Trying to find a spirit? Montana ghost towns have them.

My fascination with all things old did not originate this year, but as a little tyke. I can remember being overjoyed to go to Virginia City, MT, a ghost town we visited every year due to its proximity to our home in Big Sky. The candy shop, old buildings, and rotting jail fascinated me, and still does. Every time I go to a ghost town, I get a mind picture: vigilantes running wild with their stallions and steely faces. I can hear the saloon door slam. The sound of children screaming in back porches. Women cowering from the “Wild West” of it all inside their parlors.


This year, we traveled further afield, exploring other ghost towns around Montana. First, we visited Bannack, MT, a town in the southwest corner of Montana that was the capital of the territory from 1862 to 1864. We visited during “Bannack Days”, a celebration with period clothes, activities, events (think shoot out), and food.

Named after the Bannock Indians, the town was a gold-mining town (different towns have different rocks containing various metals and stones). The town included a hotel, saloons, surveyors, barber shops, doctor, stores, homes, jail, etc.


Famous vigilante Henry Plummer (who was hung in Virginia City) was the sheriff on Bannack for a time, until he was caught and hung.

Cabin on the edge of Bannack
Elkhorn and Marysville

A few weeks later, we drove up to Helena, the current capital of Montana, and spent the  night. During our time there, we saw two ghost towns: Elkhorn and Marysville, both of which I consider to be half-ghost towns because they are still inhabited today.

In the 1880s, $14 million dollars of silver was found in Elkhorn. As it is still inhabited, we could only go into two buildings: the Elkhorn fraternity hall and the saloon.

Driving down the dusty town roads, we made our way up to the cemetery, which had a lot of children’s graves from a diphtheria epidemic in 1889. The graveyard was fascinating, as it still had a lot of wooden graves as well as graves as new as 2015.

Marysville was a bust. From looking at pictures, I can tell that there has been a lot of new development since 1974, which takes away from the ghost-yness of the town. At it’s height, 4,000 people lived in the town.

The mine, the Drumlummon, was named after the hometown of it’s found, Tommy Cruise. As a mine, the Drumlummon, which is one of my new favorite words, had millions of dollars of gold. Now, there’s even an effort to get more gold and silver out of the remaining veins in the mine. Here’s a New York Times article about it: and a photo gallery:

Montana State Orphanage

While it’s not a ghost town, I’ve driven past the old Montana State Orphanage for years, and finally, the gates were open this year (it’s being sold)! Walking on the premises, I could feel the eeriness of it.

Open between 1894 and 1975, many of the children living at the orphanage were not full orphans, but only had one parent who was unable to support them.

Nicknamed “the Castle” by the children this is where administration was

Just now, I was reading about town women, Emma Ingalls and Maggie Hathaway, who were the first two women elected to the Montana legislature in 1917 (the same year Montana sent Jeanette Rankin to the United States House as the first woman in Congress ever). These two women were champions of the disenfranchised and created pensions for mothers, so that they could support their children alone (and so that the children wouldn’t have to go to the orphanage).

For me, the fascinating part of ghost towns is that they can come alive. The land is still living. People still crave shininess. In each of these towns, I could see how the town’s had held living, breathing things. History is still alive even if ghosts roam.

May 25 and 26: The Real King’s Landing

Enter Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic. With the city walls surrounding the city, it truly feels like an medieval town and a perfect end to this trip. Around the walls sits St. Benedict, the patron saint of the city, who holds the city in one hand and a book in the other hand.


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Over our time here, we have visited the Jewish synagogue in town, which is not in use as only 45 Jews live in Dubrovnik. There are 1,700 Jews in Croatia, and before World War II, there were 20,000.


The major attraction for Dubrovnik is also Game of Thrones, which was filmed here. The whole city feels and breaths King’s Landing. I walked the same route of Cersei Lannister on her “Walk of Shame” and saw the same bay where the battle of Blackwater was filmed.


Today, Lissa and I went to Lokrum, an island that is a ten-minute boat ride from Dubrovnik. There, we saw peacocks and rabbits running around, as well as tons of flora and fauna. The island was used as a Benedictine Monastery until 1808, but legend has it that the monks cursed the island for anyone who tries to take it for themselves. Over the years, the island has been in the hands of kings, archdukes, crusaders, and used for dowries.



Goodbye, May Project and Croatia. It’s been quite the run.

May 24: Marco Polo and the little lakes


Arriving on the shores of Korcula, I felt slightly like Odysseus, who had spent seven years on the island, according to myth. All our guides and even my guidebook said this like it was a fact, which it so clearly is not.

Just like other Croatian towns, the town was situated on winding streets with stone homes all around. It, too, had been in the hands of the Ottomans, Italians, Austro-Hungarians, French, and Croatians. It had the same story of siege and battle like every island.

