Monday, February 10, 2014

Croatia: The Dalmatian Coast

On January 17th, we left Roma Camping Village and drove across Italy to Ancona where we caught Croatia's state-owned Jadrolinje's, Marko Polo. It would be another overnight journey, departing at 21:00 and arriving in Split, Croatia at 07:00 the next day. This was another mostly empty ferry boat and so we felt we had much of the ship to ourselves. Because of the relatively short journey, Molly would be able to stay in the RV and not have to face a kennel.
LandShark and the Prius (tucked behind) waiting to roll onto the Marko Polo.
Vincent had to back LandShark onto the ferry. Not much clearance given with the slope of the ramp and LandShark's tail. I remembered earlier in the trip when Vince ruled out ferries because one had to "back on"; well here he was doing it!
And Vincent reverses LandShark perfectly into a very narrow spot.
After we found our cabins, we went to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Once served, it was clear we weren't in Italy anymore. Gone were those amazing pastas. But the upside was that maybe the weight gain would subside or, better yet, reverse.
Can you notice the happy expression of relief on Vincent's face, that he's no longer behind the wheel in LandShark?
On January 18th, we arrived in Split on schedule and disembarkation occurred without a hitch. And "yay", Vincent and the kids got their passports stamped so they had documentation of their exit from the Schengen zone.

Our destination, Camping Split (~€23/nt, with the winter long-term discount), turned out to be only a few kilometers from the port and so we arrived before 08:00 and before the office even opened. (The campground is not actually in Split, but is in Stobreč, a small town just on the southern edge of Split.) Vincent and I walked around the campground and found it to be very nice. The owners were undergoing many improvements and, when done, would be outstanding. The campground itself sits right on the beach overlooking the Adriatic Sea and so I could imagine it being extremely popular in the spring, summer and fall. But here we were in winter and there was only one other motorhome at the campground, which had over 200 pitches. The main reason Vincent picked Camping Split was because they advertised "water, electricity and chemical waste deposit at the pitch". When we looked around however, none of the pitches had on-site waste disposal. There must be a problem with English translation because we faced the same issue at Roma Camping Village. Nevertheless, with further search, we did find one pitch which would be big enough for LandShark where we could reach the chemical waste deposit with an extension added to our waste hose. The office manager thought we were a little odd in our choice since it was the furthest pitch from the restaurant and showers but we found a solution where I wouldn't have to deal with taking in slides and moving LandShark to dump tanks while Vince and Paul were away.

That afternoon, Vincent and I drove into Split to look around. Our main mission was to find a bookstore and find a Croatian phrase book/dictionary. I didn't know a word of Croatian and I couldn't assume I'd get by speaking English. Vincent had ordered some language material that he'd pick up when he and Paul went back to California but for the next couple weeks, I had nothing. I noticed on-line that Split is the home to the third oldest book store in Europe so we set the GPS to that location and off we went. The kids all decided to stay in LandShark; Paul and James would study and Sarah was happy playing at the various playgrounds.
Archaeological research suggests that Split dates back to the 4th century BC when it was the Greek colony of Aspálathos. The "old town" of Split today is absolutely lovely. Palm trees line the promenade that overlooks the Adriatic Sea.
Looking through a Diocletian Palace wall passageway out to the sea.
Founded in 1860, the Morpurgo bookstore is the 3rd oldest bookstore, still in its original location, in Europe. By the time we reached the store, it had closed. We found that stores generally close between 13:00-14:00 on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays.
Statue of Marko Marulić (1450-1524) who was a nobleman and Croatian national poet: Because of his law practice and serving as a judge, he became the most distinguished person of the humanist circle in Split.
Cathedral of St Domnius.
The old town pedestrian walkways are beautiful, all lined in travertine.
Here, we took a break at the Trg Republike to enjoy a bit of the afternoon sun. The sea can (barely) be seen at the end of the piazza.
When we returned back to Camping Split, we arrived just in time to catch a glimpse at the lovely sunset. We were optimistic that this was going to be a super place to spend the next few weeks.
A view from the campground diving platform.
January 19th was spent at Camping Split. Vincent finalized everything he needed to do to prepare for his and Paul's trip to the US. Paul focused on practice tests while James and Sarah did some school work and spent time playing around the campground. We had dinner at the onsite restaurant, Horas, which was okay, but not as good as Ciao Bella back at Camping Village Roma.

