Zagreb to Zurich to Lucerne

On the train again! Early morning departure has us backpacking to the station and onto the train, even found a coffee stand with “coffee to go”; a new sales tactic for Europe. Saying our goodbye to Croatia as the train makes its way through Slovenia. There is still a slight third world feel to the train ride. That will change once we reach Graf. Showing papers, making sure our train schedule is filled out on our global pass and everyone being polite and friendly makes this a great way to travel. We were falling behind schedule, but the treats we brought onto the train would help us along.


My first surprise was a young man who wanted to know if I was “Kevin”. He had somehow gotten access to my computer and let me know that he couldn’t enter in unless he had my password. I told him I wasn’t going to give it to him. His name was Jacob. His mother was Croatian and his father was German. This little computer genius did a “Pokémon” bible study with me, as we talked about how big God must be. He would come and hang out with us off and on during the trip as we shared some chocolates and treats with him.


As we got closer to Graf both we and Jacob’s mother began to realize we would be missing our connections. We were told not to worry, so we didn’t.

Amazingly, the first world train system, aware of the slightly third world train system, were waiting for our train so that we could all make our connections. When I saw the schedules for our train rides I wondered how in the world we would make the changes in the time allotted. A couple of them would have been impossible if we were lugging luggage; but with backpacks it was a breeze.

As we climbed up into Switzerland we had our first rains. The views of the mountains would not be ours to see this trip. I mentioned our communication with Harold in an earlier post. It was nice and proper that he would help us understand how to catch the trolley to where we were staying. We made it to the trolley and another man, recognizing our circumstances, further instructed us on exactly where to get off. He gave us one warning: do not go over the bridge, it is the red light district. It has been a long day, it is late and we are tired; yet our spirits are not dampened. We get to our room, our check in is automated. We take a midnight stroll that brought us to a little store where the non-Swiss mid-easterner let us know he supports Trump. Kind of cool.

Groups of Somali or Ethiopian men (I think I can see the difference) roam around as we do. Just like every human being I have ever met we “cross the bridge”; but really nothing to see, got information about a cool place for coffee and breakfast. The marker for our apartment is the “pot” place next to it, I think the Eagles described it as “the warm smell of colitis”. When our friends would drop us off the next day after our day in Lucerne; they were shocked that we were staying in the same district where the Christian ministries reach out to the prostitutes and such. It was a picture of a 1980 American downtown. Not quite the Zurich, Switzerland I had imagined.

The next morning we took the trolley (more like a light commuter train) south to where Reiner and Louise live. Louise was doing a geological internship in Arizona in the early 80’s. She met Joan. One thing led to another and Louise would get saved and take her salvation back to Germany with her. She and her future husband would come through Wickenburg while Joan and I were dating with a German youth group touring the states. Years later, they would visit us in Seattle, as Louise would take a special creationist geologist interest in Mt. St. Helens. We would then take our three daughters to Paris for Valentine’s dinner and then onto Freiburg where Reiner had a dental practice. Since then Reiner has moved to Switzerland where he owns two dental practices south of Zurich.

They are a refreshing couple to be with. Their children have grown, married and kept the faith. Louise does a special yearly tour of Provence with her daughter. They go to an international church full of expatriates from all over the world. Louise describes the Swiss as Germans on hyper-drive. There is a cultural divide that Rainer can move through easily as a competent dentist; it is a little more difficult for Louise; yet God is helping her. Reiner is fun to talk to. In the past his English was minimal but now he is able to communicate perfectly. He is a Trump conservative in a world run by the liberal “good people”. I had never heard the phrase before; it fits.

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We got a tour of his offices, some cookies and coffee and then a ferry across lake Lucerne with a visit to the city.

We were not able to view the mountains from the ferry as we traversed the lake. We would have to purchase an umbrella while we walked Lucerne. We passed by the Marc Rich estate. Rainer reminded me that he was the guy who gave the Clintons and democrats millions and then amazingly enough received a 12th hour pardon from the Clinton’s for his illegal business dealings with Iran. No worries, he is buried in Israel now. Life goes on as the rich and famous still come to Lucerne to purchase the things that the rich and famous purchase. We walked the wooden bridge that burned and generally enjoyed the sights, sounds (tourists) and tastes of the city.

The highlight was the visit to the Lion of Lucerne dedicated to the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss. Mark Twain call it “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” I have to agree. The Swiss guard, who still function for the Papacy, were charged with the defense of the Kings of France. It was Louis XVI, married to Marie, who would have their courage and faithfulness tested. The French Revolution should be taught side by side with the American Revolution. Without defending war or revolution there are some differences to behold. If this can be said; one with God the other without God. The Swiss in their fulfilling of duty were treated in a manner unworthy of praise by the people standing for “liberty, equality and brotherhood”. They had 900 go to battle to defend the King. Most would die in battle with about 200 dying in prison from wounds or executed. The engraving was put together by Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen, an officer on leave in Lucerne at the time of the attack.

