Croatia and Mainland Greece: April 28 2010
It was a fun but busy four days in Corfu between our land travels. This time we headed for Croatia and mainland Greece. Croatia has been on our "nice to have" cruising itinerary list ever since we left Boston. Initially, we thought we would see Croatia aboard Barefeet; however, it seems that Croatia has gone from communism to capitalism in the blink of an eye and recent cruiser experiences gave us a lot to think about. Simply cruising the Croatian waters requires a fee upwards of $800 and nightly anchoring is often charged at $45. Anchoring is pretty basic with minimal shelter, sudden wind bursts/shifts and rocky holding. Marinas are an option but nightly stays often begin at $150 per night. All this and our anticipated time in the waters of Croatia would have been less than two months. In the end we decided to leave Barefeet behind and make a short swing through the region by land. Plus, we had two willing travel companions...Erin's parents.
We flew into Split and departed from Dubrovnik...the rest filled itself in as we went. We flew from Corfu to Athens to Frankfurt to Split (April 6). Hhhmmmm...a bit round-about but actually the most direct path. We picked up our Uniline rental car and headed to Split's old city (www.uniline.hr). Our lodging was perfect...family run private rooms (sobe)...BASE sobe (www.base-rooms.com). We quickly dropped our bags and began exploring. We strolled the Riva with loads of Croatians...tourists seem to be limited to the museums and sites...and lingered over a glass of wine. Dinner was at the cozy Buffet Fife located in the old fisherman's corner of town (Trumbićeva obala 11). Over two nights we made sure that nothing on the menu was left unsampled. We feasted on rich beef goulash, hearty pasticada (meat stew) and gnocchi that was so soft it nearly slid through the tines of the fork. Filled to the gills we slowly walked home...treated to a street tango session. Wow - we think we will like it here!
The next day was a leisurely walk around the sites of Split which gave us a chance to work through lingering jet lag (April 8). The core of modern day Split is the remains of Diocletian's Palace. Diocletian was an autocratic Roman Emperor from 284-305 AD whose reign came to an end when he voluntarily abdicated and retired to the Dalmatian coast to "tend his vegetables." His reign was marked by success as well as failure. He established the largest bureaucratic government of the Roman empire but Christians were severely persecuted. Diocletian built the palace for his retirement...but he was not interested in solitary, sleepy golden years. The palace was a grand, walled "villa" that housed over 9000 people. We toured the remnants left of the palace (including its basement halls) and climbed the St. Domnius' bell tower for panoramic views of Split. We enjoyed the mixture of milky white ruins of columns and towers with orange clay tiled roofs of the modern city. Our explorations continued with a walk 20 minutes outside of the city to the museum of sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. He is often referred to as Croatia's Rodin and as with the Rodin Museum in Paris Ivan Mestrovic's museum is also his former residence and studio. We four were the only visitors during our time on the grounds. It was peaceful and magnificent.
The Adriatic coast of Croatia was settled by Greeks, dominated by Venetians, incorporated into the Hapsburg Empire, melded into Yugoslavia and finally became part of the independent Croatian state in 1991. Dotting the Dalmatian coast are walled cities...medieval cores surrounded by walls with a castle, towers and dwellings. Trogir is just such a city (2300 years of continuous use)...and less than 30 minutes northwest of Split. Too close for us to miss we spent an afternoon roaming the narrow, stone lined passageways where clock towers and bell towers rocketed to the sky above narrow stone pathways (April 9). The economy of the Dalmatian coast has a strong history of fishing and ship building. This is still strongly seen today with whole fish offerings on menus and a thriving DAILY fish market. Dinner at Restaurant Sperun gave us a chance to experience local fish for ourselves...okay...Chris chose to have lasagna instead of a grilled fish. The fish was presented one to a plate complete with head and tail intact. Thankfully, the waiter boned the fish while chatting with us. It was mild and tender...delicious. Oh, and the lasagna was tasty, too.
