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JOURNAL

This part of our website features "as-it-happens" diaries from our most exciting trips. These diaries will recount some of the more challenging personal trips of the owners (for example, Martin's summit attempt of K2 or Shisha Pangma), as well as selected company trips with our clients. Our experiences will be posted, and we hope to share with you a sense of our wonder as we explore the territory among the islands of the Adriatic Sea, on "the other side" of Italy.

I. ADVENTURES IN DALMATIA

May 7 through May 25, 2003 eighteen travel-loving Americans plan to enjoy a Dalmation Coast adventure with Martin and Jerry of Romantic Czech Tours. Some of us are on our 3rd RCT tour, each one "a trip of a lifetime". This time, we think Martin has outdone himself. We plan to travel along the Adriatic Coast by two 52 foot sailboats, journeying from island to historic town to national park to UNESCO site, using the clear, blue sea for our road. Now, a few days before we fly out, we are packing boots and packs and duffels for a multi-faceted adventure.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, we plan to post journal entries with photos on this website; each hiker/sailor/traveler taking his turn at trying to share our days and nights with you. Join us if you dare!
Anchors aweigh for Operation Croatia Explore!

Stand by for future installments!

- Mary Coleman


Journal entry Day 1-2; (click here for pictures: Plitvice National Park , Post walk cold brews)

Up with the birds in Zagreb and bleary eyed while eating our first Croatian breakfast of great bread, cheese, meat, jam and STRONG coffee and tea.

On to Plitvice National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will expect me to tell you this is a wonderful park, but that is an understatement. This place is absolutely, gorgeous, with blue-green lakes and many, many ribbon-like waterfalls. One walks on trails made from cut saplings above and around the lakes gazing at every size of waterfall, from less than a foot to hundreds of feet high and from six inches and many feet wide. we ate a picnic lunch next to the lake, sampling yummy local pastries filled with cherries, apples, poppyseeds, cheese, onions or combinations of these.

We sailed across the lake after lunch and hike among the upper lakes to the "train" station where we boarded a multisection bus that took us back to the entrance by negotiation hair-pin turns where the last car occupants could talk to the first car occupant through the windows. The flowers were lovely and we could actually identify a few of them. The forest looked like great bear habitat (but we saw no bears!) However, we did see many small frogs that quacked like ducks while blowing up little white membranes behind their eyes. Then there was viper checking out the frogs!!

Back on the bus and on to the sample slow cooked lamb and wonderful bread, especially of the Lika region of Croatia of Seline at the base of the Velebit mountain range, tomorrow's hike.

Check back for our next adventure tomorrow!

- Betsy Belshaw
(top of the page)


Journal entry Day 3; (click here for pictures: A view down the "Small Hell" ( Mala Paklenica), Post gorge cooldown, The first bite of calamari)

After a Croatian breakfast, we assembled near Saline for a loop hike up Mala Paklenica ( Small Hell) and down Velka Paklenica ( Big Hell). As we greeted the morning gardeners watering gardens we trekked along a road to the reportedly small canyon. A serious of aparant and choked check dams caught our attention as we ascended in the heat over limestone and travertine boulders. In the canyon which resembled an aviary. Spring flowers were an abandance. We boulder-hopped up mostly in the dry creek bed occasionally using handy rope or wired cable or Martin's leg as a foot step.

The trail markers urged us steeply on to the col amid the call of the cooko bird. To prove the we were really here, Kathy snapped a group photo on about twelve cameras at the trail sign. We headed across the meadow with growes of unknown bushes, trees and pines, skipping across stone fences. Then it was over to a view point of the "large hell" ( Velka Paklenica). Before we switched back steeply down the canyon to a spot of water where everyone cooled their hot feet. 15 minutes later a spring allowed us to fill our empty water bottles. Then it was down to the bus and repast in Saline.

Martin said it was about 5 miles loop but most of us felt it was 50 miles. Several times on the trail, we were 20 minutes from nowhere. All of us were tired. But there were no super injuries. And the same number of people ended this challenging trip as started it.

After the repast, we drove to Biograd na Moru and we were introduced to the boats and their skippers. The boats will be our home for the next 12 days.

- Ralph Nafziger
(top of the page)


Journal entry Day 4; Sailing to Kornati (click here for pictures: Nymphs on the cliffs, White cliffs of Dugi Otok)

After our first night sleep on the sail boats, we set sail for Kornati archipelago national park. By lunch time, we were ancored at the town of Sali on the island of Dugi Otok. Our boats are the Bepina and Oceanica with skippers Dario and Sebastian, from Slovenia. Our lunch at Sali was while we were tied up at the town's wharf.

An afternoon hike across island Dugi Otok was planned. Our hike departure was excelerated by the arrival of the ferry at our wharf and the need of our two boats to leave. Dorald was still on board when the boats left. But she was able to hike because of a special "touch and go" deposition.

