Archive for the ‘Croatia’ Category

We stayed overnight in port in Dubrovnik, so were able to go back into town for a proper visit this morning. While we slept two enormous cruise ships pulled up near us at the dock, so I was hoping we would be able to stay ahead of the crowd! Our red group headed out at 8am, so our chances were pretty good! The bus took us to the Pile Gate, which seems to be the standard starting point. The road was crowded with cars, buses and taxis, tour groups, hopeful guides, hawkers and tourists.

We headed into the old city with our guide. On the wall just inside the gate is a striking map showing the extent of the destruction during the 1991 siege – very few houses were spared! That war is still very fresh in everyone’s memory, but we detected a determination to put it behind them and a great optimism for the future. The city was destroyed by earthquake in 1667 and like the rest of the Dalmatia has come under many different rulers over the centuries. The main industry now is tourism, but I am worried that the masses of tourists might achieve what the Ottomans and Venetians and Serbians couldn’t manage. By the time we left at midday it was so crowded you could hardly move, and I couldn’t get away fast enough. Most of the shops are now souvenir shops, and it seems to me that the tourists are killing the thing that they love – the old world charm of this delightful town disappearing under the weight of its own popularity.

Despite that we had an enjoyable morning in Dubrovnik. We walked the length of the Stradun, visited a Dominican Monastery (nice cloisters) and a couple of churches. After a little while I decided to break away from the tour group and wander off on my own. I walked around the old harbour, and found a little street market selling everything from lavender products to fruit and veg to dried figs to local liqueurs. I watched a lace-maker at work, creating very fine beautiful pieces, her fingers moving so fast it seemed impossible to achieve such perfect results. There’s a lovely old fountain which still provides fresh drinking water, and in the past enabled the town to survive sieges for a long time.

We departed Dubrovnik before lunch, and spent the afternoon cruising around the Bay of Kotor, in Montenegro. A very pretty area with steep-sided mountains, little coastal villages and beaches. We cruised around a little church built on a pile of rocks. Apparently the locals have been collecting rocks there for centuries and still have an annual festival where they add to the pile. We stayed up on the deck enjoying the scenery, and then cooled off with a dip in the pool. They are having a bit of a heat wave over here, with temperatures in the mid-30s most days. The pool is small and has no shallow end, which is unusual. It is very salty, so I just float for a while, cool off, and then I’m happy.

I forgot to tell you about our evening entertainment last night. We had a group of Croatian Klapa singers come on board to perform. They were a group of 8 men, some played various stringed instruments (double bass, guitar, and a couple of  balalaikas (or something similar)). Klapa is traditional Croatian singing, and I loved it. Beautiful harmonies, and despite the instruments most of the singing was a cappella. When I get some decent internet I will post a video. I am not usually a big fan of “world music” but this really appealed to me.

Fairy Tale Town

Posted: June 20, 2013 in Croatia, Europe

Korcula (pronounced Kor-choo-la) is a town on an island of the same name, just off mainland Croatia. It is the most charming old town on a narrow peninsula, a fairy-tale little medieval town dripping with character. We charged off with our red group first thing (meaning no sleeping in!) and had our guided walking tour through Korcula. As usual, the guides add a lot of local colour and history that you couldn’t easily get from a guide book. Our group was a bit smaller than usual, so promotion to the red team has been a success so far!

Korcula was initially settled by the ancient Greeks, and their street plan still exists, unlike most medieval villages which have no plan at all. The design is based on a fishbone, with one central main street the length of the peninsula, and tiny lanes branching off like ribs on either side. The ribs on the west side are straight, allowing the refreshing sea breezes to enter. The ribs on the east side are slightly curved, to keep out the cold winter storms. Clever! The whole old town is less than a kilometre circumference, so walking everywhere is very easy. The Aegean sea that surrounds the peninsula was at its aqua-blue sparkling best, the sky was cloudless and there was a delightful relaxed atmosphere about the town which I really enjoyed.

