STOP…...WAIT……just HEAR what I have to say……CROATIA is stupendous!
Please forget about your dated misconceptions and presumptions about the misfortunes and casualties this country faced during it’s last war. It’s been over two decades now…GET OVER IT!! Most of what the newspapers shared was like in any media, played out for ratings and the bottom $dollar. How do I know this? Because I have been there and I asked, and the people shared….that’s how! Was if frightening for them? You betcha and so was our 911. Just like us, all they want is peace and to make their lives better but we all know politics and how greed works among nations. The new generation is getting a handle on life in Croatia and it’s beginning to show as an upcoming member of the EU. BELIEVE ME….this place is a REAL GEM and you can ask anyone who has spent any time here, or at least Split anyway! Ok, enough rant…here are my thoughts about Croatia and specifically Split!
For all the armchair travelers who have imagined or dreamed of what the Old Country of Europe would look like, well this is the place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been modernized but it still has lots of bits and pieces of that old world charm than many places in Western Europe are lacking now. I guess I want to say it’s half way between Eastern Europe charisma and Western Europe contemporary. The ragged coastline, dotted with red clay roofs of the inhabitants coupled with the steep rocky hillsides, creates a feast for the eyes to behold. And that is what makes it so enchanting….it casts a spell on you. The longer you stay, the longer your need to come back. It’s bewitching!
The architecture and landscape has had many influences over the centuries from neighboring countries that surround it on all sides except the coast line of the sea. But the sea brought it’s fare share of foreigners as well. You can really see the influences of the Venetian’s (Italy) because this country was once a part of Venice and it’s trading. Split, where I have spent most of my time while here, is clearly a part of that history. The Roman emperor Diocletian, at the turn of the fourth century AD, built the ancient Diocletian’s Palace and about half of the old town. It’s an incredible feeling when you’re walking on those ancient creamy colored pedestrian stone walkways and matching creamy towering stone buildings that are still standing till this day. Even in the rain and overcast sky’s of winter it stays lit with a natural illumination from the light colored stones holding up the walls of the old town. EVERY SINGLE TIME I walk around, I hold my breath at what I will stumble on just around the corner. I just want to be lost inside, like a time warp. It’s impossible not to imagine the scenes played out centuries ago and what those walls could tell you…romance, scandal, betrayal and the hush of secrets untold.
Now you may be wondering “could it be as wonderful, as say, ROME?” Well I think my readers know how I feel about Italy and Magnificent Rome and the love of my roots and culture, but Croatia has something Italy just does not have everywhere….and that is ENGLISH! The Croatian kids are brought up learning English in School and almost ALL British or American TV programs and films are subtitled which means your kids grow up LISTENING and learning English via their favorite cartoon! I had a conversation with a young Croatian friend and he explained that he actually has a large vocabulary from watching TV programs since childhood, but just needs to practice and most of his friends feel the same….and I have to say I agree. I can walk around freely here and 80% of the time, there is enough English spoken widely by nearly ALL ages, to help me get what I need or want. Italy is lacking this and needs to catch on, but they are lazy and I have to say I can also be lazy because when everyone speaks English it’s hard to learn Croatian! I DO TRY, it’s polite!!!
When it comes to fashion and clothes shopping, Croatians are much more on the casual yet Refined look. Women wear heels, but low ones (just try walking on cobble stones in high heels, NOT) and add only a few accessories. They prefer nothing too flashy, full makeup, boots and toned-down colors. Unlike the Italians whom embrace anything black, with shimmer and glamour and the latest thing trending EACH year. Some men here seem to like the sporty looking polyester gym clothes while others in jeans and T-shirts or a bit more button down dressy for the night time hour…after all, it is a beach town!
What about food, you ask? It seems that most neighborhood grocery stores are on the smaller side without a big variety of items to choose from (maybe because of the lack of junk food taking up space?). However, I am going out on a limb to say this country being so small, has a real good understanding of natural and organic. You can find some small organic shops and most locals try to garden and share what they grow with each other. Various islands are known for certain olive oils, nuts, lavender items and other various organically grown foods. They have amazing untainted outdoor and indoor Farmers Markets or GREEN Markets as they are called, that combine with local FRESH cheese makers, fishmongers and butchers. Just like one stop shopping USA style only FRESH! I can’t really say what I believe to be true about their cuisine, I just think it covers a variety of foods. The B R E A D is to die for. So many kinds and MADE DAILY! You really have to watch your diet because just the smell of their bread will tighten your jeans. Thank goodness I have to walk everywhere!! Gosh, I never thought I’d ever say that, lol, but I do miss having a car for those instant R O A D T R I P S!
