Saturday we woke up early, packed up our belongings (we were moving apartments that night) and headed off to catch the ferry to Hvar (pronounced “Far” with a hard F), an island about 50km from Split, deep in the heart of the Adriatic. Okay… maybe not the ‘heart’ but certainly the pancreas! The ferry ride was an hour forty-five (about the same time it takes me to get to Budapest) amidst some incredibly beautiful islands and crystal clear blue-green ocean. I know this sounds cliche, but where do you think the cliche came from?
Now, luckily, we were here before the season really gets underway. Sure, there were downsides, like there only being one ferry and some of the other places were a little more difficult to get to (if accessible at all) but on the plus side – lots fewer people! So there was no need to book the ferry in advance, we could just show up. Same with the bus to take us from the ferry port of Stari Grad (which means “Old City,” something I didn’t know, much to my great embarrassment) to the city of Hvar itself. Once in the town, we headed towards the harbor, deciding to have a coffee and look over the guidebooks.
The island isn’t very big, and at first we thought about renting a couple of scooters but Chris and I vetoed the idea after going to explore our option, figuring we could walk and spend the money on a nice meal (or eight) instead. And walk we did. Our first stop was the Spanish Fort (Tvrdava Spanjola) atop the hill which overlooks the city. See, it seems Hvar was a fairly popular military site, home of many fortresses and battlements, dating back to the ancient Greeks. And honestly, you really could get a sense of the history walking trough the terraces and up the hill. Even though the dwellings weren’t more than a few hundred years old, you could tell they were built on foundations which were far deeper and sturdier, historically speaking, than is apparent from mere photographs.
Getting up to the fort, though, you are treated to some amazing views at every turn of the trail. Just when you think you’ve seen the best one, the trees clear and suddenly there’s a more glorious scene before you. Astonishing! We actually went off he path to take a side trip to a see an old chapel which, surprise surprise, also offered spectacular sights. Not to mention a small snake, which I’m not sure was really there since everyone but me saw it. I think they were all in cahoots (whatever THAT means).
The fort had some really cool parts, and was still fairly solid. The one thing which was closed was the little archeological museum but we did get to see the dungeons (which had their own mystery since when we were in them we could see an air hole but which we couldn’t find once we were back on the surface) and they had some cannons set up so you could see how the battlements were defended in a battle.
Climbing down from the hill we walked through a park and out to the water. Have I mentioned how clear the water was? I’ve never seen anything like it on so grand a scale. We immediately determined to try and find out if the local schools needed any English teachers.
The day was hot so we wandered around after lunch looking for a gelato place (gelato is the Continental food of Europe!) and got lost in the winding streets before we finally found a place. Then, gelato in hand, we headed along the waterline towards an old monastery. There was no one inside so me and Laurel found a WC and then made our way into the chapel, which was nice and all set-up for Easter (which was the next day). That’s the thing about chapels in Europe… they’re all really nice but it’s quite possible to get a bit overdone with the gilt and glitz of religious iconography.
By this time it was hitting mid-afternoon and so time to grab the bus back to the ferry to go back to Split. On the ferry, we met a couple of american girls who were studying in Italy and they gave us a tip on a place for dinner, which we took. This was after we found our new lodgings, which weren’t as nice as our first digs, but were right in the middle of the old town. So it was a give and take. Dinner was a nice place, crowded but great food.
The next day was Easter so nothing was open. We decided to take the opportunity (and the car) to drive up the coast and see some of the other towns. Our plan was to go north and then work our way back down.
Our first stop was Sibenik. This was after we got slightly lost trying to find a petrol station. We found it eventually and then it was a challenge to find a parking spot in town. But like all good things, we found one and were able to walk down to the waterfront. Along the way we passed some fun public art and a fountain with live turtles! We found the Cathedral of Saint James (closed for services) and then went up to the citadel (we didn’t go in because they were charging and we couldn’t be bothered. Then we got slightly lost, a recurring theme, sure, but here it was due to using the tourist guide as an actual map. But it was good we went the way we did because we ended up in the gardens of a former monastery which were lovely (and had a nice coffee/gelato place).
Leaving there, we continued south to Trogir, whose old town in on an island. By this point, we were getting hungry so late lunch was in order. We found a little out of the way place (on the main tourist street, prices were outrageous) with a dining room set in a little alcove. Again, there were sites, castles and churches, but paying money, regardless of how much, for the opportunity to go inside and see some old bricks just wasn’t that appealing. Despite being a day of driving, we also spent a good deal of time walking around and seeing the sites. My rule, as driver (and one I follow even by myself) was if you see something you want to take a closer look at, say stop and we will. So we stopped at a lake to see the gulls sleeping on the water, we stopped at a harbor to see some amazingly cool large boats, we stopped to look at a small island just off the coast.
As we continued south, we were approaching Split and decided that since the sun still had a bit of time before it set we would go a little further south towards Dubrovnik (which was too far this trip) and instead spent the twilight in Omis. What separates Omis from the other towns is the river which runs from the mountains, down through the center of town and into the sea. During the summer they host white water rafting trips (our american friends from the ferry the day before had done that trip). There were also rock climbers in evidence and a really cool church like building built into the stone face of the cliff.
Monday morning was also a holiday. Yes, the day after Easter is also celebrated. Pretty nice for banks, not so much for tourists. But it was okay for us, since we were heading home that day. We only had one place left on our itinerary… Plitvica Jezera.
I’d been here before, but my companions hadn’t… and it was well worth a return visit! Plus, it was on the way home. See, it should have been on the way down, too, but I took a wrong turn (or didn’t as the case may be) I missed the junction for the “short” route down to Split on Thursday. Turns out on Thursday, I did the right thing. We took the inland, direct route back up to Plitvice and it was windy and confusing and slow. So while it may have been “shorter” distance wise, the longer route was motorway the whole way (with some really cool tunnels along the way).
So we got to the National Park, which is known world-wide for it’s relatively unique pattern of lakes and waterfalls, about noon and immediately set off for one of the many trails. The entrance where we started was in the middle of the park so we could go down and come back up or go up and walk back down. We chose the down and walk back option since it included a long boat ride.
As it turned out, we made a good choice. Since there weren’t that many people there (off season, but the park is open 365) We were able to hike the trail and then go back and hike the other side. As I’ve said before, words can’t really describe it and pictures only show a flat view, but until you go there yourself, they’ll have to do. The water is blue and cold and crisp, the falls (“slap” in Croatian) are impressive in height, breadth and scope. There was even a cave for Laurel (over the course of the four days, we discovered Laurel likes caves). We were able to see the park and still get on the road before dark.
We made it home just before midnight (and no, I didn’t make the same mistake at the border I made coming down), finding a place to park a block from Chris and Laurel’s place. Sure, we’d have to move the car early the next morning, but that was fine, we had to return it anyway. All in all, it was a great weekend getaway. We’d laughed until we cried, we ate new food (especially Rolanda who got out of her food comfort zone, yay!) and saw some great sights.
This is one of the major advantages of living in Europe. There are amazing things to see and do only a relatively short drive away. I think I need to get a Unesco World Heritage Sights checklist… now that would be an awesome goal to meet.