The Mascleta is a daily fireworks event during Fallas, starting on March 1 and ending on March 19. These occur at 2 PM. You can not see fireworks very well during the day so what’s the deal? These fireworks are made to be felt and heard rather than seen. The percussion from the explosions makes a strong impression. You have to be close enough for the explosions to have their intended impact.
The event is initiated by the Fallera Mayor and the Fallera Infantil. These two are dressed in their traditional outfits. Each day they signal the people in charge of the display that it’s time to begin.
Walking around Valencia on the 10th and 11th of March we came across some of the fallas construction activities. They use cranes and cherry pickers to move pieces into place. The pieces are set about the designated lot. The deliveries take place at night to avoid traffic. Street food vendors start to arrive in numbers and the bars fill with onlookers. At our corner the churros stand is back, open 24/7 starting March 1 and ending on the 19th, with the end of the festival.
Often in the winter I go north to check on our boat. I look for leaks, make sure the batteries are being charged properly and the like. This year I flew into Eindhoven, a mid-sized airport in the southern part of the Netherlands. After completing the car rental paperwork and the steeple-chase effort to find the car lot, I put the phone on the seat with the route entered and set off. In about 90 minutes and an equal number of roundabouts I came to the marina, along the way piercing through the sub-freezing clouds. Once on the boat I switched on the diesel heater as well as the small electric one, and set about the few tasks I had in mind.
That night I slept under the duvet. The Dutch generally turn their heat way down at night as these duvets are more than adequate. I left the small electric heater on and woke up nearly sweating, getting up to move the heater to the cold salon. It was just 10c/50f inside the boat when I awoke, but it warms up quickly with the gas burners used to make breakfast.
So there I was, standing on the dock looking in disbelief. Then I realized I was in a jam. I was way out of sight of the office. They knew I was there as I had emailed them weeks before and the day before I talked to the woman in the office about getting water. It was she who told water valves on the dock are always removed in the cold weather.
There was a dinghy tied to the dock but there was no paddle. I called the office- luckily I had a signal. The woman I spoke to in English the day before was not in. The man on the other end spoke no English, just Dutch and German! I sent him an email so he could translate it, then thought of calling Kees in Haarlem. He roared with laughter when I told him what happened, then he called the office. Within about twenty minutes I was shoving off towards land, just 10 meters away, retrieving the paddle the man heaved to me. My only problem was the water in the dinghy. It had been hidden below the folds. Once I slid into the boat, staying low to avoid capsizing, so I was quite surprised when the icy water rushed out from the sides, covering my legs to the knees.
Before getting drinking water I went back to the boat to change into my sloppy old sweat pants and the inexpensive but terribly comfortable clogs. You’d think that the clogs were from the Netherlands. No. I bought them in Spain, after looking for them all over Netherlands without success. I made my way to land in the dinghy and filled the jugs.
After another day doing a few additional chores I drove to Haarlem to visit with our friends. It took about three hours. I wasted a good part of one hour as I’d put in the right street and number but the wrong city into Google maps.
Their daughter came for dinner that night. I met her and her husband in 2000 when we had our first Dutch boat. A few months before we met Kees and Ada on the River Eem near Amersfoort. We arranged then to meet them all in their home harbor in July to see the fireworks in Amsterdam harbor in connection with the Tall Ships. This is an annual event where large 3-5 mast sailing vessels travel to various ports in Europe. In the Netherlands during this event there are thousands of boats on the huge North Sea Canal that the ships use to get to Amsterdam.
Ada put on a fine meal that night and I slept in a warm house. The next day came the news. A big snow storm was coming, to be particularly heavy in the area where the boat is. I would not only be driving in the snow on Friday to return to the boat, where I had to prepare the boat for the rest of winter, I would be getting up on Saturday morning with snow on the docks in the pitch black, to slide on the docks to get into a small dinghy with my luggage and row to shore, hoping then to get out of the boat without stepping into the water, soaking my shoes. I had to make an early flight.
