florencelince

Croatia

It Feels Like Home…and Yet…

As we leave Croatia and look forward to our move to Spain I take a minute or two to reflect on the Croatia I came to know, and love.

The Good

From the first I felt at home here.  From the first greeting; the first meal; the first excursion, I felt at home.  Croatia and its people are very familiar to me and I’d never been here before.

My family comes from Sicily and when I told everyone here how familiar everything seemed to me using this as a reference there were some who were offended.  I meant no offense.  I had stumbled upon an old feeling of historic resentment between Croatia and Italy because of centuries of domination under Italian rule.  I am extremely proud of my heritage and to me comparing these two countries meant that what I found here in Croatia was good people with good hearts; great food with flavor and presence; beautiful scenery and a grand history.  These are all things that I hold dear and finding them here was a nice surprise and a pleasure.  I chose to live in Croatia before I lived in Sicily so that alone should speak volumes.

The Bad

Sometimes living in a country as we do for extended periods of time we learn way more about a country than just a casual visitor.  Take Croatia for instance.  We have learned that some people spend a lot of time in being jealous of their neighbors who are doing well.  Businesses where locals try to get ahead and do well are looked upon with suspicion.  Local government is not a purveyor of growth but most jobs are gotten by who pays for the privilege of having that job.  Then when they get into that job they do nothing to build or foster growth for all the citizens but to line their own pockets with money.  This leads to an environment of every man for themselves instead of team building.  We have seen this type of political environment in third world countries and it is never good to keep the masses as the poorest of the poor because when they rise up against you, you have no solid footing to stand upon.  Croatia needs leadership in all areas where the people have a say and a government that works for them, not in spite of them.  They need teamwork and cooperation between agencies and companies not jealousy and suspicion.

Croatia has a lot to offer the world and the world is beginning to come here.  What is not happening however is that the many are not receiving the benefits of these visitors; the few are.  What those at the top fail to acknowledge, as they pocket more and more money, is that everyone in Croatia at one time or another comes into contact with a tourist.  And if they treat those tourists badly; if they give Croatia a bad reputation, then no one here is going to make any money.  Make all the people of Croatia benefit from the influx of tourism coming here and then Croatia will flourish.  Will there be a leader among the generations who will lead this change in Croatia or will the status quo hold?  I hope it changes, for everyone’s benefit.

I will be watching.

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

Authors Note: I have created a short video of the highlights of our time in Sibenik, Country, Croatia.  The people in Sibenik opened their hearts to us and we will forever be grateful.  I had also wanted to create a video using the traditional music of Croatia known as Klapa.  Recently a young group of musicians known as Klapa Adriaticum performed a selection of songs at a post Christmas gathering on the waterfront in Sibenik.  I approached their manager and with his permission created my video with their music.  I hope you will enjoy it.

We wish to make special mention of the following people who made our time in Sibenik and Croatia so wonderful.  We will miss you all.

Nina Belamarić our landlady and friend. She took care of me when I got sick and in general was our best source for information on Sibenik. Thank you, thank you.

Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourism Agency; another new friend who made sure that we saw and experienced more of this area than most tourists.  We are happy she entered our lives.  We will stay in touch.

Biljana Lambasa, owner of Personal Insider; another new friend who engineered some great travel experiences for us coming all the way from Zagreb to do so. Thank you Biljana.

And to our friends Lea Brezar and Manuela Tunjić from Dhar Media; we would never have Discovered Croatia without you and we will be forever grateful. Hugs to you both.

A Look Back

 Reflections of 2013

I love this time of year.  I have always written a ‘Year in Review’ letter to family and friends highlighting the crazy things I have been up too and stuffed that letter inside a Christmas card.  With the advent of so many social media channels I find that I really don’t have to recap my year because everyone has come along for the ride.

However, this is my first year with a blog and sometimes I want to tell my story in more than 140 characters or have more connection than just filling an album with pictures.  There are stories behind the pictures that just need to be told, and memories that I want to expound on beyond a tweet.

