Tag Archives: Cityscape

Day 13 – Split the difference

September 27th. Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike meeting an old friend, we returned to Split which (the observant among my readers will have noticed) we visited in the first week of our time in Croatia. I had expected the second visit to be more or less a re-run of the first only in cooler temperatures, but it didn’t actually work out like that.

Although the sun was shining and the visibility was good, the approach to Split from the sea was not as good a photo opportunity as I had expected. It’s Croatia’s second-largest city (behind the capital, Zagreb) and is clearly a huge tourist destination, which we could infer from the large cruise ships parked at the edge of the harbour. And the city sprawls to east and west and so is difficult to capture in a single photo. You can get some nice shots on the approach, but only by zooming in to cut out, as far as possible, undesirable elements. Bits of it look nice

but even in the shot above, you see a few modern and less attractive apartment blocks. The bell-tower in the Diocletian Palace is a clear landmark.

We arrived in Split just before lunchtime, and tied up to the south-west of the city for lunch and an instructive lecture from Filip about: times Roman from 1st to 4th Century AD (up to the time of Diocletian, of course); the growth of both Eastern and Western Roman Empire under Trajan; the military prowess of Diocletian (which established him as #3 in the all-time hit parade of Roman emperors); his setting up of a tetrarchy; and the length of his rule – nearly 20 years, which was a long time to survive as an emperor – before he retired (the only Roman emperor to do so) to the palace he had built in Split (believed to have been his birthplace).

We disembarked at around 1.30 to gather for our walk to and around Split, and were approached by a tall, extravagantly made-up, dubiously blonde woman who waltzed up and said “hello”, in a very deep voice. I was about to tell her that whatever it was that she wanted to sell us was something we weren’t interested in when she was greeted warmly by both Filip and Tom, our captain. So it turned out that she (Stella) was to be our guide, so I’m glad I didn’t say anything, particularly as she was bigger than me.

As we walked into Split, we actually saw our first – and only – Dalmatian dog!

(well-spotted by Jane). We gathered around the bronze model of what the powers that be thought that the Roman palace probably looked like, before entering the palace by the south gate, as we had the previous week. But instead of carrying straight on as we had before, we turned left and went much deeper into what was the basement part of the palace. The skill of the builders in designing and constructing arches, vaults and ceilings was apparent

as was the scope of the archaeological excavation – the entire basement had been largely used as a rubbish dump in medieval times and it takes a long time to excavate and restore such large spaces.

Some interesting things have been found, such as a thousand year old cedar timber

and in the back of the chamber, some workings have been left which give some idea of how awkward the excavation must have been.

Here’s a close-up of the compacted rubbish of ages.

Some glimpses of the upper levels can be caught – for example this view of some bottles in a cafe somewhere above us.

After wandering round in the basement levels, we finally emerged, blinking, into the above-ground levels of the palace. Diocletian (much to the fury of Rome) gradually adopted the Egyptian attitude to ruling which basically involved asserting his godhood; to bolster his claim he brought several sphinxes and many porphyry columns from Egypt which was then under his control. The largest surviving sphinx is on display in the main palace courtyard

and is reportedly some 3,600 years old.

After a coffee break, and some delicious ice-cream (the ricotta-and-fig combo went down a storm with most of our group members trying it), we then went to the temple of Jupiter, which is adorned with the work of Roman sculptors who used a new technique of fast drilling, thus enabling greater intricacy among the detail work.

We also visited the cathedral, essentially a re-purposing of Diocletian’s mausoleum (ironic as he was notorious for his persecution of Christians) which is decorated in real religious bling.

Running around the top of the mausoleum is a carved mural depicting various scenes of Roman life, including hunting.

The story goes that Diocletian received a prophecy that if he killed a boar, he would become emperor, and that this gave him the idea to kill his predecessor, whose name was the Latin for “boar”; perhaps this carving is Diocletian justifying his actions? As in so many cases, “no-one knows” the exact truth and there is much speculation about the details of history of this time, as indeed there is about what the basement areas of the palace were used for.

Modern, historical and Roman life come together in a shop just off the main square.

Here you see: a part of the drainage (sewerage?) system of the original Roman palace, preserved under glass within an upmarket scarf shop (similarly, next door is a bank where the PCs and desks of today’s office are set among the pillars of the ancient Roman palace). Filip also explained that in the times of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Croatian mercenaries in France wore distinctive cloth around their necks to identify them, in a style called “à la Cravate” – a description and appearance which has given the name “cravat” to today’s posh neckwear.

