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  • Day38

    Kupari Bay of Abandoned Hotels

    May 21, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    On one of our evening runs up a local hill, we spotted a deserted bay. From the top, we could see at least 3 large hotels that had been clearly built to capitalise on this beautiful bay, but where were all the people? We found a disused path that was now overgrown with plants and ventured closer towards the building closest to the hill. From this path, we came close enough to peer into the rooms through the broken windows. There were no signs of the hotel being in service for a long time.

    Our curiosity piqued, we jogged to the bottom of the hill which opened up into a large space which probably served as foyers for the hotels. With the sun setting over the Adriatic Sea, we went back to our accommodation and did some research before exploring any further.

    Today, we returned after a day out in Dubrovnik Old Town to cool off in the quiet bay. There was still a road to these hotels, although it wouldn’t see much use these days. There were a few people on the pebbled beach, saved from throngs of tourists probably because it is only accessible by car, some distance away from Dubrovnik Old Town, and it’s little known. The water was refreshing and exactly what we needed after a full day on our feet. Although it was peaceful, it felt somewhat unnerving knowing that people were likely injured or even killed in these hotels during the Croatian War of Independence.

    Our research revealed that this abandoned bay was called Kupari and it was known to have one of the best beaches in the country. In the 1960s, Kupari was revamped to include a luxury holiday resort for the military elite of the Yugoslav People’s Army and their families. It was made up of 5 luxury hotels and, once their doors opened to tourists, became desirable as a European summer hotspot in the 1980s. The rich from around Europe visited each year right up until 1991, when the war broke out. Artillery was aimed at the hotels, blowing out windows, walls and roofs. In the years after the war, looting and plundering of valuable furniture and fittings were rife.

    What’s left today are mere shells of the hotels’ glorious past. Artillery damage on the hotel walls is still evident, a reminder of the time when hell visited this slice of paradise. One hotel in particular had an entire section of roof collapse into its second floor. Trees and climbers had taken root in some places, turning this once luxurious hotel into a literal concrete jungle. Some rooms still had carpet on its floors and wallpapers peeling off the walls. There were also inevitable signs of vagrant settlement in some areas, although no one was home when we walked through the hotels.

    The damage was clearly too much for any investor to commit to restoring the hotels to their former glory. It would be more economical to bowl the buildings over and start again. In the meantime, this little bay is safe from tourists for a little longer.
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  • Day38

    Dubrovnik City Wall Walk Part II

    May 21, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    More photos from the city wall walk.

  • Day38

    Dubrovnik City Wall Walk

    May 21, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We had explored the city inside the walls fairly extensively. Today, we were excited to walk along the city walls encircling the Old Town for bird’s eye view of the city and the ocean beyond. It took us a few hours to complete this 2km walk as every few steps we took presented a new opportunity for a National Geographic award-winning photograph.

    In some sections of the city walls, there were openings where locals and tourists alike could escape the hustle and bustle of the city, onto the rocks below and even into the cool waters of the Adriatic Sea. There wouldn’t be many places in the world where you could wear your bathers into the city, have a dip, before returning through a hole in the wall.

    About halfway through the walk, we came across cafes where we stopped to have some refreshing juice and a local beer. There was one other place we needed to see before we retired our feet for the day. We headed outside of the city wall and along a little bay, towards a towering structure atop a hill – the Fortress of St Lawrence.

    This fortress is more famously known as the Red Keep in Game of Thrones. This is where Cersei concluded her walk of shame. Yes, we might be Game of Thrones addicts, but we highly recommend this city wall walk even to normal people. In all honesty though, you should probably watch Game of Thrones.
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  • Day37

    Dubrovnik Old Town Part II

    May 20, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    More photos from Dubrovnik Old Town.

  • Day37

    Dubrovnik Old Town

    May 20, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Oh woeful weather. It had not stopped raining since we left Split for Dubrovnik yesterday. Today we slept in and waited for a break in the weather. We were keen to explore Dubrovnik. We first stopped at Srd hill, behind the Old Town of Dubrovnik.

    Srd hill played an important role in Dubrovnik’s history. Dubrovnik (as with the whole of Croatia) used to be part of Yugoslavia. When Croatia declared its indepence in 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army waged a war against Croatia, known as the Croatian Independence War. During this war, a small platoon from the Dubrovnik army used the fort on this hill, which provided them with a good vantage point. This fort is now a war museum. It still bore tell-tale signs of the destructive war it endured on its outside walls. Large gouges in its walls from being sprayed by enemy artillery have not been patched up.