This was quite a year.  As 2012 ended we had thought we would be in Panama for at least two years but things changed quickly and we realized that our time in Panama was at an end.  It was while we were leaving that I came up with an inkling of an idea and we turned our lives into The 6 Monthers; a concept where we would stay 6 months in every country we wanted to live in.  Six months allows us to really get to know the locals and to explore more of the country on a completely different basis than just being on a two-week vacation.  So our adventure began.  I started out looking for countries where we could live for 6 months on our regular visas and while there are some, not all the countries we want to live in allow it.  Those that don’t we will deal with them on a case by case basis.  I also began in 2013 to work on obtaining dual citizenship for Italy which we hope will help with our request to stay someplace longer than 3 months.

Where we thought we would live for two years turned out to be no more than 6 months but it gave me an idea...

Where we thought we would live for two years turned out to be no more than 6 months but it gave me an idea… © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Leaving Panama we looked north and decided on giving Mexico a try.  Other than stopping in various Mexican cities during cruises I had never spent any real time in Mexico.  Arranging our time in Mexico was easier than I expected and we found the ideal location to begin 2013 in Cuernavaca.  Mexico was a nice surprise and nothing like what the news media would have us believe.  We never heard a gun shot and we never felt unsafe.  We met nice people and we ate wonderful food.  We visited amazing places and loved every second of our time there.  Yes Mexico has its challenges but there is nothing about Mexico that should stop someone from exploring this beautiful country.

See more about Teotiuachan by clicking here

See more about Teotihuacan by clicking here. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

We returned to the US for a short period to exchange clothing and to clean out the last few boxes of items we had left in my parents’ garage.  We then packed for our move to Scotland.  Hindsight they say is sometimes best and sadly living in Scotland was not the dream that I was hoping it was going to be.

Being ever alert to prospects for new adventures, and wanting to build our 6 Monthers brand, earlier in 2013 I had connected via LinkedIn with the manager of Dhar Media in Zagreb, Croatia.  They were looking for journalists interested in exploring Croatia and filming a web series called Discover Croatia.  Filming was scheduled for the month of September.  September couldn’t come fast enough and while our 24 day filming schedule was grueling our time in Croatia was fun and filled with great contacts and new friends.

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun!  Our visit to Zelingrad Castle happened during the filming of Discover Croatia. Loved it!

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun! Our visit to Zelingrad Castle happened during the filming of Discover Croatia. Loved it! © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

But we returned to Scotland because we had prepaid our six months rent.  We were however increasingly unhappy in Scotland and wanted to leave.  The people were not friendly or in some instances unkind.  I received more than one look from strangers where I just felt that if anything happened to me on the street no one would help me.  The weather was turning colder and the costs to heat our small apartment that had no TV, no internet and no elevator was getting to be ridiculous.  We talked with our landlady who would not return our money since she said the banks didn’t allow money to flow in reverse but that if we found someone who would take good care of the place we could sublet to them.  And the hunt was on.  I told Mike I was determined to find someone to get us out of Scotland.  He wanted to know where we wanted to go.  I told him Sibenik, Croatia.  He was surprised since I have family in Sicily and they could have arranged a place for us to stay, even on short notice.

Scotland is a beautiful country and there is a lot to see. It was just not the right place for us to live.

Scotland is a beautiful country and there is a lot to see. It was just not the right place for us to live. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Luck was on our side, or fate intervened, and we left Scotland without looking back on October 26th and landed once again in Croatia. Since we had already spent 24 days in the country we were only allowed to stay in the country on our regular visas until early January 2014 but we didn’t mind.  We found a great apartment to rent in Sibenik for 2.2 months and we grabbed it.  We connected with several locals who toured us around and we learned more about this region and this country.  To thank everyone we had met and who treated us so warmly we threw a Holiday / 6th Wedding Anniversary party.   It was a happy event and we are glad that we did it.

From left; Our own Personal Insider - Biljana Lambasa, Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourist Agency, Mike and Me.  We were in good hands with these two who showed us the Sibenik we called home.  We wouldn't have learned as much without them.

From left; Our own Personal Insider – Biljana Lambasa, Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourist Agency, Mike and Me. We were in good hands with these two who showed us the Sibenik we called home. We wouldn’t have learned as much without them. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Holidays in other countries are always interesting because so many customs and traditions are different from our own country.  Here in Croatia they celebrate St. Nicholas day (December 15th) and the Epiphany (January 6th) which hold just as much significance as the main event; Christmas.  New Year’s Eve is yet to come but we already know there will be parties to attend and more stories to file away.

