dubrovnik

Adventures on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas – Dalmatian Coast & Coast Greece

At Delphi in 1400 B.C., when goats started tripping down the hill with luminous looks in their eyes, local folks began to wonder what was going on. “Following the goats back up the hill, they saw the goats were inhaling fumes from a crack in the ground,” tour guide Penny said “Crazy goats.”

acropolis-museum

Athens’ relatively new Acropolis Museum house treasures from antiquity. Some archaeological excavations are visible through the glass floors

Crazy folks, too. Because those magical fumes induced hallucinations, Delphi soon became known as a holy place, the center of the ancient world where the god Apollo would speak to his followers through the Pythia, the fume-breathing high priestess who served as an oracle. After touring the Delphi museum, we walked the Sacred Way’ used by ancient Greeks. The steep path snaked up through the sanctuary toward the Temple of Apollo. The monuments are gone, but many of the bases remain.

“Every stone has history slowly being erased by time and nature,” Penny’ said “But we don’t want to cover it up or keep people from seeing it the way it was meant to be seen. Our whole country is an open-air museum.” The oracle of Delphi finally came to an end in the fourth century’ A.D. when a new religion — Christianity — began sweeping away ancient gods like Apollo. The hallucinatory fumes also had disappeared “We think an earthquake probably closed the crack in the earth where inhaling fumes from a crack in the ground,” tour guide Penny said “Crazy goats.”

Crazy folks, too. Because those magical fumes induced hallucinations, Delphi soon became known as a holy place, the center of the ancient world where the god Apollo would speak to his followers through the Pythia, the fume-breathing high priestess who served as an oracle. After touring the Delphi museum, we walked the Sacred Way’ used by ancient Greeks. The steep path snaked up through the sanctuary toward the Temple of Apollo. The monuments are gone, but many of the bases remain.

“Every stone has history slowly being erased by time and nature,” Penny’ said “But we don’t want to cover it up or keep people from seeing it the way it was meant to be seen. Our whole country is an open-air museum.” The oracle of Delphi finally came to an end in the fourth century’ A.D. when a new religion — Christianity — began sweeping away ancient gods like Apollo. The hallucinatory fumes also had disappeared “We think an earthquake probably closed the crack in the earth where the fumes were coming from,” Penny said “We think that was why the oracle was built here and why it lost power when the fumes were gone.”

When our ship docked at Corfu, a Greek islandin the Ionian Sea, we visited the castle of the woman known as the “People’s Princess.”

She lived a century before Princess Diana, but both royal women had tragic lives and deaths. Although she was traveling incognito in Switzerland, Elisabeth — the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary — had been tracked by an assassin. Elisabeth (“Sisi”) was taking precautions because she had a premonition that she would soon die.

Stepping out-side her Geneva hotel, the queen was presented with a bouquet of flowers. Bending over to smell them, Elisabeth didn’t know the assassin had hidden a razor-sharp file in the gift.

“The assassin stabbed her in the chest,” tour guide Lambrini said. “She bled to death on September 10, 1898. There was great mourning and disbelief from people that their Sisi had died.”

The large Neo-classical palace that Sisi built in Corfu has vast gardens lavishly decorated with artwork. The opulent castle is  filled with Sisi’s memorabilia, including her exquisite Catholic chapel. Used in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only, it became a museum in 1994.

At our Albania stop, I took photos of one of the weirdest tilings I have ever seen. Sprouting out of the hillside like poisonous mushrooms are thousands of concrete bunkers. Unbelievably, the story behind them is even stranger. “A crazy dictator built the bunkers,” said Antun, our program director. “He built almost 800,000 bunkers to protect Albania. They were never used and now they are protecting rocks.”

The bunkers, small round blobs with a gun hole, sprouted under the reign of Enver Hoxha, who ruled the Stalinist state from 1944 until his death in 1985. The 1992 election ended the Communist era in Albania, but today the bunkers still mar the landscape and are an inescapable reminder of a man many would rather forget.

Our next fantastic place was Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Skrpjela), a tiny church off the coast of Perast in Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor.

The story goes that two brothers returning from a voyage on July 22, 1452, were surprised to find an icon of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus on a small rock in the middle of the sea. “They believed it was a miracle and said they would build an island with an altar to honor the icon,” said tour guide Diana. “They started bringing stones here and that is how we got this small island.”

It took almost 200 years for the islet known as Our Lady of the Rocks to be built. The only artificially built island in the Adriatic, it was constantly enlarged and reinforced over the centuries by both deposits of stones and scuttled sailing ships.

our-lady-of-the-rocks

Inside Our Lady of the Rocks is a tapestry embroidered for over 25 years by a woman who had patiently awaited the return of her sailor husband

Before taking a shuttle boat to the island, Antun told us to find a small rock to take with us. Once we arrived on the island, he had us ceremoniously stand in a line and throw our stones into the sea. Every July 22 the local people deliver stones to the island at sunset and lay them in the depths in an event called Fasinada.

Inside the church museum is a large tapes-try embroidered over 25 years by a woman waiting for her beloved sailor to return from a long ocean journey. “She used her own hair for some of the thread in the tapestry. You can see her hair slowly change colors over the years from black to white,” guide Diana said. “She finished the tapestry in 1828. But her husband never did return.”

Dubrovnik is a popular spot on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, and there we enjoyed a special feature offered by Grand Circle Cruise Line—a home dinner in the small village of Gromaca (population 140), located 10 miles north of Dubrovnik. As we walked through the peaceful village at dusk, it seemed we were entering a place where time stood still.

hvar-town

Hvar, one of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic

Since our tour bus could go only so far on those old byways, we were met by 16-year- old Ivo, who escorted us to his home, where father Branko introduced the family to us— wife Maria, 9-year-old daughter Loriana and son Ivo. Welcoming us with homemade grappa (wine) and brandy, Branko also offered candied orange peel, dried dates, walnuts and almonds. In the kitchen, Maria finished preparing our meal.

After dinner, Branko entertained with tunes on a lijerica, a stringed, lute-like instrument played with a bow, while Ivo and his mother danced the traditional lindo dance. Before we left, Ivo showed me a bookcase filled with mostly American books and little souvenirs, including a photo of Mount Rushmore. “These were given to us by guests,” he said proudly. “We have more books than a library.” Walking us back to our waiting tour bus, Ivo and Loriana thanked us for visiting their home. But it was we who insisted on thanking them for their hospitality.

Turning back to watch the brother and sister head home, I saw Loriana skipping ahead while Ivo cautioned her to slow down and be careful. Older brothers and little sisters seem to be so much alike no matter where they live in this wide world On the island of Korcula, another stop on the Dalmatian Coast, travelers like to stroll the ancient streets and have their photos taken at the birthplace of that original world traveler — Marco Polo. Only one stone wall remains of the house where many historians believe Marco Polo was born in 1254.

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