Avignon: Once Home to the Popes

The 14th century papal palace in Avignon, saved from the depredations of 18th century French revolutionaries because it was too big and difficult to knock down.

The 14th century papal palace in Avignon, saved from the depredations of 18th century French revolutionaries because it was too big and difficult to knock down.

The following article appeared in June 2013 at TravelWeekly.com, the electronic edition of Travel Weekly, a national travel trade journal. It was written by Nadine Godwin, who is the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, published by The Intrepid Traveler. 

AVIGNON, France — On a recent afternoon, I walked vigorously around the old walls of Avignon and into the central city. I aimed to revisit the

Historic walls surrounding the old center of Avignon.

Historic walls surrounding the old center of Avignon.

medieval papal palace and other places I had not seen since leading a teenaged nephew through these parts nearly three decades ago.

The warm weather and late-afternoon light were irresistible — and new digital equipment let me take as many unnecessary photos as I wanted without producing a pain in the pocketbook.

I started my stroll at a little after 4 p.m., only 10 hours after leaving New York’s JFK on XL Airways’ nonstop service to Marseille. I had joined other travel journalists and a handful of New York area travel agents on the inaugural flight for the launch of the only nonstop between those two points. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Saint-Tropez and Brigitte

Exteriors of some of the “houses” that comprise the Hotel Byblos in Saint-Tropez.

Exteriors of some of the “houses” that comprise the Hotel Byblos in Saint-Tropez.

The following article appeared in June 2013 at TravelWeekly.com, the electronic edition of Travel Weekly, a national travel trade journal. It was written by Nadine Godwin, who is the author of  Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, published by The Intrepid Traveler. 

SAINT-TROPEZ, France — I came here wondering what’s so special about this village (population: 5,000) that it attracts the uber rich and uber famous. The answer is, not much.

Don’t get me wrong: It is an enchanting place; my point is that a lot of the French Riviera is enchanting.

Saint-Tropez stands out, however, because Brigitte Bardot came to town and stayed, bringing many of the world’s jetsetters in her wake. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Trogir: Split’s Tiny Neighbor

Night view of St. Lawrence Cathedral and its steeple, in Trogir’s island-based historic city center.

Night view of St. Lawrence Cathedral and its steeple, in Trogir’s island-based historic city center.

TROGIR, Croatia — The city of Split, on Croatia’s stunning coastline, is famous for its Roman-era Palace of Diocletian, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, there is another, lesser-known UNESCO site only 20 miles west, meaning the small town of Trogir, specifically its historic center.

View of Trogir’s Old Town from the newer side of town on the mainland.

View of Trogir’s Old Town from the newer side of town on the mainland.

Trogir’s Old Town is on an island just barely off

A palm-tree lined promenade on the island where Trogir’s Old Town is located, seen at dusk.

A palm-tree lined promenade on the island where Trogir’s Old Town is located, seen at dusk.

Croatia’s mainland and accessible via bridge for cars and pedestrians. Only a thousand of the 10,000 Trogirites live there.

I recently made a fly-by visit to Trogir with a group of travel agents on a hosted learning tour of Croatia. Our accommodations, in the Hotel Palace, were on the newer and mainland side of town, but a few blocks’ walk from a bridge and the Old Town.

I hustled to get a preview of the town center even as the sun was setting. Darkness wasn’t much of a hindrance. Key sites and the island’s promenade were well lighted, and the island is tiny.

Formal sightseeing was the next morning. The town center is on the UNESCO list in recognition of its unique collection of medieval buildings, especially the 13th century St. Lawrence Cathedral and its stone

St. Lawrence Cathedral and its steeple, in Trogir’s island-based historic city center.

St. Lawrence Cathedral and its steeple, in Trogir’s island-based historic city center.

portal featuring scenes that reveal details of medieval life.

The stone portal on the 13th century St. Lawrence Cathedral. The portal features scenes that reveal details of medieval life.

The stone portal on the 13th century St. Lawrence Cathedral. The portal features scenes that reveal details of medieval life.