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik - he tells me I've been a good girl this year

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik – he tells me I’ve been a good girl this year. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

So while 2012 ended on a sour note we turned 2013 into a time of new beginnings, new friendships and new memories.  After all, isn’t that what the ball drop on New Year’s Eve represents?  Isn’t this why everyone cheers and sings and toasts the coming year?  New Year’s Eve is a time to say goodbye to the past and to look forward to the future.  New Year’s Eve is a time to make a toast to the coming year’s possibilities and a time to sing to let the world know that you are coming.

Here we come 2014, let’s see what you’ve got…

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

We have been very blessed this year to have met people from all over the world. Here are some of the many languages they speak and how they say Merry Christmas. May the world have peace in 2014.

The Sibenik Regatta

Or St. Nicholas Really is Coming to Town

As expats who are usually not home with family and friends during the holidays we have always tried to immerse ourselves in the culture and the traditions of the country we have adopted during our 6 months.  As Christmas approaches instead of feeling sad or missing our families we look around and see what traditions or holiday events we can attend in our new country.  In doing this we have enjoyed multiple Independence Days, May Day festivities, and feast days for many saints, among other holidays.

In Croatia one of their national holidays is the feast day of St. Nicholas.  St. Nicholas is the Patron Saint of sailors and fisherman and his feast day is December 6th.   Yes, this is the same St. Nicholas that is Father Christmas (Santa Claus) and children do receive small presents on this day.

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik - he tells me I've been a good girl this year

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik – he tells me I’ve been a good girl this year. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Since the town of Sibenik sits on the waterway that leads from the Krka River to the Adriatic Sea many people here make their living as either sailors or fisherman. There stands in the old part of town a tiny Church honoring St. Nicholas which is only open for three days every year. The church is decorated with nautical flags and model boats are hung from the ceiling.  These boats represent the boats that will run in the Sibenik Regatta, an annual boat race held to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas and to give him thanks for another safe year of life on the water.

The Church of St. Nicholas is only open three days a year

The Church of St. Nicholas is only open three days a year. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Boats come from Italy, Slovenia and Croatia to participate in the race all for the first place prize of a trophy.  This year the race was run on December 7th and Mike got to ride on one of the boats and to help with the yeoman’s work of keeping the boat from keeling over.  There were 35 boats in the race and Mike was part of a four-man crew on a boat called Champagne.  I opted to be on the much larger and much warmer observation boat (okay I partied on a yacht) while taking pictures of the boats in the water.

Mike spent the day on board the Champagne

Mike spent the day on board the Champagne. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

It was a bright and sunny day on the water and the sailboats whizzing around on the water with the centuries old city of Sibenik in the background certainly made this a special experience.  Of course seeing Santa water skiing by as the cannon sounded to begin the race or in getting to meet St. Nicholas made this a special occasion and experience anyway.

Sibenik is a town of 46,000 residents and many of them were out to enjoy the beautiful winter day and to watch the sailboats parading up and down SibenikBay.  This was just one festivity marking the upcoming holidays that is not celebrated back home but which means a great deal to the people of the land we currently call home and we loved sharing this holiday with them in some small way.

Thirty-five sailboats parade in the waters off Sibenik for the 14th annual Regatta.

Thirty-five sailboats parade in the waters off Sibenik for the 14th annual Regatta. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The Holidays are a time of being with family and friends. What we have learned however is that no matter where we are we do have family and friends with us.  They are just ‘new family and friends’ and we feel blessed to have met them along the way as we live as The 6 Monthers.

Happy Holidays!                 

holly       

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

Soul Searching in Sarajevo

or The European Jerusalem

(Part Two of a Two Part Series on our time in Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Being in Bosnia-Herzegovina was our first time in a country where the predominant religion was Muslim.  What impressed us with our time there was that so many Mosques’ dotted a small area.  What also made an impression were the multiple calls to prayer that one can hear around the city via loudspeaker.  Since religion has always played a part in my life I have to report that walking around the city of Sarajevo and hearing the call to prayer was in many ways relaxing and calming for me.  No, I had no idea what they were saying but the melodic sound of their voices was soothing nonetheless.

Mike wanted to see Sarajevo because almost 30 years ago this city hosted a winter Olympics and Mike loves winter sports of all kinds.  Mike was a ski instructor back in Washington State and he is an avid outdoorsman and hiker so to get to travel to a location that had hosted an Olympics was special for him.

