A Travellerspoint blog

We're Splitting (Split)!


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

As I write this we are back at Jamie Oliver's in the Gatwick International Terminal. Seeing how many times we will be crossing the pond in the next few months we're gonna get very familiar with this place! Good thing they have good beer and food!

In any case, we made a bittersweet goodbye to Split this morning. Happy to be going to see family and to be moving on but...as we sat looking at the sea from the steps of the airport, the sun shining, and the water sparkling...it was hard to say goodbye.
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If you believe in this sort of thing, it was almost like the weather was preparing us for our leaving. It rained, was cloudy, and never got above chilly all day yesterday. It was the first day we've had that wasn't perfect since the day after we arrived. It made it easier to put on pants and socks and head back to Chicago. And so begins our "fast and furious" fall.

OMIŠ

One of of my remaining bucket list items before leaving Split was to get to Omiš. It's a seaside town southeast of Split that straddles the Cetina river. Home to river rafting, zip-lining, and other activities. We, of course, opted for coffee on the beach walk...
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...a leisurely walk around town
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...and a nice lunch.
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We did get up to the fortress for some nice views (thanks honey for doing the climb with me!)
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The amazing thing about Omiš is how the mountains come right down to the coast and the town is nestled right at their base. The other wonderful thing is the bus ride from Split is on an inexpensive public bus and follows the coast line the whole way.

"SAILING" ON THE ADRIATIC
You know when that little voice in your head says "don't do it" and you do it anyway? Well for our last fling in Split we wanted to go on a sunset sail. Surprisingly, there weren't that many options. So I opted for a cruise on the "MAMMA MIA" boat. I know, I know. So it was, in fact, a wooden boat used in Mamma Mia 2 but other than that (it was a beautiful boat) it may have been the worst we've taken. At this point, we have a fair amount of experience with sunset cruises so I feel qualified to say this. I mean, any time on the water is always wonderful and we made the most of it but the image of a faded grande dame trying to hold onto former glory by flashing her dusty jewels around comes to mind. And the worst "sin" of all? They never once raised the sails!
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Oh well. Next time I won't fall for the bright, shiny object!

We are so excited to be headed to Chicago to see my brother and my nephew and celebrate my mom's 83rd birthday. Planning to eat our way through a week in ChiTown before heading to Miami. Thank you Hurricane Dorian for sparing it!

Stay tuned for pics of one of our favorite cities and don't forget to follow us on InstaGram @arrradventures.

Posted by mrb430 05:31 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Oh Croatia - You Are So Beautiful! (Part 2)

Krka National Park and Trogir


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

Continuing with our adventures exploring Croatia's highlights...for the first part see Part 1

KRKA NATIONAL PARK

Krka National Park and the Krka River are touted as a "must do" to see and swim in the waterfalls, we certainly agree. We rented a car and headed out early and had a great day. If you're ever here, I can definitely recommend following our itinerary. I planned it to try to avoid the dreaded tour buses that descend daily on the main waterfall depositing up to 10,000 people in a single day. Initially I thought doing a Saturday was unwise but we later learned it's one of their slowest days as it's when, like in the States, the rentals turn over.

First Stop - Roški Slap
Toward the northern end of the park, the drive to this waterfall area through the Croatian mountains is spectacular.
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When we arrived about 10 am, there were only about a dozen other cars. Just as we were leaving, the first of the tour boats pulled up! There are two areas to visit here and we felt like we had it to ourselves. The first area is a walkway that crosses the falls called "The Necklaces". The Krka River valley is a Karst formation that has built up travertine waterfalls over eons by the deposit of the limestone into the mosses and algae. The Necklaces are low travertine barriers that hold the water into pools as it runs over. Each barrier is a home for grasses and wildflowers and supports a complex ecosystem of fauna.
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The second area is on Visovac Lake after the river goes through the funnel of the Roški Slap waterfall.
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The water here was harnessed for a watermill and a small village grew up. The buildings have been restored and it's a great place to stop for a look around.
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Second Stop - Visovac Viewpoint and Island
After crossing the river, we headed toward Stinice, a town so small it's just an un-named roundabout on Google Maps, and out to the viewpoint above Visovac Island. From there, you can travel down the twisty road to the bottom for a close-up view. On the island are the Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy and the Church of Our Lady of Visovac that have stood since 1445.
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Visovac Lake is really a place of peace and beauty. And again, we had it almost all to ourselves! The water is so clear throughout the park that you can see huge schools of fish hanging out everywhere. large_604e5e00-ca6f-11e9-bee0-3d4559c9739c.JPGlarge_IMG_1154.JPG

