Tag Archives: croatia

There is a place…

There is a place along the waterfront where people gather during the day. In the small park with the palm trees, near the fishing boats, the old men spend cool mornings to discuss politics, sports, share gossip or tell stories of the days gone by. They talk passionately, voices raising and lowering like the tide, using their hands to emphasize important points. Sometimes during the heat of the afternoon, when shade takes on a premium, the benches fill with small groups of men enjoying tall bottles of cool beer. If it is a weekend, someone may produce a guitar and impromptu singalongs occur. Everyone participates, their voices harmonizing perfectly as they resonate through the trees and out over the beautiful harbor.

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Split Sunset

 

In the evenings, when the sun is preparing to retire behind Marjan Hill, people, mostly young, begin to fill the nearby pier. They gather in pairs or small groups to watch the marble buildings of the historic old city turn orange as the sun retreats. They sit among the fisherman’s nets as the sky changes colors and the buildings begin to reflect in the calm water of the turquoise harbor. Lights come on along the promenade that hugs the harbor in front of the ancient Roman palace that makes up a large part of the old town area. The sound of laughing voices, clinking bottles and lapping waves mix with the bustle of nightlife coming from the promenade to create the perfect mood as day turns into night. There is a place along the waterfront in Split, and everyone should see it.

There is a place in a tiny square near a church that has been used for an untold eternity. The square is perfectly aligned to take maximum advantage of the shade of the stone buildings that surround the square and the gentle cooling breezes that make their way from the nearby sea. A quiet café with tiny tables occupies a prominent portion of the square. The chairs are arranged side by side on one side of the table, in the Parisian way, to give the best opportunity to watch the well-dressed passersby. Perfectly chilled mugs of frosty local lager are served. The smell of grilled seafood comes from nearby. A view of the towering fortress that dominates the center of the tiny town is perfectly framed above the square. The frosty lager helps build the courage to attempt, or celebrate the success of, a climb of the ancient ramparts.

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Omis, Croatia

 

The fortress, used by pirates in ancient times, presents a sweaty challenge for those who attempt the climb. The narrow trail twists steeply upwards from the tightly woven alleys of the red roofed town below. Signs warn of hazards the steep stairs may present to the old or out of shape. You pass through an arch and begin your ascent, tightly gripping the poorly spaced rails that must be used to pull yourself up the steep marble steps. A difficult ladder completes the challenge for those who desire to see the commanding view from the top of the narrow parapet. The effort is rewarded for those who accept the challenge. Breathtaking views over the town, sea and nearby beaches are unforgettable. The deeply blue River Cetina splits the town in two as it flows between the hard rock mountain canyons that lead from inland towards the immense sea. There is a place in the town of Omis, just south of Split and everyone should see it.

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Krka National Park

 

There is a place along the raised wooden walkway above the wetlands where nature’s beauty will overtake you. It will happen after the crowds of bus tourists thin and you find yourself alone, staring across the crystalline water, fish swimming in small groups below you. They fight for position in a calm area between the flowing grasses of the countless streams. The bubbling water flows from an unseen place between the trees that thickly surround the area. A tiny, multicolored finch chirps loudly and melodically from a branch above, attempting to be heard above the white noise gurgle of the flowing water. The sound of mighty flowing water comes from somewhere beyond the trees and drowns the outside world making you feel alone in this Eden like setting.

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Krka National Park

 

Further along the path you find tiny lookouts through the trees which give brief previews of the grander visions to come. Descending steep stairways, waterfalls surrounding on both sides, you pass the swimming area that attracts so many bathers on these hot early summer days. A wonderful waterfall provides a superb backdrop for the bronzed swimmers. It is the last of several successive falls that cascade down the mountainside. Leaving the swim area you begin your ascent up the steep mountains steps on the opposite bank. You will be rewarded with successively superb views as you take advantage of the convenient overlooks along the way. The most impressive stop of all was created for a long dead emperor, the cement extension giving perhaps the ultimate view of the falls. There is a place along the boardwalk in Krka National Park and everyone should see it.

