A holiday from ‘the holiday’ in the land of a thousand islands: Croatia

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“Is that another glass of wine?” I say to John as he pours his third red. 

“Well, we’re on holiday” he replies, as he’s stated repeatedly since we set off on this road trip. I usually reply by reminding him that we are not on holiday, but on our senior’s gap year and that if he treats this like a yearlong holiday then his liver is not going to hold out! But, here in Croatia, for the first time since we left our base campsite in Spain, I feel that we really are on holiday. Perhaps it’s the non-stop sunshine, the heat (by Thursday it rises to 35 degrees), the endless miles of coastline and aqua blue sea? Sorry guys, I know it’s not been a good Summer in Scotland so far, so I really should stop there! But I have to say that so far Croatia has been amazing. Our first stop is the Island of Čiovo, next to the medieval town of Trogir and not far Split. There is so much to do, and the campsite has its own beach, so we decide to stay for a week. It’s the longest that we’ve been in one place since mid-April and it’s nice to take a step back from all the travel planning and unwind.

The town of Trogir, is squeezed within its ancient walls and is like a mini Dubrovnik.

It lies on a small island connected to the mainland and the island of Čiovo by bridges. We take a water taxi from our campsite and as we arrive at Trogir’s seaside promenade lined with bars, cafes and yachts you can’t help but be impressed.  The 13th-century Cathedral of St. Lawrence houses the Renaissance Chapel of St. John and I climb the bell tower which offers sweeping views from the top. The maze-like marble streets glint in the sunshine, but just around the corner a cool courtyard restaurant is waiting to offer a refreshing beer, and a dalmatian or mixed sea food platter for two!

We visit Split on one of the hottest days so far.

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Split’s impressive promenade

I download a free walking tour of the old city (www.split-walking-tour.net), but not before we head to the nearest shopping mall. I’m on a mission…. for hair products! Being a frizzy haired girl, I use a certain brand and I’ve just about run out. I’ve not seen this particular brand so far on our travels and disaster is about to strike any day now. But as we enter the cool air-conditioned mall, I see it, a kind of Croatian Boots, and yes, they have it. I am soooo excited…. this has made my day! John has brought the rucksack and we load up.

Back to the old city. Most of the main attractions sit within the walls of the Diocletian’s Palace, the residence of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, built in 305 A.D. The old city now contains a unique mixture of Gothic and Renaissance palaces and squares built over time within the city’s original defensive walls.  Our walking tour starts at the Golden Gate (Zlatna vrata), the Northern entrance to the Palace.

Nearby stands the impressive statue of Grgur Ninski,

Statue  of Grgur Ninski and the Golden Gate

a Croatian bishop famed for his promotion of Christianity and the Croatian language. He has a shiny left big toe and legend has it that luck and a return to the city will befall those who touch It. I have touched his toe before, almost a year to the day…. spooky….and here I am returning. Perhaps this means that this is not the last time I will be visiting this city.

The main square of Split, The Peristyle is surrounded by Roman columns, arcs and temples, the Cathedral of St Dominus and Gothic palaces.

The Peristyle, The Vestible and the ‘Let me pass’ street 

Not far from the square in The Vestibule, the entrance to the Emperors apartments, a Capella male choir sing under its circular dome……lovely. After passing through the Pazar (the Green Market), the biggest open-air fruit and veg market in Croatia, we arrive at the Bronze Gate (Broncana Vrata) and walk through the Diocletian’s cellars, the substructure halls of the palace. Today local crafts and souvenirs are sold and In a deeper part of the cellars there is a treat for Game of Thrones fans – their lies the dungeons where Daernerys Targaryen’s kept her dragons. We visit the Temple of Jupiter and slip through the ‘Let me pass’ street (the narrowest street in the world??) into the charming Fruit square. We have only got to #16 on our walking tour and it’s time to walk back along the city’s palm fringed promenade to catch the ferry back to Trogir. A whistle stop tour, but I hope this has given you just a flavour of what this fabulous city has to offer.

The following week, we visit the small town of Nin,

The town of Nin, ancient Roman ruins and the Church of the Holy Cross

and lo and behold there is another shiny toed statue of Grgur Ninski. I later learn that this small town, built on an islet (500m in diameter) was Grgur’s birthplace. Nin is a very old town (> 3,000 years), was a sea and trade centre of the Romans and the first Croatian capital in the 10th Century.

We visit on the Summer Solstice, and watch the sun disappear on the floor of the Church of the Holy Cross,

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The arrival of midsummer at the Church of the Holy Cross

signifying the exact arrival of midsummer. I feel privileged to be here in this ancient town on this very special day.

We visit more islands on a boat trip.

The crystal clear waters of Croatia, and Solta

First, we stop at The Blue Lagoon, famed for its shallow crystal-clear waters and the islands of Solta and Drevnik Veli. We swim and snorkel in the intoxicating blue Adriatic Sea. It’s warm (about 21 degrees), and the combination of the blue skies, sunshine and the white shingled shores mean that these waters are just too tempting not to dive in.

The rest of the week we spend time cycling, exploring the Island and its stunning coastline, swimming and soaking up the sunshine. “Is this time well spent?”, I ask myself, “should I be spending my time more productively?” In this modern world all of us lead such busy lives. Some squeeze everything into their waking hours, some take more of a ‘maṅana, maṅana’ approach. Being more of the former type allowing myself the time to truly relax, is difficult and feels alien. I have a theory about time that the first day of any holiday is the longest, and then as the week goes on the days are over much faster. So, by moving on every 3-4 days, I have been trying to slow down time. But I begin to realise that none of us can slow down time, and that quality is more important than quantity. Here in Croatia, on this holiday from the holiday, I am reminded that time is one of life’s most important commodities and that our time on this planet is limited. A good friend once said “Life is like a toilet roll. You keep checking and there always seems to be plenty of paper left, but before you know it, just at a crucial moment, you’re at the end of the roll and it’s all gone! So, I try to savour and enjoy every square of my toilet paper, not looking too far ahead or worrying about when my last square might be. And, what better place to contemplate life’s toilet roll than in the land of a thousand islands, crystal-clear aqua sea and with a glass of red in my hand. Cheers!

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