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29 August 2010

Quintessential Dalmatia

Day 1, Saturday: The long way down

I don't know why we never considered vacationing in Croatia so far, and I'm not even near the destination. As we head south to Dalmatia through a scenic drive I start to understand why this country attracts tourists so much. There's something mysterious and exotic in it. Come on car, speed up, don't let us arrive too late in Trogir, where we'll be based. There was a 20 km frontier queue already. Fortunately it has slowed down now and we're eating kilometers along this practical motorway.

The scenery that opens in front of us while approaching Trogir  Bay is magnificent. It's a glorious combination of Split on the back, Trogir in the middle and Ciovo island on the right. Why don't I have landscape lens just yet? I don't know where to point first ...

Okrug Gornji in Ciovo is where we have to go. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Modern and conveniently located, 150 mt by the beach and very central, it doesn't take us too much to spot our apartment. The landlords seem friendly, we'll see how we get along in these 2 weeks. I hope they're just not too noisy.

We need a short time to settle down and then we're out again. We were highly reccommended to  reach Trogir by boat, because those 3 km that separate the village from the mainland are traffic hell. They were right. In less than 15 minutes we make our grand way to Trogir Marina and are ready for the night!

What a fascinating city Trogir is! Its 2300 years of continuous urban tradition and rich culture were created under the influence of old Greeks, Romans, and Venetians. "The orthogonal street plan of this island settlement dates back to the Hellenistic period and it was embellished by successive rulers with many fine public and domestic buildings and fortifications. Its beautiful Romanesque churches are complemented by the outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period", says UNESCO report (via trogir-online). Yes, because the whole complex is under Unesco protection since 1997.

Its grandest building is the Cathedral of St. Lawrence (Katedrala sv. Lovre), called the Cathedral of St. John (sv. Ivan) by the people after the city patron, a contemporary of King Zvonimir and King Koloman. I like it because of its Romanesque massiveness combined with Gothic elegance, which makes of it a precious piece of architecture.

The construnction started in 1213 and continued trhough centuries, with efforts and many great names invested into its building. The masterpiece is definitely The Portal, made by Croatian sculptor Radovan. It is the peak of Dalmatian medieval plastic art. Human forms dominate the Portal. The artist carved much more human and understandable everyday life connected with the season in question. Here I captured the sculpture of Adam on a lion on console. The nude figures of Adam and Eve are the master's most courageous work.

While taking pics and watching Ali dance near the clock tower, I spot a guy comfortably sit at one of the bar chairs of the square using his laptop. I feel jealous.

It's only my first day away and I already miss blogging. Damn, how am I going to survive?

Day 2, Sunday: Relaxation

As I reach the the beach with a content Ali by my side, I feel at ease. Abruzzo was a must, something I had to do to deal with my past. It was nice but painful at the same time, and I didn't live it as a proper holiday. Here in Croatia, I want to enjoy the place at its fullest, relax with my family and forget the world. The intimacy of our own apartment will be helpful.

We spot the umbrella that my caring husband has set for us first thing in the morning and I think this is HIS vacation. He works hard all year, he deserves a break. And I must admit his choice was great. This trip was his idea, we just went with it. The morning flies, I decide not to be bothered by the noisy bar and the usual disgusting smokers. Okrug Riviera is a nice little place on this island, water is crystal clear and stones are not too big. 

I stop at the local supermarket to stock up some food essentials and little domestic incombences hit me back at home. It's a new kitchen, small but functional, I'll get used to it soon. Our plan is to eat a frugal meal at home at noon, then dine out at nights.

We procastinate until late in the afternoon, then we prepare to make our way to the medieval tournament in Senj. After 52 km and a speeding fine, we're lucky enough to find 3 sits to watch the overcrowded parade of Uskos and knights. It's a celebration of the many succesfull guerrilla wars that bands of Uskoks fought against the Ottomans.

We manage to spot a knight in between games and Alice wanted to take a pic with him so badly. My little girl is really picky when it comes to chosing subjects, you never know where she asks to be photographed and I'm pleased this time she let me capture a really good something for my travelogue. 

The guy was so tall. Croatians have great average height, I noticed. And they look beautiful.

