Zagreb

Unwrapping Gifts

Or Something Special Around Every Corner 

Have you ever walked a celestial labyrinth?  Up until last week I hadn’t either.  Then, on a beautiful winter day here in Sibenik, Croatia, I was invited to walk the Labyrinth of Wisdom built by famed labyrinth maker Adrian Predrag Kezele and donated to the people of Croatia by Marina Baranovic.

Mike with our hostess, Marina Baranovic.

Mike with our hostess Marina Baranovic. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

There are many styles of labyrinths and they have been around for centuries.  There are nine celestial labyrinths; The labyrinth of life and death – Saturn labyrinth; Rahu Labyrinth – the labyrinth of transformation; The labyrinth of freedom – Ketu labyrinth; Sun labyrinth – the labyrinth of power; Moon labyrinth – the labyrinth of feelings; Mars labyrinth – the labyrinth of energy; Mercury labyrinth – the labyrinth of connection; The labyrinth of wisdom – Jupiter labyrinth; The labyrinth of love and creation – Venus labyrinth.

On the outskirts of Sibenik, away from the crowds of the city center, is a parcel of land which once belonged to Marina Baranovic’s parents, who farmed this land.  Marina’s family still uses the land to grow olives and other food items but Marina wanted to do more with the land and she wanted to leave a legacy to her town that would stand the test of time.  She felt that building two labyrinths was a good use for the land, and a good gift to the people of Croatia.

There are two labyrinths here. The first is the Labyrinth of Wisdom which reduces dishonesty and wrong judgment; removes ignorance, prejudices and possessiveness; reveals the purpose of life and gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness.

The labyrinths were designed by Adrian Predrag Kezele.

The labyrinths were designed by Adrian Predrag Kezele. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The second is the Labyrinth of Contact which reveals the hidden abilities; makes visible what was invisible; connects what was separated and enables us to understand the secrets of the Universe.

The Labyrinth of Contact - walk them both to boost their power.

The Labyrinth of Contact – walk them both to boost their power. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Putting the two labyrinths in the same area boosts their power (as per Ganesha: Lord of Success).  One simply begins at the beginning and walks the labyrinths while contemplating and asking for enlightenment or fulfillment.  Once you reach the middle you return the way you came.  These two labyrinths have a beginning, middle and an end.  They are free to see and open to the public year round.  This is a very special gift to the people of not only Sibenik, to the people of Croatia, but also to the world.

Our day continued.  Driving though town and out into the countryside we drove up a hill lined with the Stations of the Cross.  At the top of the hill stands the remnant of the medieval town of Vrana.  The views of Vrana Lake from this vantage point are unmatched and even on a cloudy day the vista that unfolded before us was breathtaking.  From as early as 1070 Vrana had become one of the most important centers of political life in Croatia.  The land was given by the church to the Knights Templar in the 12th Century (one of three religious orders to be given the land over time) and it was rumored that they buried their treasure somewhere on the land.  Today there are remnants of past buildings on site; a rebuilt small chapel and picnic tables so that families can come and spend the day exploring and learning more about this interesting part of Croatian history.

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The views from the top of the hill are unmatched. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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There are picnic tables here for families to come and spend some time exploring and enjoying the view. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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Our crazy friends were enjoying the view from the edge of the cliff. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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Any excuse to take a photo of us we take it! © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our last gift to be unwrapped came at Vransko Jezero or Black Crow Lake located on Lake Vrana, the largest natural lake in Croatia.  This is one of the protected areas of Croatia and the dominant feature of the park is the ornithological reserve, an almost untouched natural habitat for birds; a rare wetland system full of biodiversity. The lake provides an ample amount of fish for fishermen (pike, tench, carp).  Here locals and bird watching enthusiasts from around the world spend hours enjoying not only the beauty of the area but also in seeing some of the unique birds that inhabit this area.  We were there during winter so the water table was higher than in summer when the water comes up and around the walkway but the water was shallow and in some places only inches deep.  This natural lake is even more amazing when one realizes that it is 3 miles long and only 15 feet deep which makes every part of this lake accessible as a feeding ground.

Local bird watching expert Leonardo Grubelic led our tour.  In addition to enjoying bird watching, Leo spends approximately 10 days every summer here on the lake finding new species of birds and categorizing them for future research and bird watchers.  He imparted that the best time to bird watch is actually in winter so we were there during the best time of year.  It was quiet and the day was beautiful and only one other person came to enjoy the view.  Vrana Lake (Vransko Jezero) is also an important migratory location for birds.  Not only does it offer a lush environment for the birds but it is a good resting point for them as they travel both north and south.  Leo reported that 150 species of birds use this area for migration but more than 250 bird species have been seen here.