We would finish the night off with a cheese fondue at a convent up in the Swiss hills overlooking their town. They gave us a ride home that night as we got ready to move north into Germany.

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Wednesday in Zagreb

Joan and I got up, made coffee and then I tried to get the water heater to work. I learned how these small water heaters work from our stay in Dubrovnik; but I couldn’t get this one to work so we boiled water and did our best. Made our way to the market area and enjoyed picking out some fresh fruit for the upcoming train rides. We went to the underground section and purchased three meats and two cheeses. About then we met up with the Connors.

Money was very easy all through Europe. My understanding via Rick Steves was to use bank machines at banks and you would avoid hidden fees. Card goes in, English chosen (sometimes automatic) choose amount and money comes out. Using the credit card or debit card for a transaction seemed as normal as could be with everything looking fine when I got home. The extra Kunas I would have from Croatia would be turned into Swiss Francs in Switzerland without missing a beat and then into Euro’s for use everywhere else.

We would spend the day with the Connors. We had some coffee together and then walked back toward the train station where we put our things away. We brought our church clothes with us; an African shirt for me, and a simple dress for Joan. We headed to the West side of the city, I think I have my directions right, by their church and apartment. They took us out into the countryside past the house they had lived in when they first got here out to a village they enjoy visiting.

While in Zambia I took advantage of every minute I could to spend with visiting pastors and evangelists. I encouraged pastors to bring their wives so that my wife could have some fellowship also. Every visitor gave us an opportunity to share our burdens and hopes along with the uniqueness of the culture we were living in. We were happy to get a little bit of that “American” thing on us. Tom carries that quiet confidence that seems essential to being American; and is certainly needed as a pastor.

We had already gotten onto a theme of “desperation” in prayer. We could both relate to the times in our lives and ministry that we were desperate before God and seemingly He would always respond to us during those desperate times. Might there be an issue of complacency that enters our life as things are going well that keep us from having that desperation? Can desperation be turned off and on? These thoughts were not thoughts in a vacuum.

Tom and Christine related their start here in Zagreb. You always arrive with high hopes and even that touch of messianic arrival. My three starts never fulfilled that messianic arrival thing; but you persevere and you manage as you preach and minister to the people God gives you. They started with no people, a month later no people, not even visitors. Three or four months in no people with the standard crazies showing up occasionally. At 8 months with no people they were “desperate”. The level of frustration can never be described fully. It is not like business where you try different advertising or sales approaches. It’s not about money, the best financed pioneer works can experience this also. What is it about? Does God not want us to succeed? What about all the money that people have given so that we can reach souls here in Croatia? On top of that there is the normal male ego and the wife’s desire for her husband to do well. “Desperation” doesn’t even begin to describe what we experience under these circumstances. We see though a “glass darkly”.

Church should have started but they were not willing to sing songs together and have Tom preach to Christine. They continued in prayer. Loud, Pentecostal and desperate. They sensed someone’s presence. Caught! It was a woman. She said she had been Catholic her whole life and she didn’t know if she was going to heaven. They told her how she could know for sure and she prayed with them and started coming to church. That was a couple of years ago. Her son is now the main disciple and interpreter for the services. Her daughter plays the piano for service. They related all of this before we had church with them. In a moment of desperate prayer; one lady changes the dynamics of their ministry in Zagreb.

We took a pleasant drive out into the country. There was some castle remains we could have hiked to but we opted for the easy walk and coffee in the town square. This was the place where Tom wanted me to remember the taste from the night before and compare it to this restaurant’s version of it. It is a custard cake or a cream cake. In the city it had a thin chocolate icing. This one would have a sprinkling of powdered sugar. The pastry on both was perfect, apparently these are made fresh everyday throughout Croatia. It was the taste of the cream or custard that made the difference. Yes, I could taste the difference and yes, I was on Tom’s side, I prefer this one. This is an on-going debate between Tom and his disciples. Delicious!

We spent the afternoon with the Connors, opting to eat at their house with some fresh Croatian bread that Tom bought, rather than making them take two trips into the city center to get us. We walked their dog and enjoyed the time together. Church was at the edge of the Zagreb city limits. Nice looking building from the outside and everything in order on the inside. Prayed, sang some songs and preached. Any fears that Tom has about the job he is doing were put aside for me as I looked out at a congregation that included some men who were disciples.

