An Opportunity to Achieve Immortality – Split to Dubrovnik By Ferry (Travels On The Croatian Coast #57)

Why is travel so unforgettable? Is it the new experiences? Do the foreign people and places make us see the world in a new way? Is it the sense of wonder reborn in us when finally realizing a world that we have long imagined? Or is it the fact that our everyday existence has been upended? One thing is for certain, travel sticks in our memory much longer than most other experiences. It is an unforgettable type of trauma that our mind portrays as a positive. Perhaps travel remains in our minds because it warps the way we experience time. Time ceases to exist for entire periods, as our senses are overwhelmed by different sights, smells and sensualities.

The hurry up and wait process that defines departures suddenly gives way to an unstoppable momentum, one filled with potential and full of promise. Time becomes mere numbers, rather than something that governs our lives as it ceases to enumerate our mortality. Travel is an opportunity to achieve immortality. When we travel, whether it is for long periods of time or a few fleeting moments, we become our true selves, who we were meant to be and who we always were. Travel is like reexperiencing the first day of life that we can remember. It is the beginning of something new, alive with possibilities. This was the feeling I had while boarding the Jadrolinija ferry for a five hour journey on the Adriatic Sea from Split to Dubrovnik.

Riding the waves – Sailboats on the Adriatic from the ferry window

Jadrolinija- In It For The Long & Short Haul
Being among the first to board the ferry, meant having the pick of a prime seat. There were no assigned seats, but unlike on buses, neither was there a fight for the best seats. The ferry was three-quarters full, but the interior was spacious and comfortable. The seats allowed for plenty of leg space, the aisles were wide and storing luggage was not a problem. It was the exact opposite of riding in a bus or flying on a plane. It reminded me of taking the train with one very big difference, this one floated on water. The only drawback was a reminder of my two week lament that Jadrolijina did not offer more long haul services along the Croatian coast. Later I would discover why. One of the most important missions of Croatia’s largest waterborne passenger carrier is to connect the mainland and islands. In this regard, Jadrolijina does an excellent job. I experienced this on the first full day of this journey by catching ferry from Dubrovnik to the island of Lopud. Such short haul trips take place each day all along the coast.

Jadrolijina is the successor to a lengthy historical legacy of passenger ferries that began in Austro-Hungarian times and continues right up through the present. Earlier on this trip while visiting Rijeka, I marveled at the grand edifice of the Adria Palace which is Jadrolijina’s headquarters. The shipping company formed in 1947 as a state owned entity in communist Yugoslavia. State ownership has been a constant in Jadolijina’s history despite the switch from Yugoslav to Croatian control. The fleet includes fifty-one ships, eight of which are catamarans. The latter included the ferry we were taking to Dubrovnik. Running ferries is a quite costly enterprise, hence the fact that Jadrolijina is still under ownership by the state. For locals the ferry system is vital, as it allows them easy access to the mainland where they can purchase provisions at much cheaper cost than on their home islands.

Waterborne – View through a window on the Split to Dubrovnik ferry

Floating Away – Catching The Ferry
Jadrolijina’s ferries are also a crucial part of the Croatian tourist industry. Owners of guesthouses, resorts and other heavily frequented tourist attractions on the islands rely on ferries to bring a steady stream of tourists to what these remote locales. For travelers such as me and my wife, they were an affordable alternative to the cheaper, but much more irritating journeys by bus. From my experience, I can state unequivocally that Jadrolijina runs a first class service. I am sure my opinion was biased upon the fact that they helped me avoid another exhausting journey by bus. What a joy it was to float in seemingly effortless fashion across the smooth waters of the Adriatic.

On this day, the sea was a deeper blue. It mirrored the cloudless sky that stretched westward toward an infinite horizon. Somewhere on the other side of the sea was Italy. Ironically, Italy was an afterthought when compared to the spectacle of mountains, islands and sea spray that could be seen on the islands throughout this journey. If only people knew what they were missing, Croatia would be packed with even greater number of tourists. On second thought, I am glad that many still overlook Croatia. The coast was already packed to near capacity prior to the pandemic. I am sure the same will be true when the pandemic subsides. About the only desirable result of such a trend from my point of view, would be a possible uptick in long distance ferries plying the eastern Adriatic. It took a stroke of luck just to find this one. Amid a pandemic one has to take whatever is available. In this case, that meant a Split to Dubrovnik journey that turned into a blissful island hopping trip on a near perfect travel day.

Port of call – Coming into the Hvar on the Split to Dubrovnik ferry

Beautiful Glances – Seduction In Progress
The only criticism I could make of travel on this ferry was that large portions of the windows were covered with droplets of water. It disappointed those of us looking to take snapshots of the scenery. That was something of a shame because the vistas unfolding before my eyes on this route were stunning in the extreme. Towering mountains, lush hillsides, thick forests, and quaint villages that sidled up to the sea. All these views were on offer while the ferry smoothly skimmed across the surface of the water. I got so lost in the enchanting scenes being constantly revealed to me on this waterborne adventure that time did not exist for much of the journey. I marked this journey by the islands the ferry made short stops at along the way. These would prove to be memorable despite, or perhaps because of their brevity. Island hopping in this case was like having beauty just beyond reach. It was seduction in progress. Offering the thought of what might have been or what still could be.

Early Arrivals – Ferry At Split: Kinetic Intellects & Kindred Spirits (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #56)

The hour finally arrived when the long awaited ferry ride would take place. Despite yet another perspiration inducing death march beneath the blazing sun, this time along the waterfront to Split’s ferry terminal, I could barely disguise my excitement at finally getting an opportunity to spend five hours sailing southward along the Adriatic. The voyage would provide an opportunity to view some of the Dalmatian Coast’s most stunning scenery. An added inducement was that we would pull into several of Croatia’s most famous islands along the way. My excitement was as much a product of avoiding another long bus journey, as it was the opportunity to ride the waves southward in the shadow of towering mountains and jagged stretches of coastline. I had high hopes for what would be my first long ferry journey on the Adriatic.

