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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org You can see the influences of Austro-Hungarians and Ottoman Turks in the designs and workmanship.
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.
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.
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.