Speaking of road trips, I did manage a few while here in Croatia. I went to BEAUTIFUL Brac Island by ferry, and I went to Omis for lunch along the river and Makarska for a piano concerto and drove through village points in between along the coast. On the motorcycle, I spent a few days traveling from the beautiful country of Montenegro all the way to SPECTACULAR Dubrovnik and that city alone is worth the historical visit. I mean after all, GAME OF THRONES had a number of film shots there. I could write an entire page of just that old walled city alone.
I have left the most intriguing places for last…
TROGIR, SOLIN and KLISS.
All 3 are near Split and really just so amazing to visit!
~ Trogir, 17 miles west of Split is a small town that was once a major Roman port…it’s actually an island connected by a bridge to mainland Ciovo. It’s characteristics resemble the creamy stone walled area of the Diocletian’s Palace in Split. It has a gorgeous boat marina (with wooden ships) that snakes around the majority of the island’s seacoast. It really gives you a feeling of walking through history.
~ Solin is a suburb just 5 miles outside of Split and is known for SALONA, an ancient city, once the capital of a Roman province on the Dalmatian coast. It boasts an extraordinary excavation of artifacts from century’s past. Every time new construction goes underway, another jackpot of ancient ruins are discovered! The warmth from the sunshine made the place glow with life and walking among the gigantic stones and once-stood-there structures was impressive. Salona was largely destroyed in the invasions of the Slavs and Avars in the sixth and seventh centuries CE. I could spend all day there.
~ Kliss was a stunning sight from the valley below…you can see it off in the distance as it sits on the top of a rocky mountain with a staggering view. The drive to the top gives you a feel of the simple life in Croatia with all the homes scattered around the hillside. Anyone, who is a fan of GAME OF THRONES would pinch themselves standing in the very spot where Daenerys Targaryen, aka Khaleesi stood talking to her new tribe after she conquered the area….THAT TOTALLY ROCKED!!! You can see the layers of walls from various century’s of ownership of that fortress and to walk it freely was an amazing and unforgettable memory. And the best part was the RAINBOW over the mountain from the mini sprinkle over us, whilst exploring the entire hilltop of ruins. THE WORLD IS WONDEROUS…and That my Friends is why I travel…
Croatians love their pets and even the strays. There seems to be an equal amount of both dogs and cats but way more stay cats. Nearly every male dog I saw still had his testicles in tact, shame shame shame, but I have to say I never saw any mutts, only purebreds AND leashed. Most of the stray cats within the walled city are looked after because I see food left out, so that makes me happy. I even fed a few myself. The people in Split have big hearts and once they are your friend, it seems they are REALLY your friend, animal or mineral.
Out of my kitchen window, as I type this, I have a vista of some old creamy stone homes with red tile roofs and the Adriatic Sea shimmering behind them waiting for that bright auburn orange sunset. I have found the weather in the fall and winter to be very mild and wonderful actually, but I have heard the summers can be quite baking hot and sticky humid.
I am only a couple blocks to quaint Bacvice Beach where Picigin is played (a sand and surf handball played in the water) and the ‘pedestrian only’ row of clubs, coffee shops and restaurants along the hilly coast line. I have not been anywhere else in the world that I could afford the luxury of such a perfect location without having to pay up the a$$ for it! Cost efficient has real meaning here.
For the second time in my life, besides my first love for Italy, I feel a bit like nesting here. Split and it’s people stole something from me…they took a bit of my wanderlust and planted a small seed with it, deep into the Croatian soil and I started sprouting roots of lasting friendships. It’s just one of those places that YOU KNOW YOU ARE COMING BACK, and you do, again and again and again….To all my new friends in SPLIT….SEE YOU SOON…. 🙂
PS. I always try to put both the positive and the negative of a place I visit and I could not decide whether I wanted to add this in, but after last nights sooty haze musical event I just could not stop myself from adding this ONE thing I DO NOT LIKE about Croatia…. and that is having to endure the choking CIGARETTE SMOKE inside every event I have attended. IT IS A MEDICAL DOCUMENTED KNOWN FACT THAT CIGARETTE SMOKING CAUSES CANCER. All the smokers here make excuses about this because of their addiction, but why should those of us smart enough to care for our bodies have to endure your sad habit!!!! Croatia would be even MORE WONDERFUL if I came home not smelling like someones chimney. I want to shower before I go out, not after I get home!!!
XOXO, Ms Harmonica
PS. THANK YOU for all the wonderful music, even if it was smoky! lol