrong.

First of all, the place was wall-to-wall people. I know the pictures don't show the crowds, but believe me! they were there.

Second, I had seen the Ljubljana Market just a few days before and was blown away.

Third, I was starving and there was no way we could fight our way through the crowds upstairs to get a crack at the food stalls.

On a brighter note, I must say that just across the street was a great little restaurant with comfortable chairs, fantastic goulash, and mulled wine.

We went back to the apartment with full tummies. It was time to pack.

Would you believe?

We had booked an early departure for the following morning!

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Great Synagogue of Budapest

My visit to the Great Synagogue of Budapest was a first for me. Architecturally, it is stunning. Designed by Viennese Ludwig Forster (possible a distant relative of mine?!?!), this synagogue is second in size only to the synagogue in New York City. The exterior is Moorish/Byzantine with onion-domed towers; the design is finished with Gothic flourishes. The interior is surprisingly like a Christian church with pulpits, pews, candelabra, and stained glass.

As with all Holocaust stories, the one of Budapest is a sad one. However, this one has an especially tragic twist. As World War II drew closer, Hungary was pulled into the Fascist Italy/Nazi Germany axis. Although Hungarians hoped to avoid direct involvement, the country's participation was inevitable. While involved in the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hungary was also engaged in secret peace negotiations with the Untied States and the United Kingdom. Hitler discovered the betrayal and in 1944, German forces invaded Hungary.
It was then, in the very last days of the war, that more than 450,000 Hungarian Jews were killed. Most were sent to concentration camps, but many were killed and dumped into mass graves including the Danube River.

We visited the Jewish museum, attached to the synagogue. It was impressive, touching, and beautifully presented.

At the Top

Even though the day was dreary, rainy, gray, and not the least bit tourist friendly, we were determined to see everything on our MUST SEE list. We made our way to the river, across the famous Chain Bridge to the Castle Hill Funicular, which leads to the Buda Castle.
What a treat!
Can you imagine what I might have been able to see had the sky been just a bit clearer?

The Royal Palace, Buda Castle, houses the National Art Gallery. We found it interesting, but we got caught up, as so often happens with us, in the Medieval dark flat paintings and did not allow ourselves enough time for some of the brighter more modern art. There were guards everywhere. They seemed to appear from nowhere. Their purpose? To make sure everyone obeyed the no photography law. I risked life and limb for the photo of St. George. I absolutely could not resist - especially in light of the Dragon Bridge I had just seen in Ljubljana.

The picture on the bottom left was taken from the castle dome. (Yes! There were lots of stairs!) The photo on the bottom right is of the castle courtyard.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010


Franz Liszt has always been one of my favorite composers. and he has almost achieved sainthood in Budapest.
There are statutes and commemorations all over town in his honor.
I loved this one in Liszt Square, the one above the door of the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy and the one which sits in a niche on the front of the Opera House.

Read all about Franz at

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Ljubljana Places

Ljubljana, like so many other places in this part of the world, has had its troubles with earthquakes. In 1895, it was almost completely destroyed, but like other cities, it used that as a starting point for a complete remodel.
Believing with all my heart that I will return with time for a much more comprehensive investigation, I will leave you with the photos I took as we flew through the city on a very abbreviated tour.

The market, shown from the river side in the photo above (bottom left) and in the photos below was wonderful. In fact, it gets first prize in the Large City Market category. The flowers were one tiny, tiny, tiny piece of the market. The only reason there are no photos of the other 99.9% of the market is that I was totally overwhelmed.

The dragon and Jason (you know, the Jason of Argonauts and the Golden Fleece), and St. George, the Dragon Slayer are significant symbols of the city. These are two of the monsters that guard each end of Dragon Bridge.

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Ljubljana People

We seem to have a knack for leaving town before daylight and this exit was no different in that regard.
However, I left Rovinj believing I would return.
We rattled and banged the suitcases down the road to the bus station expecting a bus. When it arrived, it was a 8 passenger van. This would be about the 29th time I had been grateful that we left the big suitcase in Washington DC.
Off we went!
North to Slovenia!

We met the young lady on the left on the bus traveling from Rovinj to Ljubljana. She is Australian, living in Switzerland. She had been traveling all over Eastern Europe and was on her way home. She was anxious to catch the next train north and we wanted to see as much of Ljubljana as we could before dark so our visit with her was cut short. She had seen so much on her trip; I could have listened to her for hours! I hope she stays in touch!

The gentleman on the right is roasting chestnuts - something I don't remember ever seeing before. They smelled delicious, but they weren't ready to sell. I'll have to taste them another time.