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Reeds grow on a gently sloping terrain in shallow water. Conditions such as these are excellent for many species of birds which use the reeds as protection from other predators. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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Our local bird watching expert Leonardo Grubelic gave us some insight into the world of bird watchers. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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The walkway out to the main bid watching site is over a mile long. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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One of the main bird watching stations. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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This area is protected as a Park of Nature. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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We were quiet as possible since this area is home to over 150 species of birds but over 250 species use this area on their migration paths from north to south and back again. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

As our sightseeing, hiking and bird watching tour of Vrana Lake and its surroundings ended one thought stood out for me.  If I hadn’t been with a local guide I would never have enjoyed my exploration as much.  There is so much more to Sibenik than St. James Cathedral and old town Sibenik, and on this day we got to see more of what makes this area special and why we chose to live in it if even for a short time.  From walking the Labyrinth of Wisdom, to exploring the cliffs overlooking Vrana Lake to the experience of visiting the bird watching sanctuary with an expert we learned more about this region than many people take the time to learn.  And we made some new friends along the way, which to me was the best gift of all.

Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com

 

Author’s Note: This special day was arranged by Tina Vickov, Owner of Sibenik Plus Tourist Agency and Biljana Lambasa, Owner of Personal Insider Tours (Zagreb, Croatia).  Click on their names to learn more about them and to book directly with them.  Bird watching tours with Leonardo Grubelic can be arranged via Tina Vickov.

 

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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.

Six Years and Counting…

Or What a Great Excuse for a Party

This December 23rd was our 6th wedding anniversary.  The modern symbol for this anniversary is iron which is strong, long-lasting and represents the strength of the marriage bond.  To us however we viewed this as a way to celebrate the strength of the friendships we have formed over these past few months.  This party was therefore a two fold event; 1.) It was to help us celebrate the Holidays, and 2.) We used it as a vehicle to invite everyone we knew in Croatia to thank them for their support and friendship over these past few months.

Coming up with a list of 30 people who we wished to invite we sent out invitations and we had a wonderful response.  We planned the party for 1:00pm on a Saturday and 25 people said they would attend.  We found a restaurant to hold the event and hoped for the best.

We had good friends who drove 3.5 hours to attend who came all the way from Zagreb (thank you for driving Slavisa).  Our landlady Nina come over to the house early that morning to fix my hair and even to give me my first dye job (as in…I want to wash that gray right out of my hair).  We bought poinsettias to decorate the tables and they were such a hit since we gave them to some of the woman who attended the party to take home with them.  We had lots of good food, homemade cookies for dessert and dancing in the streets (well inside the restaurant but it sounded better the way I wrote it).

We had also been told that Croatians would stop in for a couple of hours and not to expect the party to go on much past 6:00pm.  By 9:00pm we were still sitting around, dancing, talking, and having a great time.  So yes, we think this was a very successful event.

I am happy to introduce some of the people who have made our time here in Croatia so special;

From left; Slavisa, Lea, Mike, Manuela and Me.  These are the people who brought us to Croatia to film the web series Discover Croatia, and discover it we did

From left; Slavisa & Lea (owners of Dhar Media), Mike, Manuela and Me. These are the people who brought us to Croatia to film the web series Discover Croatia, and discover it we did.
(click the photo to see all video’s in the Discover Croatia series) © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

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.
(click the photo to see Tina Vickov about.mepage) © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our landlady Nina is a wonderful person who also happens to be a beautician.  She came to the house earlier in the morning to style my hair for the party.

Our landlady Nina is a wonderful person who also happens to be a beautician. She came to the house earlier in the morning to style my hair for the party. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

From left; Me, Mike, Emil   who led a boat tour or two during the filming of Discover Croatia, Slavisa and HD an American friend who happened to be in Croatia for the party.

From left; Me, Mike, Emil Lemac who led a boat tour or two during the filming of Discover Croatia, Slavisa and HD an American friend who happened to be in Croatia for the party. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Tina Bilus and Mike. Tina did a Secrets of Sibenik walking tour for us and imparted some great information.

Tina Bilus and Mike. Tina did a Secrets of Sibenik walking tour for us and imparted some great information. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

From left; Marjan our landlord and Nina's husband and Steve who toured us around Krka National Park and Burnum the Roman gladiator town.

From left; Marjan our landlord (Nina’s husband) and Steve Gundic who toured us around Krka National Park and Burnum the Roman gladiator town.
(click the photo to learn more about Burnum) © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The poinsettias were a big hit with the ladies!

The poinsettias were a big hit with the ladies! © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

As we make our plans to leave Croatia for our time in Spain we know we are leaving behind good friends.  And we are not sad.  You see we know we are not really leaving them behind.  We will be taking our memories of our time here everywhere we go and comparing other countries and its people to Croatia.

The other countries have very big shoes to fill indeed.

Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com

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)