Enchanted Islands-Sailing Dubrovnik to Split (Part 2)

Croatia is an ancient land.  It was colonized by the Greeks and Romans–among many others–and has ruins spread throughout the islands that reflect its rich history.  A week is not enough to do more than scratch the surface of this wonderful land.

For anyone with a sense of adventure, who wants maximum flexibility experiencing a coastal civilization like Croatia,  sailing is a rewarding alternative to driving, taking a ferry or traveling on a cruise.  The experience is unique until it becomes addictive.  We travel with a small group of people, move quickly from one small port to another, and can change our plans on a moment’s notice. In Croatia we elected to sail with a full crew.  It was worth it.  Instead of preparing food, “manning the sails”, shopping for groceries, buying gas, taking on water and participating in all of the activities required to keep the Fortuna functioning effectively, we were able to spend our time enjoying the sea and exploring every harbor.

Our explorations included bumping, almost literally, into ancient carved stones.  There were also statues of more recent origin.  We were excited when we came upon this bust of Don Sime Ljubic, a leading 19th century Croatian archeologist and a native of Hvar.

One of our favorite stops was the island of Vis.  Populated by the Greeks by the 4th century BC, the island has  long served as a military outpost. Vis has been heavily fortified since the 1800s.  During World War II it served briefly as a military base for the British.  Because of the complex of caves, mines and tunnels, it was perfectly situated to serve as a submarine base for the Yugoslav People’s Army who abandoned it in the 1990s.  Closed to tourists until 1998, it is now a popular tourist destination.

The Church of our Lady of Spilica, erected about 1500 A.D. is one of the most photographed sites on the island.  It’s structure is much like those of other churches we visited, but is still unique in the way that the church appears totally surrounded by the sky, the earth and the lush greenery of palm trees, cypress and other trees.

Every town and fishing village offered the opportunity to wander through the narrow streets lined by stone houses with orange roofs. The flowering bushes and trees were a vivid contrast to the gray stone.

The harbors offer calm water for sailors, including amateurs like ourselves.  Many of the harbors were filled with working boats, owned and operated by the fishermen who lived and worked in the community.

The juxtaposition of sailing boats and catamarans with the working boats of the locals, was common.  We docked next to boats ranging in value from luxury cruisers, to motorized rubber rafts.

Generally we travelled on the Fortuna from one destination to another.  There was one special place where sailing on a large gulet was not possible–our visit to the Modra Spilja, the Blue Cave.  Discovered in 1881, it is situated off the island of Bisevo, only 5 km from Vis.  It is accessible only by a small motorized raft.  It was a choppy ride, one I would rather forget.

The reward for enduring the discomfort of the 20 minutes bumping through the water was more than worth the ride.  The Modra Spilja is literally a cave with a hole below the surface of the water.  A small opening has been drilled through the rock to allow very small boats to pass through into the center of the cave.  The sunlight that filters through the water from below makes the water seem iridescent.  The cave seems to literally glow in the dark.

The island of Bisevo is tiny but beautiful.  These barren rocks are a powerful image against the blue waters below.

After a “challenging” day of adventure, there was nothing more rewarding than stepping out of the Fortuna and onto solid land.

We spent some evenings wandering through the town and villages in search of a cafe, or just a quiet nook to sit and talk.  The spectacular colors of the flowers, bushes, awnings and even the door, made humble and affluent neighborhoods seem to blend together.

Sometimes in the evening we just wanted to look out over the water and feel totally and completely at home by the sea.

Sailing on the Fortuna gave us a unique view of this wonderful land.  Unfortunately, after an amazing week, we had to leave the Fortuna.  We landed in Split where we said goodbye to our wonderful captain, our chef, and our crew and began our next adventure.  And that, of course, is a story for another time.

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A Rare and Precious Pearl–Dubrovnik, Croatia

It is Lord Byron who first described Dubrovnik as the Pearl of the Adriatic.  An ancient commercial and trading city, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.   It’s massive stone walls, erected from the 13th and 16th centuries, seem to rise out of the sea.

The harbor, now filled with pleasure boats, once made Dubrovnik a center of trade and commerce and brought great wealth to the region.  It ws settled as early as the 7th century.

A fortress sits outside the walls of the city, protecting the harbor and its citizens from ancient dangers.

As you approach the walled city, you are greeted by ceremonial guards straight from central casting.

For many years Croatia, like many of the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republic, was nearly inaccessible to Westerners.  In 1991, Croatia separated from  Yugoslavia, and, as a result, Dubrovnik became embroiled in the upheaval between the Serbs and the Croats,  sometimes called the Balkan wars or the Croatian War of Independence.  There is little left to remind us of the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991-1992.  Most poignant is the Rooms of Remembrance for the defenders of Dubrovnik, mostly teenagers, whose images from the wall remind us of the our own children.  The destruction of the city itself, while extensive, is no longer in evidence. The churches, homes and public buildings have been rebuilt and now appear untouched by war.

The walled old city includes only two hotels.  One was very expensive.  We stayed in the other one.  While the amenities were sparse, the rooftop view made any inconvenience irrelevant.  At night it was almost otherworldly.  

In the daytime it provided a view of a rooftops and buildings in a large section of the city.      

Walking the narrow streets was an experience all to itself.  Like many medieval cities, there is no motorized transportation.  Walking is not the challenge, finding our way through the maze of streets to our destination, was another matter.  Fortunately, there were plenty of cafes where we could sit, watch the natives and the tourists and enjoy the company of friends.