Dubrovnik, Croatia – Dec 2017

Today was always going to be a chill day and so it proved. The morning and early afternoon were about enjoying a late (light) breakfast (while the busload of Chinese tourists who arrived at the hotel late last night finished their breakfast and checked out); then ambling into Dubrovnik Old Town for a walk around the city walls and lanes and; finally, a few beers and some lunch in a seaside tavern while watching the world go by. Late afternoon was about ambling back to the hotel; then going for a swim in the pool and; finally, a one hour massage which was scheduled  for 5pm. Tonight, I don’t know yet.

To start with I was ambivalent about walking the walls. However, by the time I reached the Old Town, the streets were packed with tourists and the comparatively empty walls suddenly looked very appealing.

Walls were empty and there are 2 km of them. That’s Fort Minceta in the first photo. 

So, what about Dubrovnik? Three thoughts come immediately to mind. Firstly, it’s a tourist destination where the majority of locals have sold up and/or converted their property for tourist purposes – less than 500 people now permanently reside in the Old Town and as a consequence, whilst there is much to look at, the place seems to have little or no soul. Secondly, it’s very busy – in the summer it will become packed not least because the med cruises alone will bring in another 1 million plus tourists and I was told yesterday that the city is once again considering capping the number of people who will be able to enter the Old Town at any given time. Thirdly, it’s expensive – even out of season the prices in the Old Town are ridiculously high (e.g. 20 euros to walk around the city walls and a further 17 euros if you want to go into the city wall museum and; you’ll find it difficult to get a small beer for less than 5 euros).

On the other hand, it is one of the most magnificent medieval walled cities anywhere in the world with the most amazing views out to sea and, for the last two days, the most magnificent sunsets I have ever seen. The Old Town is wholly pedestrianised, packed solid with charming lanes and intriguing old buildings and museums and I could spend hours walking around. Indeed, I must have walked the “Stradun”, the main thoroughfare of the Old Town, eight times today because I didn’t want to miss anything. Having said that, it’s the kind of place I would be equally happy just sitting in the sun with a beer or wine, gazing out to sea. I did that too for a good hour.

Views were stunning

I think it is the kind of place you have to make your own mind up about. So far as I am concerned, two more thoughts come to mind – Dazzling and Bewitching.

I’ve been told about a place further south, in Montenegro, called Kotor. It is supposed to be like Dubrovnik but without the tourists. Now that has to be worth a visit.

Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia – Dec 2017

Today was about the journey from Bosnia (Mostar) back to Croatia (Dubrovnik).

I could have completed the journey in a little over 2 hours but I decided to take my time. I checked out the various options on Google and then chose the most time consuming, circuitous route available; the logic being I would see more and perhaps see something different. To start with there were no problems and a very reasonable road took me into historic Stolac…

Looking up at Old Stolac from the road; looking down on “new” Stolac from Old Stolac and; the main gate into Old Stolac

… but then the Van and I went “off piste”.

The roads narrowed, became almost tracks in some parts, and we went over and around various hills with hairpin bends and silly drops to the side and, yes, there were times when I don’t know what I would have done had I met a vehicle coming from the opposite direction but, it was great. It was totally unlike the trip from Krk when the Bora was blowing.

The views were magnificent. I stopped countless times (usually in the middle of the road, there was so little traffic) and just marvelled at the beauty of the countryside. I saw more people than cars; the odd farmer  or forester ambling along the road going from who knows what to who knows where but, women mostly, so many women trying to sell long strings of garlic by the roadside. Who they could sell to I really don’t know. I felt so sorry for them I was tempted to stop and buy a string but, come on, it would take me forever to use them and in the meantime what would the Van smell like?!?

        The road out of Mostar and what amounts to congestion

One of the better “B” roads but just look at the view

The one sad aspect of the journey was the all too frequent reminders of the Croat-Bosniak conflict. Both in Stolac and in the most remote villages there was tangible evidence of the atrocities and; so many plaques by the roadside in remembrance of Christians and Moslems, civilians for the most part, lost and/or murdered in that war. I lived in Aberdeen at the time, consumed with my career and coming to terms with parenthood (and the accompanying financial difficulties) and/but as happy as I ever was. It is scary and sad that I had no real idea or interest regarding Bosnia.