Day 3, Monday: Split -part 1

Another morning at the beach. We came here to enjoy the sea in the first place after all, hoping that Ali inhales enough saline to keep the nasty winter viruses away. I'm not that happy with the water, it's not enough warm for me, so I bath less. The breeze helps me stand the sun, though. I'm growing into a sun-intolerant person with the years. Where is the Elda obsessed with her tan? Lost in La Mancha, maybe, still fighting against family mills he he

The sun and the intolerable heat doesn't stop us from driving to Split. We decided to visit this city in 2 times, as Ali needs her time and since it's the second biggest city of Croatia, we want to see things properly. Today we'll start with Diocletian Palace, the very core of the city, and stuck to it. We enter from the Protiron, the entrance to the imperial quarters, and it's love at first sight. There's everything in there: the square, the ocatognal cathedral of St Dominis, originally built as the Emperor's mausoleum, with its 24 columns, the Vestibulus, the marble pavement.

After 21 years of ruling the Roman Empire, Diocletian retired to private life from politics and chose his native area as his new residence. He wanted his Palace to be built as a massive structure, much like a roman Fortress, directly by the sea. He was said to be in love with his garden, where he had planted with his own hands, and where he refused the proposal to go back to Rome when two senators begged for his return to help them deal with the fall of the Western Empire troubles.

We manage our way through the intricate interior and then call it a night. 

Day 4, Tuesday: Roman ruins of Solin

Conscious that the main living center of Split was Salona, of lesser fame and often overshadowed by Diocletian's Palace, today we make it to this early Roman settlement that was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia (and the birthplace of the Emperor himself), an important center for politics and Christianity. The town contains a burial site – the Manastirine – for martyrs before the religion was legalised.

  Ruins of the basilica from the the early Christian period

The most impressive ruin is the 2nd-century amphitheater. At one time it could accommodate 18,000 spectators and who knows how many gladiators fighting bears.

After the arrival of the Slavs in the 7th century, the town was destroyed and its refugees moved to the settlement around Diocletian Palace, turning it into a fortified town. Split developed around the castle, and that's what we intedn to visit next time we come here.

Okay, so now we have a better idea of the area, and we like it.

Day 5, Wednesday:  Kliss Fortress

Dalmatia captivates, with its translucent waters, secluded islands and walled towns. No wonder this beautiful and strategic region has been fought by Romans, Venetians, Hungarians, Tusks and French for centuries. Kliss Fortress stands in a strategic position that protects the area of Split.

Its impressive fortification and building conception protected a lot. Its traces date back to the 2nd century, while the first records are from the 10th century. The Romans used it against the Slavs back then. It's the 16th century that sees the most turbolent time, though, as it was used against the Turkish invasion.

The complex is preserved pretty well, but a lot of working is expected to be made and is still in progress on the upper parts, which makes it dangerous to walk. It was a nice excursion, with cool views of Split and its area.

Day 6, Thursday: The walled wonder

Heat, sun and translucent light. This is what accompanies through our day visit to Dubrovnik, the most spectacular walled city known in Europe. I so long insisted to come here, it's a good 450 km down and Al was dubious until the very last minute. As we make our way to the center, I see him changing his mind. He's all smiles.
"Oh you beautiful, oh you dear, oh you sweet freedom ... all the silver, all the gold, all human lives, can not pay for your pure beauty ..."
(Immortal verses written by Ivan Gundulić, the greatest Croatian 17th century writer, who predicted the downfall of the great Turkish Empire in his great poem Osman) -credits.  
Our first stop is at the Franciscan Monastery, where we enter a pharmacy to buy some lenitive cream for mosquitos bites. Alice needs some immeadiate action for her legs. We are given an antistaminic gel that does wonders in less than 20 minutes.  Is it suggestion, or do old remedies work better? We're in one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe after all, being this one established in 1391. I make mental notes to buy some more gel before we leave Croatia.

Once outside, Onofrio's fountain, from 1444, charmes us and we start strolling though the Stradun, the  big main boulevard that used to water separate the two districts in the past.

It's hard to imagine that, only 12 years ago, a devastating civil war rocked this region and in Dubrovnik in particular, Serbian rebels shelled the city from the hills above. Most of the damage has been repaired here and I read that only mismatched roof tiles recall that moment, but I honestly didn't notice. I'm busy capturing every enchanting detail of the main square.

