Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Croatia: Split, Hvar, and Dubrovnik

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We drove further south, to Split on the Dalmatian coast.  Split (pronounced spleet) is one of the older cities in the region, dating from the 4th century.  The architecture was wonderful.  Only a few streets are large enough to allow cars; most streets were just for pedestrians, so it was very quiet.  We stayed in a tiny sobe apartment off  the alley below (the first window on the ground level was ours).

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We walked around old town to orient ourselves, then bought groceries and made our own dinner for the first time in two months.  It was simple but delicious, and it just felt great to cook, and be in our own space, at our own pace for the evening.  We missed cooking, and we also appreciated how our own cooking was friendlier to our budget and our health, but after this much time on the road, we also needed a break from being out in public.  European dining takes a much slower pace than many other cultures—certainly slower than American dining.  That can be wonderful, but there are definitely times, at the end of a long day, when you just want to finish your lovely meal and take your shoes off, and cooking for yourself makes that much less rude.

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The next day, we met our friends Rob and Sara, who were cycling through the Dalmatian islands off the coast of Croatia. They hopped a ferry to the mainland and we met them and spent the day catching up and wandering around Split, which was filled with beautiful, interesting architecture.  The central part of the city is constructed inside the walls of what was the Roman Palace of Diocletian.

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Gregory of Nin
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We toured one of the old churches, and found a shrine of St. Lucy, patron of vision problems, in the crypt below it.  There were many pictures of children with various eye issues, some accompanied by stories of their healing.

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St. Lucy, the patron saint of of the blind. (Yes, those are eyeballs in that dish she's holding.)

In the afternoon, we tried to find the sobe that Rob and Sara had reserved in advance, but nobody was home, and we were unable to make sense of a cryptic voicemail about where a key had been left.  While walking back to our room, where we’d stashed their bikes, they saw a nearby sobe advertised, and they took a look and booked there, instead—just a few minutes walk from our little alley.

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The following day, we planned a ferry crossing to Hvar, one of the islands, with Rob and Sara.  We all packed into our small car, drove onto the morning ferry, and were soon driving off again onto the island.  We didn’t have definite plans, we just drove through the countryside, and stopped to explore the first small town we encountered.

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We bought some wonderful fruit at a small farmer’s market there, and we also toured a tiny museum of history and art.

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We also stumbled across a pretty beach, with amusing signs.  One prohibiting nudity (FKK is a German phrase for a nudism movement, roughly translating to ‘free body culture’), and the other denoting the limit beyond which you may not pass wearing only swimming suits.

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The villages on Hvar generally had a main road for vehicles, and the rest of the roads were navigated by foot.  We wandered and chatted and enjoyed a very relaxing day.  We assembled some more food items, and ate a picnic lunch in the car (it was raining) at a scenic spot beside the road between towns.

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We caught the evening ferry back to Split, and went out to dinner with Rob and Sara.  We hadn’t seen a familiar face since Christmas, and we really enjoyed our time with them.  We ate breakfast together the next morning before parting ways; they were continuing on northwards by bike, and we were driving towards Dubrovnik, at the southern tip of Croatia.  The Dalmatian coast is stunning.  Along the way, we had to drive through a short section of Bosnia-Herzegovina that interrupts Croatia; that 5 mile stretch of coast is the only sea access that Bosnia has.

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We stayed in a modern section of Dubrovnik, in a reasonably large apartment.  We found a grocery a short walk away, and were able to make our own meals again.  Old town Dubrovnik was a much longer walk from our apartment, but we were happy to have an excuse for more walking and less sitting.

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About a quarter of the old town sits on a steep slope, and the narrow streets are entirely stair stepped.  The entire old town is surrounded by fortified walls, and one of the first things we did was walk the entire perimeter along the path on top of those walls, which offered fabulous views of both the city and the ocean.

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The red tiled roofs of the old city are quite striking with the white buildings and blue ocean.

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After we walked the walls, we explored the city, found a spot for lunch, and wandered.  We sat in the shade by the harbor for a while, and watched people coming and going from the cruise ship’s shuttle boats, which was oddly fascinating.  Mostly very different travelers than us—though they were also divided into classes that were quite distinct from each other as well.  The outfit below looks like a cruise that knows how to have a good time!

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It was a beautiful town, but by the end of our second day there, we felt like we were ready to move on.  However, we had two full days before we needed to return to Zagreb for a train trip the following morning to Hungary, and we talked about what we could do with those two days.  It was an unusual luxury—usually we found so many things to do that we ended up cutting items off our itinerary instead.  After looking at maps of the area, David hatched an ambitious plan to add two countries to our list, since they were so small and so close.  Montenegro was just a few minutes drive from Dubrovnik, and from there we could drive into Bosnia-Herzegovina (not just through it for 2 minutes on a highway—they didn’t even stamp our passports on our way through, as the few offramps have their own immigration control) and stay overnight in Sarajevo, and then spend the next day driving north, back into Croatia, arriving in Zagreb in the afternoon.  Lana was skeptical at first, but after comparing route times with our GPS app and Google Maps, she agreed it was quite feasible and looked pretty interesting.  As it turned out, she should have been more skeptical, as our journey for the next two days eclipsed our flight from Bolivia, the vomit train in Thailand, and even our 17 hour trek through the mud in Madagascar.  But that’s its own story.  We were blissfully optimistic about our spontaneous jaunt; on our way out of Dubrovnik, climbing the coastal mountains towards the border with Montenegro, we stopped for one last farewell picture of the city.

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