With time slipping away and our July 16th departure date for our "summer vacation" in Nova Scotia looming, we decide to take the bus from Trogir to Split rather than sail there in Aisling. There's nothing picturesque about the journey, but it takes us less than an hour. We arrive at the Split bus station at 10 a.m., and from there it's just a short walk to the old town and the site of Diocletian's palace.
Diocletian built his palace as a retirement villa, choosing the site of Split both for its proximity to his home town of Salona and its medicinal sulfur spring (which still "perfumes" the air on the Split harbour front). Although Diocletian had stepped down from his position as Emperor by the time he moved to the palace (around 305 AD), he lived in high style, receiving many official visitors in his sumptuous home. But after Diocletian's death, the Roman Empire was in decline and the palace was eventually abandoned. In medieval times, local citizens moved in, building additional homes within its walls. Today, Split's old town lives in an around the remnants of the palace walls.
We enter the palace through the Golden Gate, with its huge bronze statue of the Bishop of Nin, by Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. The bishop's toe has been rubbed to a golden sheen by the thousands of passers-by who touch it for good luck.
Making our way through the winding streets, we stop at the city museum , with displays tracing the history of the city from Roman times to the present (although oddly, the Homeland War is not addressed). From there we make our way to the peristyle, the magnificent focal point of the palace. It is here that Diocletian built his mausoleum, which in the seventh century was converted to a cathedral that houses the relics of Christian saints who were executed on Diocletian's orders- such poetic justice!
We have a cappuccino (very good!) at the Café Luxor and watch the activity in the square. There's lots going on, with actors dressed as Romans wandering through the crowds and tour guides hawking their services. It's Canada Day, so we're happy to meet a friendly Torontonian who approaches us and says "Do you have any idea what there is to do in this town"? He seems a bit surprised when Rick wishes him Happy Canada Day though.
The cathedral is closed for Mass, so we kill a little time wandering through the palace cellars and the streets of the old town. In the small courtyards, bougainvillea is blooming and day-to-day life is continuing much as it has for hundreds of years. The sound of a male choir singing in a capella harmony (typical of Croatia) drifts through the streets.
Eventually, we make our way back to the cathedral, which is tiny but beautiful, with an ornate pulpit that is indeed virtually identical to the one in Trogir. We play "where's Waldo" trying to identify the carving of Diocletian's face that is supposedly somewhere under the dome, but we cannot find it.
Some tourists are taking photos, ignoring the clearly marked signs that prohibit this. The young man who had sold us our tickets calls out "Hello, look at me" and holds up a large placard depicting a camera with a red X through it. He grins at me. "I feel very important" he says. Seizing the opportunity, I ask him to point out the carving of Diocletian. He is happy to oblige, and points out the carving on a frieze just under the roofline, as well as Diocletian's wife on the opposite side. "My dream is to be up there someday myself" he jokes, then whips out his iPhone and shows me a photo of the frieze that he had taken the previous day. "Don't tell anyone!"
There's no debate about whether we're climbing the belfry (we're not) and the crypt sounds like it would be a bit depressing. We decide instead to visit the Ivan Mestrovic Galley, which houses a large collection of the famous sculptor's works. We walk along the beautiful Riva (a waterfront promenade) then trudge the hot 2 km to the gallery. By then we are thirsty, hungry and ready for a break, so we walk down a set of steep stairs to a public beach that is obviously a popular spot with local families. Giant hotdogs and cold lemonade rejuvenate us, but we're having so much fun people-watching that we linger for a while. Two men who appear to be brothers are standing at the water's edge having an animated conversation in sign language. A young boy in the water periodically joins the conversation. As I watch, I wonder if there are any differences between the signs used in Croatia and the ones used in Canada. If I knew sign language, could I have a conversation with these men?
Finally, we make our way up the hill to the gallery, which is housed in a palace that was designed and built by Mestrovic, who intended to use it not only as his residence, but also as his workshop and exhibition space. (Mestrovic later moved to the US and made his home there. As a very religious man, he disapproved of the philosophies of the old Yugoslavian government.) The works that we see on display are powerful; riveting. Mestrovic has been compared to Michelangelo and Rodin, and although this may be a bit of a stretch, the man was clearly an artistic genius.
