Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Slovenia & Croatia (Part III of IV)

Sunday March 27-Saturday April 9

For our last big vacation as a family of 3 (well 3 1/2), we are spending 2 weeks in Slovenia & Croatia, staying 3 nights in Lake Bled, Slovenia (Part I); 3 nights in Rovinj, Istria, Croatia (Part II); 2 nights in Split, 2 nights on Hvar Island (Part III), 2 nights at Plitvice Lakes National Park, & 1 night in the Croatian capital Zagreb (Part IV).

Saturday April 2 
Today we were dreading the most. We had a 5 hour drive from Rovinj to Split. After getting off the Istria peninsula, we drove the coastal highway to the town of Senj, pretty much to only logical place to stop for a lunch and to stretch our legs. It made for a more interesting twisty scenic drive along the Kvarner coastal road. It was extremely windy at this hilltop park we ate at in Senj. This area is way less developed than the lower Dalamatian Coast. From Senj we twisted back up the coastal mountain range and joined back up on the speedy A-1 expressway to Split.
The previous night we did more research into the waterfalls of Krka National Park. We wouldn't have enough time to go see them on our way to Split, but made plans to see them on our way back from Hvar/Split before we head to Plitvice Lakes National Park. If we had done more research into this park, we might have changed our itinerary a bit so we could spend more time here. But more on Krka National Park later...
Brooklyn took a good afternoon nap in the car and didn't wake until we cruised into the buzzing unofficial capital city and transit hub of the Dalmatian Coast, Split. Split is Croatia's second largest city (after capital Zagreb). It was quite a change to be entering such an urban city metropolis after our last few destinations. 
We booked another Airbnb apartment in Split. They were very accommodating and allowed us to leave our rental car parked at the apartment for 2 extra days while we visited the island of Hvar. It saved us on the additional cost of taking the car ferry, not having to take the ferry at inopportune times with a toddler, nor having to drive into the town of Hvar from the car ferry terminal on the other side of the island. The owner of the apartment has twin 18 month old boys so she equipped the apartment with a travel baby cot (packnplay) and a high chair (which Brooklyn has no interest seating in anymore). It is located behind the train station with scenic apartment views of the ferry terminal and City Harbor (Gradska Luka). Everything was in close walking distance. 
We walked along the people-filled seaside Riva promenade.
The main attraction in Spilt is the 4th century massive Roman Diocletian's Palace. Roman Emperor Diocletian (242-313) wanted to retire in native Dalmatia so he built this huge palace which was later abandoned. Today the city lanes twist and turn all around the huge Roman palace. We walked around the Old Town a bit, saving the old palace for tomorrow. To the west of Diocletian's Palaace, is the Old Town whose medieval town sprang up next door. 
Trj Republike in Old Town
Brooklyn following Daddy to a possible dinner destination within Diocletian's Palace 
We had an amazing fresh seafood pasta & risotto dinner within the old 4th century Diocletian Palace in Split, Croatia with a friendly dog to keep our 1.5 year old entertained at Trattoria Bajamont 
Dinner in an alley of Diocletian's Palace in Split near the Iron Gate at Trattoria Bajamont 
This little girl loves dogs, cats and birds and could spend hours running after them to pet them 
An old road within Diocletian's Palace
Diocletian's Palace Peristyle (Peristil) 
As we reached the Peristyle, the center of Diocletian's Palace, we witnessed the end of a wedding ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Dominus. 
Cathedral of St. Dominus 

Split window in Diocletian's Palace

Inside the Silver Gate of Diocletian's Palace
The view from our apartment in Split overlooking Old Town and Diocletian's Palace 
Split is a serious port city, making it a great starting point for vacationers visiting the islands along the Dalmatian Coast. 
The view from our apartment in Split 

Sunday April 3 
Today we set out to explore Split. 
First we had some coffee and pastries along the Riva before delving into Diocletian's Palace.
Diocletian’s Palace (Dioklecijanova Palača) is the remains of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s enormous retirement palace, which sits on the harbor in the heart of the city. This monstrous complex was two impressive structures in one: luxurious villa and fortified Roman town. The palace took only 11 years to build. It is more than 600 feet long on each side. We did Rick Steves walk through Diocletian’s back door. The ruins themselves are free, except for the cellars and the cathedral sights/ temple, which you pay to enter. We started in today's front of the palace, at the east end of the Riva. This was actually the back door of Diocletian's Palace. The seawater came right up to the door. 
First we went down into the labyrinth of Diocletian's cellars (Podromi) that supported the palace. This was the free portion with souvenir market stall vendors. 