One clear difference s Marco Polo, who was born on the island, and started his travels from Korcula to Venice. His father was actually the man to sail to China first, but Marco wrote about it, so we know his name. Before his first voyage to China, Marco had a relationship with a noblewoman in Venice and was set to be hung, but his father helped him escape and took him to China. We now know all about Marco’s adventures by his writings. In fact, his last words were about how he only told half of what he saw because everyone wouldn’t believe the full story.


Next, we traveled to the small island of Mljet, where the Mljet National Park is. Again, the island is famed for its connection to Odysseus and is said to have been another island where he spent a lot of time.

The same story of being conquered by tons of rulers and countries applies to Mljet. Today, the National Park seems to sustain the island. Here are some photos from the beautiful lakes:


Tomorrow, we go to Dubrovnik for the end of this adventure.

May 23: The murderer’s palace


Split! Split! Split! No, I don’t mean gymnastics, I mean the city. Situated along the Croatian coast, Split was made for a sort of retirement home for Diocletian, emperor of the Roman empire from 284 to 305.

Diocletian, born in Salona, Croatia in 244, disowned his parents, who were former slaves, and said he wanted to be emperor. He killed his way to the top of the Roman military, and eventually became emperor. He ruled for 20 years, and decided that he would be the only Roman emperor to retire from being emperor. So, he decided to build a palace for himself right where he was born: in Split. He built the palace with military barracks, temples, and palaces.

The Palace

Starting in the basement of the palace, we saw the throne room, which was also used as Daenerys Targaryen’s throne room in Game of Thrones, where Diocletian would greet people who came to see him. The rooms are unfinished, as the sea water came into the rooms and destroyed much of the walls and decorations. After Diocletian’s demise, families used the rooms as a septic tank, and for thousands of years, they put their “toilet waste” in Diocletian’s palace. What a way to preserve history.

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The Murderer

Diocletian did not believe in Christianity. So much so, that he murdered 6,000 people, many of who were Christians. Both his wife and daughter became Christians, and he murdered them privately in his palace. The “special” people got murdered in the palace. All the rest got murdered out in the Roman amphitheater. All in all, I’m pretty glad I didn’t live in Diocletian’s vicinity.


We docked in Hvar, a beautiful seaside town and had calamari and prawns for dinner. Tomorrow, another adventure.

May 22: What makes a Croatian Croatian?


As I write, I’m leaving the port of Zadar, which is the most important port geographically and economically in the Adriatic Sea. Therefore historically, whoever controls the port of Zadar, controlled the whole Adriatic. For hundreds of years, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, Byzantines, Franks, Croatians, and Austro-Hungarians have fought over the port.

During World War II, Zadar was under Fascist Italian control, and therefore had Italian architecture. After the war, the Communists destroyed much of the architecture and parts of the city: they never wanted the Italians to come back.

Now, the city is speckled with ruins from all the different time periods. A Roman forum here. A temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, for the gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, there. Communist block buildings. Italian gothic architecture and the winged lion of Venice. Cisterns and basilicas from Byzantium. A gryphon, which the Croatian pagan tribes used to pray to, at the top of a column later used for torture. The same column was used for punishing women. Trees from China, Japan, Persia: all because the trade/ military ships entered the port. There is a cosmopolitan-sense to the city, it’s clearly a place where people from every which way of the world came.

The pillar!

I asked the guide, “Who exactly are the Croatians?” The Croatians are people that came from Persia to Poland, and then veered south and came to Croatia. It’s a mixture of what we consider to be Islamic and Slavic, Slavic and Austro-Hungarian. Their language also contains Turkish, Italian, and Arabic words. Their food is an amalgamation of all the different cultures.

Krka National Park

I don’t think that words will do Krka National Park justice, so enjoy these photos.


I’ve only had a taste of Sibenik, but the town’s beautiful two UNESCO amaze me.

It seems that every little town in Croatia has the relics of a Saint. It’s the same story: they stole the Saint from this town and then the Saint traveled around in 1200 and now it’s in a tiny Croatian town.


Tomorrow, we’re going back to Roman roots with the town of Split, that was built as Diocletian’s palace in the 4th century. I’m beyond excited.

May 21: The Croatian Chronicles, mid-way through

Cruising on the Adriatic Queen, the ship rocked more than I would like this morning. Nonetheless, it got us where we wanted to go: Mali Lošinj.

Mali Lošinj


In Mali Lošinj, we started on a walking tour with a non-English speaking guide who was a rookie, so some of us broke off to walk around on our own. Walking around the small streets, we found an antique jewelry shop with beautiful glass, pearl, and coral jewelry. While peering around the shop, I noticed something that I’ve seen many times on this trip: negrobilia, which are collectibles that show the objectification of black people in a stereotypical way. I’ve seen negrobilia in everywhere from hotels in Venice to churches to random souvenir stands. It’s interesting to me that I see almost the same amount of negrobilia here that I do in the United States.