By now it was about 1:30 and we wanted lunch before going on. We also wanted to give the main waterfall more time to clear out the tour buses. We found a beautiful hotel, literally in the middle of nowhere. Called Pension Skellin, it would be a wonderful hotel to get away from it all and a great base to explore the park from. We ate by the pool, enjoyed some local wine and beer and just relaxed for a couple of hours.

Last Stop - Stradinski Buk
Stradinski Buk has the makings to be a total tourism catastrophe. It's highly popularized, close to Split, and consists of a single wooden walkway through an area of river branches and waterfalls, one of which you can swim in. But we gotta hand it to the Croatian National Park for managing it perfectly. First, there is a huge, free parking lot you must use. Everyone that visits the site has to use the park buses to reach the actual falls and trail. Instantly, this limits the amount of people arriving at any one time to start the trail. Second, they limit the number of people that can visit in a day, albeit to 10,000. And finally, they are meticulous about maintaining it. It is really a beautiful place and, if timed right, can be truly enjoyed. Arriving about 3:00, there were huge lines for the buses back up and almost no one waiting to go down.

The first part of the path takes you through an amazing ecosystem of flowing water. You are surrounded on all sides by pools, lush vegetation, and swirling falls.
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After awhile, you come to an overlook of the main falls where the swimming area is.
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After going down quite a steep hill, and yes, you will have to go up it again later, you get to a small waterfall you can climb into...
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...and then to the main swimming area.
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It was a really unique and really enjoyable experience. One of the best day trips we've had in a long time.

TROGIR

On our way back to Split, we stopped off at Trogir, a small town whose original town is built completely on an island. It's tiny but really beautiful with an old fortress and tons of restaurants and shops. It was nice to be there in the evening as these towns can be really magical at night.
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It's definitely worth a visit but I wouldn't go out of the way for it.

It was a whirlwind of tourism while we entertained Courtney on her visit to Croatia. It's always fun to have a visitor to get us out and seeing the sights.
On our last day with her, we decided to put on our "fancy pants" and pretend we were rich tourists. We headed to the Radisson Blu resort, just down the hill from us, and treated ourselves to a "fancy day".
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I'm pretty sure Courtney had fun! Ha!
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Stay tuned as we finish out our last few days before splitting Split and heading back to the States for a month. Yikes!

And be sure to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram for more frequent updates.

Posted by mrb430 01:06 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Oh Croatia - You Are So Beautiful! (Part 1)


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We continue to love Croatia and wish they had a better long-term visa option! The food, the landscape, and the people are all just wonderful. Add to that it's probably the cheapest place we've been since Baja and we are under budget even with the added expense of entertaining for two weeks! If they had a way to stay longer, it would definitely be on our list. Alas, they don't and it isn't but it should definitely be on your bucket list!

It is a wonderful city with excellent beaches and it is also a great jumping off point for amazing day trips. Perfect location for Courtney to visit us.

KLIS FORTRESS

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We take the public bus here almost every day. One goes from downtown at our market right to our apartment so we often take it after our walk and coffee and shopping in the morning. They are cheap, fairly easy to navigate, and mostly reliable. We've only been "stood up" twice and once was on our way to Klis. After waiting almost an hour, we decided "we're not that poor" (something we do now and then to excuse an extravagance) and hopped in an Uber. They are also fairly plentiful here and half the price of a cab. In any case...