Sailing away – Jadrolinija ferry in Split

Standing Ready – Half The Battle
What were the chances that a New Yorker and a Siberian would be the first in line for the ferry from Split to Dubrovnik? On this day, the chances were very good. Arriving at the appointed place to board the ferry, it was still half an hour before boarding was to begin and early enough to quell my anxiety. Either that or satisfy my impatience. I have an obsessive fear of being late for a scheduled departure whether it is on a bus, ferry, plane, or train. This means turning up well in advance and this mid-afternoon departure in Split was no different. If that meant standing on the concrete quayside beneath the broiling sun, then so be it.

A close friend of mine once told me that just by showing up you have already won half the battle. Whether in work, life, or travel, there is a great deal of truth in those wise words. Being an excessive obsessive who believes in the opposite of moderation, I have spent much of my life not only showing up, but also showing up early. I drag along those willing to share in this recurring madness. Anyone unlucky enough to be prone to habitual tardiness does not last long with me. I have to feed my addiction for early arrival. Like all addictions this one comes with a downside in the form of a waiting game that almost always ensues. On this occasion, the ferry was standing ready to take on passengers or so it seemed. I tried making my way onto the boat before being waved off by a couple of the personnel. I was not surprised.

Window seat – The Adriatic as seen from the ferry from Split to Dubrovnik

Coming Together – The Gifted & Talented
There were also two other people who had arrived early. I felt a twinge of competitiveness when I saw that they had shown up earlier, beating me at my own game. This couple had their luggage in tow and was standing patiently while profuse amounts of perspiration poured off them. I assumed correctly that they were also making the journey to Dubrovnik. With nothing better to do, we struck up a conversation to distract us from the merciless heat. This conversation would continue for a large portion of the next five hours. I knew immediately by the man’s accent or the lack of one, that he was an American. Soon I learned that he had just married the woman who was standing patiently beside him. She was a dark haired Russian with a deeply penetrating look in her eye, a kind of preternatural seriousness, softened by a relaxed smile. She had a quiet way about her that was as endearing as it was disarming. Her silence spoke volumes. Even when she spoke, it was in such hushed tones – barely above a whisper – that it was hard to hear what she had to say. The couple had met years before and finally decided to wed in Croatia. I soon learned that they were newlyweds, it was the best of times and time was running out on their honeymoon.

The marriage had been a long time in the making. Both worked in academia and from what I could glean from our conversation, it sounded like they had met through an academic exchange program. Their kinetic intellects made them kindred spirits. They were destined for the best of both romantic worlds, connecting on both intellectual and emotional levels. They were in the throes of a love affair that transcended the barriers of space and time. The differences in the couple’s backgrounds were just as striking as the similarities in their intellects. The man had grown up in Queens, New York, traveling in and out of the city for his schooling after being accepted into various programs for gifted and talented students. He had used these talents to become an accomplished actor in various theatrical and film productions. Eventually he found his way into academia, publishing a book and gaining tenure.

Looking down – Chita (Credit: Artem Svetlov)

Right On Time – A Universal Language
The woman had grown up in Chita, Russia, an obscure city that is about as deep inside Russia as someone can get and still be on the beaten path. Chita is only known to foreigners because it straddles the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is a quintessentially remote Russian city, one that most pass through and where few dare to stay, let alone get to know. When I told the woman that I had heard of Chita, she looked genuinely surprised and confused. It is not every day that a Siberian meets someone from the American South who is aware of their hometown. To get an idea of just how remote Chita is even by Russian standards, consider that it is three and a half times closer to Beijing than Moscow.

If not for my interest in the Trans-Siberian Railway I would have not known that it existed. I mentioned to the woman that my familiarity with Chita was the product of reading guidebooks to the famed railway line that put the city on a few foreigners’ mental map. Her academic background and life’s work involved linguistics. Her English was excellent, but it was only one of several languages she spoke. Of course, this couple spoke a universal language, one of love. It transcended borders and cultural barriers. The world was large enough to accommodate their relationship. And the coming journey by ferry would be the final voyage of their honeymoon, It sounds romantic, probably because it was.

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The Know Nothings – Split: A Tour In Ruins (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #55)

Split offered a quandary. Rather than to be or not to be, it was to do or not to do. With only a half day in the city before our ferry departed for Dubrovnik in the mid-afternoon, I had to decide how to would spend that time. It was an either/or choice. Either try to make the most of limited time by hurrying from one site to the next or try on various attitudes of repose while waiting for the appointed time when the ferry left the port. The fact that I had spent four days in Split eight years earlier meant there was not much left to see or do on the well traveled tourist paths. I was pretty much left to my own devices on this brief visit. Of course, I started off with the obvious, taking a stroll through Diocletian’s Palace, the palatial retirement home of Roman Emperor Diocletian (284 – 305).

A tour in ruins – Diocletian’s Palace in Split

“Now People” – Embellishment, Emotion and Exaggeration
In the years that had passed since that first visit, I had forgotten the fragmented nature of the palace and its history. One moment there is the splendor of late antiquity, the next a medieval church, then there are modern tourist trinkets for sale in the palace’s depths. Clothes are draped for drying atop classical architecture. The ancient and the modern coexist side by side. Anyone looking for historical verisimilitude with the palace’s classical past will search mostly in vain. The closest they can get is an artist’s rendition which can be seen supersized on an information panel along the Riva, Split’s waterfront promenade. The rendering shows the sea lapping up against the palace walls. That stretch of seafront has long since been covered over by the Riva. The rest of the rendering shows a fully intact complex, one that has ceased to exist for well over a millennium. The amazing thing is that so much of the palace still stands today. One thing we wanted to do during our half day in Split was to learn more about the palace and the city from a local. In my experience, there was no better way to do this then to take a free tour.

One of the most enlightening ways to spend an hour or two in an Eastern European city is by availing oneself of a Free Tour. At least that was what I thought until the experience of one in Split. The tour met an hour before noon at a park that was within a five minute walk of the Riva. The tour guide was a woman with long brown hair, wearing a light dress. She looked to be the very essence of Croatian chic, gliding from one participant to the next, ingratiating herself with the future audience. There was a flair for the dramatic in her voice as she exuded emotion. Her modus operandi was to embellish sentences by exaggerating the pronunciation of words and sentences. Her favorite phrase was “now people.”