The cathedral occupies one side of People’s Square, which was once the Roman Forum. The other three sides of this square feature buildings — City Hall, a loggia and a palace — that have Venice written all over them.

Also, a surviving piece of fortification nearby is the Kamerlengo Fortress, which once was surrounded by a moat and accessible via a drawbridge.

Our guide said most of the Old Town architecture seen today was built by the Venetians, who controlled

The Kamerlengo Fortress, a surviving piece of Trogir fortification. The island’s tree-lined promenade leads to the fortress.

The Kamerlengo Fortress, a surviving piece of Trogir fortification. The island’s tree-lined promenade leads to the fortress.

Trogir for almost 500 years.

The town was founded by the Greeks and later was Roman territory from the first to seventh centuries, but vestiges of that background were not apparent.

An abundance of pleasure boats in the waters at Trogir, Croatia.

An abundance of pleasure boats in the waters at Trogir, Croatia.

Forgetting the history for a moment, Trogir is, put simply, a pretty place to see. In addition, its marinas and the sidewalk life on a broad palm-lined quay make this Old Town even more appealing.

However, I will have to explore those features later. Our tightly scheduled itinerary required us to step lively and leave town.

Pages: 1 2

Dubrovnik: Resilient City of Stone

The walled Old Town of Dubrovnik, seen in 1993. This view looked the same in 2013, but the older sunny photos are better!

The walled Old Town of Dubrovnik, seen in 1993. This view looked the same in 2013, but the older sunny photos are better!

DUBROVNIK, Croatia — By tradition and by law, houses in Dubrovnik’s Old Town are built of stone.

Initially, homeowners were inspired by a law that said wine could be stored only in the basements of stone houses. The goal was to reduce the chances wine would be lost in house fires.

Judging by the look of old Dubrovnik, homeowners very much wanted to store wine in their basements.

I returned to Dubrovnik, on Croatia’s coast, to see a beautiful walled medieval city that, when I last visited in 1993, was in recovery after suffering a siege and intermittently severe bombardment over a period of nine months in 1991-1992.

View of Dubrovnik’s fortifications seen from atop the walls in 1993. Another part of old defenses, the Lovrijenac Tower, is visible at upper right. These features are every bit as dramatic today.

View of Dubrovnik’s fortifications seen from atop the walls in 1993. Another part of old defenses, the Lovrijenac Tower, is visible at upper right. These features are every bit as dramatic today.

This was part of what Croatians call the Homeland War, meaning the fight for independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The walled Old Town, home to only 2,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents, was already a UNESCO World Heritage Site when the Yugoslav Army bombarded the city.

Fires gutted some Old Town buildings but those wonderful stone exteriors generally stood. When I visited in 1993, many architectural features were still protected from shrapnel with wooden frames and sandbags (see accompanying photos).

The Placa, with seating for the Dubrovnik Summer Festival visible in the foreground. In this 1993 photo, Orlando’s Column is protected by a decorated wood frame and sandbags.

The Placa, with seating for the Dubrovnik Summer Festival visible in the foreground. In this 1993 photo, Orlando’s Column is protected by a decorated wood frame and sandbags.

From the tourist’s standpoint, more than 20 years and countless repairs later, the Old Town has recovered its patina of agelessness, and the battered look is gone.

But a guided sightseeing tour takes recent history into account, based on my experience traveling in 2013 with a group of travel agents on an educational tour of Croatia.

On passing through Pile Gate, the first thing our

The front of the 16th century Sponza Palace, seen in 1993 hidden by a decorated wood frame and sandbags.

The front of the 16th century Sponza Palace, seen in 1993 hidden by a decorated wood frame and sandbags.

guide pointed out was a wall map showing where the city had been damaged during the shelling.

Later, we entered Sponza Palace, a former customs house and trading center from the 16th century. We admired the building’s charms, then walked into a room housing a small memorial showing photos of the 430 civilians and defenders who died in the

Rooftops in Dubrovnik’s Old Town seen from the city walls in 1993. Differences between old and new tiles are still apparent.

