Bologna is no Baloney

Before you ask: yes, Bolognese sauce for pasta does trace its origins back to Bologna, Italy. As does Bologna sausage (and by extension, its American successor, baloney).

But food aside, Italy’s northern city does have some other interesting claims to fame. Like the University of Bologna, which dating back to 1088 makes it the oldest existing university in Europe. Even more interestingly, this university was in 1400 the birthplace of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, founded by students to offer each other mutual protection against the corrupt governor of Bologna at the time, who as an ex-pirate liked to send his men to assault and rob university students. Today there are chapters worldwide, and in the U.S. this fraternity has the most new pledges every year of any other. Famous members have included Bob Dole, Robert Redford, Ted Turner and Edward Murrow.

Unlike Venice or Verona, Bologna is hardly a mass tourist destination, and walking down the streets provided a great feel for the lively and enjoyable flair of local life.

Serene San Marino

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino.

Yes, that is the official name of the country, a tiny mountaintop enclave completely surrounded by Italy (for all intents and purposes, a castle on a hill). Just 23.5 square miles in size and with a total population of 29,973, San Marino is small. Very small. But it lays claim to some impressive historical titles and trivia:

– San Marino is the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world (founded in 301 A.D.)

– San Marino’s constitution, dating back to 1600, is the world’s oldest still in effect

– San Marino made Republican President Abraham Lincoln an honorary citizen

– San Marino is the world’s smallest republic

– Tourism fuels 50% of San Marino’s economy

Vivaldi’s Venice

Oh, Venice.

There’s so much to say about this city. Historically, it’s one of the most important cities in all of Europe. Until the discovery of the New World and the ocean bridge to Asia, it was the trading crossroads between Europe and the East, via Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and the Silk Road. At its peak in the late 13th century, Venice was the richest city in Europe and operated over 3,000 merchant ships in the Mediterranean.

Certainly also one of the prettiest and most original cities in the world, built entirely on 118 islands in the Venetian Lagoon and interspersed with a myriad of canals. It is, for the first-time visitor, absolutely impossible not to get lost in Venice, even with a map. With curved, narrow streets, few right angles, dead-ends into canals, little bridges and arched alleyways, and an abundance of similar plazas with all sorts of paths leading out, getting from point A to point B often accidentally involves walking past point Z. But that’s all part of the fun.

And yes, Vivaldi is from Venice.

Fabled Bled

Oh, how I tried to resist.

But to no avail. That tiny island in the middle of the lake with the quaint church is just so darned scenic! No matter the angle, it just begged to have its picture taken, and I succumbed. Over and over. But look, it’s so different from this angle. I swear!

Apart from being a giant gift to Slovenia’s tourism and postcard industry, Bled is a beautiful town in its own right, both the center of romantic lakeside walks and the ideal base for all sorts of adventure sports, from white water rafting to rock climbing.

My brother and I opted for the adventure sports, and went mountain biking. Did we know that this involved a crazy guide and biking straight up the mountain for starters? Then down. Then back UP. Then down. Then back…you get the point. And so did we: it took us a few days to walk normally afterward. Ah, but such beautiful mountain scenery.

Ljoveljy Ljubljana


I’ll be honest and admit that until this trip, I’d never heard of this city. And it’s the capital city of a country! (Can I hide behind the fact that back when I was studying geography in school this country didn’t exist yet and was still part of Yugoslavia?)

Then, after I’d heard of it, I couldn’t pronounce it (hint: ignore the J’s).

As it turns out, the small country of Slovenia (population: 2 million) is, for the region, an economic powerhouse (GDP per capita almost 5 times higher than neighboring Serbia, from whom they broke off in 1991 with the dissolution of Yugoslavia). And the capital city of Ljubljana is one of those hidden gems that’s a pure delight to discover.

Go there before the rest of the world catches on!

Classics in Croatia

Waiting for a ferry back from Brac to Split on the mainland, there was an impressive gathering of vintage cars parked right outside a restaurant in the port town.

My brother went out first to shoot while I ate my omelette (which was delivered before his pizza), so when he came back to eat and it was my turn to snap away I figured it’d be silly to have both of us take the same shots. Pascal got some great images of the whole cars, so for my set I decided to get really up close and personal. And voila: an intimate look at a few automobile classics.

Hvar and Brac

Yes, Croatia’s islands are all that. From the well developed tourist magnets that welcome millions of visitors every year to remote and pristine outposts of natural beauty.

Here are images from two of Croatia’s most popular island getaways, the islands of Hvar and Brac.

Hvar has been populated since pre-historic times and Hvar Town is one of the oldest towns in Europe, dating back to the Greek colony of Pharos in 384 B.C. With beautiful beaches, fruit orchards, pine forests, olive groves and lavender fields, Hvar also promotes itself as the “sunniest spot in Europe,” with 2,715 hours of sunlight in an average year.

Apart from providing a gift to Croatia’s postcard industry with the amazing beach at Bol, the island of Brac is also famous for its white stone, which has been used worldwide in the construction of luxury mansions and palaces…including the White House in Washington, D.C.

Time to Split

Split is Croatia’s second largest city and the main transport hub to the country’s popular islands in the Adriatic. Although overshadowed in popularity by its southern neighbor Dubrovnik, Split is a very beautiful city in its own right with a lovely old town.

During the war in the 90s it escaped any major fighting, although it does bear the odd distinction of being the only city in history to have been shelled by a military vessel bearing its own name (the Yugoslav light frigate Split). Thankfully, damage and casualties were light.

Delightful Dubrovnik

Croatia’s southern coastal city of Dubrovnik is perhaps the most famous and certainly one of the most touristed Adriatic destinations. With a history dating back to the Greek era and a truly impressive fortified old town that once rivaled the city state of Venice, Dubrovnik is unquestionably one of the jewels of the Balkans.

Briefly shelled during the war with Serbia in the early 90s despite being demilitarized precisely to avoid this (the general responsible got eight years in prison), the city has now repaired its war damage and is host to millions of tourists annually.

Destruction and Reconstruction

Frankly, I don’t fully understand the complexities of the war in Bosnia of the early 1990s. And perhaps it can’t ever be fully understood.

The country of Bosnia and Hercegovina is unique in that it sits on the meeting ground of three ethnicities and religions: the Muslim Bosnians (43%), Orthodox Christan Serbs (31%) and Catholic Croats (17%) all live intermingled. To make a long story short, all three groups fought each other from ’91-’95 and changed alliances at various points, the neighboring warring countries of Serbia and Croatia of course played a large part, and various atrocities were committed on all sides.

In some areas, like the city of Mostar, the ethnic split ran right down the center of the city, with the front line directly through the center of town. Take a look at the first two images below. They’re of the same street. The first one was taken in the mid-90s. The second one I took (we actually stayed in that green building on the left). And the third image is of that street at night from the other direction. Tensions remain to this day, but you can see in further images how the buildings are slowly being renovated, the contrast between still in ruin and all fixed up often glaring.

Not even an hour away is the pilgrimage site of Medugorje, where in the early 80s a group of teenagers first saw an apparition of Mary. Millions of Catholics from around the world come here to pray every year.

Further below, the famous curved bridge of Mostar has been fully reconstructed after its destruction during the war, and at the end the last three pictures from the capital city of Sarajevo, which went from winter Olympics host in 1984 to bombed out city under siege, shelling and sniper fire less than 10 years later.

Bosnia has not resolved all of its tensions, but is a country on the mend. With beautiful scenery, pretty cities and welcoming people, one hopes they’ll successfully put a difficult past behind them to continue to embrace a more peaceful and hopeful future.