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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Trogir to Dubrovnik

7th June.
Waiting for the bus to Trogir, a man in a car offered us a lift into town for 20 Kuna. We politely declined and he wandered off to buy some fruit at the stall by the bus stop. Then he came back and got quite pushy, then seemingly angry, and we knew that we had made the right decision to refuse.
He got back into his car and screeched out into road in front of another car, forcing it to overtake on the verge to avoid a collision, horn blaring – phew!

Trogir from the parapets of its fortress

The UNESCO listed historical town of Trogir is situated on a small islet between the mainland and the island of Ciovo, which forms the eastern half of a vast bay, thus giving it natural security from the land and a sheltered waterfront.
Its continuity of existence goes back to the ancient Greeks and there are vestiges of the Hellenistic period as well as monuments from the Middle Ages.

Tempting bars and restaurants around every corner

Apparently only 750 paces long in its middle section, it is a maze of lovely old streets, beautifully preserved and maintained but with oodles of charm, and tiny restaurants tucked away at the end of alleyways and in little courtyards. Compact enough to cover it easily in a day, it also has a vibrant waterfront with ferry boats, private yachts and small cruise vessels coming and going.

The atmospheric interior of St Lawrence's cathedral

Two must see’s are the Cathedral of St Lawrence and the Renaissance loggia in the town square. We poked our heads into the cathedral whilst a service was going on - absolutely packed with worshippers, the singing was fantastic, what an atmosphere.
Later we went for a proper look at its features, but of course we had to pay - 20 kuna each.

At the end of the town quay are the remains of the Camerlengo Castle, a 15th Century fortress built for the defence of the city. Another 20 Kuna, but worth it for the panoramic views from the top of the tower.

For lunch we selected the Kapasanta (meaning scallop) restaurant on the quayside. Large plates of perfectly grilled squid with boiled potatoes and spinach, with ½ litre of wine, came to 185 Kuna (€26).
As we were clearing our plates the hot sun suddenly disappeared and fierce gusts of wind laden with spots of rain sent the waiters scurrying to retrieve table cloths and seat cushions, they were not amused.

Returning to Camp Belvedere we met Alan and Jess and Bonny the dog in an Adria camper. They eventually selected a secluded pitch next to ours and we chatted so long we later adjourned to the pizza parlour at the reception.

8th June
This day was the first of a boat service from the campsite to Trogir and we took advantage of it to get the bus to Split. So much more pleasant than the bus and only 5 kuna more. The approach to Trogir from the water was worth it anyhow and I also got a close up look of the shipyard on Ciovo, engaged in building a large ship in the most limited space.

Trogir's waterfront from the campsite ferry

The bus ride to Split was interminable, more than an hour in a cramped “bendy bus” which became increasingly packed and hot as we lurched through the heavily industrialised outskirts of the city.
Not in the best condition, lathered in fact, we found that it was another 10 minute walk to the waterfront and old town, the new town not having much to commend it.

Split's baking hot waterfront

Founded by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Split is variously hailed by our brochures as: “the centre and true heart of Dalmatia” and the “heart of the Mediterranean”.

In the year 305, Diocletian (who ruled the entire known world at that time) decided that being Master of the World was too much of a day job and abdicated, deciding to build his retirement villa in the bay of Aspalathos. The site was well protected on the seaward side by an archipelago and backed by high mountains.

The resulting edifice, the Diocletian Palace, was a vast complex without equal in its time, though as the city has grown up in and around it, over seventeen centuries, it has lost many of its original features.

The ground floor halls of the palace (in actual fact the basement of the original residential quarters) are free to enter from the waterfront or from the raised Peristyle or central square of the palace. The dark Roman archways are now filled with stalls selling the usual tourist fodder, but you can pay 25 kuna to see unadorned, and newly restored, rooms on either side of the central hall.

Fifty years ago these spaces were filled with the detritus of centuries and have been slowly excavated and restored, though there are still areas remaining to clear. To me the quality of the extensive restorations was more interesting than the originals, which are basically identical to those in the central corridor.

Some skilful repairs to the Roman arches

The Catholic cathedral of St Dominus (executed by that same selfless Diocletian) contains part of the late emperor’s mausoleum and is also worth a look.

By this time we had had just too much heat for one day and the knowledge that there was a boat back to Trogir for the same price as the bus (imparted to us by some Brits we had met in Trogir and again in Split), was a gift, so with time for a beer before the 4 o’clock departure, we enjoyed a very much more pleasant journey home - no slog back up to the bus station either.
There was time for an ice cream on the quayside in Trogir before the boat back to Camping Belverdere.

9th June
A lazy day with some swimming off the rocky shoreline - a few sea urchins lurking for the unwary.
Later we were invited to a barbeque with Alan and Jess and friends Tony and Penny. A lovely evening with good food and conversation, sitting out as a full moon rose over the water through the pine trees, the light of half a dozen candles illuminating our faces.

