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One Hundred and One Dalmatians
The Rough Guide to Croatia - Jonathan Bousfield
Member Name: lamorna
The Rough Guide to Croatia - Jonathan Bousfield
Date: 26/06/04, updated on 31/05/05 (942 review reads)
Advantages: Beautiful scenery, Excellent Food, Something for Everyone
Disadvantages: Will it stay the same, Political Unrest?, None
The M/S Dalmacija's main claim to fame was that it was used to film scenes for the film 'The Talented Mr Ripley' adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith and starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. It was clearly the oldest ship we had sailed on and had an air of faded grandeur about it, but it had a charming Croatian crew, a swimming pool, Lido bar, a Grand Salon and a very attractive restaurant and most importantly with just the one sitting as a two sitting restaurant is a nightmare to avoid on any cruise ship. Once shown to our cabin I instantly refused to sleep in a cabin with no windows or portholes (It felt like an underwater coffin) and we managed to organise an alternative cabin with two portholes then I was happy. I think Morty took me seriously when I told him there was no way there'd be any sex in this underwater tomb so we'd better get a better cabin than this for our eight day holiday.
The 7.15 a.m. Astraeus airline flight from Gatwick to Brescia in Italy took less than two hours and then a two hour coach journey to the Port of Venice. Embarkation time for the M/S Dalmacija' was at 2.00p.m and we set sail at 4.00p.m - after a couple of glasses of wine in a Venetian waterside cafe ? our destination being the medieval town of Korcula situated on a peninsula jutting out into the A
driatic. We were crossing the Adriatic at night and the arrival time at Korcula in Croatia on the South Dalmatian coast was at 10.00a.m and we didn't feel a thing. The overnight crossing was as a calm as a mill pond and we slept like babies.
As we approached the dock in Korcula we were soon to realise that there is a photo opportunity in every inch of the Dalmatian coast as it is all simply beautiful. The sea is as calm and as blue as the brochures illustrate. The islands range from large inhabited ones with smart hotels and marinas to privately owned ones to those the size of small rocks, and many are for sale. Whatever their size they are all a delight to see. No wonder Croatia is attracting divers and yachters worldwide. It is a dream destination for all lovers of water-sports of any kind with dozens of Marinas both on the mainland and on the islands. The climate is Adriatic/Mediterranean allowing sea swimming from April to November and although our journey was in mid-June and the temperatures were high there was always a welcome cooling breeze on the coast from the gentle Adriatic Sea.
Our previous experiences from river cruising has generally been that many city ports are a coach journey from the city centres but as we docked at Korcula we were to discover that every single port of call we were to make docked right on the town and city edge. A simple walk was all that was needed to enter the heart of things armed with a good guide book, comfortable footwear and a bottle of water.
The old thick stoned walled town of Korcula dates from the 15th Century and is the birth-place of Marco Polo where his house still exists and can be visited. Once we'd walked round the small town and visited an obligatory museum and a church we sat in a shaded stone floored square and drank cold cheap beers at one euro a litre and gazed at the old stone buildings all as yet untouched by mass tourism and wondered how long this would remain untouched an
d become like Spain and Greece?
We waved goodbye to Korcula from our ship at 8.00a.m the next morning and began our journey along the coast to Dubrovnik recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and fondly named The Jewel of the Adriatic. As lunchtime approached Dubrovnik came into view. I was curious as to what we would feel as Dubrovnik was under siege during the Homeland War and tourism was obviously destroyed. The siege lasted for seven months and the city inhabitants were trapped behind the medieval city walls. Electricity and communications were cut off and the people hid in their basements. More than five hundred historic buildings were destroyed and lives were lost ? and all this was as recently as 1998!
