In May of 2024 we went on a trip to Croatia and the surrounding Balkan countries with Gate1 travel tour company. We went with 8 other friends from the Villages in San Jose, several of whom had previous experience with Gate1. The tour covered most of the countries of the former Yugoslavia (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia) and ended in Italy. We began in Zagreb and proceeded by bus to Sarajevo, Mostar, Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Split, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Postojna Caves, Bled, Trieste and Venice over 12 days. After the tour ended in Venice, Grace and I took the train to Cinque Terre for an additional five days before returning home.

This trip has plenty to recommend it. Old town Dubrovnik was enchanting, the waterfalls in Plitvice were out of this world spectacular, the medieval towns of Split and Kotor were marvelous and of course there is nowhere in the world like Venice. We had a large tour group of 42 people on the bus, but in general everyone got along very well and there were only a few occasions when the group had to wait because someone was not punctual at a meeting point.

One of the weak points of this particular Gate1 tour is the considerable time spent on the bus. As the map below shows, the tour had a peculiar circular path almost doubling the distance instead of a more direct itinerary. In retrospect it would have been preferable to begin in Dubrovnik and just go northbound with sidetrips to Mostar and Sarajevo and maybe skipping Zagreb. The main disadvantage of the large size was that it made the bathroom stops lengthier. We dealt with this by creative swapping gender assignments of the toilets.


Grace and I arrived a day early to help with the jetlag and in case there was any problem with the airlines. We rented an Airbnb just around the corner from the hotel that Gate1 scheduled for the tour to begin. We spent the day wandering around the Upper Town.

St, Mark’s Church

The colorful roof of the church as the coat of arms of Croatia-Slavonia on the left and of the city of Zagreb on the right. The church has been closed for a number of years. This area is the center of government as the prime ministers office (Ban’s Palace) is to the left and parliament to the right. When we were there, crowd of TV cameramen and commentators were waiting there for news of steps to set up a government.

St. Mark’s church is one of the highlights of the Upper Town.

Overlooking the Dolac farmer’s market, open for over 900 years.

The Stone Gate, the only surviving town gate of the Upper Town. A small chapel is inside.

We had coffee and pastries at this Lav Caffe Galerija that overlooks the Stone Gate. Croatians love to sip coffee and watch the world go by on the street cafes.

Lunch at the Pivnica Mali Medo brewpub on Tkalciceva Street, which becomes a lively and crowded scene at dinnertime.

Croatian Museum of Naive Art

A highly rated site is the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, but this was very disappointing as little of the art was actually on display. Indeed only a single small room contained the highly unusual art works as most of the museum displayed posters from the past. A unique aspect of the art, aside from being painted by those with little art training, was that it was painted “backwards” on glass,. The pieces were painted with the foreground first and the background last. The final art was then turned around so the glass was facing outward.

The only major piece of art on display was timely, as it depicted the surprised reactions of the peasants during a total solar eclipse. We had just experienced the solar eclipse from southern IL a few weeks earlier.

Gate1 tour

The Gate1 tour began with a walk around the Upper Town, visiting many of the same places that we had seen the previous day. Unfortunately the day was rainy and we had to spend part of the walking tour hiding under a kiosk in the park. However, we were joined by a group of young school kids who were also avoiding the rain and they serenaded us with several Croatian songs.

Our guide Primoz preparing for the up-coming 2 weeks.

With Ruder Boskovich, Croatian physicist, astronomer, mathematician, poet, and theologian.

The oldest and shortest funicular in the world.

Kumrovec Village

The birthplace of Marshall Tito, the titan of Yugoslav politics during the years 1943-1980, is now a tourist destination with houses and environment kept in the style of his childhood. There were houses showing weavers, blacksmiths, potters, gingerbread makers, coopers, tanners, and woodworkers. It was reminiscent of Old World Wisconsin except there were no people in period costumes playing the part of the settlers.

The enigmatic leader of Yugoslavia

The bakery with entertainment

A room for making toys

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzogovina

We spent one night in the historic city of Sarajevo which has a long history of religious and cultural diversity. It was founded by the Ottoman Empire but it also added a large population of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in the late 1400s. It is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europe”. One can find a Catholic church, eastern Orthodox church, mosque and synagogue within the same small community. Modern day Sarajevo is still dominated by the tragic events of the Bosnian War in the 1990s following the breakup of Yugoslavia. It suffered under the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare, almost 4 years (1425 days) from April, 1992 to February, 1996). Scars from the constant bombing of the city can be seen despite the restoration over the last 30 years.

This marks the place where World War I started.

Mosque minaret

In the mosque there was a small library with a copy of the Quran on the shelf.

East meets West in Sarajevo.

Crossing the border from Croatia into Bosnia we had to undergo passport checks individually. I took a photo of Grace while she was being checked. Ram thought he’d do the same when his wife was being checked after me, but the border guard saw him taking the photo and made him delete it from his phone.

So this photo is for Ram.