Moving on…

All too soon I had crossed the border into Croatia and was driving the last leg along the Adriatic Coast.

One of the first sights of the Adriatic Sea after Bosnia; the Franjo Tudman Bridge by Dubrovnik

I resisted the urge to stop at every lay by to take photos of the remarkable sea views and in due course the Van was parked up and I was settled into my next hotel (I know that staying in another hotel so soon after Mostar goes against the ethos of what I’m supposed to be doing with this tour but, I got a really good deal – a four star hotel with swimming pool, spa, breakfast and taxes included for just thirty quid a night) … and just take a look at the sunset I enjoyed over my beers:-

More of Dubrovnik tomorrow.

Stobrec, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Dec 2017

I really like Split. Indeed, up until half way through breakfast this morning I was undecided as to whether to move on or stay another day. The other options were a 140 mile drive down to Dubrovnik (mostly motorway and could be done in a little over 2 hours) or, a ferry across to Ancona in the Marche Region of Italy (I have to get real and start looking for a house sometime) or, a hop across the border into Bosnia. Bosnia won. I’d like to see Sarajevo but if there’s too much snow in the mountains I’ll settle for Mostar and Blagaj, weather permitting.

Before I left Croatia there was time for both a last stroll around the bay at Stobrec and an hour or two up at Klis (pronounced Cleese, as in John Cleese) which is only a 25 minute drive from Split.

Last night’s view of Stobrec from the campsite bar. Upon leaving the bar I met a Mrs Yun from South Korea who with her husband are taking their 3 children on an extended caravan tour of Europe via Russia. They started last May with ferries from South Korea to Japan and then Russia but have since driven across Russia and all around Europe (with the Isle of Skye being their favourite). Good for them. Pil sung!

The visit to Klis was all about a trip to the hillside fortress of Klis which holds a spectacular position high up in the rock face overlooking Split and much of the Dalmatian Coast. The fortress is steeped in history and dates back to at least the 7th Century, changing hands countless times in numerous wars but it is now probably best known as having been the setting for Mereen, one of the three great city states captured by Daenerys Targaryen (she who is “Queen of Mereen, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, etc”) in the TV series of “Game of Thrones”.

I believe the views in the first two photos figured prominently in Game of Thrones.

I seem to have developed a thing about taking photos through windows. Some of the views (drops) were amazing

In the second photo, Split can be seen in the distance

Crossing the border into Bosnia was a straight forward affair although once again the Croatian authorities (and those in Bosnia too) was very thorough in terms of checking passports. At the crossing I had to buy additional motor insurance (it seems British insurance companies rarely extend their cover to Bosnia) but it took no more than 5 minutes and cost just 20 euros. I had been told previously that it’s best not to enquire about the extent of the insurance cover; so I didn’t. At least I remain legal.

Bosnian roads do not look that good (and feel even worse) and the motorway to Mostar that I joined at the border crossing petered out quite literally in less time than it took me to pay the toll money. It was hardly worth joining the motorway but this is a poor country that never received the investment that Croatia once did from the West. I’m looking forward to this part of the tour but I suspect it will be very different from all of the other places visited so far.

More about Bosnia over the next couple of days. Right now I am checking into Mostar’s second finest hotel (the best hotel cannot accommodate the Van) with a view to spoiling myself again. Bath, pool, sauna, massage…

Split, Marjan Hill – Dec 2017

Today rates as one of the best days of the tour, my primary objectives being to (i) revisit Diocletian’s Palace and; (ii) walk up the Marjan Hill for it’s supposedly spectacular views of Split and; (iii)  eat a small tub of fritules (not unlike little Rum Baba’s that the Wimpy Burger chain used to sell). All three objectives were accomplished but the Marjan Hill really stood out for me.

