We took a local bus to Split. We left the Pitvice hometel by rumbling our cases down the country road, crossing the road to a wooded shack on the west side of the main road and crossing our fingers the bus, “Croatiabus”, would come on time. This was also a favorite spot for the few taxis in the area who tried to sell us a lift. In any event, we were joined by other travelers, almost all Asian, in the wait. The bus finally came ½ hour late, which is actually pretty good. The bus was filled so Frank sat next to a young woman from Taiwan who was traveling with her older sister, the only english speaker. We conversed by using Google Translator—just the basics, all with smiles and some verbal attempts, but not long as the google interaction on a moving bus does/did bring on headaches.
We arrived in the seaside town of Split after six hours. Apparently this bus was not the express route we expected at 3.5 hours. We made the most of the trip by enjoying the coastal road. The countryside and shoreline consists of jagged hillside rocks and cliffs that reach the blue aqua water. There are islets that pierce the water near the shore. The seaside towns ofSibenik and Trogir have causeways connecting the mainland to the islets, with chapel towers spearing the air on these islets. The drive in is just gorgeous. We wonder: What will Split be like?
Split is located on a bay and has a developed waterfront of shopping and restaurants with dockage facilities for cruise ships. It is the second largest city with a population of 180,000 and is known for ship building. The bus station is at the waterfront so we could easily wheel to our Airbnb in old town. First impressions are that Split is on the verge of becoming something special, but that it is a bit too gritty and is in need of polishing. Split may need more time to recover from the economic strain of the Croatian/BosnianWar.
Some authors have said that “Split has a split personality, as it struggles to decide how it fits into Croatia’s tourist mecca image.” There are some new seaside structures being built that may have higher end stores and restaurants. There was also boat show in progress with many large sailing Catamarans and sailboats, and a few power cruisers docked. But, there is also a closed Casino. In any event, the top attraction is the Villa and fortified Roman town developed by Emperor Diocletian. Our Airbnb, and most of the city itself, is integrated within the walls of the fort. Our Airbnb was a newly renovated first floor efficiency apartment. It was very nice, cozy and cutely decorated; good hot water, washer too, and a close walk to the waterfront. The Villa, a summer home, displays ancient mausoleum, crypt, Jupiter’s Temple, and a partial palace entry. We took a paid walking tour of the palace and city which was informative. A treat was hearing this acapella sextet sing Croatian folk songs in the domed area of the palace.
We then stopped for an outdoor lunch. Here we wanted to try the local cuisine and dove into a light stew of cuddle fish, broad beans, and homemade pasta in a thin sauce of squid ink. When the cuisine was spooned onto the white plate the sauce was black, but how so tasty with coarse bread, fresh grilled veggies, and a local home brewed beer. We told the waiter our memory of Split and Croatia will always include this meal. He was so pleased that he provided us shots of Schnapps. Lots of good Schnapps in Croatia. We completed our stay by going to see a film at the city’s original movie theater opened in 1907, argued to be the oldest “still operating as a theater” in Europe. The popcorn we were craving was really good. Tomorrow we are off to the gem of the Croatian coast.
Our bus again travelled along the “Dalmatia” coast of Croatia with its beautiful views. We arrived and we we were met by our hosts that offered to pick us up. They parked at the secondary gate that is at the high point of the walled city and which made our walk with luggage easier. Our Airbnb was at the top end of “Petilvrenci” street, only 146 stone steps down to the main street known as “Placa Stradun”. Our Airbnb was another efficiency apartment and again with brand new fixtures and decorating. It was very nice and conformed to the photos and representations made in the Airbnb website. The sun shone bright so we immediately started to explore the Old Town. The Placa Stradun is a wide marble street with Baroque buildings running on both sides for its considerable entire length. There are store and restaurants and a lot of people in this pedestrian only town. To the left and right are cross streets with additional restaurants, cafes and shops. A small portion of the buildings have carved stone hangovers which are very elaborate; apparently the entire street had these awnings until an earthquake destroyed them. No rebuild was done so as to not display taxable wealth to the Ottoman. Our walk around was inspiring; our walk back up to the apartment was tiring.