Before we left the palace for a final stroll round Split, we were treated to a small snatch of “Klapa” – traditional Dalmatian singing – in the vestibule of the palace courtyard.

After that, Jane and I made our way back up to the terrace we had visited the week before, in the expectation of getting a much improved view over Split, It was certainly clearer and the afternoon light looked good over the city, but it wasn’t quite the spectacular photo opportunity I had expected. Still, not too bad a view.

In the evening we took a longish walk around the harbour and into the 19th-century back streets of Split to a restaurant called “Ostarija U Vidjakovi”, where we were treated to a traditional Croatian dish called “pasticada” – very tender beef, which had been marinated and then slow-cooked in a rich sauce, served with gnocchi. This was extremely tasty, and very filling, so we were glad for the 25-minute walk back to the boat to settle the meal down before retiring for the night.

The morrow held out the prospect of visiting an old town called Trogir. This had not been on the original itinerary, but because of the vagaries of the weather during the week, we now had the luxury of the extra time to visit it. So, I’ll describe how that went in the next entry. I’m quite looking forward to reading it, myself….

Day 12 – It is a Hvar, Hvar better thing that we do

September 26th. Today’s destination was the island – and the town – of Hvar, the sunniest island in the Croatian archipelago, with 2,718 hours of sunshine a year (over 7.5 hours a day on average!). It was a couple of hours sailing from Brač, and, though the bura wind had dropped, we were running before it and its resultant seas, which meant a fair degree of rocking and rolling.

This was actually moderately dramatic at times as it had the seating on deck shifting around – whether people were sitting in them or not.

Perla is 100 feet long, which is too long to be permitted into Hvar harbour, so we anchored in a sheltered location by (and to) a piece of rock which forms part of the Paklinski islands,

and a chap with a motor boat came to take us off for our visit to Hvar town, which enabled a nice view of Perla at anchor.

You get a good overview of Hvar as you approach from the sea

and particularly a splendid view of the fort which overlooks it (and helped protect it during the 16th century).

Indeed, it was the fort – Fortica, locally called Španjola after Spanish workers who help build it during the 15th century – which was our first destination as we explored Hvar. Building it started in 1278 and a new fortress – the one which sheltered the inhabitants during a Turkish Ottoman invasion in 1571 – was built on the site starting in 1551.

It’s a handsome construction

and offers some great viewpoints over Hvar itself,

as well as having on display several artifacts from Greek and Roman times (Hvar’s history actually goes back thousands of years BC). There are also some interestingly-shaped chimneys, reminiscent of the “praying hands” style which we have seen in the Azores.

There’s a walkway which leads between town and fort, offering more great views over Hvar

which we walked and then stepped down

finally arriving at a Benedictine convent, now also a museum named after local poet Hanibal Lucić. The main attraction of the museum is the display of the extraordinarily intricate and fine patterns made by the nuns in Agave (also called Aloe) Lace. The patterns really are breathtakingly lovely.

The lace is made with fibres painstakingly extracted from agave leaves, which are graded for thickness and then woven into these patterns using an unusual needle, which has an eye at each end. Apparently, gloves are needed these days to protect the hands of the nuns from an allergic reaction to the oil in these fibres.

After a well-earned coffee break (which also featured beer), Jane and I went for a wander round Hvar, which is a really attractive place. This being September 26, it was right at the end of the season and so relatively quiet; I’m told that the town has quite a young crowd in during the height of the season and thus can be somewhat raucous. But we liked it and the various views and sights such as: the cathedral;

the main square as viewed from on top of the theatre;

various lion carvings, which are evidence of its Venetian influence;

a lovely tree being propped up on the harbour side;

more interesting chimneys;

the (now neglected) church of St. Mark;

a Franciscan monastery (which still has about three monks in it, we’re told);

(I note with amusement that the statue of the boy in the foreground appears to presage modern fascination with social media); and nice harbourside walks with views of the town and fort.

All too soon it was time for a cocktail and to head back to the boat in the fading light

after which we just had time for a swift one before dinner. The crew played guessing games with us about the fish which formed the main course. It was delicious, but I think no-one (and certainly not I) would have guessed that it was shark – local white shark, apparently, a fish that grows to about two metres long. Dinner was supplemented by some very nice red wine which our two Australian (and clearly oenophile) group members, John and Greg, had generously bought for the meal, so a merry time was had by all.

Tomorrow’s itinerary takes us to Split, and it will be an afternoon visit with different light and hence different photographs from our previous visit. All that will be covered in the next gripping episode. See you there!

