Tag Archive | Croatia

Holiday, third leg – Split

I woke on Tuesday to another day of rain and decided my time would be best spent taking a bus from Dubrovnik to Split.

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was because I’d been housebound for a day, but I became increasingly mopey as I became increasingly car sick on the four-hour journey. As the bus wound through the mountains, other people pressed their cameras against the windows and took panoramic shots of Dubrovnik, but I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm.

The grey sky had bled the colour from the landscape – the sea, which had been a rich turquoise two days earlier, was brown. The mountains seemed dull and lifeless, and the formerly terracotta roofs were now a faded orange.

I was worried that I’d lost it – that unquenchable thirst to see everything. When I thought back to my first trip, now nearly four years ago, I couldn’t believe how young I was, and how wide-eyed and eager. I have so many memories of me gasping at the sheer beauty of something on that trip, and now it felt like it had been a lifetime since I was that captivated.

I found myself tiring easier. When I previously could have walked from 10-6 and then had a shower before going to a hostel bar/common room, this trip found me tired by mid-afternoon and ready to retire for a movie or a good book.

Having had a rather quiet holiday with a lot of time to myself, I thought a lot about the future. I’ve realised that I have no idea what I’m going to do after Paris, and I’m not even sure what I want to do – I find myself torn between going back to the comfort and security of home, or travelling and teaching, changing destinations every month or so (I’m sure there will be future entries on this as I get closer to the end of my stay in Paris).

I reached the hostel in Split (which I had to myself – it’s really quiet outside the peak summer period) and had a shower. I was tempted to stay in watching films on my laptop, but at 18:00 it looked as though the rain had stopped.

I walked into the Old Town and through the remains of the palace, which has now been turned into a residential and shopping area. As I walked through the buildings, illuminated with white and yellow lights in the darkness of a bitingly cold night, I felt a familiar thrill curl in my stomach.

I entered the square of the Cathedral/Roman Mausoleum. The white Cathedral towered over the rest of the city and was surrounded by the crumbling remains of columns and walls, with modern shop windows framing the square. I gasped without even meaning to.

I don’t know why I’d been so worried. :p

The next day I explored the city. On a grey day outside of the tourist season, Split was incredibly quiet. I climbed up Marjan Hill and although I could still see Split from the summit, I only passed three people on my walk and felt like I was hours away from civilisation.

When I returned to the centre, I descended to the basements of Diocletian’s Palace. Apparently the people of Split lived in the palace from the seventh century, following several centuries of abandonment by the Romans, and they used the basements for their waste. This actually helped preserve the tunnel vaulted basements, and excavation works over the past decades have allowed this to be opened as a tourist museum.

The basements were completely shielded from the outside noise, so were very quiet and a little spooky. The pillars were lit with yellow lights and small signs explained some of the artefacts, including the oldest olive-oil press in the world. My favourite signs were the ones that had (!?) and (?) written next to the information – generally for pieces of stone where the former usage was unclear. I find it comforting to know that I’m not the only one who has no idea what I’m talking about. :p

I then returned to the sunlight (cloud-light?) and to the Cathedral that I’d visited the night before, which is just as impressive during the day. I wound my way through the former Palace, visiting all of the large squares and many of the small stone streets, window shopping for shoes that I couldn’t afford and just generally admiring how clean and well preserved all of the buildings were.

After visiting the slightly intimidating black statue of Grgur Ninski and the bustling green market between the Palace and the main bus station, I walked back to my hostel along the white marble promenade on the water. For the first time in three days, the sun started to break through the clouds, making the beautiful stone glisten like the neighbouring sea. People ate at restaurants, sitting outdoors under large, white sails, and shopped at the boutiques in the Palace walls.

I turned down Marmontova Street (the main shopping street in Split), which was also made in white stones, and thought about how I preferred this to Dubrovnik. Both cities were beautiful, but Split almost seemed more elegant to me, and the seamless integration of modern shop-fronts into the old architecture make the city an effortless blend between the old and the new. I would love to return closer to summer.