There are parts that were only rediscovered in this last century. Jackie paid 40 kn to tour the cellars later on Monday morning so more on those then...
Next up, we went to the Peristyle (the center of the palace) 

Note the Roman soldiers in the Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace

Side story explanation for this 2003 Joe studied abroad in Oxford for a summer. Afterwards him and 3 friends went to Paris, Nice and Rome. While outside the Colosseum there were 2 Roman soliders who swindled these young travelers. They offered to hold their bags and take a photo for them. Afterwards the would not return Joe's belongings without first being paid for said photo...We've come a long way in our travel smarts in the past 13 years.   
Our next sight on the Peristyle was the Cathedral of St. Dominus, once Diocletian’s mausoleum. This is great irony since Emperor Diocletian is most remembered for torturing and executing Christians (his successor Constantine legalized Christianity and made it the official religion of the empire thus making Diocletian's purges some of the last in Roman history). 

Black granite sphinx, one of 13 (4 survived with this one the most intact) that Diocletian brought home from Egypt 
The interior back facade remains of Diocletian's Palace with views out to the sea 
We walked the narrow street, Cardo, the north-south axis street of the Roman city, which leads to Diocletian's Palace's former main entrance, the Golden Gate
Split window in Diocletian's Palace 
Split door in Diocletian's Palace

Golden Gate (Zlatna Vrata) with double door entry to Diocletian's Palace. The bricked-in windows now contain part of a Dominican convent. 

Diocletian's Palace Golden Gate facade
Outside the main entry gate to Diocletian's Palace is a big statue by Ivan Meštrović of Bishop Gregory of Nin, a 10th century Croatian priest who tried to convince the Vatican to allow sermons during Mass to be said in Croatian rather than Latin. 
Split Old Town street 
Happy girl in Split Old Town 
We walked through Radić Brothers Square (Trg Braće Radića), a little piazza in Old Town Split, with another sculpture by Ivan Meštrović of 16th century poet Marko Marulić, who is considered the father of the Croatian language
Radić Brothers Square (Trg Braće Radića), a little piazza in Old Town Split with a Venetian citadel, an octagonal tower built on the coast to protect against the danger of attacks by the Ottomans 

Split Old Town window and balcony
We walked up Marmontova and saw this cool Art Nouveau building

We walked by the fish market (Ribarnica), a poor man's St. Mark's Square.
Iron Gate entry into Diocletian's Palace from Narodni Trg (People's Square)
Narodni Trg (People's Square) in Split Old Town, where we ate lunch
Stara gradska vijećnica on Narodni Trg (People's Square), once the City Hall, a beautiful white Gothic building 
Stara gradska vijećnica on Narodni Trg (People's Square), once the City Hall, a beautiful white Gothic building, whose front steps Brooklyn enjoyed relaxing on while we finished lunch 
After lunch we let Brooklyn walk on her own a little more. 
She had to stop and dance long enough that we made her pay these street performers 
We hoped to try and get her to nap in the backpack today, but her never-ending whining made it obvious we had to take her back to the apartment away from the crowds to let her take a proper nap. 
After a nap, we paid to enter the Cathedral of St. Dominus (Katedrala Sv. Duje), originally built in the 4th century octagonal structure as Diocletian’s elaborate mausoleum. 

