Category Archives: Croatia

Travelogue EE 5: Split

18 August 2010

 

To our great delight our accommodation in Split turned out to be in the Diocletian Palace, a 1700 year old city built by the Romans for their Emperor, Diocletia.

Not that our digs are *that* swanky mind… Our landlord is an oddball to say the least. He wasn’t there when we arrived (we were tipped off by the note on the door that said ‘Gone out. Back soon’) but the old lady upstairs heard me knocking (I’d gone up the 2 flights alone, leaving Christian on the ground floor with the luggage in an attempt to out-karma a repeat of the Zagreb 6 floor mega-haul) and conferring with some English tourists making their way up the stairwell and went into the unlocked ‘reception’ (the entrance hall of an apartment) and called the landlord who said he’d be there in 2 minutes.

He was super-quick, rushing in all flushed and heavy-breathingy, in what looked like a jogging outfit, but surely can’t have been in the searing midday heat..? He’s a strange looking man, tall and reed-thin, with a shock of mousy (greying hair), skinny discoloured teeth and blue eyes that are pale so should be cool and tranquil but that somehow always seem shocked and panicked. Oh yes, and he has purple legs. Apparently circulation problems from falling victim to ‘some shrapnels’ in the war. Hectic.

He started off our first engagement with ‘so, I need you to do me a favour’. Not a great start (well, restart if you count the wait), and we feared the worst, having already discussed our lucking out with palace accommodation as too good to be true.

Turns out all he wanted was time to clean the apartment as he’s been very busy with all 5 of his apartments and tending to a sick girlfriend (who he periodically shouted to through the – presumably – bedroom door from the ‘reception’ we were all crowded into. No response from her didn’t seem to faze him, so we’re assuming she’s either imaginary or been dead a while). We were planning on heading out to explore anyway so we agreed that he’d keep our bags and we’d return at 7pm.

First on the agenda – food. We walked the length of the Riva (promenade) to get our bearings and suss our options, having decided that sea-view trumped the search for local delicacies (which nobody seems really interested in educating us on, leading to the inevitable answer: Fish? Pasta? Pizza? *groan*)

Found an excellent spot right at the end, next to the famous (apparently) St Francis Church and at the base of Marjan Hill, which offers the best views of the Split panorama. We shared a chicken and mushroom penne (as closest possible homage to the pie that should have been) and a shrimp and scampi creamy tomato spaghetti. With Coca-Cola and lots of iced water, nowhere near brave enough to dabble in the world of beer quite yet!

Walked off lunch with a trek up Marjan. Got to the look-out point and ooo’ed and aaah’ed at the views and ditched the idea of climbing to the top – no energy for missioning to see more churches and old buildings (and feet tender from the sharp rocks in the sea at Lokrum the day before).

On our descent, we pinpointed what would become our sundowner spot for the day (constitutions permitting). Teraca Bamba – a modest, spirited outdoor terrace with amazing sea views… And 12 kuna beer (R15 500ml draughts).

The mission for the remainder of the afternoon was to scope out the local beaches as we’d dedicated Wednesday to be ‘do nothing’ day (except for marking territory on loungers with our towels, out-licking the sun on ice-cream cones and floundering in the turquoise ocean). Plan seemed a little more challenging when we got to Bacvice Beach and discovered their beaches are concrete with ladders into the water like the ones at public pools. And the concrete is quite narrow, so it’s PACKED!

Snap decision – we’re hitting the islands! Popped into the tourist office for advice. There are loads of info/tourist offices and they are all stocked with helpful A3 double-sided maps of tourist sites and transport options that they doodle and circle to show you where you are and where and how you are going to get to where you want to be, and with free info brochures that sometimes are glossy and comprehensive enough to outdo their Lonely Planet type counterparts). Our local office happens to be right on our doorstep (in our Palace) in what looks like a converted (teeny tiny) church on the main square, which was just outside the Emperor’s Apartments and was where all the important stuff went down in its heyday hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Based on their recommendations we decided we were going to try a hop to the nearest island, Brac, the next day to spend it languishing on the ‘most famous beach in all of Croatia’, called Zlatni Rat. With a full ferry-bus-bus-ferry plan for the next day, we retired (satisfied) to our sundowner spot of choice.

It wasn’t to disappoint, nice vibe with all but one table occupied when we got there. Perused the menu and settled on sampling another local brew, Karlovac, to celebrate new town, sea views, returned good humour and the impending beach day.

Marvelled over the new move to measuring everything precisely and metrically, eg the sandwich options of cheese (50g), ham (50g) or ham and cheese (100g). Doesn’t do much to stimulate a clear image in the imagination and is quite off-putting when going weight of main courses seems to be around 300g (of pasta, curry etc steaks seem to be between 100g and 200g) when we’re used to much bigger servings. Always seems to be enough though so perhaps portion control might be a half birthday resolution worth considering.