On January 20th, Vincent and Paul finished packing and then Vincent drove LandShark to a nearby petrol station to fill up the LPG. With the warmer weather I was hopeful that we could get through the 12 days on one tank. At 13:30, I drove Vincent and Paul to the Split airport. It had a new, modern terminal building which seemed rather large for the 7 flights that depart each day. I expect there are a lot more flights coming through in the summer and perhaps, with Croatia just joining the EU in 2013, the airport planners were anticipating higher a volume of traffic in the coming years.

On the return drive, I noticed signage for a Cineplex and so took a detour and followed signs to Split's "City Center One" mall. I parked and went inside to find a very modern shopping mall that included a Cineplex theater. As luck would have it, foreign movies in Croatia are shown in the original language with Croatian subtitles. (But animated movies are dubbed because children generally can't read as fast as the dialogue is projected, so Sarah would be out of luck.) I took a look at what was playing and made plans to return that evening and catch a film.

On January 21st, James, Sarah and I went into Split. We walked around the old town, looked at a couple book stores and walked along the harbor. We also tried some pastries at a couple of bakeries. Being off-season, there really isn't a lot to do. There is only one children's museum in all of Croatia and it just opened in October 2013 in Rijeka which is about 400 km from Split. I suspect any museum we do get into will be low tech with little English translation so probably won't be a crowd-pleaser for kids.

On January 22nd, Sarah, James and I drove to the Krka National Park which was just about an hour's drive from Split. While the various boat trips at the park wouldn't be running, there was a walking trail that had good reviews. Off season my entrance fee was only 20 kunar (10 kunar for children) whereas in high season entry would be 90 kunar. I'm so glad we went because the educational trail was on a wooden walkway, much of it over rapids. I'd never been on a path like it. It was fabulous. Someone on-line wrote, "Be prepared to take lots of photographs". They were right. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.
Driving down to the Skradinski Buk trail, one is treated to breathtaking views of the Krka River. It is 73 km (45 mi) long and its source is near the Croatia/Bosnia and Herzegovina border at the foot of the Dinara mountain.
Beginning of the trail: Who is going to push whom into the water?
The trail around Skradinski Buk is just under 2 km long.
It must have been challenging constructing this walkway over the rapids and falls.
The waterfalls were created by travertine barriers, islands and lakes.
Notice boards are placed around the trail describing the wildlife that frequents this area. Many amphibians can be found in the lake and wetland sections of the river; reptiles inhabit the thickets and rocky areas while the river is habitat for many endemic fish species.
Krka National Park stands out for its exceptional wealth of flora and fauna. To date, 860 plant species and subspecies have been identified in the park area.
The Krka River is important for the spring and autumn bird migrations. Due to the number of species found here, this is one of Europe's foremost ornithological areas.
Along the river is the Krka Hydro Dam. This was the place of Croatia's first hydroelectric dam and the second of its kind in the world. It was beat out just by two days by the opening of the hydroelectric dam at Niagara Falls, built by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse. The American dam was put into operation on August 26, 1895 whereas the Croatian dam was initiated on August 28, 1895. The Americans kind of cheated in order to get the "first in the world" title; the transmission lines leading from the Niagara power plant weren't completed until early 1896 so cities weren't receiving power until then. The Krka dam however was sending power to Šibenik in 1895.
When we returned back to the campground, we arrived just in time to be treated to another incredible sunset.
Our beach front.
Breathtaking in every direction.
On January 23rd, James, Sarah and I stayed at the campground in the morning. I was determined to finish the "Roman Holiday Part 2" segment of the blog as now "Croatia" was building up. The kids did school work and read and no one was really in a rush to go anywhere. After lunch, it looked like the expected rain would hold off so I decided that we should go to see the fortress at Klis. The next few days were promising rain and Klis (and the views) required a clear day.