Friday dawned. It began to snow on the way to Almere, where I had to drop off some canvases for repair. These I had removed in the frigid weather, which makes canvas stiff and hard to handle. Then I had to carry the large stiff pieces down the dock and into the dingy. By the time I arrived at at the sail maker’s shop the snow flakes were huge, coming down in quantity, and building up on the roads. I did not have snow tires on this car. I grew up in New York and lived for 12 years in Colorado so I do know how to drive in the snow, but that was years ago now.
After another stop in Almere Poort (as it is spelled in Dutch) for a solar panel, I started south. Almere and the Poort are near Amsterdam so I found a fair amount of traffic on the highway. There was a slushy build up on the road, especially between the lanes. I crossed two bridges before leaving the area, leaving extra room between cars as bridges ice up sooner. The snow abated and within an hour disappeared. I was not yet out of the woods, of course. The worse was yet to come, per the forecasts.
I had lunch in a roadside Eet Cafe. Eet means Eat. These are home cooking places. They offer basic cooking and normally are very good. I ordered a kip sate. Kip is chicken, sate is a peanut sauce. This is a typical Dutch menu item, coming from its one time colonial occupation of Indonesia. The offering in this charming place was mediocre, with just ordinary grocery store bread and without the excellent fries that accompany most Dutch meals.
I stopped by the office to let them know I was leaving in the unlikely event they’d worry about me. The man who does not speak English told me in English I could drive the car to the far end, much nearer the boat, a big help since the canvases are both heavy and bulky, and there are two of them, so I would have to make two trips. Then he asked me if I would be taking the dingy back to the boat for the rest of the winter. Apparently he thought the dinghy was mine! So someone left a dinghy there. It was just a matter of my good luck, not planning by the marina.
As I drove towards the boats I came to the small road along the water. It had been underwater but was now open. The river level had dropped. I was able to walk onto the dock as the land end was no longer submerged. I cleaned and winterized the boat, then headed for a small town close to Eindhoven. I’d booked one night in a hotel to avoid the risk of getting off the boat in the dark, in the snow, and then rowing to shore.
The hotel is located in the middle of a pedestrian zone in a small town so I had one more hoop to jump through- parking. It is a hassle in this country. I learned from one of the locals where I stopped to try to pay for a space with my US credit card that there are parking spots everywhere but they require special cards which only locals can buy. Each town has its own card or set of cards you can use in the machines. So if you can not find the rare free spot, probably on the far edge of town, then you have to find the rare and expensive parking lot or garage. This is what I ended up doing, at a hotel, not mine, but another about a dozen blocks away. I did not know it was a hotel when I pulled in. As I parked I realized that there might be just a pay station that won’t accept cash or my American credit cards. I wondered how I would be able to get through the gate. Seeing then that I seemed to be in a hotel’s parking lot, I went into the lobby to find out how to pay, assuming the machine they had outdoors would not work. The clerk assured me I could pay there in the morning.
I spent the night wondering if this was true. I allowed extra time in the morning just in case. It went smoothly, fortunately. I walked out to the car and drove through the gate. Surprisingly it was wide open so I needn’t have worried. I would not even have had to pay. But at least I was not drowning in the icy waters of the Maas, and in a few hours I was back in sunny Spain, happy to leave the stressful journey behind.
In Spain, Portugal and some Latin American groups there are traditional singing groups called ” tuna” who are historically were university students who played on the streets to earn money. Starting in the 13th century, they dressed in university dress akin to what you see i the video. They play guitars, lutes and similar instruments, and groups might include an accorrdian player. They sing a variety of serenades in the style you hear here. traditional university dress who play traditional instruments and sing serenades. We have seen a group playing on the streets of Valencia, younger than the group we see in this video. A senior member of a tuna is a “tunante” or “tuno”. New members are called “caloiros”, “novatos” or “pardillos.”
In an earlier piece there was a “cajon,” which translates as ‘box.’ It is played as a drum.
I recorded this video at the Ateneo in Valencia, December 11, 2022
We drove into Zagreb’s attractive downtown, finding a parking spot reasonably close to our apartment. Our self-check in flat turned out to be quite lovely, a two bedroom affair with a large living room with a modern and attractive kitchen on one end. Strung out along the hall from the only entrance, off an ancient and rough looking courtyard, there is a full bath, then a bathroom and finally a second shower. Somewhere in there’s a washing machine. It was plenty comfortable for the three of us, and amazingly quiet given its ground floor setting on a busy street.