A reminder that Sarajevo was once a city of peace and goodwill

A reminder that Sarajevo was once a city of peace and goodwill. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Taking a bus from Mostar to Sarajevo takes a little more than two hours.   We again reserved a hotel in the center of old Sarajevo and it was the ideal location to begin our exploration.  We dropped off our backpacks and set out to explore the city with maps in hand.  Old Town Sarajevo is filled with shops, cafes, coffee houses, bakeries, souvenir shops, history and mosques.  We have at least two spires in every photo that we took.

Before heading to dinner we came upon a tourism office.  Sarajevo has so much history and to see all the sites we knew we had to hire someone to take us to places we would not be able to get to without a car.  Our first day trip was to the town of Srebrenica.  Our second was a day tour of the city of Sarajevo itself.  Our guide for both days was Dzenana (pronounced jenana), a young and enthusiastic 20 something who like Selmir in Mostar, loves her country.

Our wonderful guide Djenana

Our wonderful guide Djenana. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

A city tour of Sarajevo is unlike any other tour I have taken in any city I have visited.  A tour of this city is filled with references to the war and the destruction that happened during that war.  We were shown ‘sniper alley’ and the famous Romeo and Juliet bridge were two young people who were running across the bridge to get away from the fighting were murdered by a sniper; we were shown the National Library that was bombed and which burned for five days destroying 2.5 million documents that were housed here and which had detailed information from the history of the country in it; we learned that a ‘Sarajevo rose’ was the marks left on the ground by the artillery that rained on the city, sometimes as many as 300 of them in a single day; we learned that 300,000 people were trapped inside the city limits during the war many without food, water, heat, or electricity; we were given stats like 11,000 people died in the city of Sarajevo during the war, 1600 of them children; that 1 million refugees left before and during the war and most never returned; that 80 % of the city was destroyed; that Sarajevo was attacked for no other reason than it was an easy target, the aggressors never entered the city they simply staked out the high ground and tossed bombs for three years, their objective to topple the government and break the will of the people, which they never did. We learned that the Olympic Village, where once athletes from around the world stayed and competed in harmony was burned and bombed and it no longer resembles a place of peace and goodwill.  We were taken on a ‘tunnel tour’ where we were able to enter the tunnel that was used to bring in food and water and electricity to those trapped inside Sarajevo during the war.  This 800 meter tunnel made the difference in the lives of those people and helped to ensure they had a chance to survive the war.  Without that tunnel there would have been no hope.  We learned about the hatred and lingering resentment between the people of Bosnia and those who live in the region known as the Republika of Srpska who even today want to become a part of Serbia further splitting away from Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Some people never learn.

The Tunnel Tour begins in a bomb shelter. Here Djenana gave us a detailed accounting of the war and what it might have been like to live through it

The Tunnel Tour begins in a bomb shelter. Here Djenana gave us a detailed accounting of the war and what it might have been like to live through it. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our guide Dzenana showed us a map of her country and she said, “My country is shaped like a heart, why do they want to tear it apart?”  She makes an emotional point.  The feeling here however is that someday her country will be further split in two.  Until then this little country, shaped like a heart, has a lot of healing to do.  I fear it will take generations before the healing takes hold and the bombed out buildings are replaced or rebuilt.  No city which wears its war so loudly on its streets; were so many bombed and burned out buildings still dot the landscape can heal.  There are too many reminders for the survivors to put the war behind them.

I expected my time in Medjugorje to be emotional.  What I did not expect was the sadness I felt in Mostar or the heavy burden of hatred I felt in visiting Srebrenica or the lingering evidence of war still clinging to the streets of Sarajevo.  On the bus from Sarajevo back to Croatia Mike and I had time to reflect on all that we had experienced in Bosnia-Herzegovina and ultimately we felt that living there was not something we could do.  It would be too hard on us to live in a place were so much sadness still lingers.  We only live for 6 months in a new country and that would not be enough time to help heal some of the wounds that have taken years to build, and will take more time than we can give to close that pain.  We wish the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina peace.  Long and ever lasting peace.