Well, with UNESCO money they have rebuilt this beautiful Dalmatian city. Restoring all the buildings using original materials and the strangest sight are the roofs of all these medieval buildings. They were originally red tiles but over hundreds of years had been weathered to become a mixture of colours ranging from brown, green, terracotta and yellow but every single roof has been replaced with brand new terracotta tiles and this medieval walled city looked like an unreal fairyland. Once again there was no need for an organised tour as we simply walked into the city and after a brief wander around looking at Palaces and Cathedrals we decided to walk around the city's medieval walls. There is an entrance fee payable which goes towards maintaining these walls and a very steep climb to reach the top, but once there it was all worth the effort. The astonishing birds'-eye-view of the Adriatic and the overall view of the city of Dubrovnik set against the backdrop of mountains and sea told me that UNESCO has invested their money wisely in rebuilding this unique city. There are several shelled buildings left on display purposely to show the visitor the extent of the destruction ? but even seeing these ruins made it hard to believe tha
t this was the place we had read so much about in our daily newspapers. The Croatians make delicious ice-cream so after again sitting in a shaded square and admiring the architecture we ambled back to our ship for dinner and our departure from Dubrovnik at 8.00p.m.
Since March this year British Airways fly three times a week to Dubrovnik airport. I have earmarked this for a weekend break. The pavement restaurants, the hotels, the ambience and the scenery and culture make this an ideal place for a relaxing weekend break. So hey there, those romantics amongst you why not think about Dubrovnik as a welcome change from the usual European cities and book up before the prices go up ? because they will you know?
At this stage I will mention shopping. It was apparent that in Dubrovnik, and as we discovered later on whilst visiting Split, the Croatians like designer clothes but if needed I can buy them in the UK so I was on the look out for something to buy that was peculiar to the region. The handmade jewellery was pretty, usually silver and Adriatic coral, as well as smart jewellery shops selling very beautifully crafted 14crt. Gold: I always buy an item of jewellery for myself as a reminder of my holiday so I was keeping a keen eye open. For those not interested in jewellery I would recommend buying an original painting from one of the many artists' galleries evident in every town and city that we visited.
Apparently under Communism all the food produced in the country was organic by nature and this is very obviously so as everywhere there are local food markets with family producers setting up their stalls and displaying fruit, vegetables, hams and cheeses and flowers that were fresher and tastier than anything we can buy in the UK. The produce was glistening with freshness. Croatian wine is highly regarded but expensive due to high production costs (mostly produced in small family run vineyards) and I look forward to seeing Dalmatian win
es in my local Wine Shop in the future when they perhaps streamline the production and are able to enter this competitive global market.
Seafood is a speciality along the coast as well as the Italian influence on food whilst inland the meatier Hungarian and Austrian dishes are offered. The Croatians love outdoor Café and Bar living and the evening we had dinner onshore the waiter brought that day's fishing catch to our table on a huge plate and we chose the whole fish we wanted to eat for our dinner which arrived later grilled in olive oil and herbs complete with baskets of excellent bread and organic salads and vegetables. We started with a vast bowl of moules cooked in garlic and wine and a plate of smoked ham, cheese and tomatoes and finished with an excellent strudel. All the meals we ate were obviously very fresh ingredients and simply and perfectly cooked. Eating in Croatia is a pleasure.
We set sail from Dubrovnik at 8.00pm - destination Corfu! I have never wanted to visit Corfu and now that I have been there I never want to go there again. We sailed through the night and again we felt nothing as the sea was so calm and we arrived in Corfu at 11.00am the next morning. The only thing I have to say about Corfu is that I hope Croatia take note of the effects that mass tourism has had on this very beautiful island and see it as a warning as to what can happen to such natural beauty when care isn't taken with environmental issues such as over-building and pollution. It made us appreciate Croatia even more than ever and we couldn't wait to set sail again at 7.00pm.
However, our next port of call was to be Montenegro and the Bay of Kotor arriving at 10.30 am the next morning. And what an arrival it was. As the ship navigated its way through natural inlets dotted with islands and mountains riding straight out of the sea all the Church bells from all of the Churches on the mainland and the islands rang their bells in welcome as
the M/S Dalmacija hooted its ship's horn in reply. The Bay of Kotor is recognised as the southernmost fjord in the world. We disembarked and took a trip into the mountains over treacherous hairpin bends stopping in a tiny village and lunching on cheeses and hams and visiting the Palace of the last King of Montenegro, King Nikola Petrovic, before returning to Kotor for a last look at this medieval jewel also protected by UNESCO. This won't be my last look because this will be my preferred town for a weekend visit once BA gets a scheduled route to the nearest airport.
