Venice – Seconda parte (Part 2) Murano, Burano, Santaelena

Gratitude in the background – Santaelene Marina Venice

“Venice”. Few cities conjure more many images both from popular art/culture as well as it’s storied past. If you read my last blog, you know that I was more than a little disillusioned with my perception of Venice and the reality that greeted us. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend that you start there as this is one of the few places that truly has 2 sides to its coin and to miss one is to not appreciate the whole.

Quintessential Venice – Doges Palace in the background

Jack hears my regular mantra “where you place your attention expands,” weekly. Which is to say, if you wish to be happy, stop looking at the things that annoy you. No place was this more helpful than in Venice. In fact, I can think of no world in which focusing on the positive is more important than in travel in general and specifically, in living on a boat subject to the vagaries of weather, culture, government bureaucracy, and the list goes on. In our last post I pointed out some of the irritating bits of Venice – but those things aside, Venice is spectacular for so many reasons – those are where we will place our attention.

Kelly arrived during our second week in this city and having flown all night and across 5000 miles, we felt the very least we could do was collect her in a water taxi. Prepared to stand, sign in hand with her name on it, Jack arrived ready to wait patiently for his aunt, but Kelly beat us to the punch, and she walked through the doors literally moments before we did. We whisked her off to the awaiting chariot and enjoyed the stunning views as we traveled from the airport, through Murano to Venice.

Once on board, Kelly brought out presents from Christmas’ past and future and we shared presents we have been saving for her. Huge highlights of these first moments on board include the yummy reese’s cups Kelly brought me- which I haven’t been able to buy since we arrived in Europe, and Nerds candy which Jack has been missing. But mostly it was just pure joy at having reconnected physically with a loved one we have been apart from for so long. This visit was made even more special by the sacrifice we know Kelly made to be here. A schoolteacher, she usually has the summers off to recover from a VERY demanding job. But this summer she opted to teach summer school to children who were falling behind due to the distant learning Covid situation. As a result, she only had a very shortened break from school/work and this she shared with us. Now serious travelers might be tempted to think it was she who got the better end of the deal, but Kelly isn’t a solo traveler – she had to go WAY outside of her comfort zone to be with us. And for this, we are, and will remain, incredibly grateful. Thank You Kelly so much for sharing this special time with us. We love you.

Kelly day 1 at sunset

So, we arrived from the airport via water taxi to where Gratitude was berthed, on the far Eastern side of Venice at the Santaelena Marina. A lovely place to stay and the only marina from which to walk to Venice, Santaelena is still a longish hike to the main center – 20-30 minutes in each direction. But it wasn’t long before we discovered the best part of Santaelena may well have been the gentrified neighborhood called the Castello, the only Sestieri (district), of the 6 in Venice, where we felt like a community existed. Enjoying an authentic Italian meal in one of the many restaurants which lined the Via Garibaldi in Castello made us feel at once as though we had found the missing gem of what was once Venice. Waiters waved at friends passing by. Shop owners sold items a homeowner might need, not trinkets a tourist might bring the cat sitter at home. One can stroll and feel a part of an authentic neighborhood on the wide road, rather than get jostled in a throng of foreign visitors- (yes, I know – we are foreigners).

Just a bit further East from the Via Garibaldi lies the beautiful Giardini – a lovely park full of trees and the sound of cicadas the only sound for miles. Kids can run or play on the structures and there are plenty of benches to share a lunch or drink purchased from a nearby deli or perhaps stop at one of the 2 cafés in the area for an Aperitivo in the afternoon.

lighting a candle in St. Marks Basilica

If the St. Marks Basilica left me in search of that spiritual connection I usually enjoy when walking into a holy place, the Chiesa di Sant’Elena filled the gap. Passing this gothic church each time we walked out of the marina gates, and reminded of its presence as the bells tolled daily from the tower, this church holds the remains from the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Saint Elena was credited with giving Christians the freedom of worship and she is further credited with finding the cross and nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus. Originally buried in Rome, then transferred to Constantinople (now Istanbul), she was brought to Venice in 1211 according to Venetoinside.com.

Piazza San Marco – side entrance to St. Marks on the left of photo

But the most famous sestiere in Venice is the locale of Piazza San Marco. Anchored at one end by the basilica and the Museo Correr on the Western side, along the entire square are shops and the piazza is full to brimming most hours of the day. Lovely cafes and restaurants serve cappuccino and pizza to the more indiscriminate tourists (often in need of a restroom). But for my taste, walk another 20 or so minutes to the other side of the Rialto bridge, or North to one of the charming neighborhoods to find a more authentic and relaxed meal or coffee. If it is a restroom you need, look closely for the signs which will direct you to a public space where for the cost of 1 Euro you can use a reasonably clean facility. No description of the Piazza would be complete without an honorable mention of the Campanille and the clocktower – both of which any visitor can’t help but see.

Formerly the capital of the Republic of Venice from 697 – 1797, Venice was a major powerhouse of trade and commerce – particularly spices, silks, and art during the renaissance period. The history of Venice is fascinating and too complicated to get into here but the most beautiful palace I have ever seen must be the Doge’s palace, the former residence of the Doge (technically duke) of Venice. The first Doge was elected in 697 and it is important to note, this elected office, though initially powerful, became more shared with other elected officials. There was one attempt of a Doge attempting to take over and he was summarily executed, and his portrait remains covered inside the palace where all the Doges portraits are hanged according to our tour guide, and according to Wikipedia, the doge had a very low salary.

Kelly remarked on several occasions “the Basilica looks larger than life from the outside, though once inside, it appears quite small”. We enjoyed a tour of the Doge’s Palace and learned that St. Marks Basilica was the private chapel of the Doge. One can’t help but marvel at the intensely ornate Italo-Byzantine architecture, though gothic details are throughout. Over 100 years of construction, the Basilica was completed in 1092, though it has only been the city’s cathedral (the seat of the bishop) since 1807. Since its inception it has been known as the Chiesa d’Oro (church of gold) due to the extensive gold mosaics and ornamentation. Walking through the plaza, and passing the cathedral on countless trips through the city in the month-long visit, we never saw the basilica the same way. Each time we passed, there was some new detail we missed on earlier visits, some new prospective or viewpoint. The way the sun cast shadows just right at certain times of the day, or the presence of or more accurately, absence of, hundreds if not thousands of other visitors. If you come to Venice, try to see it very early in the morning while the city still sleeps.

Since we left Florida in 2019, we have been to countless (seriously, I can’t count the number) of churches and holy sites in dozens of countries. Reared Catholic and currently members of the Episcopal church, we enjoy entering churches and spending a few moments in quiet silence, either in prayer or just peaceful meditation. We frequently light candles, and we ask Jack to just say a few words of greeting and hello to God. I am always able to feel… something. I can’t qualify or quantify it, but I feel some spiritual presence. There are times when I enter, and I feel goosebumps and even once I entered and felt emotional – not unlike the time in the National Gallery in London when I felt overwhelmingly emotional looking at a Monet painting. I have no idea why, but waiting for the “feeling” to arrive in the St. Marks Basilica -and it may be entirely just me and the crushing crowd -but at no time during the entire visit did I get the slightest spiritual tingling. Now, the chapel is nothing if not stunning. Ornate statues abound, mosaics cover the floors, gold is literally everywhere one looks. There are places to light candles and chairs to pray. There was even a confessional where priests would hear confession, but I felt the same as if I was visiting any other tourist site.

About a mile North of Venice and another series of linked islands is Murano. Settled by the Romans in the 6th century and once a prosperous fishing port, Murano is best known for the artisans who blow glass. Forced out of Venice due to the dangers from the ovens, all the glass producers were required to move here in 1291. According to Wikipedia, some of the most important brands of glass in the world are the Venini, Mandruzzato and, others. We visited the Venini shop and enjoyed watching them work their magic and even brought some home. Be careful if you visit Venice to ensure that you are purchasing authentic Murano glass.

Visitors to Murano mustn’t miss the nearby island of Burano. A complement to the industry of fishing and glass blowing, Burano is best known for the beautiful lace crafted in an island charmingly decorated with various brightly colored shops and houses. I’m not sure if Kelly didn’t inquire about it from the Venini shop if we would have found it on or own, but the Venini shop graciously offered to deliver us to Burano with their company “car” (water taxi).

The legend states that a fishman, leaving behind his lover, gifted her with a lovely design made from seaweed for her to remember him while he was fishing. As the seaweed began to dry, the women, desperate to preserve it, began to weave the pattern with needle and thread on a cushion. Removing the cushion once the pattern is complete, reveals the stunning needlework left behind. Several hundred years later these shops exist selling handmade and very high-end lace products – and everything from clothes to tablecloths.