The Klis fortress is one of the more significant fortifications in Croatia, due to its strategic defense location. The Klis fortress was used for the last time for military purposes during WWII from April 1941 to 1944 as a stronghold of Italian and German occupation forces.
The big attraction to the Klis Fortress is the view it affords. In this direction, Solin is down below.
The Fortress is mainly ruins now. There's a modest entry fee of 20 kuna for adults and 10 kuna for children. The earliest records of the Fortress are from the 10th century and state that the Fortress was held by the Romans who were employing it to fend off the Avars and Slavs.
At the end of the 11th century, Klis fell under the rule of the Hungaro-Croatian kings. One of them, Bela IV and his family used the fortress as shelter during the Tatar siege in 1242. The most turbulent time of the fortress's history was the beginning of the 16th century during the great Turkish invasion to this area. The Turks were held off for two and a half decades but when the leader of the defense, Petar Kruzic, died in 1537, Klis fell under Turkish rule. In 1648, the Venetian army managed to oust the Turks; Klis remained under the flag of Venice until 1797 when it was then taken over by the Austrians. With the exception of brief control by the French in 1805-13, the Austrians controled Klis until 1918 when it, and all of Croatia became a part of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (which became the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and then Yugoslavia).
One needs to tread carefully here:  Uneven surfaces and no guard rails.
Church of St Vid which was built sometime before the Turks invaded Klis.
A view of Split below.
This is not the place to have children running around unsupervised. Look at this edge and the sheer drop below. No guard rail, nothing.
On January 24th, we woke to rain and so no one was very motivated to "get out there". In addition to doing homework, we made it a maintenance day, where we all took showers and James and I emptied the black and gray water tanks. Later in the afternoon, Sarah and I went to the main Split shopping mall to look around and have dinner, while James was quite content to stay back in LandShark. Split's "City Center One" shopping mall is very nice and not unlike a North American mall. The one difference is lack of a major food court. The mall had one restaurant, with about 15 tables, to serve the entire 3-story building. Unlike North American malls that expect shoppers to eat every 30 minutes, the Croatian malls have very little focus on food. No wonder everyone is thin. It's tough to find anyone overweight, let alone obese. A major attraction to the City Center One is that it offers a child care service, called Kids' Jungle, free of charge. Parents can drop off their kids aged 3-12 for up to 2 hours so that they can go shopping. I'd seen this service offered in Stockholm (Kista) but never anywhere else. Sarah was keen to try it so I dropped her off for 45 minutes. When I picked her up, she had a great time (even though she couldn't communicate with the other kids) and was very vocal that she wanted to go back there again.

On January 25th, we drove to Omiš which is about 25 km south of Split. We drove right along the coastline and what spectacular views. The color of the water was that gorgeous aqua hue and I envied the owners of the sailboats we saw moored along the way.
Coastline on the drive towards Omiš.
We had no real objective at Omiš other than to find lunch and hopefully climb to reach one of the fortresses there. The two main ones above the town are Fortress Mirabella and Fortress Starigrad. Then there is Fortress Visuc a couple kilometers from Omiš. After lunch we set out to find a road or path up to Fortress Starigrad. We drove along the emerald-green Cetina River, which cuts right through Omiš to reach the Adriatic Sea, hoping to see a sign and ended driving up the mountain complete with hairpin turns. James was a bit nervous and finally appreciated the purpose of those handles placed inside the car, just above the car door.
The Cetina River: It's source is in the northwestern slopes of the mountain Dinara and it flows a distance of 105 km to the Adriatic Sea.
Starting the ascent up the mountain to find a fortress.
We drove up past the village of Podaspilje. It would be tough "running out of milk" up here; a trip to the grocery store is kind of a big deal.
We drove up the mountain on the opposite side of Omiš hoping to come across a fortress. This was a "white knuckle" drive for James. We did apparently drive by the Visuc Fortress (or a sign for it) but didn't see anything.
Fortress Mirabella: It can be seen from the center of town but we just couldn't find a way up there either.
With the sun setting, we decided to return to our campground. Sarah wanted to return to the City Center One shopping mall; she wanted to ride one of the faux ponies (see photo below) and wanted to see if she could get into the kids Kids' Jungle center. James was fine with Sarah's agenda so we headed off to the mall.
Driving north back to Stobreč, I had to pull over and try to catch this moment.
We had success finding a free pony to ride (lots to choose from) but the Kids' Jungle center was booked solid. It was Saturday night and so obviously a lot of other parents had similar notions of dropping off their kids. With an ice cream and a brief turn around the mall, we headed back to LandShark.
It's silly, but Sarah liked it. Essentially, one bounces up and down, like riding a horse, and the pony scoots forward. It was even possible to steer. Don't know why I hadn't seen these in North America.
On January 26th, it was another fine sunny day and so we set off to Trogir, which some consider to be one of the best preserved Romanesque-Gothic towns in Central Europe. The historical core of Trogir is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Indeed, Trogir is definitely worth a visit. This time of year is a much different experience than in the spring, summer and autumn months; most things are closed including the few attractions like seeing the Fortress, St Lawrence Cathedral or climbing the bell tower. The old town is lined with B&Bs, hotels, restaurants and shops (much of them closed in January). We did manage to have lunch, wandered around the streets and found a playground for Sarah so it was a good way to put in the day at any rate.
Photo of the Obala Bana Berislavica (loosely translated Berislavica Quay).
Church of St Dominic dates from the 15th century.
The Kamerengo Fortress: It was erected soon after 1420, when Trogir became part of the Republic of Venice, in order to protect the sea channel and the port of Trogir.
A street in the old town, currently completely empty. I imagine it's packed in the summer.
Cathedral of St Lawrence: While there are several churches in Trogir, the Cathedral of St Lawrence is the main attraction. It is a triple-naved basilica and the current building was begun in 1213 and finally finished in the 17th century.
James at the Trg Ivana Pavla II (John Paul II Square) with the Cathedral of St Lawrence on the left and the clock tower from the church of St Sebastian in the background. The clock tower is all what remains of the church of Saint Sebastian, which was built in 1476 to thank Saint Sebastian for allegedly protecting the city from the plague (however ~2,000 local inhabitants did die from the plague).
On January 27th, we decided to take Molly with us and hike in nearby Podstrana. The campground office had a map of nearby trails and so we took an easy route along the Zrnovnica River which empties into the Adriatic.
The trail alongside the Zrnovnica River is walking distance from Camping Split and makes for a nice outing; it's flat so is good for joggers and (non-ambitious) walkers.
The river is about the same width for a couple miles inland (and perhaps beyond) and underwent some man-made development at some point in its history.
James trying to convince Molly to go on the bridge for the photo op, but Molly just wasn't going to have anything to do with being suspended over water.
On January 28th, we woke up to the forecasted rain. Our LPG level was now less than 1/4 of a tank and I made the decision to move us to a cabin for the next couple nights so that we'd still have about one night's worth of gas when Vince and Paul returned. We got a winter discount and our cabin was only €40/night. The upside would be that we'd have heat in the evening and no longer would have to endure 52 degrees at night, which we were doing in order to stretch the LPG.