She pronounced the latter word with a certain zest that would rise to an irritating crescendo each time she said it. It was her way of addressing the group in a rather didactic manner that drove me to distraction. It became rather obvious that this woman liked to hear herself talk, but then again doesn’t every tour guide. This one was a sort of self-anointed voice of authority. While she was not rude, her presentation smacked of condescension. She felt the need to tell us that she was something of a scholar when it came to Diocletian and late antiquity. She promoted her bona fides as having written a book about him. As though this bit of self promotion, rather than her presentation, would somehow confirm her legitimacy. I was interested in what she had to say rather than her academic background.

Passage into the past – Gate at Diocletian’s Palace in Split

The Cabbage Patch – Details & Diocletian
The tour got off to an inauspicious start with the guide telling us how she knew everything about Diocletian. The corollary according to her, was that we could ask her any question and she would have the answer. In my experience, when someone says they know everything about a historical figure, it is a combination of arrogance, condescension, and ignorance. It is impossible to know everything about a man such as Diocletian, an extremely complex figure who lived over 1,600 years ago. The historical sources are relatively thin and much has been left to supposition. To take but one example, very little is known about the early life of Diocletian. For that matter, there are whole parts of his life we know nothing about and most likely never will.

For instance, one of the most oft repeated stories about Diocletian’s time at his retirement palace in Split, concerns his mention of the pleasure that he derived from growing cabbages. This was in reply to a plea for him to reassume the post of emperor. While the anecdote is certainly telling, we have no idea if he did other gardening or if his green thumb was confined to cabbages. And while this pithy story of the cabbage patch emperor is quite memorable, we can scarcely imagine the hundreds of other tales of Diocletian’s exploits in retirement that historians will never know. When the guide said she knew everything about Diocletian, she was really saying that she knew more than a group of random strangers who had shown up for a tour out of curiosity. In comparison to this Free Tour group, the guide probably was an expert, but that was not saying much.

Seeing is believing – The ruins of Salonas amphitheater (Credit: Carole Raddato)

Follow The Leader – “Nothing Worth Seeing” 
Perhaps it was the heat or maybe it was the guide’s continuing condescension that made me begin to have second thoughts about the tour. Then again, the tipping point may have come when the guide mentioned Salona, a major Roman city whose fragmented ruins can be found in the town of Solin not far from Split. The guide dismissed these as “nothing worth seeing.” This self-professed authority on Salona had supposedly spent a great deal of time there as part of work on her book.

Contrary to what the guide said, Solin does have quite a few ruins, including those of its ancient aqueduct, amphitheater, baths, basilica, and city walls. That is not surprising since its ancient iteration had over 60,000 inhabitants and was the capital of a Roman province, The ruins might interest those looking to learn more about the probable site of Diocletian’s birth. The guide’s dismissiveness led me to dismiss myself from the tour. This was the first free tour I had ever decided wasn’t worth the effort. In our guide’s words, there was “nothing worth seeing”, especially when she was involved. At least I can say that I went on a Free Tour of Split, the memory of which still comes at great cost.

Click here for: Early Arrivals – Ferry At Split: Kinetic Intellects & Kindred Spirits (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #56)

Hyper-Normalcy – Split: A Party In Progress (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #54)

Wandering in the darkness while searching for accommodation in the serpentine streets of Split’s Old Town was not what I had in mind at ten o’clock in the evening. By this point I was soaked in sweat. Thanks to the technological wonders of GPS and Google Maps, I was able to find the accommodation despite a series of narrow streets consumed in near darkness. The winding stone walkways that led the way through shadowy corridors called to mind a murder scene from a European noir film in the mid-20th century. Touch of Evil in the back streets of Old Split was now playing with exhausted travelers diving deeper into the unknown.

The dense, heavy air added to the dramatic effect. In many countries, including my own, this area would have been deemed sketchy. Despite this, I never once feared for my personal safety. My only worry was whether I could find the correct address number. After knocking on the wrong door more than once, I heard the voice of someone calling out “hello.” It was the hostess, an older, soft spoken lady who mysteriously appeared in the street. She guided us less than 50 meters away to the accommodation on this night. Within minutes, she had shown me all anyone would ever need to know. This amounted to knowing how to turn up the air conditioning to arctic like levels. From that point, I do not remember much since sleep blissfully carried me away.

Wake up call – Morning in Split

Claustrophobic & Cloistered – The Stoicism of Strangers
Is there anything more disconcerting than waking up in a different room, in a different city, on a sunny morning? The feeling of having fallen into an entirely different world did not escape me during our first and only morning in Split. I awoke long after the sun had risen. By this time, Split was already wide awake. I stepped outside to seek caffeine and a quick snack. A palpable buzz could be felt throughout the narrow alleyways of the Old Town. Locals were already going about their business with a determined sense of duty. I almost got lost among the twists and turns that took me to a small shop. Along the way, everything felt new and noticeable. The stone seemed to burn brighter, every cobblestone looked like a possible trip hazard, the stoicism of strangers made me feel much more foreign.

Since I had been in Split before, I assumed that it would look instantly familiar to me. The fallacy of making such an assumption soon became apparent. This was not the Split I remembered with Diocletian’s Palace, the Riva and Marjan Hill. The Old Town’s streets managed to look the same and somehow different at the same time. The area felt claustrophobic and cloistered. It was a confusing maze that my wife and I would soon escape. Split felt like what it was for us on this journey, a one night stand that leaves you with misgivings caused by confusion and sleep deprivation.

Classical scene – Diocletian’s Palace as seen from the Riva in Split

Explosions of Emotion – A New Sensation
Split was the liveliest city I visited in these travels along the Croatian coast. It felt like an unending party was in progress. The pandemic was over as far as those on the Riva and surrounding area were concerned. It was now thriving on a hyper-normalcy. The pervasive feeling throughout the city’s tourist areas was one of release from the shackles of mask mandates and social distancing. It looked more like a university town where the energetic and youthful were away from home for the first time. Now that liberation day had finally arrived, everyone felt free to do as they pleased. Expressions of scarcely disguised euphoria were on full display. It was as though the entire citizenry of Split had been let out of jail. They were enjoying fully fledged freedom from a pandemic that refused to go away, but which they now willfully ignored. It was an impressive display of a newfound normalcy much of the world continues to crave.