The command is to go into all the world and make disciples. Find faithful men and teach them as I have taught you so that they can teach others. That is what was happening in the Zagreb church and it is always a wonder to behold. My landlord in Prescott Valley would quiz me as to why I was going to Sparta. He knew my church history and his comment was “How does Mitchell get you guys to do all of this?” Pastor Mitchell is doing what the bible says and so is Tom and we are planning on the men and women in his church to do the same. It was a great evening. I felt some Croatian roots as I was introduced and as I preached.

We took it easy after church, had some ice cream and got a ride back into the city. Blessings from God upon the Connors and their church is Zagreb.


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Tuesday in Zagreb

We arrived in Zagreb on Tuesday August 29. The train ride from Split was by far the most enjoyable train ride we took in Europe. (It was cloudy climbing into Zurich) Joan was a little concerned about our accommodations. Just like the apartment in Split; it was just across from the train station (easier to get to with backpacks). The Split apartment seemed to have been built at one time to house the workers on the rail line. It was fine, but it was just that: a place for railroad workers to bunk for the night. Our Zagreb room was even cheaper at $50 a night so she was expecting the worse.

We were pleasantly surprised to find a nice apartment with a sitting room and kitchen. To top it off we even had a big picture window to watch the street activity below. Tom and Christine Connors (Christine’s Blog) were going to meet us after we settled in. Tom is out of the Cape Cod church and I had preached for him when I was an evangelist. I would be preaching for him the next night, Wednesday. We rendezvoused outside of our building and began our walk to the market area. They were easy to be with and we enjoyed each other’s company as we journeyed to our first stop, a café for coffee.

If you do a search for something like “coffee in Croatia” you will find articles describing the coffee culture of Croatia. It is the social drink for the country. A visit to the café is meant to be a long, meandering event where the coffee is slowly sipped without any sense of impropriety at tying up a table without spending huge amounts of money. Paula, my cousin, (she put us in contact with our Dubrovnik relatives) had even suggested an invite to coffee might be one way of finding time to get together with them. We had sat with men at tables in Dubrovnik having coffee while we waited for our ferry departure. This café had more women fulfilling the description of coffee as the drink to share while you talked. The sitting area of the café was across from the actual café and we were served our cups of coffee as we continued our conversations. We got the only available table and I think this cup of coffee was by far the best tasting coffee I experience on our trip. Since, the Connors visit this café often I want to see if they can find the brand served and maybe I can find it state side. Or it was just the place and the company.

They toured us around. It is always wonderful to be with a missionary who loves the place he is at. They were very knowledgeable about the city, the country, the people and the road the gospel needed to travel in Croatia. I had been told by the American Baptist preacher in Dubrovnik that the percentage of Protestants in Croatia is less than 1%. Is there a place for honest, national repentance?  Is it needed? The Croat puppet regime of the Nazi’s in WWII decimated the Jewish population. Close reading shows it all happened with a nationalized, radical Catholic involvement in the nation. The Eastern Orthodox Serbs would be chased out as the Catholic Croats would be chased out of Serbia; with each group losing their land and possessions to the other as they departed. Catholicism, here, seems to be the shell of religion that it is for many Americans, they are Catholic, but they don’t really know what it means anymore, they are just Catholic.  

They showed us where the market would set up the next morning, as I was looking forward to stocking up for our all-day train ride to Zurich on Thursday with some Croatian goodies. We took them out to dinner to a Indian restaurant that they enjoyed. We followed this up with another café visit overlooking a plaza area. It was a joy to be with them and hear what they had to say about life in Zagreb. We walked home in the dark as they went to their car and we went to our room. We had visited one pastry shop (our third cup of coffee that night) in which I tried a certain dessert which was kind of a custard with a thin chocolate icing. Tom asked me to remember the taste because the next day they would take us to a village where we would try it again. It was an ongoing debate between his church members as to which one was better. We would meet them the next morning at the market.


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Dubrovnik to Split and Train to Zagreb

We would be catching a passenger ferry from Dubrovnik to Split on Monday August 28. The views were beautiful. A miniature walled city dominated one island, looking like the place to go. Got into Split around 9:30 that night. My maps showed our location to be in an open space on the map just north of the railroad tracks. We left the ferry and walked around and over the railroad tracks. I was using my gps and it was leading me down this alley into an area of apartments. I came to a dead end with our location seemingly right in front of us. We went out to the main road to make it around but quickly found ourselves moving away from our destination. I called our host who said we were close just come down by the railroad tracks. As we came down one set of stairs there was a spray-painted name and arrow to our destination. I walked the same path we had walked before and turned around to find another pathway in between the buildings. I had to call him. He had already told me I was close and seemed exasperated that I hadn’t found it. We agreed to meet at a neon lit hotel sign. There he was. He said follow me. And off we went. We navigated past some cars to an opening in the wall with a concrete block placed to help us through the opening separating us from the railroad tracks. We then walked along the tracks around a set of apartments. We then turned to one apartment on the far side of the apartments. I retraced this on video the next morning.