We were within blocks of a large park, which we passed on our way to the oldest areas of town, then across the main plaza and uphill, passing a goodly number of the city’s 750,000 inhabitants, not to mention tourists and other visitors to the nation’s capital, plus commuters among the 1 million plus living in the area. Slovenia is not far away, making for a rivalry such as we witnessed in a grocery store between the checker and an inebriated customer who traded friendly insults.
There are bars and eateries galore, generally much less expensive than on the heavily touristed coastal areas. The cuisine is more Croatian, featuring grilled meats and stews, although Italian offerings are readily available.
The city was heavily influenced by the Jesuits, who in circa 1669 built the first grammar school and St Catherine’s Church. They found an academy which developed into today’s University of Zagreb. Croatia remains a strongly religious country.
Zagreb was alive in Roman times, although the name dates from the 11th century. At that point there were two city centers. Kaptol was the smaller of the two, where you find the cathedral. It was mostly populated by clergy. The Gradec area was larger, where craftsmen and merchants lived. The two areas remain today, still divided by a stream. We learned this and more from our walking tour led by an eccentric local who loved to point out his country’s governmental flaws.
Zagreb underwent a make over in the late 1800’s, lasting until the outbreak of WWI. It retains the layout then established. In 1891 the first horse-drawn tram went into service, while in 1907 came its first power plant, which began replacing the many gas lamps then in use, some of which still adorn the walls. The central area has that great turn of the century architecture, lots of monuments, parks and many museums as well as many live theaters. The Gric cannon is fired daily, a tradition started in 1877. In WW2 Zagreb was the capital of the Independent State of Croatia, backed by Hitler and Mussolini. There was state violence and resistance.During the 1991–1995 war of Independence. The city was not heavily damaged. Zagreb has a long history of earth quakes. Our guide remarked that these occur soon after a major building has been restored, damaging it yet again. The latest was in 2020, 5.5. on the Richter scale, the strongest since 1880.
There are museums galore. Modern Gallery holds more than 10,000 works of 19th- and 20th-century Croatian artists. It is located in the historic Vranyczany Palace. Croatian Natural History museum has an important collection of Neanderthal skeletons. Our co-traveler went to the Museum of Broken Relationships. The rest of us fought over whether to go or not.
The city bustles with young people hanging out with friends at the numerous bars, cafes and restaurants. We enjoyed the hearty cuisine, featuring stews and grilled meats. I really liked the fish stew, in Croatian brodet. They were served by male waiters, all named Igor, all of whom who spoke good English, sometimes with a strong accent serviceable for any Dracula movie. The waiters worked on us for tips, and always earned their keep in the very traditional white cloth yet reasonably priced restaurants. Most people speak English quite well, especially in the larger cities and the highly visited towns.
There are plenty of very good craft beers and Croatian wines, the latter at least drinkable if a bit eccentric. I often found myself saying of the latter, “I’ve never tasted anything quite like this.” Maybe with some getting used to I’d become a fan, but it would take more than the two weeks I had.
These are an energetic people, with a long history of war and political conflict. My impression is that on the whole they are on a good path, with reasonably strong democratic and other public institutions, with an appreciation for art and the other aspects of culture, and yet humble enough to realize their shortcomings. I am not sure what more you could ask for.
The Roman Emperor Diocletian was born in Split, now in EU member state Croatia. One of few Roman emperors to survive his time as head of state, he retired to this coastal town in 305 CE, occupying the palace whose structure remains with us in significant part. Too bad it is obscured by layers of later additions or otherwise unattractively modified. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, occupying a delightful spot on the country’s dramatic Adriatic coastline.