The lovely shops aside, this island comprised of 5 islands, is one of the most charming in my opinion. An artist’s heaven for all the flower boxes and brightly colored buildings, it is just a wonderful way to spend the day, walking and strolling around this town.

Every street a delightful surprise of color and details

Even though I am approaching my personal maximum 2000 words per post, there is still much to write about on Kelly’s week in Venice so stay tuned for a 3rd installment of Venice coming soon.

Good-Bye Croatia – Hello Venice!!

Rovinj, Croatia

Good-Bye Croatia – Hello Venice!!

Continuing our cruise North, the final stop on our Croatian itinerary is Rovinj. A charming little fishing village on the Istrian peninsula, this was the best place to land for our final stop in Croatia.

Situated in a nearly straight-line distance from Venice across the Adriatic, the two cities couldn’t be more different. Once Venetian, the only evidence of Rovinj’s past are the infamous stone lions carved on the façade of buildings and the Italian being spoken by the locals. In fact, Italian and Croatian are both official languages. As with all the stops on our summer cruise, English is widely spoken by even the most modest shop keeper.

Still a fishing village, tourism dollars seem to be pushing out the fishermen, as evidenced by the strictly 5-star hotel accommodations and the higher end shops selling ceramics and trinkets to foreigners.

Our Swimming “Pool”

The towns which seem to speak to me the most are those in which the locals abound, enjoying their town, amongst and despite the tourists. The towns where everyone, regardless of wealth or home zip code can appreciate the birth right which is the water and seaside. My favorite cities are those where the mingling of old and new is as harmonious as the old and young enjoying green spaces planned for by the city. While it is hard for me to imagine this town without the tourists, one can see that there is a strong local community in place. Typical and unique to most of Croatia, beaches are scarce though waterfront is plentiful. Most Croatians will sunbath on any surface near the waterfront and the multi-layered rocks climbing from the water to the cliffs provided a perfect spot for dozens of “beachgoers” to enjoy the waterfront. In fact, under the caption of “when in Rome”, Jack and I went for a swim on the other side of the jetty from where Gratitude was docked.

Waterfront dining is another spectacular summertime activity in this locale and seafood is the primary attraction. It is hard to imagine a bad meal in any of the great restaurants. And finally, akin to the celebration that happens daily in westward facing seaside’s, the daily gala which is sunset was marked by a quiet revelry amongst anyone in the area.

Note all of the swimmers both in and out of the water

While the price of dockage is probably higher here than any other place in Croatia, it was an enjoyable and necessary stop for us on our trip to Venice. All checking out formalities were seamlessly handled by our BWA Agent, but in truth, it could have been managed by us should you decide to come here and check out of- or into- Croatia. We were able to get PCR tests for all 3 of us for our entrance into Italy as well. Although rushed, the whole process took only a couple of hours on the morning of departure, and we were off for Venice.

Experiencing calmer waters on the trip across the Adriatic than we were experiencing tied to the dock, the 8-hour passage to Venice could not have been more enjoyable. I must confess to a bit of arrival disillusionment, however.

Now – bear with me here. Rarely does a single negative word come out of my mouth on the blog. Even in a town I truly don’t care for, I can find so many wonderful things about which to write – it is simple for me to gloss over my personal feelings of a place, without clouding anyone else’s experience of it, with my own discontent. I’m also overwhelmingly aware that there are many more aspects to one’s enjoyment of a place than the place itself. For example, I have visited Florence 2 times in my life, but our most recent experience has left me absolutely in love with it, while the first visit was such a letdown, we almost didn’t come back. All of this is to say that one’s perception of a city – mine or someone else’s- is far more about them than the place itself.

One of the many fantastic waterfront restaurants, note Gratitude in the background

If you know me at all, you know that a rich fantasy life fuels our ambitions. Years of dreaming of the day we bring Gratitude to the Grand Canal in Venice have fueled this goal and propelled us closer to this day. Yet arriving in Venice, we were advised that we are NOT permitted anywhere near the Grand Canal. The closest we could get was the marina in which we were berthed, several kilometers from the famed St. Marks Basilica. Even our small dinghy was not permitted access to the coveted canals of the “inner-sanctum” which is Venice.

In fairness, one can understand the restrictions given how crowded the waterways are on a good day. Due to covid, only approximately 60% of the usual crowd was here, but even low by contrast, one can easily see how unfamiliar tourists clogging the arteries, which feed the 120 or so islands, could cause problems. Still, being forced to climb aboard the public vaporetto’s everywhere one goes for a month was a disappointment (to say nothing of the expense) and completely out of our usual wheelhouse. Even in locales where cars are not easily available, we are typically able to bike or scooter everywhere (no bikes allowed in Venice) – or there are enough restaurants and grocery stores very nearby so that locally sourced food and supplies is simple. Less so in Venice where there are 2 cafes near the only marina on Venice, but a proper grocery store and ample restaurants are a good 20-30 minute walk in each direction. For reference, a water taxi cost is approximately 70.00 Euro for a few miles travelled. Going 1 way to the airport was 120.00 Euro. Taking the vaporetto (public bus) for a single day unlimited was 20 Euro per person. So, you see, we spent more in transportation this month in Venice than we will likely spend all year (excepting, of course – air travel back to the states). Even though masks were mandatory, the vaporetto’s were crowded – very crowded.

The Rialto Bridge and vaporetto

All of this is to say, if we were to do this again, Venice would be a destination for a week-long stay at the most. As it was, we had planned to do some train travel to other Italian cities – which we did. Stay tuned for coming posts on Verona, Lake Garda, Milan, and Piacenza. But as a base from which to travel and explore, I’m afraid I can’t really give Venice high marks. Better to make the most of a very touristy week here and then go elsewhere for affordable marina accommodations closer to trains and public transportation.

On my first visit to Venice 30 or so years ago, I fell in love with the place, so, I must ask myself, what is it about me that was so “put off” by Venice when we first arrived this time around?

I think Venice is almost like the prom queen everyone adores due to her special and unique personality. From afar, she is admired and romanticized. She is written about and idolized – she is the star of movies and heroine in novels.

The famed Bridge of Sighs

And of course, she should be. Say what you like about Venice, there is no place in the world like it! How could a place consisting of nearly 120 islands connected by over 400 bridges – charming and each with its own character – be anything but enchanting? There is absolutely nothing that I could write here that hasn’t already been written about and chronicled by thousands of far more eloquent writers than I. Visited by poets dating back to Lord Byron and the muse of writers as prolific as Hemingway, Venice truly is something to behold.

Water Taxi to town…

Yet, upon our arrival nearly a month ago, I was actually – well, glum. Looking back, I think that Venice was the “destination” of sorts for our summer cruise. We left Italy in May and, I suppose, Venice was going to be our sort of “coming home” to Italy. Not only a repository of happy memories for both Alec and me, it also marked a dream come true to bring our own home to such a place.

But the fantasy and the reality once more collided and the result was the blue mood which clouded my first few days of Venice.

For whatever reason, my minds eye recalled only the charming alleyways and deserted piazzas aside from a few strolling lovers embracing under the stars -but what we found was a crushing abundance of cheap Chinese knockoffs hawked by vendors in mobile carts. One can forgive the long queues to gain access to the cathedrals or museums but when we discovered lines to access the Hard Rock Café and the Disney shop, I felt our commitment to a month here was a mistake. The shocking abundance of trinkets which had absolutely nothing to do with Venice, and the shops selling items made by a production line in China had me wondering whatever will we do for a month here?

Looking back, there was more to it than that of course. We aren’t on vacation aboard Gratitude. This isn’t some weeklong departure from life at “home” or the real world. This IS our world. And it is that which colors each of our experiences of a place. In fact, it was when Kelly came to visit and we treated the town the way a visitor may for a week, we found that our experience of it changed drastically. Or perhaps, our experience of the city changed because with Kelly in town, we could appreciate it more. In either event, this warrants 2 fully different blog posts – 1 depicting Venice as a person living there for a month, and 1 from the standpoint of a tourist visiting for a week.

Our Marina – it looks closer to town than it is….

So, the contrast complete, Venice juxtaposed against the charming fishing village of Rovinj, I can in fact touch some of the vague and illusory reasons why some places speak more to me than others. Cities which exist solely at the behest of the tourists are far less appealing to me than cities which march on slowly with or without anyone from the outside world bearing witness to them. Being in a place and among the people who belong there is so much more authentic to me than towns inhabited nearly exclusively by tourists or those whose job it is to service that industry.

