Trogir 9-14 June
We caught a bus from Zadar to Trogir, an interesting experience. We booked an “Autotransport Sibenik” bus, one of several available but with the most convenient time. Fortunately, we were early so we were fairly early getting our bags stowed and finding a seat. We had to pay an extra 14HRK ($A2.80) extra for the bags, not something we have ever experienced before but logical enough because it means that travel for people without bags is cheaper. We took our seats and settled down as per normal. Then the bus started to fill, and fill, until the aisles were full. One guy pointed out that we had his booked seat. We showed him our ticket that said seats were not allocated. We had booked ours two days earlier than him so we stayed put. The bus driver came down the aisle, not an easy thing because he was built like the Hulk, and checked tickets. All those hoping to buy a ticket on board were kicked out of seats, satisfying our seat claimant and then he proceeded to sell tickets to the others. Of course, by this time there was only standing room left and the trip was a couple of hours. I don’t think they got a discount.
The trip was a good drive. On the left were the mountains and inland lakes and on the right the ocean and numerous offshore islands. Each view came and went, punctuated with the entry into a gorgeous little town or village to drop off or pick up passengers. The crowd on the bus eased as the towns went by but suddenly, at Sibenik, another dozen people got on. I am not sure why social media outrage has not sunk this bus company. Our accommodation host, Ivan, was not at all surprised. He said it is just the way things happen in Croatia.
We eventually arrived in Trogir, quite a deal later than the advertised time and were met by our host. Ivan is a charming young man who owns the apartment we have rented. He is a forestry engineer living in split who has obviously branched off into real estate rental. He showed us the way to our apartment, a mere 800m from the city centre, and settled us in. Our apartment is a one bedroom affair on the third and top floor of small block. It appears to be in a housing estate with every block the same and separated by a bit of unkept garden and parking spaces. The place looked pretty run down and very much a left-over from the communist era. Fortunately, our apartment was newly renovated and in spotless condition, with everything we needed. The big exception was a toaster, not surprising because people in Italy and Croatia don’t seem to make toast. They are available in stores but we never find a rental apartment that has one.
Trogir is like a smaller version of Zadar in many ways. The old fortress town occupies an island rather than a peninsular but there is access from two sides, with the larger island of Ciovo. A small stone bridge connects Trogir to the mainland and a small steel one to Ciovo. This route is the only land route to Ciovo, which appears to have a significant population. The little road is chocked full to a standstill during peak hours. Another bridge is under construction that will avoid the old town. It was due to open this June but the builder went broke and things have very much stopped. All the pylons appear to be in place but that is all.
Just like Zadar, the city inside the ancient walls is almost fairytale like. There are so many gorgeous alleyways, porticoes, piazzas and churches that one barely knows where to look. The city is said to be the best example of a Romanesque-Gothic town in Central Europe and has earned a UNESCO protected status. The original design of the city is still visible and is down to the early Greek founders and the Roman influence remains strong. Unfortunately, the crowds can get a bit too heavy at times and the tiny narrow streets fill with walking tours. Another negative is the habit of filling every open space with tables and umbrellas for the restaurants. I have no objection to al fresco dining or people making a living out of tourism but when a piazza can’t be properly appreciated because the view is completely obscured by a sea of umbrellas things need to be re-evaluated.
On the northern end of the town there is a fortress built by the Venetians in the 1400s sometime. It gives excellent views of the city and is a wonderful place to spend some time just looking down at all the comings and goings of the local boats.
Thankfully, food and drink prices have a little lower than Zadar, around 20% on average, and there appears to be many more low cost lunch and fast food options, although no actual Maccas is in sight. The fast food consists of interesting Croatian pastries with meat fillings and some really good stuffed pita bread type of things. There is a large fresh market right next to the bridge from the mainland that sells all manner of fruit and veg, nuts, dried fruits, honey and olive oil. It is an all bustle and hum type of place although, like all markets, care needs to be taken to avoid being had or buying stuff you don’t really want. Across the road is a fresh fish market where people bring their catches in the mornings. There are prawns, lobster, sea bream, sea bass and mullet on offer, all very fresh and quite a reasonable price. We bought a couple of good sized bream for $A10 so it is certainly on a par with Australia.
Trogir certainly shows off its maritime links. There are boats everywhere with moorings along every bit of shoreline, small harbours in every cove and large marinas in the bigger bays. Most houses along the beach have a boat of some kind resting in the yard. Ferries and sight seeing boats make runs out to some of the nearby islands. One of the highlights of the old town is the 15th Century Venetian fortress at the northern end of the island. Although not overly big, it is in reasonable condition and can be climbed for some outstanding vistas across the town and harbor. Getting to the top involves steep sets of steps, narrow stone stairways and a couple of steel ladders, none of which is Christine’s preferred method of travel but the result was worth the effort.