The hike across Dugi Otok showed the typical sparse vegetation of the Kornati island chain. Pines and olives are about the only trees growing here. Most of the 147 Kornati islands are uninhabited because of the lack of water. As as Paklenica National Park there were many stone walls along the way.

At the end of the hike the edge of the island is a vertical wall of white limestone with deep blue and green water at the base. The effect is much like the white cliffs of Dover. Nearby is an inland salt lake connected to the Adriatic Sea by the narrow opening. Some of the group swam in the lake at the end of the warm hike and then witnessed the sunset from the top of "white cliffs of Dugi Otok". Our sail boats were waiting for us offshore at the end of the day. The Oceanica served as a floating coctail lounge for much of the afternoon. Ken's margaritas have no equal. We remained ancored there for the evening.

- Bob Young
(top of the page)


Journal entry Day 5; (click here for pictures: Bepina and Oceanica - our home, Little church at the end of the world, Hiking to Metlina - highest point of Kornat Island, Dorald and John - first Americans on the top of K2 - KT)

A chorus of Slovenian songs from a boat nearby put us to sleep ( eventually) after they stopped singing. We awoke at 6:45am to hear donkeys braying on the nearby beach. Sebastian reported "donkey sex on the beach". As we got up and dressed, Sebastian eased our boat away from Mir Bay toward the western side of Dugi Otok. We ate our breakfast under the sheer cliffs that face the sea. They drop some 500 feet from the top of the island to the sea below. We shut down the engines and enjoyed the quiet as we drifted during our breakfast. When done, we motored on to Kornat Island. Sebastian and Dario put us ashore near a tiny Catholic church dating back to the 12th century. Behind it were some older ruins going back to the 6th century. Looking down on the church are the ruins of a tower that is also from the 6th century. We went into the church for a few moments and some of us signed the guest book. Then we closed the door and started our hike.

We had not gone very far before we heard a sheep bleating in distress. The poor thing had become entangled in bramble sand could not break free. John, apparently an old hand at working with sheep, quickly stepped forward, cough the sheep (under protest from the sheep) and pulled and cut the brambles away. As soon as John released its hind legs, the sheep took off at a dead run. It is a good thing we came along that day !

We headed inland up the slope of Metlina, a small peak at 725 feet. The hillside was covered with the beautiful blue blossoms of wild sage. Here-as on islands we'we either been on or passed for the last two days - we also saw many stone walls fencing off small and large tracks of land. At one time these rocky islands were rich with fruit trees. Today though, they are very sparsely populated. Too many fires have stripped the vegetation away.

At the top of the peak, we stretched out in a long line of hikers like aunts on a hill. We separated. One group hiked down to the village of Vrulje, where we picked up by dinghy and ferried out to our boats for lunch. The other group walked down to the village of Kravljacici where they were serenaded by another group of Germans until we picked them up. Group 2 - Mary, Becky and Phyllis were having such a good time, we are not sure they wanted to to be rescued.

We were underway by 3pm, motoring toward Skradin for dinner and the night. At 6:30pm we passed by Sibenik, a fascinating city with old forts to modern buildings. As we entered the channel, we passed tunnels built into the rock where Yugoslav patrol and torpedo boats were kept for protection. The channel became a river. On both sides, we passed large "mussel farms". They look like large collections of oil drums. Underneath are ropes and nets from which the mussels are attached. Under a bridge crossing over the river, we anxiously held our breath. We only had about 8 feet to spare from the top of the mast to the bottom of the bridge. We passed pretty yellow plants on the left side of the river and two people fishing for octopus on the right bank.

We tied up at Skradin, a very pretty little town at 7:45pm. Everyone raced to the showers for dinner at 8:30pm at Marco Polo. It is right next a church. The steeple is lit up beautifully against a dark blue sky
and we can already seethe moon.

- Nancy Passavant
(top of the page)


Journal entry Day 6; (click here for pictures: Krka national park, Swimming under the falls of Krka river, Primosten- one of the prettiest towns of Dalmation coast, Evening dance on the deck)

Today we awoke to clear sunny skies. Some of us enjoyed an early morning walk exploring Skradin, our moorage village. The church bells ring on the hour and they sounded loud and clear in the morning air.

After enjoying a breakfast on the deck of our boats we boarded an excursion boat at 9am for Krka National Park, a 20 minute ride up stream by Krka river to the foot of a spectacular series of waterfalls which cascade over limestone cliffs for a total drop of nearly 800 feet. This region of the Krka river abounds in traces of ancient settlement including Roman ruins which brought water to the surrounding area. Some of us enjoyed warm water of the pool below the falls and we swam and waded in it.