That said, I appreciate your indulgence as I share my unique experience of a place as a person “living” here, rather than visiting. Please understand that I do not earn money from the blog – this is only our family’s’ log of our adventures which we share with those to whom it touches for whatever reason. As an unpaid diary – these are strictly speaking, my own thoughts and experiences. But if this post had you feeling a little cheated by our first week here, stay tuned – the following week gave us a bit more of what you may have hoped to read here.

The following week, my sister Kelly visited us from the US. During her time with us, we embraced Venice as a complete and total tourist. We spent more money than we typically do doing things a tourist would do. And we had a completely different experience of Venice. So, look for a blog post on our week of “Vacation in Venice” with Kelly during her visit.

In other news: Alec continues to amaze me with his ever expanding body of knowledge surrounding everything Gratitude. I could and should do a blog post on Alec and his commitment to keeping us safe and comfortable which is, I must say, a full time job. This month alone he worked on 2 crucial systems on board. Here he is stuffing his 6’2″ into a tiny box…

I love you honey! You amaze me daily with your knowledge and skill and Jack and I are the luckiest humans on the planet that you are in our life!!!

Croatia (Zadar, Mali Losinj, Brijuni, Pula)And Transitions….

The FuFu

Transitions, change, progress… whatever the name we give these events in our life, the tenderness is the same. Experiencing these things as an adult is challenging, but with the experience of age, they are easier. I can easily remind myself of the many instances in my life where the hardest “transitions” reaped the greatest rewards. Leaving a miserable marriage, leaving the best and most lucrative job I ever had for the promise of a great adventure and time with my family, leaving the comfort and security of an “ok” life as a flight attendant for the hope and dream of a better life as a pilot, are just a few of the heartrending decisions I have made in my life, each fully believing in the wisdom and “rightness” of the decision, but nonetheless, suffering because of the tearing that must accompany each one.

Watching your child, as each of his cruising friends depart, making the right decision for themselves is a challenge. We are, of course, on a path that is perfect and right for us. Each of our boat friends are on their perfect path. Though we are each making the best decisions for ourselves, it comes with a little “ripping” (if you will) when it is time to say goodbye. As we just yesterday, said “so long” to family friends who came to visit from America, I was reminded of 2 truths, which gave me comfort, as I explained to Jack the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. I have heard it said that people come into our lives “for a reason, a season, or a lifetime”. Letting go of the people who arrive in our lives for a “reason”, or a “season” is tough – but a necessary and good part of life. Jack learning this as a child is right and good also. But as our friends left for America, I was reassured – and happy to remind Jack, that sometimes relationships which we worried might just pass away, re-emerge, after long distances and absences, to be rekindled as quickly is the softest breath of wind. I was able to remind Jack of the special relationships we have with friends who have stood the test of years and thousands of miles reminding us once again that friendship is not determined by proximity.

So, it is with profound love, admiration, and respect that we bless the journeys of the beautiful families aboard SV Gambler, SV Aihe and SV Bella, and say that we truly hope our wakes cross again. And remind you that we are merely a Whatsapp message away xo. We will miss you.

The Travel

What a week it has been! Collecting our friends from Zadar, Croatia, we set out for an early passage the next day for Mali Losinj. Probably my favorite site to see in Zadar was the Sea Organ. Fashioned with tubes underneath marble steps, the force of waves both big and small create sounds and notes similar, I think, to whale song sounds. The sound was lovely and worth a listen if you are so inclined. Just google Zadar Sea Organ on YouTube. Nearby are solar powered light blocks on which children love to dance and play at night. Zadar has a few more communist block construction type buildings than I prefer and for this reason, it’s not the highest on my list of must-see Croatian destinations. But the Cathedral and some ancient roman ruins nearby are easily worthy of a day trip.

It is interesting to note here that 2000-year-old columns and roman bits are in nearly every city we have visited, and the children are free to jump on and play with them. This is in stark contrast to every other country where they are behind fences or enclosures. The tour guide who was showing us around said it was “because the Croatian people want their children and citizens to be able to live among, and with, their history – not apart from it. “Besides, “he continued, what is a 70 lb child going to do to this rock or marble column that hasn’t been done by 2000 years?” The inadvertent damage that might occur with a child playing on the columns is one thing, but the intentional damage done by graffiti or theft is something altogether different. How lovely that the government can trust their citizenry to respect and hold as sacred these special remnants of history as much as they do.

My other favorite piece of history in Zadar was the “Rowing Men” who operate row boats back and forth from the Zadar Marina (where we stayed) to town across the way. There is a bridge – but what could be more fun than getting a ride across in an authentic row boat for 6 kuna (about a dollar)?

We left Zadar and, with our friends aboard, made a 6-hour passage North to a lovely anchorage near a town called Mali Losinj. We enjoyed 2 days at anchor here swimming and relaxing. In town, we ate lunch and gallons of ice cream, and bought as many groceries as 5 adults and 1 11-year-old child could carry.

our anemometer recording 40 knots

The Bora blew and at 40 knot gusts and after a couple of sleepless nights, Alec and I decided that it was time to move along. Not sleeping well combined with weather not conducive to swimming and paddle boarding made it an easy decision. We knew that it may be less than perfect passage conditions north, but the tradeoff was a simple one. We gave our guests anti-seasick medicine and off we went. While we hadn’t planned this next stop, we are so delighted we made it.

Recommended by Wolfgang from the anchorage a couple of weeks ago, Brujuni National Park is a part of the Brionian Islands off the coast of the Istrian peninsula adjacent to Pula. Now a holiday park, this island in its most recent history, was once the summer home of the Yugoslavia President Marshal, Josip Broz Tito. Nearly 100 heads of state, as well as American Film stars visited the islands and many brought gifts of wild animals, as well as flora and fauna which are a part of the Safari Park. In addition to the marina at which we stayed, there are 3 hotels on the island. Except for these residents, all day- trip guests are off the island at night, and we were free to explore as we wished.

One of the hard dates on the calendar was the International Film Festival in Pula. We were luckily only 45 minutes away by boat from Pula and we only arrived on the date for which we already had purchased tickets. We spent the day sightseeing but honestly, Pula is a city which deserves far more than the 1 day we have allotted so look for a Pula 2.0 post soon. The film festival was in a spectacular setting. This was the first film festival we have ever attended so I was unclear how this worked. If we had it to do over again, and we weren’t with friends, I would have probably purchased tickets for the week and tried to see as many of these shows as possible and take in the amazing city of Pula. As it was, we only saw 1 show and our tickets allowed for us to see 2 (though I didn’t realize this). The cost of these tickets was only about 3 Euro.

After saying “so long” to Bill, Wendy, and Kapri from the US, we raced to catch up with SV Gambler who were on the way to an anchorage a couple of hours away near Medulin (with our child aboard). Jack spent the night on Gambler with his friends, to make the most of their final night together, as Sophie and Megan will be heading South, and we are heading West to Venice. To say that this goodbye was difficult would be a gross understatement, but we have fingers crossed that these are friendships that will last Jack a lifetime. At a minimum, 8 months with these lovely “boat schooled” kids have taught us so many valuable lessons and filled our hearts with joy. The SV Bella family left for the UK before we ever saw them this summer to deal with a family crisis, so that “goodbye” has already, in many ways, happened. It is our fervent hope that we will reunite with all these families again soon.

So here we are- still at anchor, 3 days later, at Medulin. We haven’t even made it to shore yet, but the laundry is finished, boat is clean and we, as a family, have hit the “reset” button before more family arrives in a couple of weeks. We can’t wait to see you, Kelly!!!

Our plans for the next week are back to Pula in hopes of obtaining the second shot of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, then North up the Istrian Peninsula to Rovinj, then Vrsar, and then across the Adriatic to Venice. We plan to be in Venice for the month of August, hoping to make a few overnight trips to Milan, Verona, and the Lake Como, Maggiore and Varese.

Thanks for reading!

Split, Trogir, Krka, Sibenik and Jacks Birthday

Happy 11th Birthday Jack! And Happy Independence Day America!

Big Bertha rides!

As is our preference, we enjoy balancing our time between anchorages and city life and the past few weeks has been a nice mix of both. There is no question that Jack, at 11 years old, prefers the anchorages and swimming and playing with his friends so, of course, that is exactly what we did on his birthday.