A comment here about churches and palaces: Croatia is the third country we have visited that's now free from Communist rule, the others being Russia and Hungary. In all three countries the tours and excursions want to drag the visitor round their churches and monasteries now that they have religious freedom. Once I have seen a painting of the Last Supper, the Virgin Mary and Child and walls of religious icons depicting rather dodgy looking saints ? then I've had enough. I prefer to find my culture by people watching, viewing the architecture, the local crafts and crafts and a well written local guide book than listening to interminable descriptions of invasions and saints and dead kings and queens. I understand how history is important but when at all possible we explore on our own rather than in a group.
We were departing from Kotor at 7.30p.m: and another night cruising along the Adriatic anticipating our arrival at Split the following morning at 8.30a.m. Although this was our first time cruising on the sea, as we prefer river cruises, we have agreed that an ocean cruise will never be a choice for us. Hugging the coast like this means that land is always there on the horizon and the thought of spending endless days at sea with nothing else but water around us isn't a holiday option for us. Particularly as this would mean getting involved with other passengers for a
social life and although we are sociable people the thought of being trapped on board for any length of time with strangers would make us feel trapped.
Split is situated in Middle Dalmatia and is culturally and economically a very important city. It is a major port, university and industrial city. We had booked an organised coach tour to take us on an hour and a half journey from the old town of Split into the heart of Dalmatia and it was to last all day long. It needn't have taken all day as the highlight was to be a visit to the Krka Waterfalls in the Krka National Park but it would appear that the Croatian Tourist board insists that as many visitors see as much as possible of Croatian so our day long trip consisted of several detours into other towns to see yet more religious monuments. I can understand why they do this as they want every major town and city to have a bite of the tourist cake so we just had to suffer this, although we would have preferred going straight to the National Park and spend more time there. For good reason too:
The park is a natural wonderland of gorges and waterfalls on the river Krka and our admission ticket included a motor boat ride across lakes and passing dozens of cascading waterfalls. The boat dropped us off at a walking point from which we took a half hour walk over man -made bridges passing over seventeen waterfalls cascading over seventeen natural barriers which took us back to our starting place. We then drove back to Split for a tour of the Old City the highlight being the 4th Century Roman Palace and a visit to the cellars. There was enough time for me to find a pair of filigree 14crt gold ear-rings that I bought as a memory of Croatia at a very reasonable price. The Croatian currency is the Kuna but, although not strictly legal as yet, everywhere accepted our euros and major credit cards were not a problem.
Our ship sailed at 7.00p.m that evening and we docked the next morning at 8.00a.m:
at Rovinj on the Istrian Peninsula. Rovinj is surrounded by over fifteen islands and islets and although a compact old town seems to be taking tourism very much in its stride. Jules Verne is said to have chosen Rovinj as a setting for some of the chapters in his novel 'Mathias Sandorf' A wander through the artists' street, a steep climb up to the main Church and then back to the main cobbled square for a first class Croatian coffee as it dawned on us that we would be leaving Croatia at 1.30p.m: for a six hour cruise crossing the Adriatic and back to Venice for 7.00p.m where this wonderful adventure had all begun just one week ago.
There was one more treat in store for us. After docking in the Port of Venice and having dinner we were going on a three hour trip on a motor boat seeing Venice by night ? but that isn't Croatia is it?
Croatia is a very beautiful country with plenty for the tourist to do: Water sports, inland canoeing and rafting, hiking and climbing in the mountains, beaches to relax on, uninhabited islands to visit, historic walled cities to explore. There are many festivals to celebrate the Croatian arts and culture through the year. The coastal resorts are ideal for children with many larger hotels having children's' clubs ? although if you want sandy beaches then do some research before you book as many beaches are rocky and swimming is done from pontoons. The Croatians want us as tourists and are very hospitable. The food is excellent, the beer is good, prices are reasonable, the Adriatic is clean and there aren't any McDonalds.
So do you all think you would like to visit Croatia after reading my review?