Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Most other blogs by FS officers have some sort of disclaimer to say that the blog represents their own ideas, etc. and not those of the government.

I thought I should do the same, lest some unsuspecting reader happens upon this blog and concludes that weiner dog-riding monkeys play a part of official US foreign policy (ed. note: they should) based on my love of them.

So I changed our title to include one.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sarah and Scott

Rodina Mat. Mother of the nation (or something). I believe it was, at one time, the tallest free standing statue in the world. At least it was back in the mid-1980s back when I used to read the annual Guiness Book of World Records. I also at one point knew the man who wore the largest beard of bees, the tallest woman, and the fattest twins in the world too. But now I guess I'm just bragging.

Anyway, Monday was a US holiday, so the Embassy was closed. We went on a bit of a walk around the city, which included a stop at the Rodina Mat. We hadn't been there yet.


Scott played tour guide at St. Sophia.

And story time guy later at home with Jack

They leave tomorrow for the Netherlands to meet up with some friends from their time in Argentina.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Jon and Rose left last Sunday after a whirlwind 3 day visit.

Sarah and Scott arrived today for whirlwind 5 day visit.

And Spring is here.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kotor, and the Bay of...

In a word, Stunning.

An inlet from the Adriatic opens up to a large bay, surrounded by towering mountains and old shipping villages.

After 3 days there we took the 'old' road out, which consisted of about 30 switchbacks up the mountain and down the other side. Not a lot of traffic on the road, which made it all the more surprising to find a guy in a pickup at the top of the mountain selling local prosciutto and cheese out of a cooler. We passed. But on a few of the switchbacks we stopped to take a view back over the bay and the town. This is what we saw.

Perast, as seen from an island in the middle of the bay. We stayed in Dubrota, a 'suburb' of Kotor just off the point of Perast.

The island in the background has a monastery on it. The island we are standing on was formed over hundreds of years as fisherman, departing on their trips to sea, would stop and drop a rock just off the monastery island. Soon enough, the rocks piled up and they decided to just make an island out of the pile, and put a church on it to boot.

We stayed at the Palazzo Radomiri, a rebuilt 17th century palace on the banks of the bay. It was rebuilt by a Serbian guy and his Russian wife, who live at the back of the property.

A nice place, and a nice place to play scrabble, too.

And environs

The Mostar Bridge...redux. The 12th century bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the late unpleasantness.

We were kicking around ideas for a day trip and Matt and I settled on Mostar, Bosnia. Katherine and Kim were a bit less enthusiastic about the whole thing, especially as we had no clue how long a trip it would be, etc. But we convinced them. Mostly through whining and repetition, but still, a win's a win.

So off we went up the coast to a border town called Metkovic, through the border where they glanced at our passports and waived us through.

Another 75KM driving through a nice river valley and we were there.

The city center has been pretty much rebuilt, but there were still signs of the fighting that had yet to be cleaned up.

On our way back, we stopped at Pocetelj, a riverside town with a hilltop fortress.

When we departed Pocetelj, we accelerated out onto the highway, went around a corner and were immediately pulled over by the Bosnian police. The guy came over, asked for my license and passport and invited me back to his car.

Once there, he informed me that I had been going 82 KM/hour, 32 over the speed limit. And wouldn't you know, 30+ km/h over the speed limit is a 150 euro fine.

Show me my speed, I said. I was just leaving this town, there is no way I was going that fast.

Of course, I didn't say exactly that, as he didn't speak English and I didn't speak Bosnian. So through my Russian, his Bosnian and his few English words, we went round and round. Finally he said, either pay here, or we go to court. Fine, I said, let's go to the court, pointing to my passport again (the implicit argument being that as a foreign diplomat, though not accredited in his country, I was willing to go to the court to avoid the shakedown). Defeated, he took down my name and thrust my passport back at me.

Another day, we headed to Ston and its sister city, Mali Ston. The cities are on a small peninsula, and were a part of the Dubrovnik empire, and were the source of salt for the area. Salt being important, the cities were well defended.

You can see the city walls going up and around the small mountain here.

