The country with seeminly more crouts than croats
We started the week with an 8 hour overnight ferry trip from Bari to Dubrovnik. It was a long one, but we managed to find a quiet bit of floor to put the duvet down on for a little sleep. Just out of town, we found a cool little family run campsite among 200 year old olive trees. Guy who ran the camp gave us good insight into the history of the place, he and his mother and sister were refugees during the Croatian war in 1991 while his dad stayed behind to help defend the area. While we were at the camp he even found us a unique souvenir – a used AK47 shell. Apparently the area was occupied by the Serb army during the war and the camp was used for target practice. Dubrovnik is a fascinating city. The main attraction is the old walled city. Apparently the walls were first built in the 1400s then had to be rebuilt after a huge earthquake flattened the city in the 17th century. The city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, but that didn’t stop the Serbian people from bombing it extensively during the occupation of Dubrovnik in 1991. The locals tell stories of grenades, having children living in basements for years, people having to covertly boat to Split under cover of darkness to bring food and weapons back for the locals. Almost all of the buildings in the area are old, but have had extensive renovations, and they all have brand new orange tiled roofs. We spent 2 days here exploring the city, highlights for us were our first swim in the beautiful Croatian sea, a kayaking trip around the island near Dubrovnik, and walking around the city walls. We also went to see the war photo exhibition, which I wouldn’t say was a highlight, but was really interesting and poignant. The photos were from a war photojournalist, who had been in Syria, documenting the conflict there, as well as other photos from the Croatian war with the Serbian people. It was a sad reminder of how recent the war is around these parts, and an eye opener to the struggles the locals have faced.
The Southern part of Croatia is all coastal, it is a thin strip of land probably less than 2km wide. The landscape is bush covered hills which come down quite steeply into the ocean, with rocky beaches. The sea drops away pretty quickly, and is a beautiful clear blue-green, and about 25 degrees. It reminds us a little of Stewart Island, but without the cold and sharks!
At the recommendation of our campsite owner, we spent the day after we left Dubrovnik heading north then detouring to a town called Ston, which is famous for its salt production, and also having a wall which is the oldest in the world after China’s Great Wall. It is a pretty little town, and walking the wall was a great workout. We also saw probably the world’s best BBQ – about 7 whole mutton on a spit trailer. We spent the night in Papratna, a port village, then caught the early ferry the next day to Mjlet.
Mljet is one of Croatia’s 1200 islands, and is famous for its beautiful national park. After a bit of confusion about how to actually get to the park, we had to catch another ferry around the island then a minivan up to the park itself. National parks here aren’t quite the wilderness we are used to, this one had a couple of salt lakes which were stunning, and a nice walk around the outside. There are little shops and cafes dotted around the park, and on a small island in the middle of the lake was an old monastery, which has been converted into a restaurant now. There are boats to take you across the lake if you want, and you can hire bikes, but we went with the walking and swimming options. The area is big enough that we were able to find our own secluded part of paradise for a swim, and had a magical day. A minivan ride and two ferry trips later, we were back on the mainland and heading north again. This time we stayed at a camp en route to Split, the second biggest city in Croatia. Our van insurance doesn't cover us for travelling through Bosnia but there is no other way (by land) to get to Northern Croatia. The 20km of Bosnian coastline were quite beautiful but strangely nerve wracking.
We reached Split the next day at about lunchtime, and ventured into town to check the place out. It has a big port area, with hundreds of Aussies, Brits and Kiwis milling around about to start their Sail Croatia adventures. We risked life and limb climbing up the cathedral’s bell tower in the old part of the town, Andrew thinks the views were worth it but I’m not so sure.
We spent the next morning cruising around the town, then the afternoon relaxing on the beach at our campsite, which is basically in a lady’s backyard, but the people are lovely and it is right on the water. They sell their own liqueurs and olive oil, and fresh grapes and tomatoes.
So far, we have found the people in Croatia to be really friendly and welcoming to tourists. We have eaten some delicious fresh seafood, and local produce, and have loved every minute of the beautiful scenery and the amazing swims. We will be sad to leave the coast and head inland in the next couple of days.