One day we decided to take a bus into Split, Croatia’s second largest city and situated about an hour’s ride to the south. We had stayed in Split in 2012 and fallen in love with it, especially the incredibly beautiful Diocletian’s Palace. Diocletian was a Roman Emperor between 284 and 305AD. He was born in Split of low parentage but grew through the ranks of the army to eventually become Emperor. The remains of his huge palace form the supporting structure for much of the central part of Split. The bus dropped us off about 800m short of the palace and we had to walk to the palace gates. Once inside, we were reminded of just how amazing the place is. It is quite surreal experience to walk the pathways and steps in the footsteps of those from nearly 2000 years ago. The place was jam packed with tourists. Two cruise ships were in port making things very difficult. However, the palace is big, bigger than the whole of Trogir, and so we eventually escaped the worst of the crowds.
Split is a major hub for the ferry services, both international and those that service the islands. Part of our purpose in coming to Split was to sort out our future movements through the islands to the south and we managed to buy the tickets we wanted and work out just where we needed to be. Advance planning when carrying heavy backpacks is always a good idea. Along the wharf and departure areas we found the crowds to be much greater than they were back in 2012, probably because the GFC had hit Europe in a big way and tourism was down. Things are recovering!
We caught a ferry home along the coast from Split, stopping at Slatine, a small village on the south end of Ciovo. The ferry trip took about the same time as the bus but was far more enjoyable and only a little more expensive. We got off the boat at Trogir and settled in to a little restaurant for a late lunch. Much to our delight, they had grilled sardines on the menu. Whole, crispy fried sardines were a highlight of our trip in 2012. They were cheap and really tasty, but for some reason, they are almost absent from the menus this time around. We researched “Adriatic Sardines” and did read that the EU is trying to introduce measures to combat over-exploitation by Croatia and Italy so maybe some controls are in place. The ones we were served were definitely smaller than before but very tasty and still cheap. After Trogir, we will head out to live on some of the islands for a couple of weeks so hopefully sardines will become more common.
We enjoyed a day exploring part of the Krka (pronounced Krarka) National Park, inland and north-east of Trogir. After much research, we used a tour bus to get there because the local buses looked complicated and involved a lot of sitting around waiting. The park surrounds a large deep valley carved out of the limestone ranges by the Krka River. The descent of the river through the lush forested valley produces an incredible area full of waterfalls and sparkling clear running water. Exploring the whole park, with its castles, forests and rivers, would take days or even weeks, and we just visited Stradinski Buk, which features some of the best waterfalls and some excellent walk trails. As with everywhere, it was crowded, even though we had held off going on the weekend. The weekdays mean you get smaller adult and family crowds but you run into the school excursions. The walk trails were crowded and the swimming area quite full, despite the rather cold water. However, the crowds did not detract from the sheer beauty of the place. There was running water everywhere, framed with extremely picturesque forest. Amazingly, the waterfalls are growing slightly each year, rather than being eroded away as one would expect. The water is so high in minerals that limestone (or travertine) actually settles out of the water onto the rocks, in much the same way that stalactites grow in cave systems. It creates some lovely effects around the falls.
The lush forest was such a contrast from the drive to the park, across open and bare mountain sides covered in rock rubble and low scrub. It is amazing just how barren looking the whole inland region is with almost no top soil of any kind visible, save in the odd isolated shallow valley. Areas of rocky surface have been painstakingly cleared of rocks over the centuries, the rocks stacked into an extensive series of drywalls. A few areas had vines or apricots planted but olives are the main crop, mostly small gnarly trees by Italian standards. A bit of research reveals that the bareness of the hills results from a combination of factors. The natural harshness of the limestone karst system means that topsoil has not built up over the years. Where forests did flourish, heavy milling by the Venetians in the Middle ages as their naval power grew denuded the coastline, adding to erosion problems. Whatever the reason, the effect is harsh and it is certainly not the type of place I would ever want to do any gardening. Along the way we passed a number of marble quarries, with steps of perfectly smooth blocks cut into the hillside. The marble from this part of the World is famous and said to be top quality.
We thoroughly loved Trogir. Although not quite as big or spectacular as Zadar, it is a very easy place to live in. In fact, I think it is a much better choice of somewhere to stay than Split, even though everyone goes to Split. The international airport is far closer to Trogir than Split, accommodation cheaper and the crowds are not as bad. A few cruise ships do come to Trogir but they are much smaller than the huge ones that go to Split. Split can be accessed as a day trip by ferry, with the one main attraction there being Diocletian’s Palace.
Another ferry trip took us back to Split to catch a connecting ferry on to our next stop, Supertar on Brac Island.