(For more information and pictures of our time in Sarajevo follow this link)

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

Mostar

An Ancient Pearl Waiting to be Rediscovered

(Part One of a two part series on our exploration of Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Twenty years ago this region was embroiled in a war for independence, and thus I never considered the other countries known as the Balkans as a realistic tourist destination based purely on this factor.  We are currently living in Sibenik, Croatia and after I voiced my desire to visit the city of Medjugorje before we leave here, it was then that my husband told me that he really wanted to explore the city of Sarajevo.  So I changed my thought process and we planned our trip into Bosnia-Herzegovina.

We began by visiting the city of Medjugorje for no other reason than the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin which have been taking place there for almost 30 years.  What was once a sleepy and poor town is now filled with opulence which is evident in the large homes that dot the landscape and the upscale looking accommodations and restaurants that line the city streets. There wasn’t much evidence that a war had taken place in Medjugorje.

Our next destination was the city of Mostar which is a 45 minute ride north of Medjugorje.  We opted to take a bus that night to Mostar and spend the first of three nights in that city.  Mostar is the fifth largest city in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Our hotel was centrally located on a cobblestone street in Old Town Mostar.  Mostar is easy enough to explore on ones own and with city map in hand that is exactly what we did on our first day walking through the shops in the Old Bazaar, entering our first Mosque where we learned more about the Muslim faith; exploring fresh fruit markets and shopping centers and crossing lots of bridges.

Since we only had three nights in Mostar we opted to find a reliable tour guide for the following day so we could see those things that would require transportation, so at the recommendation of the hotel owner in Mostar we ventured to the office of Fortuna Tours.  Here we booked our guide Selmir.  Mike and I have always done a combination of sightseeing when we venture to a new country.  We do a lot of touring on our own armed with guide books and city maps.  Then we take escorted tours with a local.  Selmir was born and raised in Mostar so his recollections and insight into his country and his people conveyed more to use than any guidebook ever would.

Selmir began our day by driving us to the small town of Blagaj where we saw the largest spring in all of Europe situated near an old monastery called Blagaj tekija. The monastery is 400 years old and the natural spring becomes the Buna River (Good River).  Here Mike filled his water bottle with fresh spring water.

The monastery is well hidden here among the rocks

The monastery is well hidden here among the rocks. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our next stop was the to artists colony known as Pocitelj which was built in the 15th century.  This town sits on the Neretva River which translates to Gift of God.  Only about a 1/3 of the city can be seen from the one side of the mountain.  Mike and Selmir did not let the cold and wet morning stop them from trekking to the top of the fortress and taking some wonderful pictures of the valley below, and of the other half of the city that waited to be explored.

The fortress at the top of the hill keeping watch over Pocitelj

The fortress at the top of the hill keeping watch over Pocitelj. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Onward we went to the site called Mogorjelo, a Roman village that dates from the early fourth century.  This village is the location where the olive oil was made and fruits and vegetables were grown for the Village of Narona in Croatia (see FB photo album on our trip to Narona).  To be able to tie these two Roman villages together and these two countries was quite a thrill for me.  Sadly, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina does not have the money to begin excavation so the secrets of Mogorjelo will stay secrets for many more years to come.

Olive oil was produced here and taken to the Roman village of Narona which is located in Croatia

Olive oil was produced here and taken to the Roman village of Narona which is located in Croatia. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Selmir then took us to Kravice Falls on the River Trebzat. The height of the falls is 25 meters and the radius of the lake at the base is 120 meters.  This is a very popular swimming and picnic area during the summer.  It is unusual to take people here this time of year and the falls were majestic.  This was really the best time of the year to come here since the waterfalls were bursting with water.

Kravice Falls  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Kravice Falls

The last stop on this tour is normally to Medjugorje but since we had been there on our own Selmir said he would add in a stop that very few people enjoy.  High atop one of the hills that was used during the war the Catholics in Bosnia-Herzegovina erected a crucifix that can be seen all over the city.  The crucifix was erected in the year 2000 and stands 33 meters high.  The hill it was placed on was used during the war to bomb the city.  Upon arriving at the top of the mountain we were greeted by a rainbow that seemed to be protecting the city itself.  The views of the city from this location were breathtaking.  It was a fitting way to end our day and our time in this beautiful city.

