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Croatia’s Dalmation Coast

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The trip was a little fast, and I didn’t do my normal coffee and internet cafe stops, so this post is going to be a lot more about pictures with a few highlights

From Zagreb, we headed west to the Dalmatian Coast, which is completely different from the interior.  Mountains often form natural barriers to a people’s cultural identity, and this is definitely the case with Croatia.  I’m not sure how many ranges we passed through on the way as I was dozing on the bus, but every time I woke up and looked out the window, it was a different set of mountains.

Every town was spectacular.  The first town, Opatija, was first a Jesuit monastery and then later populated by Austrian health spas.  Although a little run-down, it still has a resort feel to it.

Next was Rijecka, which means river in Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, and a few other languages.  Most of the states of ex-Yugoslavia share a common language, although they all claim it as their nation’s own.    A few words are shared with Turkish, thanks all the Ottoman raids and sometimes domination.  The language is much more similar to Russian.  My godmother, Michele, who speaks Russian, did an amazing job with just a little help from the Croatian Pimsleur CDs.

We did walking tours in every city in which we stopped.  Each guide walked us through beautiful streets and squares filled with ruins from many of the famous civilizations in history.  The big ones on the coast are Greek, Roman, Austrian, Ottoman, Venetian, and then in the 20th century all the various modern oddballs.  Most cities built walls to repel the Ottomans, some of which still stand.   No tour guide failed to mention the disaster of Ottoman raids or rule on the town.  Either the city lived in perpetual terror of the approaching Ottomans but managed to build an impenetrable wall before their arrival, or the city fell and the Ottomans ruined everything.  I felt a little bad for my adopted country’s history.

There  are also churches everywhere, maybe because of 400 years of Venetian rule.  One town, Şibenik, had 24 churches for 45,000 people – wow!  The biggest one is the Cathedral of St. James, which is now a UNESCO site.  Although the church itself was pretty impressive, for me the most amazing part was the baptism chamber.  It’s a tiny room with a baptismal font right in the middle.  It was placed to allow the sun to shine through the upper windows during the baptism.  Angel sculptures above and below the fountain welcome the babies.  Yet another place in Croatia where you got that holy feeling.

In Split, after an amazing day on the island of Hvar, I managed to find the energy to walk into town to see Diocletian’s palace at night.  It’s another wonder, and another UNESCO world heritage site.  Diocletian was a Roman emperor who planned on abdicating and eventually retiring to his palace on the sea.  So, in the last 20 years of his rule he ordered his immense retirement home constructed, then got to live there for about 3 years before dying.  Although his cause of death is still unknown, both his wife and daughter were poisoned.

Along with being a truly amazing place, the palace is still occupied and used by the town for apartments, shops, cafes, bars, and music venues, making it an amazing night venue.  We got dinner while listening to a guy play mostly older American songs in a sunken courtyard.  The bar, Luxor, even serves drinks to the alfresco crowd.  In another odd connection, the bar is called Luxor become some of the pillars are believed to be stolen from Egypt.

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