In a sense, there isn’t a whole lot to say about the next leg of our trip. We’ve traveled along the Dalmatian coast then up to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, before heading over to Slovenia and then finally making our way back to Novi Sad in Serbia for the Exit Festival.
Coming down from war torn BiH and Serbia it was finally time to be tourists again. And while a lot of the places we went were swarming with tour buses, we also suddenly found ourselves having peaceful moments again.
Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is the the land of beige walls and terracotta rooftops; of World Heritage listed town after World Heritage listed town. It was once part of the Venetian empire – the only Italian city state to hold the Ottomans at bay and for good reason. They fortified every significant port along the coast leaving a legacy of imposing and ore-inspiring beauty towering over the surrounding crystal clear turquoise water.
We swam most days and stared in disbelief at the gargantuan luxury yacht’s moored at the various docks. Whilst we moved around a fair bit during our time on the coast we kept a very relaxing pace, often staying in apartments and cooking for ourselves, only venturing outside when the bite of the sun had passed.
Walking into Dubrovnik’s fort, which is also it’s old town, is something I’ll never forget. It’s no quaint old town. It’s imposing, impressive and humbling. From Dubrovnik we did a day trip to Mljet Island of which two thirds is national park and has two inland saltwater lakes, one with a monastery on an island in the middle of it from which we swam.
From there we traveled up to Split, then spend a couple of days on the lavender covered island of Hvar – playground of the rich and famous.
We also went to Trogir, a spec of a town but World Heritage Listed and for good reason, before ending our Dalmatian coast trip in Zadar.
Whilst in Zadar we stayed in an apartment owned by a family of which the patriarch was a beautiful man, a former sailor, who reminded me so much of my late grandfather that I found myself just wanting to be around him.
He farmed his front and back yards like there was a famine, producing several hundred kilos of potatoes a season. Every fence in the garden was covered in grape vines from which he produced a pretty good drop of wine and then used the skins to distil his own Rakija (brandy) which was also really tasty. I bought a litre of it from him which he assured would only last me 2 or 3 days.
From the coast we headed north to inland Croatia and it’s capital, Zagreb, the highlight of which is an impressive cathedral. It’s a pretty town, but there are prettier and it didn’t seem to have a lot of life unlike our next destination: Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is the city that keeps on giving. It’s small, only around 200,000 people, but it is just one of those cities that was lucky enough to have had boom periods during times of architectural significance from the Renaissance to the 1920s and Art Nouveau. It’s also a huge ‘old town’. In fact the entire city is pretty much the ‘old town’ which probably negates the need for the phrase.
Ljubljana hosts a major University which means lots of young people, great bars, cafes and food as well and a vibrant youth culture. Another one for the ‘I could live here’ list.
Our other Slovenian destinations included sea-side Piran and lake-side Bled. Piran is a small city that has, at times, been part of Italy. I got stung by a Jelly Fish whilst swimming, which really sucked, but otherwise it was lazy meandering through narrow winding lanes.
Bled, on the other hand, has a more Austrian Alps / Sound of Music feel to it. The lake itself is beautiful and green. It has a island with a cathedral in the middle of it which I chivalrously rowed us out to and a castle looking out over it from a rocky outcrop. On the first night, as we sat on our balcony overlooking the lake, we had a fantasia moment when the flood lit castle put on a fireworks display.
As we walked into town from the bus stand someone was playing Van Halen’s Jump on a piano accordion as part of the Bled festival. Another repercussion of the festival was that every room in our hotel seemed to be occupied by an aspiring violinist in town for the World Violin Championship. It was really beautiful the first night but testing by the third.
We round off our tour of the Former Yugoslavia by returning to Serbia which is where I’m writing this post from. We’ve met up with a couple of close friends and hired an apartment situated right at the entrance of the Exit Festival.
The apartment is owned by a woman that doesn’t speak a word of English and just yells constantly. She also throws kittens, but is incredibly hospitable despite having no concept of privacy.
Pulp played last night. It might have changed my life.
We’re adored the Former Yugoslavia. In fact we’ve adored the entire Balkan Peninsular of which there are now only 3 countries we haven’t been to yet: FYR Macedonia, Montenegro and it’s newest member, Kosovo. And I say ‘yet’ because I’ve a feeling our new found love affair with the region will mean we’ll be popping over from London sometime in the next 18 months.