By the time Diocletian moved in, Split was already an old city, founded by Greeks in the 3rd century BCE. Later part of the Byzantine Empire (Roman Empire East), it was eventually controlled by Venice. Then Napoleon added Croatia to his holdings before it became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire under the Hapsburgs. You can readily see these various influences on the architecture, making for an interesting tour, but the way it was done creates an unattractive hodgepodge. Below you seen an example. The arches are from Diocletian’s palace, backed by Renaissance buildings from the Venetians.
The town, including its street plan, is dominated by the palace. Inside the remnants of Diocletian’s joint you walk through narrow passages lined with shop after shop selling trinkets. On the bottom level you find the cistern, where unfortunately you also find commercial activities as well. Not a centimeter has not been testelessly commercialized.
There is more to Split than the architecture. For example, the Red Museum recounts the Communist period in Croatia, when it was part of Yugoslavia under the Tito. It features displays of items used in daily life and an excellent narrative. We attended an excellent folk dance presentation, with complex dances and costumes by the dozens. St. Dominus is certainly worth a visit.
Next: we continue our journey along the coast and then into the interior.
Coming into the coastal town Dubrovnik city by car or bus you are treated to views of the vertical-cliff coastline with panoramic views of everything including the walled city you are about to enter. Over-touristed Dubrovnik, originally called Ragusa as in the Italian town of the same name, is best visited outside peak season. Once in and enough bodies out of your way, you are treated to a trip back in time in a town with fine movie set qualities; there was filming ongoing while we were there. Dubrovnik is a World Heritage site. It dates as far back as the 7th century.
The town was under the control of the Byzantine empire in its earliest days, then the Venetians from across the Adriactic Sea. It was a free state between the 14th and 19th century, when it came under Napoleon’s thumb. After Napoleon Dubrovnik became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From 1918-1943 it was in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, then came de facto rule by the Nazis. It was part of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. The city was shelled during the successful Croatian War of Independence in 1991. What we see today in Dubrovnik is largely the result of extensive restoration projects following that war. Unlike Split, another highly visited coastal town to the north, it is architecturally unified.
The main drag appears after descending the steep steps and ramp through the city’s main gate. It is lined with sparkling clean, cream colored buildings several stories high. While the ground level is dedicated to commerce, your initial view is undisturbed by signs or advertisements. Lured by the attractive window displays, you take a look inside to see ice cream, baked goods such as meat or cheese filo dough stuffed breads, as well as alluringly displayed sweets, cafes that feature fine Italian espresso that it seems only the Italians can do, and real cappuccino, absent the whipped cream and chocolate shavings, never included in Italy nor in Spain, for that matter. Elsewhere they usually muddy the waters with calorie rich toppings and other coffee flavor disguises. You see plenty of trinkets and a range of apparel from cheap to price.
Restaurants, laden with somewhat odd versions of Italian cuisine, and grilled meats (very much a Croatian thing) are mainly off to the side on alleys and side streets, some just barely enough to hold a table with room left over for pedestrians. I would dine out only by necessity rather than for the cuisine, although the festive atmosphere does add to the pleasure, if not being its greatest measure. It’s not that the food is bad, it’s just unremarkable. I’d say the same about the wine except that it’s eccentricity makes it interesting at least. I did not fall in love with the wine with one exception, but since they are not exported it would not matter much if I did.
Step further in past the first few streets parallel to the main drag and soon you come to steps. Lots of them. Eventually they take you to the ramparts. On ocean’s side you stare down sheer walls, waves crashing below, especially on stormy days like the one we met when we decided to take the spin halfway around the town. We missed the side overlooking the harbor, where the moored boats sloshed about in the waves. It’s not a good harbor if you have to spend time aboard, it’s that turbulent.
Museums, as it turns out, are not a reason to visit this picturesque coast. In Dubrovnik we went into the mildly interesting nautical museum. You’d think with this kind of sea access and a long history would manage at least a bit more of interest. Likewise for the archaeological museum. Not that they are terrible museums, just unremarkable, not surprising given the size of the town just disappointing given the extensive history.
We stayed in a third floor apartment in the town center. With very tall ceilings, there are three very long and steep staircases. It was charmingly renovated if a bit cluttered. A leak from the bathtub kept us mopping a few times a day. The landlord igorned our message about the issue.