Safe and sound we stored our things and headed for the town. Split is the home of the Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace built in the 300’s. The palace is filled with shops and restaurants but still retains its Roman magnificence. The fourth season of “Game of Thrones” was filmed there. Apparently, Dubrovnik and this entire area serves as the location for the show. We walked about, listened to a couple of good sounding American musicians play for a crowd outside of a restaurant and made it home for a sleep.

Woke up and made it to the train station for our 6 and half hour trip to Zagreb. Enjoying the train rides. We had bought a Euro pass that would give us 7 days of free travel. Day one in Italy, two Split to Zagreb, three Zagreb to Zurich, four Zurich to Karlsruhe, five up and down the Rhine Valley, six Karlsruhe to Groningen and seven Groningen to Amsterdam with a trip to the windmills and a downtown trip from the airport on our final day in Europe. 

Croatia, my roots. I would see my mom’s face over and over. I might have already mentioned the stories that go with Dubrovnik women; but here goes again. My mother was one of seven children with five girls. The Ivancovich girls were known beauties in the Watsonville area. In the recesses of my mind I remember, especially my Aunt Marie, commenting about their shared good looks and embarrassingly referring to what is said about Dubrovnik girls. The story goes something like this. Dubrovnik, this independent city was run by a group of specific families. When they lost their independence; supposedly a vow was made that they would discontinue the habit of intermarrying among the ruling families. This unleashed the young men of the nobility to go throughout the countryside spreading their seed and thus the beauty of the peasant stock of Dubrovnik. Read it in two different books.

The train ride through the Croatian countryside was beautiful. We could compare the ride down the coast of Italy to this ride. The country could be harsh and I can remember my grandfather talking about the stones and rocks that made farming difficult in Croatia. Fields of olives, grapes and corn. The stones had been gathered to build small walls separating the fields all along the journey from Split to Zagreb. Each farm had a garden plot that mirrored mine back home. The groups of trees surrounding the farm houses would include apples, peach, apricot and figs; all memories I associate with my Grandfather’s farm in Watsonville. We went through some mountains and treated to the rich valley views. All pleasant, enjoying our grapes, figs and nuts and each other’s company.

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Mark Kiszely, Harold and Germain

Our time in Europe has been punctuated with one-minute bible study encounters. Joan reminds me it is wonderful that we have something to offer that transcends all cultures. Twice on this trip we shared the word with groups of university students; once in Bari, Italy and the other time in Karlsruhe, Germany on a basketball court. The language barrier didn’t allow me to clearly communicate that it was a bible study that I was asking them to do. Both times when the first student began to read, he paused and failed to continue once he realized that it was scripture that he was reading. Pastor Spies was showing us some Jesus people clips that included an altar call in which the song being sung had lyrics to the effect of “listen to your heart before your mind rejects”. The indoctrination of society here is complete in its immediate rejection of the gospel; only God can open the heart; the word helps in that process.

The good news with both of those encounters is that the word went forth. Another Italian student picked up where the first left off and we departed with good feelings all around. On the basketball court it was three Chinese and one black immigrant playing against four white Germans. Marvin, the disciple in Karlsruhe has taken a liking to basketball. As part of the evening service I told him we would try to make the court before dark after church. We did, he showed me his trick moves and we shot around a bit and I waited for a break in the action to present the bible study. I have done this now in different cities and have always been able to interject the one-minute study into the action without giving offense. They allowed me the minute and it was only because I was depending upon the student to read that I could not complete the task. Really, it was Marvin that I was doing it for. Marvin has a German father and an Ethiopian mother. He is taking cooking classes and has linked up with the pastor in Karlsruhe. Go into all the world…