Shoes with steotypical African women on them


But, there are very few people of color in Croatia. In the past three days, I’ve seen one black man.  I’ve seen racist, stereotypical jugs, salt shakers, cups, paintings, and jewelry in restaurants, museums, and antique stores in the United States. No matter the country, it makes me just as disgusted. Even after I wrote this, I was walking around our new port, and I saw a pair of shoes with black, African, stereotypical women on them.

Book Group

We read two pieces for today’s discussion, “Thank you for Not Sharing,” which is ten reasons why to be a Croatian writer. The piece is extremely sarcastic and sardonic and was written by a Croatian dissident, who was exiled after she started to warn Croatians about the dangers of nationalism. She was called a “witch.” In a way, her writing and warnings are dealing with the same things that I see throughout all these countries in Europe: intense nationalism for everyone’s individual country. We also read “Chasing a Croatian Girl,” which was written by an American who followed his Croatian wife to Croatia.

The Swimming Incident

The captain decided to stop and  allow us to swim off the boat. I jumped in first, and the Adriatic felt amazing. Checking out the current, I could feel it was strong and stayed close to the rope they threw out. A few people didn’t realize the strength of the current, and were swept out into the ocean. After seeing the situation wasn’t going to resolve itself, I told a crew member, who said she would go jump in the water. First, our tour director jumped in the water. Then, the maid jumped in the water. Then, the chef, who as he jumped, another sailor told me, “He’s Serbian. He likes the water. The rest of us are from Dalmatia, and we grew up swimming. We only swim once a year. Trust me, he likes it.” Then, he was in the drink. They were quite a way out, without any way to pull themselves back in, as none of the crew held on to a rope. It was like one going off a dock and another and another. Then, like a miracle, a man in a speedboat came along and dragged the whole group back to the boat. I had the same experience in Greece with my father, who didn’t realize the current and was brought closer and closer and closer to the rocks below Poseidon’s temple. They had to bring out a speedboat, which didn’t work at first. Regardless, this situation was total déjà vu.


We stepped on to the tiny island of Olib after our swimming adventure. The island looked empty from the boat, and even emptier from the shore. It only had 120 residents during last winter, but they think it was more like 80 residents. Walking down the main street, a Croatian man who had lived in New York talked to us and joked around. We went inside a building only to find a group of Croatian men, who spoke perfect English, playing the Italian card game of briscola, which I now know from research. I sat down next to one of the men, who started to joke with me, “You’re going to peak.”

“What?” I said.

“You’re going to peak,” he said, very matter-of-factly.

“What?” I repeated, his heavy Croatian accent was stopping me from understanding.

“Do you speak English?” He asked, cracking a smile.

“Yes, yes. Of course,” I laughed.

Finally, he mimed me looking at his cards. Here’s my face when I realized what he was saying:

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After the card game, we went to the opposite of a casino: a church. Walking in, we were greeted by a nun, who was waiting for our group. A group of around 10 old women started to gather in the pews of the church, which could fit a few hundred people. The town has totally been drained, before World War II, there were 2,000 people. There was a fish factory, an olive oil factory, and some other factories. During communism, the town was drained.


One alter in the church done in a Baroque-style

I exited the church, but when I was outside, my mom was given a card with the picture of Aloysius Stepinac on it.  In a book I’ve been reading about the Balkan States, I learned about Aloysius Stepinac. He was the Archbishop of Zagreb in Croatia during World War II. Educated in the Vatican, he was staunch on his Catholicism. During the Ustaše regime, which was the Italian fascist and Nazi-backed puppet regime, Stepinac initially allowed race laws against Jews to be enacted, mass baptisms of Serbian Orthodox people before they were murdered, and did not stop concentration camps, but asked for them to be enacted “humanely.” The Serbians and Croatians argue about how many people were killed by the Ustaše regime: 70,000 or 700,000, and what percentage of that number was Jewish, Serbian, and Roma. Everyone argues and hates each other for it. Upon seeing a small card of Archbishop Stepinac in the church, my mom said to our guide, “He’s the bad guy, right?” Our guide said, “No, be very careful about saying anything like that around here. He saved a lot of Jews.” It’s true that by the end of the war he was trying to save Jews, but he was complicit in supporting race laws and not stopping concentration camps. By the end of the war, the Ustaše regime tried to get the archbishop removed from his position, but the Vatican didn’t recognize the fascists and did not comply. Stepinac was declared a martyr by Pope John Paul II. In my eyes, he isn’t a Saint, he’s merely a bystander who also murdered. Yet, all of the old women in this church revered him as a Catholic hero.