Rainbow over Mostar

Rainbow over Mostar © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Since many tour guides have done a fair amount of travel, and Selmir was no exception, we asked him if he planned to travel more outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina and he told us that he had learned that there was so much for him to see and discover about his own country that he didn’t see the need to travel outside of it until he had seen it all.  Selmir is justifiably proud of his country and what it has to offer besides war torn buildings and monuments to its heroes.  He told us that he has shown his friends the places he has visited right in their own country and they ask him where these beautiful places are and he tells them, this is an hour outside of town, and they do not believe him. Some people look for beauty so far outside of their own country that they do not see what is right in front of them.  We are glad Selmir took the time to share his country with us and show us the Bosnia-Herzegovina he loves so well.

(For more on our time in Mostar click here)

Part Two Coming December 11, 2013 (Soul Searching in Sarajevo – the European Jerusalem)

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

The Siren of Tirena

Planning a summer vacation is always a lot of fun.  Being on a pirate galleon during that vacation is even more fun.

Along the Dalmatia Coast in Croatia you can rent a boat called the Tirena.  This accurate replica of a pirate galleon is only 8 years old and is completely made of wood.  It is placed in dry dock every year and refurbished.  It can hold 200 guests, comes with a crew of 5 and has been the location of many a wedding.  Every year the Tirena is host to over 5000 guests.

The pirate galleon Tirena that sails the waters of the Dalmatia Coast

The pirate galleon Tirena that sails the waters of the Dalmatia Coast. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Imagine coming into Dubrovnik port on a pirate galleon!  The over 1 million tourists who visit this city will be taking pictures of you as you are taking pictures of the city. This past September on a beautiful day in Croatia we used the Tirena to explore some of the 13 islands that make up the Elafiti Island chain. Only three of the islands are inhabited.

On the Island of Lopud there are several fortresses, 10 monasteries, and an art school for painters.  They also have 36 churches!  Croatia is a very Catholic country and churches can be found in abundance in every city and on every island.

The Island of Sipan is the largest inhabited island of the 13. This island has 42 palaces, 34 churches, a rector’s palace and the remains of Roman villas to explore.  We made brief stops on each island but on Sipan they have two docking ports (one on each side of the island) and it was the second port where we docked and then had lunch at a local restaurant.

Scattered on the other islands, which do not have any fulltime residents are 20 lighthouses which can be rented out and lived in for periods of time. They drop you off; come back every day with fresh food and any other items that you need (and to check on you of course).  Most people rent them out for a week at a time.  They would be considered a little more ‘rustic’ in accommodation standards.

Rent this lighthouse by the week

Rent this lighthouse by the week. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Service on board the boat was very good. We had unlimited coffee, tea and other beverages. Around 10:00am or so the cook had prepared apple strudel for us and it was served warm. Yum!

Croatia is a beautiful country and everyone talks about the Dalmatia Coast as being Europe’s playground because of its wonderful beach’s.  Our playground this day was on the Tirena and “Aye mate, it was a right fun day at sea”.

Mike and me with the Captain of the Tirena

Mike and me with the Captain of the Tirena. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com

(First published in Grandparents Day Magazine (Australia) by The 6 Monthers, summer 2014)

I Thought I Always Wanted to Be Maid Marian

Turns Out I Wanted to be Lady Lancelot

Our trip to Croatia this past September was quite unique.  Normally we research the country we are going to visit well in advance so that we can see and do the things we find most interesting.  This time however, our time and our schedule were being dictated by the team from Touristar TV, who asked us to participate in a web series called Discover Croatia, and we had no idea what they wanted to highlight.

One of the most talked about excursions came at the Castle of Zelingrad where we were able to joust, shoot arrows and sword fight with the local experts.  They are known as the Knights of Zelingrad.  They have forty members interested in medieval history, numismatics, swordsmanship, siege engines, archery, medieval horsemanship, medieval cuisine and medieval dress.  And they let us play knight for the day!

Me being readied to fight like a knight.

Me being readied to fight like a knight.

The members of this group get together three times per week to keep honing their knightly skills.  They practice among themselves, then joust with members of other groups from around Croatia and around the world in medieval tournaments.  I can tell you from our time inside their authentic armor that the longer you wear it, the heavier it feels.  Wanting to protect us, they started us out with full helmets.  However, it quickly became claustrophobic inside.  And those swords are also a lot heavier than they first appeared.   Our instructor told us that hitting him with the sword would not hurt him a bit, and he was right.  We took many hits ourselves from ‘enemy’ swords, and we did not feel anything more than the clink of metal on metal.

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun!

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun!