When I got back to the hostel, I wasn’t feeling so good. I’d had a sore throat for a few days at this point, and that morning I’d started coughing. By Wednesday evening my head was aching with my clogged sinuses, and I gratefully embraced being alone in my hostel so I could curl up with some instant soup. I decided to take it easy that night, and hope that I’d be feeling better in the morning.

Unfortunately, I woke on Thursday unable to breathe very well. My head was pounding, I felt shaky and weak, and I kept having sneezing fits. I was scheduled to go from Split to Zadar that day, and had also planned to go to Trogir for a few hours (Trogir is a town 37 km outside Split and it is known as the Dubrovnik of that area). I groaned and buried my head in my pillow, unable to face the thought of rustling up the enthusiasm to explore somewhere new.

I gave in. I cleaned out my bank to buy a new flight and Eurostar ticket back home. Then I realised that the weather had finally improved – the sun was shining and the sky was unbelievably blue. I grabbed my camera and rushed back out to the Palace to re-take my photos, kicking myself for surrendering so easily.

Holiday, second leg – Dubrovnik

I boarded my ferry to Croatia two hours early and had a great time wandering around the bar, looking at the restaurant and trying to snatch a peek of the cabins where the rich people sleep.

I am not a rich person – I booked a place on the deck; the cheapest ticket. That being said, I still think that ferries are now my preferred method of transportation. I slept curled in an L-shape on a two-seater couch in the bar with my feet on my suitcase, and found the couch much more cushy than the couchettes in overnight trains, and leagues above long-haul economy flights.

My only worry was the departure time – originally 21:59, the ferry actually left at 23:31.

My hostel had offered to pick me up from the port, but had warned that if I was more than 15 minutes late and didn’t contact them, they would leave without me. Being me, I hadn’t written down the hostel’s address or phone number (well I didn’t think I’d have to – they were picking me up, after all!), so I was rather anxious as I went to the ferry reception and asked what our expected arrival time was.

“7:00,” the gentleman said.

“Still?”

“Yes, always 7:00,” he smiled.

Excellent – now I could sleep in peace.

As the gentleman had promised – we arrived at 7:00. At 7:30 I was still on the ferry, and starting to panic. I couldn’t access the internet for my hostel’s details – they were going to leave without me!

By 8:00 I made it through passport control and anxiously looked around the car park. My heart gasped with relief – there was an elderly man holding up a sign with my name. He bundled me into the car and took me home to the Dubrovnik Backpackers’ Club.

He chatted about the history of Dubrovnik and rattled off a list of things that were not to be missed in the Old Town as he went through a map with a pen. Then came the buses – he numbered all of the buses I could take from the hostel and traced their routes through the city with a pen (this would have been very helpful if he hadn’t drawn over the street names).

Then the breakfast – I’d already had breakfast on the ferry, but as soon as I smelt Milka (his wife and the one in charge) cooking French toast; I knew there was no way I could resist. Gradually the other backpackers wandered up for breakfast, and Milka greeted everyone by name. She asked them about their plans for the day and how they’d slept, ruffled the boys’ hair and ladled French toast onto their plates against all objections. We sat around the same dining table like a mismatched family, talking as if we’d known each other for years.

Then – off to the Old Town!

I gasped in awe when I walked through the city walls – everything was built in sand-coloured stone with terracotta roofs, matching green window-shutters and arched doorways. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entire area has literally been frozen in time.

I wandered into the Franciscan Monastery Museum and pulled out my purse to pay for the entrance.

“Hello,” said the gentleman at the fold-up desk.

“Hi,” I said as I calculated the equivalent of €4 in Croatian kuna.

“It’s free for you,” he said with a smile.

I looked at the sign that said there was a €4 entry fee, then looked back at him with a grin. “Thank you!”

It was so quiet – a colonnade surrounded a square garden in the centre, which housed a small fountain. I admired the old paintings on the wall, then felt the sun emerge behind me and turned around, my eyes widening as fat beams of sunlight poured through the columns. The sun lit the autumnal leaves of the garden like cellophane, and I endeavoured (unsuccessfully) to capture it with my camera.