After the fall of Rom, it was converted into the town's cathedral. The bell tower construction began in the 13th century and took 300 years to complete. This is probably the oldest and likely smallest building used as a cathedral anywhere in Christendom. 
Doors into the Cathedral of St. Dominus
Cathedral of St. Dominus, once Diocletian's mausoleum

Cathedral of St. Dominus dome

Cathedral of St. Dominus pulpit
Cathedral of St. Dominus where now Christian saints are entombed in Diocletian's mausoleum
Cathedral of St. Dominus apse
We walked by Jupiter’s Temple (later converted into St..John's Baptistery)
Next we took a hike up the Marjan Peninsula to get a scenic view over Split. 

Panoramic view of Split, Croatia from our walk/hike up to Marjan Park
Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia from Marjan Park
We walked back along Matejuška Fisherman's Port

We enjoyed some light food at Bajamonti on Trj Republike.
We enjoyed more people-watching as natives promenaded along the Riva with the natives is the evening activity. We nursed some drinks at an atmospheric open-air café on the Riva, but Brooklyn just wanted to run around and play.
We got some pizza take-away for dinner. 
Sunset over Split from our apartment 

Monday April 4 
Today we had a 1pm ferry ride from Split-Hvar. We checked all of our stuff out of our Split Airbnb apartment, leaving most of it in the parked rental car so we could travel light on the ferry. It was going to be quite a few steps up to our next Airbnb apartment in Hvar. 
One last view of Split from our Airbnb apartment 
We spent the morning walking around Diocletian's Palace again.
Diocletian's Palace Golden Gate main entry 
Diocletian's Palace street 
Jackie visited the cellar while Joe and Brooklyn hung out along the Riva seaside promenade. 
Historical view of Diocletian's Palace 
Model of Diocletian's Palace
The western side of Diocletian's cellars highlight is the vast, vaulted main hall with stout pillars to support everything upstairs.

Apparently for Game of Thrones fans, HBO filmed scenes here. 
Diocletian's Palace cellars (Podromi) 

The circular brickwork in Diocletian's cellars is amazing.

Diocletian's Palace cellars corridors

Beautiful old stonework in Diocletian's cellars that these black cats seem to be enjoying as well 

Diocletian's Palace cellars cross-vault stonework

Many of the eastern side of Diocletian's cellars were open to the air which we had seen glimpses of on our walk of the Palace the day before.
Brooklyn smelling the flowers along the Riva in Split where we snacked for lunch 
Jackie tried and tried to rock Brooklyn to sleep in her arms before we had to board the ferry boat. No such luck. She laid her head down a few times but there was just too much commotion around for her to settle down enough to sleep. We gave up and went to try to board the ferry boat. 
The ferry boat ride was about an hour long. Brooklyn was a terror. Overtired but too stimulated by the cool new environment to settle down and sleep. She only wanted mom. The good news is we weren't the only ones on the ferry ride with a crazy child who needed a nap but wouldn't. 
As we exited the catamaran, we took the stairs to the left of the Jadrolinija agency to climb up the stairs to the motor road at the top of the hill, "S. Buzolic Tome" about a 7-8 minute walk. This town is not well-marked with street names and Hvar ignores house numbers so it was a little confusing at times. With Brooklyn's sleep-craved state, one of us had to carry her in our arms up the steps while the other carried the suitcase. It was hard on our knees which is not good for us since our next destinations were all about hiking! But we made it there. Our accommodations in Hvar was a one-bedroom downtown apartment. As soon as we reached the place, which was left unlocked for us, Jackie put Brooklyn down for a nap in the baby cot (pack'n'play). The owner then checked in on us to make sure all was well. While Brooklyn napped, Joe relaxed in the warm sun on the balcony while we each read up a little on places to eat for dinner. Our apartment balcony viewed south with sea views of the Pakleni Islands. 

