Sunday, September 26, 2010

Off the rails and down the river - 25 September 2010

Today’s activity was supposed to be a steam train ride to York and back but this was cancelled during the week due to the steam engine being faulty.
We had seen a news item about the Great River Race where 300 or so crews row up the River Thames from the Docklands to Richmond, some 21 exhausting miles. A civilised way to participate in such madness is to book a table in a riverside pub (in our case the Dove), enjoy a great meal washed down with a NZ Sauvignon Blanc and wait for the crews make it to your viewpoint then find a nearby bridge (in our case Hammersmith) to stand on and cheer the crews on.

The overcast conditions and chill wind when the boats arrived detracted a little from the enjoyment of the day but at least we were warm and dry and did not wake the next morning with aching muscles.

The race has been run since 1988 and is based on a handicap start with the slowest boats starting first and, in honour of the Thames Waterman tradition, each boat has to carry a passenger over the distance of the course. The boats range in size and style: row boats, dragon boats, outrigger canoes, Irish longboats, lifeboats, surf boats and even one made from oil drums, the only common factor being oars or paddles as the motive power.

Cavtat - 19 September 2010

 Clearly if one is camping and flying home it is desirable to have a dry tent to pack in one's suitcase.

The weather forecast was for settled weather as fas as we knew and a check outsde at 0530 showed a clear and starry sky. So to hear the pitter-patter of tiny rain drops at 0630 was not a welcome sound but it did get us of to an early start. 

 As the rain gently fell we scrambled to get our gear into the car, not overly sure what we would do with a disorganised car-load of stuff in the pouring rain. The prospect of repacking it all under a service-station forecourt did not appeal. However, the rain was just enough to wet the tent and get us moving and although it had stopped, the sky still looked very threatening so the pressure was still on to pack-n-go.
As it was, it did not rain again and we enjoyed our last breakfast at Molunat in the glorious sunshine while the tent dried sufficiently to be packed away.

Just nearby the airport is the town of Cavtat and since we had such an early start we had plenty of time to wander around Civtat's two headlands and admire the mega-yachts tied up along the quay.

Molunat – 18 September 2010

For anyone wanting an idyllic spot in “another world”, then head for Molunat. We felt we had found a little touch of paradise. But unfortunately, paradise was not in touch with the real world. We arrived with 208kn in our wallet, and expected to pay by card, as we had done everywhere else in Croatia.

Unfortunately this rural backwater has not changed to the world of online payments, so by carefully selecting our dinner last night, we had just enough to dine. Saturday's priority was to find an ATM to pay for our campsite, and eat again. Fortunately we had asked for help with this, and a local lad directed us to Gruda. But on arriving, it looked most unpromising. But as we believed he understood our request, we persevered, and found a bank and working ATM off the main road.

Having left camp, we explored this corner of Croatia. The guide book said it is still very rural, and to expect locals dressed in national costume. Sure enough, we did see local dress, and the little settlements were quite delightful. We checked out a recommended restaurant for later, and a fort described as the most important in the area.
The fort took a little finding as there were no brown tourist signs anywhere on the road to it and when we finally located the fort we discovered why. They are clearly in the process of making it into a tourist attraction with renovation work to the walls of the fort and beautiful wide pathways leading to it from an unfinished carpark. We were just a little ahead of the programme as it was as secure as Fort Knox.

Defeated we returned to Molunat and enjoyed the crystal clear 22C water and 25C sunshine. What's not to like about that combination?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Back to the south of Croatia - 17 September 2010

As Krka is inland from the coast we decided to return to Dubrovnik via the inland route rather than the coast we had already seen. A guide book suggested that Drsni was worth a look but apart from a ruined fort left over from when the Venetians and Turks were scrapping over the area we couldn't see much to hold our attention so moved on south to Sinj which had even less to recommend it. Feeling rather desperate for a tourist “fix” we headed back towards the coast to visit Klis. This is a ruined fortification at a fabulous location guarding a pass up from the coast. The elevated vantage point afforded 360 views but unfortunately the distance was shrouded in a mirky fug.

EU money has provided a very flash motor-way down the interior of the country so we picked this up here and drove as far south as current construction permitted before heading back down the coast road from Ploce.

We had a bit of fun finding a campground for the night as locations that might look good in a book in reality turn out to be on a busy road, too far from the beach in either distance or height, closed, or simply scruffy.

Just before we ran out of Croatia and ended back in Montenegro we found a great spot at Molunat and settled in for the remainder of our time here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Krka National Park – 16 September 2010

And now for something completely different – we left the coast and headed inland to the Krka National Park. This is a stunning area of lakes and waterfalls, and although New Zealand is a land of waterfalls, we do not have anything quite like this. The distinctive look of these falls, is all the green vegetation growing under the falling water and it is the vegetation that creates the waterfalls. The plants use the calcium in the water and the limescale builds up on the plants and the so a structure grows, increasing the water level behind the natural dams. The whole ecosystem is thus a living changing complex where water channels change as the plants and calcium build on one another.

The setup is very efficient; we entered the Park at Lozovac and purchased a Park permit which allowed us free travel to Skadinski Buk, the starting point of the two activities here. The first activity for the day was a 3.5 hour boat trip. The first half hour was through lakes with fairly boring vegetation on the surrounding hills. Then in the middle of the lake, we stopped at an island with the Monastery of Visovac. This is a lovely spot, and we enjoyed the picnic lunch we had brought.