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Split Streets

 

There is a place that takes ones breath away, not only from the effort necessary to reach it, but also from the astounding view which presents itself to those who make the effort. It is reached after an early morning ferry ride in the calm waters of the Dalmatian coastline. Split’s towering bell tower slowly drifts into the distance as the ferry threads its way through the islands to your destination. Perhaps you choose to enjoy the sunshine on outside decks or stay below to enjoy a cool drink. Docking in Stari Grad, you hurry to catch a waiting bus. Past the vineyards, olive trees and rows of fragrant lavender the winding road offers jaw dropping vistas along the stunning Adriatic coastline. The harbor appears like a postcard vision as you descend toward it. Stunning sailboats rock gently in the crystal harbor as sun kissed crew busily address morning chores.

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Hvar Town

 

Enjoy a refreshing drink along the promenade or perhaps a perfectly prepared seafood snack of only the freshest ingredients. Approach the stairs of the hill slowly, as there are many. Pass through the arched gates of the walled fortress and begin the ascent. More stairs await so keep your pace. Follow the switchback through the pine trees and herb garden enjoying increasingly incredible views. When you reach the fortress head straight for the flag that waves briskly at the top. Step to the edge and be amazed. The harbor spreads below, perfectly framed on three sides by gorgeous red tile roofs. In the distance a chain of islands leads outwards, each with sandy coves and dark green trees. Boats anchor in crystal waters or create V shaped wakes as they weave their way through the waters.  In the distance, the mountainous island of Vis sits in a cloud bank seemingly floating above the ocean below. There is place at the top of the fortress in Hvar and everyone should see it.

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Hvar Harbor

 

We have been travelling for in Europe, Asia and Africa for 18 straight months. 2 ½ months of that time has been spent in Croatia. When we share our stories with people we meet along the way, invariably one of the first questions we are asked is what our favorite place has been that we have visited. It is really not a question that is answerable, but we usually mention France or Italy or Thailand. I truly believe that after our excellent month in Split, we may have to begin our answer by saying, “There is a place called Croatia and everyone should see it.”

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Medieval Magic by the Sea

Great writers have a talent for placing their stories in spectacular locations that stand up to the masterful mix of words they are attempting to blend on a printed page. They use their imaginative powers to construct a town that serves as the canvas for the conversations and actions of their characters. The setting of a well told tale is sometimes as important as the stories themselves and can even become a character itself.

It’s likely they set their story in an ancient storybook of a town nestled tightly by a beautiful blue sea. The sea should be warm and calm and dotted with luscious islands colored dark green by thick foliage. Steep hills of jagged rock should rise sharply along the shore from the crystal waters. These rocky hills should show the wear from ions of storms that shaped them into perfect swirls that protect the land beyond. The cliffs should have tiny turquoise bays interspersed among them to provide easy access to the sea. Behind these cliffs the mountains should climb abruptly to great heights topped only by great puffs of perfectly white clouds in clear blue skies.

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St. Blaise Church

 

Perhaps a castle or walled city should rise above the cliffs. The walls of the city should be tall and broad and have angles that display confidence and strength. Immense bastions should anchor the corners and together with the castle stand ominously above the tiny sheltered bays and make a foreboding presentation to anyone with threatening ideas. Inside the walls, there should be grand stone buildings of intricate designs and great creativity. Churches, palaces and royal houses should line the steep staircases that provide access inside the walls. Marble streets that shine in the day and reflect the moonlight in the darkness of the evenings separate the buildings and provide a grand promenade. Fashionable people should make their way along the well-worn marble avenue and music should be heard around any corner.

Outside of these walls, through arched passages and across tiny bridges, we should find whitewashed houses made from cut stone. Mounted sturdily along the cliffs, the houses are topped with red tiled roofs that stand in severe contrast to the richly blue colored skies. The houses are surrounded by strongly built rock walls, palm trees and colorful bougainvillea. Lemon and orange trees, full with colorful ripened fruit fill every garden and open space. Tiny roads route throughout the tightly placed structures and all terminate eventually in the picturesque harbors they surround. Boats of every shape, size and color should transit these harbors, carrying goods and people to and from far off places and thusly enrich the people, both monetarily and culturally.