In case I missed anything in my searches online, I asked the woman at the front office if there was anything for kids to do in rainy weather. She did some research for me and concluded there wasn't much, short of a photography exhibit in Split. So I decided to make use of the day and do laundry while the kids finished homework and then started watching movies. When the laundry was done, we moved into our cabin and had the luxury of being able to turn the heat up to 30 degrees C. We had access to cable television but only had news channels in English. Nevertheless, it was nice to catch up on some current happenings.

January 29th was expected to be the one dry day before a number of rainy days so I decided that we should take a ferry to the nearest island, Brač. The Jadrolinje ferry goes back and forth between Split and Supetar (the main town on Brač, with population of about 3,350) about 5 times a day in the winter and the trip takes about 50 minutes. It's a very picturesque journey and I could imagine it being very popular in the summer. But on January 30th, there were only about 30 of us traveling over (and about 50 returning later that day).
Leaving the Split harbor.
The town of Supetar began developing in the 16th century when inhabitants of the inland settlement of Nerežišča began to use the coastal area for its harbor. The quarries on the island of Brač have been a source of stone for building decorative stonework for centuries. The Romans valued its quality and used the stone found here to build cities, amphitheaters, temples, palaces and graves all over Dalmatia. The stone was used in the construction of the White House in Washington, DC and the Palace of Diocletian in Split, to name a few notable recipients.
Arriving in Supetar.
Once we arrived in Supetar, it was a little after 13:00 and we set out to explore the old town a bit and look for a restaurant for lunch.
Church of the Annunciation: The present church was built in 1887 but other churches have resided on this location. The first was the Basilica of St Peter, (the English translation for Supetar), that dates back to at least the 6th century.
The 6th century mosaics found on this wall outside of the Church of the Annunciation are the only things that remain from the earlier Basilica of St Peter.
Inside the Church of the Annunciation, which is advertised as the "main attraction" of Supetar.
Church of the Annunciation altar.
With the exception of a couple cafe/bars, everything was closed. We did find one restaurant at the port that was empty but open and so we had lunch there. They couldn't serve half of what was listed on the menu but in the end we all found something.

