Central Europe - Croatia

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  • In some ways Croatia was a 'holding area' while we waited for the Greek financial crisis to be resolved one way or another. Having said that, it proved to be an excellent place to travel.

    We arrived in Zagreb by train and decided to spend a couple of nights there. Central Zagreb is a lovely city to walk around. There are the obvious sights, but also little gems, such as the Museum of Broken Relationships, and the shrine at the old gate, with a road running right through it.

    From Zagreb we headed down to Zadar, on the coast. We had resolved to find accommodation from people who meet buses, trains or ferries and hold up signs advertising rooms, so that is what we did, and stayed in a small apartment within walking distance of the coast, and an easy bus ride to the old city. Zadar has a lovely old city to walk around, and boasts a sea organ, where the waves generate eerie songs, blowing air through holes in the terraced foreshore paving.

    Split was another rather lovely place, but it was very crowded, and difficult to find accommodation around the old city. In the end the huge numbers of people dominated our perceptions of Split, and we were glad to get away and retreat to Solta for a day trip. Solta was totally different. We talked to the people at the tourist kiosk, and decided to walk over to Grohote, then take the track to Donje Selo, passing through Srednje Selo on the way. We had thought that we would get lunch, or at least a drink and a snack, in one of the smaller villages, but there was absolutely nothing there - in fact, we barely saw a person along the walk and ended up walking all the way back to the port before we found a place to have a belated lunch.

    After Split, we island-hopped down the coast. Firstly to Hvar, where we chose to stay in the smaller port of Stari Grad, and only went over to Hvar town for a day trip. Stari Grad was a great little town at the end of an enormous multi-bayed inlet. We hired a motor boat one day and went out to explore the bays and to swim in the crystal-clear water. For all the clarity of the water there was very little to see - just little fishes; it was quite sterile. Hvar town boasts a fortress high on the hill, somewhere for us to climb and a fore-runner of lots of climbs to come! Back in Stari Grad we spent an afternoon walking out on the Stari Grad Plain, an area under agriculture since the 4th century BC.

    From Hvar we took a ferry to Korçula, another fine walled city with enchanting cobbled passages to explore. It is true that these walled cities were all a bit similar, so we only allowed ourselves tow nights in Korçula, and spent most of the time walking around in the old city.

    Our last island was Mljet, where we could visit a national park, making a change from old walled cities. We stayed in Pomena, a small village within walking distance of Veliko and Malo Jezero (Large and Small Lake) of Mljet National Park. As it happened, we couldn't get accommodation at the place we wanted to stay, but the very obliging woman contacted her heighbour, who put us up in a room on the lower floor of his house. Although Pomena is very small, with less than one hundred permanent residents, it attracts a lot of visitors, and touring yatchs were tied up eight-deep at the wharf. From Pomena we walked in to the lakes, and circumnavigated the Small Lake. The next day we returned to the lakes to take a boat trip out to Islet Melita, where the old Benedictine Monestary now runs as a café and restaurant. We walked all around the island and monestary and enjoyed a coffee in the café before returning to shores of the Large Lake. We then walked around to a small village on the shore before returning to Pomena.

    Dubrovnik was the one city where we stayed well out of the centre - we decided to stay close to the bus station, and got a bit of exercise walking into and out of the old city. We did get to see bits of modern Dubrovnik that way, and it all worked out fairly well.

    Despite having been shelled relentlessly in 1991-1992, Dubrovnik is the quinessential Dalmatian coast city. Its walls are intact, and the old city is full of beautiful buildings, cafés, restaurants, and people who want to sell you a tour! It thronged with people, but wasn't as alienating as Split had been; Dubrovnik seems to absorb massed tourism and we didn't feel smothered by the swirling crowds.

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