May 19-20: The Croatian Chronicles, the beginning


Leaving the canals of Venice, I traveled to Croatian coast along the Adriatic Sea to catch a boat which I will call home for the next 7 days. Over the next week, I am traveling up the Croatian coastline along with a group of 30 people from Chicago– a fundraising literary tour that my mom organized.


As our port of call, Porec was the first Croatian land I truly saw. An old Roman town, the modern-day town is built on the same grid, with a Roman forum as one of its main streets. The town also houses a UNESCO World Heritage Euphrasian Basilica, which is renowned for its mosaics, which are compared to the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. I have seen the Ravenna mosaics, and these were extremely comparable and empty of tourists. The church was built in the sixth century, but it also has old remains of another church from it and remains from when Christians were persecuted in the Roman empire. It’s a church on a church one a church. I guess history repeats itself.



The tomb that washed up on the shores with Saint Euphemia’s remains.


Starting the day in the small city of Rovinj, we walked up the hill to the Church of St. Euphemia. There lies relics of St. Euphemia that were said to have washed up in a sarcophagus on the shores of Rovinj. She died as a martyr during Diocletian’s time in the 4th century. I’m already struck by how Croatians love the myth–  that Saint Euphemia was so pure that lions would not kill her.

Brijuni Island

Next, we traveled to the Island of Brijuni, which was the summer home of Joseph Broz Tito who was the leader of the former Yugoslavia from 1947-1980, and is considered an authoritarian leader. The island has some palaces, a “safari” zoo, Roman ruins, and some hotels. Over time, the island has been controlled by Romans, Italians, the Austro-Hungarian Empire,  Yugoslavians, and Croatians. While the borders have changed, it seems that the people remain the same for the most part.

First, I’ll start with the zoo, which was beyond depressing to see. Many different world leaders gifted Tito various animals. Indira Gandhi gifted Tito two elephants, and one of them is still alive in the zoo, 46 years later. The zoo now has cows, zebras, horses, and goats all living together, as well as some ostriches. I hate seeing animals in zoos, and this just seemed like the remnants of Communism and a corrupt society.

Driving in a little tram car, we saw the remnants of a Roman villa, which archeologists think was the home of an emperor or emperor’s family.


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Remains of the Roman villa


Walking into a tiny house museum, our guide told us that, “All the animals died naturally.” Inside, I immediately saw a case with snakeskin shoes and purses, to which I joked, “Yes, they died naturally…” The guide tried to cover up, but I was right. The next galleries showed diorama after diorama of animals from Africa, Asia, and Europe: giraffes that had died from salmonella, baby orangutans, tiny bears. Again, it was beyond depressing. Upstairs, we saw hundreds of pictures of Tito with everyone from Sophia Loren to Muammar Qaddafi. The one thing fascinating that happened on Brijuni was the signing of the Brijuni Non-Allignment Treaty by Nasser, Nehru, and Tito in 1956. I had no idea such an important group, the Non-Aligned Countries, started on a tiny island in Croatia.

The guide did not say about anything bad about Tito, in fact, she spoke about him almost gloatingly. She seemed to admire him. What I take away is that either Croatians see Tito in a good light or as a state tour guide, our tour guide had to feed us the propaganda of the government.


We then docked in Pula, which has one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters (like the Roman Coliseum). This amphitheater still has a perfect outer wall. Pula was an important town for the Romans, but it only had 5,000 people in the town. The amphitheater could fit around 23,000 people, and scholars think that the number of people farming in the area was quite large and big enough to fill the structure.


The Roman amphitheater


We also saw a gate with Hercules and Hercules’ club on it, as well as an old temple from around 54 BC. Next to the temple was the town hall in a Venetian Gothic style, as Venice held control of Pula for a few centuries. Next to that, there is an Austro-Hungarian building from when the Hapsburgs ruled Croatia, and then there was an Italian fascist-style building from when the Italians had control of Pula. All in one square, we saw the architecture of the town’s history.

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Olive grove dinner

By bus, we went to the town of Medium to have dinner in an olive grove. Our host, Goran, let us taste olive oil and showed us how he (and his partner) make balsamic vinegar. He is a physicist by training, who focuses mainly on lasers, but he decided to take over his grandmother’s land because he missed working and being with people. All the food we ate during the night was from their groves or the farmer’s market. His partner also read us beautiful poetry by Antun Branko Simic (“Warning”) and Ivan Goran Kovacic (“The Pit”). Here is “Warning”:

“Man, be careful
not to walk small
under the stars.

May your whole body
be filled with
the dim light of the stars!

To have no regrets
when with the last glances
you part with the stars!

In your final hour
instead of dust
pass whole to the stars.”

Here are some photos of the grove and dinner:


Setting sail early in the morning, tomorrow will be another day of visiting tiny Croatian island, with more Roman ruins to see.