When Joan and I were on Mt. Srd above Dubrovnik when we struck up a conversation with a young couple. His name was Mark Kiszley and I spoke to him while Joan spoke to his girlfriend. He was an Englishman living with his Dutch girlfriend in Amsterdam. He was carrying a professional camera so I asked him if the camera was connected to what he did for a living. It was. He is a fashion photographer and has done his share of art pieces also. He has a web page. He then asked me about myself. My response was that I was a preacher, even though it was politically incorrect; he agreed that it was “incorrect”. I then showed him what I do as an evangelist: a one-minute bible study. He picked one, I read it and the conversation went on from there. His parents are divorced and he didn’t handle authority well and bombed out of school. His mom encouraged him to pursue his desire to do photography. He signed up for a school; but couldn’t deal with the a,b,c’s of structured courses. He struck out on his own associating with other photographers and sharpened his skills to the point of being what I would consider a photographic success. That he would talk to me after acknowledging that what I am and do is not acceptable in today’s world encouraged me. I described a world that had no truth, he quickly agreed that all truth is relative. I mentioned stealing but I really wasn’t ready to go down the path of existential truths about what is real and not. I left him some information about our churches in Holland and let him know that he would be hearing this again. Joan was finishing talking with the girlfriend and we parted in a friendly way.

Later in our journey we would run into Harold. We were approaching Zurich from Zagreb via Graz and Salzburg. The man sitting in front of us turned and asked us if we were Americans. We began to talk, he is a retired doctor, having even worked in Los Angeles. I mentioned being a preacher and took it a step further and showed him a one-minute bible study. He immediately whipped out his phone and showed us his English/Hebrew app. The natural question is: are you doing this to increase knowledge and understanding or are you doing this to get closer to God? He seemed taken aback. I mentioned the Hebrew word “nephesh” and how I use it in my preaching (the real you, soul); but I was miles away from being able to look at a Hebrew text and understand it. We talked, he was Catholic. Jesus, draw closer to Him and He will draw closer to you. A little sadness showed. He retreated to helping us catch the correct tram from the railway station to the place we were staying. As we departed, our Greek word translated “beseech” or “implore” talking with someone while putting your arm around them to comfort them gripped me. I gave him a kind exhortation that he can expect Jesus to meet with him, despite the things he has been through. He thanked me and life went on.

Germain, born in Detroit, black American father and German mother, he is 21 and has been living here the last 8 years. We met him on a train going East. He was going to visit his aunt before heading for university at Berkeley. He has a cross tattooed on his forehead. We were taking a series of trains touring through the countryside along the Rhine on a free day. Despite my age I still can communicate some enthusiasm (filled with God). His friend had to run to make the train, we talked about his run. We talked about living life. His black German friend said, “God is life” in German. I confirmed that he said that, he did. Germain had been offering him a beer; but he took that moment to get off the train. I did a one-minute bible study, Party at the End of the World, with him. Some talk. Wants to play basketball. He said our positive energy was needed in this world. Jesus is that positive energy, Joan reminded him as we got off the train.

I write and share this because I am convinced that people need to hear the word of God. Everything that the word imparts is good. The problem is that for the one it is a “sweet smelling aroma” but for the one heading for hell it stinks. If there is life we are still talking about direction. The university student that smelled the stink will have another chance and maybe by the grace of God he will smell the sweetness of the gospel. I live on these promises. The word of God shall not return void, but shall accomplish…Sharper…dividing soul and spirit…discerning the intents of the heart…the sword, rhema, spoken word…the seed…all part of the mission of the church to be the ground and pillar of the truth. If these promises are true; all sharing of the word matters and every little bit gives God something to work with. What is Mark’s future? What is Harold’s future? What is Germain’s future? God knows and He is not willing that they should perish, that He would use our efforts to combine with others to effect salvations is a given for me. A given that gives purpose to life.

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We made our way through customs and started up the hill to our room. Night is falling. In retrospect, we might have walked right by my great, great grandfather’s house where my Grandmother’s sister lives with one of her daughters and family. My cousin Paula had put us in contact with our second cousin Andria Trojanovic. We had her email and phone number but not the street address. She, like many in Dubrovnik, works the guest industry and they work seven days a week, 8 months out of the year. Our ice cream seller let us know that he sleeps the first two months of that break. They would make time for us Sunday at 8:00 pm for dinner as another second cousin, Dijanne, would be coming into town Saturday. I say this because Joan booked our room a five-minute walk from their house without us knowing the address.

Our hostess helped us out with bus routes and store times. I picked up a few items just before the store closed at 9 or 21. They use Kunas so I would eventually have to change some money; but the store let me use my debit card. We decided to walk the half hour to the old city. We used a bank machine to exchange some money along the way. The first sight is overwhelming. This was a Friday night about 10 or 22 and it was wall to wall people along the different sized avenues running through the old city. We were a bit overwhelmed and had already eaten twice on the ferry so we did some walking around, found out the wall walks closed at 7 or 19 and headed home on the #8 bus. We knew to buy our ticket at the small stand at the bus stop instead of on the bus. We got a single pass ticket there, but after this we would purchase 24-hour passes.