The local bus arrives shortly after we finish our tour, so we hop onboard and ride back to the Riva, then explore a few more of the streets and squares of downtown Split before heading back to the bus station. What an attractive city! I'd love to have a few days to explore it properly. Rick wishes we could attend the concert that's being advertised for the next night, with John Lee Hooker's daughter as the headline. But life is full of choices. Our next few days will be spent at anchor outside Trogir in a delightful little anchorage reminiscent of Nova Scotia's Rogue's Roost. As it turned out, that wasn't a bad choice at all.
|Croatia and Montenegro 2012||
After two nights at anchor in Krka park, we moved to Uvala Capljena and took the dinghy back up the Kanal Sv. Ante for a quick visit to Sibenik. Situated on the slope of a hill at the mouth of the Krka river, Sibenik's most prominent feature from the water is the Fortress of St. Ana, a massive 11th century castle that sprawls down the hill through the old town.
Sibenik's main attraction is not the fort but the Cathedral of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was constructed between 1431 and 1536. Reasons for the lengthy construction period probably relate not only to the massive size of the cathedral, but also to the fact that it was constructed entirely of stone. The most unusual feature of the cathedral is the frieze of 74 carved faces that circles the outside walls. The origin of the faces is a source of debate. One of our guidebooks speculated that these are the faces of local citizens who refused to donate to the cathedral's construction fund. This seems highly improbable to me....why create a permanent memorial to the tightwads instead of to the donors! Due to cathedral's size and the fact that a set of bleachers was set up for a concert in the square, it was impossible to get a photo that showed the scope of the building. The carved faces were extremely photogenic though.
Our guidebooks tell us that Sibenik's origins are Croatian rather than Roman and, despite a long period of Venetian rule, the city is less Italianate in appearance than other towns on the Dalmatian coast. The narrow streets and steep stairways of the old town seemed to transport us back to medieval times, especially in places where stone houses form bridges over the alleyways. Sibenik supposedly suffered greatly from Serb attacks in the Homeland war, but we saw no evidence of this. The waterfront was attractive, and upscale boutiques were tucked into the nooks and crannies of the old town.
When lunchtime arrived we had a large selection of appealing-looking cafes at our disposal. Eventually we settled at the "Toni" café and had a lunch that was probably the best value of the summer- a delicious pizza Napoletana and two soft drinks for 58 kuna (about 10 dollars). Quite a deal when you consider that later, we paid 53 euros for a similar lunch in Venice, and the pizza was not nearly as good!
Our next stop was the harbourmaster's office, where we received directions to bring Aisling to the customs dock to check out of Croatia. That night, we would cross the Adriatic sea to Pescara, where we would leave Aisling for one month while we travelled home to Canada to visit family. The Sibenik customs dock was not exactly convenient, since Rick literally had to jump a fence to get back to the waterfront, but the formalities were quickly completed. By 6 p.m., we were sailing past the fortress of St. Nicholas at the exit from Kanal Sv. Ante, and waving goodbye to Croatia-at least for a while!
Uvala Capljena is a pleasant anchorage in reasonably close proximity to Sibenik. I would rate this as mainly a daytime anchorage because most of it is narrow and deep, although you could tie a line ashore. We anchored in 34 feet; holding was good in mud. You can also moor bow-to or stern-to on the town quay. Sibenik is a port of entry year round. After you have checked out, you must depart immediately and use the most direct route to leave Croatian waters.
|Croatia and Montenegro 2012||
We love it when our guests contribute to our blog! Here's a very special posting about Martha and Wally's journey to Florence- enjoy!
If you ask me, the Italian land transportation system takes a backseat to no one's. But as it came time to say goodbye to Rick and Bonnie and their beautiful home-away-from-home, Aisling 1, we found ourselves a bit stumped on transportation. How does one get from Vieste, perched on the tip of Puglia's northernmost region, the Promontorio del Gargano, to Florence, nearly 700 kilometers away in little under two days when the nearest train station and airport are three hours away? Not a problem, according to our enterprising and charming marina host, Caterina, a re-located Torontonian, cum travel-guide, who together with her husband, own and operate the welcoming Centro Ormeggi marina in Vieste where we were moored.
Road Trip - Foggia offered the nearest train station, but a 3 a.m. bus ride was just not on, as far as Wally was concerned. A rental car was the answer. With Rick behind the wheel of our Fiat Panda, channeling Mario Andretti, Wally riding shotgun, and Bonnie and me in the back seat holding on, the lush, dense forest of the Gargano whizzed by, giving way to hairpin curves, mountain top villages, and rolling hills that eventually spilled onto the plains surrounding Foggia.