But being 4000 miles from a home in Florida which is surrounded by beautiful bays and water in which we could anchor at home anytime, spending too much time doing that, when there are towns and cities which hold the history of several ancient civilizations just a short trip away, is completely counter to what we are doing here.

So, we must work to strike a balance of meeting the needs of everyone on board, while not missing the reason to be here.

Leaving the anchorage mentioned in our last post, I was anxious to get to Split, Croatia. One would think that frequent travelers such as Alec and I would be more familiar with this amazing city – in fact, the whole country. As we meandered the tiny and ancient city within the walled Diocletian palace, Alec and I marveled at how crazy it was that this wasn’t way higher on our wish list. How was it that we were even unfamiliar with the city of Split? The second largest city in Croatia and the largest city in the Dalmatia region, we certainly didn’t expect all that we found.

Founded by the Greeks in the 3rd of 2nd century BC, but later it became a Roman settlement and the birthplace of Emperor Diocletian, who built his retirement home on the shores of the Adriatic. Diocletian’s palace would later provide shelter to Roman refugees during the invasion by the Slavs and Avars. The amazingly preserved ceilings and walls of the current markets place is due to its use as a garbage dump by the inhabitants and the reluctance of anyone to pillage any of the stone or metal holding the structure together.

SPLIT later became a Byzantine city and then Venetian – in fact, in 1797 when Venice fell to Napoleon, to the current day as part of the republic of Croatia, this city has been in the hands of the Kingdom of Italy, The French Empire, The Illyrian provinces, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Yugoslavia, Germany and finally Croatia when Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in the war of Independence in 1991.

Very high on our list of priorities for this town was a tour of Diocletian’s Palace. Because all our boat school families were also interested, we booked a tour which was to be 90 minutes. 2.5 hours later, our tour guide was still going strong, unfortunately, we were not. I wish I had a week to follow this incredibly passionate and knowledgeable guide around this city that he loved so much but we gained at least a bit of knowledge and certainly we will retain the passion with which he shared his love of this city.

The tour guide was the teacher today!

I will only show you the photos rather than tell the stories since there is plenty of info on the web but what struck us as shocking is that even though the Diocletian’s palace is a UNESCO heritage site and a place absolutely teeming with history, it is still a home for a shocking number of inhabitants who are descendants of the refugees mentioned above. It would be difficult to purchase property within the walls due to the nearly impossible task of ascertaining provenance. It is surreal for us to walk amidst ruins 2000 years old and observe laundry and panties hanging in the breezes just next door. Of course, to the people who live here there is nothing in the world more natural. And the homes and businesses which exist here are lovely and perfectly congruous. It is just amazing to imagine someone looking out the window of their home to observe a Sphinx, imported from Egypt by Diocletian, sitting in the sun and elements from 3500 years ago.

Also high on the “Split” list was collecting Amazon presents, which we had shipped to the BWA Yacht Agent here. So presents collected and ready for Jacks Birthday celebration on the 4th, we spent only a few days here and continued…

TROGIR, a perfectly preserved old medieval town, though alive with over 2300 years of continuous inhabitation, is another UNESCO heritage site. We loved it here! The weather had cooled just enough after our Split visit to allow more time exploring the town and sites in the city. We enjoyed a slightly different tour hoping to engage Jack a bit more, and it included the Myths and Legends of the area. If I had to choose between Trogir and Split, I couldn’t do it, which is to say, if you find yourself visiting one, you must visit the other. I love markets and the one in Tragir was a terrific place to provision for Jack’s party.

I just had to put in the photo of the jack hammer operator working in his Speedo! No health and safety inspectors here! He didn’t even have on eye protection!

And I love boats! All boats. Even this adorable boat in front of us – I just wish she could tell us her stories…

KRKA, one of the 7 national parks in Croatia, is itself a reason to travel to Croatia. When I first began posting photos on social media about Croatia, numerous friends chimed in with “DON’T MISS KRKA”. So, it wasn’t long after our arrival that we began to plan this stop. Named after the river which flows into the magnificent water falls in this UNESCO Heritage site, the falls comprise 2/3 of the river. Only open in the summer, if you plan a visit to this region, don’t miss this amazing treasure. Aside from the magnificent falls, KRKA is home to over 800 species of plant life and over 200 species of birds. We heard so many sounds we were not able to identify among the 8 adults in our group. And Croatia has done a beautiful job of preserving and maintaining the place for future generations. The boardwalk, which winds through the park, protects the precious ecosystem. The exhibits offered along the way tell the story of the history of this park, which include the distinction of being the first in operation and the 2nd built, after the famous Niagara falls in Canada, to have a hydro-electric power plant.

From the entrance to the river at Sibenik, to the town of Skadrin, where we boarded our ferry for the very short ride into the park is approximately 10 km. En route is a spectacular lake where we were spent a couple of nights enjoying swimming and peaceful paddleboard. Regulations prohibit taking our own boat into the area of the falls and, due to a tragic drowning incident last year, swimming is no longer permitted in the falls area.

On our way out of the lake we decided to make a day of a trip to Sibenik. We are so glad that we did! According to our DK Eyewitness guide, Sibenik is not to be missed in this area and we couldn’t agree more. The oldest Croatian City in the Adriatic, and home to 2 UNESCO heritage sites, this city was founded by Croats in the 9th or 10th century. Claiming to be one of the best preserved and authentic medieval towns, the crown jewel is the St. James Cathedral and Town Hall. This cathedral may well be our favorite yet – not due to the size, which is almost quaint, but because of the lines and geometry which are so pleasing. Studied by architects and historians, this marvel is a testament to the knowledge that the builder had of the special stone that makes up 100% of this building. Mined from the local island of Brac, this beautiful limestone is strong and appears to defy the laws of nature in how small spans seem to support huge loads. An amusing anecdote about this gorgeous cathedral is that parishioners who were stingy and not willing to donate to the building were immortalized for over 600 years now on the cathedral in stone.

And finally, Jacks Birthday celebration. Gratitude reached a new record of hosting 16 people for dinner for Jacks 11th birthday celebration. What a tremendous blessing to be able to celebrate this happy day with so many friends. Thank you to the Gamblers, The Long Summer, The Beyond Capricorn, and The Aihe’s for coming to celebrate with us. The day was spent exactly as Jack had requested and he said it was his favorite one yet. We took the Big Bertha out and everyone who wanted a ride, got a ride. Even Moms and Dads!! Then we enjoyed a traditional 4th of July meal (Jack’s request) followed by a movie for the kiddos and some laughs and fun stories for the adults on the fly bridge. Thanks Phil and Donna (Beyond Capricorn N57) for the photos!

We continue to be blessed with great friendships so many miles from our home shores.

Enjoying another 2 nights at anchor in the Telascica park, we enjoyed swimming, SUPing, and resting. Who would think that at anchor, away from land and most human activity we would still be meeting new friends but alas, yesterday a man from a neighboring boat came by to offer suggestions and make dinner recommendations? Alec and I love this part of our exploration. Even in a park, at anchor, lovely people still come by to say hello and reach out across the culture and country barriers which might normally exist. Many thanks Wolfgang from Germany for photos and restaurant/anchorage suggestions. We hope to catch up with you another time.

We are getting close to our original time goals, and we are on track to collect our friends who are traveling in from the US in Zadar. We will be exploring the Northern Dalmatian coast over the next 2 weeks and then on to Venice on August 1, 2021.

Cruising Croatia – the Islands


Imagine a week in an anchorage where everyone is friends!

Perhaps the hardest lesson to learn and the one which this life is constantly trying to teach us, is the absolute truth that you simply cannot do it all. Once upon a time, we believed that having a home which we can take anywhere, with all our things and most important humans and pets with us, and fully retired…. at long last… we could do and see everything. But alas, every week is a lesson that we just cannot. In the last post, I mentioned that we would have to miss the sword dance in Kurcula. Now that seems like the least of my worries! We are likely to miss whole islands and again, not just because of Covid but because of every spot being so magical, we are now going to miss whole countries!

Having left the anchorage, and several boat friends in Lastovo, we headed to the city of Komiza, (pronounced Ko-mee-sha) on the island of Vis. Our friends on 3 other boats were able to secure their first Covid vaccine on Split in 1 week and another boat had maintenance due in Split so they both had a different timetable. We, unable to get our second shot until later in the month, had more time before the mandatory stop in Split but we plan to meet up with them this weekend. In the meantime, we wanted to make some stops that the others would be making on their return trip.

