Travel to Plitvice

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Friday 27th June, 2014

I have booked myself on the noon bus to Plitvice to allow a little bit longer in Split.  I get up at 7.30am and for the first time on my trip, set out in running gear with the intention of running.   Petar has advised a nearby grassy hill with a good view of the city. Of course, being the day that I am leaving, it’s a sunny one and even at 8am it is hot outside.  If we were in NZ or Australia, the waterfront would be filled with runners at this time (I’m thinking of Oriental Parade in Wellington particularly) but no, here in the Mediterranean they are not early risers.  Getting in the zone I completely run past the entrance to the hill, probably in my eagerness to stay as close to the water as possible.  Taking that as a sure fire sign I’m not meant to be running while on holiday I walk back the way I’ve come and find the steps which I half run half walk.  I arrive at the open balcony of a restaurant for the money shot.  But alas my phone that I carried for this very purpose has run out of battery.  So instead I stay extra long in effort to engrain the view of the sea, the boats and the old town in the morning light.

Like all other bus rides I’ve done on the Mediterranean coast, the one to Plitvice is beautiful.  Pity I sleep for most of the first chunk because that’s the beautiful part.  But I wake and still have at least an hour of blue water, dotted islands and terracotta towns.

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Blue power lines!

Unexpectedly, all the settlements look modern with the buildings all made from that smooth off-white sandstone with bright orange roofs.  Maybe there’s no hostels here.  That’s the only reason I can think of that would go someway in explaining why no one has told me to come here.  Albeit there’s probably not much to do, but you would have a beautiful beach nearly to yourself, there’s kayaking, fishing if you’re into that and the chance to sample authentic local flavours.  My kind of travel.

It only strikes me at this moment that this is the last time I will be seeing the ocean for a month.  The realisation is a surprisingly daunting one.  Growing up down under I have never been more than an hours drive from open water.  The only time I have been far away from the salty sanctuary was during a five month stint on a Canadian ski slope.  There I had a snowy mountain and a lake nearby which nearly appeased my aqua needs.  For me the ocean represents so many things that I think can be boiled down to joy, freedom and safety.  Along their shores I have cried, laughed, danced, made love, ridden motorbikes.  Every time the bus made a turn I was asking myself, will this be the last time I see the sea?

That said, I couldn’t have been more happy with my situation at Plitvice Backpackers.  Green green green.  Grass grass grass.  The bus spits me out in the middle of nowhere and just as I’m getting my bearings a voice from a just pulled over car says, “Romilly?”  Meet Leo, the hostel owner who I didn’t ask to pick me up but did anyway.  Legend.  He has only just opened up this hostel after closing the doors on eight years of hostelling in Zagreb.  It’s a gorgeous wooden A Frame with no other houses within a stones throw.  Me and my new Taiwanese friend Jessica make the “20 minute walk” that’s at least half an hour to the only market in town.  The only bad thing about being in the middle of nowhere is that there’s no footpaths so we had to walk along the main highway to the disgruntled toots of motorists.  We have no real desire to make the same trek back with tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch in our carry bags so after hearing some success stories from Jessica we stick out our thumbs on the main road.  We wait about 15 minutes before three Asians pull over in a small sedan.  A middle aged couple are in the front so me and Jessica jump in the back with gran.  I’m glad that Jessica can chat away in their native tongue and have no doubt that her appearance is probably a key factor in getting picked up in the first place.

Within ten minutes we are home and dinner is on the barbie.  I have a lovely night watching the sunset and the fireflies come out.  It is marred only by the boisterous flirtations of hormonal backpackers that get louder with each beer.  God I’m old.

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Split, Croatia

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Wednesday 25th &Thursday 26th June, 2014

On Wednesday I take an eight hour bus to Split, Croatia.  I’m sure the drive would have been beautiful but it bucketed down for the last half of the journey, the best half, where we have a view of the tiny islands scattered over the Mediterranean coast.  The rain kindly ceases for my arrival and I am proud of myself for using a map and hiking the three kilometres to Situs Hostel instead of jumping in a cab.  I am greeted by a young host called Petar.

The rain pelts down again but lets up again about 8.45pm, just in time for my diner date at Fife, a popular restaurant, with Katie that I met in Mostar, and her boyfriend who has popped across from the UK to join her for a week.  I order the seafood risotto and am not disappointed but the portion sizes are astronomical and between the three of us we can’t finish what we ordered.  We stop by a free rock/funk public concert on the way home before calling it a night.