As much as we were enjoying Split we really needed to keep moving. After checking ferry schedules (less frequent during the time of our off season visit) we decided to drive South along the coast to Drevnik and take the car ferry to the island of Hvar (April 10). The coastal road was well paved and bordered by a continuously stunning shoreline. A Mediterranean climate dominates the area with high mountain ranges, flowering trees, evergreen foliage, olive groves and grape vineyards. The blue sea fades from light robin egg to deep sapphire with coves tucked along the way. It sure looks like a lovely cruising ground. The ferry dropped us at the town of Securaj...the opposite end of the island from Hvar town. It took about an hour and a half to cross the island. Yikes...but the road! It was well paved but resembled a boardwalk simply perched above the ground. There were no guardrails and "shoulders" were often immediate cliff drops to the sea. Eeegads was it spooky...good driving Chris. We were pleased with our on-the-spot apartment find after phoning Igor of Family Haracic Apartments (www.hvarbooking.com). The day of traveling had left us pretty tired. We wandered between raindrops; fortunately, the heaviest rain (and strong winds) happened at night (April 11). A seaside walk extends around the town lined with cafes on the shore and fishing boats on the water culminating in a large town square. This place must be buzzing in July and August! But we will take the calmer off season period, thanks. A favorite dinner was at Konoba Menego (www.menego.hr). It was a "traditional" Dalmatian meal with a variety meats and cheeses..and the most amazing baked zucchini and eggplant. The zucchini and eggplant were sliced thin, covered in olive oil, seasoned with garlic and baked until tender. So simple but sooooo delicious!
Continuing south to Dubrovnik we first retraced our path to the car ferry (April 12). The road was a bit easier on the nerves the second time around but still got the heart going a bit. Our arrival in Dubrovnik was early enough to sleuth out lodging in the old city. We stayed with the very bubbly Anke (www.rooms-vicelic.com)..."super" and "darling" were her favorite filler words accompanied with a flick of the hand and a toss of the head. Rooms were great with bathroom attached and coffee/tea/cookie station always available. But the stairs! Holy cow! We noticed flights and flights of stairs in Split as well as Hvar but Dubrovnik really outdid itself. Our legs were getting used to them but our eyeballs still continued to pop at each new flight. Anke assured us sunshine was in the forecast so Chris and I gave her a load of laundry for wash and...line dry. Hhhmmm...well, it almost dried. Our room soon became a giant dryer as we cranked up the heat to sauna levels.
Dubrovnik continued the Croatian theme of walled cities on the sea that left our mouths agape. Maritime trade has always been its main means of prosperity. Okay, and a bit of skilled diplomacy, too...enough to rival even the Venetians. The city layout within the wall was also familiar with the ever present promenade street. Split has the Riva and Dubrovnik has the Stradun.
We learned a bit more about the seven months of shelling in 1991 from our locally born and raised waiter at Restaurant Dundo Maroje (ph 020/321-021). During the breakup of Yugoslavia Dubrovnik was besieged by Serb and Montenegro forces. The Serbs had been Dubrovnik neighbors with the Croats for centuries...but were suddenly at odds with them. The Montenegrins did not have such a positive link and still get very few smiles. The shelling caused tremendous damage to the old city; however, the pride of the people has mended and restored the city such that it is impossible to know that there ever was any damage.
The Dubrovnik's old city walls are topped with a path to walk completely around the city...ON the wall (www.citywallsdubrovnik.hr). The constant rain and wind during our walk made us move more quickly than we otherwise would have (April 13). A slow stroll would have been better with the 360 degree views of rooftops and bell towers that was gorgeous. Later in the afternoon we settled into an internet cafe and topped off the day with a wonderful pasta dinner at Spaghetteria Toni (old town, Nikole Bozidarevica 14).