Late to bed, our slumbers were broken by a wailing noise - two voices, sometimes alone, sometimes in unison. What on earth? We immediately thought of cats, but we had never heard anything like it, when they reached a crescendo it sounded like children howling - kids having a laugh?
Finally we heard the scrabbling of paws on the dirt as the cries reached a blood curdling pitch - must be cats - but Sue saw a shape in the moonlight shadows that was more like the size of a dog….?

10th June
Now our island hopping started again - down the coast to Drevenik and the ferry to Hvar. The mainland coastline was unexciting - never ending holiday apartments, and too many poorly designed and unfinished buildings littering the hillsides.

Hvar has been voted by the American magazine Traveller to be one of the world’s top ten most beautiful islands - quite a billing.
Settled by the Greeks in the 4th Century BC it has some fabulous beaches, ancient ports and luxuriant flora and fauna - wild boar are still hunted.

Sucuraj, small and tranquil

The Jadrolinija ferry from Drevenik to Sucuraj was 224 Kuna (about €32) and as soon as we landed we felt the difference from the mainland. Sucuraj has a small intimate harbour and we were able to park up on the jetty to get a few groceries from the local Konzum. Sitting on benches by the harbour wall were all the “old boys” enjoying the evening air and watching the tourists go by.

It was only a 4 km run to Camping Mlaska, situated amongst pine and olive trees around a beautiful shallow bay, perfect for swimming, with a smooth sandy bottom. There is also a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the water and a naturist (FKK) section with its own little cove. (GPS: 43.1374 N, 17.1420 E)

Sue immediately bumped into Chris and Jacky from Sheffield and they gave us a lot of information about the island and, very kindly, a map they had bought on the ferry.

11th June
Leaving Camp Mlaska (124 Kuna a night) we commenced the 40 km drive to Jelsa, the next significant settlement on the island. Until you reach Jelsa, the road (though with a centre white line) is really single track and mostly in poor condition. With a stop at a ramshackle old farmhouse to buy a mega pot of the richest, darkest honey I’ve ever tasted, and a quick lunch, the journey took over two hours.
All the same, it was wonderfully scenic driving through totally unspoilt and virtually uninhabited countryside.

The honey shop (also wine and olive oil)

Coming into Jelsa along the waterfront road we passed an abandoned and derelict hotel, its waterfront parking overlooking a beautiful swimming cove, unfortunately barred off.
Further along were two campsites, one, Holiday camping, was closed and some campers had removed the wire barriers and were helping themselves to a waterfront pitch, including a monster Volvo four wheel drive truck-based motorhome with German plates – it would have looked more at home in the desert somewhere.

Imagine turning up at a Caravan Club site with this!

Jelsa has a Renaissance-Baroque square and a 16th Century church, it also has one of only two fuel stations on the island, the other being on the waterfront at Hvar town.

The coastal road to Jelsa

After a quick stop we moved on to Stari Grad. This has the main ferry terminal just outside of town, but its main natural glory is the long narrow harbour, lined with a wide ancient stone quay, palm trees and elegant mansions. There is also a fortified Renaissance castle and several old churches hidden amongst its enjoyable stone paved backstreets.

Stari Grad, towards the inner harbour

Stari Grad, towards the sea

Deserted backstreets

It was extremely quiet on the day, with a lovely, laid back, almost Caribbean feel to it. The supermarkets were closed but we stocked up at some excellent fruit and veg stalls at the inner end of the harbour.

I can feel a rum punch coming on

Thinking about where to stop for the night we remembered a site that Chris and Jacky had mentioned, Camp Jurjevac. It was closed and the reception hut shuttered, but there are holiday apartments as part of the complex, so the access was still open. It seemed a gift to drive in and park under the trees. Cars came and went but nobody seemed to bat an eyelid, so we stayed for the night, joined later by a Slovenian couple in a tent.

12th June

Our morning stowaway - these beauties can fly as well!

After a peaceful night we went back to Stari Grad and took the old road to Hvar town. If you come to the island, don’t miss this drive (provided you have a head for heights) it’s one of the most spectacular mountain roads we have come across outside of the Alps, probably the highlight of our visit to Hvar.

The scenery just keeps on coming

At this time of year wild and cultivated lavender is everywhere, its soft purple hues almost seeming to blur your vision as it blends into the stony scrub. You can buy sprigs of it from stalls, but it is in such abundance you can pick your own from the roadside.

The hillside fields are divided into small plots by countless stone walls, a system preserved from Hellenic times. The number of small stones used in each wall begs the question: did they have to recover the stones to find the soil?

Note the absence of any barriers!