I love taking tours. I can spend hours on research and not come close to the learning that will happen from a talented tour guide. Recommended by a charter boat captain next door, our guide, named Gorun, picked us up and gave us a short military tour of Vis. The first thing we learned is that carob was once used as a measuring tool for gold. Each seed within the pod weighs precisely the same mass as every carob seed anywhere in the world. Facinating…

St. Nicholas

We next saw St. Nicholas church up on the hill. Traveling to Venice, Pope Alexander the 3rd’s ship was off course and he landed in the island by accident. The first visit to Croatia by a Pope, he blessed St. Nicholas 1177. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of fisherman and sailors. An actual fishing boat is burned here each year in December in a ceremony signifying the importance of boats to life here on this special island and the importance of boats to the people. The ashes from the burning are then used to build a new boat. This is an important ritual for the entire community and only an actual fishing boat can be burned in the ceremony.

An authentic fishing boat, Vis, Croatia

Traveling further down the road we learned more about the former Yugoslavia Republic. Following WWII the citizens fought with the Russians against the German and Italian Fascists. Upon winning the war, they voted to join their brothers in arms in communism and the 6 countries joined to become Yugoslavia. The dictator Tito was a brilliant statesman, and he kept all the countries friendly even though they didn’t always get along. After Tito died in 1980, the republic began to fall apart resulting in a war in 1991. The Serbs were instructed that wherever there was 1 Serb, they were to declare that land Serbian. Of course, this did not sit well with the Croats as they had no intention of giving up their long and beautiful coastline simply because the Serbians insisted that it was theirs. As a result, war broke out with the permission of NATO. I have been reading and struggling to understand the Yugoslavian war and this was the first time I felt like I understood it. I’m sure that someone reading this is going to take issue with my brief explanation and understanding of the circumstances and I just want you to know that I WELCOME ANY AND ALL INFORMATION to contradict or correct my understanding.

Followers of WWII history will be interested to know that there was a runway built here by the allies to support bombing missions and our guide said that over 2000 American service men were saved by this runway bearing in mind that the entire island is only 6 miles long.

Over 1000 islands are Croatian and even though some of these islands are in fact closer to Italy than Croatia in the Adriatic, they were settled and claimed by Croatia. A stunning archipelago, each of the islands we have visited over the past month truly has its own personality.


An interested thing to note is that 40% of the worlds charter boats are in Croatia. One quickly becomes interested in this important fact upon noticing that one day the anchorage is literally empty and the next full. The same thing happens in marinas. And the funniest observation we have made thus far is that by 1000 every single boat is gone from the marina but by the afternoon breezes kicking up around 1500, every slip is taken. There is no advance reservation system, only first come, first served. And watching this is like a ballet of (mostly) highly competent skippers and marineros cramming yachts in like sardines in a can, barely a fenders width between them. When we first arrived, we were delighted to see so much open dock space and even joked that we may be able to even American tie alongside. But before we even had our last line on, several boats arrived and many more joined so that the whole quay was occupied by the time we had rinsed the boat and showered for dinner. We made the same observation when we visited the town of Vis on the other side of the island, we sat having lunch with a completely empty quay and by the time we were served, we had the live entertainment of at least 10 arriving charter sailboats. By the time we returned to our side of the island in Komiza, the marina was full of a whole new crop of visitors. But they usually only come for the night, then they are off for another island visit first thing in the morning – and to get to the new

And proximity to Split and “The Barn” for much of the charter fleet one can easily surmise a crowded or open anchorage given that the entire fleet turns over on Saturday.

Leaving Vis we had a short 3 hour trip to the island of Hvar. Hvar is 90 km – for reference, Vis is only 5 miles long. Hearing in advance that the town of Hvar is busy with ferries, charter boats and lots of traffic, we decided to stay at the quieter end of Hvar called Stari Grad. We were not disappointed.

Jacks new haircut, Hvar

A water park greeted us at the entrance to the harbor which made Jack’s day, and a long quay with dozens of shops and cafes dotted the other side made Alec and my day.

We spent the first day in the water and the next day on a trip to Hvar. We started with the fort, then walked down to the waterside. Hvar is a breathtaking town and one I could stay in for a week. I’m glad that we are berthed in Stari Grad as the traffic, surge and conditions aren’t great for our taste, but if I had to recommend an island to visit and stay in a hotel, this would be it. Walking the cobbled stone streets was such fun and we have never seen a more pristine village. The restaurant we chose was fantastic, an Asian place called Spice. The people were lovely and there wasn’t a speck of trash anywhere. The shops and buildings were in beautiful shape with stones cleaned and flowers blooming everywhere. On the way back to Stari Grad the taxi driver took us to some lavender fields. In the 1970’s Hvar produced 10% of the worlds lavender. We were also told that due to the conditions and the wild way that it grows, the oil is more potent. I didn’t have to be convinced to buy a few bottles.

My impressions after a month of cruising Croatia are simply that there cannot be a more lovely, safe, clean and delightful place than Croatia. Every experience we have had with a local person has left us more in love than the last. The Croatian people are gentle, kind and nearly all speak perfect English. It is humbling to me to be in a foreign land and see how even shop keepers and servers speak better English than some Americans, and in all cases, it is at least their second if not third language.

We have seen more Americans here in the past week than we have seen in the past 2 years in Europe. It is as though the floodgates have opened and everyone has arrived. Talking to one of the charter boat captains, she remarked, “I have not had too many Americans in the past, but I have noticed that they are different than other European charters in that they are very ambitious about what they want to see”. So funny that she really seemed to “get us”. We are so driven as a culture. Driven in business. Driven in educating our children. Driven in our homemaking lives. And even driven in our vacations. It is so true and probably why, 3 years into this life I still can’t believe that we miss more than we see. I feel like I should be able to see more – to do more. Even after constantly admonishing myself to relax, do the cleaning later, take in the sites, I feel compelled to add 1 more tour, 1 more day of cleaning, 1 more island.

But this is where I am writing this.

Lonely Paradise anchorage, Solta

Alec just sent up the drone to capture this photo. We have enjoyed a swim and lunch in one of the more stunning anchorages I have ever had the pleasure to see. While I wish we could stay here another week, I am shocked to discover that we have covered ¼ of the territory in ½ of the time we have. My sister is flying into Venice, Italy the 7th of August so we are planning to be there by the 1st. The Pula film festival is the 17-24 of July and Jacks birthday next week was supposed to be celebrated at or near the KRKA falls. So, we must press on, all the while remembering to take a moment, breathe, and thank God for this amazing place, and this amazing life, with these amazing humans with whom I am privileged to spend this time.

Happy Birthday Sophie!

CAPTIVATING CROATIA!

A view of Dubrovnik from inside the walled fortification

Captivating Croatia!!

The passage was so calm it looked like we were standing still

There are so few places on the planet which remain unspoiled. Alec and I have been cruising the Bahamas for the past 20 years and in that time, we have born witness to changes so great, it sometimes hurts a little to go back. Harbors which were unspoiled, untouched by human hand and unknown to all but a choice few are now filled to brimming with large mega yachts equipped with enough toys to make the most pristine anchorage feel like New York Harbor. The last time we were there, we saw boatloads of novice snorkelers standing on reefs and clipping go-pros to live coral. Heartbreaking.

While I have no way of knowing to what extent this peace is brought to us by Covid and what a “normal” year is like, I can only marvel at the enchanting anchorages and charming towns we have seen thus far.

Our first port of entry into Croatia was Dubrovnik. The cruising guide and most common wisdom states that you must clear in immediately upon arriving at the earliest port in Croatia, but our agents checked ahead to make sure that coming from Montenegro would pose no issues. Having made that determination, Dubrovnik was the perfect spot for us to begin our adventure.

Full to brimming with history, and dripping with charm, I could not wait to begin our great explore.

Having said “so long” to our Marina di Ragusa friends 3 weeks earlier, we were anxious to re-connect with them upon arrival. Unfortunately, only 1 of the “kid-boats” was here – the others were further up the coast, but Megan and Sophie (and their mom and dad) greeted us at the dock day one. They also introduced us to another “kid-boat” called The Long Summer. Over the next few weeks, we enjoyed each other’s company and explored.

We spent a day walking along the defensive walls which surround the city of Dubrovnik.

Jack, upon hearing that his friends were able to see this city without a tour guide begged me to be more “carefree” like them… Hmmmm. So, I agreed to let him do all the research and present us with a well planned and educational presentation about the beautiful city we were about to enjoy.

Jack, bless his heart, loves consequences like this. He rises to the challenge when he is given one and he truly gave us a fantastic tour. He stopped at intervals and read from a carefully prepared script which he himself had written. Lord knows he has been on enough tours to get a feel for what they are like.