This troop takes things so seriously that they have homemade catapults, a trebuchet, two battering rams, armored war chariots and a couple of cannons, which they transport from one tournament to the next.

The International Knights Tournament, the largest event of its kind in Croatia, happens every May and is organized to remember the victory over the Turks, which happened in 1557 on a field in Sveta Helena.  ZelingradCastle was built in the 12th century and it is the only medieval fortified town whose ruins are still visible.

For our training we were lucky enough to join them on the grounds of Zelingrad Castle located near Zagreb, Croatia.  This was quite a treat for us since guests normally do not get to see them in their true life encampment.  Because so few people even come here it is the perfect place to joust and sword fight and to practice archery.

After all the jousting they showed us the art of medieval cuisine and how they cooked over an open fire.  They demonstrated how they fed all the troops who might be living inside a castle by treating us to a fine feast.  It was not an easy chore feeding all those people in those days, and we appreciated their making us feel welcome and treating us to a feast truly fit for a king.

They cooked an authentic meal right out in the open.  Just like in the days of the Knights of Zelingrad.

They cooked an authentic meal right out in the open. Just like in the days of the Knights of Zelingrad.

Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com

(First published on BoomerCafe.com by The 6 Monthers)

Visiting Nicaragua

Or, Never Again

When Mike said that he wanted to add the country of Nicaragua to our list of countries to explore I had my misgivings.  Turns out I was right. We toured the cities of Estelí, Cerro Negro, Granada, Leon, Masaya, Ometepe, Matagalpa and San Juan del Sur.

Upon landing in Managua the staff at the hotel wouldn’t let us leave the hotel without an escort.  We said we were only going to walk a few blocks away to the cinema and they told us that even that would not be a safe thing to do.  It was broad daylight.  That was enough for us.  We never left the hotel.

Our only picture of Managua is of the water cooler in the hotel lobby.

Our only picture of Managua is of the water cooler in the hotel lobby. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

 

The following morning we were picked up for a seven day escorted tour of the country.  Our driver and our tour guide were both friendly and wonderful people.  Even they however gave us warnings about places to go and what time to be back inside our room.  Sitting in a café one day looking at one of the countries most famous beaches I remarked how empty it was.  We were then told that the water was actually polluted with sewage and locals won’t use it.  Lots of expats build expensive homes on this waterfront and I wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole.

One of the safe beaches frequented by locals

One of the safe beaches frequented by locals © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Since we were exploring Nicaragua for 21 days we had rented a car for the last 14 days of our trip.  Bus travel in Nicaragua is spotty at best so it was deemed safer by our tour operator to do our own driving.  We were also headed to some places that would have been nearly impossible to find or get to without having our own vehicle such as the coffee finca Selva Negra in Matagalpa.  Our time in Selva Negra is well documented and we wrote our first children’s book about our time there.  This truly was an oasis in the middle of a no man’s land.

We stayed for four nights in Leon using it as our base.  The wonderful women at the hostel we stayed at insisted that Mike park the rental car behind the locked gates at night (and before dark) so that it would be safe.  In Granada we watched people eating out of garbage cans because they were starving.  One of the hardest things to watch was people standing around and watching other people eating and when those people got up to leave those who were watching would swoop in before someone else got to the plate and take the uneaten food to have something to eat.

In Granada we also met an expat who married a local woman.  He said he hardly ever leaves his home because one day he dared to ride his bike outside the safety zone and he said he knew he had ridden too far that day and before he could turn around he was pounced on and they took his bike, his camera and his pride.  They hurt him only a little bit.  He said he will never do it again.

We watched in first fascination and then in horror as people would do tricks or cartwheels or other dangerous routines at red lights.  While people were waiting for the lights to change those desperate for money would do something to earn a coin or two.  And then of course there were those who would blatantly walk up to your car windshield to wash it to earn money.  These people are at every street corner and to get them to stop you simply turn your windshield wipers on and they go away.

Sound harsh to you?  Three weeks of people begging for money, of seeing the filth and trash thrown in the streets and the constant car horn honking will turn even the most civilized person into a hardened tourist.  I asked Mike to get me out of Nicaragua.

The people we met and dealt with at hotels and restaurants were warm and friendly.  This fact however does not make up for the constant bombardment of begging that we were subjected too.  If the leader of Nicaragua would spend more on his people instead of wasting money putting airstrips on Ometepe Island or in building a canal to rival Panama’s perhaps his people would not be starving in the streets, or doing dangerous things at red lights or even in eating other people’s leftovers.