We walked around Ston for a bit.

Then headed to Mali Ston for a seafood lunch. Mali Ston is also known for its homegrown oysters. Matt and Katherine are fans, Kim and I, not so much.

Jack seems to not have a seafood or shellfish allergy, as he ate pretty much everything in the seafood salad, seafood risotto, and anything else we put in front of him.

We also found a pile of sand to play on, which is nice.

Zaton Mali. Two bays up from Dubrovnik sat our little guesthouse. The House Tereza. It's there in the middle of the photo across the bay. Quite nice, and a perfect location to explore the area.


Y'all know it. It's beautiful, stunning, old, preserved, rebuilt, whatnot. It's also a magnet for disembarking cruise ship folk who wander in in groups of 10-15 with a leader holding aloft a sign so they don't, god forbid, join the wrong group. As such, Group 22 from the Princess of the Seas (or whatever) remains distinct from Group 17 from Princess of the Seas. The key is to get to the old town early, say, 8:00 am and enjoy a few hours, then return later in the day. See, the cruise ship folk have the all you can eat thing going on board, so they aren't likely to stick around for meals and such. And we're not even in the high season yet. I shudder to think what a Saturday afternoon in August looks like.

That said, it is a beautiful place, and well worth a visit. We stayed 10KM north of the old city, in a place called Zaton Mali, which turned out to be perfect. Found a nice parking lot that always seemed to have 1 spot available so it became our entrance.

Kim and Matt, in full training for their own kid in about 4 months.

The walls of the city are quite grand. As Dubrovnik is the most well-known city around these parts, guidebooks tend to compare other cities' walls to Dubrovniks. For example, Ston's walls are X times as long as Dubrovnik's and only the great wall of China is longer. Kotor's walls are X KM long, making them X times as long as Dubrovnik's. I guess it's saying something when your walls are the baseline.

We hiked the walls our first morning. A nice walk. Jack slept much of it.

The Stradun, the main drag of the old town, as seen from the walls. When we started our trek around the city walls, the Stradun was relatively empty. Now it's filling up with the aforementioned Groups 22 and 17 (among others) from the ships.

Where's Matt?

Our son is so gifted...

Speaking of Casinos

We have one just up the street from our apartment. Seems a muckity muck 'in the construction business' ran afoul of some group or another and was snuffed outside the Casino on Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A warning before bed

So I'm heading to bed. Thus, Dubrovnik and environs and Montenegro will have to wait for another day.

But, before I go, a public service message.

If you do go to Montenegro, and want to head to the casino in Kotor, just remember:

1. No dogs!
2. No guns!
3. cream cones?

You have been warned.


We took the train from Ljubljana to Zagreb. 2 hours to relax, maybe take a nap. Turns out, naps were out of the question as the train was just too exciting.

On the outskirts of Ljubljana, we passed a bunch of buildings that had graffiti all over them. In one of the whitest countries I've ever been, the two most prominent things spray painted were:

1. 50 Cent, more like 5 Cents.

Ouch! Okay, I'm white, and I like some songs by 50 Cent. I guess some Slovenian might feel strong enough to tag a wall with a negative message about him.

2. L.A. N*ggaz

That one I didn't get.

At an underpass near a park we went to, there was also a large message for what many would consider an important social justice goal. I just didn't know that some Slovenians felt so strongly. Nevertheless, at least one Slovenian owns a can of spray paint and wants to


We arrived in Zagreb and were met by Patrick, his husband Rami (Rami is Canadian so they were able to legally marry in Canada) and their kids Canaan and Maya. Our two days in Zagreb were hampered a bit by some rain and mostly cloudy weather. But that didn't stop us from enjoying their excellent apartment smack dab in the center of town.

A little snack time.

Jack spent an inordinate amount of time in Maya's 'kitchen'. He would disappear a few times every day and we'd find him hard at work, all by himself. Here it appears he is making a milkshake or something in the blender.

We did get out and about too. We had lots of fun chasing pigeons in the main square of the city.