Anyway, the beers were consistently cold and 500ml and we’d probably still be there if it wasn’t for ordering what turned out to be the world’s worst beer – Tomislav. Thick and dark and tastes like treacle with a hint of coffee.

Headed for home and managed the opening credits of an ancient episode of CSI (subtitled) while applauding the inventor of the air-conditioner, then was comacomacoma.

Up in good time for our ferry to Supetar, so popped into the supermarket to grab our usual picnic pack to nibble on board.

We were lucky enough to be the last 2 people to fit on the bus to Bol (where the beach is, on the other side of Brac, 33km away) even though we had to stand in the aisle most of the way. Still, the people left behind would have had to entertain themselves at the ferry port while we were already lazing sea-side!

Brac is a really pretty island. Even the middle bits which are all olive groves and stone quarries (the marble mined there is so good it was used for many of the surrounding palaces and was used in the US’s White House).

20 minutes later we were dropped off at bus station, which is at the one end of the Riva (promenade) and walked the length of the coast on the wide white stone paved walkway, mercifully shaded by overhanging, to Zlatni Rat.

Gorgeous coastline, famous for its peninsula, which is like a triangle with its pointy bit in the sea, with pine trees forming a smaller triangle within it (providing shade and a natural calming aroma) and with water that is crystal clear at shoreline and goes through the turquoises and azures to a rich navy blue where there is coral and flora on the sea bed.

Heaven.

Except it’s a pebble beach.

Really not funny on the (office) feet. We placed our towels almost at the water’s edge – which is quite static and predictable since the sea is calm and waveless (to the point that people were lurking around on lilos) – and still struggled with hobbling the metre or so up to the water and the next metre or so into the sea so we could swim.

Still, it was an excellent day of fun in the sun and a good time was had by all (especially when we snuck into the pool area of the swanky hotel to revel in the smoothness of the floor of the pool, languish on the (free) loungers and prepare for the return journey with a lovely warm outdoor shower.

We returned to the same restaurant as the previous day (the promenade was heaving and we didn’t want to queue) for a delighful dinner of (me) veal medallions with mushroom sauce and croquettes (of course called muschroom sauce and crochets – lots of Engrish here, like the ‘salty cocked’ potatoes and ‘ball cheese’ as a pizza topping) and (Christian) salmon, chips and a potato and spinach mix.

This morning I finally got my Cevapi for breakfast. It’s a tough, round ciabatta-like roll, as big as a pita, filled with meat fingers (beef mince chipolata), a red spicy relish and a choice of the usual schwarma-style garnishes and fillings. Very yum. And pleased to have managed a local dish. Disappointed to have not managed to find the other local dish that appealed – pasticada, which is apparently a meat stew to die for. Might have to look it up on the internet for a Slow Cooker Monday.

Had a bit of a drama when we tried to book our connecting train for tonight (Zagreb to Venice) only to be told it’s full. Panicked investigations resulted in ditching our existing Split to Zagreb plane tickets and booking an overnight coach to Trieste and we’ll take the last leg as it comes (assured that Trieste to Venice is a regular and frequent route).

Spent our last day in Croatia in Split’s neighbouring town, Trogir, which has the notable feature of closest island to the coast – a 50 metre bridge joins it to the mainland. The town spans the mainland and the island houses it’s original Old City (the usual castle, churches and old buildings) and is allegedly nicknamed Little Venice (not sure why, maybe can tell you when we get there).

Had a relaxing afternoon at Kaleta Kanoba (tavern). Spaghetti Genovese, pizza with Dalmatian ham (called prsut, more or less proscuitto) and more beers.

Soon enough we were on the bus, headed for Trieste and hoping for the half sleeping tablet to make the 10.5 hour trip mercifully fly by!

Travelogue EE 4: Zagreb – Dubrovnik (Croatia)

14 August 2010

 

Having done all our sight-seeing in Budapest (including some things we didn’t want to see, like the punk assuming the number 2 position on the pavement right outside Sziget on a road full of people making their way to the station), we were very ready to move on to Croatia. And very ready meant up and out in a 05h45 taxi to catch the 06h30 train! We nonetheless managed to pass pleasantries with the driver, who was very well-spoken in English (very uncommon in Budapest based on our experiences) and apparently a few other languages, which he learns on course in winter when it’s quiet season for him. He told us that the lack of English was because kids had to learn Russian in school as a mandatory second language during the communist regime so English was optional. Makes sense.

The train trip from Budapest to Zagreb is 7 hours, made easier because we’d left so early (and been out so late the night before) and slept the first 3 away. Spite & Malice and a happy picnic pack (our now usual smokey bacon chips, bananas, drinking yoghurt, chocolate milk and choc chip cookies) helped pass the rest of the journey relatively painlessly.