Located 14 km outside Split, this fortress occupies a point overlooking the only real break in the mountains that surround the city.
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It has been a stronghold since the third century BC and was occupied until after World War II. Famous for so much more than being Meereen in Game of Thrones, it makes a great day trip to learn the history of conquest and reconquest of this area.
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It also commands an amazing view back to Split and over the islands.
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It was a great introduction for Courtney to the amazing beauty of Split.
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FARM TOUR ON MOSOR MOUNTAIN

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After touring Klis in the morning, we were picked up by our local Air BnB Experience host, Marin, for a trip to his family’s farm and orchards. They have an amazing view back to Klis Fortress and out to the Adriatic.
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Marin's family had owned their land for 500+ years and it is a testament to their love of the land as well as their ability to stay out of the political winds of change over the centuries that they have remained even as the fortress and the land around them changed hands. But the new winds of change are threatening these farms now as young people don't want to continue what their ancestors have built. Marin is struggling against this tide by branching into tours and tastings. He went to college but wanted to live the simpler life in his village and on the farm. We sincerely wish him the best of luck!

If you haven't ever looked into the Air BnB Experiences, you should. We've done a few now and they are a great way to get off the beaten track and meet locals. The farm has olive, almond, plum, fig, and pear trees - among others - as well as grape vines and lucky us everything was ripening! We ate pears, plums, and figs right from the trees. Courtney even got into the action on the old way of pressing olives.
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Marin also gave us the history of the farm, explained the seasonal life they live including wild boar hunting, and showed us how they still make their own boar sausage, cheeses, wines, fruit brandy and schnapps, and bake their own breads. And then we got to sample everything!
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Truly a one of a kind experience.

DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE CELLARS

Of course we revisited the palace with Courtney but this time we visited the substructures. We did it mostly because, of course, this is where Daenerys Targaryen kept her dragons in Game of Thrones but I am so glad we did. They are extensive and so interesting. In the Roman times, their function was to elevate the Emperor's chambers on the floor above so that the entire first floor would be level even though the land slanted towards the sea, but they were also the storage area for the Palace. It was hard to get good photos as it was pretty dark but here are a few.
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Here and there, they open into sunken courtyards where you can look up at the rest of the palace.
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If you ever get here, be sure to check them out.

DAY SAIL TO BOL AND ZLATNI RAT (GOLDEN HORN) BEACH

Speaking of splurging, we booked a day sail on the Polaris to Bol, Brač and the Golden Horn beach. The boat, having originally been built in New York and used as a tug in D-Day before being refurbished after the Yugoslav war, was beautiful.large_75a424b0-ca65-11e9-9445-455a9cb04af3.JPGlarge_75230dd0-ca65-11e9-a7e5-a15daba320c9.JPGlarge_IMG_1083.JPGlarge_fullsizeoutput_1e4e.jpeg
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The trip was great as we passed through the gates of Split between the islands of Šolta and Brač and then followed the south side of Brač all the way to Bol.
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Getting out on the water is a must here and I'm really glad we picked this cruise. There are soooooo many to choose from but this one was really well organized, didn't try to do too much like rushing to five islands in one day, and they fed us and gave us free drinks! It was really relaxing and nice.
And, once we got to the beach, we had our own private wait staff! Ha!
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As always here, the water was clear and warm and the beach was rocky, although they were smaller pebbles. It's one of the most famous beaches in Croatia and reviews will tell you not to go as it's too crowded. For us, that added to the fun. We'd definitely say "GO"!
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Stay tuned for more from Courtney's visit and our exploration of Krka National Park. And don't forget to follow us on InstaGram @ arrradventures.

Posted by mrb430 08:19 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Exploring Split and Planning Arrradventures


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We've settled in nicely to Split. It's a beautiful place with great weather and friendly people. And the food!

But before we get back into the sights, we've been spending a lot of time planning out our adventures between now and January and thought we'd share some of that. As always, if you're not interested, skip down for the latest highlights.

PLANNING THE ADVENTURE

People often ask me how far in advance we plan. Currently, we have been planning in chunks so that we aren't always having to think about it and can feel comfortable that we know where we'll be in the near future. (A result of the constant planning hangover we still have from 2018.) In general, we start dreaming about the "travel path" about six months to a year out. For example, we are "dreaming" about 2020 now and have decided we will be in Southeast Asia, which may or may not include Australia and Pacific Islands, from January to June. We know we will be back in the US in July for my father's 90th birthday. And after that...well, we're still throwing around options. It's mainly like we first pick a continent, then we narrow it down to a country or countries, then to specific places.