I was on the 25 bus into Split shortly after 7.30 am and had walked, I think, every aspect of the Palace before most of Split had finished their first cup of coffee at work. I’m not saying I have seen everything of the Palace. It is one of those places that you will see something different no matter how many times you go. What is unusual about this site compared with others is that it is open to the public and available throughout the year to walk and touch- it seems a bizarre way of preserving such treasures. I took far too many photos but will include just a few otherwise this will look more like a photo album than a blog.

There’s a bust of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, a local boy made good, who made life seriously uncomfortable for the Christians. The second photo is of the Peristyle (a garden porch that leads into what were his living quarters) and the third a bit of artistic detail from the Peristyle which caught my eye. 

Much of the Palace is still being used. The first photo is of one of two parts of the Palace that were converted into scenes for the TV mini-series “Game of Thrones”. The other two photos show areas that are currently used as an indoor market 

It is ironic that within 300 years of Diocletian dying, his sarcophagus was destroyed by Christians and his Palace Mausoleum converted into the Sveti Duje or Cathedral of St Domnius, Domnius being one of many who were martyred during Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians.

The Bell Tower of the Cathedral of St Domnius standing proudly alongside the Peristyle

The real surprise today was the Marjan Hill. It made my day because it proved to be more than just a place to enjoy “spectacular views of Split”.

Because I had seen all I needed to see of the Palace before 9 am, there was sufficient time to walk around the Marjan peninsula and ascend the hill from the rear (instead of taking the more direct approach from the marina). The walk around the peninsula was noticeable for the scent of oranges (fully ripe later this month) and for great views out to sea but it was the walk up the back of the hill through the Mediterranean Pine Forest that was special.

The ascent was easy; very gradual with excellent paths and requiring minimal effort to reach the first of the two summits on the 178m hill. For most of the way I walked the old road which, at least during the low season, is restricted to pedestrians and cyclists. The views out to sea and across to Trogir improved as height was gained but the real interest was on the inside against Marjan’s steep cliff faces.

View across to Trogir during the ascent

There are a number of hermit caves and small churches dotted around the south side of the hill (with the most interesting being the 15th century church of St Jerome) which you would miss altogether unless ascending the hill from the rear. I took a video of St Jerome (posted on Facebook earlier today) which says it all. Also, the sheer cliffs on the south side and to the rear of the hill (many with significant overhangs) appear to offer excellent climbing. I sat for an hour watching in awe as a couple of free climbers went to work on those cliffs.

St Jerome’s and Hermit Caves – the caves were occupied before the church was completed in the 15th century

Easy descent down the steps that form the front direct route took me back to the marina and within sight (or is it taste) of my fritules

Fritules with a healthy blob of chocolate- delicious

Split, Croatia – Nov 2017

The weather forecast was for 24 hours of showers but, while there was some quite heavy rain last night, it was bright and sunny this morning. A quick tour around the campsite and then I was off to Split. The site I am parked in  does appear to have it all (including it’s own beach, a bar, restaurant, supermarket and even a dive centre, although the latter is closed until summer).

The first photo is of Stobrec from the campsite beach and the second is of the campsite from Stobrec. In between there is a small promenade with the usual bars and cafes. 

Again I chose to walk  but there’s a bus service that goes direct from Stobrec to Split or you can take a taxi for about 100 kuna (12 euros). I walked because there’s a path that goes right to the heart of the city and follows the coast pretty much the whole way. I was told it is about 8 km long but it felt longer despite the great views you always seem to get when hugging the coast.

The quality of the path varies but it is easy to follow; keep the water to the left and ensure you are at one with the tide

I had the path to myself until I was about a mile from the city. I say “city” but Split isn’t like a city in the normal sense of the word. It is simply too relaxed. There was a surprisingly large number of people out and about but the great majority were sitting at beachfront cafes or bars drinking coffee and chatting. Yes there will have been people working (waiters & waitresses certainly) and; there was a handful of locals  playing boules (or what I assumed was boules) and; others sitting in the shade playing chess and; there was even a trio playing Picigin in the sea at Bacvice Beach but, for the most part, everyone I saw was chilling. Unreal.