We were moving a bit slow the next morning. We caught our bus and stayed on it as it passed by the old walled city. It stopped at the south end and would wait 30 minutes before heading back. We decided to keep walking south overlooking the Adriatic and explore. The city truly is breathtaking and it is majestic. Its history is fascinating as it maintained itself as an independent kingdom much like Venice until the Napoleonic wars. The treaties that would determine its fate rested in the hands of Alexander of Russia whose envoy to Dubrovnik hadn’t even been allowed an Orthodox chapel in the militant Catholic city. He turned Dubrovnik over to the Austrians.

The bus map had mentioned Villa Dubrovnik which I assumed was this huge building placed on a point of land jutting out into the sea south of the city. The road would end there; but the building was a wreck. We would later learn that it had been bombed during the 1991 war and had never been rebuilt. Adriana had worked here before the war. We went through an ajar gate that I thought might lead us to a beach full of people we had seen from above. Joan had added “swimming in the Adriatic” to our life that morning, so we had brought swimming suits.

Down and down we wound passing by buildings and openings that at one time would be perfect places to dine and view the old city in the distance. We came to a final checkerboard swimming pool and passed by a caretaker office. He was there with his girlfriend. I said “OK?” He said “enjoy”. We followed the steps to the furthest point of land leading to the sea. The steps took us right to the edge. We changed and had our own private swim in the Adriatic.

We made our way back eating the ripe figs from the trees, delicious dark purple and yellow figs. We passed by the beach and then found the real Villa Dubrovnik. The entry way was a single elevator. A chauffer was there and we asked him if we could get a coffee there. He said “I don’t see why not. Give it a try.” And we did. We were welcomed and treated as guests at a first-rate hotel. The table talk at the table next to us included “When I worked with a Vice-President”. We (I) decided to have our coffee as well as some lunch that would include “macarula” just as my Mom had made it. This trip would be full of faces that remind me of my mother as well as words and foods, especially the figs. We made it to the old city, walked a bit, had some ice cream and decided to come back that night to give it a better look. We took the bus home for a rest.

Ariana had given us a time to meet and I now had the street name without the address. Joan and I took a walk up and down the street (a set of stairs going up and down the hillside). I felt no chills running down my back but it was fun just the same wondering which place was the house. We kept walking parallel to our street when we passed a sign for a Baptist church. Using translator and the camera we saw that services were Wed. and Sunday at 18 hours. We decided to make church the next night. We bought some coffee and fluids returned to the room and headed back down to the city.

We entered in, got some ice cream, walked a bit and then were captivated by the alleyway towering above us. The city sits upon an old canal that divides it. From that low it climbs in both directions. We started the climb up the stairs to finish our ice cream at the top. We were close to one corner. We walked along that top just below the walls and made our way back down to flat ground. We passed by a palace of sorts where a symphony was being performed inside. We could pay and hear the second part but decided to explore the areas under the walls around the entire city.

What do we want? We are not looking to buy anything. We are not hungry. We just want to be there with each other. I think that about sums up my married life. The walk around the base of the walls takes you through neighborhoods as well as guesthouses and out of the way places. The most famous one we came upon was the “hole in the wall”. There are two, one is a fine dining experience the other is a place for drinks and snacks, no coffee and no bathrooms, because it has no running water. This is the place you can dive from the rocks into the Adriatic outside the city walls. Earlier when we were in the main avenue of the city we were swept along with a wedding party. It was a led by a man waving a Croatian flag to make room for the wedding party following. Musicians are walking and playing and all the guests are making it an army moving through the city. They would stop, sing a familiar song that everyone knew, have a drink, take a kiss and move on singing again. We let them go as they parted out the north gates. At the northwest corner of our exploration we heard what sounded like a “how to be happy talk”. It turned out to be the best man’s speech in English and Croatian for the wedding party. They had moved from the old city to a castle across the way with a narrow water entrance in between. This is Saturday night, it would be Monday morning that we would walk the walls and see all the nooks and crannies we had explored. Home late again.

Sunday, washing day, as I type this I am reminded of our visit to a black church in Seattle with a visiting evangelist from Louisiana. The theme of his sermon was “It’s washing day”. He preached and he preached well. About two thirds through the sermon the base player came up and joined him and his melodic preaching became almost singing. Then the keyboard player joined them as well as the guitar and drums and he sang the final fifteen minutes of his sermon. That is something I would like to do someday. We washed clothes, made Turkish coffee with the strudel we bought from the bakery. We decided to take the tram above the city, make church and meet my family at 20 hours.

