Thursday, 9 July 2015

Croatia - part 2

After 3 lazy days of idyllic Baska, it was time to head back to the mainland and further down the coast. Staying away from the motorways, our coastal route took us through one small village after the other, winding alongside the picturesque Adriatic and hairpin bends that nearly met back on themselves. Our destination for the evening was Split - a much larger town than many we had been in and a major ferry port connecting to many of the islands. 

After locating our accomodation for the evening, we ventured into town to organise our ferry tickets for the following morning to cross to the island of Hvar. The Jadrolinija Line is huge, with numerous massive ferries servicing many of the Croatian islands. The ferries themselves are very comfortable and the whole organisation is very professionally run. When you purchase a ticket, it is valid for any crossing on that particular date but you are unable to book a specific time. You turn up well in advance, join the queue and hope that you get on. This can be a little disconcerting if you are running to a schedule but we always managed to make our desired ferry. 
                                                        The foreshore of Split town

Split town and foreshore is a hive of activity (though the above picture you wouldn't think so) with people everywhere - restaurants, bars and cafes along with street entertainment and market stalls. After dinner we wandered for a couple of hours soaking up the holiday atmosphere and people watching. We ventured down into the bowels of the Diocletian Palace and the night markets, and then followed the beautiful sound of tenor voices. We soon found ourselves surfacing under the stage of an operatic performance into a open auditorium, the massive columns of the palace flood lit in pinks and greens and the rich voices echoing through the arena, entertaining the crowds. A music festival was starting the following day and I think this was a final dress rehearsal - the voices, the lighting, the surroundings of the stone walls giving a surreal feeling to the evening. Whilst among the hundreds and hundreds of people walking along the foreshore area, we were suddenly recognised by the daughter of friends that we hadn't seen in 15 years. We had paused to watch and listen as a group of young Aussie accents walked by when suddenly we heard one of the young girls say "hey, I know you - it's Peter and Cathy, isn't it". What a small world this can be.

                       The 5 tenors dress rehearsal performance in the Diocletian Palace - Split


             The alleyways around the Palace.                         Pulling away from Split on the ferry

The island of Hvar was our next destination. A 2 hour crossing on milk pond waters with yachts everywhere (all having to motor with lack of wind) saw us pulling in to one of the greener, more lusher looking islands than many we had seen. As we drove to our campsite, we passed through olive groves, orchards of peach and fig trees, vineyards everywhere and the villages full of brilliant coloured bougainvillea and oleander. We were told this was a very pretty island and it certainly was. The campground again was a great location with swimming areas off tessellated rocks. It was well equipped with facilities, and like many had small fridges for rent. This enabled us to keep supplies for lunch cold, as well as our drinking water. We were only a short walk into Vrbroska, a small Fishermans village with a couple of restaurants overlooking the water and we alternated with dining in the ground and eating in the village.


                                              The small Fishermans village of Vrboska 


                                           Local pleasure boats moored in the harbour


             Tessellated rocks at the foreshore in the camp ground - steps built in for access

Up early on our day of departure and a drive the length of the island to get to where the ferry would take us back across to the mainland. It was then a 30 minute drive down the coast to where another ferry took us across to a peninsula to Orebic. This seemed a crazy thing to be doing but was something we hadn't anticipated. If you follow the Croatian coastline all the way south, you actually have to enter and pass through a 10km stretch of Bosnia Herzegovina known as the Neum Line. We hadn't listed this country with our insurance company (not realising we would pass through it) so therefore weren't covered for travel. That along with getting visas made it all too difficult, so we made the crossing by ferry in order to side step the area and apparently most people do it this way. We were also stopping on the peninsula for my birthday and Pete had booked a special hotel for the occasion.

The Adriatic Boutique Hotel located at Orebic overlooking the Adriatic was really something. Originally an old church dating back to 1625, it was renovated in 2012 in the style of the captain's residence in keeping with the maritime tradition of Orebic. There were only 6 rooms, each named after the Peljesac sailing ships. We were in the Paulina room with beautiful old stone walls, a 4 poster bed and luxurious fittings and all with a view out over the endless blue sea. Out the front on the terrace is the hotels restaurant built as a replica of the 17th century sailing ship - Restaurant Stari Kapetan and specialising in freshly caught local seafood. This overlooked the hotels small private beach with areas reserved for each room complete with sun lounges and umbrella. How I would loved to have stopped here for a while........! From the minute we arrived, we were treated like friends and it was a lovely way to spend my birthday.


                                       Enjoying the comforts of the Adriatic Boutique Hotel 


                               The hotel from the beach with the ship restaurant in the front

Hating to drag ourselves away, we were heading back south along the peninsula to Ston to walk the Great Wall of ....... Ston, also known as the European wall of China. As well as protecting the city, they were built to safeguard the salt pans of Ston which contribute to Dubrovniks wealth and they stretch for nearly 7 kms. We opted to walk only a very small section of the wall as it was reaching 35 degrees in the sun and we were really feeling it. Back into the air conditioning and heading for Dubrovnik. 


                                 Feeling the heat somewhat but a great view from the top


                                                A section of the Walls of Ston - Croatia


                        The view from the section we walked looking over the prized salt pans

As we had flown to Dubrovnik for a few days previously, we were not stopping here this time but driving in gave us a different view. Looking down into the port of Gruz, we could see 4 cruise liners in for the day - no wonder Dubrovnik is always crowded. We did however stop here at a tyre dealership to have the cars tyres rotated and balanced - done on the spot, 30 mins and costing only £10. We also stocked up on some supplies as the campground we were heading to in Montenegro is up in the mountains and fairly isolated. Car done, groceries done, fuelled up and back on the road to the coastal village of Molunut for our last night in Croatia.


                                      A glorious day for all the day visitors to Dubrovnik

What a gem of a place we found for our last stop. A very small village but with a surprising amount of apartments. We followed the road right to the end of town and found an apartment that was truly lovely. Up on the first floor with a terrace completely shad with vines, a view out across the water, bougainvillia in flower and a small private swimming area off the rocks at the bottom of the steps - what more could we want. The water temperature was noticeably warmer than what we have been use to - refreshing on impact then just lovely for swimming. The owner was a lovely lady who left us up a jug of wine and a plate of freshly made cake whilst we were down having a swim to cool off. It was such a lovely setting that we opted to forego the walk into the village for dinner but instead bought a selection of meats and cheeses and sat and dined in that evening. Seeing what we were doing, out lovely lady then brought up some candles and insect repellant to add to our romantic evening.


                 The view from our balcony and being at the end of the road - peaceful and quiet 


                                 The winding steps down to our private swimming area


                                 Sunset from the dinner table on our final day in Croatia

So that is us done for Croatia. We will return here after 5 days in Montenegro just to catch the ferry from Dubrovnik across to Bari in Italy. We have loved the country, seen a few of its islands (there are more than 1,000) and found a mix of attitudes and personalities from the Croatian people. Some have been the warmest and loveliest people you could hope to meet, some in the service industry have been aloof and almost to the point of being rude, but we had read to expect this. It is all part of the experience of being in a new country and overall it has been a wonderful few weeks. 
"Goodbye Croatia and Hvala"


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