On the way from Sarajevo to Mostar we made a stop at a restaurant that has a reputation for healthy water and great roasted lamb.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The star attraction in the town of Mostar is the old bridge (Stari Most) spanning the Neretva River which has been here for over 4 centuries. It is the longest single span stone arch on the planet but the original bridge built in 1566 by Ottoman Suleyman the Magnificent was destroyed in the Bosnian War following the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It was rebuilt using the same technology used by the Ottomans in 2004. For some it is symbolically the point where East meets West.

Continuing an old tradition, young men jump off the bridge into the icy cold Neretva River to amuse the tourists and impress the girls. However, they only jump after they have collected enough money from the by-standers. It turns our that the young men barebacked in swim suits are only there to tease the tourists. Jumpers will have wet suits on.

I went down to the base of the bridge to try to get a photo of a jump while part of our tour was walking across the bridge.

Man and bird in flight

Animated GIF of a fellow jumping from the bridge. This jump cannot be scored since I missed the entry.

Panorama view of Mostar from the top of the bridge

Dubrovnik, Croatia

The “pearl of the Adriatic” lives up to its reputation with its atmospheric Old Town surrounded by impressive walls bulging with tour groups. With a vivid imagination, one can almost pretend to be in a medieval, traffic-free city if only there were no cruise ships in the harbor. The steep and narrow alleyways crammed with alfresco cafes are inviting. Fans of the Game of Thrones will find many familiar backdrops.

From the lookout view above the city

The old town wall is impressive.

Tour of Old Town Dubrovnik

Onofrio’s Big Fountain which was build in 1438 to supply the city with water via aqueducts 12 km away.

Onofrio’s Fountain

One of the stone-carved masked faces (maskeron) of the Onofrio Fountain

A narrow alleyway of Dubrovnik

Town Wall and Bokar Fortress

Pile Gate entrance to the Old Town

Franciscan Monastery

The bell tower of the Franciscan monastery through a window of the monastery

In the courtyard of the Franciscan monastery

A grim reminder of the Bosnian War when Dubrovnik was under siege for 8 months in 1991-2.

Mount Srd

A cable car that goes up to the fortress on the hill behind Old Town provides sweeping views of the city and its surroundings.

The walled old town of Dubrovnik from the top of the cable car

From Mount Srd

From the cable car

Checking out Bokar Fortress

Walk around the City Wall

One of the best things to do in Dubrovnik is to walk around the city wall. I did it in the late afternoon and it wasn’t crowded at all, but there is definitely some climbing involved.

This was my entry onto the wall.

Panaroma view of the main street Stradun on the left with Onofrio’s Big Fountain, the water supply for the town, at lower right. In the distance one can see the Franciscan monastery tower (left middle), Bell Tower (at the end of Stradun), and the twin domed steeples of the Servian Orthodox church to the right in the distance.

The nearly uniform bright orange roofs reflect the fact that most roofs had to be redone following the siege of the city during the Bosnian War.

The town wall of Dubrovnik

Buza, best place in town for a drink with a view

Panorama of the picturesque Old Port

Old Port through a window

From the top of Minceta Tower

Dinner cruise `

One evening we went for a cruise at dinnertime to view the Old Town from the sea followed by a seafood dinner.

Old Town from the water

Sunset over Dubrovnik old town

Dubrovnik at night

Church of St. Blaise at night. Dedicated to the patron saint of Dubrovnik.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

A short distance from the border to Montenegro is the scenic Bay of Kotor. We took a day trip to visit the Our Lady of the Rocks Church on an island and then to the medieval town of Kotor.

Scenic village on the Bay of Kotor

Famous embroidery by a wife that took 25 years using her own hair.

Cathedral of St. Tryphon

St. Nicholas church

Lunch in Kotor old town

Split, Croatia

The highlight of a visit to Split was the tour of the Roman Palace.

Palace of Diocletian

One of the largest and best examples of Roman architecture, the Diocletian Palace excellent example of Roman ruins dating to the 4th century

Our official tour photograph in the Palace of Diocletian, Split. Hopefully, no one traveling on business.

Those bus rides can be long

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice was the first national park in Croatia and it’s easy to see why. It is a natural wonderland that surprises on every turn. If you like to see waterfalls, this may be the best place on the planet. The blue-green water is wonderfully clear. We watched fish swimming in the lakes. This is a highlight and must see of any trip to Croatia. This is where I wish I had brought along a tripod.

Postojna Cave

This is the largest and most visited cave in Europe. Visitors ride a small train for much of the tour while hiking the remainder. Highlights include the spaghetti hall and some translucent curtains of stalactites. Photography is difficult as it is dimly lit and no flash is allowed.

In the Spaghetti Hall

Ljubljana, Slovenia

We spent one afternoon exploring the capital of Slovenia.

The famous three bridges.

Slovenians love bears.