This year, we've mapped things out and put definite stakes in the ground by booking housing for a month at a time, usually about three months in advance. Same with air travel. For example, we have all of our flights and housing booked through the end of the year now. It's reassuring to know it's done but also carries a risk if a wrinkle gets thrown into the works. Fingers crossed the only wrinkles we get are from the sun!

SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2019

September and October are an exercise in how making decisions too early can lead to some whacky travel.

In September, we leave Croatia and travel back to the US. I haven't seen my brother and his family in quite some time so we thought my mother's birthday in early September would be a good excuse to travel back and see everyone. We had planned, five months ago or so, that we would go to Chicago (where my brother is), my parents would come out and after a visit there we would go to DC to see the girls. We didn't think, at the time, that we would be back until the following May when both girls would graduate from their respective schooling, Morgan from Law School and Courtney from Nursing School. But best laid plans and all that.

After booking the trip to from Croatia to Chicago, we realized we'd have seen the girls in France and Croatia this summer so spending the money to go to and stay in DC to see them again so soon didn't make sense. Plus, about this time they both announced they would be graduating in December instead of May. So now much to our amazement we will be back in the US , in December. We also saw my parents in June in Portugal so September was feeling less and less like a necessary trip. But we had the tickets and we had the desire to see my brother and his family so we stuck with the plan. Adding to the complication, we also had booked three weeks in October in Cyprus doing a house sit. We'd been wanting to try out this "free living" experience and were lucky to get one in Cyprus, where we were planning to go anyway before whiling away some time in the Canary Islands and then heading to Asia for the winter. But now we were locked into flying back across the Atlantic for two months before having to come back to the US again in December. And we still had to figure out what to do between early September and October.

We couldn't go back to Europe because of the Schengen Visa rules. We didn't want to go too far out of the way to get back to Cyprus. The Caribbean was an option. But in the end, the enticement to stay in the US awhile for Scott to get to see the start of football season won out. Miami here we come. When in doubt, South Beach is always a good answer.

After Cyprus, as I mentioned we planned to go to the Canary Islands for November and we also stuck with that idea. It's one of the few places in Europe still warm enough for us in November. But traveling from Cyprus, not a big air travel destination, to the Canaries, not a cheap air travel destination, was proving a challenge. It's not just about the cost of flights for us but the "reasonableness" of the travel is a big factor. Flying all the way back to London to get to the islands just wasn't something we wanted to do. So, Marrakesh to the rescue. It's "on the way", has easy flights from Cyprus and to the Canaries and it's somewhere that's been on my bucket list forever! A week in Marrakesh it is!

Finally in 2019, we will be in DC for the first three weeks of December trying not to freeze. In addition to the graduations we'll be able to spend our anniversary at the Scottish Parade! And then, because that won't be cold enough, we'll go to Colorado and spend Christmas and the New Year with my parents. (Just kidding. Any excuse to get out to Colorado and to see my parents is a good one!)

In the end, the map looks like this. We're going to be very familiar with Gatwick airport!
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Not ideal and not very efficient but...live and learn!

THE BIG IDEAS

We chose Central America and Europe for 2019 to "practice" being expats before embarking on countries that are more foreign to us. That's worked out well. We've learned how to arrive in a new place, what we need and don't, and how to navigate. It feels totally normal now and we're ready for some more "interesting" (read challenging) adventures in 2020.

We've learned so much about what we like and don't like in the last 15 months but it's always changing and adapting. 2018 was the Year of Constant Travel followed by the Long Mexican Winter. Two ends of the spectrum, neither of which were ideal. So 2019 has been the Year of the Month-long Stay. It's has its upsides in reduced costs and relaxation but it has its downsides of committing to plans too early and lack of flexibility (see above). So 2020 is, tentatively, the Year of Winging It! We're hoping the reduced cost of living in SE Asia will allow us more flexibility. It's not that we won't stay places for longer durations, just that we won't be picking those places so far in advance. We're also of the mind that different continents/countries demand a different style of travel. In other words, Europe is expensive and there are usually discounts for monthly stays so moving around less makes economic sense. Asia is cheaper and lodging options and approaches are very different so it's not as necessary. I'm sure, if nothing else, it will be an adventure! Anyone out there with "must see" destinations in SE Asia, let us know!