The pandemic has changed the economic prospects of Croatia, most prominently its thriving tourist industry which faced devastation in 2020. The number of visitors this year is still not what it was prior to the pandemic, but from what I saw in Split, the Croatian tourist industry is in the throes of a full recovery. Anecdotal evidence suggests as much. The hostess at our accommodation mentioned that she had never seen so many people in the Old Town and along the Riva. She believed it was a reaction to the lifting of restrictions.

Despite the continuing dangers of contracting COVID none of the Croatians I saw seemed to be giving it much thought. Foreigners were feted by accommodations, restaurants, and tour companies. Caution regarding Covid has been thrown to the wind, but there was another change taking place in Croatia. One that was much more palpable than the pandemic. Throughout our two week journey up and down the coastline, the sun beamed down upon us with a merciless intensity. At first, I thought this was just another sign of summer, but I heard Croatians call attention to the suffocating heat several times.

Sunny side up – Along the Riva in Split

Heating Up – Sign of the Times
Croatia was suffering – along with the rest of southeastern Europe – a blistering heat wave that showed no signs of subsiding. As we traveled up and down the coastline, we were accompanied by cloudless skies and temperatures that ran between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius. These temperatures would have been tolerable for a couple of days, but two consecutive weeks of them made me dread the inevitable wall of heat that would greet me anytime I stepped out the door. It was imperative to always have at least two large bottles of mineral water at hand to stay properly hydrated.

Since it was mid-summer, I tried to explain away the daily infernos as a symptom of the season. Of course, global warming was the underlying reason that Croatia was so hot. While climate change might extend the tourist season by making the spring and autumn seasons much warmer, it also meant summertime was going to suffer under a scorching sun and brutal heat. The heat wave in progress at the time of our visit was an ominous portent of future ones to come.

Click here for: The Know Nothings – Split: A Tour In Ruins (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #55)

The End Is Near – Trogir to Split: A Merciful Conclusion (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #53)

As evening descended upon the Croatian coastline, the Adriatic Sea became a silhouette that slowly disappeared into the darkness. The final phase of our bus journey from Rijeka to Split also succumbed to a blackout. The darkness made it difficult to tell how far we were from Split. One of the side benefits of the darkness were fewer potential passengers standing at remote bus stops. Our pace quickened, as the drivers had nothing to distract or delay them. Nonetheless, I could not help but think we would already be in Split if not for the earlier roadside adventures inflicted upon us by the bus drivers. They had sought to ingratiate themselves with roadside bystanders and in the process put us further behind schedule. Getting to Split was an all day process that would now go on well into the night.

Energy in the evening – Diocletian’s Palace in Split at night

Return Trip – Terms of Endearment
Getting one’s bearings in the darkness is difficult enough without trying to do it in a foreign country while traveling at 100 kilometers per hour on a crowded bus. I finally realized where we were when the bus pulled to the station in Trogir. This historic town was a very different place from the one I had seen in the daylight eight years earlier. Old Trogir, with its limestone walls radiating history, was obscured on this evening by artificial lighting. This did nothing to keep me from recalling memories of the monumental discoveries to be found within those walls. I found myself longing to stay in Trogir. Not only would it have brought to a merciful conclusion this seemingly infinite bus journey, but I would also have been able to wake up in the medieval treasure box that is Trogir’s Old Town.

I was reminded of just how extraordinary my first visit to Trogir had been while walking those cloistered streets beneath a burning sun. It was one of those days that memory has molded to perfection, whether this matched the reality of that visit hardly matters to me. Love is an excellent example of how little reality means to us. My lust to spend more time in Trogir was fleeting as the bus was soon traveling the highway for the final half hour. As the bus closed in on Split, its bright lights began to cast their glow in the distance. They served to remind me that Split is as much a metropolis, as it is a haven for tourists. Tourism is one of several economic engines that drives Croatia’s second largest urban economy. Speaking of tourism, I was joined on the last stretch of this journey by a young Croat. He was still in high school and as I soon realized, highly intelligent. He asked in exceedingly fluent English if he might offer a bit of advice. I was more than happy to hear what he had to say.

Night closes in – The Riva in the evening (Credit: Michael Angelkovich

Go West Young Man – Life, Fate & The Balkans
The young man started off by explaining why bus drivers picked up those waiting by the roadside. I immediately felt a twinge of guilt, He must have overheard my incessant complaining about the innumerable stops and starts that had been inflicted upon us during this journey. He sincerely stated that this was a sort of Balkan tradition. The drivers felt compelled to provide a lift for those who might not otherwise be able to find one to their chosen destination. He said this in such a sincere manner that it made me curse my own innate selfishness. The terms of endearment drivers willingly offered potential stray passengers were heartfelt.

My temporary Croatian travel companion also provided advice about avoiding the vendors along Split’s Riva. He talked about how their economic livelihood came from hoodwinking tourists with high prices, cheap goods mostly manufactured in China and pulling the proverbial wool over the eyes of foreigners who were so intoxicated by the setting that they failed to realize what they were purchasing or the price they were paying for it. He said this in such a forthright manner that I could not bring myself to tell him of my visit to Split eight years earlier. That I knew the touts were rip offs and to always avoid buying anything in the most heavily trafficked tourist areas. The young man was part of a newer generation that I assumed did not feel the same sense of desperation for dollars that those who had lived through the economic implosion after Yugoslavia’s collapse. At least that was what I thought until my newfound friend added, “everyone knows the economy is a disaster.” That was when I knew that he, like so many of his countrymen, would most likely leave Croatia for opportunities in other EU countries. Such is life, fate, and the future in the Balkans.

Life On The Riva – Making A Statement
Split never ceases to amaze me. It is supersized and sordid in a spectacular kind of way. It is lively to the point of rambunctiousness and extremely ugly in many parts of the city. The proverbial concrete jungle is on display anywhere outside the Old Town and Riva. There is classicism and communism, the spiritual and ramshackle which manages to coexist rather than compete. In short, a bundle of contradictions that informs everything about it. Split feels much larger than it is mainly because the tourist areas are so heavily trafficked. Traveling by bus through the congested city center to the station is anything but easy. The driver had to run a gauntlet of traffic lights while dodging pedestrians and weaving his way through an obstacle course of cars. On this evening, the foot traffic was just as bad as the vehicular kind. The bus fought its way through the chaos and delivered us not far from the waterfront. This still meant a kilometer and a half walk before arriving at the destination. Toting luggage while fighting through what amounted to a melee along the sidewalk was not anyone’s idea of fun.

