Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dalmation Coast



Split, Croatia's second largest city is a vibrant harbor town on the coast of the Adriatic, about 2/3 the way down the coast. It is a transit place for people taking ferries to the islands of Hvar and Korcula. Unfortunately, most do not spend any time in the Old Town itself, which is a delightful way to spend 2-3 hours. We are quickly learning that every village and city has an Old Town with a square and cathedral which you can see from miles away. It is usually the city center where the tourists gather. Split's Old Town sits adjacent to the harbor and is probably one of the most interesting and less touristy Old Towns we have ever seen. Most Roman ruins stand alone with grass and weed leaving you to use your imagination as to what the buildings looked like, and most Old Towns are a collection of touristy ancient buildings around a town square. But Split has used these ancient Roman walls to create a very interesting city. The ancient Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 4th century built a huge palace to retire in with its front entrance flanking the harbor. Later, after it was abandoned, the locals, fleeing Slavic invaders in the 7th century, moved in and built over the old palace. The ancient palace walls now stand and a combination of ancient to modern architecture forms the city's buildings. You can see ancient columns which support stone walls built throughout the centuries; the 4 main gates surround the palace and the hallways are now lined with shops. People actually live within these buildings and we thought how interesting it must be to live in a palace structure with narrow staircases leading up to your home, and old Roman ruins scattered about in your backyard.

Driving down the Dalmation coast is going to take a good part of the afternoon. The weather is perfect-sunny and warm and the water of the Adriatic is bright blue in the distance and blue green by the shore. The main highway from Split runs inland and we choose to take the coastal road which winds through villages and takes you up and down the mountain. Some sections are high above, the winding road risng on sheer cliffs, which take your breath away. Other sections are down by the shore, running close to villas and resorts. We have a couple of close encounters with impatient Croatian drivers trying to pass and coming directly at us! Fortunately, Jen is nimble and alert. The scenery on the left changes from forested mountains to high rounded hills that are brushy and resemble southern california's desert landscape. We arrive in Dubrovnik in the early evening just as the sun is casting a low glow on the water, and the skies are turning a pale pink. We drive on past the city to Cilipi, 13 miles south where the local airport is located. We return our rental cart to Sixt, whose one desk clerk has the job of "only checking in and out cars", and can't do anything about out Auto Europe overcharge. We call Zoran from the Pension and he comes to pick us up in a Honda Accord. Zoran has lived here all his life and runs the place with his mother and brother. He impressed us with his skill in navigating through the narrow alleys, dodging oncoming traffic and pedestrians on the highway. We carry our luggage up a huge flight of stone steps to be greeted by an incredible view and homemade muffins and jelly roll cake, warm from the oven.

I am sitting on the balcony of Pension Stankovich, 320 feet and 384 steps above the Old Town with a fabulous view of the Adriatic and the red roofs of the city. Below, the lights of the fortress walls shine bright gray and the yellow lights of the harbor form a bright chain surrounding all the yachts. The almost full moon radiates a bright oval on the dark sea waters.

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