September 22nd, 2022
On Wednesday 7th September I flew from Glasgow to Split. It's a three hour flight and Split is an hour ahead of the UK. It was exciting to be visiting my first new country since 2016.
The beauty of Croatia strikes you as soon as you exit the airport in Split. Blue skies, mountains and a deep blue stretch of water greet your gaze. I wanted to get the camera out right away!
I was travelling with a company called The Travel Department for the first time. I had seen their ads in The Herald Weekend Magazine for many years. The company operates flights out of Scotland and it is a semi organised holiday with a tour every second day. The company is based in the Irish Republic and the total tour group comprised thirty Irish who flew in from Dublin and seven of us who flew from Glasgow. From Split airport there was an hour transfer to Vodice (pronounced Voditsa) which is a resort on the Dalmatian Coast. Our hotel was the Olympia which was right on the coast. I'll mention more about the accommodation later but my room was nice and spacious with a view onto the sea. As you can imagine Scots and Irish get along fine and the whole group was very convivial. Scots were Jim and Allison (EK), Alister and Linda (Brookfield) and Jim and Joyce (Jordanhill). Our Irish friends were from all over the Emerald Isle and enthusiastic users of Travel Department holidays.
I immediately visited the local scuba diving shop to see if I could get some diving. I was told it was end of season and the dive shop would contact me but this didn't work out. This was probably the only disappointment of the trip.
Our friendly guide Andreas met us at 1000 and we took a half our drive to Sibenik, a small city to the east. We crossed the Kyrka River and stopped for a photo. Mussel farms along the river's edge were abundant and their product was to be sampled the next day!
We had a half day walking tour around Sibenik. The highlights of the city are St. Francis' Monastery, The Medieval Monastery Garden of St. Lawrence and the Cathedral of St. James. I climbed the hill to St Michael's Fortress. From the fortress you can view another two fortresses, Barone Fortress and St John's Fortress. The prominent position of St Michael's Fortress gives you excellent views over the Kyrka River and up to the Kyrka Bridge. There are also great views over to St Anthony's Channel which is the route from Sibenik through two islands out to the sea. We would cover this passage on the next day. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the photos of the day tour.
Our second tour was a guided boat trip to Krapanj and Golden island Zlarin. We left Vodice and travelled through St Anthony's passage for a short stop in Sibenik, passing St Nicholas Sea Fortress which dates from 1540-47. A brief stop was made at a mussel farm on the Kyrka River to pick up a bag of fresh product for eating later.
The first island stop was Krapanj, a tiny but picturesque place with houses dotted along the shore and boats galore tied up. We took a trip to the Diving Museum which is family run and heard stories of diving for sponges which is a dangerous venture, given the depths they are harvested at. The lady doing the talk had lost her grandfather in a diving accident. This is one of the main activities on the island along with the harvesting of coral, wine and olive oil.
On our way to the next island we feasted on mackerel cooked on the boat. Our final stop was Zlarin. Like Krapanj it is also small and we had some time on shore to wander and explore the narrow streets. Picturesque seems to sum up this part of the world.
Over the weekend it was time to chill, spend some time at the pool, have a swim in the sea and explore along the seafront in both directions heading out from Vodice.
Two days prior to departing Croatia we had a full day tour to Split and Trogir.
Trogir was our first stop. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its famous Venetian architecture. We did a tour along the narrow streets and then had time to wander along the front. In one off the narrow streets a lady was hauling in her laundry which was drying out high above us. Some of the crowd applauded and she came out to see what the noise was. She eventually accepted that we were amused by the scene and then proceeded to entertain us with stories as she had a captive audience. I have a couple of photos of this scene. The Cathedral of St Lawrence in Trogir dates from the 13th Century and has a Romanesque-Gothic architectural style. Along the sea front I visited the Kamerlengo Castle which dates from the 15th Century.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia. Half of the old town is taken up with the remains of Diocletian's Palace. The Roman emperor retired to Split and the palace was built around the turn of the 4th century. Given that most Roman ruins are very limited due to their age it was amazing to see so much preserved. The foundations are taken over by stalls selling tourist items and a decent proportion of Towers and walls remain. I don't know if my photos do it justice but please have a look. Inside the palace we were treated to a cappella song from folk musicians. I have posted a video of this. Our guide said it is a love song although the style is reminiscent of religious music.
Along with Jim and Allison I took the local bus to Zadar which is about an hour drive to the west along the coast. Re public transport the buses were well organised and easy to use. The timetable was however very limited on the weekend, hence our weekday trip. In Zadar we visited St Donatus Church from the 9th Century, climbed the Cathedral Bell Tower and viewed the remains of the Roman Forum. One fascinating experience was the 'sea organ.' Steps on the water front have holes in them which the sea laps onto and produces an organ type of sound. I have recorded this on a video but it is difficult to capture as tourists are also standing around chatting! If you view it turn the volume right up!!
It was well worth visiting Zadar so thanks to Jim for suggesting it.
A few reflections after heading for home. I found Croatia to be a beautiful country, only three hours away. The coastline is spectacular. The beaches are pebble only but if you pick your spot the sea swimming is great. September is good as it is still 25-30 Celsius but the schools are back so it is quieter. It is relatively hassle free with no pushy people trying to pull you into restaurants and shops. The seafood is great but there is no shortage of other options. I think the hotel facilities still have a covid hangover with items you would expect in your room for a 4 star hotel are not present. The buffet food in the Olympia was acceptable so I didn't eat out at night.
There is a lot to do as the place has so much history. Without going into a history lesson there are glimpses and more of rule by Romans, Venetians, Hapsburgs and Ottomans right down to communist rule in the last century. That last sentence does not do it justice but I'm not writing a history book. However, I think I'd like to return to Dubrovnik and possibly the north for further explorations.
As always I hope you get a flavour of my trip and enjoy the photos. It's great to get travelling again!
All the best