Friday, October 21, 2016

Croatian Journey

Monday, October 17, 2016
We arrived in Split, Croatia late Sunday morning. I quickly found that as little as I know about Croatian history and politics, I know even less about its geography.  Split is on the western edge of Croatia, along the Adriatic Sea, opposite Italy's eastern coast, roughly at the same latitude as Rome.  Zagreb is Croatia's capital, far inland.  The sight of palm trees surprised me; I don't think of them as European flora.

We are traveling with Road Scholar, which runs trips all around the world, always with an educational component.  It definitely appeals to an older population.  Our group of 21 has only three people not collecting Social Security.  On the other hand, members of this group seem to be more experienced travelers  than your ordinary collection of Americans.  We found the same on our Road Scholar trip to Portugal a few years ago.  The other most interesting demographic is the presence of only four men in the group. 

Croatia is a member of the EU, but does not use the Euro.  (We conclude our tour in Montenegro, where Nero Wolfe came from, which is not an EU member, yet uses the Euro as its currency.  Go figure.)  Croatia's currency is the Kuna (HRK), roughly just under seven to the dollar, or $.15 each.  I have to keep stashed the pile of crisp $1 bills that I got from the bank just before leaving, because the use of anything but the Kuna is more than discouraged, it is illegal for ordinary merchants.  Local prices seem moderate compared to other European locales.  For instance, the menu in the restaurant of our 4 (of 5) star hotel shows reasonable prices, such as, 10 HRK for a cup of espresso, 16 HRK for "white coffee" (more to an American's taste), 22 HRK for universally-beloved Coca Cola.  A shot of Scotch whiskey runs 28-45 HRK, according to brand, and a bottle of local white wine at dinner starts at 180 HRK.  A critical economic measure was the cost of three scoops of ice cream at Slasticarnica Bili San, Nigerova 2, for 22 HRK, about $1.10 a scoop.  I  have also learned that Slasticarnica means "establishment that Grandpa Alan has a hard time passing by."  

Our room in the Cornaro Hotel, Sinjska 6, is very comfortable, with a well-designed bathroom about one-half the size of the bedroom itself.  Most notable is the totally intuitive shower fixture, contrary to contemporary European and Israeli practice of offering plumbing that provides the choice of scalding hot or ice cold water misdirected to random parts of your body or the room in general.  

While we don't have to think about cooking for a while, I found the following New York Times on-line article featuring dishes prepared with few ingredients particularly interesting and worthy of filing for future reference.  

We broke away from the group this afternoon and took a tour with Lea Altarac, a local Jewish woman, who offers an informative walking tour of Jewish interest,  We went to the Jewish cemetery, dating from 1517, high on a hill above the city, now unused and practically inaccessible.

Only a few tombstones were legible, written entirely in Hebrew or Croatian written in Hebrew letters, with one exception for a prominent citizen inscribed in both languages.  Lea then took us to the one synagogue, founded less than a decade before the cemetery, in a building two hundred years older.  There is archaeological evidence of Jews in the area as early as the third century.  Note that many Jews use BCE (before the common era) and CE (common era) instead of BC and AD.  After all, the D of AD ain't our D.

It was our good fortune to meet Lea's father Albert Altarac at the synagogue, a vice president of the small Jewish community, numbering about 100 people.  He explained that, unlike the larger Jewish community in Zagreb, the nation's capital and home to almost one quarter of the total population, Split's Jews are mostly intermarried, as he is, and follow few of the customary rituals and practices.  There is no local rabbi and services are generally held on demand, rather than according to a calendar.  The good news is that Albert claims no local anti-Semitism in a country over 90% Roman Catholic.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
We did some typical sightseeing today, with periods of heavy rain coming mostly while we were on our bus.  Late in the afternoon, we transferred to the motor yacht Futura, which will be our home base for the next week as we hop town to town, island to island along the Adriatic coast.