Rooftops in Dubrovnik’s Old Town seen from the city walls in 1993. Differences between old and new tiles are still apparent.

1991-1992 fighting.

In addition, mismatched tiles revealed where roofs had been repaired; the replacement tiles are still much brighter than older tiles 20 years on.

Inevitably, and necessarily, touring turned to the wonders that bring visitors to Dubrovnik in the first place,

The city’s two defining features are its colossally thick medieval walls and the broad main street that goes by two names, the Placa and the Stradun.

The walls, intact after centuries, extend for a little more than a mile and range in width from about five to 10 feet along the portions that overlook the Adriatic Sea but are as much as 20 feet thick on the landward side. Forts and square towers that still punctuate the walls enhanced the walls’ defenses.

Clock Tower, which rises above Dubrovnik’s city walls at one end of the Placa.

Clock Tower, which rises above Dubrovnik’s city walls at one end of the Placa.

Tourists can walk on top of the walls. The travel agent group did not have time for that, but in 1993, I walked on the walls for absolutely stunning views of the rooftops (and at the time, missing roofs), as well as church domes and steeples, the city’s Clock Tower, the walls and the Adriatic.

As for the Placa, it marks the path of a narrow waterway that until the 11th century separated two

Street in Dubrovnik’s Old Town that is essentially a stairway.

Street in Dubrovnik’s Old Town that is essentially a stairway.

settlements, the larger one on a tiny island and the other climbing up the hillside on the mainland.

In fact, some streets on the original mainland side are essentially modified stairways. The landscape inclines somewhat on the island side, too.

The channel dried up and locals filled it in. By the 15th century, limestone paving — now polished to a fare-thee-well by pedestrians — created the Placa. (Need I mention there are no cars here?)

The Placa in Dubrovnik’s Old Town. The Sponza Palace is at far right, and the back of Orlando’s Column is below the flagpole.

The Placa in Dubrovnik’s Old Town. The Sponza Palace is at far right, and the back of Orlando’s Column is below the flagpole.

About a thousand feet long, the Placa cuts straight across the Old Town and is rimmed on both sides by a string of almost identical stone houses, built to specifications laid out by Dubrovnik’s governors after

a 1667 earthquake devastated the city. These are

Orlando’s Column, which is a statue of a legendary knight carved into a column at one end of the Placa in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

Orlando’s Column, which is a statue of a legendary knight carved into a column at one end of the Placa in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

handsome, dignified structures but with little ornamentation.

Our guide noted that limestone, an important component in Dubrovnik’s construction, is porous and hence also valuable for its ability to clean water. This is one reason, she said, the city can still use a sewage system and an aqueduct dating from the 15th century.

Nighttime view of the Placa in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

Nighttime view of the Placa in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

The Great Onofrio Fountain, also built in the 15th century with its huge dome and 16 water taps, is the end point for the aqueduct. It is at one end of the Placa.

The Sponza Palace, as well as the city’s Clock Tower and St. Blaise Church (named for Dubrovnik’s patron saint) are at the other end of the Placa.

Pages: 1 2

Modern Budapest: Tasty and Lively

Hungary’s Parliament building, an iconic attraction that no visitor to Budapest is likely to overlook.

Hungary’s Parliament building, an iconic attraction that no visitor to Budapest is likely to overlook.

BUDAPEST, Hungary — The Hungarian capital, divided by the Danube River, hilly on one side and flat on the other, is well known for its collection of beautiful buildings of varying ages and styles.

Views of the Danube embankment and the city’s architectural charms, on the Pest side of Budapest.

Views of the Danube embankment and the city’s architectural charms, on the Pest side of Budapest.

Its name resonates, as well, with visitors who recall its place in the history of communism in eastern Europe.

But Budapest isn’t attractive merely for the look and memory of its past. Plenty of visitors want to experience the living, modern city. During a very short visit in mid-2012, I managed to do some of that as part of a regional tour designed for travel writers.