The gentleman on the left is France Preseren, Slovenia's greatest poet and an important catalyst of 19th century Slovenian nationalism. The lady floating over his head is supposedly his Muse. She caused quite a stir when the statue was first installed. The bishop did not approve of a naked woman right in front of his church. Even though she is depicted with all the Muse trappings - the laurel branch and a cloak - she was draped with a tarp every night for the first few years. Just so no one would be confused.The poor model is said to have been so embarrassed by the whole thing she emigrated to South America leaving no forwarding address.

The lady on the right is Julija, the unrequited love of Preseren's life. He was more than 25 years older than Julija, and they never got together. She married well and never looked back. However, she stares longingly (or is that just my imagination?) at Preseren all day every day from across the square.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our Rovinj Home for Next October

The best part of this apartment is its twin downstairs. Just right for company! Mark you calendars now. We plan to be in Rovinj next October from 1-31.
We would love to share the Rovinj experience!
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Rovinj market

I will also withhold enthusiastic superlatives about the green market or the fish market, but they are wonderful!
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Around Rovinj

Take a look at the pictures and you will know why we fell in love with this little town. I'm not going to go on and on about the seaside beauty, the Venice appearance, the strong Italian influence, the fantastic little outdoor cafes, the interesting landmarks, or the coffee (no adjectives needed). If all goes well, we will return next year and I'll have lots of opportunities to tell you about the wonders of Rovinj.

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Church of St. Euphemia

Do you remember the story about Euphemia, the young Christian girl who was arrested by Diocletian for not worshiping the local pagan idol?

Well, there is more to the story.

She was brutally tortured. Her bones were broken on a wheel. Then she was thrown to the lions. The lions only nipped her gently on the arm, refusing to attack her.
We aren't told how the Romans finally murdered her, but murder her they did. Her remains were later rescued by her fellow Christians and placed in a gigantic marble sarcophagus.

In the year 800, this sarcophagus made its way to the Adriatic and floated all the way to Istria.
Fisherman from Rovinj found it and towed it to town.
The townspeople decided it should be in the hilltop church, but how were they to get it there???? Nobody could move it.
Enter stage right - a young boy with two calves.
He said he had had a dream showing him how he should move the sarcophagus with his calves - and so it was done.

Today the sarcophagus still lies in a small chapel to the right of the main alter. Her image adorns both a side alter in the church and the weather vane atop the church - an important local landmark in this fishing village. In both images, she is shown with her wheel. As you might suspect, she has become the venerated patron saint of the town.

Aside from the wonderful Euphemia story, the church is outfitted with some lovely, noteworthy Carrara marble sculpture.

The view from the church is unsurpassed!
(Sorry no photo available at this time.)
I'm told the view from the bell tower is even better!

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ocean voyage

Day One in Rovinj: Stanley decided we needed to be on the water. Since there had been no one to greet us at the bus station the night before, I was surprised to find so many tourist venues still open for business.

So, here we are. The boat. The map. The passengers. And Rovinj slowly disappearing.

Actually, there wasn't much to see on this particular voyage. A few uninhabited islands, a fairly unimpressive light house and a disgruntled lady passenger who just couldn't seem to get enough attention from her significant other. Not very exciting until . . . . .

. . . . . the dolphins showed up!

What a show they gave! Jumping, splashing, playing! They gave up all efforts to find food just to provide us with a little entertainment!
They made the trip!

Interestingly, I was much more impressed with everything on the way back.
And I was hungry! Ready for lunch!

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Approaching Rovinj

Again, we rattled our suitcase down the road as day was breaking over the mountains - this time to the Split train station. We were headed north to Ogulin where we would find a connecting train to Rijeka.

Ogulin was the first surprise. We had expected a bustling community in place of the quiet little village which seemed to consist of little more than the train station and a tiny grocery store. No matter. It was big enough to sell bread, cheese, and wine. Due to good prior planning, we had napkins, wineglasses and olives with us. It was the best lunch I've ever had by the side of the rail tracks.

Rijeka was the second surprise. Obviously the city didn't pay the guide book companies enough because all we had read was how perfectly awful Rijeka was. By contrast, we wished for more time to explore. It may lack the touristy little nooks and crannies, but it appeared to be a charming, busy city.

The third surprise of the day was the transportation schedule. We had been led to believe that transportation from Rijeka to Rovinj was intermittent at best and unavailable at worst.
Not so!
We were on the bus to Rovinj within an hour of our arrival in Rijeka. Of course, that left no time to make a reservation in Rovinj, but it hadn't been a problem before. No need to think it would be an issue now.