Got to Zagreb and were immediately enchanted. It was a city that neither of us had any burning desire to go to, but had included primarily compelled because it’s the capital and seconded because Budapest to Dubrovnik direct would have been a hell of a journey to tackle in one go (no direct flight – would have had to go via Paris if you can believe it! – no online train routes because too many stops, and car and bus simply too long to want to do).

Zagreb is a lovely city and very easy to move around. Trams and buses right outside the train station, with simple and logical routes covering all sides of the city – a welcome change from Budapest’s complicated mesh (made more irritating by how unbelievably close together the stops are – no more than a couple of hundred metres each, making for a very stopstart journey!)

A short tram ride and we were at Ban Jelacic Square, which is the hub of the city, with parks and museums between the station and the square, restaurants, shops and hotels around the square and presumably residential and suburbs up the hill and beyond.

We found our hotel with little trouble. Hotel might be a strong word though. We made our way to reception, which was housed in a third storey apartment and were met there by 2 stoner types who look like they don’t leave the apartment much (and are happy with that). One had a glass eye – an odd running theme with the guy on the Gautrain sitting in front of us who had an eye-patch (and moved because the sun was in his eye!), a fellow patron at the table next to us later that day with a noticeably lazy eye and a chap we’d spotted on a Budapest House Of Terror monument that had the squintest squint eyes we’ve ever seen.

Anyway, turns out we’re in the 3rd storey apartment – but they count from reception up, so we had to put the lug into luggage and haul them up SIX flights of stairs. The stoners had warned us that we might happen upon an old lady who cleans the apartment. Turns out that the ‘cleaner’ is actually the primary inhabitant of the flat and ‘our apartment’ really is a sleeper couch in her front room! Hardest on Christian with his aversion to shared bathrooms, but softened with the building’s prime positioning on the main happening street in town (something wildly unpronounceable – like a lot of things here. Between the lack of vowels and a whole bunch of accents, kappies, inverted kappies and double dots, we don’t have a hope of phoneticising anything so have taken to renaming almost everywhere and everything to suit our tongue better). She’d also provided FIVE ply toilet paper. We joked about it being so absorbant that it just about cut out needing the toilet as the middleman! *grin*

Grabbing a quick pizza slice (despite ourselves, being fascinated then horrified how traditional food has been quite hard to come by while there is a pizza bar or spagettaria on every corner) we hit the sight-seeing. The tourist bureau at the station had given us a lovely glossy book, with routes mapped and pictures, descriptions and historical significance of everything we needed to see. A very manageable walk and we saw almost everything – lots of parks, museums, fountains, statues, old buildings and churcheschurcheschurches.

With best intentions of pausing for sundowners and a bite before seeing the last quadrant of the city, we settled into the brauhaus we’d earlier pinpointed as watering hole of choice (from a leaflet at the train station and that serendipitously happened to not only be across the road from our lodgings, but was also recommended unprompted by Glass Eye Guy), called Pivnica Mali Medo (mountain of the bears). We were lucky enough to get an outside table on this stiflingly hot (mid 30 degrees!) and humid day. All the restaurants have pavement tables, but the roads are narrow so tables are limited and there were loads of people out and about being Saturday evening.

We shared 2 excellent local specialities: goulash pasta and mixed grill of Medin Brlog pub sausage, chicken fillet, minced meat fingers, braised potatoes, overdone beans, and mustard. Christian’s beer was a darker red ale called Mrki Medvjed and mine a light lager called Zlatni Medvjed. We had several. We also had a few jagermeisters, which they serve in a tumbler with ice and lemon – we got some funny looks when we threw it back so surmise that it’s a sipping drink here.

We ended up rolling out of there the better part of midnight, having had a most excellent time (and having only spent about R220 for the whole bangshoot! Bargain!)

Word to the wise planning a stay in Zagreb. If you’re only spending one night (as we did) and think you may end up overdoing it on bar street (as we did), do it on a friday night, not a saturday night (as we did). Church bells start chiming at a ridiculously early hour. Every few minutes another church starts its sequence. We’re guessing it’s because there are so many churches in such a small town that they all need to get a go and – rather than a deafening cacophony on the hour – they’ve dished out random times, so you’ll for example get a church that relishes it’s turn and goes hammer and tongs celebrating the 23rd minute of each hour or somesuch. Not easy the morning after the night before… When it’s already sweltering outside! … and your ‘apartment’ only has net curtains!

We did manage to pull ourselves toward ourselves and do a flash half hour trot around the last quadrant ticking the last few must-see checkboxes. We were very sorry to say goodbye to Zagreb – it’s an amazing little city and well worth including in your itinerary if you’re ever in the neighbourhood.