    There was a lot of misplaced confidence that the Old Town would not be touched by enemy fire as it was a UNESCO heritage site. This was a fatal error for so many of its residents when the enemy bombardment destroyed much of the town. It had since been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. We had the afternoon to explore Old Town and quickly decided it’s worth spending the day tomorrow here.

    Yet another Old Town, I hear you say. I assure you that no matter how many Old Towns you have visited in Europe, you would still be in awe of this one. A fortified wall completely encloses the old city, making it the perfect venue to shoot many scenes for Game of Thrones, especially those of King’s Landing. With the help of trusty Google, we turned the day into a hunt of actual Game of Thrones film sites.

    We also found a popular bar through an opening in the city wall, perched on a small cliff. In summer, patrons could jump off a rock landing into the azure waters below. Aaron really wanted to give it a go but it was rather cold and the clouds had done their best to block out the sun for most part of the day. Definitely bucket list material!
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  • Day35

    Brac Island

    May 18, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    With the poor weather of late, we didn’t want to commit to a full day on a little boat touring the islands. It was very expensive and there was a good chance that the seas would be rough. After talking to our friends, the Colombian couple, we decided we’d join them for a day at Brac island. At least if the weather turned, we would be able to find shelter on the island.

    The ferry ride was lovely. The sun was out, as promised by the weather bureau. We then had an hour-long bus ride to the other side of the island where the best beach was. Yep, it’s not a small island! We got to the bus station and the bus was already full, with the next one not leaving for another 2 hours (!!). There were already people standing in the aisle. The bus driver assured us that after the next stop, there should be seats available. All four of us got lucky.

    The beach was a further 15-20 mins walk from where we got off the bus. Was this beach worth the arduous journey? The short answer was YES! There were lots of people sunbathing but it wasn’t hard to find a spot for ourselves. The clouds threatened to hide the sun but it never did the entire time we were on the beach. Swimming in the sparkling water was magical. The only downside was the constant stream of small boats that brought more and more people onto the beach every 10 minutes. We were told by locals that in the summer, it would be nearly impossible to find a spot to lay your towel. Crafty people would get up at 5am to lay their towel on the beach and reserve their spot, before going back to bed. Sounds a bit ludicrous, if you ask me.

    Before long, we had to pack up and have a late lunch. We had another hour of bus ride before catching our evening ferry. There was no way we were going to be standing on the bus again. We were 30 mins early and there was already a crowd gathering at the bus station. It took a lot of defensive skills on our part to prevent losing our spot to overzealous people when the bus door opened. It had been a wonderful day but we’re glad we didn’t have to do this again tomorrow.
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  • Day34

    Marjan Park

    May 17, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    In the afternoon, after our trip to the fish market, we went to Marjan park, right next to the city centre. It reminded us of Kings Park in Perth with its size and proximity to the city. No cars are allowed on the park roads which is why throngs of runners and cyclists flock here. We rented bicycles to see if we could make it to the top of the hill. It wasn’t a little hill, but you should know by now that we leave no hill untackled. Slight exaggeration.

    Unlike Kings Park which is more suited for running and cycling, this park also offers rock climbing. Hooks have been drilled into the cliff faces and anyone can scale the walls at their own risk. It was amazing to watch guys hanging on to narrow cracks by the fingertips, before swinging to the next rock lip. There was also a house or cathedral of sorts that was built into a natural hollow or nook in the rocks. It was a pity that the door was locked shut.

    After a long hard slog to the top, we were rewarded with absolutely breath-taking views of Split and the coastline, and a very big cross. They seem to mark the top of every hill in Europe with a big cross. We took it all in before cruising downhill. Near the entrance to the park, we found an outdoor fitness area which we felt obliged to test out. These outdoor exercise areas (not kids’ playground) are very popular in Europe, and we’d love to see more of them in Perth.

    Another unique feature of the park is the pristine little bays dotting its outline – the forest meets the ocean. It would be absolute heaven in summer.
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  • Day34

    Grilled fish in Split

    May 17, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Before we headed home last night, we bought some fish from the supermarket. Our hosts had a charcoal grill that they kindly let us use. The host got the coals hot and ready for us while Aaron cleaned the fish in the ocean. The result was absolutely delectable. It really whet our appetite and we decided to go to the fish market today and do it all over again.

