Monday, October 22, 2007

Rugby World Cup Final

I love Paris, I do. Couldn't possibly count how many times I've been there. Love the food, the wine, the culture, the shopping, but oh god do I hate French inefficiency. Every time I go, there is someone on strike and this last weekend for the Rugby World Cup Final was the worst I have ever experienced. Trying to get anywhere was a complete fiasco. I could regale you with tales of woe, but you probably wouldn't even believe me. So how about just this one? There were over 80,000 people at the match, most of them using public transportation. Guess how often the RER trains were running to get people home after the match? One per hour.

But the match was good fun - not the best match per se, but spine tingling moments during the national anthems and England's (almost) try. We had a wonderful lunch on the left bank and ate the requisite crepes and drank the requisite wine. Which I suppose, when it comes down to it, will always make trudging through whatever French strike is currently being played out, worth it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

War Photo Limited

Our Balkans guidebook mentioned a photography gallery in Dubrovnik called War Photo Limited, which we decided to check out one morning. It turned out to be one of the best places I visted on the entire trip. Down a small alley in the hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik's old town is this gorgeous photography gallery housed over two floors of a renovated building. The purpose of the works displayed is to show the true nature of war - both the innocents caught in the crossfire and the combatants thrown into the conflict. But the gallery space itself was also impressive to me, and clearly well thought out. The large rooms had crisp white walls that reflected the perfect light in an otherwise dark gallery. The photographs were large and imposing and the explanatory captions were not present next to the individual photographs, but rather displayed all together and out of the way. This made for a much greater impact, which is something I had never previously realized. Also on the wall in the main room was a large flat screen television screen which silently played war scarred images over and over - it was mesmerizing.

I was particularly taken with the photographs of Ron Haviv. His images of the Balkan war, such as the one pictured above, were startling and emotional after having spent almost two weeks travelling through the region and meeting so many of the lovely people affected by the violence. Welcome to Sarajevo indeed.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Croatian Coast: Hvar & Split

The rest of our time in Croatia was spent in Split and on the island of Hvar. After more than a week of some pretty intensive city exploring, it was awesome to relax on the Adriatic coast and just watch the boats go by with a mojito in my hand. Split is basically just a pretty port, and a major hub for the ferries that troll up and down the Croatian coastline. But it is also home to Diocletian's Palace, which was built by the Roman emperor in the 3rd century AD.

An hour's ferry ride brought us to Hvar and we rented a cute apartment in the centre of Hvar Town. Suntanning on the rocky beach, sampling various restaurants and doing it up each night in the hotel bars along the harbour was basically how we spent our days. One morning we hiked up to the fortress that guarded the town, which provided spectacular views of the island. One moment on the island exemplified the gracious and friendly nature of all the Croatians we met on our journey: arriving back at the apartment, we found two pieces of homemade cake left for us by the landlady. Wonderful trip.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Stunning Dubrovnik

George Bernard Shaw called it "paradise on earth" and Lord Byron named it "the pearl of the Adriatic". Dubrovnik was staggeringly gorgeous and upon an hour of walking into the Old Town, we wished we had booked at least a week in the place.

The "pearl" part of Byron's description stems from the white marble everywhere - the streets, the steps, the buildings. In the day the sun gleams off it and at night the lights make the Old Town shimmer so we constantly felt like we were wandering through somewhere magical. Climbing the walls that surround the city provided one hell of a view and the photo above was taken from the very top of the fortified town. Close to our apartment was a gem of a place called the Buza - a rocky outcrop with steps leading into the Adriatic and a cool bar. Check out the gorgeous ocean in the photograph below - it felt amazing to swim in such clear, warm, deep water. And after our dip, we spent the rest of our day sitting here.