David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ten days in Croatia, November 2006


We flew from Nice to Frankfurt, there being no direct flights to Split or Dubrovnik. The 1 ½ hour flight was wonderful with beautiful scenery – mountains, rivers, and forests in their fall colors. Then the 1 ½ flight to Dubrovnik. They fed us on both legs of the journey, quite a surprise! With heavy luggage we opted for a taxi to the hotel, the Hilton Imperial, where we upgraded our room to one with a balcony with a view of the Old Town and the Adriatic. We loved this pink hotel, in an old,
refurbished1897 building, just a minute or two from the Old Town. We

We had planned our trip with the help of our good friend, Jeanne Oliver, a fellow American, who lives near us in Nice and writes the Croatia volume of The Lonely Planet series. Jeanne also has a site, http://www.croatiatraveller.com/, which is essential if you are planning a trip!

We immediately headed out for a walk around the magnificent Old Town, with its more than 500 year-old walls (almost 2 kilometers), glistening white marble streets, little alleyways and steep stairs. There’s a lovely feeling to the 1000 year-old marble Placa, the main street, where we sat outside on this warm evening, having a “Welcome to Dubrovnik” drink. Dubrovnik, named after the local oak tree, was known as Ragusium in Roman times and by the 12th century was an important trading stop and seafaring state. It came under Venetian authority in 1205 and there are many Venetian influences to be seen.

The next day, really our only full day in Dubrovnik, sadly was rainy and very windy. We headed for the Cathedral, with its amazing collection of reliquaries in the Treasury. The huge, heavy wooden Treasury doors had to be unlocked with foot long iron keys! Then we spent an hour in the Rector’s Palace, where the ruler of Dubrovnik lived. The building itself was very interesting and the collection of inlaid furniture was gorgeous. One desk, all inlaid with beautiful woods, had a mother-of-pearl butterfly and a bird watching it with its mother-of-pearl eye. But my favorite piece was a waistcoat, 18th century French, that was hand embroidered with colorful flowers; the buttons, each about the size of ½ my pinky nail, were individually hand-painted with portraits!

The Dominican Monastery, with its 15th century cloisters and large collection of paintings from the Dubrovnik School, was lovely. The hand-painted altars in the church were very sweet. The Church of St. Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, was next. There are statues to St. Blaise everywhere in town - at the city gates, in niches, and so on. He keeps Dubrovnik safe from evil and hardship. In the bell tower opposite his church, two figures strike the bell to ring out the hour. The Sponsa Palace, one of the few buildings not destroyed in the devastating 1667 earthquake, is beautiful – very Venetian-looking. There is a sad room with pictures of the young men who died in the Yugoslavian wars.

For lunch we stopped at Dundo Maroje where they started us off with a tuna pate bouche amuse. We shared a salad and David had the sea bass while I had a wonderful seafood risotto. Afterwards we explored the Franciscan Monastery. In the evening we attended a violin and guitar concert at the St. Saviour Church, built in 1520. The only lighting in the church was the candlelight which danced on the vaulted Gothic ceiling.

On Saturday, we left by bus for Split. It was a 4 ½ hour ride and we enjoyed the spectacular scenery, with the mountains on the right and the Adriatic on the left, with islands all along the way. In places the mountains were pleated like an accordion by ancient seismic forces. We passed fish farms and orange groves and arrived with perfect timing to catch a ferry to Supetar where we would spend the next week. We checked in to our apartment with a terrace facing the sea, and quickly went out for a pizza supper. The pizza was great, made with a local gouda (!) and ham and mushrooms. We shared the restaurant with a group of twelve 9-year-olds, and a couple of parents, celebrating a birthday party.

Sunday morning we caught the early ferry to Split. It was rainy again and we walked around Diocletian’s palace. This is a huge area with churches, the main one built as Diocletian’s mausoleum, shops, cafes, housing. There are still about 300 people who live there and there is lots of shopping. Amazing to walk in this area which has been there for over 1800 years! For lunch, we asked a couple of young local women for a suggestion and they directed us to Varos Konoba (Konoba is a quaint little eating spot) which we very much enjoyed. It has dark wooden ceilings and red drapery and wine-colored linens. We shared grilled vegetables as a starter; David had lamb chops while I had the pasticada, a local specialty of larded beef cooked in heavy red wine and spices, served with gnocchi. It all went down very well with a bottle of the local Opol rose.

The next day we decided to just explore the island of Brac. We rented a car and drove to Skrip, a tiny town where you feel that you have stepped back at least 1000 years. The tiny church of St. Duh (Holy Spirit) was built in the 4th century! Houses are roofed with heavy stone plates looking like an armadillo’s back. Then we drove over rocky hills to Bol, passing pomegranate trees and olive trees. There were bags of newly picked olives everywhere, waiting to be picked up. We walked around Bol on this gorgeous day, sunny and warm, and enjoyed this fishing village and tourist spot. The Adriatic water is clear and inviting. We had a delicious lunch on the terrace of Restaurant Jadranka, opened in 1967. They served David an insalata caprese for 4 and me grilled vegetables for 2. David followed up with salmon with pasta while I had grilled scampi. Too much food, but we did our best, washing it all down with a local white wine. All the furniture on the terrace was made of tree branches, each seat different; we were shaded by the red and green leaves of the overhead vines.