The next surprise was the Ucka Tunnel. Completely open now, it has made a huge difference in Istrian travel. We were in Rovinj three hours later but it was already cold and dark. After a long day of trains and buses, we were ready for the group that had appeared at every tourist town on our agenda, hawking rooms and apartments.

Imagine my next surprise! No one met the bus! It seemed we were the only tourist passengers. Everyone else was local and they disappeared before we realized what was going on, or more like what was not going on.

Totally disoriented, we managed to find our way out of the bus station.

We walked the entire 10 block length of the town and we met only two guys neither of whom could speak English. We finally spotted an outdoor cafe at the end of the street that was just closing down. Several young men stood around sporting black leather jackets, smoking cigarettes and looking like they had just stepped off the set of the Sopranos. I hated for them to know how desperate I was, but I thought that might get me more help than my stern teacher "don't give me any shit" look.
Luck was with me.At least three of the group spoke excellent English. They listened compassionately to my story and gently chastised me for not understanding how quiet the place is after the first of October. Then they got on their cell phones. After several aborted efforts, a room was found, the price fixed, and the landlord promised to come to the cafe and take us to the apartment.

With steaming cups of the world's best coffee to help thaw us out, we were ready to make conversation while we waited. These were Albanian men who had immigrated to Croatia 15 yeas ago with their families. Now, with families of their own, they maintained homes in both Croatia and Macedonia, splitting the year between the two places.

I have come to think of this experience as my brush with the Albanian Mafia and they were a delight. We went back to the cafe several times and the coffee is still the world's best. Each time we encountered one of them on the street (easy enough in a town this small) they wanted to know if everything was OK, if we needed anything, if we had any problems. Good friends to have, I think!
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Palace of Diocletian - Split

There is nothing like a visit to a pagan palace to counteract the effects of an intense, albeit brief experience in Medugorje. Our bus took us out of Bosnia-Herzegovina, into Croatia, and down a winding coastal road back to Split.

We had planned only an overnight stay in Split the first time, thinking the town would have little to offer us.
However, we knew of at least one site we wanted to visit before moving on: Diocletian's Palace.

For an accurate description, much better pictures, and more historical detail, I suggest you start at
and work your way up from there.

Here's my take:
That is Diocletian (245-313) in the middle of the collage.
He grew up in a town close to Split, and after 20 years as Roman emperor, an unusually long reign, he decided as many of us do that he needed a little retirement nest. Remembering the beauty of Split, he decided that would be just the place. After only eleven years and the death of over 2000 slaves, the little place was move-in ready.
Over 36,000 square feet!
Thinking he was a recreation of the god Jupiter, he was no slouch in the ego department. He had impeccable architectural and artistic taste. The surviving examples of architectural detail are stunning. The substructure, or basement, of the palace is an architectural wonder.

After the death of Diocletian, the palace was abandoned and fell into disrepair.

During the 7th century, locals looking for protection, moved in, filling the basement with garbage. As disrespectful as this might have been, it has provided archeologists with a wealth of material.

Then the Venetians took over. They remodeled extensively.

The church did a bit of re-purposing, too. They rearranged the mausoleum, threw out the emperor's bones and brought in the remains of some martyred saints, added a huge bell tower and created a cathedral - the smallest space to be used for this purpose in the world. Of course the emperor had created a temple to Jupiter within the walls and again the church rearranged the interior to create a baptistery.

The palace is under going continuous renovation work so there were parts we didn't get to see, but it was worth the return trip.

Aside from his glory days as emperor and his self-created role as Jupiter, he left a couple of other legacies.
1. This is the emperor who decided the Roman Empire was too big and wide-spread to be ruled by just one person. He divided it among four emperors - more efficient, but some say this decision played a vital part in the downfall of Rome.
2. The man hated Christians. He killed, tortured, and generally made life miserable for the struggling Christians under his control. So much so that upon his death, the Christians were overjoyed.
One of his targets was Euphemia, the virtuous daughter of a prosperous early fourth-century family near Istanbul. Euphemia used her family's wealth to help the poor. When she was 15 years old, she was arrested for refusing to worship the local pagan idol.This will be important information when you read about Rovinj later.

Personal Reflections on Medugorje

Rain, shine, war, peace, winter, summer . . . they come! Weeping, on their knees, they come believing Medugorje Mary is within hearing of their requests, within sight of their contrition.
In the midst of all this faith, it matters little what I might think.

There is reason to believe that the young people who reported seeing the vision fabricated the whole story and left themselves no clear exit when their report flew out of their control.
The local bishop, who should have been thrilled with such a sighting, refused to believe the reports. There are always at least two sides to every story and he must have had his reasons.

