Monday, 30 July 2007
Croatia: Part I
Although there is a much faster service between the coasts of Italy and Croatia, taking the overnight ferry gives you the pleasure of waking up to a Dalmatian sunrise just as the ferry approaches the coast of Split. There is something wonderful about arriving in the city just as it awakens and discovering it quietly before the morning bustle begins.
We found ourselves in a charming apartment in a medieval building positioned in the heart of the city, just steps away from Diocletian’s Palace. While there is no interior as such to explore, the shell of the Palace walls is now home to a host of market stalls and restaurants. It is glorious to wander through at night discovering dimly lit bars tucked away in the walls.
The Palace also backs onto the market which offers a cornucopia of fresh produce, flowers, Dalmatian cured meats, cheeses and baked goods. It was hard not to develop a cherry streusel with coffee habit when the delightful warm, fresh pastries coupled with the rich heady brew were only moments away from our lodgings. The cobble-stoned streets of Split are lined with bakeries, gelatarias and cafés filled with deeply cushioned seating. Perfect for sinking into with a glass of wine after a day of swimming in the beautiful Adriatic.
Split is the perfect place to sample Dalmatian prosciutto which, while more heavily salted than its Spanish and Italian counterparts, provides a light start to dinner. Seafood features at almost every dining establishment on the Dalmatian coast with platters of scampi, grilled calamari, mussels and octopus in abundance. The preparation is simple but the produce excellent. The Italian influence is evident in dishes such as cuttlefish risotto and spaghetti with scampi. The offerings are similar at most restaurants so it is worth following the recommendations from locals as to where they dine to avoid paying a premium price at restaurants catering to the tourist market.
Keen to explore further we hired a car and took an unforgettable drive down the stunning coast of Dalmatia. The landscape is spectacular with intensely blue waters studded with thickly forested islands on one side and towering mountain ranges on the other. There are a myriad of small and large seaside towns to stop at for a flaky pastry filled with Dalmatian cheese, a scoop of gelato or just to dip your toes in the sea. Incidentally for those counting their pennies, one scoop of gelato almost anywhere on the Dalmatian coast remarkably costs exactly the same amount; 5 kunas or approximately 1 AUD.
We took a detour into Bosnia Herzegovina to visit Mostar. More evident than the Ottoman history this city is famous for is the unrectified damage from the shelling during the war. In contrast the Old Town, with the aid of UNESCO funds, is a vibrant neighbourhood filled with craft shops stocking beautiful wares such as Turkish coffee sets and restaurants with flower lined terraces overlooking the serene river. I couldn’t help but find it somewhat superficial in contrast to the existence of the majority of Mostar residents.
From Mostar we drove onto the fortress lined city of Dubrovnik. Unlike Mostar, Dubrovnik has undergone an impeccable reconstruction and aside from a small memorial there is no evidence of the damage done during The Siege. This tourist city hasn’t lost its charm with terracotta rooved houses surrounding the quaint boat filled harbour. A small market in the centre of town features local stallholders with wonderful produce. The peaches may be the sweetest you will ever taste.
It is easy to get lost in the endless terraced laneways and a delight to do so. Winding your way through them you may find yourself at a Dominican Monstery suspended above the city, uncovering a quaint restaurant hidden away from prying tourists offering the most succulent octopus salad or a candlelit bar with a wonderful live performance.
The best discoveries of all are the little cafés tuck into the fortress walls suspended above the deep blue waters. It is heavenly spending an afternoon sipping away while you take in the spectacular views or follow the locals and dive into the Adriatic for a quick dip.