A Travellerspoint blog

March 2016

Driving Down Dalmatia

On the road in Croatia...

rain 58 °F

Croatia's gorgeous coastline along the Adriatic Sea, facing Italy

With cheap air fare to Venice, and The Croatian border only a little more than an hour away, a fly/drive Italy/Croatia combo was a natural combination. The only problem was that the part of Croatia that I wanted to see most -- the walled, medieval port of Dubrovnik -- was clear at the opposite end of the country. I'd been wanting to visit Croatia for decades, so we decided it was worth the drive time. We would do the drive in two stages, stopping off to see some sights on the way. The middle part of the trip, the meat of the sandwich, would be two days in Dubrovnik.

Our first driving day involved some serious chewing to get through the bread, so to speak. We detoured onto the Istrian Peninsula, a bit out of our way. The reason, and our first sight in Croatia, was the Roman Arena in Pula, Croatia. It had been cloudy throughout most of our drive there, even threatening rain a few times. However, the sun broke through just as we pulled into Pula. It was as if the travel gods were saying, "Yes, this place is worth the trip."

Awe inspiring, the Pula Roman Arena -- Croatia's Colosseum

The arena was huge, and its outer walls were even more intact than the Colosseum in Rome. Instead of five stories tall, this one appeared to be three. About one third of the stone seats had been restored, while the rest of the interior was in a more ruined state. The arena floor was dirt -- no subterranean section here. But this meant you could walk out to the center of the oval and turn slowly, 360 degrees, and imagine the cheering and jeering crowds. It took all I had to not raise my arms and shout, "Are you not entertained?" in my best Maximus voice. It was a truly amazing sight to see the soaring stone archways enclose you, looming above, mute testament to the engineering power of Rome. I had never even heard of this place before planning my visit. How many places did that mighty civilization leave its imprint upon? Nearly 2,000 years later, the arena could still evoke awe and wonder in the sparse crowds visiting it that day.

Another view of the Roman arena in Pula, Croatia

As we headed back toward the main highway south through Croatia, the rain that had threatened earlier fulfilled its promise. We had a good road map, but we're depending mostly on our smart phone Mapquest app to navigate. I'd purchased a SIM card in Paris on our layover, and it provided service like my research showed. We lost signal when we went through the dozens of mountain tunnels -- some up to three miles long! No exaggeration, I think I went through more mountain tunnels in Croatia than the rest of my life combined. Croatia stretches like a pork chop along the coast of the Adriatic Sea across from Italy. The coastline is famous for its beauty, though we were seeing little of that on the gray, rainswept mountain highway. Eventually, after we lost Mapquest for the umpteenth time, I switched to the Apple Maps app, and that worked so much better. It guided us to the door of our hotel accurately and easily. And on a dark, rainy night in a foreign country, that is a good thing!

And yes, you can walk out onto the sands of the arena floor and shout up into the stands, "Are you not entertained...?"

We'd paid our time in Purgatory, apparently, and our continuation of the drive the next day's was under sunny blue skies. We abandoned the mountain highway and took the coastal road. Here was that amazing coastline for which Croatia is famous. Wow! Blue, blue sea, white-walled and terra cotta roofed villages and towns along the way...and overlooking them all like a stern grandfather were those enormous granite mountains we'd driven through yesterday. These mountains are the bone in the Croatian pork chop, and run the length of the country, never very far from the sea. Their peaks seemed shrouded in clouds, so doubtless other drivers up there were having yesterday's weather while we basked in sunshine.

Sun drenched, a symphony of sea, coast, mountain, and sky, Croatia's Adriatic seashore is a sight to behold

We stopped frequently to take photographs of the stunning seascape. They are a painter's dream. I can imagine a landscape painter venturing into Croatia a young man and not coming out till he was old and gray. If I were driving we perhaps never would have made it to Dubrovnik that day. Instead, I was navigator....a job that usually matches well with my anal retentive, perfectionist personality. I switched off Apple maps after an hour or so, having the road network down by that point. We would not turn it on again until it was time for it to guide us -- expertly, as usual -- to a parking lot near the old town. In the meantime, we enjoyed the show that Croatia's coastline staged for us.

Tiny harbors along the coast are splashes of color between the deep blue of the sea and the gray of the rocks

One oddity of the pork chop that is Croatia's geography is the nine kilometer "Neum Corridor." When the politicians were drawing the lines of the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia, they decided that Bosnia-Hercegovina should have access to the Adriatic Sea. Thus, a nine mile section of coast containing the town of Neum, became A Bosnian toe that poked through Croatian territory dipping into the sea. Since then, a resort has obviously blossomed. There were more resorts and hotels in Neum than any area along the coastline except for Dubrovnik and the Croatian second city of Split. We had to drive through a passport control station at both borders. No traffic backups, the customs agents examined our passports, the Croatians stamped them, and we drove on. Later on, I Googled the Neum Corridor and read that 92% of the inhabitants are Croatian. Hmm, I wondered...how do they feel about becoming Bosnian so that they have an access to the sea? On our drive through, we noticed one language of the dual language traffic signs was spray-painted over. Was that Croats angrily whiting out the Bosnian script? It would be interesting to delve deeper into this.