Our group’s activities are suggestive of what others may want to try for themselves, but this is certainly not an exhaustive list. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Budapest: Seen From Many Angles

Budapest’s Chain Bridge, seen at night.

Budapest’s Chain Bridge, seen at night.

BUDAPEST, Hungary — The Hungarian capital was created in 1873 with the merger of three smaller towns, Buda, neighboring Old Buda and Pest. There are many ways to look at these combined towns. I propose to enumerate a few ideas below and in a second article. Both reports are based on my visit to Budapest as part of a hosted trip for travel writers at midyear 2012. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Zagreb: A Review Visit

Roof of St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb’s Upper Town, showing off the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, on the left, and of Zagreb, on the right. It is seen in the author’s 1993 photo because the tiles aren’t so vivid under snow.

Roof of St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb’s Upper Town, showing off the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, on the left, and of Zagreb, on the right. It is seen in the author’s 1993 photo because the tiles aren’t so vivid under snow.

ZAGREB, Croatia — It was snowing when I arrived in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, in late winter 2013. The city parks and rooftops were beautiful with the new dusting of white.

I was traveling with a group of travel agents on an educational tour of Croatia. Although the snow isn’t a great facilitator for sightseeing, it’s a missed opportunity to retreat indoors when there is a fine city to see.

With our bags parked at the hotel, we were off to the historic center of Zagreb on a guided tour that encompassed the highlights typical of a first-timer’s visit. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Split: City With a Funny Name

Radic Brothers Square, known locally as Vocni Square, or Fruit Square, because of a fruit market that once operated there.

Radic Brothers Square, known locally as Vocni Square, or Fruit Square, because of a fruit market that once operated there.

SPLIT, Croatia — The second-largest city in Croatia, Split boasts a beautiful site on the Adriatic Sea because a long-ago Roman emperor knew how to choose a spot for living out his retirement years.

A rendering giving an idea of how Diocletian’s Palace probably looked with first built in the late third/early fourth centuries. The south side rose straight from the water.

A rendering giving an idea of how Diocletian’s Palace probably looked with first built in the late third/early fourth centuries. The south side rose straight from the water.

Diocletian, who was born in the area, was unique among Roman emperors: He lived long enough to have a retirement, and he exercised the option.

While still on the job, he built his retirement “home,” a walled palace that covers about seven and a half acres. For about 300 years after his death in 316, the Romans used the property as a luxury hotel of sorts.

In the seventh century, with the Romans gone and marauding tribes on the scene, area residents made a new home inside the palace walls for better protection.

The entire town lived in the palace until people began settling on the outside in the 13th century. Today, 99 percent of Split’s roughly 200,000 people live outside the walls. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Pula: Where Ancient Romans Walked

Remains from ancient olive oil making seen in museum space below Pula’s Roman amphitheater.

Remains from ancient olive oil making seen in museum space below Pula’s Roman amphitheater.

PULA, Croatia — The ancient Romans were everywhere, or so it seems when touring Croatia’s coastline.

Pula, a city of more than 50,000 located in northwest Croatia on the Istria Peninsula, goes a long way to support that hyperbolic proposition.

I visited Pula and other Croatian points on the Adriatic Sea with a group of travel agents on a familiarization, or educational, tour of this Balkan country. The idea was to discover attractive destinations that are less well known than Croatia’s popular coastal islands or the cities of Dubrovnik and Split. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Zadar: The Undiscovered Dalmatian Coast

A modern bridge, part of the new highway A1 on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Skradin, a fishing village where the wealthy now moor their yachts, is visible in the distance under the bridge.

A modern bridge, part of the new highway A1 on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Skradin, a fishing village where the wealthy now moor their yachts, is visible in the distance under the bridge.

 

The village of Skradin, brought closer with a zoom lens.

The village of Skradin, brought closer with a zoom lens.