April 14 was an early rise and shine, multiple mountainous stair climbs and a drive to the airport so that we could fly from Dubrovnik to Frankfurt to Athens. Little did we know just how much the fates were with us as we narrowly avoided being trapped for days in Frankfurt by the Icelandic volcano that erupted the same day. Phew! Frankfurt was a nice spot for a layover...especially the massive McDonald's that overlooks the runway. But Athens was our focus. We arrived, looked for a taxi and...hhhmmmm...no taxis. Oh, a taxi strike. No worries. The taxi drivers kindly told us how to take the subway into Athens as they had a little trunk picnic in the parking lot. Settled into the Carolina Hotel and we were off to introduce Erin's parents to a taverna dinner (www.hotelcarolina.gr). It was a warm, dry night in the Plaka...a nice change from Dubrovnik. Platanos Taverna did not disappoint and my parents were hooked (4 Diogenous, near the Tower of the Winds). We showed them around our (now well developed) walking tour of the city; Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Benaki Museum, Stoa of Attalos, Ancient Agora, Kolonaki...and they were amazed. But we did not ignore the food or coffee breaks. The Ice Grill in Monastiraki was a fantastic ice cream stop with 50 flavors...all beautifully displayed with fruit and nuts as the flavor dictated (82 Metropoleos, www.icegrill.gr). But the real winner was Vallentin Restaurant (lykourgou 235, ph 210 959 2120). It was a subway ride to the Kallithea stop and a 15 minute walk to the restaurant...all worth it. It is an unassuming Russian/Greek restaurant. Yes, that is correct...Russian Greek. Unbelievable with bialys (like bagels); salads of carrot, beet or potato; pirogues stuffed with cheese, meat or potato; and lamb that melted in our mouths...all homemade and all amazing.
Although we could have kept eating and exploring Athens we wanted to show off Greece's additional sights and varied beauty to my parents. We crossed the Corinth Canal on our way to Mycanae and Nafplio (April 17). The orange groves were in full bloom with a fragrance so thick that we could have cut it with a knife. It was amazing. Nafplio was in full swing when we arrived on Saturday afternoon. The seasons have changed and Athenians are now looking for a sunny holiday weekend by the sea. Sidewalk cafes were packed and children played soccer or rode bikes in the square. So many people on a weekend getaway made for a bit of a search to find a place to stay with two vacant rooms...but all was fine at the Hotel Kapodistrias (www.hotelkapodistrias.gr). Plus, the rooftop patio was a great spot for sundowners...aaahhhh (April 18).
The next sight on our itinerary was Olympia (April 19). It was a first time visit for Erin and a spot that Chris had not seen for nearly 20 years. Olympia was stunning...part religious sanctuary, part athletic complex. The first Olympic races took place in 776 BC as part of a 5-day festival held every four years. The Greeks believed that athleticism enhanced religious spirituality and therefore the location, even today, is draped in a veil of sacred solemnity. Sadly, buildings were toppled by repeated earthquakes and fell into oblivion until being rediscovered in 1766. Today the area is still important as the initial lighting for all Olympic flames. Especially magical for us were the flowering trees blooming in radiant purple. We later continued on to Arachova. Pouring rain led to an abbreviated search for accommodation and the first spot fit the bill, Pension Ro (www.arahova-ro.gr). We again encountered flights of stairs but Dubrovnik still holds first place for sheer volume of steps.
Our final site visit was Delphi, the center of the ancient world (April 20). The steep mountain locale was a stark contrast to the agricultural plains around Mycenae or the urban acropolis of Athens or the pine studded "park" of Olympia. As chance would have it the College Year in Athens program was also visiting Delphi. Chris reconnected with a former professor and was now leading his own group of three students...Mom, Dad and me. Crazy coincidence. This was our last stop before returning to the Athens airport. Gosh was it fantastic to share Greece with my parents. Faces were long but fingers were crossed that seven days was enough time for flight travel to settle out after the volcano. No problem for Erin and Chris returning to Corfu (April 21). However, Mom and Dad missed their Munich connection and spent an unscheduled night in Boston before returning home to LA.
Our return to Corfu immediately settled into daily boat projects and celebrations every evening as we focused on being off the dock May 1. An extra set of hands was added to Barefeet when Parker arrived on April 22...just a 24-hour volcano delay. Good job of scrambling and it is great to have him back aboard. The dinghy has been serviced, cockpit table assembled, steering tightened, bikes repaired, deck pressure washed and countless little bits of storing and tidying up. But the work is all for a good cause as we are itching to begin cruising again.