After lunch, we walked along the waterfront towards the cemetery, St Nicholas Church and Petrinovic Mausoleum (all located together), which are described as the second highlights of Supetar.
A view of mainland Croatia over the Brač Channel. Notice the beautiful snow-capped mountains.
The Petrinovic Mausoleum: It was created by the Croatian artist Toma Rosandic (after Ivan Rendić was fired from the job) in the neobyzantine style. Its white domed roof is topped by an angel. It was built for the family of the local shipowner, Francisco Petrinovic, who emigrated to Chile and then returned back a very rich man.
Close-up of the entrance to the mausoleum.
Many of the grave markers and tombstones in the cemetery were created by the Croatian sculptor Ivan Rendić (1849-1932). Ivan Rendić, himself, is also buried here.
Beyond the cemetery can be seen a Jadrolinje ferry coming into port; that would be our ride back to Split.
After leaving the cemetery, we felt we saw all we could of Supetar so decided to take the 15:30 ferry back to Split, rather than wait until the 18:00 ferry. It was clear the islands were pretty dead in the winter. If we were to return again, we'd bring the car to have the advantage of driving around the island to see more of it.
Returning to Split, this time with the sun shinning on the old town.
On the way back to Camping Split, we stopped for groceries. We needed breakfast cereal, a few other staples and something for dinner. It's always interesting to note what is big food-wise when visiting a country and after looking at 3 or 4 supermarkets, it seemed pretty clear Croatians aren't big on breakfast cereal. The dominating cereal was corn flakes.
The Croatians must love their corn flakes. Ten or so different brands?
January 30th and 31st, were rainy days and so, knowing most tourist sights would be closed, we stayed put in our cabin on the campground. I took advantage of the time to sketch out a travel route for the next 80 days or so in the non-Schengen area and then a second travel itinerary for when we could return to western Europe. I wanted to have a proposal ready for Vince and I to discuss when he returned on the 31st.

On the evening of January 31st, I picked Vincent and Paul up at the Split airport. With 2 layovers, it was a very long trip. They flew through Dusseldorf and then via Rome. When they landed in Dusseldorf and were going through the Immigration check, the officer challenged Vince on re-entering Europe, observing that Vincent and Paul had recently already been in the Schengen zone for close to 60 days. This was just a good reminder that it's important to know your rights because the border control agent one's up against might not have all the facts. Vincent was asked how long he was staying in Europe and he said for another 5 months but added that he'd be leaving the Schengen zone later today. The agent asked to where he was going and Vincent replied, "Croatia". The agent then replied that, "Croatia is part of the EU" to which Vincent replied, "Yes it is, but it is not part of the Schengen treaty". The agent was caught off-guard by this fact and asked another agent to verify who replied that Vincent was correct. In the end, Vince and Paul were let through.

February 1st, was a rainy day and so we generally spent it at the campground. Paul and Vincent had to unpack and stow their luggage. James and I had to dump tanks and then we had to close up the slides so that Vincent could drive LandShark to refill the LPG. I also spent some more time fine-tuning a plan for the next 5 months.

On February 2nd, I needed to escape the campground and so I talked Vince, Sarah and James into driving into Split for lunch. Paul was still suffering from jetlag. It was overcast and misty but the rain was holding off. We parked at our usual place down by the harbor and walked into the old town. With the exception of the odd cafe/bar, everything was closed. I have to comment here that the Croatians love their cafe/bars; it seems there are about 4 cafe/bars for every restaurant and none of these cafe/bars sell food. (Just another reason why it's tough to find anyone overweight in this country.) Within the town walls, we did find one restaurant, De Belly, which was open and so we went in. It was surprisingly good and we thought we should return back there instead of the campground restaurant, when we could.