Nightscape – The Riva in Split (Credit: Jerrye & Roy Klotz MD)

On this evening, Split felt positively tropical. The thick, heavy air was saturated with moisture. After a few minutes I was pouring sweat amid the stifling humidity. I questioned my own sanity for booking an accommodation that was a long and grueling walk from the station. The walk was made much worse by the legions of youth who had turned out this evening to crowd the Riva. Split was packed with teenagers and twenty somethings looking to release pent up energy that had been postponed by the pandemic. Walking along the Riva was an exercise in frustration with great masses of people socializing in the most animated of manners. It felt like New Year’s Eve had come early to the Riva. The waterfront could have been mistaken for Goa or Ibiza. Lights flashed, music blared, the youth of Croatia was making a statement. All I could think about was air conditioning and a bed for the night.

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Hyper-Normalcy – Split: A Party In Progress (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #54)

Seaside Supermodel – Primosten: Miracles & Mirages (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #52)

The bus was somewhere south of Sibenik when the driver decided to make another of his increasingly frequent stops to pick up those looking for a ride. The bus pulled up to a small stop where a family of five awaited. The father was a short, stocky man with dark hair and a look of seriousness on his face. Though it was early evening, the family were dressed for a day at the beach rather than a bus ride to Split. After they boarded, the bus headed back down the highway. The backup driver, who was riding in a seat to the right of the driver, began to issue tickets and ask for payment from the man. What happened next was incomprehensible to all involved. During this process, some sort of disagreement occurred between the man who had just boarded with his family and the backup driver issuing the tickets. Money never changed hands. The oddest thing about the conversation is no one raised their voice. Most likely they were debating whether the man would pay. The conversation lasted at least 10 minutes, until the bus finally pulled over. At that point, the man and his family exited the bus.

Postcard perfect – View of Primosten (Credit: Bernard Gagnon)

The man issuing the tickets then followed him off the bus. They once again engaged in another long winded conversation. The bus driver soon joined them. His presence only served to prolong the matter. The back and forth among these men went on for quite some time. Another ten minutes passed as the bus idled by the roadside. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere and the conversation among the three men had arrived at the same place. There was nothing anyone on the bus could do but wait. I noticed that the other passengers did their best to ignore whatever disagreement was taking place. I figured the disgruntled passenger was arguing over some petty point or minute amount of cash. In my experience, the lower the stakes, the longer the wait. Finally, both drivers returned to the bus. After half an hour had been wasted on a family that had not traveled more than a few kilometers and paid nothing for the considerable delay they had caused, the bus went on its way once again. Split could not come soon enough for me, but we were still over an hour away from arrival.

Instantly Identifiable – A Picture of Vivid Brilliance

South of Zadar and north of Split, there was one place along this part of the journey which I looked forward to with eager expectation. A week earlier I had caught a glimpse of Primosten, a small town which looked like a fairy tale town from a kilometer away. White stone houses with orange roofs rose above the azure waters of the Adriatic that surrounded the town. Near the pinnacle of Primosten was a dash of greenery. Amidst a clump of trees, the steeple of St. George’s Church could be seen shooting skyward. Primosten was one of those rare places where reality outpaces imagination. It became instantly identifiable in my mind. I wanted to see the town again from the highway to confirm that it had been a miracle rather than a mirage. My expectations were met.

Setting scene – Primosten at sunset (Credit: Markus Bernet)

Primosten not only was shining beneath the last rays of sunlight, this small town of just 2,800 inhabitants was a picture of vivid brilliance. Getting a photo of it from the bus proved to be a feat I would fail to accomplish. Primosten was postcard perfect, but that may have been precisely the problem. I could not get an image that would match this enhanced version of reality. From a bus window, Primosten looked like the poster child for Croatian tourism. Later, I searched for more information on Primosten. Surely the guidebooks would not ignore such a stunning set piece. In my mind, this was Croatia par excellence. Of course, I was suffering from love at first sight.  To my surprise, there was very little coverage of the town.

My trusty older edition of the Rough Guide to Croatia limited its coverage of Primosten to a couple of paragraphs. It stated in so many words that Primosten was the perfect destination for those who were looking to rest their weary bones, but it also warned that the town looked much better from afar than up close and personal. The hundred or so houses whose white walls blazed radiantly in the distance were said to be of more recent vintage. The guide made it sound like there was a paucity of historic sites or anything else of more than mild interest in Primosten. I found this depressing. Primosten sounded like the epitome of a seaside supermodel that exposes itself in a one night stand. I am sure there are plenty of suitors lining up to find out the truth and have a bit of fun in the process.

Radiance – Sunset near Primsoten

Infernal Glow – The Ultimate Memory
There were certain satisfactions that I cannot deny from this bus journey, Primosten was one of them. The setting sun that bordered our bus for almost an hour was another. Any passengers who cared to look out the window were repaid for their troubles on this trip with a spectacular sunset. The kind a foreigner finds once in a lifetime, but that Croatians see with regularity. Dusk was dawning upon the eastern Adriatic and drama soon took hold of the sky. As the sun began to dip towards the horizon, the sea turned into a mirror reflecting the sunlight which had transformed it into quicksilver.

Islands floated darkly in the distance. The clouds looked as though they had been touched up with shades of light and shadow by the masterstrokes of an impressionist painter. The sun slowly transformed into a ball of fire, burning through the clouds as its infernal glow expanded. When the sun sank towards the sea, its reflection upon the water stretched a fiery hand toward the setting sun until the two became one. That scene made for the ultimate memory, one that would stay with me long after this journey ended.

Click here for: The End Is Near – Trogir to Split: A Merciful Conclusion (Traveling The Croatian Coastline)

Taken For A Ride – Beyond Sibenik: Pickup Artists (Traveling The Croatian Coast #51)

I had never heard of the Maslenica Bridge, but I will not be forgetting it anytime soon. Crossing the bridge meant saying goodbye to the twists and turns which had taken us three spectacularly beautiful and exhaustingly circuitous hours to navigate along the Adriatic Highway. From this point southward it would be a relatively easy journey to Split or so I thought. The worst of the head spinning highway was behind us. The bridge signified a return to semi-normalcy on this bus journey. Curves went back to being gradual and the scenery became much less inspiring. The bridge symbolized crossing a divide between two worlds, one impenetrable and the other improbable. It was the latter that we were now entering, the more popular Croatian coast of historic towns, resorts, and cities of varying sizes. It also meant many more stops than I could have ever imagined.

