(This is the fifth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)
Friday, June 20
Today started out with getting our car rental, finding our way out of town, then “Where’s the map?”
“I don’t have the map.”
“Yes, you do. It was on your nightstand at home. You were supposed to bring the Budapest book and the map.”
“Well, I don’t have the map.”
“Then we’ll just have to buy one.”
At the next travel stop, we purchased a nice spiral-bound book of Croatia/Slovenia. Not as cheap as the one off of Amazon purchased before the trip, but that was home on a nightstand in a whole other life. And here’s where the tourists start to make a shift. Although certainly still bleary-eyed from the regimen of no sleep (World Cup Soccer issues) the jet-lag is receding and we no longer have the urge to find a place to lie down in the middle of the day. Good thing, for today we are driving up the Croatian coast to Split.
We pass over the Tudman Bridge on the outskirts of town, and wind our way up to the coastal road. We go through Border Patrol twice — once for Croatia into Bosnia, and then from Bosnia back into Croatia. We passed.
Here is a picture of the Tudman Bridge from the air, as we were flying into Dubrovnik a few days ago. You can see the cruise ship parked there (one of their “parking spots.”) Which reminds me to tell you that one of the best things we had to eat for an airplane snack was on Air Dolomiti, where they served us chocolate pudding that was out of this world. And gave us cute little aqua spoons, which I lost in Zagreb. Bummer.
After traveling a few whiles on the coastal road, we said “forget this,” and turned inland to travel on Croatia’s nice new superhighway, complete with tunnels.
And more tunnels.
Last shot of a tunnel, but I like how most all of them have names.
After about three to three-and-one-half hours we got off the expressway, turning eastward, heading toward the coast and to Split, where this interesting landmass caught our eye. We felt like much of the landscape was very much like home: a Mediterranean mix of hills, rocks, some trees. I’d printed out directions off of Google Maps at home, and with those and the cool map we’d bought, I managed to get us to the front door of our hotel, but there was no parking. Did I mention that the driver likes to park only in legitimate parking places (and that we’ve had some discussions in our prior travel about parking preferences)? I suggested that we double park, briefly, while he went and checked with the hotel where to park, but instead we took an interesting detour up and around in the hills of Split and I swear drove on a one-way street but that could be under some discussion but I digress, until we finally looped our way back around to that same place where the navigator had suggested we double-park and check in with the hotel. We did just that this time.
I sat in the car, and Dave rang the bell. Soon he was followed by a woman in harem-style pants, pointing and yelling at her father who had walked quickly up the street to move his car, placed there in reserve for our car. Just as he was pulling out, another car about eight spots away from our intended parking place started to pull out, and she asked them to hold on while he drove around and got that one (“another guest is coming”) she said. She then jumped in front of our car, her back to the city wall along the street and motioned us forward, forward, more, forward. Dave gunned it and we were both thinking that we were going to chop off her legs with the front of the car, but then she suddenly threw up her hands, and Dave slammed on the brakes. (That’s why he’s the driver–good job, Dave.) She grabbed my suitcases and strode down to the other parking place, releasing that car to pull out, then standing in the spot (with my suitcases) while her father looped around. Once this was completed, she smiled and welcomed us to Hotel Vrlic, which of course I can’t pronounce.
The gate opened onto this short course of steps.
And we headed toward the front door. Our room was at the end of a hallway, and she unlocked the glass door. Inside there was a bathroom on the right, with sink, toilet and shower, and on the left was our bedroom. We checked in, got the map from her and headed out to see the ancient part of Split.
We made a stop first to pick up some supplies at the drugstore, and finally found our way to here: The Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. Diocletian was a Roman Emporer who decided to retire here at Split at the end of his life. Not a great guy in terms of humanitarian standards (killing and torturing Christians for a start; read all about it in Wikipedia) he build this jumbo palace right here on the edge of the coast, which over time was taken over and integrated into the city of Split.
We entered into the palace through this gate and walked through narrow passageways (below) until we arrived at the main square.
We’d arrived at this main square, called the Peristyle, just at the time that a bridal couple were greeting their guests, who were serenading the couple with a lovely, throaty version of “You are the Best Couple Ever in Croatia and Thank You for Not Scheduling Your Wedding During One of Croatia’s World Cup Soccer Matches,” or something like that. I love the dude dressed up as a Roman Soldier, over on the left. For a few kuna, you, too, can pose with him.
A little flag waving made it all seem much more spirited. This is the “centerpiece of Diocletian’s Palace,” says my guidebook. The Entry Vestibule is just behind the bridal couple, and to the left of this photo is the Cathedral. Underneath the balcony are some stairs down to the cellars, which is where we started our walking tour.
First though, some more shots of the wedding. She was lovely and the Peristyle was rocking with good times. They left and the crowd emptied out so the serious tourist business could proceed apace.
Sweet little building on the Peristyle.
The cellars (or the Podromi) were built to level out the palace floors above, and originally were filled with water to supply to palace’s needs. In medieval times, the residents cut holes in their floors (the ceilings of the cellar) and used the area as a refuse dump. Since the last century, they’ve been cleaned out and now for a
small medium fee, you can come in to see them.
