Croatia is somewhat similar in size and climate to California i.e. length much greater than width, one long side against the ocean with mountains just inland, climate arid along the ocean with enough moisture in the mountains to support trees. Next on the list of European countries to be invited into the European Union, Croatia is clearly developing both its transportation and tourism infrastructure. Already the coast is loaded with a wide variety of hotels, cafes, restaurants and attractions including aquatic sports, snorkeling, diving, jet skiing, parasailing, sailing, wind surfing, etc. A north to south, limited access, four lane highway is almost complete from the Slovenian border to half way between Split and Dubrovnik. The mountain villages above the coast are another story. Mostly poor villages with a scraggly, crumbling buildings, beat up cars, free-run chickens, suggest another reality. As with many European countries whose development was affected by Cold War reality, Croatia's destiny depends on her success in attracting the ever more discerning world tourist. Her Balkan sisters, Monte Negro, Bulgaria, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia etc. are all competing for world tourist attention.
The North - Reijka
The adventures in this country and the photos originate from two trips, one in May 2009 to the northern city of Reijka where Greg went with Charlie McLaren, a work colleague to re-cycle his EU visitors visa (90 days maximum each stay) so he could continue to visit in Europe having been there since early March and the second visit in late September, early October, with Lana and Tom Ferrall, a long-time friend, to the southern cities of Dubrovnik and Split.
The May trip focused on the hotel Pinia located on the island of Krk approximately a half hour drive from the Reijka airport where Greg and Charlie spent most of their time relaxing in the warm, late spring Mediterranean climate. Krk is connected to the mainland by a bridge and an inter island ferry. Although only 30 kilometers from the city center, the drive can take over an hour into the city due to the circuitous nature of the roads that follow the busy coastline. While there was talk of making the drive into the city for some evening entertainment, the prospect of negotiating the highways at night was enough deterrent to prevent it happening. The Pinia provided more than enough features for a five day stay including direct beach access to the warm Adriatic waters, outdoor dining breakfast, lunch and dinner, excellent wait staff and bar, plus an impressive indoor freshwater pool and spa. Perhaps the only amenity in short supply was enough "eye candy" for Charlie. Most of the guests were past their physical prime although there were a few younger gals; however, most were already attended or towing kids. The guests were a cross section of Europe Italians, Germans, Dutch, Austrians, French, Poles, Croatians and a smattering of Russians. I may have been the only American during that week. The Italians made their presence known at the restaurant by sitting together in large groups, smoking like chimneys, conversing loudly and waving their hands. The Germans and Austrians occupied the strategic tables along the edge of the plaza with the best views, while the French seemed to be in their own world, whispering conspiratorially trying to ignore everyone else. The few Russians were easily spotted, the men wearing the traditional, striped athletic warm-up trousers while the their women sported expensive looking swim suits, flashy jewelry and high-heeled beach sandals. The rest of the guests filled in the gaps.
The South - Dubrovnik & Split
Lana arrived late September just in time to join a trip to the southern cities of Dubrovnik and Split that Tom and I had been planning over the summer. Tom's agenda focused mainly on seeing the historically significant places while Lana and I went mostly to relax and enjoy the ambience of Croatian cuisine. Both agendas were well satisfied by the week's end.
Lana's contributions to the week's experience were many but perhaps the best was her apartment find via a website VBRO where one can search for vacation accommodation deals. Usually much less expensive and sometimes very delightful finds of places to stay at your intended destination are on this site. You can setup your "deal" with the owner of the apartment not some "could careless" agent. The place Lana scored was just right for our visit to Dubrovnik. It even included a family of cats (a mom and three kittens) who guarded our place night and day. The owners also helped us set up the airport shuttle and offered a welcome toast while explaining the details of our new home. With two bedrooms, two WCs, a completely furnished kitchen, dinning room and living room, it served us comfortably and helped us save a lot by eating at home. Meals out in Dubrovnik can be expensive if one falls for the obvious tourist come-ons in the old city. Looking down on the old walled-fortress city from our outside patio dinning area with the sun setting over the Adriatic coast made all the time planning and traveling to this exotic place worthwhile.
If you are planning to follow our footsteps to Dubrovnik better take good walking shoes and get your cardiovascular training in order. The old city was built on a steep slope overlooking a natural harbor. The walled fortress that dates back to just after the fall of the Roman empire is perhaps one of the most impressive medieval structures still intact. Even the recent, brief war between Croatia and Serbia that saw numerous artillery shells fall on and inside the old fortress has been mostly erased. A map at the main entry gate shows where the shells impacted. But if you did not have that information you would never know as the holes have been repaired. Inside the walls one finds the narrow streets and little shops so familiar in other European towns of this vintage. Don't forget your camera. Nearly every street and corner has something of interest to shoot. Even inside the walls the streets go up and down so be prepared for some serious walking if you want to see it all. More detail here would be pointless. Come prepared with a city guide or hire a group or private tour as your wallet permits. Read up on Dubrovnik's history and get a running start.
Split also lies on the Adriatic coast about a five hour drive north from Dubrovnik. We got there with a rental car arranged through the same folks who rented their apartment to us. It was a reasonable deal in a good if not new car. No need to do the airport hire car unless you just want to spend money. With the long drive we decide to take two days, staying over one night in Split. The main reason to go there is the Palace of Diocletian which is essentially the town or most of it. The palace was built by, you guessed it, the retired Roman emperor, Diocletian. Seems he wanted to get away from the hustle bustle of Rome so he took a legion with him to the coast of Croatia and built his "dream home" with the help of a lot of slaves. The amazing part is that it only took a few years to build something that has lasted for nearly two millenniums and it had inside plumbing. The original walls are still mostly intact and surround what now is a mixture of old structures used for modern purposes, statues, large cobble stone plazas, and all sorts of nooks and crannies containing little shops, cafes, fish markets etc. It's a very different kind of place from the days when Diocletian lived there, but the connection to Rome and antiquity is very evident. It's a must see if you do Croatia.
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