Day 8 – Croissant in Croatia, Beef in Bosnia, Dinner in Dubrovnik. Luggage in Limbo

September 22nd. Today should have gone like this:

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Taxi to Zadar Airport
  • Drive rented car to Dubrovnik Airport
  • Be transferred to Gulet to meet new group
  • Drinks and Dinner

But it didn’t. It was much more, erm, fun!

Breakfast came and went, as expected. The first variation from the plan came in the form of an extra passenger – our guide, Željko. He needed to get to Dubrovnik to guide another tour group; his only option to get there on time was to catch a bus at 2am. When we heard about that, we suggested that perhaps he might like to come with us, leaving at about 8am. Unsurprisingly, he agreed.

On our taxi ride to the airport, his phone rang, and one didn’t need to understand Croatian to realise that he was receiving bad news. It transpired that he had left vital paperwork back at the hotel – tour notes, vouchers, all the vital stuff that he needed in Dubrovnik for his next group! Fortunately, there was enough slack in our schedule to allow us to take him back to the hotel and then on to Dubrovnik.

So, papers collected, we headed back to the motorway and started the four-hour drive southwards. I was a little concerned about the border crossings we’d need to do through Bosnia, and so my idea had been to ensure we got back into Croatia on schedule before thinking about maybe a rest stop.

However, Željko had other ideas, and suggested that we stop for lunch – in Bosnia! As usual, he had a good suggestion, and so we found ourselves at the Hotel Orka, eating a traditional “Bosnian Pot” – beautifully tender beef chunks and vegetables in a very tasty sauce. As well as the beef, I swallowed my principles and took a photo of my lunch. But I’m not about to go as far as sharing it with you!

After lunch, we set off with (we fondly imagined) enough time to get us to our destination on schedule. We had reckoned without a few factors, though: hitting the border back into Croatia just at shift change time and so sat in a queue to get through for what seemed like an age, but probably wasn’t; being stuck behind camper vans; being stuck behind people on a slow moped. So we arrived at the Sixt car hire return at Dubrovnik airport somewhat late. However, Jane had managed to alert our new tour guide and so the taxi was waiting for us to take us onwards.

“Onwards” was, we found, subject to the vagaries of the weather. Apparently, a strong north wind was in prospect and so our cruise boat – a Turkish gulet – had to plan to leave early to avoid getting trapped in Slano harbour. So, our group were actually on the tour of Dubrovnik that had originally been planned for tomorrow. Amazingly, in the melée that is downtown Dubrovnik on a Saturday afternoon, we found our guide, Filip, and joined him, after he’d given the taxi driver instructions about where to leave our luggage. Filip, in turn, found the rest of our group and we continued with the tour of Dubrovnik old town, with Filip helping the official guide, a lass called Ana, by giving our group lots of historical, geographical and archeological information as we went along.

Memory plays strange tricks. It had been some 11 years since our last visit to Dubrovnik (see the photos here) and I had clearly remembered the difference between the original roof tiles of the old town and the new ones which had been used in the reconstruction after the Serbs had bombed the crap out of the old town in the 1990s Balkan War. But I had remembered the new tiles as being of a uniform colour, and they were clearly not so, now.

(above you can see the brightly coloured modern tiles as well as the faded colours of the originals). So I wondered if these new tiles had started to age and change colour unevenly. But no – it was basically a false memory on my part, as a quick check on Flickr told me. It’s clear that a single or mixed colour is a matter of choice.

The short tour passed some steps which I’m told feature in a certain vastly popular fantasy drama from HBO

but I wouldn’t know anything about that. It also gave us a sharp reminder of what an utter zoo Dubrovnik old town can be… and this is AFTER the cruise ship crowds had left…

…but there were still wedding celebrations going on.

So, tour over, we got on to our bus and headed out to meet up with another van upon which was the group’s luggage. Well, most of it, anyway. Some was missing – ours! Since this included my backpack with virtually all my camera gear in it, I was as worried as Filip was embarrassed. To cut a long story short, they did eventually find our luggage and brought it to the boat quite soon after we got there. Our boat, a gulet called “Perla”, was awaiting the group at Slano harbour, and looked lovely in the evening dark.

We embarked and finally had a chance to get properly introduced to the other nine people in our cruise group over dinner and drinks before turning in for the night. Getting under way early was going to be the order of the morrow in order to get to Korčula and Brač, and that’s what the next gripping instalment will cover. I bet you can’t wait!