They are putting in an airstrip on this beautiful island so that tourists can get to the island faster.  They are plowing up beautiful rainforests to do it.

They are putting in an airstrip on this beautiful island so that tourists can get to the island faster. They are plowing up beautiful rainforests to do it. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

If you wish to see the country of Nicaragua take every precaution imaginable and stay safe.  Stay with an escort and keep on the beaten path.  Our paths will not cross in Nicaragua.  Been there, done that.

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

Srebrenica

Where Allah Wept

In 1992 fifty thousand Muslims fled to a small town called Srebrenica in the region today known as the Republika of Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They came from cities all over the region.  They came because the United Nations said this was a safe place for them.  They were told to turn in their guns once they arrived because they would not need them for protection, so they did.

They lived without water, electricity, food and a purpose.  They had brought themselves to a concentration camp with nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.

From 1992 to July 1995 they lived this way. In the mountains and regions around them they could hear the bombs and the war playing out where the region of the world once known as Yugoslavia was being torn into eight new countries; Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

These 50,000 Muslims were not new to this area.  Many of them had lived peacefully, and for generations, in the towns and cities they had fled from.  Being Muslim however they did not fight and being out of harm’s way was seen as a good thing.

There was in the area of Srebrenica a United Nations detachment.  The first UN peacekeepers came from Canada.  They were replaced by a detachment from the Netherlands.  They occupied a vast expanse of land and did little more than parade ground maneuvers in their occupied space. They were viewed as a peaceful presence, a protective presence to those who were living here.  With the world’s focus on the war taking place and new countries emerging few outside of this area knew of the treatment these people were enduring.  Or of what was to come.

With the war for Bosnian independence coming to an end, on July 10th word began to spread in Srebrenica that perhaps it was time for the people to seek shelter elsewhere.

It was then too late.

On July 11, 1995 twenty-five thousand people came to the Dutch United Nations site to seek shelter.  Only 5,000 were admitted.  Twenty thousand men, women and children were left outside to fend for themselves.  It was then that the Serbian Army under the leadership of General Ratko Mladic, under orders from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, came to begin the genocide at Srebrenica.  They were killed for simply being Muslim.  By July 14th, the killing was complete. The Dutch never fired one bullet to defend or protect any of the fifty thousand.

As of today more than 8000 bodies have been found, mostly Muslim boys and men.  However mass graves are still being found all over this war-torn area which was once Yugoslavia and no one is sure what the final death total will be.

The list of the cities where those who came seeking shelter came from

The list of the cities where those who came seeking shelter came from

Because there are so many bodies still to be positively identified and with so many burials taking place it was decided to hold one annual burial. No other date would have meant as much so these burials take place every July 11th.

This year 497 more people were buried in the graveyard in Srebrenica.

A commemorative wall where the names are placed of those who were murdered

A commemorative wall where the names are placed of those who were murdered

This story was recounted to us by a young man named Hasam.  Hasam lived in the concentration camp of Srebrenica for four years with his Mother, Father and two brothers.  He was not saved by the UN or by any other outside faction.  He escaped and walked for over five days into the woods, away from the ‘safe city’ of Tuzla that the Bosnian Serbs told the over 2500 men and boys to walk towards, but where an ambush awaited.  He never saw his father or oldest brother again. His mother lives not to far from the city of Srebrenica.  His younger brother is also alive and well.

Mike with Hasam who survived the genocide. Mike's Dad was a prisoner of war who survived the Bataan Death March. This photo was important for them both.

Mike with Hasam who survived the genocide. Mike’s Dad was a prisoner of war who survived the Bataan Death March. This photo was important for them both.

A wide range of emotions swept over me as I walked the cemetery in Srebrenica and looked upon all these graves.  Another set of emotions erupted when I walked the grounds of the Dutch enclave and saw fenced in areas and buildings that could have easily held all that sought shelter.  No one needed to have died that day or any other day.  A rage boiled inside to see the blood stained walls were some of the people were marched and then killed.  And I shed a lot of tears. Tears of revolt for those who did the killing, tears for those who died, and tears for those who were left alive to live with the pain and the memories of those days.

I do not understand hate such as this.  I hope I never do.

Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com