After our day of whistle stop touring of two of Europe's most important pilgrimage sites - Monte Sant'Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo - it was time to say arrivederci. Waving goodbye to Rick and Bonnie, I knew the night ahead was going to be a long one when the only place to have a meal within walking distance with four pieces of luggage, was the McDonald's, located conveniently, inside the train station.
Don't Throw Momma from the Train - As the Lonely Planet writes, there's little to detain one in Foggia besides the 12-century cathedral. Though I missed that gem, a stroll along the viale 24 maggio whiled away some time and provided a different sort of entertainment. I came upon a park several blocks up from the train station, where old men sat side by side on benches, listening to classical music pouring out of their portable radios, young teenagers zoomed in and around the benches on skateboards, and kerchiefed young mothers pushed baby carriages. Window shopping on the way back to the train station, I wove in and out among the crowds of couples and families that jammed the street, which is fairly typical on a Sunday evening in Italy, I'm told. And like most places, there were plenty of wily-looking men selling purses, belts and cheap trinkets neatly laid out on blankets near the curbside.
Long after McDonald's closed, our train pulled out promptly at 11 p.m. It wasn't too long, after we were tucked into our six seat overnight compartment filled to capacity - no 1st class travel tonight - that I discovered the Dance of the Twelve Legs. Unlike the Dance of the Seven Veils, where Salomé removes six of the seven veils throughout her seductive dance, there was nothing sexy about twelve legs vying for comfort in a very small space. As one sleeper turned from one side to the other, an unrestrained rhythm of moving legs in search of comfort began, only to be repeated at intervals, throughout the night. After five hours of gentle snoring and leg shuffling, not to mention bobbing necks, our pulling into Bologna to change trains was a welcome relief.
One Good Turn Deserves Another - Though it does not rival the grandeur and elegance of Milan's train station, Bologna Centrale, designed and built in the late 1800's, is architecturally beautiful. Yet an ultra modern, chrome-and-glass public washroom seemed stark and surprising inside this stately building, especially as one needed a Euro at the ready to gain entry through one of the several turnstiles.
Waiting on our track for the 5:15 a.m. train to Florence, we made small chat with hand signals and smiles with a young man travelling to Livorno. He spoke no English, we spoke no Italian. Glancing up at the nearby monitor, I discovered our train was delayed, first by a half hour, then almost by an hour. I found our Livorno-bound friend on the next bench down to confirm this fact, and he seemed at once thankful then peeved knowing he was going to probably miss his connection to Livorno.
As the sky over Bologna brightened, I caught glimpses of the red-brick rooftops of medieval Bologna - what a tease not to be able to tour this city. While Wally was immersed in his e-book, I had been blissing-out on the sounds of birds and the waking city. Neither of us had noticed that the track number for our train had changed. With ten minutes to go, our new best friend conveyed the new track number to us, and with a mad dash down and up flights of stairs and a long hallway, we caught our train, with not a minute to spare. Waving good bye to our new friend, we were thankful for the kindness of strangers.
Pontes, Piazzas, & Palazzos - Florence at 7 o'clock in the morning is heaven. Ensconced in the back of a taxi we glided through the empty streets, catching sight of the red domed Duomo, the Uffizi Palace, and the Ponte Vecchio as we crossed the Ponte alle Grazie and gave thanks. Hotel Silla, our home for the next 23 hours, was just around the corner on Via dei Renai. We hungrily tucked into the all-you-could-eat hot and cold breakfast buffet on the hotel's terrace. Feeling restored by the delicious food, the sweet smells of honeysuckle, and copious cappuccini, we were ready to take on the city.
Although museums are closed on Mondays, we had no trouble filling our day with architectural and historical wonders. A 15 minute walk from our hotel, the Palazzo de Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria captivated us for the morning. One of the most important buildings in Florence, it was the seat of government from the 14th century on, home to Cosimo I de Medici, and still serves as city hall. So many gorgeous interior decorative elements to really appreciate in less than three hours, we drank in frescoed ceilings, textured wallpapers, grand halls, and glorious paintings, statues and an exquisite view of the Arno River from a terrace on the 3rd floor. But our favourites were the Donatello statue (mine), and the Sala delle Carte Geographiche (Wally's) which displays many maps of the world as the Florentines knew it in the 1500's.
