CRUISING AROUND CROATIA


Last week was the first of our two travel blogs about our P&O Cruise on board the Oceana.  Flying into Malta, our first visits were to the beautiful city of Zadar in Croatia, followed by a day in glorious Venice. You will have read in the news this week that that beautiful city was subsequently hit by the "acqua alta" - the high tide which has caused millions of pounds worth of damage, including to the beautiful St Mark's Basilica. Such a terrible shame that some irreplaceable artefacts have been lost forever. It isn't the first time Venice has been flooded, and we doubt it will be the last, but we hope that Venetians will be able to overcome such terrible losses.

We set sail just before midnight, heading to Split - though we had originally been designated to visit the UNESCO World Heritage town of Sibernik, but because of our late embarkation, there wasn't time to make our way there.  Sibernik - like much of the Dalmation coast, is a beautiful medieval city, boasting two UNESCO sites - the Cathedral of St James and the Fortress St Nicholas. This fortress city is often overlooked since most tourists head for the better know cities of Split and Dubrovnik.

Sadly we never got to see it - much to Anne's disappointment, but for me, it meant a visit to Split - which is where I wanted to go in the first place!  Croatia's second city is a vibrant and energetic mix of ancient and modern.  The stunning medieval buildings and Diocletian ruins sit alongside bustling cafes, restaurants and modern shops.

The 4th Century Diocletians Palace  (not an actual palace, more like a collection of ancient churches/buildings and homes) was built by the Emperor Diocletian between 295-305, and while much of the original palace and its mausoleum have been demolished, the area is still home to around 3,000 residents.




Stroll around the streets and you will come across a ruin in a park, and while the St Duje's  (St Domnius) Cathedral boasts a Romanesque bell tower, the ancient sits side by side with the modern.  The architecture of course spans many centuries, and the cathedral itself has had a number of important additions over the centuries - the elaborate 13th century pulpit, the 15th century Altar of St Anastasius, and the 13th century wood carvings and carved choir stalls - all stunningly crafted by hand, and which have stood the test of time.




Like many of the Croation cities we visited, the streets are paved in pure marble, beautifully worn down by the thousands of residents and tourists, but you can never forget that the buildings require constant upkeep and underpinning because of their age.



Our next port of call was the beautiful Dubrovnik - which has long been on my bucket list. However, I have to admit that I did not get the buzz I expected from it.  I'm going to be a little controversial here and admit that tourism can damage some of the world's beautiful places, and I think Dubrovnik is heading that way - unfortunately due in part to the cruise ships.  Dubrovnik, like Venice, has taken the decision to limit cruise ships into port, to two per day, carrying a maximum of 5,000 tourists.  




The reason is evident, since Dubrovnik has become one giant outside restaurant, with cafes and bars catering for the thousands of visitors who throng the streets - not helped of course by the popularity of Game of Thrones, since much of the filming was completed here.

The picturesque wide boulevards were overcrowded, with shops catering to souvenirs and jewellery.  While still beautiful, somehow it lost its shine for me.





One can't help but mention the terrible events of December 1991, when Dubrovnik was badly damaged during the war which led to the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. The devastating cost of the conflict led to a loss of around 140,000 lives and the destruction or damage to many of its ancient buildings.   One family documented how they fled from their home with only the clothes they stood up in - while carrying the 99 year old granny from their burning house.

Having said that, it wasn't a negative experience - it is a beautiful city and has been very tastefully restored.  There are stunning churches, since Croatia is still a religious catholic country,and of course there are museums detailing their chequered history.



Ending on a positive note, our final visit in Croatia was to a beautiful small resort just outside Dubrovnik called Cavtat.  Fortunately this lovely harbour is unspoiled and provided a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities.




With lovely beaches, crystal clear waters and boats for hire, this was a much more peaceful alternative its more famous sisters.  We settled into a rooftop cafe for a very welcome cappuccino, and strolled along the promenade, making friends with a lucky black cat which wrapped itself around my legs! 



Like everywhere in Croatia, there is an ancient mansion while notable churches in Cavtat include the church of St Nicholas, and Our Lady of the Snow, while the nearby island of Lokrum offers 19th century botanical gardens and citrus groves if you need to get out of the summer heat.

Richard the Lionheart was famously shipwrecked on Lokrum in the 12th Century as he made his way home from the crusades.  But beware - there is a naturist beach on Lokrum!




We are aware that this was a whistle-stop tour, and gives a small glimpse of Croatia and Venice, but that's cruising for you.  Next week we will compare the cruises we have taken, and talk a little about life aboard the ocean waves!

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