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Dubrovnik

 

These talented authors could imagine this setting after long hours in a dimly lit room or they could do as we did and spend a month in gorgeous Dubrovnik, Croatia.

We rented a small apartment in a 15th building just a stone’s throw from St. Blaise Church inside the walls of the Old City. The square is just inside the Ploce Gate, the eastern entrance to the Old City. It is flanked by the church, Sponza Palace and the Rector’s Palace and is the main gathering point for any events that happen inside the city walls. Although the majority of the huge crowds that swarm the narrow streets in summer were gone, it seemed there were a never ending variety of activities taking place just outside our 2nd floor windows. So much so that we rarely needed to go far to find our days entertainment.

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Sunset Views

 

Dubrovnik puts on a winter festival which brought decorations to the streets and squares. We went out one morning to find the entire Stradun, the main street of the Old City, decorated with lighting displays and a giant Christmas tree in the square. Small, decorated food booths lined the Stradun and each served some type of tasty traditional food or drink. Speakers were mounted and played soft music for the hundreds of tourists and locals who spent chilly evenings celebrating the season along the ancient boulevard.

Popular bands, choirs and folkloric musicians often gathered on the churches steps to entertain. Dancers in colorful traditional costumes entertained frequently, showing intricate footwork and highly choreographed movements. Crowds of many sizes gathered in the square and along the street according to the popularity of the performers and the time of day or night.

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Ploce Gate Bridge

 

The cities beauty has been discovered by filmmakers as well as authors. Hardly a day went by when we didn’t discover camera crews set up somewhere in town. Of course Game of Thrones has become a massive international hit and many come to visit the familiar settings they have seen in the fictional “Kings Landing” location of the show. The soon to be released latest episode of Stars Wars shut down activity along the Stradun and other locations for weeks as major filming took place. A large temporary medieval village is under construction just outside the walls for an upcoming major release called Robin Hood: Origins set for 2017. We spent a good portion of 2 days following the filming of a Bollywood music video that worked its way around different locations near our house. We were surprised how close we could get to the major Indian celebrities who certainly would have been mobbed in their own country.

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Fort Minceta

 

We were lucky to see the Croatian President when she came to town to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Old City during the 1991 conflict. Few remnants of the attack remain inside the walls of the city. The damage is most apparent when viewing the red tiled roofs of the town. Buildings that were damaged during the war have shiny new tiles instead of the more worn originals. More than 75 percent of the buildings inside the walls were damaged or burned during the shelling.

We took advantage of easy transportation outside the walls to make excursions to the new part of the city also. The crowded summer beach season is over and the cruise ships have mostly departed, so we had the beaches, boardwalks and pedestrian promenades to ourselves. Although the water was a bit chilly for swimming, walking along the rocky beaches gave us spectacular views over the crystal water bays and rocky shorelines. It was a little bit of a shock walking between the huge modern hotels after spending a few days immersed inside the ancient Old City walls.

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Picture Perfect-Dubrovnik

 

Visits to nearby towns and islands were easy and equally as quiet during our stay. Especially nice was a day trip to the tiny town of Cavtat just south along the so called Dalmatian Riviera. Recently discovered by Hollywood celebrities and music stars, the town surrounds a beautiful bay and serves as a much smaller and quieter version of its more famous northern neighbor.

The best and most popular way to see the city is by walking along the ancient walls of the city. A circular route runs all the way along the ramparts and allows unparalleled views over the houses, fortresses, streets, churches and harbors of the town. It is very easy to conjure the cities medieval past. Visions of a mighty medieval city filled with worldly residents takes little imagination when viewed from any of the majestic towers that rise above the monumental fortified walls.

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City Walls

 

Dubrovnik is certainly a city which justifies its reputation as one of the world’s most picturesque. It is obvious to see why so many authors and filmmakers have been enchanted by its beauty. Few places that we have visited could visually compare and certainly this city deserves its place among the destinations that everyone should put on their must see lists.