Our guide took us to some lovely old churches, and a couple of museums, and possibly the most famous sight – Marco Polo’s house. Marco Polo was born in Korcula (it is believed – Polo is still a common name in Korcula), but he certainly never lived in that house. It may or may not be built on property once possibly owned by the Polo family. The house is a tiny tower one small room wide and around 4 stories high. You can climb to the top for a reasonable view (which I did – half way up the very narrow staircase I remembered I am afraid of heights!), and there is a small Marco Polo display. There are plans to develop a Marco Polo museum on the site – the gift shop is there already!

After the official tour we had time to wander, which is always my favourite thing. Dad returned to the ship, which was parked right alongside the town, and my camera and I went for a stroll. I explored the little alleyways, the walls of the city (which are half as high as they used to be – the top half was ‘quarried’ for the stone) and climbed the tower over the main city gate for a much better view than the one from MP’s house. The water looked so crystal clear and so pretty I was tempted to go for a swim, until I found out it was full of jellyfish!

The afternoon was spent sailing to Dubrovnik. We hugged the coast quite closely, so there’s always scenery to watch as we pass by, and I relaxed on the deck. This is the life! There was a lecture after lunch on the meeting of East (i.e. Byzantium) and West (i.e. Renaissance) in art. Interesting, if a little dry, and frankly, straight after lunch is not the best time for a lecture if you want your audience to stay awake!

We arrived in Dubrovnik at around 5pm. There was a shuttle bus from the ship into the old down (the dock is a few kms away), so we thought we would go in and have a look around. On a bit of a whim we saw a sign for the cable car and asked the bus driver to let us off. We had read about the cable car, but thought it might be too hard to get to. After we got off the bus, it occurred to us that we would not know what the pick up point to return to the ship would be! Oops! We didn’t quite think that one through. The cable car was well worth the detour however. It took us straight up the side of the very steep mountain behind Dubrovnik, and afforded a spectacular view of the town and surrounds. The hill was so steep it was like an aerial view, and the old city looked like a perfectly formed model. If you look carefully at the photo, you can pick out a few slightly browner roofs amongst the red tiles – those are the ones that survived the siege of Dubrovnik in 1991 – all the nice red roofs are replacements for ones that were destroyed in that war.

From the cable car we walked across the old moat and entered one of the gates of the old walled city. The extensive walls date from the 15th century and are completely intact. An impressive sight. We walked down the very steep, narrow street (more like several flights of stairs than you would usually think of when you say ‘street’) and followed the town’s wide main street, the Stradun (in ancient times it was a canal) to the ‘Pile’ gate (pronounced pill-ay) , where we hoped we would find our shuttle bus. It was a lovely evening, the sun was starting to set, bathing the old buildings in a lovely golden glow, locals and tourists strolled along the Stradun, and many small cafes, restaurants and bars were looking very inviting. No wonder it is a popular destination! I can’t wait to come back one day with a lot more time.

Split Personality

Posted: June 16, 2013 in Croatia, Europe

Split, Croatia, 16 June

My apologies for the title of this post. I couldn’t help myself!

We sailed overnight from Zadar to Split. I woke up early, and enjoyed a view of the coastline while watching the sunrise. We docked early, and had a great view of the pretty foreshore area of Split, Croatia’s second largest city (pop 200,000). Split is a modern city but our interest lay in the old city, which is quite unique. Split was the site of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian, who has the distinction of being the only Roman emperor to abdicate from office. He built himself a magnificent palace in Split, (which was part of the Roman empire at that time – 305 A.D. – and close to his birthplace) as his retirement home. He lived there for 11 years until his death. The palace was a large complex of buildings including Diocletian’s residence, a temple, barracks for soldiers and slaves, public rooms, even Diocletian’s own mausoleum which he built himself. It is the only structure from ancient Rome that remains inhabited today – some 2,000 people live or work inside the palace walls. After Diocletian’s death the palace was abandoned for a few hundred years, but in the 7th century the Slavic invaders moved in and built a medieval city from the ruins, and today it is a bustling centre of shops, cafes, houses, hotels, apartments, churches and museums. We had a walking tour throughout the palace, and it was quite fascinating to see.