After viewing the falls and the interesting exhibits we returned to our boats by either the excursion boat or by hiking along the river trail. After further exploration of the town and a hardy lunch aboard our boats which included local sheep cheese purchased at the falls we left this pleasant area at 2pm and motored down stream towards the sea to Sibenik a town of about 40 000 people. We stopped at Sibenik and sightsee about two hours. Sibenik has a remarkable cathedral and a network of streets and squares that were laid out in 15th and 16th centuries. The cathedral built entirely of stone was begun in 1431 and finished in 1536. One of the most unusual feature of the cathedral is the freeze of 71 heads on the exterior walls of the church. We also visited the large fort which overlooks the city.

We then returned to the boats and started our trip to our night moorage at Primosten. Primosten is a small village of medieval street and well kept buildings. The anchor was dropped in the harbor as the church bell
struck 7pm hour. We had a traditional supper at a local restaurant under the stars and nearly full moon. A great way to end the day.

- David Carter
(top of the page)


Journal entry Day 7; (click here for pictures: Sailing towards Vis Island, John-the waiter, Fish Picnic)

We are still ancored in Primosten harbor and we have had late reveille because of a late dinner last night. But everyone ate heartily at breakfast. Some of us went to ashore for a while for picture taking and wandering. Nancy and Francis came across a packed burro with bangs that would beg for food since it was tethered on a cobble stone street. Any weed will do.

We leave at 9:15am but the wind is slight and the sails are slack. So we are motorized at 7,5knots for the 5 hour leg. We are at open water and are getting motion from the swells for the first time. Maybe we can develop sea legs.

Martin is high on the mast on the Oceanica. Yesterday Phyllis told him he looked like a pirate with his bandana as a head cover. Now he REALLY looks like one.

Dolphins! Two pair in a perfect synchrony and several singles cresting like aquatic ballerinas.

12:45pm We are still under way and can see only two islands, but the swells are gentle and the brandy is warm. Yesterday, in the national park, we bought some fig brandy from the table vendor. It is red, smooth and warm and, according to skipper Dario, it is a local specialty. We enjoy it but not too much at one time.

Dario's mother is Slovene and his father is Croatian. He was born in eastern SLovenia, but fell in love with the sea at a young age. He learned as a youngster, and 3 years ago was teaching sailing in Corsica.

Side note : Dario : "In Corsica the towns are in the mountains because Arab marauders would pillage the settlements and steal the females." Sounds like the VIkings.

1:15pm We are dropping anchor in a cove of the island Vis where Tito planned to have his headquarters in case of war with us or Soviets. We can see four concrete bunkers for artillery pieces on the hillside. We have landed and as we walk to the bunkers, we see that the hill is dotted with fox holes and machine guns emplacements.

We reach the bunkers and find 90mm canons with their barrels blown up. We split into two groups and enter adjoining bunkers. Fortunately each party has flash light because all outside light quickly disappears as we enter a labyrinth of tunnels. We tread cautiously for fear of on covered man holes like we stepped over as we came in. I feel like Tom Sawyer in the cave not knowing what is next. After penetrating 50-60feet, we hear voices which turn out to be the other party. We have entered the sleeping quarters which would hold nearly 100 men stacked four deep in iron rucks. So suspended from both walls we leave and find reassuring light. We do not wonder because we worry about land mines.

We return to the beach where Jaroslav is cooking fish on a grill over a fire built in a small alcove. What a guy ! A few of us swim and snorkel in the clear cool water while Jaroslav cooks. He brushes the fish, which look like 10 inch trout, with a wild rosemary frond dipped in olive oil, pours a little beer on them, and then sprinkles them with salt water that he gets by simply reaching back as the waves lap his feet. The fish are delicious and Jaroslav receives a big hand for his work.

At 4:30pm we set sail again under the moderate breeze fed and refreshed. We dock in Komiza on the same island just as the town clock strikes 6pm. We are expecting rough weather and this is a safe harbor.

Komiza is a beautiful place, and we have the best dinner yet. A feast of tuna pate, scallops still clinging to their shells, octopus salad and scamp with a supporting cast of noodles. This sumptuous repast was followed with out of this world crepes filled with hazelnuts and whipped cream and smothered with chocolate.

Dancing to lively Croatian music then commenced while the waitress twirled with her towel held high.

- John Schoon
(top of the page)


Journal entry Day 8; (click here for pictures: Green cave and our sailboats, Swimming in the Blue Grotto)

We are having a delayed departure from Komiza on the island of Vis because of a strong wind called the bora - a wind from the northeast. So we are having coffee and enjoying the view of the harbor lined with houses built 500 years ago ( more or less). The tallest building is a 15th century Venetian tower built to depend the harbor from pirates and other raiders from North Africa. It now houses a fishing museum staffed by a very pleasant sailor who speaks several languages including English.

