Island hopping and the Dalmatian coast

Trip Start Aug 12, 2011
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Split was cool. The Diocletian's palace is so intact still since Roman times that Croatians use these streets for every day life- with bars and restaurants and shops. We climbed a marbled staircase to the cathedral bellower, visited the crypt and the temple of Jupiter. Stray cats were everywhere, just like Greece. After pretending to be Romans in the underground passages of be Diocletians palace, (the old storage cellars) we visited Croatia's most celebrated sculptor and artist Ivan Mestrovic's home gallery. Noone else was there, but the grounds of the house designed for him and his displayed works were quite something. Apparently he left Croatia for America after WWII. Then we went for a late afternoon dip on a stony beach. Clothing appeared to optional at most beaches. .

We dumped our packs and decided to travel light whilst we did some island hopping along the Dalmatian coast.  Hvar town was first, which was a stunningly beautiful port with renaissance architecture, yachts, galleries, fancy bars and restaurants catering for the après-beach culture and the glam 20-nothings strutting their stuff. Apparently also the home of the inventor of fingerprinting as a form of ID! Our main destination for the day was Jelsa on the other side of the island, (not quite sooo many tourists), so after wandering through winding cobbled backstreets and ogling amazing-sounding menus we got a bus out. We eyed the moored yachts on the quay a little covetously, thinking of the previous week in Greece. Well, we thought, there's always next year. Private rooms (in people's homes) is the go for budget accommodation in Croatia and in Split and Hvar Town we'd found that the busses and ferries are met with locals touting for you to come and stay with them and a sobe (rooms) sign in every street. So we casually rocked up to Jelsa at 5.30 in the afternoon expecting the same. When we got off the bus, there were no touts and we did not immediately find any sobe signs. We did eventually find a room with a pleasant balcony in the home of a perpetually smiling Croatian lady with no English. We had to borrow her corkscrew because the wine in Croatia still has corks.
Due to the winding streets and stop-start nature of seeing small villages, we hired a scooter for the day. Well, mostly for those reasons. We zoomed off to Stari Grad in a cloud of traditional noisy oily scooter smoke having a ball through the backstreets with olive groves, grape vines and pine trees, where upon arrival Simon pulled up outside a nice looking local cafe before realizing he couldn't work the kickstand. After providing a table of local Croatians their morning amusement, the postman came over with a smirk and showed us the knack. Not to be dissuaded from becoming a  dab hand like the locals, we made a few more less public stops before we felt like we could come back into town. We found a pine tree lined stone beach with crystalline waters to let the hot part of the day slide. The second half of the afternoon we headed inland to visit some of the inland old stone villages, mostly centered around olive, grape, lavender and alcohol production.  In one of them we found a very friendly little local dog who followed us round. In another, some round plastic tubs that had clearly just been used for some local wine making with singing coming from the stone windows. We indulged in some obligatory biker poses, scooter style. Feeling our terrace was being neglected, we tried a cheeky local rose on the verandah before heading out. With all the monasteries and self-catering the consensus was that we had earned ourselves a nice meal, so we nosed around dockside and found a seafood restaurant that did not disappoint. We could've popped a champagne cork into the water if we had wanted to; we were right on the water.

An early morning ferry and we were in Bol, on the island Brac, a little closer back to Split. Home of delicious dried figs, wind surfers and long beach times at Zlatni Rat (reputedly the most photographed beach in Croatia). Also the quarry where the white marble used for the White House is located, true story! This meant that presumably the apartment we lodged in was made of the same stuff, that's how you holiday on in style! Thankfully there were less Australians here, but just as many Brits. We toyed with the idea of seeing how our tennis skills were faring on the fancy clay courts, but chickened out in favour of sunbathing and eating sladoledi (icecream!). The next day before it got too hot we climbed up the peak behind town- all 730m- for some amazing views, although we were a little sad not to be able to see down the far side of the island to Split. As is the way, it turns out there is a tourist drive up there so we were greeted by polo shirts and Nikons. The path was made of those same white rocks that looked like they'd been laid a long time ago, and in parts it was lined with wild rosemary, thyme and sage. We had to let ourselves through a couple of rickety gates to contain goats, presumably. The grapevines and olive trees in the valley below had trunks that meant they had been there a good while, and there were few workers out picking fruit before the sun got too high.
That evening was one of the better traditional Croatian meals we'd had yet, and Mim plied the waiter for some of the recipes- to which he kindly obliged!
Sadly, another early morning ferry saw us in Split and then onwards to Zagreb. The night train we caught was from Zagreb to Munich, and we had the compartment to ourselves! Just as well, you wouldn't have been able to swing a scraggly Croatian street cat in there. There was a problem with one of the Austrian tunnels, meaning a long delay, which suited us fine because we got extra sleep and were detoured through Salzburg. It rained non-stop, we'd almost forgotten about rain, but we glimsped Sound-of-Music-like vistas through the fog and forests.
We left Croatia vowing to press our own olive oil, make our own wine and catch our own fish- but only if there's time left in between sunbathing
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