Crossover Appeal – Old Maslenica Bridge (Credit: Ex13)

Modern Miracles – The Maslenica Bridge
The Maslenica Bridge is one of those modern miracles of engineering that allow humanity by the hundreds to pass over a formidable natural barrier each day without giving a second thought to just how daunting such a passage must have been before the industrial age. The Maslenica Bridge our bus crossed is one of two by that name within sight of each other. The one we crossed on the D8 motorway is a 21st century construction. It was built as a replacement to one of numerous structural casualties of the Yugoslav Wars. The bridge’s destruction was a heavy blow since it was a lifeline between the capital Zagreb and Split, the nation’s second largest city. Getting it rebuilt was of great logistical and symbolic importance. The deck arch design spans the Novska Zdrilo, a strait of the Adriatic Sea which connects to the Velebit Channel, an important waterway that runs between the Velebit Mountains and several of Croatia’s largest islands and most important islands, including Krk and Rab.

The bridge has become a favorite of bungee jumpers who fancy the adrenaline rush of a free fall from the 56 meter high bridge.  I was most enthralled by another aspect of the bridge, it was straight. Considering the serpentine motorway we had just covered, the bridge brought a sense of relief. While the road straightened up, our journey was far from over. Split was several hours to the south, which meant there was still a great deal of ground to be covered. This journey was about to turn into a test of endurance. Our first stop along the straight and narrow portion was Zadar. I remembered its bus station with such fondness. That was back in the days of innocence, prior to making the up and back bus trek along the Croatian Littoral.

Straight & narrow – A boat makes its way through the Novska Zdrilo Strait

Hitching A Ride – Driven to Discomfort
Before departing from Zadar a week earlier, I had no idea of the merciless journey we were about to undertake. Returning to the bus station was not a return to innocence, instead I was weathered and beaten from hour upon hour on the long and winding Croatian roads. My eyes glazed over at the sight of Zadar. Instead of elation or expectation, all I could do was give a shrug of indifference. There was time for a bathroom break and little else. Then it was on to Sibenik, a place I had planned to visit, but then decided to skip for a regrettable day in Nin. Sibenik is famous for its cathedral and not much else. While the bus weaved its way through the heavily trafficked streets and a sea of commercial development, I searched in vain for the cathedral. In Sibenik, I began to truly loathe this journey. It could not end fast enough and that was the problem. It was not so much the hours ahead that I dreaded, as much as the endless stops and starts. Every larger town along our route was a possible detour where 5 minutes became 15. It did not take me long to realize that there was no way we would make it to Split on time. After awhile, I began to wonder if we would make it to Split at all.

Croatia is one of the most customer service oriented countries I have visited in Eastern Europe. Part of this is because it has little choice. Croatia’s economy is so heavily reliant upon tourism that they must caress the hand that pads their pockets with kuna. There is also something to be said for Balkan hospitality, a level of service that in my experience can make the recipient feel like a long lost friend of the family. This hospitality goes way beyond loosening a handful of kuna from a tight fisted tourist. As I discovered on the Rijeka to Split bus ride, it can extend to would be passengers standing in eager anticipation at a wide spot in the road. The bus drivers – there were two onboard – decided to stop for almost anyone who looked like they might need a ride. This might have been understandable except for the fact none of these interlopers were traveling to Split. What had been a city to city bus throughout the first part of this journey soon became a local connector line.

The journey continues – Sunset as seen on the Rijeka to Split bus

A Mad Habit – The Granting of Wishes
The most absurd outcome of these excruciating acts of kindness was that those who needed a lift took precedence over the passengers who had paid a steep fee for at least eight hours of discomfort. The drivers seemed to enjoy offering a lift to anyone who wanted to get onboard. This had the added irritation of creating a free for all when it came to finding an open seat. The stops went from intermittent to interminable. The bus fell further and further behind schedule. The upshot of the many pickups and drop offs was that over an hour was added to the journey. The bus drivers had the maddening habit of stopping more rather than less the longer we traveled. It was a bizarre habit that was heartening only to those who stood by the roadside. There was a good chance that their wish for a ride would be granted. Conversely, my wish for this journey to end would not be granted for several more hours.

Click here for: Seaside Supermodel – Primosten: Miracles & Mirages (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #52)

Land of Extremes – The Karst: That Other Croatia (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #50)

After leaving Senj, the journey along the Adriatic Highway took many turns for the worse. Abysses crept closer, guardrails answered prayers, and I felt an unspoken sense of profound gratitude to the bus driver for keeping us on the road. Outside the window, I watched as a searing sun beat down on clifftops, baked the infertile soil and turned pavement to a blazing ribbon of black that slithered across the tumultuous topography. The fact that there was a road through this landscape was an impressive accomplishment. A vanity project that had been imposed upon a brutally beautiful landscape. It must have cost a fortune in men and material. This bucolic wasteland has been known to turn skin to leather who last a lifetime in the spectacular, but less than welcoming environment. Looking out at
it made me marvel at the fierceness of nature.

Living on the edge – Village between the Karst & Adriatic Sea

Forbidden Landscape – Terrific & Terrifying
The region we were crossing is known as the Karst. It extends inland from the coastline an average of 100 kilometers. While the Karst can be found all along the hinterland of mainland Croatia’s coast, the area south of Rijeka is made much more inhospitable by the looming presence of the Velebit Mountains to the east. Between the sea and the mountains is a terrifying stretch of terrain that is one of Europe’s preeminent no man’s lands. It is a forbidden landscape whose foundation is made of limestone. Water disappears into natural catacombs that have been carved by rivulets cutting their way through the soft stone since time immemorial. Rivers were known to disappear underground and then reappear many kilometers later. The Karst has a bipolar personality, magical and malevolent. This is exacerbated by its climate of extremes. Infernal heat in the summer radiates off the blindingly white rock. Then in the winter, bone chilling cold cuts across the karst with a scythe like wind that blows icy and unceasing for months on end. Those who have managed to survive here end up just as tough as the landscape.

