Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Croatia: Split, Trogir, Hvar and Dubrovnik

By Melissa at 2:56 PM
July 10 - July 19

After exploring inland Croatia, we boarded a bus to Split on the Dalmatian coast. Croatia was called Dalmatia when it was ruled by the Romans. Aside from being the main ferry terminal for trips to the islands off the coast, Split is home to the former Diocletian Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Diocletian was a Roman emperor during the late 3rd and early 4th century who decided he would one day retire instead of serving as emperor until his death. So he built himself a palace in his favorite part of the empire, current day Split. In the 7th century when the area was under Byzantine rule, the citizens of the area were vulnerable to attacks from invading Slavs, so they decide to move their city into the now abandoned Diocletian's palace and the palace has been inhabited every since. Some of the outer walls as well as the basement and main courtyard are from the original palace and the rest is an eclectic mix of stone construction styles from various time periods.


Peristyle square, inside of Diocletion's Palace
From Split, Croatia
Peristyle square inside of Diocletion's Palace
From Split, Croatia
Statue in Trg Brace Radic
From Split, Croatia
The belltower in Diocletian's Palace
From Split, Croatia
We really enjoyed exploring all the alleyways of the palace and walking along the sea front promenade eating pizza and ice cream. The main beach in Split is a wide, pebbly expanse, and a bit too packed with chairs and umbrellas, but the sea is lovely. The water is very shallow (less than 3 feet) for a distance of about 75 feet from the shore so it stays nice and warm. Brian also ran into some Klapa singers in the old cistern of the palace.  Klapa is the Croatian version of a cappella.  It has a more choral feel, but the music also explores secular subjects of love, country, and grapes (for the wine).  Even though it's not Brian's style, he was spellbound by beauty of the performance.  If you get a chance to visit Dalmatian Croatia, seek out some Klapa.

The Split waterfront
From Split, Croatia
Bačvice beach
From Split, Croatia
Klapa singers (click to watch video)
From Split, Croatia
Less than an hour's bus ride outside of Split is the tiny walled-city of Trogir, which has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was under centuries of Venetian rule and exhibits a very Venetian feel--narrow streets and a large central square adorned with cathedral and bell tower. We spent a few hours walking inside the city and outside along the promenade. We also ate Ćevapčići (pronounced che-vap-chi-chi), or grilled minced-meat sausages served inside a spongy pita with diced onions. Cevapi (the short-name for the dish) is most popular in Bosnia, with the best being from Sarajevo, but the Croat version was very tasty.

A street in Trogir
From Trogir, Croatia
Brian in front of the bell tower
From Trogir, Croatia
We also spent a few days on the nearby island of Hvar, but that was kind of a bust. We had forgotten to book a rental that had airconditioning and since we arrived in the middle of a heat wave, we made a quick retreat back to our accommodations in Split before departing to Dubrovnik. The beaches of course were lovely and a nice respite from the heat, but with temps in the 90s it's just impossible to sleep.

The view of Hvar town walking down from our hotel
From Hvar, Croatia
The town from across the harbor
From Hvar, Croatia
From Split we took a bus ride south to Dubrovnik. Situated at the southern end of Croatia's Dalmatian coast, Dubrovnik is a charming and tiny walled city that was once of the largest maritime republics in the 14th and 15th centuries, even rivaling Venice. Geographically it is cut off from the rest of Croatia and we had to travel briefly through Bosnia's 20km coastline to get there. This odd arrangement is a remnant of an agreement made during its time as the Republic of Ragusa under the protectorship of the Ottoman Empire who wanted coastal access for their lands in what is current day Bosnia and Hercegovina. The lands to the north were under the control of the Venetian Republic and the Ragusans were more than happy to cede 20 kilometers of coastline to the Ottomans and create a buffer between them and the Ventians.

The city endured months of shelling by Yugoslav forces during the war, but being a UNESCO World Heritage site (yes, another one), much of the damage has since been repaired. On the expert advice of our guesthouse owner, we ventured into the old town after the cruise ships left. It was still crowded, but would have been intolerable with an additional several thousand people wandering around. On our tour of the old town we first ventured up a few dozen steeply carved steps to the top of the city walls and walked all the way around the city. It's only a distance of 1.25 miles, but with the heat, sun and umpteen stops for drinking water and taking pictures, it took us about an hour. Luckily, the main city square has a large fountain with ice cold water, similar to the many street fountains found in Rome.

Big Onofrio's Fountain
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
Melissa and Brian above the Stradun
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
Lovrijenac fort from the top of the city walls
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
The eastern tip of the city wall
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
Melissa in front of the Cathedral
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
After recuperating with as much water we could drink and a slice of pizza, we headed over to the War Photo Limited. They exhibit the works of war photographers from the Yugoslavian conflict as well as rotating exhibits from various regions around the world. The photos of the Yugoslav conflict were disheartening, but worse still was the exhibit "Somewhere Over Grozny" and an accompanying photo essay by French photographer Eric Bouvet about the conflict in Chechnya. I was literally nauseous after reading his story of being embedded with Russian troupes during a fierce conflict in which half of the soldiers in the unit were killed and of how, in his words, war turned the rest of the men into monsters, driving them to commit horrible acts. It was a powerful reminder of the side-effects of war besides the casualties.  

After a full and exhausting day in town, we opted to spend the next day lounging at the beach near our hotel in the neighborhood of Lapad. The water was warm with very high salinity, making floating around a breeze. Later that evening the guesthouse owner drove us and two other guests to Mount Srđ, which overlooks the city to catch the sunset. An excellent end to an excellent three days.

View of all of old town Dubrovnik from the top of Mount Srđ
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
Brian at the top of Mount Srđ
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
Cross at the top of Mount Srđ
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sunset over Dubrovnik
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
In our next post we'll talk about our travels farther into the heart of the Balkans, to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Melissa and Brian in Croatia with the hills of Bosnia in the background
From Dubrovnik, Croatia
More images of Split, Trogir, Hvar, and Dubrovnik.