Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Croatia: Red Roofs and Blue Waters

Welcome to Croatia!  Formerly part of Yugoslavia, Croatia features stunning coastal areas, historic buildings, and a charming, hybrid Eastern European and Mediterranean culture.  We spent almost a week exploring the "Pearl of the Adriatic," Dubrovnik, as well as the ancient Roman city of Split and the surrounding coastal areas.

Our first stop in Croatia was Dubrovnik, the premier tourist destination in the country.   As you can see from the above photos, Dubrovnik's old town is enclosed in walls.  During the late Middle Ages (i.e., the 14th-15th Centuries), Dubrovnik was a city-state with a thriving maritime trade that rivaled Venice in wealth and influence.

Dubrovnik is almost as well-known for its red roofs as its walls and seaside setting.

Dubrovnik's walls and beautiful seaside setting are also stunning.

Inside the city walls of Dubrovnik is a maze of stone streets, beautiful buildings, and hordes of gawking tourists.

Dubrovnik is a major stop for cruise ships, which leads to some sizable tourist crowds.  As you can see from the above photos, not only were the streets full, so were the buses.

During the early 1990's, the scene in Dubrovnik was much different.  In 1991, Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia.  In response, the Yugoslav army began an eight-month siege on Dubrovnik.  The Croatian army eventually repelled the Yugoslav army, but not before 114 civilians were killed and 56% of the buildings in the historic old town were damaged.  The first photo above was taken during the siege, and shows the empty streets just after a mortar attack.  Although most of the damage to the buildings has been repaired, some of the pockmarks on the streets from the shelling remain, as seen in the above photo.

While standing on the Dubrovnik wall, I saw two Croatian Olympic medal winners returning home amid great fanfare.
Although they may not have arrived with as much fanfare, we were very happy to be met in Dubrovnik by Shane's parents, Loren and Sherry, who joined us for our travels in Croatia, Slovenia and Italy.

We all stayed in a nice apartment, right on the water.
The streets in Dubrovnik were built long before the invention of the automobile, and the narrow streets necessitate small cars and tight parking space.  Take a look at the above photo from just outside our apartment.  The wheels of the red Smart car are partially hanging off the ledge; a couple of inches more to the right, and the car would be in the water!

At dusk one day, we took a cable car up for a nice view of the city.

We also explored the old town at night, when the tourist crowds diminished, and some other characters emerged.

Next, we boarded a ferry and sailed up the coast toward another beautiful Croatian coastal city, Split.

Split is the largest seaside city in Croatia, which features a beautiful harbor and surrounding hills.

Split features the ruins of the ancient palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian.  In preparation for his retirement in his hometown of Split, Diocletian had a giant palace built in approximately 300 AD.  The best preserved area of the palace is the huge basement, which eventually became a dumping ground for trash.  In modern times, the successive levels of trash--representing rubbish from many different eras--provided a wealth of information for archaeologists to discover about how people lived during the Roman times and during the Middle Ages.  I guess it is true that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Above-ground, the old town of the Middle Ages grew around the ruins of Diocletian's Palace, creating a combination of Roman and Middle Ages architecture.

As Shane points out in the city model above, our three-bedroom apartment in Split was located in the heart of the old town.  Above are photos of views taken from our balcony.

During the day, the promenade just outside our apartment featured outdoor eateries and cafes.

 During our first night, the promenade was changed into an outdoor concert venue.

And on our second night, guys in Roman outfits staged a soccer match on the promenade.

Although Roman culture gets top billing in Split, we also noticed many signs of the popularity of American culture in Croatia, from Elvis to John Wayne.  That's Sherry giving Elvis a kiss.  John Wayne's not being so friendly to Nick.

 Here are a couple of curious signs were encountered in Split.  It seems to me that most people who are inclined to follow signs, would also be the kind of people who wouldn't think of peeing in public.  Conversely, the kind of people who feel free to pee in public, are unlikely to be dissuaded by a sign.

See what I mean?

Croatian cuisine is heavy on meat, potatoes and fish.  We had some delicious meals in Croatian restaurants....
But the most delicious meal we had in Croatia was cooked in our Split apartment by Nick.

We rented a van and drove from Split to the wonderful country of Slovenia.  See you there!


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