After lunch, we wandered around the old town and then along the water front.
We found Split's narrowest street, Pusti Me Da Prodjem (Let Me Pass street), located adjacent to the Temple of Jupiter. Incidentally it is supposedly the narrowest street in all of Europe.
The Temple of Jupiter: It was built around the 3rd century, about the same time as the Diocletian Palace. Jupiter was the name of Diocletian’s father and was also the highest Roman god, the god of the sky and the god of thunder. This god was highly worshipped during the Imperial era until the Roman Empire came under Christian rule. Emperor Diocletian believed he was a reincarnation of Jupiter and thus positioned this temple directly adjacent to his mausoleum.
The Diocletian Mausoleum: It was built at the beginning of the 4th century as one of the four temples of the Imperial Palace. In the 7th century, Bishop John of Ravenna converted the mausoleum into a cathedral which became the Cathedral of St Dujam. (Bishop Dujam was martyred with seven other christians in the persecutions by Emperor Diocletianus.)
A nun opening the gates to the Diocletian Mausoleum/St Dujam Cathedral.
The Cathedral of St Dujam is the smallest cathedral in the world and claims to also be the oldest one.
On February 3rd, we woke to a perfect sunny day (finally). It was time to get moving and show Vincent and Paul the highlights of the area as we probably would be leaving for an intensive Eastern European tour in a few days. I thought we should drive along the coast and so I chose Šibenik as our destination, which was north of Trogir but not as far as Zadar. The scenery along the coastline was breathtaking (sorry did not stop for photos) but when we arrived to Šibenik, the GPS was indicating that we needed to catch a ferry to get there, which just didn't seem right from my recollection of looking at Google Maps. Nevertheless, it was clear we were not where we wanted to be, with no signs of an "old town" or a commercial center in the vicinity. At this point, everyone was pretty hungry and I didn't have much of a grace period for trial and error. I noticed that we were only 10 miles from Krka National Park, which was my favorite site thus far and so I rerouted us there. Along the way we found a roadside restaurant that was open and we had a Croatian version of fast food, not unlike an American fast food meal: Hamburgers and french fries. But the Croatian hamburgers were flat and had a diameter of about 9 inches. Satisfied after a good lunch, we set out for Krka National Park.
Here we are again at the trail starting point. James described the Krka walk to Paul and Vincent.
Vincent and Paul both really enjoyed the trail. Vincent was really slow as he was taking lots of photos with his new camera. Now I know what it's like sightseeing with me; I'm always the one dragging behind trying to get a good shot.
Walking above the Skradinski Buk. The water moves at an average flow of 55 cubic meters of water per second.
That's James down on the bridge at the foot of the Skradinski Buk. He wanted to get back to the car and his new Kindle that Vincent brought back to him from the US.
Vincent and Paul at the foot of the Skradinski Buk, which is the longest waterfall on the Krka River.
As we left the Park, I took a last look at the Krka River.
On February 4th, we got the go ahead from Camping Split that we could leave LandShark there for ~6 weeks (@ €6.70/day) while we traveled through parts of Eastern Europe. It was a rainy day so the boys focused on homework, while I started packing and making a list of the essentials we'd need on the road. Sarah did her best to avoid doing homework and, as each day passed, I continued to appreciate the merits of sending kids to school. I also had to look into where we could stay along the way which wouldn't break the bank. I looked at airbnb, VRBO and Roomerama and, at this point, found airbnb to best meet our search needs for short term stays. I found a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment in Dubrovnik, about a half kilometer outside the old town for €30/night which I thought a great price.

On February 5th, everyone was getting pretty cranky. Not having a strict agenda the last several days was taking its toll. I though everyone needed to get some exercise so we opted to take a hike in the hills/mountains above Podstrana, the town south of Stobreč.
We started our hike/climb in G. Podstrana (a settlement in the hills above Podstrana). The buildings were mostly constructed of white limestone from the hills. This is a photo of the Parrish Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in G. Podstrana.
Starting our ascent.
Fantastic view of Podstrana, Stobreč and Split below.
It was a good trail for novice hikers and, while the steep climb was tough, the views were rewarding.
The boys made it to the summit. A small chapel and altar, made out of stone, were at the top.
The view from the summit.
And turning 180 degrees, this was the view at the summit looking inland.
When we returned back to Camping Split, it looked like the clouds were breaking up and it might be a great final sunset here. So I walked over to the coast bordering Stobreč to see what I could capture.
It never developed into one of those spectacular sunsets so I had to settle for this.
That evening, we decided to return to the De Belly restaurant in Split for hopefully a final good meal. Vincent ordered the mixed grill, which we've noticed is commonly on the menu in Croatia.
Vincent assured me there was salad under that heap of grilled meat and fries.
On February 6th, it was time to leave. It was 14:30 by the time we had the Prius loaded up, and the RV cleaned out and moved to its new spot for while we were away. I had told our Dubrovnik apartment host to expect us at 17:00 and there was no way we'd make it in time. Originally, I had planned that we'd drive the coast but we were obligated to take the A1 highway as far as we could in order to make good time and arrive in Dubrovnik before dark.
James helping to load up the Prius. I sure hoped it could handle the weight of the 5 of us plus luggage and the demands of mountainous terrain.
Despite taking the highway, the scenery was sensational. We did get part of the drive along the coastline and we were all struck by how beautiful the seascape was. Vince was driving and I did not want to slow us down by stopping to take photos so hopefully I will be able to get a few of the coastline when in Dubrovnik and Montenegro (our next stop). Interesting, en route one has to go through Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has a 5 km slice of the coast, in order to get to Dubrovnik from Split. So one goes through border control and customs at the Croatia-BiH border and then 5 km later one again goes through border control and customs at the BiH-Croatia border.