The tram takes you above the city to a fort that Napoleon’s generals built. I read Rebecca West’s travelogue of her trip through Yugoslavia just before WW2. I read till she left Dubrovnik. Her friends in Zagreb were pictures of the problems that resulted in the 1991 war where the Serbs tried to keep Yugoslavia together and the Croats and others wanted separate nations. The problem was that the Serbs, being the most powerful (they had defeated the Turks as well as the Austrians) held the ruling positions in Croatia as well as the other parts of Yugoslavia. Rebecca West didn’t like Dubrovnik’s pet alliance with the Vatican and it showed in her writing. Dubrovnik, the home found by the wandering Jews that would help make it great, was about to be (she traveled in 1938) part of Croatia’s choosing to side with the Nazi’s with the church’s blessing. Tito became the leader of the resistance, a successful resistance, the enemy of Croatia’s declared independent nation and a hero to the Jews who he helped; with 2000 Jews fighting with him against the Nazi’s. I believe that the nation, person or institution that blesses the Jews will receive blessing from God and a curse to those who curse them. The Croat/Catholic government of WW2 cursed the Jews and Tito’s resistance blessed them.

As we are seeing in Iraq as well as the former Soviet Union it is difficult to require different people groups to be one. Croats do not like Serbs and Serbs do not like Croats. (That’s why the democrats strategy of dividing all Americans into tribes is demonic.) The Croats declared independence in 1991. The war that ensued was not pretty. Part of that war entailed Serbia attacking Dubrovnik. When their final offensive against the fort on top of the hill failed (35 men resisted inside the fort) they began to bomb the old city. This got international attention. The final assault against the fort was Dec. 6 and they started bombing the city Dec. 7th. A cease fire would be issued and partially followed in January or February. The next cease fire would be worded is such a way that the Croatians were allowed to drive out the Serbs from the mountains surrounding Dubrovnik. The tram takes you to the ruins of the fort and the presentations within the fort do a good job of detailing the war.

We chose to walk down in the heat. Made our way to a simple fish meal in the city. Three Croatian meals included some combination of potatoes, string beans, squash or chard. This is a childhood memory that I endeavor to keep alive in my own gardening. I love my potatoes, squash and string beans boiled up, possibly a sausage added, and then a little oil with salt and pepper. I think they call it elegant peasant food, the best there is. We made it through the city again, caught our bus and got ready for church.

We were greeted at the door. The church had an American pastor who had been in Croatia for 30 years. They were getting ready for a teaching series on the reformation to honor the 500th year of Martin Luther’s revelation. There evangelism plan is to place a bible in every home in Dubrovnik. They had two guitar players and a bongo drummer, beautiful music and beautiful singing. We had arrived at the same time as an German missionary to Vienna. He came with his wife and five children. He gave a testimony of his experiences in Austria that included a prayer request for his children because of school prejudices and for Austrian men in his 100 plus church to begin to rise up and be men of God.

More songs, testimonies and prayers and then I was asked to speak. I had already showed the associate pastor, a Croat with the last name of McCandish (father was Scottish), the one-minute bible study on my phone and the pastor had said I could present it to the church. I gave a short presentation and had one of the members of the church choose a study and read it to the church. I describe Dorothy using the one-minute bible study. I have done this several times now. The doctors said she wouldn’t live, she lives; the doctors said she would never walk, she walks; the doctors said she would never be able to live alone in her house, she does! I describe our outreach using the word as seed, not returning void, the spoken word of God that is able to see into the heart all as the mission of the church to uphold the truth. There is something powerful about each of these verses spoken with a translator translating. Church ended, giving us 10 minutes to get over to my Great Grandfathers house. I quickly put the bible study page on the pastor from Vienna’s and the Associate pastor’s phones, one in German the other in Croat. We said some quick goodbye’s and then headed for my relative’s house.

Ariana greeted us along with her two dogs. Her sons were out and about; but her sister Dijane from Canada was there along with their mother, Mara. I thought it would be a get together where the English speakers were the minority; instead it was all English with Mara struggling with the language gap. Paula had given them a heads up about our religious bent so it became natural for that to become the topic of conversation. It was nice to talk about my mother, my aunts and especially Uncle George who they greatly admired. We had mentioned the Baptist church that we had visited and as the evening unfolded Ariana let us know that she knew of the church as well that she had visited a Baptist church with a friend.