Then we reach the picturesque harbour and decide to take a mini-excursion by boat. We encircle Lokrum island and have lovely views of the walled city by the sea. This is how it appeared to the  Venetian fleet when it approached Dubrovnik under the excuse that they only wanted to help, Dubronik was hit by a violent earthquake in 1667), but in reality just waiting for a chance to enter and conquer. Dubrovnik had the complete domination on the Mediterranean and its defensive walls made it impregnable.

The closeness to the sea, then, ensured growth and freedom during centuries. Freedom was regarded as the greatest value and, without its naval power, Dubrovnik would probably have never become one of the most important cultural and merchant centers on the Mediterranean, especially from the 16th to 18th century.

Back on land we decide to take the tour of the walls, one of the most monumental  experiences I've ever done. They stretch for 2km around but the thickness varies. On the landward side, the walls are four to six metres thick and on the seaward side only 1 1/2 to three metres. It's easy to tell where Dubrovnik's builders thought the threat was! The height also varies according to the configuration of the terrain; in some places it reaches 25m (source)

Oh my, I could spend days in this wonder walled city! Awwwwwww!

Day 7, Friday: Corsairs 

Time to visit the town of Omis today, at the mouth of the river Cetina. Before the visibility disappears, we take a boat excursion in the most water-rich river in Dalmatia. We manage to deal a ride with 2 other Hungarian tourists who are interested in visiting the canyon, and get ready to enjoy our way up.

Over the course of centuries the river cut a magnificent canyon in  the mountains surrounding it. I admire the beautiful tall walls and think about the real archealogical fortune that can be found in them. The guide tells us there're bottle-axes from the stone-age, shields from roman soldiers, personal items from middle-age peasants and even a beautiful cave with adnorning stalactites and stalagmites.

During the early medieval period, the Cetina Valley and the river itself became a frontier between Slavic and Late Roman power. The area emerged as a centre of Slavic power and ultimately established itself as a heartland of the Early Croatian State. The journey is really interesting and allows us to see the beauty of the nature surrounding the river.

This water brought power for mill wheels. Mills began flourishing through 19th century and we stop in one of them, renovated by the Radman family who still owns the place. They make delicious home-made local specialties, especially bread baked under an iron lid (peka). We get treated to this fabolous bread with naturally air cured dry ham and local cheese. I enjoy the bread so much that I'm still in heaven and I will be until I have devoured every morsel. I'm a sucker for bread!

Back in town, we finally visit the notorious home of piracy. Omis Pirates were one of the most powerful and fearsome pirates on the whole Mediterranean Sea. They ruled the Adriatic Sea for more then three centuries until in the year of 1420 the whole of Dalmatia, except Omis, fell under rule the of Venetian Republic, the most powerful naval force of those times.

 T-Shirt spotted at Omis market

Surrounded by the enemy and left completely alone, the Pirates of Omis managed to defend themselves for 24 years. In 1444, Omis fell into the hands of Venetia and that year marks the end of piracy on Adriatic Sea.

 Omis by night, with Mirabella Fortress on the top.

Days 8-9, Saturday-Sunday: Glorious days

These are relaxing days, totally spent down at the beach, reading books, enjoying delicious dinners out and occasionally going places, like to the enchanting fishing village of Primosten up North. At the top of its hill there's a cemetary next to the church, nearing the edge of the cliff ... not a bad resting place, considering the breathtaking view of the bright blue sea.

We need to decompress from the stress of our routine, relax, resuscitate ourselves and escape the monotony of urbanity. Alice plays with the landlords grandchildren a lot. We were lucky, these are warm, friendly, sociable people and are great at hospitality. Alice is often offered food and drinks. Here she is at the table with Milan and some of his adorable family.

'This is MY family", Milan's wife told me one day, with a tear in her eye. I wish my mom had the same pride to say such positive affirmations, because family is everything. We found them via Adrialin, a reliable apartments agency. Just have a look if you need some good time in Croatia. They rule!

Day 10,  Monday: Boat cruise

Milan proudly told us yesterday that his country has 1.185 islands and that no Croatian vacation is complete withtout a stop on at least one. Thus he reccomended us a friend who does boat cruises in Trogir archipelago, because there're so many choices for offshore escapes that we can't decide what. We just don't have energy to drive to Split and then embark to Hvar. And there's no way I jump on one of those tiny water taxis that take you there in less than 2 hours. We'll save Hvar for our next stay here. Really.

