If it’s Tuesday, it must be … Where are we, now?

Finally, home to North Carolina and then back to Mexico in two weeks. If you follow me on Facebook you know I’ve been traveling in Eastern Europe. This was a tour offered by one of the largest operators in the world. Their buses and ships zigzag the continents and oceans.

See below for a few treasures I am offering for sale from the trip.

Last stop, Venice, Italy — Adriatic power for centuries

In eleven days, we traveled from Tirana, Albania, to the Dinaric Alps and coast of Montenegro, to historic Adriatic fortified towns occupied by Greeks, then Romans, then Venetians, then Ottomans, then Austro-Hungarians, then Italians and Germans. After WWI, they became part of what we knew as Yugoslavia. The break-up happened after the death of Tito and in the aftermath of the Serbia-Croatian War of 1991. These are new republics.

We started in Tirana, Albania and ended in Venice, Italy

This is a land of the conquered and conquerors. We entered Kotor, Montenegro, for a one hour-fifteen minute lunch stop, climbed through winding mountain passes to visit crystal clear glaciated lakes and limestone caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, came to Split for a one-and-a-half hour walkabout. A full day in Dubrovnik was pure luxury. We slipped through Bosnia’s sliver of an access to the Adriatic, before entering Slovenia, part of the European Union. We used Lek, Kuna and Euros along the way.

Beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia — now a shopping mall with cruise ships

I went out of curiosity, to be a roommate to my friend, and because the cost was low enough to justify the impulse. Will I do it this way again? Not likely.

Vintage shepherdess bag, tapestry weave, found in Kotor, Montenegro — similar to Oaxaca

We all wear name tags and use headsets, move in lock-step according to the schedule. Most mornings, this 43-person group was on the road by 7:30 a.m. (sometimes earlier) to cover miles of territory, luggage packed and loaded, breakfast inhaled. Many of my photos were taken from the bus window. There was no interaction with native people other than shopkeepers we met along the way. Local tour guides provided interpretive historical and cultural commentary during the one- to two-hour city walking tours.

Becoming rare: Mediterranean coral 8mm bead necklace with secure sterling clasp, 20″ long, 57 beads, very good quality, $585 + $15 mailing with insurance. norma.schafer@icloud.com

I learned that there are villages in Slovenia where needle lace is still being made. In towns where we stopped, during free time, I tried to seek out antique dealers who were selling vintage textiles and jewelry. The selection was sparse. Eventually, I succumbed to the rhythm of the group, took a deep breath, and went along for the ride.

On the bus, somewhere along the Adriatic Coast of Eastern Europe
For Sale: Handmade, sterling silver filigree earrings, traditional Adriatic Coast style

Note: From Left to Right, #1, #2 and #3. These three pairs of sterling silver earrings are hand-crafted. The first pair #1 is new with delicate, intricate filigree. Price is $175. #2 is vintage and I bought these earrings in the seaside town of Makarska from a silversmith whose family has been in the business for generations. Price is $165. #3 is a vintage pair of large sterling filigree earrings from Kosovo that I bought in Opatija, Slovenia. Price is $395. Mailing for any pair is $12 USD. Send me an email if you are interested. norma.schafer@icloud.com You can see the influences of Austro-Hungarians and Ottoman Turks in the designs and workmanship.

The coast is known for extraordinary seafood. Here, grilled shrimp and risotto.
For sale, Bracelet #1 — Top: Vintage sterling silver filigree, 6-1/2″.
I can add links to make bigger. $185 plus $9 mailing.
For Sale, Bracelet #2 — Bottom: Vintage sterling silver filigree, 8″ and $85 USD plus $9 mailing.

What I validated was an important lesson in how I put together experiences for travelers who choose Oaxaca Cultural Navigator excursions: it is more valuable to go deep than wide. It is essential to meet local people to learn about and understand life, culture, values, challenges and opportunities. A middleman interpreting social and political issues isn’t enough. To really be in a country, one must go to where people live and work, take meals with them, share who we are with each other. For me, a small group is defined as ten to fifteen travelers.

Old tapestries transformed into restaurant chair pillows
Adriatic coast at sunset, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Yes, people want to see the world. Most want to see the world for less money, to go to as many countries as possible, to get the Passport stamped. Do do so, one must join the crowds. I heard from fellow travelers that they go on river cruises with 125 people, which they consider a small group. The mega-cruise ships that hold thousands docked in Dubrovnik and Venice, spit out day-trippers who overrun these once beautiful cultural sites. Perhaps they buy a double-scoop of gelato and then re-board the ship for the endless buffet. Imagine these cities now as shopping malls with all the international brands paying high rents, pushing out local artisans and residents — a topic we never discussed.

Handwoven silk sash from King Nikolas Museum, Montenegro

Still rough around the edges, coming out of Communism with heart and hopefulness, Albania and Montenegro are undiscovered jewels and most promising. Worth a trip back to explore the Ionian coast that borders Greece, worth a trip back for the delicious dark and crusty bread and seafood, worth a trip back to go deeper. We shall see.