    The fish market was situated right in the city centre. If you’re not quick enough, your fish will get swiped from under your nose, as happened to us. We had our eyes on a big mackerel. Wary of being ripped off, Flora hung around to see how much money the locals were handing over to the fish lady. We were ready to make our purchase. Lo and behold, an Asian guy jumped ahead and bought the lot. All the mackerels. ALL THE MACKERELS. We observed that he did a similar thing to a few other fish stalls. Maybe he ran a restaurant. Maybe we could just save ourselves the trouble and go to his restaurant. He’s Asian – he would be a good cook, so Flora says. When we asked him if he owned a restaurant, we learnt that he was a chef onboard a cruise ship – this explains why he was cleaning out the fish market. We didn’t come home empty handed, although we don’t know what type of fish we bought.

    That night, we got chatting to a lovely young Colombian couple who were staying in a unit a few doors down, also owned by the same host. They were here for a holiday. We thought it’d be nice to use the charcoal grill together. They had some chicken and sausages they were going to cook up. The host had started the fire for us on the grill but we were left on our own from here on. We emptied a bag of charcoal rocks onto the fire and hoped for the best. Our conclusion: we should be on Masterchef! The result was splendid, once again. It was also heaps of fun just standing by the grill and chatting. Aaron declares that he would make a grill at home too so we can cook like this at home. We spent the rest of the night having a beautiful dinner together with our new friends.

    We should also mention that our accommodation was on the beach and offered the most incredible views. Life is good.
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  • Day33

    Split

    May 16, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    If we were wondering where all the tourists were in Rovinj, we had found our answer. They’re all in Split, scattered across different tour groups. The weather was finally clearing, much to our relief. We walked along the beautiful promenade which was now bustling with street stalls and like-minded people enjoying the view and some coffee. We disappeared into the maze of alleyways looking for the Old Town.

    Split is a town along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. If the Old Town looked like it was built by the Romans, well that’s because it was. The master builder’s work was evident in the old buildings that still remain. The Romans built the Diocletian’s Palace, a sprawling 4th century residence enclosed within some still-standing Roman walls. Back then, the palace complex housed Roman Emperor Diocletian’s during his retirement, as well as the many staff needed to maintain such a palace. Today, it houses shops, cafes and local residents.

    At the heart of the palatial complex, the Emperor entertained guests in a lavish courtyard known as the Perystile. Today, it is guarded by a couple of appropriately dressed Roman guards. I doubt they were there to enforce peace amongst the coffee-sipping civilians sitting on the steps of the square. They were quite happy posing for photos with tourists. The Emperor would definitely not approve of them making light of their jobs.

    With the exception to most of Old Town, the bell tower that stands in the centre was not built by the Romans. Its construction was suspect, in fact, the tower was initially deemed so structurally unsound that it had to be modified and partially reconstructed a few times over the centuries. Best leave the building work to the Romans, hey? Nevertheless, we were feeling reckless and decided to climb the tower anyway. There was only one set of stairs to be shared by people going up and down. Near the top, steel stairs replaced stone ones. The stairs were supported by scaffold tubes and held down by 10mm half-rusted bolts. I probably should not have pointed this out to Aaron while he was climbing up the stairs. His knees turned to jelly (haha!) but he survived the trip back down after we took some photos of Split at the top.

    The Old Town is full of little lanes that are a delight to explore. As always, they are flanked by little shops selling all sorts of local crafts and temptations for tourists. We stopped at a funky café to rest our feet and have some coffee on the way home. We also time our coffee breaks with when we need to go to the toilet. You have to pay anywhere from 50 cents to 1 Euro to go to the toilet in Europe but it’s free at a café or restaurant ;)
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  • Day31

    Rovinj

    May 14, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Rovinj is a city in the province of Istria in Croatia. It sits near the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, next to Italy and Slovenia. It used to be governed by the Italians before it was ceded to Austria during the Napoleonic era and finally Croatia when it became independent in 1991. Italian and Croatian are the official languages of this city. 98% of the population speak both languages.

    We explored the old town today and was so pleasantly surprised at its beauty. It rivalled the old towns we had seen in France and Italy. There weren’t many tourists about although we were told that Rovinj is especially popular amongst the Italians as it was only a short drive away or a ferry ride across the Adriatic Sea from Venice. The weather had been poor the past few days and it rained intermittently today.

    The little bays around the city looked amazing even in poor light. There are steps cut into the rocks for easy passage into the water. This is definitely the place to be in summer when the weather is more predictable. If you’re ever in Venice, it is worthwhile taking the ferry across to Rovinj for a day or two. The old town is very small and can easily be covered in a day.

    We were expecting cheap prices but, so far, Croatia has been more expensive than Italy. We would find out later on from other tourists that prices have doubled, if not more, in the past year alone to make the most of the tourism industry. If you’re living in Europe or earning the pound in the UK, you probably would still consider Croatia cheap.
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