So at 9.30 am on time we sail for the tour of Ciovo and Solta islands. The scenic ride makes us really realize how crystal water is everywhere. Take this. It's stunning shades of different colors. Amazing!

We do 2 stops, the first to visit one of the biggest villages of Solta island, Maslinica. This particular island was inhabited by the refugees from the mainland when Kliss fortress fell in 1537.

The vegetation is typically Mediterranean here.

Next stop is in a little hidden bay where the boat staff serves a frugal fish meal, rigoursly fresh and grilled, and entertain clients with folk music. We have time to relax on the beach and swim in gorgeous water enough before sailing again. What a nice day!

Day 11, Tuesday: Split -part 2

The visit is to the adjacent part of the city this time. We visit the church and the Franciscan monastery of saint Frane from 13th century, in which the bodies of croatian writer Marko Marulić and historian Toma Arhiđakon are buried. Then we go uphill the street Šperun, where we find ourselves in an original Dalmatian environment with narrow streets, taverns, and interesting low stone houses.

It's the Varos section of the city that lies around Marjan hill. When we get to the top,  we have a few refreshing drink at the highest cafe and enjoy a fabolous overlook of the city. This is  an early photo of Split taken from the slopes of Marjan hill in the past:

And this is how it looks like today. Magnificent!

The way down takes us to the Riva, from where we enter the historical district once again and get lost through its squares and streets. Just behind the walls of the Palace we then spot this huge statue of Gregorious of Nin, the 10th century Croatian bishop who fought for the right to use old Croatian in liturgical service.

It's sculpted by Ivan Mestrovic and his left big toe has been polished to a shine. Touching it brings good luck.

I'll wait for luck to work now! :)

Day 12, Wedsneday: In the heart of the coast

Full immersion in nature is our goal today, thus we visit the spacious and largely unchanged region of Krka. The area, named after the river Krka that it encloses, was proclaimed National Park in 1985 and it's said to preserve insignificantly altered ecosystems. I'm eager to explore it.

We chose the footpath that encircles Skradinski Buk, the largest travertine cascade system in Europe. It's the most attractive part of the park and I fully agree. There's a joyful explosion of multifaced nature value indeed.

Due to its special position and the mosaic distribution of various types of habitats, it is characterized by exceptionally rich and varied flora and fauna.

When we reach our destination I know why these are considered the most beautiful calcium carbonate waterfals in Europe. It's a massive, clear, natural pool with quite high waterfalls at one end and cascades at the others.

People swim and sunbath, someone dares to climb them risking both life and system altering. These idiots don't care about the sensitiveness of the cascades to all human activities,. I wonder where the guards are, then I see one yelling and continue being impressed. Krka also has a hydroelectric plant. It began its production in 1895, only 2 days after Niagara Falls in Canada. It gave energy  to nearby city of Sebnik, which due to this happened to be one fo the first lucky cities to have electricity in Europe.

Sibenik is our next destination, only 10 km far from this paradise and one of the most naturally protected harbour of the Adriatic coast. As we walk through the streets of this  well preserved medieval city, it becomes clear to me that invaders took what they wanted from this land, leaving people in poverty, but yet, through their ingenuity and spirit, these coastal people managed to flourish in 15th and 16th centuries.

St Jacob's Cathedral is one of their jewels. It took more than a century to be built, between 1431 and 1536 because of its complex design and emphasis on craftsmanship. It was built by of lime stone and marble from the stone mason's Island of Brac in Croatia.

The building itself was supervised by Juraj Dalmatinac and Nikola Firentinac, famous stone masters from Croatia. They introduced new construction schemes and enriched the church with sculptural decorations.

Among St. Jacob's best features is the apse ornamented with a wreath of 74 heads, considered to be the portraits of eminent citizens of Sibenik. Legend says that these sculptures, which are almost caricatures set in stone, were created to take a jab at penurious citizens who refused to give their fair share toward the building of the cathedral.

Day 13, Thursday: The divine mystery

As for today, we decide to answer the Lady's call. Well, not me really, I'm a lapsed Catholic, but Alfie does want to visit Medjugorje, the place where one of the most amazing and important supernatural events of our time is happening. Since 1981, the Virgin Mary has been appearing daily to 6 people of this small village in Bosnia-Herzegovina, giving mesages to the world. 