At the 442 metre pinnacle, Ozdrin, a roadside stall caught our eye and we relieved the lady of a large pot of dried oregano and ½ litre of olive oil. The oregano is so pungent we almost wondered whether it had been ground up with lavender, however when mixed with her light and delicate olive oil and poured over chopped tomatoes cucumber and olives, it is truly sublime, every last drop gets mopped up with bread. In comparison, our mid-priced virgin olive oil from the supermarket tastes like 3 in 1 lubricating oil!

On the way down through Brusje, we were surprised to see rusting derelict cars and rundown buildings – a sharp reminder that there are still some poor people about, scratching a living.
Just before Hvar town in a small valley was an open landfill site, seagulls plundering what they could, another mark of remote island life.

You cannot drive into Hvar town, it is privileged access only with electric barriers. Unlike the easy, free parking we found in Stari Grad, we had to pay 20 Kuna an hour in a very cramped park, 5 minutes walk up the hill.

Hvar town's fortress and walls

Unimpressed, as we walked back past a crumbling police station, only the medieval stone walls and fortress overlooking the town made us bother at all.

Hvar town's massive paved square

Once into the famous stone square with its cathedral we caught the atmosphere, very different to Stari Grad, very busy with loud British tourists and touts hassling passengers as they got off the ferry. On the quay were a couple of very large private motor yachts, multi-million dollar boats, their occupants sipping white wine whilst the passers-by gawped at them.

Park up your mega-yacht and enjoy the vibe

There was a definite buzz about the place – attractive we fancy, if you are young, footloose and fancy free, even more so if you are young and loaded, etc.
Not being at least two of those, we took our photos, paid our parking fee and headed back to Camping Mlaska, arriving late, but in time for a cooling swim.

Peace and beauty from our pitch at Camp Mlaska

13th June
Awaking with the dawn, I eventually persuaded Sue to join me in a swim in the smooth, still water of this lovely little cove.

Could you resist a swim on a morning like this?

Our plan was to take the same Jadrolinija ferry back to Drevenik, then the Mediteranska ferry to Korcula (pronounced Kochula), however we had had conflicting information about the frequency of the ferries.
The campsite owner didn’t know anymore so we left early and drove to the terminal at Sucuraj. There we discovered that the only daily ferry to Korcula (until 20th June) was at 1730, so we parked up in a layby outside the campsite with a nice view out to sea, to await an afternoon ferry back to Drevenik.

Out of the blue Sue got a message from our new friends, Rosemary and Andy (on the sea front on Korcula), to say that they had had a knock on the door of their near identical Rapido van from our friends from Karlsruhe, Ursula and Wolfgang (thinking it was us). How small a world is it!

The ancient Mediteranska ferry

The Mediteranska ferry was very old, but appeared well maintained, chugging its way to the ferry terminal at Domince on Korcula by 2000. The one way trip was 360 Kuna (about €51)

Arrival at Korcula

Camping Kalac is 3 km out of Korcula town along a busy road (not a suitable walk or cycle ride), so we decided to drive into Korcula just for the evening, before returning to the campsite.
Surprised to find a parking space by the waterfront, our pleasure was soon dimmed by a young man wanting 20 Kuna before we had even stopped the engine. Still, having paid so much to get there we weren’t going to let another €3 an hour stop us visiting.

It doesn't take long to explore Korcula's streets

Marco Polo, no less, was born in Korcula and set sail from this town built on the ruins of an earlier Greek settlement. The town’s streets were cleverly designed in a herring- bone fashion so that they remain cool despite the rays of the fierce morning and afternoon sun.
It took 10 minutes to walk the perimeter, then we wandered the hilly and narrow internal streets as the evening sun faded and the street lights grew brighter. Some passages were made even narrower by restaurant tables, levelled up on blocks on the inclining pavements.

Korcula's sundown

It was all a bit busy and touristy (a cruise ship was berthed on the town quay) so we drove back towards the ferry terminal and Camp Kalac. The reception, as expected, was closed but the barrier was up and we just found ourselves a spot under the trees.
It was too late to cook so we filled up on bread and cheese and flopped into bed.

14th June
At 0730 there was a loud rapping on the door and another grumpy old man demanded: "passports - reception - 10 minutes!"
Sue later got a better reception at the reception, and the bill was 86 kuna (about €12).

Another brilliant sunny day and we drove on the main road to the western end of the island and the port of Vela Luka. Unusually there was plenty of waterfront parking by its nice palm tree fringed harbour.

Parking on the waterfront at Vela Luka

The one way system takes you around the back of Vela Luka where they are titivating the waterfront, just before you reach a small shipyard.

We turned off to Blato, its pleasant tree lined streets giving shade to the road, then on a minor road to the south coast and the small hamlet of Grscica. A quiet and pretty little bay but plenty of new building going on. There is yet another diving centre - the crystal waters of Croatia are a diving mecca.