Then a further 30 minutes, mostly through a dramatic gorge, took us to Roski Slap, the waterfall area at the head of this lake system. There was a one hour stop here, and this gave us enough time to walk the loop track, over bridges and board walks around the lush green valley, where the water moved in delightful green stages over mini falls, all green with the vegetation growing from the calcium rich water.

After returning to Skadinski Buk, we were able to do the true high-light of the day – the very extensive board walk around an area full of large pools and large waterfalls. The final falls plunge into a large pool, which was described in the guide book as suitable for swimming. We were so glad we took our togs, as the water was unexpectedly mild. For those who love swimming, it's a wonderful deep and large swimming area.

These falls were also the site of the second hydro electric plant in the world, though actually the first useful hydro plant. In actually generating electricity, Krka was beaten by two days by the hydro plant at Niagra Falls in 1895 but began lighting the city of Sibenik immediately whereas the American one did not start lighting Buffalo until 1896.

For anyone visiting this area of Croatia, we would recommend a trip to Krka.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dalmatian Towns – 15 September 2010

After breakfast on a terrace overlooking the sea, we started the day by returning to Split. This time we followed a guide to the Diocletian's Palace. This was the retirement house built by a Roman emperor. With the pick of the entire Roman world, he chose this isolated spot, and the town of Split was born. The outer walls of the palace are mostly intact and other parts here and there remain although not quite as glorious as when Diocletian was there, marble has been stripped and so forth.. We enjoyed an acapella men's group in the Vestibule so much so that we bought their CD. The mausoleum has been turned into a cathedral, and shops have taken over part of the original basement. It's a listed UNESCO site, because it is the largest surviving Roman structure.

From here we went to the highlight of the day - Trogir. This town was originally a small islet between the mainland and a larger island, but it is linked by bridges to both. The town has many original buildings, one of the gems is the Cathedral of St Lawrence. A modest entrance price allows entry to the cathedral and access to the tower, with great views over the town.
Trogir seafront
We finally finished our day in Sibenik. This town is not so picturesque as the other two, but is also UNESCO, on account of its cathedral. This stone building has a stunning clean white exterior, with many wonderful carvings. The interior is initially disappointing, as the grey stone seems drab and dark. But after reading the details of its construction, it is clear why this building is also UNESCO listed.

It is apparently the largest stone building constructed without wooden or brick supports. It was built from stone from the local islands and was prefabricated and assembled on site.

Bosnia – 14 September 2010

Woken by the bora wind, we set off early to make sure we could, finally, fit a visit to Mostar into our day.

Bosnia is not a country we would ever have imagined visiting a few years ago, a bit like contemplating a holiday in Bagdad today! Signs of the war were everywhere, with derelict buildings, and pock-marked buildings and pavements.

All the bridges across the Neretva River were blown up by the Croats in 1993, and unfortunately this included the 479 year old Stari Most (Old Bridge). Now meticulously rebuilt, exactly as it was before, the Mostar Old Bridge is now a UNESCO listed monument. We watched a video showing it's deterioration during the war years, until it was eventually totally destroyed.

The east bank of the river is the Muslim side, with more mosques, and a cemetery which is a very sad reminder of the war, all the dates of death seemed to be 1994. The west bank is the Catholic side, and we walked to see the Catholic church, which almost appears to be rivalling the mosques in the height of its tower. The main road running in front of it was the front line during the war.

From Mostar we retraced our route to Croatia stopping briefly to look at Pocitelj as this is supposedly the most traditional village in Bosnia, full of 15th century buildings. Once back across the border we continued up the coast to Split. The old town with its Diocletian Palace, is also UNESCO listed. In fact, we have seen more UNESCO listed towns on this holiday, Cathedral of St Domnius, Splitthan any other and the stunning old towns make Croatia undeniably beautiful.

Arriving in Split, we had time for a couple of hours looking around the old town, but will need to save the Diocletian Palace for tomorrow. As the day died we retired back to the campsite, once again on the coast, for a delicious dinner, in their restaurant at the end of a peninsular overlooking the sea: a brilliant end to a busy day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Korcula – 13 September 2010

Korcula is only a 15 minute ferry ride from Orebic, and is therefore the easiest way to visit one of the islands off the Dalmatian Coast. Korcula is a wonderful medieval town, built on a headland jutting out into the sea, and probably very similar to the time when Marco Polo set sail to explore the world.

We walked around the sea walls, and climbed the tower of his house, all of which would have been very familiar to Marco. The rest of his house is a ruin, but the tower is quite intact, and we looked out to sea, as I'm sure he and his family also did in the 13th century.

Once again we postponed the afternoon drive to Mostar, and instead opted for a relaxing afternoon on the beach, as it was such a beautiful summer's day. This time we stayed at Prapratno, a short distance from Ston. After swimming and sunbathing, we again did the wall walk, but this time all the way to Mali Ston. This took about 45 minutes, and gave a greater appreciation of this amazing structure. Ston is reputedly the gastronomical highlight of Croatia and the number of mussel farms in the bay around meant that mussels prepared in the local way featured on every menu and were thus a must-try. Unfortunately they were gritty, overly salty, tough and underdone – a thoroughly under-whelming experience.