The great adventure begins, a bucket list item to be ticked off. The next four weeks consists of two weeks sailing in beautiful Croatia followed by ten days in a small Italian village as a base for exploring Tuscany. Two other couples are joining us for the sailing and Mario and Helen will go on to Italy with us. Alex and Lucy will return to Germany, where they are currently visiting a new grandchild.
We caught up with Mario and Helen at Perth airport check-in and did the usual parade through security, immigration etc before settling in to wait for boarding our Qatar Airways flight to Doha. The flight left at 10:50pm and landed in Doha at 5:15am. Because the plane was basically chasing the sun, it was 11 hours of night time starting in the middle of the night. It is weird to be served a dinner meal at midnight. It was the usual watch a movie, try to sleep, go to the loo, watch a movie, …. routine but the flight was pretty good overall. The plane was a giant two deck A380 and we were impressed with the standard.
Most of the three hours in Doha consisted of walking along endless corridors of duty free shops and paying an amazing $A8 for a coffee. There was not much to see outside apart from what appeared to be appalling smog. By 8am, the outside temperature was around 30 degrees with 41 forecast.
We boarded the next leg of the journey onto a smaller A330 which promised a tad more legroom but not much more. The standard was much lower with terrible TV screens and cramped foot room. It was another 5 hours to Rome and by the time we exited the airport to find the shuttle bus to the Airport Mecure, we had had enough. We had just missed one shuttle and heavy traffic delayed the next so we had quite a wait before we were on our way to the little town of Fiumicino, bordering the edge of the airport to book into the Mecure Leonardo da Vinci for the night.
After collapsing for an hour or so, we met up again and headed out to explore the little fishing town, sitting on the banks of an arm of the River Tiber. It is more on the industrial side than the tourist but there was a very cute line of restaurants and bars that caught our attention. With all the time shifts and erratic meals, none of us had any idea of what biological time we were in but it certainly felt like beer o’clock so we settled in to an Irish pub and sampled a range of the extensive on-tap offerings. We followed up with some delicious food. By 8:15 we were all in bed.
The next day was to be easy, with a 1 hour flight to Split in Croatia leaving at the civilized time of 11:25 am. We gave ourselves plenty of time, leaving the hotel at 8:20 to allow for the possible traffic snarls we made excellent time and found the Vueling Air counter to check in. Much to our horror, we had not booked ANY luggage. I say “We” but in reality it was down to Christine but we don’t need to dwell on that point. Being a low cost airline, luggage is not included. To book in luggage at checkin was going to cost us $A60 each. The nice girl at the counter suggested that we go away and purchase luggage check-in online, where it would only cost us $A20 a head. We sat while Christine played with the phone then presented again. “I can’t find any record of your payment,” said the girl. We retired for a second go. Christine’s creds were taking a beating at this stage. On third presentation, our luggage was checked in and it was off to find a boarding gate.
We wandered the corridors, bought some duty free booze, made several wrong turns before finally finding gate E01 and getting on a bus to the plane. The flight was crazy short, up and over the calf of Italy and across the narrow Adriatic Sea to land in Split. Immigration was efficient and the luggage was quickly retrieved. Not so for everyone. A long line of people waiting at a small window was half the passengers on an Easyjet flight whose luggage had gone somewhere other than Split. A great start to their holiday.
Once again, we located the Airport Shuttle Bus rank for the 20km trip into Split. A very comfortable bus arrived and we all bundled in. It rattled along the coast road for about 8km before coming to an almost complete halt in the heaviest traffic I have ever seen in Croatia. We crawled along for nearly another hour, travelling at less than walking pace. The drop off point was a little over a kilometre from our accommodation so we loaded the backpacks and dragged the wheelie bags across the flagstones in front of the ancient Roman place. Everywhere there where people relaxing and drinking, while we were tired, footsore and ready for a break. The apartment proved a little tricky to find, tucked in amongst a cluster of old stone structures at the end of a series of narrow laneways but we finally met Damir and were settled in to our AirBnB apartment.
The apartment was functional, neat and clean. The big appeal was location, location with a bit more location thrown in. It was a short step around the corner to an endless variety of eateries and a little supermarket. Diocletian’s Palace was only a few hundred metres away and the World Famous esplanade in front of the palace was within easy reach. We did to eateries in the one afternoon, with beer and local tapas at one followed beer wine and pizza at another. It was a marvellous end to a crazy day where we spent most of a day working hard for a little over an hour’s flight time. Still, we had arrived in Croatia safely and without major incident.