Pray for a sunny day when you drive the Dalmatia coastline, and you will be rewarded with dramatic views

The miles to Dubrovnik kept counting down, and soon we were within sight of this fabled city. We were staying in the walled, Old Town, which is an entirely pedestrian zone. So. We had to park outside and walk to our hotel. This went very smoothly. We telephoned our contact at our apartment room we were renting, and they were waiting there for us when we rolled our bags up to their door. The Old Town looked like a movie set, it was so authentically medieval, with its cobble stoned streets, matching yellow stone buildings and gleaming terra cotta roofs. In fact, we discovered we had just missed the filming of Star Wars, which was using the Stradun, or Main Street of Dubrovnik for one of its scenes. We already knew that many scenes from HBO's Game of Thrones were filmed there. We looked forward to our exploration of its sights. It was time to unpack from the long, two-day drive and set out!

One of our fist glimpses of the fabled walled city of Dubrovnik - a sea tower protecting the gates

Posted by world_wide_mike 12:10 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Why I Love Venice

A Photo Love Affair

sunny 60 °F

"La piu bella citta del monde" -- the most beautiful city in the world, is how I have always described Venice. It is an artist's dream. Every corner is picturesque...a blend of pastel-colored Renaissance era buildings, quaint arching bridges, and panoramas of sky and sea catching your eye at every turn. No traffic sound of horns, gargling engines, or holed mufflers. Just the swish of the water and the dull throb of boat engines moving people and products about this bustling city.

Venice does not have a "laundry list" of sights to see like its older sister Roma does. Instead she unabashedly flirts and shows off her loveliness at every turn of street and canal. This little sister took over and flexed her muscles as her elder declined, becoming one of the medieval era's most powerful cities. She was rich beyond the comprehension of her dowdy European cousins, Paris, London, Bruges. She inspired a love amongst her citizenry that made them fiercely defend her against Christian and Muslim Turk rivals. History slumbers on every corner as you walk through Venice.

So, without further ado, this History teacher and former art student presents you with his pictorial dissertation on why he loves Venice....

A misty start to an early morning...

Churches reign regally on the seascape that is Venice...

The Queen of queens, St. Mark's Cathedral...

Dusky, gold-flecked, mysterious...the sonorous interior of La Serenissima's greatest church...

Brought back as booty by the callous veterans of the 4th Crusade, this bronze four-horse chariot team, is a 2,000 year old masterpiece of Greek style art...

The sun strikes a rosy glow from the pink stone of the Doge's (Duke's) Palace, next door to St. Mark's...

The gilded interior of the Ducal Palace, that sumptuous tribute to the world's most unabashed oligarchy, where the rich rule...

The armory inside the Doge's Palace, replete with weapons used to defend the Republic from the bladed medieval era to the days of gunpowder

The Bridge of Sighs, that passageway from the Ducal Palace to the prisons, that elicited an outburst of longing for that last glimpse of their beloved city from condemned prisoners...

Your vehicle of choice if you live in Venice is a boat...it can be overstated enough how soothing a city's sounds can be when no automobiles are around...

The modern jostles elbow to elbow with the past in this panoply of energy, commerce, and beauty along the seacoast of northern Italy...

I hope my visual dissertation has swayed your heart to consider Venice for a visit, one day...yes, it is expensive...yes, it lives and breathe to make euros, those modern day ducats...but it is a rare glimpse of the poetry that was the European Renaissance, and is well worth a visit...

Posted by world_wide_mike 13:41 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Spring in La Sernissima

Easter in Venice

semi-overcast 58 °F

Have you ever taken a roundabout way to get somewhere because it is cheaper? Like a LOT cheaper? Well, with only a week plus a few days for spring break, time is a precious commodity when you're traveling internationally. I really, really wanted to see Croatia. In fact, I've been wanting to visit the coastal Eastern European country for decades. Looking at airfares, they were all $1,400 or so. On a whim, I checked the fare from Toronto, because every city I looked at departing from in the U.S. had ridiculous prices. Half price...less, actually! Would I be willing to drive 5-6 hours to Toronto to fly to Croatia? You betcha!

So, now you're saying how does Venice fit into this picture, you big cheapskate? Well, it was even cheaper to fly into Venice and simply drive to Croatia, which isn't far away. So, the trip would start off with two nights in Venice, and end the final night there, as well. To me, Venice is the most beautiful city in the world. This would actually be my fourth trip there. Last year, I led a group of 22 students and parents there as part of an educational tour. If I can save money by traveling through Venice, I'll seize the opportunity and chance to visit one of my most favorite places in the world. So, it was slightly groggy from 6 hours in a car from Columbus to Toronto, and another six or so by air to Paris, and finally to Venice.l

Hello, Venice, my old friend....

Here's how you park your "ride" in Venice...

Public transport in Venice...

Near the Rialto Bridge

Venice's beautiful churches, like this one -- the famous St. Mark's cathedral

Posted by world_wide_mike 14:03 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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