Thursday is really my only day for exploring Split. Coastal Split is well known for excursions to the nearby islands.  Hvar is the most popular but there is also Brac, Korcula, Mljet and a few others.  Petar shared with me that Brac is his favourite and less touristy than Hvar.   He also advises the must see things within the city.  Like all of these places I’m finding myself, Split has an old town where most of the buzz happens and a ‘normal’ town where ‘normal life’ happens.  Split is a bit different in that within the old town there is the Diocletian Palace.  Like the ignorant tourist I am, I expected to see a grand old building that we get to explore for an entrance fee.  But this is not the case.  The palace has four walls, maybe about 100m each, and the old town has encroached inside the remains of the palace buildings so within the walls are restaurants, shops, banks etc.

Petar had incorrectly told me that there were free walking tours that start at 9am.  After a pastry breakfast at a bakery I am in the palace square at 9am making enquiries.  Turns out nothing is free, it is actually illegal to provide a free service so I book to go on the Penny Walking Tour that starts at 10.30am and costs €1 or 7 kuna (the next best thing to free).  I’m glad to have come in early though because there is no one about and for nearly an hour it feels like I have the palace to myself.  I take Petar’s a advice and pay a visit the cathedral.  This looks to be the highest point within the city.  I marvel at the ornate and colourful paintings and statues within and gawk at the relics on display in the treasury then make the climb up the belltower.

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Inside the Cathedral. One of a very few (terrible) photos I took during my time here.
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Looking back down into the ‘palace’ on the ascent.

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Bumped into a tenor performance within the palace walls. Sensational acoustics.

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The view is great, but not spectacular. With 50 minutes still to kill when I get back down, again acting on Petar’s advice, I get a ticket to check out the palace basement.  Whilst I’m glad I did the cathedral, I would give this a skip if I could have my time again.  By this stage there are a million tourist groups, most of which have come in from the cruiseships.  Tour guides are competing for the loudest voice.  The fat American wins.  There’s nothing going on in the east wing except dripping rooms and in the west wing there are dripping rooms with strange white statues.  I think they are made from some kind of clay?  I see statues of a giant foot, a dwarf, animals, fictitious creatures.  There are no explanatory notes and there was no pamphlet or anything so I wander from room to room getting more and more weirded out.  I wish I had remembered to ask the tour guide what was up with that.

I meet our walking tour at 10.30am.  Doris is a cute young thing with a well rehearsed knowledge of all things Diocletian Palace and Croatian history.  For the next few hours we walk around the palace as she explains what we are seeing and what we would have seen hundreds of years ago.  Here’s what I learn with a little bolstering from Wikipedia:

  • Self made Roman emperor Diocletian instructed the building of the palace at the start of the fourth century for his retirement. He was a clever and widely respected ruler and was one of only two roman emperors to die in his old age of natural causes.
  • Diocletian was invited to rule again after his retirement but he famously said he was so happy in his palace by the sea tending to his cabbages that there was no way he was returning to politics and bureaucracy.
  • Originally, the palace had a watchtower in each of the corners plus a few more on all walls except the southern one (facing the sea) because the threat of a naval attack was low. Today there are only remains of two of the towers left, in opposite corners.
  • The southern half of the palace was dedicated purely to Diocletian and his entourage but the other half including the square was a public space.
  • Diocletian’s wife and daughter both converted to Christianity and, as a well known persecutor of Christians, he had them banished to an island.  Their religious choice was eventually the death of them.  At this stage Romans were pagans, not until Constantine’s rule was Christianity accepted.

The rest of the tour was spent talking about specific rooms and architecture.

After ordering a triple scoop of ice cream I head back to the hostel for a siesta.  Upon waking, the sun is shining and I mosey down to the port and buy a bus ticket for tomorrow and a spontaneous ferry ticket to the island of Brac for this afternoon.  Brac is well known for its beautiful beaches.  It’s a warm day but not overly sunny.  I park myself on the nearest beach for a few hours and do crosswords.  I don’t think I saw the best of the island but I just wanted to chill and was happy doing what I was doing.

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When I get back, just after 8pm I remember I wanted to check out the tie shop that I had spotted in the palace to see if I can spot a gift for the fella, after all Croatia was home to the cravat and indirectly the neck tie.  After a successful purchase I had planned to head back to the hostel but there is a very talented acoustic duo playing covers in the square and I can’t resist ordering a red wine and sitting down to listen to them.  Good and bad decision.  Lovely music, okay wine and stella dance performances from the under eight girls whose parents are doing the same as me, but listening to these guitars, Adrian’s instrument of choice, and the words of tortured lovers makes me painfully miss my other half and for half an hour I discreetly let the tears flow.  Episode over, I order another wine then head to bed smiling.

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Some more shots below of Split.

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