This bus journey across the karst left me with contradictory feelings. One minute, I wanted to end it as soon as possible. The next, I wished it would last forever. From their window seats, passengers could snap the most stunning series of photos imaginable. The scenery was an endless succession of terrifying enchantment. Seaside villages were little more than a few scattered houses standing by the waterfront, some in a state of ruin. I could not think of anything more enchanting or terrifying than to be forced into exile here. Living out life staring at the mesmerizing, azure waters of the Adriatic would be a dream. At the same time, I thought life here must be marked by loneliness and intense isolation. The kind of place where one could get lost forever and never be seen again. Precisely because no one would be watching.

Personal paradise – On the remote reaches of the Croatian coastline

Fear Inducing Recklessness – Life On The Karst
The ruins in several of the villages looked so inviting that for a moment they made me forget that something had brought them to such a state of disrepair. To say that this land had marginal economic prospects was a massive understatement. Eking out a livelihood on this remote stretch of coastline has always been a precarious undertaking. Prior to modern times the coves were the haunt of marauding forces, most notably the Uskoks whose ferocity mirrored the land they ruled with a fear inducing recklessness. Modern times had brought more pleasurable pursuits. Tourism offered the greatest economic potential. The coast was great for fishing, sunbathing, and swimming. There really was nothing else to do. The hillsides were covered in stone. There was also the greenery of small trees and scrub brush whose vibrancy was made much more radiant by the harshness of the terrain. Shelter from the sun was scarce. On the day we passed through, this stretch of coastline looked to be enjoying an eternal summer. I knew that eventually the seasons would change and with it, the frigid tempests of winter would transform the region with bone chilling frigidity.

The bus sped by villages that hugged the shoreline as if protecting themselves from the tumultuous terrain they were surrounded by on all other sides. Their only natural outlet was the sea which looked infinite from the shoreline. We were now entering that other Croatian coast, marked by a lack of human habitation, one that tourist brochures were bound to avoid. Only locals, travelers or hermits find their way here. There were no wide strips of sand, or concrete monstrosities hovering over the Adriatic. The idea of a resort was anathema in this land. A lone umbrella on a gravely shingle of shoreline or a handful of kayaks floating in a cove were more typical scenes. The villages we did come across were small and remote. Places like Sveti Jurag with a population of 599 people, almost the same as what it was 150 years ago. Lukovo which was three times smaller than Sveti Juraj.  Stinica, notable as the jumping off point for Rab Island which could be seen lurking offshore.

The shores of infinity – Adriatic Sea in Croatia

The Shallows – Seduced By Solitude
For a region that lacked large centers of population, it was surprising to see that any cove with the semblance of a beach had been discovered by lovers of sun and sea. It was easy to understand their affinity for these scattered bits of sheltered shoreline. The water’s clarity could be compared to glass. The shallows were almost totally transparent. I found it entrancing in the extreme. It was obvious that I was not the only one who was attracted by its magnetic allure. People were propped up on the shoreline or swam about in the shallows, partaking of their own personal bits of paradise. These scenes were a far cry from the tourist towns and beaches that dotted the Dalmatian and Istrian coastlines. Due to their isolation and lack of creature comforts, the Karst kept the masses away. I envied those who came here to relax. This land and seascape were an acquired taste, a very exclusive section of Croatia, reserved for those seduced by solitude.

Click here for: Taken For A Ride – Beyond Sibenik: Pickup Artists (Traveling The Croatian Coast #51)

Doses of Dramamine – Rijeka to Split: The Adriatic Highway (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #49)

Miracles do happen, lightning strikes the same place twice and the wildest dreams come true. The bus from Rijeka to Split was ready to roll long before the scheduled time. An on-time departure seemed probable. There was even the possibility of an early departure. For a few minutes, hope triumphed over experience before reality intervened. At noon, the bus was still stationary. The time for its departure came and went with the bus drivers assigned to shepherd us down the coastline looking confused. The one providing receipts for the storing of luggage was delayed when his machine ran out of paper. This delay signaled that timeliness was not of the essence. And it also caused me no end of consternation.

The final journey – Rijeka to Split by bus

Living On The Edge – Impossible Obstacles
The bus was the second and last one leaving for Split that day. Considering the journey was scheduled to take more than eight hours, adding what turned out to be a half an hour at the start of it was extremely irritating. When boarding finally began, the growing crowd of passengers surged forward. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bus was not sold out. This was a first in our three long journeys covering the Croatian coast. Unfortunately, everyone soon discovered that the bus company had sold the same seats to multiple passengers. This led to some edgy conversations that were as much about frustrated expectations as they were seat assignments. Thankfully, there were enough open seats to satisfy those whose seats were already filled. Despite the initially frantic enthusiasm to board once seats were claimed, low murmurs of conversation gave way to grim stoicism. 

Everyone knew what was ahead, a long and tiresome journey along the Adriatic Highway. The stunning scenery that would unfold across hundreds of kilometers of shoreline would be offset by the insanely serpentine D8 motorway. The road winds its way along a seemingly unending series of life threatening precipices and narrow, rocky defiles. Doses of Dramamine were in order, even for those with stronger stomachs. Nothing less would do for such a daunting journey. I already knew what to expect since I had done this journey in the opposite direction a week earlier. An hour out of Rijeka we would be entering a no man’s land of spectacular scenery and forbidding landscapes. This was the roughest, most rugged part of any journey along the Croatian coastline. Considering the competition that is impressive or depressive depending upon one’s perspective. It would certainly prove unforgettable for all the right and wrong reasons.

It was not long after leaving Rijeka that the dreaded curves began. The bus began to snake its way through a never ending neverland. I felt like we were chasing our own tail time and again. From the town of Kraljevica until the Maslenica Bridge nearly 200 kilometers to the south, the bus navigated an unending succession of s-curves, switchbacks on steroids and abyss hugging highway. I have no way of knowing how many times the bus made ninety degree turns, but I would put the number at well over a  hundred. To say that this journey was a combination of dizzying, withering and head spinning would not quite do it justice. On the landward side, the Velebit Mountains formed an impressive natural barrier. An awe inspiring reminder of the rugged inland areas to be found east of the Croatian Littoral. The mountains were beautiful and forbidding, they looked like another impossible obstacle in a region filled with them.