Both Ariana and Dijane had worked at the Belvedere Hotel (the abandoned hotel where Joan and I went swimming) before the war. Dijane’s husband had been a soldier during the war. They all left Dubrovnik as refugees during the war with Mara staying behind with her aging mother in the house. Dijane asked her husband to take the family to Canada where Mara’s husband had moved to after divorcing Mara. They still own an apartment that they rent out and stay in an attic room when they visit. I got a little history about my Great Grandfather, Jacob. (We have just met with our third Jacob, a German-Croatian 12-year-old who hacked into my computer here on the train to Zurich calling me by my name Kevin). Grandfather Jacob had impregnated his future wife. He was not allowed to marry because his older brother had not married yet. I am not sure about all of the details as to why, but he was given the money to go to America on a ship. He boarded the ship, got his money back, left the ship and bought this piece of property that we were now having dinner at. He would build the house, that would be added onto as the years unfolded with always three generations living there. He would happily be married and live a good life.

It was a very pleasant evening. I enjoyed recounting my memories of Croatian life in America. I enjoyed Mara’s reaction to the mention of my Mom’s name. It was enjoyable describing her funeral with the 4 priests and me allowed to speak as a Protestant: “Can a Protestant Go To Heaven?”. The conversation flowed enough to hardly give time to enjoy the lavish dishes they had prepared. Chicken, pork, sausage, salad, potatoes, vegetables, grapes, peaches, figs and some nice ice cream for desert. We had arrived at 8 or 20. Ariana’s husband Lukshaw was still working and Ariana needed to get up work again tomorrow, 8 months without a break. At around 11 or 23 we began saying our good-byes. It was just an enjoyable experience made even more joyful by Ariana, Dijana and Mara’s good graces.

We got up early the next morning, walked the walls of Dubrovnik, visited a open air market and returned home to pack up and check out at 12. Our hostess allowed us to keep our packs there and put our fruit in the shade. She even offered us a ride to our ferry for Split leaving at 4 or 16. We rode a bus to the docks to see where our passenger only hydrofoil would be taking off from. We had bought our tickets online and found everything in order but they wanted us there earlier than we had told our hostess. We rode around the parts of the city we had not seen on a different bus route, returned home and picked up our packs. I left a note of thanks to our hostess, letting her know that we were walking. We caught the number 3 bus that dropped us right at our ferry. Joan bought some water and bread and we were off to Split stopping at the Adriatic islands along the way. We would get in around 9 or 21, spend the night and take the train at 8 for Zagreb. Dubrovnik was great!

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Venice to Bari to Dubrovnik

Enjoyable train ride down the coast of Italy to Bari. We got in around 8 pm or so. The area around the train station where our room was had a “taxi” like feel to it. We walked about checking out busses to the ferry the next morning. We went to the park by the station and it still had that on the edge feel. We did a loop and started back towards our room when we ran into our barefooted Pier, our landlord. I had been thinking about doing a one-minute bible study with him when I realized it was he. We talked and he suggested walking to the old downtown around the harbor.

Life was happening. There was music, full restaurants and cafes and families walking around everywhere. Church could work here. These were not tourists like in Venice, these were people out and about on a Thursday night in Bari. We would do a one-minute bible study with six university students. The reaction was mixed; the lead English speaker halted when he realized it was bible scriptures that he was reading to be replaced by another who kept reading the scriptures aloud in Italian. Our six had turned to four as we thanked them and headed home.

Our walk went along the sea wall and the inside fortifications. This is a city that has its own Italian dialect. The Romans, the conquering tribes, the Byzantines, the Saracens and even the Vikings (Normans) all took turns being in charge. It was a major slave trading port servicing the world with Slavic slaves. The main buyer would be the Muslim nations who would turn them into the warriors that would eventually take Constantinople. The city we were walking around at one time had survived a three-year siege.

We had taken one detour to go down to the big wharf where we thought our ferry awaited us. It was a big ferry, mainly for cars. It was our ferry but then we were told we needed to go down the way to get tickets organized. They are in the process of building a bigger docking area. The company offices have moved even though the docks aren’t in use yet. We moved in that direction until we realized that we were trapped behind a fence. We finally turned around but it made the evening a little longer and us a little wearier. We made it home about midnight.

Our paper work was translated in such a way that said you needed to check in by 9:00 or you could lose your place. Actually, their offices opened at 9:00 for business for the ferry that left at 12:00. We got up early an opted for a cab who took us right to the spot we needed to be for the fair price Pier had said we should pay. We were early and enjoyed some coffee, checked in and took a bus back to the waiting area for our ferry. We talked with a stock broker between jobs, Vignesh. He lives in San Francisco and he gave us a recap of his trip and his thoughts.

On board, we sat outside with Jacobo as we departed the port. He had traveled Italy studying Italian folk music and was now on his way to Sarajevo to do the same. We availed ourselves of two nice meals and a nice nap in our cabin. We were finishing our meal as we entered the harbors on the north side of Dubrovnik around 8:00 or 20:00.

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