Our first airbnb apartment was just as advertised and the very nice host gave us a map of the city plus recommended sights to see. Once we were settled, we set out to walk to the old town, about a half kilometer away. It was all downhill walking there, which meant the return home would be all uphill. It looked like we'd be getting some much needed exercise here. We were all struck by how beautiful the old part of Dubrovnik is. It's clearly the crown jewel of Croatia and some coin it as the pearl of the Adriatic.
We walked by the Minceta tower on our way down into the old town.
Once we walked through the city walls, we were treated to this enchanting view of the old town.
There weren't many restaurants open, given it's the slow season. We did eventually find one where the price seemed a bit high, but alright, and the menu items (few) all looked extremely good. I have to say the food was delicious but the dishes small. Vince half jokingly suggested we should pick up a pizza on the way home. This was the smallest staffed restaurant I had been to yet. There were two men who were both the wait staff AND chefs and they were covering for TWO restaurants. They kept leaving our restaurant and going up the street with dishes and drinks. It was a bit much particularly since they forgot some of our ordered items. If they brought drinks and the bottle of wine (that was forgotten) which we ordered early on, we might have been more forgiving but in the end we left very unsatisfied given the price and poor service. I would have liked to provide the name of the restaurant here; it started with the letter "J", but I can't find a listing anywhere on the internet to validate the correct name.

On February 7th, we woke to clear skies and so it was a good day to go out and explore Dubrovnik. We set out for the old town.
In front of the Pile Gate: A statue of St Blaise sits above the entrance. Saint Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik and one can see several statues of the saint around the city. We just missed his annual feast, which is celebrated on February 3rd, when relics of the saint, his head, a bit of bone from his throat, his right hand and his left, are paraded in reliquaries around the city.
Once inside the walls of the old town, we had to find lunch. Paul didn't have any breakfast and so was very hungry. We were hoping to find something less expensive than our dinner the previous night so stopped in at a pizzeria. Even with just a pizzeria, the single serving pizzas ranged from ~$10-$12. It was clear we were no longer in Split anymore. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since cruise ships stop here.

After lunch we went to walk along the city walls, which is the #1 thing to do when visiting Dubrovnik. It cost 100 kuna (~$20) for adults and 30 kuna (~$6) for kids to walk the wall. Pretty pricey to walk a 2 km wall. There's that cruise ship influence again.
Walking down the main street, the Stradun (also known as the Placa).
Serbian Orthodox Church, built between 1865 - 1877.
Rector's Palace: It used to serve as the seat of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa (which is now Dubrovnik) between the 14th century and 1808. Over the years, the palace was destroyed or heavily damaged by either fires, gunpowder explosions or earthquakes and required a total or partial reconstruction or repair of the building. So today it is a "harmonious" mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
Close-up of the arch detail at the Rector's Palace.
Cathedral of Annunciation of St. Mary.
A more understated entrance to the old town with a statue of St Blaise above.
A view of the old harbor from the city walls.
With the exception of about 5 or six others, we were the only people walking along the walls. In the summer, when 2 or 3 cruise ships arrive, I understand it is packed and people are advised to visit the wall at 8:00am when the ticket office opens. At 100 kuna/adult, this venue is a big money maker.
Walking along the walls, one edges around the perimeter of the old town below.
Looking down the main promenade, the Stradum (Paca).
Fort St Lawrence: A fort has stood here since early in the 11th century. It also serves as a theatre.
With the view of Fort St Lawrence behind you, this is the view of the wall against the Adriatic Sea.
Reaching the outer-most point where the wall extends towards the sea, this a view looking back at Fort St Lawrence and part of the town outside of the walls. Notice the color of the water on a dark overcast day. On a sunny day the waters and views would be nothing less than breathtaking.
With a date tree to the left, this view shows the island of Lokrum to the right.
Most locals dry their laundry on lines outside their windows. This resident has also found it a good way to dry dishes.
Nearing the end of our walk around the wall: In general, with the exception of some uneven and steep steps, it's a pretty easy 2 km.
Lots of minute details can be found on the builds around the old town.
The Ploce Gate: Notice the beautiful stone detail on the bridge. Another statue of St Blaise sits above the entrance.
We then walked over to the cable car that would take us up Mount Srd to Fort Imperial that was built by Napoleon after he added Dubrovnik to his holdings (~1810). This fort turned out to be very strategic in the 1990s when war broke out with Yugoslavia. This was the high ground that the locals were able to hold and helped them to defend Dubrovnik below.
So glad we took the cable car up, rather than walked. Incredible views. The cable car was just rebuilt in 2010 (first one destroyed in the 1991-95 war) after the landmines were removed at the top of Mount Srd. Locals are not certain whether or not all the landmines were discovered, so tourists are advised to keep to established paths.
The views on top of Mount Srd (412 meters above sea level) are nothing less than stunning.
Inside the fort is a "Dubrovnik during the Homeland War (1991-95)" museum that we wanted to see. I was interested because this war occurred during my lifetime and I remembered reports of it. The museum is pretty basic, using photos, artifacts and documents to describe the Serbian and Montenegrin aggression. There are English translations which are very poor; English speakers do have to work in order to follow the translation. I have to think that if one is setting up a museum and wants to translate information for English tourists, couldn't they find native English speakers to fine-tune the translations? We're not hard to find; there are millions of us out there.