In a nutshell, this UNESCO Heritage site was built between the 7th and the 17th centuries but defined in the 14th century. One of Europe’s greatest fortifications, the walls run for 1.25 miles around the city and up to a height of 82 feet. These walls protected the Republic of Ragusa for nearly 5 centuries and were never necessary to protect against battle. It should be noted as you look at the photos, however, that during the war for independence in 1991, the city was nearly 80% damaged and each of the orange roofs in the photo was a site of restoration.

Every orange tiled roof (nearly all pictured) was part of the restoration following the 1991 war for independence

When we used to travel to a place for a week or two, half the fun of the adventure was in the planning. Now that we are on the move nearly non-stop through the summer months, we typically plan only an overview of an area, we have a list of islands or cities we won’t miss but the actual visit of a city isn’t totally pulled together until we arrive. This results in a very serendipitous approach which is sometimes good and sometimes leaves me feeling like I can kick myself! In Dubrovnik, I experienced a huge “win” when we discovered that the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra would be performing at the Rector’s Palace the following night. One of my greatest disappointments during Covid is missing all the amazing performances and theatre in Europe. Being the very first audience to experience this live performance in such a magical place, was truly a memory which will stay with me for a lifetime. The wind was blowing the musicians music and cats were strolling in and out of the plaza, but the conductor and musicians were such dedicated professionals they never missed a beat (so to speak). They seemed to be enjoying playing for us as much as we were enjoying being there. It was a magical evening and one I will not soon forget.

Time to leave the “big city” behind though and we next visited the 3 anchorages we have enjoyed thus far. Sipan, an island which provided lovely shelter and offered a place to have a beautiful meal was the first spot. From there we took the dinghy to explore Ston and Mali Ston. Ston, another walled fortification, in fact the longest in Europe at 3.4 miles long, is a tiny Dubrovnik but without the crowds. As we have had no crowds in any place due to Covid, both were lovely to us. Particularly interesting here are the salt flats. A huge part of their history, salt made this area incredibly wealthy in the times when salt was more valuable than gold. We collected salt ourselves and dried it in the sun. We will use it to make sea salt caramel for an ice cream social in a few weeks. Back to the boats with a huge load of groceries, we were ready for our week in the next anchorage, Mljet.

Mljet is a pristine National Park. There is a charge to anchor the boat in any of the harbors and an additional charge to go ashore, but both charges were, we felt, reasonable. There are exceptional trails and 2 charming towns we explored by EBike. Never ones to shy away from an adventure or a bit of exercise at the same time, these EBikes were amazing! We all had such a great time we are considering adding them to the Gratitude Ship’s Equipment. We certainly could have managed 1 but probably not both days and we never would have had as much fun as we did – given that the hills were large. We also had a group of 13 on 4 boats, some of whom were gaining passage on their parent’s bike. It would have been no fun to take these hills with a child on the back. Don’t be shy, just get the Ebikes if you come here. Aloha gave us a great price and took very good care of us. We enjoyed the hospitality of this natural wonder for nearly a week, then continued to Korcula.

The next island to the North, Korcula, has a reputation for being the “historical” island. Nearly 30 miles long and, on average, 5 miles wide, Korcula is the most populated of the 1000 islands not connected to the mainland with a bridge.

According to legend, Korcula was founded by the Trojan hero Antenor in the 12th century BC. But the island’s history dates to Mesolithic and Neolithic people. The second wave was the Illyrians in 1000 BC. But perhaps the most notable historical item is the claim that Marco Polo was born in this city on this spot. Of course, the building is younger than the 13th century when he was born but it is claimed that it was here he was born. Since the island was Venetian at the time, certainly it could be true but who could know for certain…

Recommended by a friend, we anchored just adjacent to the Monastery on a nearby island. The island is a terrific spot to see deer and goats though we were in and out so fast, we saw them only from a distance. Also missed and the reason I’m kicking myself for not doing more advance research, is the notable Sword dances which take place on every Thursday in Korcula. Sadly, we arrived on Friday and as we have an itinerary, we need to stay reasonably close to, we must keep going rather than remain here for a week to see the dancers. I have not given up hope, and we may be able to work it out by taking a taxi from the West side of the Island as we pass by on our way to Vis.

Which brings us to the lovely anchorage in which we sit right now. Tucked into the West side of yet another National Park, Lastovo, the most distant inhabited island, and one of the last 10 biodiversity treasures of the Mediterranean Sea, is only approximately 5 miles long. Declared a Natural Park in 2006, it consists of 46 islets, rocks, and reefs. In addition to the amazing abundance of sea life, Lastovo offers over 25 kilometers of bike paths.

Recommended by another cruising couple we only knew through social media, we met them yesterday, in person for the first time for dinner. Which is one of the unusual aspects of cruising that we love so much. I have mentioned before that we are far more social on-board Gratitude than we are at home, but one would think that in an anchorage 4000 miles from home in a country speaking a language other than one’s own mother tongue, it would be hard to make new friends. But alas, we continue to be amazed at the new and interesting friendships which emerge in this idyllic life.

Phillip and Donna, Aussies aboard a Nordhavn 57 invited us to dinner last night along with 2 other couples, one French and one Slovenian. We had never met before and even Phillip and Donna were only known to us previously due to social media and a shared appreciation of Nordhavn Yachts.

When we retired, more than 1 person asked us if we thought we would be bored. Presumably they were referring to the inertia of retirement which leads some people to stop learning. We are clearly not in that group, and we learn so much every single day in this new life of ours. Alec has been living on and cruising in boats his entire life yet today was a first for him and for me as well. Anchoring in water this deep with a large drop off of water close to the shoreline, often times the most secure way of anchoring is to drop the anchor and back to shore, then tie the stern with lines ashore. So, with a bit of luck and a lot of help from our new friends, we tied to shore. Thanks Phillip and Donna on Beyond Capricorn 1 – a Nordhavn 57.

Note Gratitude’s stern lines tied to shore. Note also the post W2 Submarine pen.

We hope from wherever you are reading this you are enjoying your summer.

MONTENEGRO

Montenegro

!First sundowners cats welcome Look at those mountains!

Named for the stunning mountains that encircle this striking country, we were expecting black or brown mountains, but we were not disappointed to be greeted instead by a blanket of green velvet, tree covered crag. After a 50 hour passage we had completely relaxing and uneventful conditions and arrived to put another pin in the map.

Another pin in the map

The coastline of Montenegro, the southernmost country in the region of Dalmatian, is 300 kilometers of winding bays, or Boka’s, which lead to what was once the center of Montenegro, Kotor. If you arrive by cruise ship, you will likely be treated to a gorgeous ride through the Boka Bay before arriving at your port. The Boka Bay is comprised of 3 distinct basins of water each surrounded by mountains and comprising 1/3 of the coastal land. Alternatively, arrival by plane into Tivat or the current capital of the country Podgorica.

While we have only been here for 3 weeks on this visit, we will be returning in September to spend the entire winter so look for future posts about all that there is to see here. Initially planned for a 1 week stay, readers and friends will appreciate that it is not at all uncommon for us to fall in love – then get stuck- in an area longer than we had planned. We had logistic issues at home which needed to be dealt with as well as personal stuff, so all of this conspired to keep us here longer than planned. Also, we have just finished up another year of glorious boat school and we needed to get all the paperwork sent off. To say that we had some serious lazy days in the past 3 weeks would be an utter minimization.

First Breakfast out! YAH!

The first few days were spent reading, lazing around, and EATING OUT!! The entire winter in Ragusa was lovely but mostly under either Red or Orange Covid restrictions which not only limited our movement around the county, it also had restaurants and cafes closed. Before I write anymore, I want you, the reader to know that I fully “get” that we are living an incredibly privileged life and I don’t take for granted the blessings we are given by enjoying this -even without restaurants. All of this is to say that never in my life have I been more grateful for someone bringing me a beautifully and lovingly prepared meal and then cleaning up again afterward. We have eaten out A LOT since we have arrived. Not entirely sure if it is the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or if these restaurants are really this good but food has never tasted better!!

Sasa pointing out that coins in the offering will never disappear. A very honest people!

We had the terrific opportunity to travel with a lovely guide called Sasa. She is an avid traveler herself and extensively trained and educated in Italy but born here. Sasa has a multi-layered and faceted view of her world and her country’s place in it. I have noticed that individually and as a family, our world view and our view of our own country has changed drastically due to our time away. I think knowledge of and love for one’s country becomes more “real” when one has had time away. So, I particularly connected with Sasa from the moment we met. We share several senses and viewpoints of an esoteric nature which made our conversations so easy to have.