View of the city from a tall skyscraper

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled is a scenic destination in the Julian Alps of Slovenia. The lake has a picturesque setting surrounded by mountains and forests, the large medieval Bled Castle dominates the shore, and a small tear shaped island with a pilgrimage church that dates to the 17th century.

The castle at night

From Bled Castle

Bled Castle

Our guide extraordinaire

Janek Puhar was a Slovenian photographer who pioneered early techniques for daguerreotypy in the 1840s. The castle museum featured some of his work.

Bled Island with church

Panorama of Lake Bleked. We made the mistake of walking around the lake during a rainstorm.

Dinner in Radovijica

We had dinner in a quaint small village near Bled. Noteworthy was the entertainment that was provided by a pair of dancers in traditional costumes and the hat game.


The Gate1 tour ended with two nights in Venice

Bell tower of of Piazza San Marco

Murano glass blowing

In the morning we took a boat to Murano Island to visit a glass blowing demonstration. It was remarkable how quickly and easily the artisan was able to make a glass horse. And their sample of glass art pieces for sale were amazing.

Building Bridges by Lorenzo Quinn

Tour of Venice

Training to be the next Messi

The leaning bell tower of San Giorgio dei Greci

Gondolas traffic: I like how the paddles are all lined up in parallel

Sometimes one has to kick off the sides in the narrow canals to keep from scraping.

Canal reflection

Piazza San Marco

Bridge of Sighs in the background connects the Doges Palace on the left with the prison on the right. It was named by Lord Byron who speculated that prisoners would sigh at their last glimpse of the city before entering the prison.

Bridge of Sighs in the background

Bridge of Sighs in the background

Not a bad place to celebrate your 50th anniversary!!

Lion of Venice

Clock tower of Saint Mark’s (Torre dell’Orologio) showing the time (12:55) and phase of the moon (the small circle at about the 5 o’clock position.

Seagull against Doges Palace

Follow that tour guide…

The famous Rialto Bridge

Seagull, see below…

Venice and the moon during the blue hour.

Cinque Terre

After the Gate1 tour ended in Venice, Grace and I took the train from Venice to LaSpezia and then to Manarola in the Cinque Terre. From north to south, the five towns are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. .


Fortunately our Airbnb host (Bruno) met us at the end of the tunnel from the train station to help us get to the apartment with our luggage.

At our first dinner we discovered the local pesto dish that was on the menu of every restaurant we visited in Cinque Terre, trofie al pesto. Italian cuisine has hundreds of different kinds of pasta, but in this region it appears that trofie is the preferred pasta to eat with pesto. Not only had I never heard of trofie, but when we visited the large Eataly market in San Francisco after returning to the US, they were also not familiar with it!! Turns out that they did have it under a slightly different name (trofietta) in their dried pastas.

Panorama of Manarola at dusk

We had a wonderful dinner at this restaurant (Ristorante da Aristide) on the first night

Manarola at night

Manarola at night

Hike from Volastro

Unfortunately the coastal hikes from Manarola to both Riomaggiore and Corniglia have been closed for a number of years due to landslides. Instead we took the hike from Volastro. To minimize climbing, we rode the ATM bus to Volastro and hiked back to Manarola.

Manarola from the hike from Volastra.

Corniglia from the south. One can appreciate from this view that there is a considerable climb to get from the train station to the town.

Nessun Dorma

This very popular cafe has a spectacular view of the Manarola harbor and is unique in several respects. First of all, the reservation system is quirky. You don’t make a reservation for a time that suits you. There is almost always a queue so to get in line you have to download an app, which when activated puts you into the queue. You don’t ask for a time; you simply have to wait until your name rises to the top. Since the line is often very long (e.g. 80-100 people in front of you), you don’t have any idea when your name will be called. Secondly, it specializes in bruchettas and small plates (no pizza!! no pasta!!). You basically choose from different samples of small plates. I really had no clear idea what we ordered until it arrived at the table. You can even sign up for a class to learn how to make pesto. Finally, the name of the place derives from the famous aria in Turandot, made famous by Pavarotti, whose visage appears on the menu.

At Nessun Dorma eatery overlooking the harbor of Manarola


The host of our Airbnb (Marco) did not offer to meet us so we had to find the place on our own. We stayed here for 3 nights.

Vernazza harbor from the breakwater

Panorama of Vernazza from the castle (Castello Doria) tower

Monterosso from Vernazza on a stormy evening

Vernazza harbor at night

Vernazza harbor at night

Purple passionflower

There are lots of stairs to negotiate in the Cinque Terre.

We hiked from Vernazza to Corniglia, a wonderful hike with some spectacular views.

Corniglia with Monterosso in the distance

Wildflowers in Cinque Terre

Corniglia from Vernazza

View of Monterosso from Vernazza on a windy day


Seagulls are a ubiquitous presence in any seaport town; their graceful and seemingly carefree soaring provides a continuously changing foreground to the scene. I thought that the iconic and colorful pastel houses of Cinque Terre form a unique background to the balletic birds.

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