Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Croatia: Dubrovnik - Nice at night

I was so looking forward to our visit to Dubrovnik, the third port on our seven day Adriatic cruise.  It was supposed to be the star of the show, the pearl of the Adriatic, the jewel of the Mediterranean.  Shaw was quoted: "those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it".  Unfortunately,  we arrived at the same time as several thousand other tourists that literally swarmed the old town.  It was my first experience of a place that became the victim of its own success, and unfortunately, not my last on this trip.  When we visited Cinque Terre a week later, the scenario was repeated - people everywhere, there was no let up.  And this was not even high season!  The culprit - giant cruise ships that dumped thousands of passengers on land at the same time.
All looked fine on the pier...

Wall to wall people in town
What to do but to make the best of it - head for high ground - tried to go where there may possibly be fewer people, for example, up on the city wall because the entrance was hard to find, there was a fee, people only allowed to go one way, some people could not climb the stairs, etc..  That turned out to be a smart move.  While there was still a continuous stream of people on the wall, we could look beyond them, above the old town, above the crowds, at the stunning red roofs and the magnificent views of the sea around the wall. It was also a much better way to get a sense of the city.  The higher we went, the thinner the crowd.

Looking down on the main street crowds from the wall
Onofrio's fountain where people washed their grapes and pigeons their feathers

Views along the city wall

Single file in some spots (how did I manage not to have any bodies in my photo??!)

The views were worth the 2km hike along the wall

View of the harbour - St. John's fort on the right with a Maritime Museum on two floors - the Maritime Museum entrance was included in the ticket for the wall

Minceta Tower, the highest point on the wall and an important symbol of the city's freedom

From that point, it's downhill all the way - a quick hike into the town for lunch in one of the many restaurants in the alleys.  For more on our lunch, visit Foodsparks.

Someone having fun with an interesting portal
No wonder the buildings were so clean and well-kept - they were continuously being restored...
St. Blaise Church right in the middle of town - I love the unique modernist Stations of the Cross in here
Outside the Rector's Palace, now the Cultural History Museum - worth visiting for both its architecture and the content
The gorgeous courtyard inside the Rector's Palace
The touching photo of the young water carrier during the Siege of Dubronik in the Croatian War  was for me the most memorable piece in the museum

There wasn't enough daylight hours to see the entire city but we did make it up to the cable car stop at the top of the hill.  

Taking the cable car ride to the top of Srd hill

The crucifix at the top of Srd, which was the site of fierce fighting during the siege of Dubrovnik.- the hill was a source of inspiration for the people under siege

Time for a drink while waiting for the sun to go down

Rewarded by a spectacular sunset and the chance to experience Dubrovnik after dark...

We could see our small boat lit up in the evening light

Coming back down from the top of the hill, we walked through the old town once again, this time without the crowds, the city walls gently lit by street lamps, a guitarist playing on the bridge - this was the way Dubrovnik was supposed to be.  I heaved a sigh of relief - glad we stayed to see this - I will be back!

I have to return, if not to find Paradise, at least to enjoy dinner by moonlight under these ancient arcades at the waterfront...

Friday, 25 October 2013

Croatia: Split

My reaction to Split was a bit ambiguous.  When I saw Diocletian's castle wrapped around the base with street stalls, I sighed - yet another historical landmark turned into commercial crap - and this is supposed to be the jewel in the crown!  One couldn't see the castle walls because of the shops around it - I was so mad I forgot to take a picture of the ugly mess!  The entire arcade above the old stone foundations were filled with shops selling everything from fridge magnets to diamonds.

What you see in the photos below are the vaulted basement halls of Diocletian's Palace, reputedly the best preserved and most complete palace from Roman times.  The underground halls were identical in layout to the emperor's residence above and walking through them gave us an idea of what it would have been like "upstairs".  What impressed me most was the "dressed" stone blocks - perfectly cut and aligned.

This domed ceiling made the chamber a great place for oratory - acoustics are amazing.

These perfectly cut , mortarless, stones and door jams reminded me of very similar structures created by Inca stonecutters that we saw in Peru last year.  The Incas lived at least a thousand years after the Romans.  Take a look at the similarity between the two and the clearly superior workmanship of the Incas.

Diocletian's Palace basement (Roman)
Cusco's Temple of the Sun (Incan) 
Note the rough-cut stones above the mortarless stone blocks and the residential houses built on top of this historic structure

The innards of the castle were impressive but when one came out to the restored courtyard, it felt like a film set.  For a moment, it almost seemed surreal.  One could almost see Romans lounging around the courtyard and I wasn't seeing things when a couple of Roman soldiers actually came out in full dress complete with spears and armour.

Peristyle - the monumental court with its own Roman soldiers and 3500 year old Egyptian sphynx

Dramatic domed entrance to the emperor's quarters with great acoustics for the Dalmatian klapa - a cappella singers of soulful Dalmatian songs 

Beside the courtyard is the Cathedral of St. Domnius.  This was originally Diocletian's mausoleum, which explains its odd ugly structure - it is a one-room cathedral!   But what irony - Diocletian was notorious for the persecution of Christians and now his memorial commemorates Christians!  More attractive beside it is the awesome bell tower with its 183 steep steps - the view at the top was definitely worth the sore knees.   You get to see this gorgeous seaside town with its red roofs against the clear blue sky and the sparkling waters of the Adriatic - far from the madding crowd.  All the commercialism was 200 feet down - somehow it didn't seem so bad.  And what's wrong with shops anyway - I found a hat for myself in one of the alley shops.  Ignore the fact that it was made in Thailand - it looked good on me!

All the way to the top of the bell tower

Worth the climb! 

What's not to love about it?!

Looking down onto the courtyard from the tower

Split looked great away from the street market

Stumbling upon the lovely cloisters of the Franciscan monastery 

Roasting corn at the street corner

Believe it or not, this is a shopping street!
The historic town hall is now an Art Museum

Quaint clock and bell towers everywhere

The well-preserved east gate
And amazing seafood (for the story please visit Foodsparks)

I may be back!