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.