Grscica, the developers are on their way

Along the coast road going east there were some glimpses of beautiful coastline, Prizba turned out to be well developed with holiday homes and apartments and proffered a small Autocamp. Brna was more of the same.

Just outside Cara we turned right onto what is shown on our map as a scenic route – it starts off as an old narrow track through a lush green plain filled with vine groves, then suddenly opens up into a brand new two lane highway carved out of the cliff side.

Pupnatska Luka is a tiny bay, entirely enclosed by forest, the sparking emerald and azure water looking utterly delicious. The road down was precipitously steep and narrow so we didn't even think about taking the van down, but if you have the time to walk or the energy to cycle - what a spot.

Pupnatska Luka, and not a yacht in sight!

Once back on the main road we passed by Korcula again out to the eastern tip and the ancient settlement of Lumbarda. Just before the village is a shallow enclosed bay, now surrounded with houses and apartments. They have started to twee up the roadside with new kerbs and pavements, but there was just enough grass verge left for us to park up for lunch.

The ferry to Orebic (pronounced Orrybish) on the Peljesac peninsula from Korcula is a 15 minute trip, 158 Kuna (about €22).
Once ashore, it was a short run west along the coast to Camping Palme, a lovely small site of gravel terraces and olive trees in a sheltered bay, separated from the gently sloping gravel beach only by a narrow access road. (GPS: 42.9765N, 17.1290 E)

Baby, its b-b-blue out there!

Wolfgang and Ursula were already on site and Wolfgang had managed to reserve a pitch next to theirs and a provisional booking for the lamb roast being put on by the campsite that night. (120 Kuna each, including salad and wine.)

Ursula, Wolfang and Sue get stuck into roast lamb

The lamb roast was a night to remember, being the only Brits in the company of five (mostly English speaking) German couples, we obviously missed out on a lot of the conversation but after a while it didn’t seem to matter. The red wine was included and when even that had dried up, a 1 ½ litre plastic bottle of chilled schnapps appeared. That was fully dispensed with before we were cleared from the table!

15th June
Remarkably, we managed a swim in the calm water before breakfast. Sue and Uschi went shopping on the bikes whilst Wolfgang and I played with the laptops.
After a few more swims during the day we had our own BBQ, and put the sun to bed.

16th June
Goodbye to Wolfgang and Ursula, they were off to Mostar in Bosnia, a very popular motorhoming destination it would seem.
Another lazy day, recuperating from the making of new friendships and the renewal of old.

17th June
Heading down towards Dubrovnik we halted briefly for a look at Ston, with its 5.5 km of defensive walls running up the hillside.

Ston, its a steep old climb in the heat

Once over the spectacular suspension bridge dedicated to Franjo Tudjman, a key figure in the Croatian War of Independence and President of Croatia from 1990-99, we worked our way down to the Dubrovnik waterfront and booked a ferry to Rijeka. From Rijeka it is just a short drive into Slovenia and then Italy. 1267 Kuna (€185 for a 7 metre motorhome, in low season)

The Franjo Tudjman bridge to the city of Dubrovnik

To drive up the body of Croatia again on our way home would have entailed retracing our steps up Peljesac to Trpani, and another ferry (224 Kuna) to Ploce on the mainland - this in order to avoid the Bosnian enclave of Neum, which extends to the coast. The 10 km strip of Bosnian motorway is off limits for us as we cannot get insurance for Bosnia with Towergate Bakers. (Plans are in hand to build a bridge to circumvent this, but it may be a long time coming)

An alternative would have been a ferry from Split to Ancona in Italy, but this would have still involved the ferry trip to by-pass Bosnia. Also, Dubrovnik to Bari in Italy, but that would double the mileage to get to Milan – one of our homeward waypoints.

All in all, a 24 hour cruise sailing past the islands we had just visited, and cutting out 3-4 days driving up Croatia, seemed an agreeable choice, and not that much more expensive when you allow for campsites on the way and fuel for the mileage.

The old city of Dubrovnik

On our way to meet up with Rosemary and Andy at Mlini, another Lidl’s supermarket popped up - they certainly seem to have Croatia covered, but then it seems like 75% of the campers we have seen were German so I guess they know where to expand their market. Relative to a lot of the products in the in the national Croatian markets, their quality was way higher.

Camping Kate is a pleasant family run site on two levels, its main drawback being the steep 10 minute climb up from the waterfront if you want a swim.

Here, Rosemary solved the mystery of the nocturnal wailing of kids? cats? dogs? in Camping Belverdere near Trogir.
An Australian émigré Croatian whom she met in Loviste on Peljesac told her that wild red coyotes exist here. Only found elsewhere in India and smaller than, but related to the wolf – could they have been the animals that disturbed our slumbers?

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