SEEING THE HEIGHTS IN SPLIT

You thought it would be sights but so far we've focused on the heights! Croatia and it's islands are very mountainous and as result there are great view points everywhere.

SUPETAR, BRAČ
Brač is the closest big island to Split, just across the channel. So to try out the ferry system, we headed out. The port is a chaotic jumble of cars, people, and ships. But once we found the departure board and sighted the numbering for the piers, it all made sense and we found out ferry.
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Supetar is the port city for Brač and includes Supetar itself as well as the three villages: Splitska, Škrip and Mirca. With a population of 3,213, it is the island's largest town! It's a charming village that today is mostly a beach resort town but the harbor is beautiful as are the old stone streets. It's August in Europe and everyone is on vacation so the beaches and resorts were packed.
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Interesting fact - all of the stone for Diocletian's Palace in Split came from Brač, prized for it's white stone.
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Since we didn't come prepared for a beach day, we rented bikes and headed out to explore. I had read that the village of Mirca was lovely and not far so off we went.
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What I neglected to realize was that it, and the olive trail we were headed for, were at the top of the ridge line! It was a hot and steep ride but the views were worth it! Croatia has a thriving olive oil and wine industry and both are exceptional.
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I will never tire of the beauty of old olive trees and older stone walls.
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And the little village was a beautiful spot for a break before heading down to the beachside for a coffee.
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Finally we had an amazing meal at the harbor before heading back. Scott is in love with the Italian food influences here, especially the pizza, and I'm loving all of the fresh grilled fish and vegetables.

MARJAN HILL, SPLIT
Marjan is 178 meters tall (584 ft.) and offers a view of the entire city, the surrounding islands, and the nearby mountains of Mosor and Kozjak. Hiking, as I may have mentioned once or twice, is not Scott's favorite activity. SO I was really pleased when he agreed to "hike" up onto Marjan Hill. I put hike in quotes because almost all of the paths are paved. Nevertheless, it was a really steep climb, initially up a never-ending set of steps. From the first viewpoint at the top of the stairs, there are amazing views back to Split's harbor and back to the mountains.
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Then it's up a beautiful walkway...
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...to the Chapel of St. Nicholas, built in the 13th century. These chapels were popular pilgrimage sites throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.
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The path continues to the chapel of Our Lady of Bethlehem, built in the 15th century. As it required more steps, Scott was happy to wait at the bottom.
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As an aside, we've realized I like to climb things. Light houses, bell towers, doesn't matter. Scott, not so much. So we both do what we enjoy and we end up all smiles.
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Beyond this chapel, there is the Chapel of St. Jerome and the first of the hermitage caves, also from the 15th century. I guess pilgrims used to come to these sites and live in seclusion as hermits to contemplate God. It's hard to imagine now that it's a recreational park for a large city but it does feel like a very blessed place.
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And finally, the Karepić Hermitage. According to the coat of arms above the entrance and the date, the fortress was built by the Karepić family in 1523. They also built a palace in the old city of Split. The inscription below the coat of arms reads: CONCORDES VOTA SEQVNTVR, DISCORDES FRVSTRA LABORANT. Which apparently translates as HARMONY MAKES WISHES COME TRUE, DISHARMONY MAKES DECEPTIONS. I really like that.
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The path continues on to the end of the peninsula and affords amazing views the whole way down.
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We grabbed the public bus back (the bus system here is awesome, cheap, and easy to use). It was a great day.

Days we're not out "height-seeing", we while away our time on the beach. Feels like August for sure as the temps were over 100 for a few days. But with nothing to do and all day to do it, we don't mind.
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Well we're off to the airport to pick up Courtney so stay tuned for more adventures. And remember to follow us @arrradventures on InstaGram.