In case you don’t know. Picigin is a sport that is unique to Split. It dates back, I am told, to 1908 when students returning home from Prague University brought with them the game of water polo but had to adapt the rules somewhat because Bacvice beach is only ankle deep. I imagine it would be difficult playing water polo in just 6 inches of water. The end result looks nothing like water polo but, I kid you not, that’s what I was told. The participants (there can be up to five) play with what looks like a tennis ball, hitting it with the palm of the hand and working together to keep the ball in play (i.e. not letting it touch the water) and they seem to get most points (and spectator approval) when they throw themselves about acrobatically, especially into the water, to keep the ball in play. Sounds fun?

Chess and Picigin

Split is amazing. It is difficult to describe in a few words because it has so many different facets. The different styles of architecture in particular stand out with there being so many examples of each. I began today’s blog listing some of the different architectural styles and adding photos that I took today as examples of each but there were so many that the blog started to look like a catalogue for some kind of building auction. It will suffice to say the city was born out of the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace and what is left of the Palace remains the heart of the city with all subsequent architectural styles blending in nicely (even some of the more modern stuff such as Ivan  Mestrovic’s imposing statue of the 10th century bishop, Grgur Ninski). You are going to get a photo of that.

I’ll take some more photo’s (especially of the Palace) when I go back into Split tomorrow but in the meantime, here is an artists impression of the Palace as it once stood and a few other views that caught my fancy.

Artist’s impression of Diocletian’s Palace

The first view of the city proper as you climb up from the beaches and a view of the city waterfront, the Riva

Yes, that’s Gurgr Ninski on the right

No surprise that the city has it’s fair share of narrow lanes and dilapidated buildings but these were totally different. Walking them, I really felt as if I had gone back in time. Bizarre

Trogir, Croatia – Nov 2017

Just arrived at a very comfortable campsite at Stobrek, near the City of Split. There’s a hoolie blowing (the Bora, again) and I’m staying in the Van this evening with a bottle of wine and some chicken fajitas. Split will wait until the morning.

I’ve travelled just 80 km today. I could have driven it within an hour or so but chose to make a day of it travelling along the coast road, stopping at Primosten  and Trogir. I didn’t stay long in Primosten (just long enough for a coffee and to catch up on the UK news) but I was a fair while in Trogir and even then I had to tear myself away. Small wonder it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The town itself is tiny. It is on an island about 500m by 250m and linked by bridges to the mainland and a larger island, Ciovo.

Trogir with the mainland in the top left and Ciovo in the bottom right of the photo. The football pitch on the left of the island by the castle is HNK Trogir FC -their home ground truly is a fortress 

The view above is of the south side of the island from Ciovo

Much of the town is surrounded by medieval walls and, inside those walls, there is a small castle and a relatively high concentration of churches and palaces set among even narrower streets than was seen in Krk. Pretty as Trogir is, regular readers of this blog will understand my wanting to get back on the road to Split before dark.

One of the old gates into the towns and a couple of the alleys. The stone is mostly marble.

Principal among the buildings in Trogir is the Katedrale Sv Lovre (Cathedral of St Lawrence). It was built in the 13th century on the site of an older Christian church that had been sacked and demolished by Saracen invaders. For a 15 Kuna contribution to church funds (about 2 euros) I was allowed to go to the top of the 47 metre bell tower for some fine views over the town. I made it up and down the tower before the bells started peeling. LoL.

St Lawrence’s Bell Tower and the Entrance to the Cathedral (which for those interested in art was sculpted by Master Radovan and I think it is in the Romanesque Gothic style but don’t quote me)

The ascent up the bell tower is a little narrow to start with (room for only one at a time but, once again, I had the place to myself)…

… but it opens out

I’ll leave you with a couple of other photos…

Town Loggia

Not sure of the name of that church. There were a few and I became confused

Time to open some wine and get on with my fajitas.