The following article, lamenting the decline of Jewish (but not necessarily Kosher) delicatessens in Los Angeles, strikes me as much ado about nothing, although my first hand experience is a few decades old.

Los Angeles delicatessens were never very special, if you had a realistic (New York) frame of reference.  Nate'n Al (sic), 414 North Beverly Drive, remains famous as a Beverly Hills power meeting spot and Canter's419 North Fairfax Avenue, serves as a hangout for an older generation of Jews.  Neither is Kosher, although they may serve some Kosher products.  The only LA delicatessen that I took seriously was Langer's, still at 704 South Alvarado Street, right across the street from the well-sung MacArthur Park.  Langer's, not Kosher of course, had the best seeded rye bread that I have ever had and, as the late, lamented Leo Steiner said, it makes a nice sandwich. 

I found the story behind the following headline somewhat puzzling: "Audience Members Walk Out on Amy Schumer After Trump Criticisms"  Or, maybe too predictable.  What were they thinking?  How about a Hadassah theater party at Jesus Christ, Superstar?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
We spent the night on the Futura, but it didn't leave the port of Split until late this morning.  Our first stop was Trogir, a tiny island just feet off the mainland.  Its outstanding feature is a cathedral that was constructed mostly in the 13th century. 

Meanwhile,  it is estimated that there are 66 million more men on earth than women.  This seems to contradict common sense: men's lifespans are shorter than women's.  More than their female counterparts, young men die in accidents and by criminal conduct;  old men die from heart attacks and strokes.  However,  the contest does not start on an even footing.  For every 100 female babies born, there are 107 males, as if nature recognizes the harder road for little boys.  Why don't we have more polyandry under these circumstances?  Or are women more reluctant to share the wealth, as it were, while polygamous men are found worldwide, eager to mix and match. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016
The Futura left Trogir even as we ate breakfast, but most of us paid no attention to this because we were absorbed in reading accounts of last night's presidential debate.  This was two out of three debates that I slept through in a foreign country.  By the way, the politics of this crowd of older, white people, prosperous enough to afford this trip, was remarkably consistent and not what you might immediately guess, fortunately for my blood pressure.

It took over three hours and one nap to sail from Trogir to Stari Grad, population 2,500, on the island of Hvar, where we walked through narrow alleys lined by stone houses.  Many of the houses now stand empty as inhabitants have given up on agricultural pursuits after generations growing grapes, olives and lavender.  Tourism seems to be the only viable alternative for many of these scenic Croatian islands and that is limited to the summer, because the centuries-old houses usually lack heating.

The Croatian mainland as well as its 66 populated islands are regularly losing population, along with much of Europe, which makes the failure to deal comprehensively with refugees costly for all involved.

Friday, October 21, 2016
We slept aboard the Futura again last night and sailed around Hvar island to the town of Hvar, population around 4,000.  Of particular interest there was a Franciscan  monastery, now the home of exactly one monk.  He was actually out fishing when we came to visit.

On Hvar's central square, I saw something that had eluded me on this trip so far.


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  2. Your reference to the politics of your shipmates betrays your failure to keep up with 2016 polling...the electorate has a brand new fracture which is now predominant: within the approximately 63 percent of the population which is non-hispanic white, class and/or income are the greatest predictors of favoring Trump or favoring's far from surprising that your fellow travellers (ha!) favor Mrs. Clinton; after all, how many unemployed miners took your trip?

  3. I enjoyed your travelog, interspersed with foodie news. Glad that your travel companions are compatible!

  4. nothing to do with croatia, but on my recent travels to DC/MD with a friend who grew up in LA and now lives in Seattle, she was adamant that we find a "jewish" if not kosher restaurant. she waxes nostalgic for nate'n al. when i finally asked her what she would eat if we found said establishment the response floored me - "turkey sandwich on corn rye". well, we called it corn bread, but aside from that, all this fuss for turkey? oy vey

    safe travels, sb