Diocletian was notorious as a persecutor of Christians, and devised creative and bizarre means of torturing anyone who believed in the new religion. He even had his own wife and daughter beheaded because he suspected them. Diocletian’s successor, by the way, was Constantine, making Diocletian the last pagan emperor of Rome. The mausoleum he built himself was converted into a cathedral after the fall of Rome, and the body of “Saint Dominus” is interred there, as is “Saint Anastasius”, whose sarcophagus shows him lying on the millstone which was tied around his neck – you guessed it – Diocletian had him drowned. Diocletian’s remains, it is believed, were thrown to the fishes. Poetic justice? The temple to Jupiter (Diocletian proclaimed himself the son of Jupiter, and ordered that everyone should worship him as a god) is now the baptistry for the cathedral.

In the afternoon we ventured a little further afield, taking a bus to the nearby island of Trogir. We had a particularly good guide, who had a great sense of humour and filled us in on the medieval churches and other buildings of this old city. He told us to call him Harry, because his name was quite unpronounceable (by non-Croatians), and is able to trace his ancestry back to the 15th century in Trogir. We had a tour, and then about an hour to stroll on our own, which was very pleasant. The most interesting place we visited was the Cathedral of St Lawrence (built between the 13th & 17th centuries). The portal to the cathedral was covered in fantastic carvings with all sorts of symbolism, from ottoman Turks cowing under the weight of the building, to humbled lions (the symbol of Venice) to camel and elephants and even mermaids.  As well as tiny cobbled streets and old churches with fascinating stone decoration, Trogir is a popular place for the very rich to park their yachts – we saw a number of seriously shiny, large and clearly very expensive boats.

This evening we received a note saying we had been in the wrong tour group all this time. We are grouped by colours, and there’s a sticker on our security card. Our group is red, but the sticker sure looks orange to me!! As we are in ‘Balcony’ class, the red group’s privilege is that they are always the first group to disembark, and therefore less likely to encounter other groups on the tours. I have to admit I have found some of the tours a little frustrating, just because of the number of people, making it hard to take photos or easily see sometimes. It remains to be seen whether being red makes a difference!

Welcome to Croatia

Posted: June 16, 2013 in Croatia, Europe

Zadar, Croatia, 15 June, 2013

We spent the morning cruising past the Kornati Islands of Croatia. Croatia has 1446 islands, of which 55 are inhabited (or so we were told – actually every day we get told a different number! But there are a lot of islands. And some of them are inhabited.) It was pretty sailing amongst the islands, and the water was particularly still.  In the early afternoon we arrived in Zadar, a coastal town in the norther part of the Dalmatian coast. It is a pretty little town which was extensively bombed during WW2 – they call it the “Dresden of Croatia”. Zadar dates back to Roman times, and there is a large Roman forum, of which very little is left apart from a few bits of marble. There are some interesting Romanesque churches, and a fascinating museum displaying sacred art from the middle ages.

The first thing you notice when arriving in Zadar by sea is a large blue circle on the ground. It is a huge solar panel which is a monument to the sun. There are several smaller circles which represent the planets as well. At night, we were told, it lights up beautifully, as well as providing power to the entire waterfront. Unfortunately we didn’t stay long enough to see that.

Zadar boasts the only sea organ in the world. It is a series of steps of different lengths, connected by underwater pipes. As the water hits the steps, it created a haunting musical sound through the pipes. Unusual and very interesting. It is obviously also a popular swimming spot.

Alfred Hitchcock visited Zadar and famously is said to have claimed that Zadar has the best sunsets in the world. As we sailed away from Zadar it seemed that someone was trying to prove his point, as the sunset was quite magnificent! As of that wasn’t enough, we were treated to the sight of a pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship for some distance.