Tuesday, we again took the ferry to Split. We came to really enjoy these ferry rides, about 1 hour each way, time to relax, read, write postcards, and so on. There is very comfortable seating, nice bathrooms, a bar, non-smoking areas, and big-screen TV’s where they showed tennis, Sunday Mass, and other events. Dubrovnik, which we had heard much of, is a small town of about 60,000; we expected Split to be smaller since we had never heard of it, but actually its population is almost 300,000. Split is not pretty, with unattractive high-rises everywhere, but Diocletian’s Palace makes up the center behind a palm-lined promenade along the sea, and the view from the ferry is impressive with the grey rocky mountains behind the city.

We didn’t stay in Split this day, but took another bus to Solin where we walked for miles around the Roman ruins. They are very spread out and not as impressive as we expected; I think we are spoiled by the many extremely impressive sites that we have visited. Then we took another bus on to Trogir, a tiny walled-city on the sea. The town was celebrating its Saint’s Day and there was a band playing in the main square and girls in local costumes passing out apple doughnuts to everyone, including us. The town (pop. 1600) is a bit like a smaller Dubrovnik, with a maze of medieval marble streets. We wandered about, stopping for a lunch at Rest. Fontana, along the promenade lining the seafront. We enjoyed the Dalmatian ham, seafood salad, and a plate of mixed hors d’oeuvres with a local white wine. Prosek and jam pancakes were our delicious dessert.

The next day, we slept in, explored Supetar, visiting the charming Church of the Annunciation with its ceiling in peach, lime, blue, and rose. There aren’t many shops in town, but we did visit a nice antique/art shop with a charming owner, so involved with each piece. She spoke of the homes where the antiques were found, the local artists, and the heritage and culture of the island. She recommended a restaurant in the next town, Restaurant Gumonca, in Mirca. We headed over there and found a lovely place on the sea, with a vine covered terrace. We of course ate outside and had learned our lesson about ordering too much food! We started with small mixed salads – everything seemed so fresh and the olive oil especially good. David had grilled chicken and Ginna ordered the small portion of veal cutlet with vegetables. It seemed like a HUGE portion to me! But we finished it all with a delicious bottle of rose. We didn’t want to leave this idyllic spot.
We drove to Lozisca where we walked around the little village and admired the church and bell tower. Many of the bell towers on the island have onion-shaped domes. We wondered who lives in these tiny, seemingly forgotten towns and if the towns will exist in 50 years?




The island of Brac is very rocky and the marble for Diocletian’s Palace was cut from the quarries here by Roman slaves. There are huge piles of rocks, not out-croppings, but sized rocks everywhere, some with openings like doors and some with funnels at the top, as if for smoke to escape. Perhaps they were places for shepherds or homes for people thousands of years ago. No one knows. We drove back “home” singing “Far Away Places” and “Slow Boat to China”.

Thursday we again headed to Split, to see more of Diocletian’s Palace, checking out the shops and more of the alleyways. Then we headed to the Archeological Museum, housed in a beautiful old stone building. The exhibits were wonderful – glass containers in the shape of women’s heads, jewelry, belts, marvelous mosaic floors. Most of these treasures were found in Solin. There was a group of American students there, part of the 600 on Semester at Sea, docked in Dubrovnik, on their trip around the world. What an amazing experience that must be!

We walked back to the main part of town and discovered Narodni Square, one of the loveliest squares with a very Venetian feel to it. We decided we would have to have lunch here. In Restaurant Kavana we ordered grilled vegetables followed by seabass for David and lasagna with shrimp and Dalmatian ham for Ginna. Then it was back on the ferry and a drink while we watched the sunset from the dock in Supetar.

Friday, our last day on the island, we did some more exploring, driving over to Milna, a little harbor on the western end of the island. In the summer it is bustling, but it was very quiet on this warm November day. We walked around but could find very little – the church was closed and there weren’t even any restaurants open. We finally found one across the inlet where we had a really average lunch. We also explored Nerezisca, an inland village which was once the center of the island.

Saturday we took our final ferry ride to Split where we caught the bus to Dubrovnik, along with a group of students from the Semester at Sea group. We got back to the Hilton, where they greeted us warmly for our return and went out for a final dinner. We chose Proto, a charming place, and ate upstairs but inside as the sun was going down. The beamed cathedral ceiling, stone walls, and beautiful blue linens give a very comfortable feeling. We both had soup to start – David a fish soup and a vegetable ragout for me. Then David had grilled salmon with mushrooms and pasta while I had a huge Greek salad, all washed down by another Opol rose. For dessert we enjoyed a last glass of prosek. After a last walk around the city, we headed back for an early night to be ready for our 6:30 AM flight to Frankfurt. A delightful trip.

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