The Islands and the Skinny Bit of Croatia

We spent a day last week wandering around Split and seeing what it has to offer. Even though the old town is the main draw for tourists, it’s apparent that the whole economy of the town does not depend on tourism. Yachting and boating is a big industry here, although how people afford to buy, park and run these boats is beyond me.

Yes, there are souvenir stalls and the usual ice cream stands around town, but there is plenty of normal life going on, which is always nice to see. Having said that, today an enormous cruise ship plonked itself a kilometre or so off the coast and delivered thousands of elderly American tourists to town, which gave the place an odd vibe. No destination is particularly enjoyable to walk around when everyone in the town is a visitor!

Split has loads of history behind it and you could spend hours walking around all the old buildings and reading about how they came to be and what trauma they have suffered through the following centuries.

Or if you aren’t so inclined you can simply get an ice cream, go down to the sea front and look out to sea in the shade of a palm tree. Life is slow paced here, so you don’t feel the need to spend your day rushing around to the point of exhaustion.

Before we arrived in Split, we were pretty sure we were going to do some island hopping to move onto to Dubrovnik. Having frightened ourselves silly on our cycle on the motorway on the way in, neither of us wished to attempt trying to cycle out of Split and along the main road to Dubrovnik, so we planned to get the ferry from Split to Brac and onto to Hvar. We had been reliably informed that these islands are beautiful and since we are expecting another period of good weather, we thought why not go have a look. However, when we had a look at the ferry timetable – this was not possible, so we had to change our plans slightly. We would end up getting a ferry from Split to Vela Luka, on the island of Korcula and then another ferry from Korcula to the peninsula of Peljesac.

I hope jumping on some ferries is not regarded as cheating…?

The ferry to Vela Luka on Korcula Island took about three hours, during which time the temperature reached a brain sizzling height of 37 degrees.

The 45km cycle from the western port (Vela Luka) to the eastern port (Korcula) was much tougher than expected, due to the hills. Loads and loads of hills!

The following morning, the ferry was due to leave Korcula for Orebic on Peljesac peninsula at 0910, so we arrived at 0810, only to be told that the ferry was leaving in three minutes.

Who knows how these ferry schedules work, but at least we were there in time. Peljesac proved to be even more hilly than Korcula. It was up down, up down all day long.

After 60km of this nonsense we gave up and found a campsite to bed down for the night. The only problem was – the campsite was closed. We had cycled too far to let a closed campsite stop us! We weren’t going anywhere, so we decided we would camp there anyway. There were a lot of German tourists in campervans parked in the car park outside the campsite – clearly with the same idea as us (except they stayed outside the camp as we were pitching our tent inside the deserted campsite).

After dark, we went off with our water bottles to try and find some water for cooking and the following day – no luck. Unknown to us, some of the German campervan people must have been watching our comings and goings from the campsite with our water bottles, as a few minutes after we got back – now picture this, myself and Monika alone in this deserted camp ground in the pitch dark with only trees, spooky rustling of leaves and animals scurrying around in the undergrowth for company – out of the corner of my eye I noticed a silhouette about 15 feet away marching straight at us. My heart almost stopped beating and I made a squeak-like sound that I have never heard before, all before freezing in sheer terror! “Wasser” he called out, before pointing something at me. It took me what felt like forever to figure out what ‘wasser’ was. Water! He isn’t going to kill us – he’s giving us water! He obviously saw us return to the campsite with empty water bottles and thought he would be super helpful and give us some of his. In my still shocked state, all I could say was “Dankeschon” a couple of times, even though I should have appeared more grateful. But really, Mr Very Helpful German Campervan Man, in future, call out a good solid “Hello”, “Ola” or “Hallo” fifty feet away, instead of sneaking up on people in the dark!

Needless to say, sleep did not come easily after that.

The day we entered Croatia, we had Dubrovnik as a target destination. Back then it was over 750km away (by the most direct route) so it seemed like it would take forever to get there, but today we made it to within a handful of kilometres of Dubrovnik.

Another fun 50km of coastal road (and some lorries) we made it to the tiny little village of Zaton. We found some accommodation, hopped off our bikes and jumped into the crystal clear water to cool off from the heat. Absolute bliss.

After three weeks in Croatia it was finally time to visit Dubrovnik. It wasn’t that we were racing through Croatia to get to Dubrovnik, but Dubrovnik signals the end of our Croatian adventure. The old town of Dubrovnik is beautifully built and situated right on the very edge of the Adriatic Sea. The town is completely surrounded by massive defensive walls and from high above, the terracotta roofs completes the idyllic setting.

However, for me, that’s where the positive and the good stops. Dubrovnik is now a town that is geared 100% for tourists – mainly from cruise ships and tour coaches. There are thousands of people – all tourists – milling around this tiny little place. There is no character or atmosphere in the town. Everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell you something whether it be, sea kayaking trips, excursions, food, souvenirs, tablecloths or other bits and pieces. There is not one single piece of information available that will tell you about the history of the town or any of the particular buildings.

I was in Dubrovnik for a whole day and I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I guess will have to go onto Wikipedia to find out more. It seems that the town is happy for all cruise ship/couch tour gangs to charge into town, take their pictures, buy lots of stuff and leave again, without getting to know anything about the place they are visiting. The prices of everything here were way out of our price range. We only bought an expensive ice cream, as all the real food would have cost us a night accommodation or about a weeks worth of our usual food.

You could buy tickets to walk the city walls, which I’m sure would have yielded some amazing views, but again, the prices were insane. We did see people up on those walls, but it appeared to be one long snake of people circling the city, so we are pretty glad that we didn’t bother with that.

Monika has a little bit of a soft spot for Dubrovnik, because she was here eleven years ago and have a good experience at that time, but I was very disappointed by Dubrovnik. From now on we will be trying our best to stay away from places that attract tourists in tour buses and cruise ships, as the tourists that come off these buses and ships tend to take over the place and ruin the experience for us.

Having said all this, Im sure if you can get into the old town of Dubrovnik on a day where there is no mass tourism, then I’m sure you will have a pleasant enough day – as long as you bring your own ham and cheese sandwiches – or a bank loan.

 

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2 responses to “The Islands and the Skinny Bit of Croatia

  1. Nice blog & photos! I always like to read what other people say about Croatia. Since I’m in self guided bike touring & bike rental business in Croatia we can always learn something from all of you who are seeing the same things as we do but from different perspective.
    I wish you luck for the rest of your tour!

    • Hi Ante,

      Thanks for your kind words. We had a look at your site. Looks good and it looks like there would be lots of great options for holidaying cyclists. We had loads of fun cycling through Croatia. We have met a few other sets of touring cyclists and they all have had great things to say about it too. The government of the local authorities could do with building a few cycle lanes though 🙂

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