ZADAR, Croatia — It’s hard to believe that the lively small city of Zadar (population: 90,000) stunningly situated on Croatia’s northern Dalmatian coast was nearly destroyed and abandoned after World War II.
It looks vibrant these days judging by its post-war construction, classic waterside architecture, Old Town walls, restaurants and bars, and scores of pleasure boats.

Zadar had been around nearly 3,000 years. In the mid-1940s, however, the communist government in the former Yugoslavia (of which Croatia was a part) was unsure about saving a city that, already half wrecked during the war, was tainted by fascism.

Modern buildings in Zadar near, but not inside, the Old Town.

Modern buildings in Zadar near, but not inside, the Old Town.

Our guide referred to Zadar’s links with Croatia’s wartime fascists, but, complicating matters, the city had been an Italian province beginning in 1920 and hence, until Mussolini’s ouster in 1943, had Italian fascist overlords, as well.

Zadar joined Croatia after the war.

View of walls surrounding Zadar’s Old Town — and a very current advertiser’s billboard. The natural harbor between the Zadar peninsula and mainland Zadar is in the foreground.

View of walls surrounding Zadar’s Old Town — and a very current advertiser’s billboard. The natural harbor between the Zadar peninsula and mainland Zadar is in the foreground.

I visited Zadar recently with travel agents on a familiarization tour, meaning a learning tour, that let us see parts of Croatia’s coastline that are less well known than the very popular Dubrovnik and Split.

Zadar’s pedestrian-only Old Town, set on a small peninsula that parallels the mainland, still uses the street plan laid out by the Romans who arrived here in the second century B.C.

The remains of Roman columns sit at the site of the

Commercial establishments in the heart of Zadar.

Commercial establishments in the heart of Zadar.

Forum, as do a few churches. The Forum was active until the third century then was destroyed in a sixth century earthquake.

The ninth century St. Donat Church, built using stones from Zadar’s ruined Roman Forum. The bell tower associated with the Zadar Cathedral is at right.

The ninth century St. Donat Church, built using stones from Zadar’s ruined Roman Forum. The bell tower associated with the Zadar Cathedral is at right.

The oldest of the churches is the ninth century St. Donat Church, built using some of the Roman stones; it is now a concert hall.

In our way-too-brief Zadar sojourn, we walked into the city’s cathedral, which dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. The top level of the church was destroyed in World War II and the rebuilt sections were easy to pick out.

Just before entering the cathedral, our local guide advised

Interior of the Zadar Cathedral, where smooth-surfaced walls at the top reveal the portions that were destroyed during World War II and rebuilt after.

Interior of the Zadar Cathedral, where smooth-surfaced walls at the top reveal the portions that were destroyed during World War II and rebuilt after.

that we were forbidden to take photos inside, adding she was obliged to tell us that. I understood that latter remark as a cue that I could take sneak shots, so I did.

Zadar boasts its own admittedly small sphinx, seen in a local park.

Zadar boasts its own admittedly small sphinx, seen in a local park.

Parts of the medieval city walls still stand, providing a pretty — and photogenic — backdrop to the natural harbor between the Old Town peninsula and mainland Zadar. Numerous small boats, often pleasure vessels, further enhance this scene.

The city isn’t all about history though. It is home to a couple of the world’s more unusual creations that are part art and part science.

One is the Sea Organ, an underwater musical instrument installed in the Old Town in 2005. Situated under steps that descend into the Adriatic Sea, its pipes blow notes in random order, determined by the movement of the water. As we listened, the music didn’t sound all that random, but positively melodic.

The same architect, Nikola Basic, also created Zadar’s Monument to the Sun, a large sidewalk-level circle of solar-powered cells that collect their energy by day and return the energy at night with a multicolored light display.

Kayaking on the smooth waters that separate mainland Zadar from the historic Old Town, which is on a peninsula.

Kayaking on the smooth waters that separate mainland Zadar from the historic Old Town, which is on a peninsula.

During our daytime visit, we walked across the circle, which is the centerpiece of an open plaza near the sea (and near the Sea Organ, too). We couldn’t hang around for the nighttime payoff.

Pages: 1 2