Contemporary Albania rug weaving, market quality
Vintage rug, museum quality, with natural dyes
Vintage Albanian waist belt, tapestry with rolled fringes

10 responses to “If it’s Tuesday, it must be … Where are we, now?

  1. Hi Norma…..now you know about traveling with large groups…no quality of quaintness. Your tours are personalized…get to know
    your neighbor and interact with the locals. Keep up your good

    Regards, Susanne

  2. Dear Norma,
    I appreciate your thinking and writing and your generosity in sharing with your readers. I think that you and others will enjoy the ideas expressed at this link from Farnam Street:
    Marlene (from Calgary and Huatulco)

    • Dear Marlene, big thanks for sharing this link. I read the article and I will add it to my hand-outs for our travelers to access. The conversation is important: Are we observers or participants in life? How do we stay open to serendipitous experiences? What are we afraid of that would prevent us from going off the beaten path or taking a side street that is not on the itinerary? How could we use our fear to open new opportunities for meeting local people? How do we stay open to understanding that not everyone does “it” the same way, nor do they want to? Doing “it” “our way” is not necessarily better, and more often is not, because it has no application to other histories and societies.

      I’m reminded of my boat trip to Murano, the Venetian glass-blowing/making village, a couple of days ago. I did not find what I was looking for at one of the more well-known art glass studios. I took a left turn off the main walking street into the back corners of the island to find a local woman selling vintage pieces in an out-of-the-way hole-in-the-wall. She had collected old art glass and beads and was offering them for sale at ridiculously low prices. She also has a sister and brother-in-law living in Blacksburg, Virginia, not too far from where I live in North Carolina. I loved meeting her and this interaction was special and memorable. Thankfully, I was by myself, free to wander. Of course, I bought a couple of pieces, too, but what I’ll remember is her face, her smile and her warmth. This is a reason I want to go back.

      Big hugs to you, Marlene.

  3. Norma,
    Welcome back from an interesting journey. I have only taken one large group tour and it was over 16 years ago. It confirmed for me that I too would rather go deep than try and see everything.
    I always wanted to see the Dalmatian coast but I am allergic to cruise ship crowds. I hate the way they belch out their thousands of clients and fundamentally change the feel of village or town. Those clients rarely spend much money on the local economy, they save their appetites for the buffet on the ship. The seas are also becoming so damaged by their sewage and footprint. It makes me so sad to be sitting enjoying the view on a beautiful bay and watch the horizon disappear as these monstrosities anchor. Ugh
    I appreciate the way you gently, quietly connect people on your tours. Your respect for the dignity of the artisans you visit is something every tour and every guide should aspire to.

    • Jenny, I am always touched by the wisdom of your comments and the way you so eloquently express the feelings that many of us share. Thank you for this and for your generous appreciation for what I try to do. Life has a way of teaching us how to be with each other and in the world. Some of us pay attention to the messages. Others are immune. I don’t know how to make a difference in how we treat our environment or each other, other than taking one small, intentional step at a time. Thank you always for traveling with me — through our words and our actions. Norma

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I enjoyed your posts on the trip with wonderful photos, but I was hoping to eventually read your thoughts on the style of tour itself. This post was it!

    • My experience on this tour was mixed: there were many wonderful people, thoroughly enjoyable and easy to be with. One traveler was 87 years old and filled with energy and joy. She is an inspiration. Others, my age, had health issues and difficulty walking. So, going on a larger group tour ensured that they were taken care of. Many had traveled with this company repeatedly, so they got extra attention. The walking and hiking was strenuous, when we were out of the bus, but 20-30% hung back and didn’t go the distance. For them, this is the only way to “sight see” which is such a different experience than what I offer. It is more of a white wash rather than a deep dive. I wonder how it will be for me as I age and realize that I may not be able to keep up or continue to do what I do. I may also alter the types of tours I offer to reduce or eliminate the walking, so that we can still explore the villages will taking care of our own limitations. Something to think about: Senior Travel! It still repels me to see these mega-floating hotels at these ports of call, with people crawling and jamming into each other, having little interest in learning about the history or culture. So, my judging is coming out and I need to be mindful of that. Many unexplored places to discover, still, but it takes effort to find them and get there.

      Our guide was political, a Slovenian (a new republic, only 25 years old), and gave insight into the tumultuous politics of the region going back to Greek and Roman times. This was important and enjoyable for me. For many, it was an annoyance. They wanted commentary about the scenery!

      As always, thank you Jill, for adding your thoughts.

  5. One wonders about the carbon footprints of all those ships and buses. I prefer your style of tours.

    • Thanks for this comment, Claudia. Yes, these large and larger groups have a huge impact on the integrity of antiquity, with a big impact on infrastructure and degradation of the environment. The travelers themselves do not seem to have that self-awareness — only focused on their own enjoyment and cost of the experience (low). Insight does not seem to be a common thread. of course, to get to these places also means taking long-haul flights — also with environmental impact — even if we travel responsibly. Difficult dilemmas, difficult times. This tour was instructive to me — and as we get older, we will never be able to see and do everything. It’s all a matter of choice.

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