Sunday, 7 June 2015

Croatia - The Dalmacia coastal towns of Split and Dubrovnik

It was going to be a long drive today so it was an early start, - up, showered, dressed and bags out by 6.45am. We even had to wait a few minutes before the dining room opened for breakfast.
Then we were on the road again, leaving behind beautiful Bled. We had to travel past Ljubjiana and got caught up in the peak hour traffic. There was a long jam, but it suddenly cleared and no one could see any reason for the hold up - sounds familiar anywhere in the world doesn't it?
We had a quick pee stop at a nice clean service area. There is no such thing as a free pee around here, 50 euro cents in the slot, you get a receipt and then, and only then (because there's someone standing there to make sure you pay) can you pass through the turnstile.
You may be asking why there's a turnstile and a person, many answers come to mind and you'll probably think of a couple more.

We then had to cross the border into Croatia. This was why we'd had the pee stop - border crossings have been known to take over 2 hours! We were lucky in that the guard was too busy to have us all getting off the bus so she came on board, stamped everyone's passport and we were soon back on the road. Antonia, our tour leader, said that we were a very lucky group. We were now able to make up some of time we'd lost in the traffic jam.

We stopped for lunch at a service station and marche. The food was freshly cooked and  great. Nearly everyone had soup and a roll. Croatia does not use the euro so everyone got a receipt for their meal, Antonia paid the total and once we get Kuna we'll pay her back.
Croatia uses Kuna but Bosnia Herzegovina uses the Convertible Mark, then Hungary uses the Hungarian Forint.  Despite a charge for making withdrawals, I'm not going to be getting large amounts from the ATM, food is cheap, beer is cheaper and I'm being strict with myself about souvenirs. Once we get into Austria we will be using euro, until we get to UK of course.

After lunch we had another long drive, with a short pee stop, and then we arrived in Split.
The scenery along the way had changed from the lushness and neatness of Slovenia to a harsher, coarser country. More rocky and less habited.

First impressions of Split were not favourable. The coast looked great but the town was highrise hell and as we drove through the outer suburbs there were so many grey high rise apartments and graffiti everywhere.

We arrived at our hotel, the Cornaro. Recently opened and lots of new bright shiny fittings, lots of bling but one or two things still to sort out. Some showers leaked and we were rather caution cllmbing in and out of a high sided bath, with no hand rails, to have a shower.
We hate showers over baths, especially in hotels. Ditch the bath, just have a walk in shower (with a high shower rose for people over 6 foot).
But the hotel was walking distance to the delightful old town. We were delighted with a short walk to our restaurant for the evening. We walked through the old west gate and along a few narrow  lanes to enter a square.


 Our restaurant was in this square,they offered us tables outside but the temperature was already dropping and there was a unanimous decision to eat inside.

Then we came out into a lovely, cool evening and enjoyed the stroll back to the hotel.

Another early morning start, bags out by 7.45. We met in the lobby at 8.45 and the back pack day bags were stored with the main luggage to be loaded onto the bus later. We were heading off for our walking tour of Split. We walked down to the waterftont and met our guide.


The tour started in the basement of the Diocletians Palace, then we wandered around the old walls of the palace.

We were treated to an impromptu concert by a choir singing a capella. Their CD was available for sale and a few of our group bought one.

 At the northern gate to the old city was a huge statue of St Gregory, the man acknowledged as the father of the Croatian language. The legend is - if you rub his big toe and make a wish, your wish could be granted. The catch was that your wish must be spiritual - no one in our group rubbed the toe, all far too materialistic.

Our tour leader lives in Split and recommended a good local restaurant at the end of the harbour, so we wandered around the market stalls and then took a nice long walk along the harbour to Fife Bistro.  We were with Ralph and Hanny and all four of us ordered soup and bread for lunch. Ralph ordered the beef soup so got a bowl to himself, the three of us shared a huge bowl of minestrone, this was accompanied by the usual beer.


Then it time to wander back along the foreshore down to the meeting point and re board the bus to continue south to Dubrovnik.

The weather in Split was a very nice 24 degrees but as we drove out of town and up  into the hills the rain met us and the the temperature dropped to 15 degrees.
We turned off the motorway and travelled along through the valley of the Neretva River. A rich fruit growing area. We stopped at a roadside stall where we were treated to various tastings of an assortment of dried fruits and luscious fresh oranges.

Then we carried on to pass through customs again, as a small spit of Bosnia Herzogovina runs down to the sea. This was a nice short stop, no passports stamps, no hold ups. Then we were back in Croatia, again without any hassles.

We stopped for a pee and coffee in the Neum. A nice location and a favourite of all the coaches running up and down the coast. We were lucky enough to get in before 3 other coaches so the queue to the ladies was only amongst ourselves.

Then we pressed on along the coast down to Dubrovnik. Beautiful scenery along the way.
We had a slight traffic holdup immediately outside Dubrovnik due to a major traffic accident south of the town and police were advising motorists to take a different route well before they went through town onto the blocked road.
We caught sight of our hotel across the bay, it was 7 levels rolling down the hillside to the sea.

We had been booked into the 4 star Valamar Argosy Hotel but our tour company  had been working on the hotel chain and had got us an upgrade into the Valamar President, a 5 star hotel. We were all very happy about the change.

(Michael, me, Ralph and Hanny)

The lobby was on the 7th floor and 0 floor was the beach, we had a room on the 4th floor, overlooking the water.
Absolutely gorgeous, we could get used to 5 star travel.

 (this is the view from our balcony)

(this is me on the balcony, taking a photo of the view reflected in the french window)

We didn't have long enough enjoying the views and wallowing in the luxury before we had to head off out for our evening restaurant booking. The food was, once again, sadly only average and those who chose a dessert option of fruit salad instead of streusel were treated to the tinned variety of fruit salad (so only one person got a cherry).

The next morning we were off on our tour of Dubrovnik old town. We were driven into town, down to the old town and met our guide at the old Pile Gate.

We walked through the gate and along the old Franciscan colonnade.

There were some lovely icons and relicqueries but they could not be photographed. Then we walked down the main street and then to the Duke's  Palace.

 (No photography allowed in the palace rooms, but this hand rail holder on the staircase wasn't covered by that rule - isn't it something?)

Our guide was just six years old when the war started, 'our war' as she referred to it. She remembers that she went to school everyday, to maintain normality in her life. Dubrovnik was basically under seige with the Bosnians wanting to claim the city for themselves not destroy it.
The tour started to drag on, and we felt that we'd seen enough so we headed off on our own, walking through the local market stalls and through the narrow streets until we spotted a likely lunch stop.

 We ordered a sandwich each, which turned out to be the biggest 'sandwich' we've ever had. It was in a huge burger bun and the chicken in my sandwich was actually 2 chicken steaks.

After lunch we walked around the harbour and then headed out to the Maritime Museum, which was quite small so it didn't take long.

 We then headed back to Pile Gate and caught a local bus out to the hotel, getting back to our 5 star room around 1.30pm.
We enjoyed lazing in luxury and then met up with 4 others from our group and walked down to a local restaurant / bar for dinner.

(Michael relaxing in the 'lounge' , in our 5 star hotel room. This is the life)

Then it was time to quit this 5 star luxury life and head into  Bosnia Herzogovina.

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