Skradin, Croatia – Nov 2017

Moving to the Region’s largest town, Split, tomorrow so today was always going to be a lazy day checking out a few more of the local sites. It started with a brief stop at Skradin, just a few kilometres down the road, to  top up with supplies (milk, bread, eggs and the local cheese, ham & olives – olives can be a bit hit or miss with me but that’s not been the case in Slovenia and Croatia; not when they are so fresh) and then on to the Krka National Park to find a nice spot for breakfast. I don’t think I did too badly…

There’s the Van parked up for breakfast and there’s the view I had to suffer while sitting in the Van drinking coffee and enjoying a rather good omelette (‘though I say it myself); I’ll have the olives later.

Further down from where I was parked is Visovac Island on which sits the Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy.  Apparently it has sat there since 1445 but from where I was sitting you couldn’t see it for trees and I didn’t therefore bother with a photo. There’s another reason for not including a photo – I am told the monastery houses “a valuable collection of historical church linens and dishes” – At this moment I don’t need reminding of the chores that await me before I split for Split tomorrow. For those of you who think this is one long holiday; it most certainly isn’t! It is more a succession of Saturdays and things still need to be done.

In hindsight (that word again), I think I made a mistake travelling up the western side of the Krka River. Yes, I found a nice secluded spot to have breakfast but I was on the wrong side to approach the Roski Slap (another apparently nice set of waterfalls known locally as “The Necklace”). Well, if you ever visit this place and it is worth it you will be better informed than me.

It’s not my photo, but that’s the Roski Slap. Zoran tells me that, good as the falls are, it is more about the walk in along an 8 km trail from another place in the Park worth visiting called the Ozidana Cave. It is reputedly one of the best walks in the country

Giving up on the Roski Slap (this time) I spent the rest of the day exploring Sibenik and Skradin but, believe it or not, the best views of both places was from the Odmoriste (Service Station) next to the Skradin Bridge on the motorway to Split (a service station well worth stopping and that beats Watford Gap for views by a country mile)…

First photo is of the Skradin Bridge from Skradin and the second is of the same bridge from the Motorway Service Station (by the way, they don’t sell petrol at this particular Odmoriste)

Two more photos taken from the Service Station, the first being a photo east to Skradin, the second being the view west towards Sibernik 

Well. That’s all for now. The sweeter red wine here isn’t too bad when taken in quantity.

Lozovac, Skradinski buk – Nov 2017

Before yesterday’s bad weather complicated matters, my plan was to use Sibenik as a base for exploring at least some of the Krka National Park. I thought that plan had gone out of the window. However, by pure chance the restaurant I parked up at last night, in the hamlet of Lozovac, is about as close to the National Park as could be. It is at the Park’s southernmost point, near the “Skradinski but” (i.e. the Skradinski waterfalls).

I was the only customer in the restaurant last night (it’s more of a small family run taverna really) and with the owner Zoran having gone to a great deal of trouble to cook me his speciality dish (a kind of veal and tomato stew which I confess was very, very tasty) and insisting I taste his own locally produced red wine (which, regretably, was as bad as the stew was good) it was difficult for me to retire as early as I wanted to; so it was a late start this morning.

Today was going to be about orientating myself and leaving the Park until tomorrow but you know how things change. I set off in the direction of what I was told is an abandoned aluminium smelter plant. If so, it is the oddest aluminium smelter plant I have ever seen (and I have seen a few) but, I digress…

The “aluminium smelter plant”…

…complete with military pill boxes

…behind the “aluminium smelter plant” was a great view of what I assumed was the Krka River. I made my way down to the river and before I knew it I was in the National Park and very close to the Skradinski buk.

That view is worth exploring – all I have to do is make my way down to the river

And what a Park this is if these waterfalls are anything to go by. I took a number of videos too and one of them is posted on Facebook. I really do need to add a widget to this website that will allow me to post videos.


Chocolate Box Photo?

More about the park tomorrow. Zoran has prepared another of his specialities (and I’m already on the beer).