We first visited Kotor and she walked us along the cobblestoned streets and shared with us stories from some of the oldest Eastern Orthodox and Serbian churches. Even visiting in the middle of the day we were able to pray along with other faithful people, at once sharing, without words, a joint connection to our God. According to Wikipedia, Montenegro, A religious country, 72% claim Eastern Orthodoxy as their faith. Second is Islam at 19.11% Catholic at 3.44 and another .43 as other Christian. It would not be hard to “find” God here though. Churches and the stories which accompany then abound. Our favorite story is from Our Lady of the Rocks.

Our Lady of the Rocks

In the mid 15th century, some fishermen found a painting of the virgin Mary with baby Jesus floating in the water. A very superstitious bunch (even to this day) the custom followed that a church must be built in this place. As I said, the painting was floating in the water… The Boka Bay is deep – several hundred feet deep. This makes it a boater’s paradise. But if one is building a church on the site of a floating painting, that is another story. So, the story goes, year after year, and small boat by boat, rocks were added bit by bit to the site. Things progressed faster as boats which were invading and then capsized near the narrow (see photos below) were dragged to the site and filled with rocks and sunk to the bottom. Now standing on this island formed in the shape of a boat, is the beautiful church, Our Lady of the Rocks. Even today in July small boats honor this site by throwing rocks on the island. Inside, the chapel is filled with paintings and silver etchings depicting battle scenes and storms, donated by the sailors who were saved by their prayers and the benefactor they honor. Also, a lovely tribute: brides leave behind their bouquet to the virgin rather than tossing them to the “next in line”.

Notice the flowers left by brides for the Virgin.

Small churches floating in the Bay seems to be their “thing”. We found several such churches which makes us giggle as we recall our rector standing before his congregation trying to get more people to come to worship. Imagine putting a church on an island – and there is nothing more to it nor any way to get the faithful there?

Yet another church on it’s own island

The nearest town is Preast. The cutest town with again, a bunch of churches. The funny story here is that the church is completely out of scale with it’s gorgeous belltower. The story is that the original builders wanted any “would be” invaders to catch one glimpse of the tower and be scared away.

We loved our time so much with Sasa, we booked her for a second day. But we are out of time and room so that will have to wait. Coming next, Budva and Sveti Stefan, and our own explores aboard Takk.

Incidentally, Alec and I got our first Astra Zeneca vaccine yesterday. THANK YOU MONETENEGRO!!! We felt a little under the weather but are making a good rebound today. Also of note, we are leaving tomorrow for Croatia and we will return by car to get the second vaccine dose later in June.

Covid vaccine 1

Also, all year long Jack must learn a lot of stuff that he maybe would not choose. When summer comes, he gets to choose – he can learn anything at all that he would like to learn but he MUST learn something. So, he has taken on guitar lessons and computer coding. Jack has never been permitted video games, but we decided to make an allowance and permit him to play only a game if he made it. Thanks to Uncle Tim for the guitar and the inspiration! He is really enjoying it.

Jack and guitar lessons

So Long Sicily… HELLO, MONTENEGRO!!

THANKS GAMBLERS, BELLAS AND LUNARA’S FOR THE BEST SEND OFF OF ALL TIME!!!

Good-Bye Sicily… HELLO MONTENEGRO!!!

I have noticed a pattern when we spend several weeks or even months in one location. I have itchy feet and dare I say, desperation, as the days turn into weeks, then weeks into months. When I think it is time to move on, I have no patience for waiting for the many other factors to fall in line to make that happen. Staying well past our prescribed time last year in Lagos, due to Covid, had me nearly apoplectic. While I wasn’t nearly as unsettled this year as last, I did fall into more “blue” mood than usual, and it lasted longer also.

Certainly, the loss of Whitney (our dear cat of 14 years) played a part. And the multiple 1.5-hour trips back and forth to Siracusa from Marina di Ragusa for the Veterinarian wore on us. But following her death, I was positively unhinged, and for the first time, I wondered if it wasn’t time for us to come home.

SEE YOU IN CROATIA!

Small things, that my usual “optimistic self” ignored, weighed on me. Litter on the side of the road, the neglect for the stray animals, bureaucracy, and my inability to communicate all compounded to overwhelm. I had serious traveler’s fatigue.

Don’t get me wrong. We loved Sicily and we loved the friendships we formed there. Some of our “goodbyes” are more permanent and some were merely “so long, we will see you again soon”. But all the partings involved a further descent into melancholy. But we were on the move again and that brought with us new optimism.

Montenegro and Quarantine flag going up

We had a passage of 1 day to Siracusa to get a Covid test and “stamp out” of Italy. Being there also involved more than 1 trip to our favorite panini shop, Borderi. We had our carpet cleaned which after the illness of 2 cats, was necessary. And we said so long to our agents and friends from Luise Yachting. Then we had another few days while waiting for the right weather for the 2+ day passage here and we were off!

So Long to our friends from Luise and thanks for the amazing dinner you brought us. We will miss you

Thankfully, feeling the gentle roll of the Mediterranean Sea beneath our keel and gazing into the inky blackness of the water under a moonlit night brought me back out of my melancholy and restored me to my normal optimistic equilibrium. In fact, as I sit here in Montenegro looking around at sites that are totally unfamiliar -open restaurants with nary a mask in site, I feel positively giddy with excitement and anticipation with the café’s undiscovered and the ancient buildings, and cobbled stoned streets, here for over 500 years, awaiting our sandals.

A word about the Covid vaccines here so that there is no misunderstanding, – we would gladly get one and will do so the moment we are able. We support the use of masks to contain the spread and we believe the science, not the stories. But I can’t deny that being free to eat out and seeing people enjoying socializing has done more for my mental health than I realized I needed. Walking around outside socially distant without a mask on has been positively liberating. And we have just learned that with a winter berthing contract (which we will be signing on Monday) we can become temporary residents and allowed to get the vaccine. This is hugely great news as we thought we would have to wait until we returned to the states in October.

The fly bridge is back open!!!!

We are docked in the very up-scale yachting capital of Montenegro, Tivat, also known as Porto Montenegro. A large, 450 slip marina project begun in 2006, the large development has evolved into a several buildings long residential and commercial community, complete with Cartier and Rolex shops as well as spas, restaurants, and boutique shops. There are numerous restaurants, bars and café’s and a grocery store planned to open by the time we return this winter. All of this in the glorious Bay of Kotor, also known as “Boka Bay”, itself under the protection of UNESCO. This marina is truly a “full service marina” offering concierge services as well as agents to help with clearing customs formalities, ordering flowers, making reservations or helping with whatever you could dream up. We are very much looking forward to our winter here.

A short drive from here is the charming medieval town of Kotor. Another UNESCO spot due to the 16th and 17th century Venetian fortifications. Kotor was on the endangered list after the earthquake of 1979. Completely restored by UNESCO and removed from the endangered list in 2003, the old town and the beautiful Venetian fortifications have been fully restored to their original splendor.

Covid continues to offer mixed blessings since Kotor is typically overrun with tourists pouring from cruise ships. Ranked 3rd in the med in terms of cruise ship visits, behind Venice and Dubrovnik according to BalkinSite.com, we were only 3 of about a dozen people in the entire old town area. When we were talking to a local woman about the cruise ships, she admonished that we should run, not walk to Dubrovnik now, before cruise ships return. What a gift to see the beautiful city in all its glory sans the smells of pizza and fried food which should be so foreign in this town.

Porto Montenegro Yacht Club

The weather this week has been forecast for rain nearly every day so we are delaying the tours for next week. On the list are Budva, Perast, Our Lady of the Rocks (there are 2 islands which have churches on them – we plan to visit 1.) And most importantly, we want to launch the dingy and do some sightseeing by water. Still a bit chilly here with sweaters and jeans worn all day, it isn’t time for swimming yet. Mostly this week we have all felt like we are on a true vacation. Our first week off from school (and teaching for us), we have been relaxing, reading, eating out and I have been to the spa twice. All except Alec that is…

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Jack fixed home made scones all by himself. Thank you Jack! I love you.

When we left Sicily, we could see that the discharge water for the wing engine was looking a bit anemic. As the temperature was good, we decided to press on to Montenegro and take a closer look here. Upon arriving and finding huge crosswinds for docking, the wing engine was pressed into service as it supplies the hydraulic power for the bow and stern thrusters. Fortunately, the wing engine did its job well enough for us to get into our slip but it did begin to overheat. Alec has been taking apart the system bit by bit trying to find the culprit. Finally, he found it and the pictures are below.