Posted by mrb430 10:02 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Beaching in the Balkans


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

Well, we made it to Split!
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CULTURE SHOCK AND BEYOND

Stepping out of the airport you see the Adriatic and the Dinaric alps and feel the salty breezes. We knew we were back at a beach town. I'll admit our first impression was a bit of culture shock and a "what did we do?" feeling. As we traveled from the airport and found our apartment building, we were struck by the Soviet era high-rises that appeared to get their last maintenance about the same time they were built. Our apartment is in one of these high-rise buildings built in 1972, they heyday of the Croatian economy.

You can see some of them in these sunset photos from our balcony.
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At the time, I'm sure they were very modern. Our place is very large but looks like someone's Grandmother owned it and it hasn't been refurnished or updated since she did. We are also about a mile and a half from the old city and there aren't many restaurants or other services around (although we do have a grocery store three blocks away). So we were a bit worried about how this would all turn out.

But...we have found that each new place that shocks your senses at first soon becomes familiar. The eyes and mind have a way of getting used to the "otherness" and making it normal. We found this in our first trips to Central America and many places since. It also helps to understand the culture. In this case, Croatia did rather well in the Soviet-era. They enjoyed a certain amount of freedom of travel and economic development. After the fall and the crash, they suffered along with everyone else and then came the war in the 90's. Their economy is still not back to where it was and there are issues of corruption and stagnation, as well as very fresh and bitter memories of the war. So maybe it's understandable it's been hard to maintain their housing stock as they would want to do.

The thing is, as you get used to the starkness and ugliness of the infrastructure, you start to see the beauty. The water is amazingly clear and blue, the mountains make a gorgeous backdrop, and the tall cedars and pines scent the air.
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Most of the beaches are rocky.
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While we prefer sand, there is an upside. No sandy beach towels dragging sand into the apartment, no sand in your electronics, no sand blowing around when the wind comes up. The water is warm and on some days calm as a lake. We got some beach pads like the locals to "soften" the rocks and beach chairs and we're all set!
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The beaches are really well maintained with showers and concessions. And there is a two+ mile "malecon" along the water all the way into the old town harbor. It reminds us a bit of La Paz. large_IMG_1849.JPGlarge_IMG_1885.JPG

And, it's only a ten minute walk down the hill to the beach from our place! Of course it's all UP HILL coming back and it's a pretty good climb. But we're getting used to that, too.

Sunsets from the deck are beautiful and the breeze cools the apartment so no A/C needed. We're all settled in now and really happy.
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DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE

The heart of Split is the old town within the walls of Diocletian's Palace. Built in the 4th century AD by the Roman ruler Diocletius, it forms about half of the old city. It' a fascinating place because the town has grown up over centuries within the walls. There is layer upon layer of history in the architecture that reflects the many different cultures that have prevailed in this area over the centuries. The Roman walls still exist with their gates into the city and there are places you can still see the Roman roads and curbs.
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And the Roman temple to Jupiter still stands wedged in among the other buildings.
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The entry to the palace, some of the chambers, and the underground "caverns" (for those GOT lovers, it's where the dragons were kept) still stand integrated into the rest of the town.
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There are Venetian palaces...large_c2cbcb70-b760-11e9-9fb3-f5b72def6a1a.JPG

Renaissance towers...large_IMG_1873.JPGlarge_c30a5b10-b760-11e9-9fb3-f5b72def6a1a.JPG

And tiny passageways between buildings.large_c3628d30-b760-11e9-9fb3-f5b72def6a1a.JPG

And to top it all of there is probably the best market we have had yet. Fruits, vegetables, as well as butchers and prepared roasted meats!
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The food here is really good, too. Great bread, a focus on grilled meats and veggies, and really fresh ingredients. More to come of this fascinating place. We're holding off on some it until Courtney arrives for her stay. So excited she will get to experience this amazingly different place with us.

So stay tuned! We also have all of the islands yet to explore. Don't forget to follow us @arrradventures on InstaGram.

Posted by mrb430 02:19 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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