The Emerald Isle
With my last two stops in private rooms, I'm anxious to see who I'll be sharing space with at Caenazzo Hostel in Korcula Town. It's a Thursday night, and arrive to find that I have the entire floor to myself in a historic building, just a sneeze from St. Mark's Cathedral. Location, location, but I must also pull out the earplugs as the church bells ring melodiously every quarter hour! Much to my surprise, my 4 nights here are solo, so yes, I'm living in a top floor apartment with a view of Marco Polo's birth home for $18/night. You never know.
While Bol felt picturesque, and Hvar Town a bit surreal, Korcula Town is comfortable. People call it "Little Dubrovnik," but it's not as popular as other islands, yet offers medieval era squares, friendly residents, and a gorgeous harbor. There are small villages and towns across the island known for olive groves, vineyards, and dark, dense forests. The ancient Greeks called it Black Korcula.
While I don't have roommates, I'm easily conversing with a variety of people. As I walk through the historic walled area of town, my photo is taken. "You're famous now!," the gal says, leading to a drink and laughs with an Aussie and a Canadian. When I run into the library to look for a book to buy, the librarian is chatty, encouraging me to return that evening for a showing of Downton Abbey. I do. The following day I spend 3 hours at the Korcula Museum -- half the time learning the island's history and the other half learning about life in Croatia from the curator. There's a very friendly atmosphere here.
I'm early to rise my third day to catch a local bus to the beach in Lumbarda, just 6 kilometers east. This little village of about 1,000 people was founded as an agricultural settlement in the 3rd century BC, and for centuries the people were farmers, fishermen, wooden shipbuilders, and stone-masons. Today, tourism and growing grapes, olives and figs define Lumbarda.
From the moment I step off the bus, I'm relaxed and feel like I've stepped back in time. It feels like a movie set as I walk the narrow roadway through the vineyards to lounge on soft sand, and swim in the warm sea. There's a French family beside me on the beach, and the five (?) year old is beyond excited that small fish surround her as she swims. But, I'm thinking, "where's my net?". With a few more hours to spare for a village walk, photos, and a stop at Cafe Maestro, I feel like I've been on holiday (from my holiday).
It's Sunday and my last day, so I enjoy a relaxing breakfast, a long walk toward Port 9, and a stop at the harbor to admire the Old Town from afar. I finally pause at the 15th century St. Michael's Church that I've passed a dozen times enroute "home". Surprisingly, I'm feeling a little melancholy about leaving this lovely place in the morning. I'm definitely comfortable here on the island of Korcula.
When Beyonce, Prince Harry and George Clooney are seen in Croatia, it's usually in Hvar Town. With that comes its reputation as an expensive party spot with an area of hotels and clubs not found on other islands. So I pondered skipping this one, then thought I might always wonder what I missed.
Upon arrival, I wandered a bit into a "locals neighborhood" where I was renting an Airbnb studio for 4 nights. I must have looked confused as a young Croatian man stopped to point me in the right direction -- a positive first impression of Hvar. While there is a high-level of service in this country that depends on tourism for its livelihood, the Croatian people offer a genuine kindness, too.
For a day-and-a-half, I simply wandered through the historic town square, along the waterfront, by the tourists on tour, and felt almost invisible (or wanted to be). There's definitely a different energy level here than Bol with clans of 20-somethings about, day tourists following their leader, and the infamous selfie-takers in infamous spots. On my first full day, I sat by the sea, people watching; yes, perhaps practicing fjaka -- the art of doing nothing -- then decided to go to St. Stephen's Cathedral when the doors open to tourists at 5 pm. At 5:30, we were a group hovering by the door, so I headed to the Info Centre to find that they were "looking for the person with the key." I was quite amused by that and decided the Cathedral tour would wait another day.
Somehow my third of just four days here arrived, and what had I done? Hvar Town is a maritime port encircled by 13th century protective walls, and on the hills above there are two massive fortresses. So, I climbed to the top for the view, as much as the tour, which began my day of visiting the Benedictine Convent's Lace Museum, the 16th century Arsenal, and the newly renovated Arsenal Theatre. In the evening, I had the pleasure of a concert in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery. The performance, music selection (from classical to spiritual to Lean on Me!), and atmosphere place this evening at the top of my three most memorable experiences in Hvar Town.