Some parts of the cellar (the daylight to the right, in the above photo) were open to the walkways above, and several Walking Tours of Split brought their people to this spot to talk about the
overpriced basements cellars to discuss the history of Split. Finishing with the cellars, we walked back up the stairs, passing the myriads of souvenir stands. We climbed the few steps back up to the balcony where the bridal couple had stood, and then walked into the Entry Vestibule, where supposedly Diocletian received his visitors.
Apparently it used to have a dome (which collapsed) but now makes this a very cool place with a sort of oculus, and a phenomenal place in which to stand and sing your klapa music for Japanese tourists:
The Entry Vestibule also has four large niches where once stood statues of the “four tetrarchs who ruled the unwieldy empire after Diocletian retired” (Rick Steves Guidebook).
Back out to the Peristyle. The stone steps flanked by Lions, with Santa Claus (!) at their base, is where you normally could enter the chapel, but during high season they route you around to the right so you can stand there and choose from five different options, with five different payments of what you want to see. We chose one and climbed the steps up to the Cathedral, which is tiny tiny and ornately decorated. It once was Diocletian’s mausoleum, but it became a cathedral in the 7th century, which is when they started decorating it. According to Rick Steves, “When Diocletian died, there were riots of happiness” among the Christians. We concentrated on what was here during the Roman times.
The surviving pieces from that time are the granite columns and the relief circling the base of the dome. The red marble pillars you see were scavenged from Diocletian’s sarcophagus.
The dome has half-moon etchings layered one upon the other. Dave excels at getting these symmetrical ceiling shots. We left the cathedral, passed by Santa Claus and headed directly across the palace to the Baptistry.
Ivan Mestrovic’s magnificent statue of St. John stands there in the baptistry, which in Diocletian’s time was once a Temple to Jupiter.
On the front of the deep 12th-century font is a carving of a bishop (left), the king on his throne (right) with the submissive commoner at their feet. This Baptistry isn’t huge at all, maybe as big as my living room at home. I was surprised by its small size to hold all this. That explains why the statue feels kind of wedged in here, but don’t worry, St. John holds his own.
This vaulted half-barrel ceiling is “considered the best-preserved” of its type anywhere. Each little face and box are different.
We walk around the ancient place a little more, the limestone pavers polished to a shine over the centuries.
In some places we can see the mosaics from ancient times; this is roped off so people don’t walk on it.
The bougainvillia was beautiful on this residence. I’d like to have dinner up on their terrace on top of the house.
A view to The Riva, the town’s pedestrian promenade, from the “rooms” above the cellar. After leaving Dubrovnik, with all the driving and walking, we decide we need a break and head to the Riva to watch people and the boats.
Or should I say, mammouth gargantuan cruise ships being ushered out to the Adriatic by tugs. Because of the rain, we had cooler weather initially, but today is a bit hotter, and we keep moving from bench to bench, trying to find some shade. We watch this tug-ship entertainment for a while, then decide we ought to start on the March to Find Dinner, so we head back into the Palace area.
The sun is beginning to set, casting a golden glow on the different towers.
And it’s always the last place you look where you’ll have dinner. We ended up at Bistro Appetit, and yes, the World Cup Games were on their flat screen.
Dave had pasta. I can’t remember everything that was in it, but I do remember that it was flavored with truffles, a rather strong taste. He liked it.
I had vegetables and a flattened, grilled chicken breast dredged in sesame seeds.
My friend Judy had traveled here last year and I so wanted to see this sculpture, right outside the Golden Gate of the palace, Alas, it was under renovation, but I laughed when I saw that they’d left the toe exposed so people could rub it for good luck. On my wrist you see my Croatia Solidarity Bracelet, which I wore until Croatia was eliminated from the World Cup a few days later. We brought one home for the granddaughters, which are all probably lost and gone now, as souvenirs are.
We stopped at a market and bought some peach juice for breakfast, as the owner told us that there was a bakery up the street where we could buy some baked goods in the morning. Then home to our little home-away-from home.
I mean little, literally. The bed was about a foot shorter than Dave. Couple that with the sudden and awful realization that I’d left half of my clothes in the little closet in Dubrovnik, made for an interesting evening. Dave wrote to the sobe in Dubrovnik, asking if they could sent the clothes on to Zagreb to our hotel. No answer. By the end of the night, I’d pretty well resigned myself to the loss of the clothes. I still had enough to get me through the trip (with a laundry stop somewhere), and realized by the silence that shipping some dumb tourist’s clothes to a far away city was not what a sobe owner wanted to do. Dave wrote him back suggesting that he instead donate the clothes to someone who needed them, and we went to bed. A response came in to the second email, that yes, he would do that (completely ignoring the first email). I figured his mother-in-law to be the likely recipient. I also learned that even if you think you are paring down your wardrobe to nothing, it can be pared down even further.
Next up: Plitvice Lakes National Park