Lozavac, Croatia – Nov 2017

Parked safely outside today’s destination which is a small restaurant near Lozavac in Croatia. I should have reached this place within 3 hours or so of leaving the island of Krk but circumstances worked against me and the journey took more than 9 hours. It seems I was caught out by a White Bora that is headlining this evening’s news on Croatian TV because of it’s sudden severity.

I’ve been lucky with the weather so far but that changed last night with strong winds and torrential rain seeming to target the Van immediately after I settled down for the evening. I must have been woken 3 or 4 times during the night with rain hammering on the roof (I mentioned in an earlier blog that such heavy rain is going to take some getting used to). Anyway with a full 48 hours of unsettled weather being forecast I determined over breakfast to head further south. With hindsight, I would have been better waiting another day.

The winds were very strong as I drove back across the Krk Bridge to mainland Croatia and you’ll see from the photos below why I had to keep my speed below 25 mph. The Van was exposed to the wind and blown all over the place.

The Krk Bridge (not my photos)

The weather deteriorated throughout the day and twice I was forced to leave the motorway because of roadblocks. I wouldn’t ordinarily mind that kind of inconvenience but, as was also mentioned previously, Croatia doesn’t  use detour signs. You are simply directed off the motorway, compelled to pay the toll and left to your own devices thereafter. It is so frustrating.

Weather deteriorating; it is only a matter of time before the motorway is closed (but twice several miles apart and why oh why do they not identify an alternative route?!?)

Unfortunately the alternative routes I chose took me up and over some rather intimidating mountain roads. It became colder as I climbed; the wind increased; the blizzards thickened and the situation worsened (the roads seeming to become narrower and the bends sharper and the drops steeper). You’ll forgive me for not taking any photographs. I stopped just the once to take a photo and was quite literally blown off my feet.

I’d like to say it was soon over but it wasn’t. It took forever and, to make matters worse, there was hardly anybody else on the road. Not surprising really; it is a Sunday with a poor weather forecast and with the police closing roads left, right and centre. Mad dogs and Englishmen… etc.

Enough of that. All is now well and although the strong winds persisted throughout the journey to Lozavac, the really bad weather ceased once I was back down in the valley. Check out the following photo looking back – a different world.

Still a silly hill to have to cross in such conditions

So, what is the Bora? The Bora is typically a dry and very gusty wind that originates in the northeast and travels down the Adriatic (particularly the eastern coast and especially during the period November to March). The White Bora is characterised by clouds and thick snow up on the summits and cold clear weather and good visibility in the lee of the (coastal) mountains – that explains why the weather is so settled this side of the hills I crossed. The Black Bora is characterised by low clouds and reduced visibility but it is less gusty and is accompanied by more rain and snow. The White Bora bodes well for me tomorrow given that I intend hill walking in this the lee side of the mountain range. Here’s hoping…

Croatian news:   Tell me about it…

Punat, Croatia – Nov 2017

Found the Van – the less said about that, the better.

The walk to Punat was straight forward and didn’t take that long but I should have taken the bike. There was just the one hill as I left Krk, not a particularly steep one at that, and with the bike I could have done the journey in half the time. As it was there didn’t appear to be any bus service operating in Punat and I had to walk back too.

There was just the one interesting feature on the way over; a small church (perhaps the smallest I have ever seen) dating back to the 13th century. Otherwise, there’s not a lot to report except the route between Krk and Punat is made for cycling. There is no pavement but there is a two lane cycle path which goes the whole way.


The mini-church en route to Punat and the cycle path

Punat wasn’t particularly special  although it has a massive boat yard and marina and I noticed three dive centres (and I saw two in Krk yesterday). All five dive centres are closed for winter but I think I could have been tempted. It seems there are a number of wrecks in the area (some from WW1) and certainly I am seeing a great many more fish in the harbours than was the case in Slovenia and Italy earlier this month. I’ll make enquiries about the diving as I move further south. My diving gear is in the back of the Van just waiting to be used.