The best part of the museum was the series of tv news clips covering the initial attacks on Dubrovnik in September 1991 through December 6, 1991. Despite the information provided being very one sided, it was just another reminder of the senselessness of war. And it was painful watching the Yugoslavian Federalist army bombing and destroying beautiful old Dubrovnik, a UNESCO world heritage site, while the international community did very little to intervene.
This photo captures what most of the museum is like. The interior of the fort is cave-like including dripping ceilings.
The rooftop of the fort provides more outstanding views. The small island in the middle of the photo is the uninhabited Daksa. Beyond that are the Elaphite islands, which include Sipan, Lopud and Kolocep; these are tourist destinations in the summer but this time a year there are no ferries operating.
After treating ourselves to the cable car ride up Mount Srd, we felt we should walk down.
As we walked down Mount Srd, I turned back to take this photo of Fort Imperial.
While walking down, we were treated to another dazzling sunset.
On February 8th, we woke to pouring rain and no one was motivated to go outside, including Molly who wanted nothing to do with water. I researched what we could do on a rainy day but there wasn't much. There are a few museums in Dubrovnik's old town but I knew they wouldn't appeal to the kids. There's a cave under one of the airport's runways but that was closed. There are some islands that are popular in the summer, the closest being Lokrum, however ferries weren't running this time of year. Hunger eventually forced us out and so we walked towards the old town and the Ploce Gate, where we found a pizzeria. Our feet and legs were soaked at this point so we went in to have lunch and watched the weather switch from teaming rain to hard rain.

After lunch, Vince and the boys were done with being wet and so returned back to the apartment. As this was our last day in Dubrovnik, I wasn't ready to call it quits yet and so Sarah joined me to return to the old town. Sarah and I hadn't walked for long before I was questioning my decision. Since Dubrovnik is paved in limestone, there was no where for the water to flow; we found ourselves walking in impromptu rivers and, when walking down/up stairs, those rivers became water falls. Our feet were drenched. Nevertheless we made the best of it and Sarah was very happy chatting away about all her plans for when she returns to California. We stopped in a souvenir shop where Sarah bought gifts for two of her cousins and then wandered the streets, taking any street that we hadn't yet explored. Sarah likened the experience to navigating a real life maze, which I think is a good description of the old town (less the hedges).
The main altar in the Dubrovnik Cathedral (Cathedral of Annunciation of St. Mary): I guess we were lucky to be able to go in; at times, I gather there is an admission fee. A cathedral has stood here as far back as the 7th century. The current cathedral was completed in 1713. Apparently, the treasury of the cathedral holds the reliquaries of the head and the arm of the patron saint of Dubrovnik, St. Blaise. It also contains a number of valuable paintings. Note the polyptich above the pictured altar; it's the work of Titian Vecelli and his workshop. The name of the work is "Annunciation of Mary" and it befits the Cathedral perfectly.
The Great Onofrio fountain, built by Onofrio della Cava. It was erected as a celebration of the completion of a new water system in 1438, which thus supplied the city with water from the Dubrovnik River, 12 kilometres away.
From left to right, the Palace Sponza, Bell Tower and City Hall and Theatre.
The Small Onofrio fountain located next to the Bell Tower, completed in 1442: It's purpose was to supply the market on the Luza square with water. Sculpting work on the fountain was done by Petar Martinov from Milano, while the mechanism was the work of Onofrio della Cava.
Due to the heavy rain, we "ordered in" food from the restaurant from where we had lunch. At this time of year, two days was about right for Dubrovnik. However, if I was to return in the late spring, summer or early autumn (which we hope to do one day), I would recommend staying five days or more and make sure to take a couple boat trips to some of the neighboring islands, maybe visit the caves under the airport runway, and soak up the sun and the atmosphere at the many bar/cafes in the old town (which would have outdoor seating in warmer/dryer temperatures).

The next day we would be packing up and moving to Kotor, Montenegro. We read that the scenery along the coast would continue to reward so I was just hoping that the rain would miraculously go away (and maybe come back another day).

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