After Bobby took over duties for the last few blogs, I figured I should get back to my normal blogging routine (although he is a better writer than me)! Last week, we took a ten day trip down the coast of Croatia, through Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then back to Italy. It ended up being quite a bit of driving, but well worth it. It’s no wonder that Croatia has been on Nat Geo’s list of places to visit the last couple of years. We started out in Zadar (after a short pit-stop in the Italian city of Aquileia), traveled through Split and Trogir, and then ended our Adriatic coast trip in Dubrovnik.
We decided that, after five hours of driving, we needed to stop and stretch our legs. Bobby had found a famous church in Aquileia, Italy, which is a blip of a town just off the autostrada. So, why not?
Ancient Aquileia was one of the largest and most wealthy cities of the early Roman Empire and it is believed to be the largest unexcavated (and thus, intact) Roman city in the world. The cathedral in the town played an important part in the expansion of Christianity into central Europe in the early Middle Ages. The large mosaic on the floor is from the 4th century.
After the short hour break in Aquileia, we jumped back in the car and headed to Zadar.
Zadar’s old city center was much smaller than I imagined. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it had a very quaint feel. We had to park outside the city walls and walk to our hotel, which was located in the heart of the white-washed stone streets. After living in a city congested by vehicles, I can appreciate a nice pedestrian area. Although we didn’t leave ourselves a lot of time to see the city, we did get a nice run in by the sea and then took a walk along the walls.
As a side note, in the photo above, you’ll see the lion with wings over the gate. This is actually the symbol of Venice. The Croatians have a long history of influence from the Italians. In fact, a lot of Croatian dialects are influenced by Italian language, specifically the Venetian and Tuscan dialects. Maybe that is why we like Croatia so much!
Trogir was another gem that lives heavily on tourism in the summer, although most of its visitors come from Germany, Russia, and England. At lunch, every single couple at the restaurant was English. I’m wondering how long it’s going to take Americans to discover Croatia? It really isn’t that much farther than Italy, so maybe not too long.
One of the main attractions in Trogir is the 12th-century St. Lawrence Cathedral. Bobby suggested climbing the bell tower to get a better view of the town, so it sounded like a great idea to me. I have to caveat this by saying that I do not have a fear of heights or small spaces. However, this climb was pretty darn scary. I did have a long dress on, so the climb wasn’t the easiest, but the stairs would have been difficult anyway. The first of the two flights was just narrow and windy (like lots of Italian steps), but the second was a thin piece of rickety sheet metal hanging out of the wall by some rusty bolts. They rose at a very steep angle and the rail was practically non-existent. But, we made it, and the trip back down was better than the way up.
In Split, I think we found the Venice Beach of Croatia (minus the sand and some of the colorfulness). With a fantastic boardwalk, shops, cafes, and a fair share of sun-worshippers, the city had a pretty awesome vibe. I think this was probably the highest concentration of gelato consumption I’ve ever seen in one place as well. All of this is in addition to Diocletian’s Palace, which was built by the Roman Emperor in the 4th century, which sits just off the boardwalk. The Romans really knew how to pick their cities in the world.
It’s actually a two-layered boardwalk with a seating area in the middle. Architecturally, this is pretty fantastic city planning.
Entering Diocletian’s Palace, you really get the sense of how wealthy the Roman Emperors were. He built himself a palace that took up the equivalent of four or five blocks, essentially creating a mini-city inside. The architecture has a sense of grandeur, with four gates on the square’s axises and a smattering of Roman columns in every “room”. My favorite space was probably the entrance to Diocletian’s quarters (called a peristyle, or columned “porch”), which has been turned into a pretty fantastic bar.
Before sunset, we took the steps up Marjan Hill, which gave a pretty impressive overlook of the city.
To get to Dubrovnik, our last stop along the Croatian coast, you have to drive through Bosnia and Herzegovina. It seemed a little strange at first, but the country of Croatia does take up a very large stretch of the Adriatic coastline. You can’t really blame B & H for wanting to have a tiny slice of their own. The border crossings are a little cumbersome because you have to stop once for getting out of Croatia and then another time entering into B & H. We were scrutinized much more exiting Croatia than entering B & H, which we also found puzzling. Why would you care when people are trying to get out of your country? Anyway, I digress. (Stay tuned for our Montenegrin border crossing story in the next blog. That one was the most awkward of them all!)
Driving in, we saw one of the largest superyachts we have ever seen. Called the Mayan Queen, the 92 meter (301 foot) yacht is owned by the Mexican mining magnate Alberto Bailleres. It is so large it couldn’t even moor in the bay with the other boats. Instead, it was docked near the cruise ships. You have to wonder what one does with a boat that big, especially when you are limited with the number of ports you can even enter.
Additionally, we saw a whole slew of other really nice boats in Dubrovnik, including the Jamaica Bay, a “small” 60 meter (200ish foot) yacht that looked like a pea in comparison to the Mayan Queen. I think I’ll settle for our 42 foot sailboat cruise in a couple weeks.
As you can see, Dubrovnik’s old town is a heavily fortified area surrounded by walls on all sides. It didn’t take long to topple our “best walled cities” ranking. We walked the walls in Obidos and Girona, and Avila’s were pretty impressive too, but Dubrovnik’s take the cake. You do have to buy a ticket to walk the walls, but it provides the best view of both the city and sea, so you can understand why most people fork over a little cash to complete the 360 degree tour.
Unfortunately, the old town has suffered some damage over the years. Although the city was demilitarized in the 1970s to protect it from war, in 1991, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was taken over by the Yugoslav’s People’s Army for seven months and received significant shelling damage. Because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city relies so heavily on tourism, they are doing their best to keep the walls intact. Thankfully, we didn’t notice any glaring signs of ruin.
It took about an hour to circumvent the city. Even though we were both sweaty messes, we really enjoyed the walk and highly recommend it to others. Afterwards, we climbed back down, took a lunch break in the old city, and saw a couple colorful characters.
And I’ll leave you with this………