The Duomo was impressive. Its massive size and Gothic architecture takes one's breath away. We decided to pass on climbing the 414 steps of Giotto's Campanile tower next door, as we weren't eager to put their ticket counter sign relinquishing all responsibility for those with heart conditions, to the test. We happily discovered the Tuscan Wine School on our walk back to the hotel whereupon Maurizio Colia, one of the owners, and a Master of Wine candidate, invited us back that afternoon to an extraordinary two hour tasting class on Tuscan wines. Following a lovely dinner at a 'touristy' restaurant with one of the best views of the Ponte Vecchio, it was time to wander back to Hotel Silla to pack up, sleep for a few hours then head for home.
Whizzing through Firenze at dawn once again, this time headed for Florence's airport - which is gorgeous, compact and very modern - we tried to memorize the sweeping views of red brick rooftops, rolling hills dotted with tall Cyprus trees and narrow, ancient streets. But with a final cappuccino at the tiny but so efficient café at the airport, it was time to say ciao bella to her planes, trains and automobiles and much, much more.
|Italy (Mainland) 2012||
If anyone is reading this blog, I apologize if we're confusing you about our whereabouts. Rest assured, Aisling is safely tucked into her berth at Marina di Ragusa, and we are preparing her for her long winter alone. The postings about Croatia are just a bit of catch-up. Croatia is an amazing cruising ground, and while we were there we focused on sailing and sightseeing more than blogging. I know that old news makes for dull reading (it's also a lot less fun to write about) but we want to capture a few memories and cruising notes for the various stops along the way. The visit to Krka national park that is described in this posting actually took place in July. Hopefully, postings about Sibenik and Mljet national park will follow.
To reach Krka national park, we first had to transit the Kanal S. Ante, which leads to the historic city of Sibenik. The instructions for transiting the Kanal took up five full paragraphs in the Imray pilot, with unnerving references to a strong current and the funneling effect that the gorge has on the bora (katabatic north wind). Fortunately, it was flat calm when we motored through the Kanal. Passing Sibenik, we continued northwest up the Krka river, under a large bridge and past several mussel farms, then turned to the northeast and followed the river to the large basin of Prukljansko Jezero. Rather than go to the marina at the town of Skradin, we chose to anchor in Uvala Ostrica, just a short dinghy ride away.
With the thermometer showing a water temperature of 30.6 degrees, we jumped in for a swim. When we got back onboard, our skin felt strangely slippery. We were worried that there was something nasty in the water but eventually concluded that this was likely due to the limestone content. (This limestone, or travertine, makes the deposits that formed the dramatic waterfalls in the park.)
A while later, while Rick was on deck relaxing with his book, I heard him say "Well, aren't you beautiful!" He wasn't talking to me.....
The next morning we took our dinghy to the picturesque town of Skradin and bought park entrance tickets that included a ferry ride up the river to the falls.
Visiting Krka park is not a wilderness experience. Carefully constructed paths and walkways took us past the various viewpoints, and we were keeping company with dozens of strangers as we made the short circuit around the trail. But the design allows large numbers of tourists to view the falls while protecting the ecosystem of the park. The scenery was so beautiful that it is easy to see why, according to a posted sign, the Emperor Franz Joseph 1 was "struck dumb" by the beauty when he visited in 1875 and viewed the falls from this Imperial Belvedere that was constructed for his visit.
Spectacular waterfalls, streams brimming with fish, blue damselflies shimmering against the water grasses...I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
We'd planned ahead by wearing bathing suits under our clothes, and finished the day with a dip in the pool under the falls. That's Rick waving in the distance.
As we approached Skradin on the way back, a French woman behind us pointed out a "Dame" in the clouds- a lovely backdrop to the picturesque town.
That evening, we discovered that our swan had a mate. In fact, there are many swans in the river. The ambience on the afterdeck as we watched the sunset was nothing short of superb!
You can find more photos of Krka park in our gallery (Croatia June-July, subalbum Krka)
Although the Imray pilot's instructions for approaching Sibenik sound complicated, the Kanal S Ante is very well marked and in calm weather it is very straightforward. We found it difficult to see the signals at the entrance, but since they do not apply to small boats we just proceeded carefully and kept a sharp eye for traffic.
To visit the falls at Krka national park, you must either go to the marina at Skradin or anchor nearby. Although anchoring off Skradin is supposedly not permitted, we did see boats at anchor so it may be possible to anchor there for a short time. We chose to anchor at Uvala Ostrica in a depth of 34 feet- the holding was good. It was just a short dinghy ride from there to Skradin.
Provisions and restaurants are available in Skradin.
We were rushing to catch the ferry when we bought our tickets, and later wished we had purchased tickets for additional trips to see another series of falls and to visit a Franciscan monastery on the island of Visovac.