Hvar is a ritzy island, known for its jet-set appeal, seductively relaxing beaches, and easy escapes to nearby islets. The rugged interior of the island has fields of lavender and excellent wine. Rick Steves recommends overnighting on one Dalmatian island for at least 2 nights and a full day and we chose to go to Hvar. 
We took the longer route into town to save our knees since it was supposed to have no steps at all.
Hvar remains
Mama and Brooklyn walking through Hvar
Hvar door 
We ended up in the square behind the main cathedral, about a 10 minute walk. We had thought about the next day hiking up the fortification for stunning views, but we decided to rest our legs some and take it easy on the island. 
Hvar harbor
Hvar palm tree 
Brooklyn and mama walking the Hvar harbor
Brooklyn doing more rock hunting on the Hvar harbor

Hvar town is completely dead off-season (roughly from the 2nd-3rd week of Oct until the 3rd or 4th week of May), when many hotels, restaurants, and even museums shut their doors for winter hibernation. We did expect it to be much quieter, but it made finding a dinner destination real bothersome with a toddler. 
Brooklyn snacking on the steps in Hvar while Joe tries to figure out another option for dinner
We had dinner at Mizarola Restaurant, an affordable pizza and pasta place with outdoor seating on Hvar's atmospheric main square, St. Stephen’s Square (Trg Svetog Stjepana). The name, mizarola, means stone cistern, which was like a giant jungle gym for Brooklyn to climb and play on throughout dinner. 
Brooklyn relaxing post-dinner in Hvar's St. Stephen's Square
Brooklyn munching on pizza bread in St. Stephen’s Square (Trg Svetog Stjepana) with the Cathedral of St. Stephen beyond

Brooklyn has no time for selfies in Hvar's St. Stephen's Square-to many pigeons to chase and dogs to greet
Sunset on Hvar from our Airbnb apartment 

Tuesday April 5
We had morning coffees at Cafe Pjaca, which was a great place to people-watch along the harbor and at the end of St. Stephen's Square. 
Hvar harbor 

Taking it easy on the relaxing island of Hvar, Croatia 
Beautiful clear blue waters on Hvar 

Hvar boats 

Hvar lizard 
We walked along the waterfront toward the Franciscan Monastery (Franjevački Samostan) 

Jackie 29 weeks pregnant with baby boy in Hvar, Croatia 
Pakleni Island from Hvar 
We then walked back to explore more of Hvar Old Town.
St. Stephen’s Square (Trg Svetog Stjepana) is Hvar’s main square, a relaxed and relaxing people zone surrounded by inviting cafés filled with deliriously sunbaked tourists. Many of Hvar’s buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was an important outpost of the Venetian Republic. 

In St. Stephen's Square you can see the top of a restored Venetian palace, with its distinctive Venetian-style windows. 

Cathedral of St. Stephen in Hvar 
We then walked along the western shore of the Hvar harbor for a bit. 
Hvar harbor with the Arsenal building on the left, a reminder of Hvar’s nautical importance through history, thanks to its ideal location on the sailing route between Venice and the Mediterranean. During the town’s seafaring heyday, ships were repaired and supplied in this huge building with its beautiful barrel-vaulted space that dominates the town. 
Hvar harbor with a good view of Hvar Fortress (Fortica Hvar) and town walls 

On top of the hill to the right is where our Airbnb apartment is located above the Hvar harbor. 
Joe and Brooklyn catching some shade next to the giant cactus 
Brooklyn had to sit on every stoop she could find along our walk in Hvar 

Brooklyn sure has a dusty butt from all her steps 
Brooklyn must stop to smell the flowers too
We all took an afternoon nap at the apartment.
We stopped for a drink at a harborfront bar. 
Gariful Restaurant ("Carnation") has the best waterfront location with an awesome outdoor terrace. There are even fresh fish swimming beneath the floor of the small interior dining room. The view from Gariful Restaurant 
Happy mommy and toddler at Gariful Restaurant 
Even with our crazy toddler, the restaurant rewarded us with a yummy desert. If only I had remembered to take a photo of the scrumptious seafood feast we ate before it! 
We had an early morning ferry ride from Hvar to Split. Once in Split we would pickup our car and visit Krka National Park before ending up at our final destination, Plitvice Lakes National Park.

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