Suddenly, it's my final full day and duh, I decided to head away from Hvarska pjaca, and walked along the coastline toward Mustaco Bay. What a pleasant surprise to find that there's a rough path by the sea that brings me to gorgeous bay-after-bay with just a handful of people in sight. There's areas of woodland, then stretches of rocky coast, and always a spot to dip my weary feet in the warm Adriatic. Had I a clue of this, I'd prepared for the two-hour walk to the next town of Milna.
While waiting for the catamaran the next morning, I realized that I never did see St. Stephen's. Yet, I didn't move from my comfort zone with an espresso and spinach-and-cheese burek in hand. Fjaka? or have I gone from travel to vacation mode? On to Korcula.
I Love Bol!
My decision to spend a week in Bol was somewhat random -- based more on the desire to be in place a while at the beginning of my trip than anything else. What luck, as this quaint, small town captured me. In fact, I'd planned to bus to Supetar, the island's official center, but I just couldn't leave.
As the oldest town on the island of Brac, it's well-known for Zlatni rat, the beach that's constantly changing with the wind and the waves. But it's special to me for the beauty of the stony island houses, the clear aqua sea, the narrow little roads, the unassuming people, and the promenade walk at sunset.
Where to begin? I've been back in the US of A for a week, and it's taken me this long to get conscious! The 6-hour time difference for five weeks, coupled with nearly 14 hours of air travel, has had me looped. It's very odd waking up at 3:30 AM ready to go, though I returned to deadlines that I delivered before anyone arrived at their office! I've also been riding my bike, which I greatly missed, so I'm now ready to look at my 600+ photos, and re-live the people and places I enjoyed in Croatia.
When I arrived in Split on September 8th, I was coming off a 15-hour red-eye to an arranged airport pick-up that set the tone for my trip. My driver was a talkative, 34-year old former pro polo player who has traveled much of Europe, but is happy to be back in his hometown. The warm welcome was a good sign, and he didn't want me to miss a thing. Split is the second largest city in Croatia with nearly 250,000 people, so I'd booked a week there to settle into the time zone, figure out details, and see the historic spots.
Home base was a boutique hostel in a historic building in City Center, just a five-minute walk from the Riva along the Adriatic Sea. The location was perfect to play tourist in Old Town, head to the beach, hike in the Marjan Forest Park, and watch the local men play bocanje (Croatia's version of bocce and petanque). It was also a great spot to meet other travelers from yes, the USA, Argentina, Canada, Turkey, the UK, and France. And, thanks (mostly) to the housekeeper here, I now have a 10-word Croatian vocabulary -- including "please, thank you, excuse me, towel and bakery", along with five words to describe food I'm still yearning for!
The Riva of Split (about half of Old Town) is made up of the Palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian (built between 293 and 305 AD as his place of retirement). It's one of the world's most complete remains of a Roman palace, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Mausoleum of Diocletian was later converted to a Catholic cathedral (c. 7th century), and is a complex of a church with a bell tower; now the Cathedral of St. Domnius, the patron saint of Split.
My second favorite site in Split is the Mestrovic Gallery, the summer residence of Croatian sculptor and artist Ivan Meštrović and his family. Built between 1930-39, he donated the property, along with three others, and 132 of his art works to the state. His life story is captivating, but I was beyond surprised to learn that in 1946, Mestrovic accepted a professorship at Syracuse University, and in 1955, was hired to teach at the University of Notre Dame, where he worked until his death. Twenty-one of his sculptures can be found on the campus (which I plan to see one day).
There is so much more to add, but I'll leave it to the photos and captions! Without a bike, I spent time nearly every day hiking the hills in the Marjan Forest Park, and of course, at least three afternoons swimming in the salty, warm Adriatic Sea. Did I mention The People's Square? The Green Market and Fish Market? How about my day trip to the island of nearby Solta? Yes, this is just week #1.
Florida in August?
Who in their right mind would go to Florida at summer's end? I've been asking myself that question for the past week. It made sense when I planned it -- to celebrate my birthday with friends, leave my car in a safe spot while abroad, and glean the cheapest airfare found among five airports. A no-brainer!
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover