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Croatia visited

by admin on October 29, 2013

 

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

My daughter went to Italy in June for a month of “UCLA Summer School Abroad.” The rest of the McKees used this as an excuse to join her when she was done in July. We would meet her in Rimini, a city on the northern end of the Adriatic Sea and spend the following ten days on some sort of trip in that part of the world. Figuring out exactly where to go became a project. Mostly fun, but with some chores to it as well.

Planning began months and months before. A large map of Europe was pinned on the dining room wall and little tiny post-it notes were added to mark possible cities to visit. Then came weeks of mulling.

The city of Dubrovnik on the Croatian side had always been on the bucket list, so a driving tour around the Adriatic seemed like a solid possibility. Two guide books and a Rick Steves video encouraged this idea. This big loop around the Adriatic Sea would let us see some of the coastal cities of Croatia and a few Italian cities we had never visited before.

Through some simple math and the use of the enlargement button on my office copy machine, I printed a California map at the same scale as my Europe map and thus determined that the Adriatic Sea is almost the exact size of California. This allowed us to instantly understand the magnitudes of the various driving segments. The McKees like the challenge and freedom of motoring about in strange lands.

We could see that the drive between the city of Trogir and Dubrovnik, for instance, would be like driving from Benicia to Redding – about three hours. Happily, the highway system in Croatia turned out to be quite good and efficient. We would have plenty of time for lingering in the delightful coastal cities of Croatia. Online I found an overnight car ferry available at the bottom leg of our grand loop that would link us back up with Italy, and this ferry had cabins available with four bunks. Perfect.

Eventually all the cities were nailed down and dates assigned. Tripadvisor.com was visited, user reviews read, hotels and apartments selected and reserved. Our usual unscheduled day and night was added in the middle of the trip to allow improvising. Our excursion would highlight several beautiful coastal cities of Croatia with the Italian cities of Rimini, Sorrento and Naples added.

And that’s pretty much how it went down last month.

Gwenna greeted us at the curb outside her hotel in Rimini, my little girl all grown up and traveling internationally on her own. We had a day to check out her favorite haunts established during her four weeks of summer school in Rimini, including restaurants, a really good gelateria, the big beach, and her favorite leather shoemaker. Rimini is not that remarkable as Italian cities go . . . . but it’s still pretty great. That says something about Italy.

Driving across the border from Italy into Croatia, the immediate difference seemed to be the extra consonants added to every word or sign. The further south we traveled, the rockier the countryside grew, always with low trees and bushes.

Thanks to modern smart phones with GPS (and a data plan we set up for international use that didn’t have rapacious rates!) we easily made our way to our first stop in Croatia, the little city of Rovinj (roh VEEN) on a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Smart phones sure have opened up the ability for driving with confidence in foreign lands.

Rovinj was the little jewel it was promised to be by Rick Steves – an ancient city with narrow lanes winding around a hill with a church at its top. Restaurants and shops were tucked in everywhere. And the tourists had turned out (mostly eastern Europeans, Brits and Germans) filling the streets and restaurants on this warm summer’s eve. An early morning walk the next day on the empty streets became a nice way to experience the city without so many people in the way.

The next day we drove on to the old walled city of Trogir (TROH geer) another cute city on the water, this time on a flat island with a stone fortress guarding the west approach.

City of Split in Croatia . . . a Roman Palace runs through it . . .

City of Split in Croatia
. . . a Roman Palace runs through it . . .

After that was the city of Split, a particularly ancient city on the coast that had a distinction I found fascinating. It was a city that had taken shape over fifteen hundred years inside the remains of a huge walled fortress that had served as the palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian. After the fall of Rome, invading hordes sacked a nearby Roman town, causing the survivors to take up living in this huge abandoned walled-in fortress on the water. Centuries of living there have resulted in buildings of various eras added over time, creating compelling juxtapositions of old buildings mingling with even older fragments of Roman grandeur. This place became my new favorite set of Roman building remnants. (That ranking lasted for only three days until we made our way to Pompeii in Italy – the Roman city in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius tragically preserved as a sort of time capsule by twenty feet of falling ash. But that is a tale to be told next time.)

Dubrovnik side street

Dubrovnik side street

Our final city in Croatia was Dubrovnik. We had saved the best for last. It was another walled city (oh what big sturdy walls.) It had some hills to it, cute little back streets, but also some open civic spaces as well. I was told by family members that four cities like this in a row had created a certain blurring of memories. I couldn’t argue with that, even as I remained fascinated by the human scale in the tightly configured living arrangements required in those crowded walled cities. There were ingeniously placed stone stairways that set off little courtyards. There were arches and half arches created where two buildings joined each other overhead. All the street were paved with white limestone polished to a sheen by many years of foot traffic.

The next night was our ferry ride back to Italy. We all found it quite satisfying to be ensconced in our own ultra cozy bunks with little reading lamps that didn’t disturb our bunkmates. Croatia had been a delight and I would recommend it to any serious Europe traveler. But it was good to be headed back to Italy, that most pleasing to visit of European countries. Tomorrow we would be driving ourselves across the bustling city of Naples, among many cars vying with each other for the limited street space. It was there that we truly learned the ways of driving like an Italian, and became better people for it. That also is a story for another day.

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