And spent a few hours wandering around a lovely cemetery. It's actually quite nice, in that christians, muslims, and jews are all allowed to be buried there. In death, I guess, we can all get along.

First post-Yugoslavia president Franjo Tudjman is buried here too in a very martial-looking black marble gravestone, just behind the grand main entrance.

Patrick and I were roommates way back when we were both local hires at the Embassy in Moscow in 1995. 13 years later and we are high-flying diplomats, leading America and the world to a brighter future...or something. It was nice to reconnect with him and to have our families get to know each other.

Plus, they just closed on a fixer-upper on the Italian Adriatic coast, so we'll need to inspect that at some point.


So this country is far too beautiful to be wasted on just 2 million people. Therefore, it should be visited by everybody.

Ljubljana is lovely. A small capital full of cafes, a lovely pedestrian-only downtown, and the apartment of our friends Drea and Joe (and their son Cody).

Everything in Slovenia is about a 40 minute drive away. As such, in 3 days we explored the capital, went north to Lake Bled (pictured) and Lake Bohinj in the Julian Alps.

And went South to Lipica to see the horses, and to lunch in Piran, a postcard beautiful town on the Adriatic. Joe, Drea and Cody were great hosts, but I think we (well, Jack) put the fear of god into Joe and Drea about the day Cody starts to walk.

Jack doesn't seem to have an issue with heights. The funicular from the hilltop castle was all glass, affording a view of the city as we descended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jack's trip report

Ljubljana was a beautiful, small European capital in an equally beautiful country. The nicest thing about the city is that bands play in the streets and you can stand in front of everyone and dance.

Lipica is a nice place, too, and just 45 minutes from the capital (just like pretty much everything in the country). Lipica is home to the Lipizzaner horse, which are fun to look at.

And just south of Lipiza, just past Trieste (ed. note: oh, how I wanted to go to Trieste. It seems such a city of intrique) is Piran, a beautiful Adriatic town with a very Italian feel to it. Perfect for exploring small lanes and stairs to strange places.

Or running around the town square.

We stayed a few days in Zagreb with Patrick and Rami and their two kids, then headed to Dubrovnik. The old city there is also good for running.

And running.

But sometimes it's easier to just get a ride.

Luckily there was a small playground near the place we stayed just north of Dubrovnik on a beautiful bay called Zaton Mali. Even luckier, we stopped there pretty much daily to do some sliding, swinging and climbing.

If your traveling companions are flexible, you might just get to go to Bosnia on a whim. Mostar is an interesting old city with a tragic recent past (like so many places in the area).

The road from Mostar to the Croatian border follows a beautiful river valley and passes an old town called Pocetelj. Perfect for a stretch of the legs while others climbed to the castle high above.

On to Montenegro, another meal at a restaurant in Perast on the Bay of Kotor, and an opportunity to charm a free piece of fruit out of the staff. Oranges are particularly easy to get if you point and whine loud enough.

An entrance to the old town in Kotor. A smaller old town than Dubrovnik, but more real, more just a part of town.

Again lucky to find a playground near the Palazzo in Kotor. QT on the swings is always a good thing.

So is just sitting and taking in the view of the bay.

But sometimes you've got to get up and get out on the water.

A beautiful drive through Montenegro takes you to Kolasin, a mountain town north of Podgorica. Plenty of dandelions to pick there.

And even though about 13KM of the mountain road was under construction, causing incredible delays and making for a long day in the car, everyone pretty much kept their cool and made the best of the car time.

But we had to get out in Budva once we hit the coast again to stretch our legs, get some lunch, spend a bit of time out of the car and try to catch things that not everyone can see.

Did we mention the delicous chocolate ice cream? Kotor is a perfect place for a first cone.

And vacation also means that plenty of time was spent hanging out in bed in the morning. Pretty fun stuff.

So yes, we're back. Jack was a trooper as we country-hopped our way through 4 former Yugoslav Republics. Some other pictures of actual people and places we visited and maybe a few stories later.

One note, I successfully avoided 2 tickets during the trip. One a shakedown on the highway in Bosnia, the second a parking ticket in Kotor, Montenegro. Yeah for me!