Caught a taxi to the airport, which took us past the less pretty side of Zagreb. The side that was what we’d expected to see – brown and grey apartment blocks, grimy shop windows and grafitti everywhere (seemingly the bane of this side of the world). We were tickled by a particular series of spraypainted messages which went through the usual logos, profanities, proclamations of devil worship, metal bands, to end on The Jesus And Mary Chain (very long compared to the usual Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica stuff), basketball, La Coste. La Coste? Really?!

A 45 minute flight later, we landed in Dubrovnik at 13h00 on Sunday. Beautiful coastal town, no stranger to tourists judging by the fact that every second house advertises itself as accommodation to rent. We dumped our stuff at our very neat little apartment and headed out to explore.

Dubrovnik has an Old City, literally the original city from medieval times within the old city walls etc. It was a bit dissappointing as it was really just restaurants (no surprise mostly pizza, pasta and seafood) and souvenir shops, but we did enjoy wandering the narrow, winding cobbled streets at the top of the town where people still live in the little ramshackle units all one on top of the other, with original little doors and windows).

We’d decided we didn’t want to do dinner in the Old City as the restaurants were all expensive and dime a dozen), so headed for the port where we expected to find bars and restaurants lining the waterfront. No such luck. Oddly, there was very little entertainment there. We managed to find a nice enough place for some sundowners and cards, but all they served foodwise was pizza and ‘sendvices’, so we were once again on a mission to find an eatery.

We walked the full length of the waterfront to literally the edge of town (across the road from the bus station) and found a place that had a lasagne and chicken pasta thing we’d have settled for, but they were out of stock (a very common, very frustrating occurrence) and the waitress suggested we have the… Pizza.

No dice.

We left in a huff and luckily soon stumbled upon a little bistro where we were delighted to find they had awesome seafood pasta options. The waiter was very confused when we greeted him with asking what they DIDN’T have, meaning what was out of stock and whether they didn’t serve pizza. Astoundingly, they had everything on the menu (and a few specials that weren’t) and didn’t even serve pizza at all! We shared a salmon tagliatelle and a tomato/seafood pasta, which were both perfect, alongside a switch to the local brew, Osujkvo. Nice. The only marring of this perfect formula was getting my first bee-sting ever. Not allergic though. Phew.

Monday we took a ferry from the port in the Old City out to a nearby island, 10 minutes to Lokrum. We trekked around to the olive groves, the monastery and the fort, dotting our mission with dips in the ocean on all sides. First time in the Adriatic for both of us! It’s bluer than blue and refreshingly cool and very salty. Pity they’re not sandy beaches though – rocky coastlines make for tricky entry and exit and the big rocks under the water have left parts of our feet a bit shredded. 🙁

Still, a great day out. Caught a bus outside Old City so as the see the remainder of the peninsula – and see if there was anywhere else to dine. We took the bus a full circuit, so are satisfied that we’ve seen everything Dubrovnik has to offer – and found a spot on the opposite side of the marina to where we’d been the night before.

Settled in for a few sundowners on a bar that serviced a little jetty with 4 or 5 tables and entertained ourselves with views of our little piece of paradise and a man in a speedo(n’t) coming into port and mooring his little boat called ‘Tina’ right in front of us.

We had the perfect dinner at a little spot across the road called Bistro Riva. Unable to choose (and not having to), we shared a calamari and rice, mussels (which were peculiarly battered and deep fried – unusual, but good) and lasagne, which turned out to be layers of thin pancakes with mince between and cheese melted on top (notwhat we were expecting, but also nice).

Had planned on walking off our dinner to go home and pack, to get an early night for this morning’s bus ride to Split (4.5 hrs so figured we’d try get out early), but got sucked in by a warm and inviting bar called Cavello’s a few minutes from home). The barman took a fancy to us and plied us with jagermeisters (also served in tumblers, so probably fascinated by us throwing them back) and brough out his guitar and played us sing-along English songs (mostly classics like Stairway to Heaven, Beatles, Hotel California etc) and sang some Croat songs to us, and was delighted when Christian showed him how to play Wonderwall.

Got home much later than expected, which made this morning quite a challenge. Could certainly have used a good old chicken and mushroom pie. No such thing around here. They don’t seem to do any savoury pastries (loads of pancake, croissant and doughnut style things stuffed with sugars, jams and fruit though) and the supermarkets don’t do our typical deli or bakery things, so no pies, subs etc (not even pizza slices which is odd around here!). The locals (according to one of our tour books, which we didn’t believe until we saw it) seem to favour eating dry rolls. No butter even!

We ended up getting our usual picnic pack and getting on the bus for our long journey.

So, first thing on the agenda in Split is to find something (non-pizza) to eat with a view over the magnificent port and azure ocean.