The Croatian Coast

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?

Aquileia cathedral

Aquileia cathedral

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.

Mosaic floor

Mosaic floor

Up close of the 4th century mosaic

Up close of the 4th century mosaic

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.

Gate into Zadar's old city center

Gate into Zadar’s old city center

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!

Tiny Zadar port

Tiny Zadar port

Part of Zadar's old city walls

Part of Zadar’s old city walls

Not sure who he is.....

I wonder if he can hear the sea?

Perfection.

Perfection.

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.

Driving into Trogir, a beautiful red-roofed city

Driving into Trogir, a beautiful red-roofed city

White washed old town

White-washed old town; View from our lunch spot

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.

This guy is hanging from the ceiling in the portico

This guy is hanging from the ceiling in the portico

Going up the first flight

Going up the first flight

Very windy steps

Very windy steps

Landing after the first set of stairs

Landing after the first set of stairs

Second (very rickety!) set of stairs

Heading up the tower

Crazy view.  This circle thing was so thin and rusty looked like it could break at any minute

Crazy view. This circle thing was so thin and rusty that it looked like it could break at any minute

Lovely view from the top

Lovely view from the top

Some of the most beautiful water I've seen

Some of the most beautiful water I’ve seen

Parting shot from the tower

Parting shot from the tower

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.

View of Split from the other side of the bay

View of Split from the other side of the bay

Split's Boardwalk

Split’s Boardwalk

It’s actually a two-layered boardwalk with a seating area in the middle.  Architecturally, this is pretty fantastic city planning.

The second "layer" of the boardwalk near the sea

The second “layer” of the boardwalk near the sea

Every.Single.Bench was taken

The seating area in the middle……every.single.bench was taken

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.

Wall art depicting the grand scale of Diocletian's Palace

Wall art depicting the grand scale of Diocletian’s Palace

The lounge bar looking towards the entrance to Diocletian's quaters

The lounge bar looking towards the entrance to Diocletian’s quaters

People actually live inside....and have some high flying underwear

People actually live inside….and have some high flying underwear

Before sunset, we took the steps up Marjan Hill, which gave a pretty impressive overlook of the city.

The trees provided a perfect picture frame

The trees provided a perfect picture frame

And we even found someone to take a photo of us

And we even found someone to take a photo of us

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.

Entering Dubrovnik (notice the scale of the yacht under the bridge and the cruise ship nearby)

Entering Dubrovnik (notice the scale of the yacht under the bridge and the cruise ship nearby)

Close up of the Mayan Queen

Close up of the Mayan Queen

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. :)

Dubrobnik aerial view

Dubrobnik aerial view (taken from Wikipedia!)

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.

One of the set of steps up to the walls

One of the set of steps up to the walls

View of one of the smaller bays on the north end of the walled city.  Kayaking anyone?

View of one of the smaller bays on the north end of the walled city. Kayaking anyone?

Heading up the Adriatic side of the city

Heading up the Adriatic side of the city

Here you get a view of how thick the walls are

Here you get a view of how thick the walls are

View of Dubrovnik's Castle from the walls

View of Dubrovnik’s Castle from the walls

We pushed this guy out of the way to get a photo (he didn't want to budge...I think he was waiting on food compensation)

We pushed this guy out of the way to get a photo (he didn’t want to budge…I think he was waiting on food compensation)

Trying not to roast to death (it was a scorcher!)

Trying not to roast to death (it was a scorcher!)

This is a lovely place for wedding photos.  Don't worry, it's a mere 300 foot drop to the sea.

This is a lovely place for wedding photos. Don’t worry, it’s a mere 300 foot drop to the sea.

The walls zigzag around the entire city

The walls zigzag around the entire city

I told Bobby that this would be a piece of cake compared to the bell tower climb in Zadar :)

This is next on our climbing list.  After all, we’ve already completed the Zadar bell tower. :)

View of Dubrovnik's old city and the Adriatic from the city walls

View of Dubrovnik’s old city and the Adriatic from the city walls

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.

Break time

Break time

His music was beautiful but all I kept thinking was -- "isn't he burning up?!"

His music was beautiful, but all I kept thinking was — “isn’t he burning up?! He has wool socks on!”

Captain Hook is alive and well

Captain Hook is alive and well

And I’ll leave you with this………

I know this is a bit vulgar, but we found it funny.

I know this is a bit vulgar, but we found it funny.