Game of Thrones Tour
This morning we where to meet our “Game Of Throne” guide in order to explore the city’s filming sites from our favorite HBO series. This is geeky we know, but when you are vacationing in “Kings Landing”, why not relive some of the incredible scenes. Our Guide, Molly, was an extra on the set for several years and was fun and professional in her presentation. For example, she was in the crowd for “Cersi’s walk of shame” and took us to the site of that filming and then many other sequences. Check out some of our photos.
We took a short boat ride to Lokrum Island that is close to Dubrovnik. This is mostly a nature preserve and park. Here we were able to walk through the gardens of Bravos, the “greatest city that ever was” where Dany meets the shape shifters. There is a building with some GOT stuff as well. We ended our tour and had a wonderful lunch on the island watching many peacocks spread their feathers and then we walked on the wide sunbathing rocks of the shore line.
On our second day, we took a day trip to the neighboring country of Montenegro and the cities of Kotor and Budva. Montenegro, named for its location by the Black Mountain range, adjoins the border of Croatia and is mostly a Serbian Christian Orthodox state that was historically aligned with Yugoslavia entities, until 2006 independence. The drive around the shoreline of the Kotor Bay displays majestic limestone cliffs and beaches merging with blue waters.
Our favorite stop, though unexpected, was the one street village of Perest, on the shore. We took a small local boat across the narrow bay to the the 15th century artificially created “Rock Island” and its small chapel called ‘Our Lady of the Rock Island”. The chapel was magical with a mysterious mythical story about sailors being saved in a storm. We were treated to the back story by an on-site guide who was really excited about sharing the history. It was just plain fun on a beautiful site.
The city of Kotor has ancient walls that are now almost indiscernible. We actually huffed and puffed our way to the high point of the city where the Fortress walls stood out and for our efforts got an amazing view of this city. Within the city are marbled streets with churches boutiques and cafes. We visited St Tryphon’s Cathedral which is an impressive 12th century structure, a little plain but certainly Byzantine in its décor.
The City of Budva is the larger and more modern city with many high rises and fancy hotels. This is the playground of well to do Russians. The waterfront is nice, the seafood we had for lunch really great, and it appears to be the place to party. It is an example of modern urbanism on the waterfront; impressive but maybe not where you want to relax.
Back in Dubrovnik on day 3, we took the cable car ride from the gates of the city up to the top of Mt. Srd. There is an old fort built by Napoleon which looms over the city. Interestingly, the Croats never built a fort here for fear the leaders of the surrounding Ottoman Empire would consider it provocation for war. Part of Dubrovnik’s success was to avoid conflict and be a non-belligerent trading partner with the Ottomans and Italian Venetians. This same sense of preservation worked in negotiations with Napoleon who did not fire cannon on the city, but did build the fort. But times do change and in recent times the Croats manned the fort to impede Bosnian advances on the city. The fort, in its rustic condition, houses a small war museum and memorial regarding the battles fought in this area in what we know the Croats call the “Homeland War”. Though the Bosnians did not invade, they did surround the city on land and sea and shelled the city with 20th century weaponry. It was a moving presentation. There are also maps in the city itself that show the bombing strikes in the city and other war memorials.
On our last day we took a leisurely walk around the top of the ancient city walls that protected the inhabitants for 5 centuries. This may have been the best for last. We started at the low city gate and the path led us up and around to the lookout over the shimmering Adriatic Sea. From the heights of the cliffs the multi colored water was postcard perfect. We even had a beautiful sailboat moving slowly near the cliffs. As we walked we could look over the maze of streets, church towers, and orange roof tops. In some places, more modern amenities like small athletic fields and B-ball courts were fit into the gig-saw pattern of this ancient city. Also, there were some sporadic areas of bombed out structures, which you could only see from this high vantage point. We did one last audio tour of the city using a “Rick Steves” application in order to touch base on remaining sites. Still probably missed some.
Our trip to Croatia was over. The next morning our hosts agreed to drive us to the airport which is quite away out of town for our flight to Prague in the Czech Republic. We flew Turkish Air, always the cheapest, but with new planes. Our Airbnb hosts were a very nice couple and we would recommend there Airbnb. Dubrovnik is just glorious.