Here's what I know:

Whether Mary appeared or not, the real miracle is the remarkable change in the town itself.
We arrived in town a little after nine on a chilly, very breezy Sunday morning. You wouldn't expect too many people at any tourist site no matter how holy on such a morning, but as I made my rounds of the various venues, the people began pouring out of their hotels, all bundled up and off in search of a special blessing.

A complete economy has developed based on Medugorje Mary.
Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, tour guides, real estate companies, and transportation options line the streets. One bus company, the Paddy Tours, offers package deals for pilgrims coming from Ireland. They call themselves Medugorje Specialists. This economy is quite simple: Six people say they saw the Virgin. Without that sighting, the economy of the town plummets.

The picture at the top of the page was not staged. We found the Medugorje Mary plastic bag full of trash and the boxes from China on the sidewalk. They are indications of the crass commercial side of the vision. Not photographed, but well remembered are the bottles of Medugorje Mary wine I saw for sale in the restaurant.

No one is in a hurry to examine the vision too closely. Certainly not the townspeople who have seen their community flourish.

The national government has no objection to having hundreds of thousands visit this isolated mountain village every year- a village which would be otherwise lost in obscurity.

The church in Rome has never given the sighting its blessing, but in the midst of a resurgence of faith among the locals, it wouldn't be very good religious politics to take a totally dismissive view

I thought about all this over breakfast - 10 euros. I lit a candle - 1 euro. I said a prayer for the brother who had suggested we make this pilgrimage and for his wife, Jill - priceless.

What do you think? Check Medugorje Mary on the web.

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This was to be a long day of travel. At six o'clock we left our Mostar apartment in the dark, dragging our suitcases which were as often as not caught in a pot hole.
When we arrived at the bus station, buses were already streaming in, unloading passengers, sorting luggage. It was more activity than I had seen at this early hour any where on our trip. All these buses were coming from Medugorje and almost every passenger had a bag of oranges. I never did understand about the oranges, but a little investigation solved the mystery of the early arrival. The Medugorje pilgrims were meeting an early train to Sarajevo and then to wherever home might be.

In a conversation with my brother about our upcoming trip, he asked if we planned to visit Medugorje. I confessed that I had no idea what he was talking about. Perhaps you don't either.
Here's the story: On June 24, 1981 two girls saw a vision of the Virgin Mary on the mountainside. They took some friends with them the next night and they saw her again. In all, six people have reported seeing Medugorje Mary, some of them repeatedly.

Over 30 million people have made the pilgrimage to Medugorje in the years since 1981. Although the Catholic Church has never "certified" the sightings, the true believers are not to be deterred. St. James' church, the existing unremarkable modern church of Medugorje, was simply not large enough to accommodate all those visitors. The answer was to create a huge outdoor auditorium that grows in size every year as the number of pilgrims increases.

In addition to the mountainside site which believers can visit, the outdoor facilities include a beautiful, larger than life Stations of the Cross, a lovely, secluded grove for meditation and prayer, and a giant statue of the Resurrected Savior. It would have taken hours to get close enough to the statue for a good picture with my small camera, but if you look closely at the small picture on the right, you will see a woman wiping the back of Christ's knee. The stone in that particular spot is always wet. Believers bring cloths to soak up the moisture to take home as spiritual souvenirs.
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Sunday, October 10, 2010


The pictures at the top represent Dubrovnik.
The pictures at the bottom represent Mostar.

Let's look at the Dubrovnik map first. Each black dot indicates a direct hit by enemy fire. Red squares indicate a building completely destroyed.
30,000 residents were forced to abandon their homes.
Over 300 citizens were killed. Countless others were wounded.
Tourism dead!

At the bottom left, is a picture which clearly shows what enemy fire looks like on a street in Mostar almost two decades later.
Tens of thousands fled the city. Who knows the number of dead and wounded?
The cost? Over 12 million euros just to replace the famous Stari Most bridge.
Virtually every major building in the city was either destroyed or sustained significant damage.
Tourism: dead!

And what changed as a result of all this devastation?
Muslims and Christians are still living side by side, worshiping as they always have (the war was decidedly ineffective in converting anyone), doing business on the same street.
Nothing changed except that thousands are still displaced.
And beautiful buildings and bridges have been reduced to piles of rubble.
And the death of far too many!

Going back to the pictures at the top of this page, the photos on the right represent the long, difficult road of both cities to repair the damage.

The pictures below speak for themselves.


Imagine there's no Heaven - It's easy if you try.
And no hell below us - Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there's no country - It isn't hard to do.

Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger or Brotherhood of Man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
Maybe someday you will join us and the world will be as one.

John Lennon