This small hole should be the full diameter or the pipe but was completely clogged with calcification

We plan to be in Montenegro 1 more week, then a short cruise to Dubrovnik. Unfortunately that will necessitate another full round of PCR tests but such is life in these Covid times.

GOODBYE

3/2007-4/2021

Goodbye

The crew of the Gratitude lost a very special crew member this week. Whitney, one of 2 cats who have been with us for their entire 14 years of life, passed away yesterday due to a large cancerous mass on her lung.

In an effort to remember through the tears the wonderful gifts that she has given us, we will share a few memories here of our beloved Whitney.

Born in March 2007 to one of the ORC/Key Largo Anglers Club strays, Alec and I adopted Pratt and Whitney from her mother as soon as she was weened.

Pratt and Whitney snuggled together daily. We are praying Pratt can be consoled through his loss as well.

She loved watching Jack grow up!

Looking through the thousands of photos we have taken over the years we were reminded that Pratt and Whitney have born witness to events both large and small in our lives. They have moved into and out of 3 houses, 3 boats and 4 jobs. They have welcomed Jack home from the hospital after his arrival in 2010 and Whitney, knowing I was pregnant (Pratt not so much) could not wait to mother her new baby.

Whitney loved crawling up on Jack even as a baby

Advised to be careful with a new baby in the house, Neither Pratt nor Whitney showed even the slightest signs of jealousy and Whitney loved to lick and groom Jack while he was nursing.

Later as crew members, Whitney sat every watch with me in the night when the rest were sleeping. She sat up with me on my lap and waited until it was time for bed. She never left the side of a sick family-member and stood vigil until we were nursed back to health. She loved laying in the sun, and she desperately loved Jack.

Whitney’s home on my lap all nighttime watches and some daytime also

To say that we have experienced a great loss is an understatement anyone reading this can relate to if they have lost a family member.

Rest in peace dear Whitney.

SICILY, THE FUN!

JACK IN SURF LESSONS!

Sicily, The fun

We are just beginning to wrap up our winter here and after spending 6 months in Marina di Ragusa, we have a few tidbits to share with others planning to visit the area.

Another gorgeous sunset – covid can’t take that away!

First, it must be said that as I write this, we are in still in the grips of Covid and lockdown. Even though parts of the world are beginning to ease restrictions, here in Sicily, we are tightening even as we speak. Entering our second year of this virus, we just clamped down from yellow, to orange and then red just in March/April alone. The sliding scale of restrictions has allowed for temporary freedoms to be restored after a period of safety and low Covid numbers. But soon after “yellow” restrictions – which permits restaurant and café openings as well as movement between commune’s, the numbers spike and lockdown ensues.

Restaurants may be closed but the beach is open

We had a few weeks of “Yellow” in March though, and with it, we hit the ground running. Winter boat jobs and school-work tossed aside and replaced by travel and to experience and enjoy as much of Sicily as we could possibly manage while we were able.

Sicily, the largest island in the Med and 1 of the 20 regions of Italy, is home to an astounding 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While we arrived with the goal of seeing them all, we have thus far managed only 4, though with lockdowns and restrictions of travel between commune’s we consider ourselves lucky to have managed that. Historical evidence of human habitations date back to as early as 12,000 BC but some of the better known residents of this island, and the very reason for the rich artistic and culinary history include the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Normans (and others). Following the Norman conquest of southern Italy, Sicily was later united as the Kingdom of Two Sicily’s with the Kingdom of Naples. In 1860 during the revolt led by Guiseppe Garibaldi during the Italian Unification, Sicily became part of Italy.

Stop in Taormina on the way to Mt. Etna

Given so much to see and such diversity, we had a hard time deciding what we would do first but since we have a Florida boy who loves snow and skiing, Mt. Etna was the dream spot for Jack.

Possibly at the top of the list for our crew was the impressive Mt. Etna which has been “brewing” and sputtering with increased frequency since the beginning of the year. Not only does this fit nicely into the 4th grade curriculum -we have been learning about earthquakes and volcanoes, we also hoped to go skiing and sledding on Mt. Etna.

With tops of over 10,000’ (3,300 meters) Mt. Etna is a stunning stratovolcano on the east side of Sicily, Italy. Though much larger than the more famous Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Etna is 2.5 times Vesuvius’ height and the largest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. While we were fortunate to see many eruptions both day and night while we were there, the heat from the near constant activity and our late visit due to lockdown restrictions meant that there was only a tiny bit of sledding snow left and the ski resorts never did open this year.

We did manage a couple days of snow fun!

Still, our accommodation at an agro-turismo spot felt quaint and special to us and allowed me time away from the galley. Breakfast and dinner were prepared daily and with the scents of cooking emanating from the kitchen most days, it felt like we were being cared for by a kindly Italian Nonna. Simple and delicious, Sicilian home-cooking is healthy and plentiful. Due to the rich fertile land of the volcano, wine and agriculture abounds here and the food tastes incredible. Citrus, pistachio and honey are just a few of the culinary hallmarks of the area.

Good times shared with friends!


Having volcanic ash raining down from above is truly a memory for a lifetime.

Second on the list is Agrigento. Founded on a plateau overlooking the Mediterranean azure water and reported to be one of the last cities founded during the Golden age of Ancient Greece and a leading city of Magna Graecia according to Wikipedia, it is reported also to be the largest and most “in tact” collection of Greek Temples outside of Greece. Walking through the remarkable Valley of the Temples, one can almost feel the many lost civilizations who once called this area home.

This is only one small paragraph but it has involved multiple trips to the Noto villages which is the 3rd UNESCO Site on our list of favorites. Though we are “living” in Marina di Ragusa, nothing could be further from the “real” Ragusa, for which the marina was named. The eight towns in the south eastern side of Sicily are as follows: Caltagirone, Militello, Cal di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palozzolo, Ragusa, and Scicli. All of these town suffered severe damage during the earthquake of 1693 and were all rebuilt. What makes these towns so fabulous is the Baroque style of architecture popular in the early 18th century, and the brilliant way in which the towns are laid out on the hillside. The cathedral in Scicli is breathtaking and the ceramic and pottery in Caltagirone is worth several visits. Modica is known for their unique flavor and style of chocolate. Each of these towns is worth it’s own visit.

The ceramic is not only in the shops in Caltagirone!
Caltagerone

Probably the most frequented area of UNESCO acclaim and the place we have visited the most since our arrival is Siracusa, in addition to spending the first 6 weeks here upon arrival in Sicily. Itself a Unesco site, the archeological significant sites in this adorable area (the island of Ortigia actually) cannot be overstated. I could spend 1500 words regaling you with the details of several visits but as I have already covered Siracusa in other posts, I’ll leave it there. But don’t go to Siracusa without going to the amazing Borderi sandwich shop and the one next to it at the market. And go hungry! The market, only open until 1:30 and closed Sundays is a must see on any trip and lunch at Borderi is the icing on the cake!

Another market in Catania

The sites we have yet to cover are: The Villa Romana del Casale, an open air museum only 42 miles from where we are in Marina di Ragusa. This is reported to have the most impressive collection of Roman Mosaics and wall paintings in existence dating back to a 4th century residence. It is not known to whom the residence belonged, but certainly a high -ranking aristocrat is presumed.

The 7 Aeolian Islands of volcanic origination on the North coast of Sicily. Hope to see these islands on our way past to Naples.

And finally, Palermo. Historically significant from the Arab and Norman times, and including 9 religious or civil significant monuments. The moment we go back to “yellow”, look for Instagram shots of this area since it is the highest priority for us at this point. We are not permitted to leave our commune except for approved reasons of which, tourism is not one. But we are ready and when we get the green light, we are there!

If you are a boat person planning a winter in this area, I can’t give it a higher recommendation. Though we certainly missed most of what is classically Sicilian with regard to food and entertainment due to Covid, we have never met a more loving, kind and life- giving group of souls. Even without the food and entertainment, we have LOVED our time here in Marina di Ragusa. As we are wrapping up the winter here, I will be putting together a list of people, businesses, or places that we recommend for visiting yachts to the area. Suffice to say, even in Covid times, this place tops our list of winter destinations. Look for a future post on good to know info for your travels to Sicily. Including a dentist, a vet, an Italian teacher and the best agents in the world!
So that is all for now! Ciao!

This Beautiful man embodies the soul of Sicily. Noticing Jack entranced with his work he grabbed him and gave him an intimate taste of his life!