Afterwards I returned to the main street, but quickly turned down one of the side streets to the right to escape from all of the tourists. I climbed up the narrow staircases until I was alone, and stumbled through the deserted streets at my leisure. 

I emerged near the port at the opposite end of the city and wound my way back to the main street via a couple of beautiful churches and a market. One of the vendors at the market let me taste some incredibly dainty sugared almonds and candied orange rind, and the warm air wafted the smell of lavender through the stalls. I tried to think of an excuse to buy the wooden toys and small turtles carved in semi-precious stones.

In the mid-afternoon I started looking at my map, trying to remember whether I’d actually seen everything that had been circled in that morning’s lecture, when I bumped into two Canadian girls, a Kiwi and a Chilean guy from the hostel. To make a long story short, what started as a search for decently-priced coffee (Dubrovnik is actually pretty expensive. Cheaper than Paris, but that isn’t saying much) turned into a trek up Mount Srđ to Napoleon’s Imperial Fortress.

“If there’s a mountain, we can’t not climb it,” Justin, the Kiwi, said.

“Can’t we get the funiculaire?” Miriam, one of the Canadians, asked as she looked at her silver ballet flats – not the most sensible hiking footwear.

“But they said it’s €10 at the hostel,” Odille, the other Canadian interjected.

Eventually we decided just to see if we could find the way to get to the fortress.

We found a staircase that led up to a road and a look-out point. We then decided to see if there was another staircase. There was. And then a third. Already tired from a day of walking on only 4 or so hours of sleep (I know, I know – I’m getting weak in my old age. Doesn’t it seem like your fitness level halves when you’re low on sleep, though?), I was surprised to find myself panting.

We had a welcome break when we reached a hillside highway, and walked along the edge of the road (there was no footpath to speak of) searching for a trail into the mountain. After several false starts (Justin running up staircases to private properties), we found some rocky stairs.

We started climbing. The stairs grew rockier until they were just an unsteady trail rising between the trees. I grabbed damp branches as I climbed to maintain my balance. Justin and Nico took the lead, frequently disappearing behind the bends ahead, and soon Odille moved farther away.

As the trees thinned the slope of the path shallowed and it started to zigzag up the side of the hill.

The heat rose in my face and I hung my long jacket over my handbag as my clothes grew damp. The Old Town shrank below us as the boys and Odille became small figures in the distance, several Zs ahead of me on the trail.

I slowed to walk next to Miriam, and we compared notes on living in France (she and Odille were doing an Erasmus semester in Strasbourg) as well as complaining about how unfit we were. The sky darkened with grey clouds as we climbed, and the air cooled and moistened.

On the last few zigzags Miriam and I were silent. I gritted my teeth and kept my eyes on the ground – looking down at Dubrovnik made me dizzy, and looking up was just depressing. It didn’t matter that we were almost there – I was already spent.

Eventually we met the others at the top. It was around an hour from start to finish, and I nearly died.

I need to find a gym.

After collapsing at the top for a water break, we walked under the fortress and stopped in our tracks as we reached the other side. An endless expanse of grey-green mountains stretched out under the storm clouds, slightly fuzzy in the misty air.

I stared in silence. I don’t think anyone who had ridden the cable-car could have appreciated the view like I did that day – I’d earned it.

That night I caught the cable-car back down with the girls (the crazy boys walked) and we cooked some amazing chicken with roasted capsicum and onion in a mustard sauce with a side salad for dinner. Afterwards we drank wine and played cards late into the night as the storm clouds broke outside.

The next day the storm was still going. Rain fell in sheets and water flooded down gutters – it was impossible to do anything.

Highlights:

  • We ate more French toast
  • We watched Inception (really good) and The Initiation of Sarah (ridiculously bad, though if you want something to laugh at when you’re drunk, I’d recommend it)
  • A cat broke my laptop (not happy)
  • We played more cards
  • We got in trouble for making too much noise while playing more cards

View of Dubrovnik Old Town from Mount Srd