The visionaries tell no one goes to Medjugorje by accident. We're called individually by our Lady. What a nice thought! But I don't feel called. I just  join Alfie and stick to  him because the plan is to visit Moste afterwards and it's another Unesco's heritage I'm interested to see. Anyway, I'm curious. And my baby is enthusiast. She loves Religion to pieces, it's her favorite subject in school, as she's fascinated by the tales of Jesus's life.

As soon as we arrive we're told by the Tourist Office employee that no appearance is scheduled for the day, and that we've to wait until tomorrow. I'm about to ask satirically if we need to buy tickets for the event, but she explains that our Lady always tells when she's going to appear next, so that the pilgrims can have the choice to attend. Oh well, at least!

Today the apparitions are often seen by the visionaries in the choir loft of St James Church, but it was on Apparition Hill (formerly the hill of Podbrdo of Mount Crnica) that the children first saw the vision of the Blessed Mother. Within a few days, the communist state authorities certified the gatherings at Apparition Hill were dangerous, so they harassed and tried to prevent the children from being present at Apparition Hill in hopes of frustrating the apparition itself. They were unsuccessful.

As we approach Apparition Hil, in great difficulty since the narrow street is invaded by buses and vans, I wonder if the fact this small rural village was chosen to be the place where the Virgin would repeat her messages of peace and prayer of Lourdes and Fatima can be a coincidence at all.  A communist  country is no fertile place to encourage prayer, peace, conversion and devotion to God. Over 30 per cent are Muslims here, and they had to fight for their independence after the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991. How did this village survive the horros of the war? Simply sticking to their religious faith?

Alfie decides to climb the hill. Not barefooted, like many pilgrims do to show devotions, but choosing  the extremely rocky and treacherous slope. I don't ask if it's to show devotion himself this way or to avoid the fourteen stations of the normal path and arrive faster. Ali and I wait for him downstairs, entertaining ourselves in some of the million souvenir shops of the only street. When ge comes back he's all wet in sweating but peaceful. Maybe he gained the peace of mind he needs lately.

We decide to change plans last minute and go back home via Makarska Riviera, rather than visiting Mostar. We don't regret it, the coast drive is scenic and Makarska is a quiet picturesque port that contrasts with the rocky mountains behind. Yeah!

Day 14, Friday: The ultimate holiday

And so our time in Croatia has eclipsed, time to pack and leave.

"I'm so sad to leave Trogir, Alice, aren't you?"

"Oh no, mom! We stayed here for 2 weeks! Don't you think it's enough?"

"It is, sweetie, but I'm always sad when such a fantastic holiday ends."

"Well, mom, don't be. Don't you miss your sweet home? I do! We had a great time but now we better go home. We'll have another vacation soon!"

Small and wise. My baby.


  1. First of all, you had to close with an "Alice quote", hadn't you? You know this girl brings tears to my eyes when you quote her. If only we were so innocent and yes, wise as this little miracle.
    Second, there was no way I wouldn't love your narration, mostly cos I think you are a damn good writer and then cos I am a huge sucker for History.
    And third, I admit, I cried (still do)with your landlady and her family, probably because I do too want a loving and mostly peaceful family around me.
    And to conlclude this huge post (sorry!!!!!) allow me to tell you how I loved reading each word of your post and yes, you DO have to go to Hvar someday. If it is half the way it was seen on tv then it rocks!

    PS I love you! I am a collapsed Orthodox ;-) but IF there is a God I guess I should thank Him for bringing you into my life-although I do belive it is Asun and Facebook's fault. LOL

  2. yes roula, alice rules and is too funny, i had to!

    how i feel content that there's someone out there whom i can relate to when it comes to parents. yuck! poor us! but we'll do better, won't we?

    you're a nice friend, roula, and a special soul. your feelinf is mutual! muah!

  3. Elda - this post is so you: history, great writing, fantastic photos. I Love how you used multiviews and how you combined the photos you chose.
    I do miss more (well any) pictures of you and your family - I want proof you know how to relax and stay still for 30 minutes!

    I am with Roula..... I am glad you are in my life! Muah!

  4. thanks sandra.

    well yes, you've a point for family pics. i should post more. i always tend to choose the professional, travelogue style ones.

    and believe me, we relaxed a lot during that hols, though for me relaxing is a relative word :) al had to slow me down a few times, i was too over-excited to do this and visit that. always!

    how lucky i am to have YOU in my life? who wins here? ahahhahaha


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