Our first day in Split was spent in a exploration of Diocletian’s Palace. Built in the 4th Century, the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian occupies over half of the old town area. Visible signs of the original palace vary from near complete sections with Roman mosaic floors to walls and buildings rebuilt many times over the centuries, incorporating Roman columns and arches. The effect is stunning, with new vistas at every turn and an abundance of incredibly cute little nooks and hide-aways. Every little plaza is filled with cafes and the alleyways are lined with stone walled shops showing off the colourful crafts of the region. Just walking around inside the palace area is a continual delight.
The crowds are rather heavy though, far heavier than we have experienced before, with several cruise ships being in port. One is simply enormous, dominating the harbour, and looks more like a giant sheep carrier than a cruise ship.
Helen and Mario went walking and returned several hours later thrilled with their excursion to the Park Suma Marjan, a large sprawling nature park with a high lookout over Split. Helen is doing very well with all the walking following some recent health issues but waited at the bottom of the final 330 step climb while Mario pushed on to bring back some wonderful photos of the two main bays that surround the city. They enjoyed a wine or two taking in the views. Meanwhile, we did a spot of shopping, organised some SIM cards for our internet aboard the yacht and found a cool spot to sample more of the excellent local Karlovako beer.
After a very Mediterranean meal of olives, cheeses and salami, Mario and Helen went back out to take in the beauty of the palace at night. The rock walls create gorgeous colours and shadows creating a fairy-tale like effect. We relaxed.
Day 3 in Croatia had us travelling north to Trogir, from where we would pick up our yacht. The coastal ferry to Trogir was due to run at 1pm so we spent a couple of hours sitting at a cafe on the Split Esplanade drinking a coffee, eating lunch and generally watching the wonderful world pass by. It was such a hardship.
The ferry trip was amazing, providing beautiful views of the harbour, the headland and the villages along the coast of the island of Ciovo and on to the gorgeous little town of Trogir. Trogir dates from the 3rd Century BC and has at various times been Greek, Roman, Croat, Austrian and Venetian. The Venetian influence is most noticeable. The old town is situated on a small island between the mainland and the larger island of Ciovo. Almost the entire island is covered in white stone buildings separated by a maze of twisting winding cobbled alleyways. The only vehicle roads are around the edge of the island, leaving everything else for foot traffic. If the palace at Split is a 10/10, Trogir old town is an 11/10. It is breathtaking and fully deserves its World Heritage status.
We made our way over the two bridges to the mainland and completed the short walk to our accommodation, to be greeted by Stefan, our host. He showed us around a neat three bedroom apartment on the second floor with all mod cons and plenty of facilities.
We had a three bedroom apartment because Alex and Lucy were due to fly down from Germany to join us for the sailing but sadly, we had received news that Alex’s medical condition was showing some contra indications and they had been advised not to travel to Croatia but to stay in Germany. It was very sad for us but no doubt doubly sad for them. Still, health comes first. From here on, many of our toasts will be to Alex and Lucy.
We had deliberately staved off the temptation to look up the football score as the Eagles played Essendon in an Elimination Final so we could set up in the apartment and watch a replay using Kayo on the Internet. We must have announced our arrival to the rest of the residents with our screaming (especially Mario’s) as the eagles demolished a hapless Bombers.
That night, we ventured back into the old town to be absolutely charmed by the effects of the soft lighting in the narrow stone lined walkways. We settled at a charming restaurant and had wood fired pizza and seafood pasta. All the chairs and tables were carved out of olive wood and each piece was unique. There were places that looked like a scene straight out of a Harry Potter movie. Afterwards, we wandered down to the castle fortress at the end of the island and admired all the huge expensive boats moored along the harbour. As we approached an ice creamery, a waiter saw our West Coast shirts and cheered us, saying he too had watched the match. Good to see the AFL spreading its wings.
The next day we explored more of the old town. Mario and Helen went back to the fortress and climbed (Helen continues to amaze) to the top for views down onto the town. We spent some time in the local market and when I approached a woman for help finding something she answered in perfect English with a trace of an Aussie accent. Turns out she was from Melbourne originally. Small world.
Our time in Trogir was brief but we will probably pass back through after a week’s sailing. It is one of our favourite places anywhere, its charm and easy life is so seductive. I could live here a while.
Now it’s off sailing!