A little distance away from the village there is a church on a hill which looks like it started as a fortress to which was added a tower and later, a church. It is a beautiful spot surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Enormous work is involved in creating these vineyards as the entire hill is terraced : 3 foot high stone walls, 4 tiers of vines, another wall and so on from the bottom of the hill right up to the walls
of the church.

The wind is lessening and I expect that we will soon be underway. Meanwhile, Kathy went into town, bought a flat of eggs and cooked up some delicious scrambled eggs. That was a treat !

Everything secured, engine running gang plank pulled aboard - we are about to leave the harbor and sail to the island of Bisevo to see the Blue Grotto.

It was a short sail to Blue Grotto. We divided into teams and entered the cave with the dinghy. As we paddled in through the entrance it first got darker and then an iridescent blue. The cave is lit by light filtering through the sea. A wonderful sight. We sailed past another cave where seals once lived. They are all gone, killed by fishermen because the seals ate fish caught in the fishermen's nets.

We then sailed back towards Vis, the crossing was a bit tough, making some uncomfortable. Our speed was nearly 9 knots. At times the wind gusted to over 28 knots.

We made a stop at the Green Cave, another grotto in the limestone cliffs which we visited in our dinghy. The cave has two openings to the sky in the roof which let in light that makes beautiful blue patches on the water and provide illumination. Darting in and out and around the cave were swallows perhaps disturbed by our visit.

Our lunch stop was at Rukavac where under skipper Sebastian, several of us put together a delicious salad for lunch : tomatoes, yellow peppers, olives, tuna, onions, garlic, beans, oregano, parsley, basil, cheese,
black pepper, salt, vinegar and oil. Stupendous!

After a siesta, a rough sail was made to the town of Vis where there is a laundry which we badly need. The day ended with a huge seafood dinner: a scoop of seafood salad, tuna marinated in a mustard sauce with capers, a fish soup followed by a bean and pasta soup with a seafood broth ( the most outstanding dish of the evening), shrimp, crawfish and then the main course consisting of vegetables, salad and two different fish. How we ever managed to walk back to the boat after that meal is amazing.

Light out and a well deserved sleep.

- Francis Passavant
(top of the page)


Journal entry Day 9; (click here for pictures: World War II memorioal on highlands of Vis island, Hvar with its fort on Hvar island, Dinner on board)

We entered the very welcome horse shoe shaped harbour of Vis after a rough afternoon on high seas. The water laid down during the night and morning brought warm sunshine. Part of our group had breakfast on the boat and the rest walked to a small square that contained a tiny bakery and a coffee shop with a very clean WC. We had fun buying fresh fruit at the open air market under the palm trees. Vis dates back to Neolithic times and has been occupied by Greeks, Romans and Slavic tribes. We visited an Ancient Greek cemetary and a Roman bath and an English fort. We had a wonderful lunch of yellow fin tuna cooked over old grape wines. We toasted each other with local grappa and wines.

We climbed the long stone steps leading up to Tito's caves where he directed the partizans during the latter part of World War II. Vis island was off limits to all foreigners until 1989. The next stop was the town of Hvar on Hvar island. On the way we swang by submarine pens on Vis. We found a small docking area about a 30 minute walk from the town of Hvar. The boat crew prepared a delicious dinner on the boats and we all slept very well.

- Frank Knox
(top of the page)


I am Ken Palmer, an aircraft navigator veteran of World War II and also a founder of Romantic Czech Tours, Inc.

I was truly excited by the perspective visit to the Island Vis. In May 1944 the B-24 that I and my fellow crewmen had brought to Italy from the United States had crash landed on Vis. Another crew was flying the aircraft that day as frequently occurred during the progress during the conflict. The story I am told is that the ship took a lot of antiaircraft hits over their target and, crippling back with no hydraulics to let the wheels down, had chosen to go down on Vis. This was not controlled by the German troops who dominated most of Yugoslavia. The partisans under Tito had control of Vis.

At Tonopah, Nevada in the course of one of the phases of our training in preparation for combat duty, we chose to name our aircraft " The hard way 10". First, there were 10 men on the crew; Pilot, Co-pilot, Navigator and Bombardier, commissioned and the Engineer, Radio operator as well as the Nose, Tail, Top Turret and Ball or Belly Turret Gunners who were non commission officers. Also, we had earned a reputation for being conspicuously dedicated to our job of getting ready, hence the "hard way" moniker. Thus the dice rolled showing two five's on the left side of the aircraft. Hard way ten was our name.

Repeated inquiries made by Sebastian, skipper of of sailing vessel I was on turned up no islander with knowledge of such a long-downed aircraft. My guess is that in 59 years that have past since that airplane crashed that wild under grows has covered it and that today's people have many things to think about besides the war debris. In any event, the visit to Vis was fun even if we did not get to see an old wreck.

- Ken Palmer (top of the page)