Beauty beyond measure – 15 minutes outside of Rijeka

Terrifying Beauty – On Hostile Ground
On the seaward side, the Adriatic seemed to be taunting those of us who looked out upon its serene waters with thoughts of what might have been. The scene was enchanting and maddening. If only there had been a ferry between Rijeka and Split. Thoughts of this only made the bus ride worse. On this day, anyone fortunate enough to be taking the sea route would have been enjoying smooth sailing. There was no rugged terrain to navigate, only a sheet of glass stretching to the shorelines of various islands or flowing towards an infinite horizon. I was pretty sure that everyone on board this bus would have gladly taken the opportunity to sail the Adriatic. Such thoughts only served to make this journey more difficult than it already was. Staring longingly at the sea did little more than remind me of what I was missing. I did derive a bit of solace from the fact that we would be taking a ferry from Spilt to Dubrovnik the next day, but first we had to make our way through a maze that was part natural and part manmade.

Just as on our initial journey along this road a week earlier, I was impressed by the terrifying beauty of the region. Those consummate pirates of the Adriatic, the Uskoks, came as close as anyone ever did to controlling the Littoral. Truth be told, they did not so much control it, as it controlled them. The hostile nature of the landscape molded them into ferocious warriors, ones who were feared even by their allies. Their capital of Senj was a sort of midpoint marker for the bus journey. A place to stretch the legs and for me to experience a deep and abiding empathy for anyone who lived on this forbidden shore. The town was hemmed in all sides by nature. The difficulty of traveling to and from Senj would have warned many people off the place. I imagined its inhabitants either enjoyed their isolation or were living out their lives in a sort of blissful self-imposed exile. Staying in Senj meant surviving it. There was comfort in the remote, a sort of seductive solitude with an allure all its own.

Languid look – The waterfront in Senj (Credit: SI-Ziga)

Beauty & Brutality – The Opposite of Hospitable
On this journey, Senj was little more than a bathroom break. The same could not be said for the towns and villages either north or south of it. Anyone who thinks Europe is getting crowded need not look any further than the mainland shores of the Littoral. Villages were quaint, but hardly memorable. The dream of everyone who falls in love with the Croatian coastline is to live along it. That still did not make me fancy this region. It looked the opposite of hospitable. Senj was the region’s largest population center with only 7,000 people. All the others were proverbial wide spots in the road, or put more aptly, wide spots in the coves. Tucked up against the shoreline, preserves of the hardy or foolhardy dotted the highway. They were scattered along it at regular intervals. Each of them made me wonder what it would be like to live in one of these villages surrounded by beauty and brutality.

Click here for: Land of Extremes – The Karst: That Other Croatia (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #50)

Pirates of the Adriatic – Senj: Refugees & Reprobates (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #48)

The stretch of coastline I was traveling between Zadar and Rijeka had once been the preserve of a famous band of outlaws. If they ever make a “Pirates of the Adriatic” movie than it will almost certainly be filmed in Senj. During the 16th and 17th centuries, this town was the de facto capital of the Uskoks. The very name struck fear into the hearts of the Ottoman Turks and Venetians. Even by Balkan standards, the Uskoks were an especially fearsome lot. Ruffians and refugees, brigands and bandits, independent individualists and malevolent maniacs and the Uskoks were a breed apart.

The winding road brought us to Senj, the first decent sized town we had seen in hours. The forbidding and wildly beautiful stretch of coastline between Zadar and Rijeka had a hell for leather harshness.  Historically this had made it a difficult place for human habitation to take hold. Even today, this stretch of coastline is sparsely populated. It is most notable for a terrible beauty. The area offers little respite to travelers. The sun blazes, the sea is mostly inaccessible.  As the bus stopped in Senj, I could not help but think this was rather ironic. The town was once a place to be avoided at all costs. Four hundred years ago, it had been home to a cast of dangerous characters whose livelihood was spurred by depravity and thievery. Only the toughest survived Senj. No wonder the Uskoks made it the epicenter of their world.

Remember the Uskoks – Nehaj Fortress (Credit: Bvlahov)

The Embattled Shore – A Force of Ferocious Nature
The bus emptied within a couple of minutes as passengers sought relief from the dizzying journey they had endured up to this point. Senj was good for a bathroom break and a history lesson. I made a mental note that one day I would have to return and visit Nehaj Fortress, a 16th century defensive construction that was the town’s most notable landmark. From the highway it could easily be seen. I imagine that those who came to Senj by watercraft would not have looked at the Fortress with the same sense of enchantment that I did. They would have been fearful at what lay within the fortress’ impregnable walls. The fortress still made a formidable impression, looking like it could still be used in warfare rather than in its current iteration as a museum. The fortress’ fine condition as viewed from the roadway was a reminder to passersby that it had never fallen in warfare. It was also a physical representation of the Uskoks, who after being expelled from the stronghold of Klis by the Ottoman Turks fled to Senj and made it the capital of piracy during the 16th and 17th centuries.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Uskoks were as close to a force of the most ferocious nature in human form that has existed in Europe during the last 500 years. Their exploits struck fear into the hearts of those who dared oppose them. Specifically, the Ottoman Turks and Venetians. Since the land around Senj was too unforgiving for agriculture, the Uskoks lived off banditry and so did Senj. While the Uskoks were used by the Habsburgs to fight the Ottomans in this area to a standstill, they spent a great deal of their time plying the coastline of the eastern Adriatic in watercraft that could maneuver at great speed. These boats were used to plunder shipping that came anywhere close to their domain. While the Uskoks were never great in number, estimates put them at a few thousand at most, they were able to terrify their enemies. Anyone unlikely enough to be captured by them could hope for slavery at best, a tortuous death at worst.

Independent individualist – Illustration of an Uskok

Bloodlust & Banditry – Pillaging Their Way Into History
The Uskoks used extreme violence on their foes. Those who rose to the highest ranks in their hierarchy were known to be among the most violent. They would nail turbans on to the heads of captured Turks. Tearing out the heart of a captive and roasting it over an open flame was not beyond the Uskoks. Bloodlust rituals were favored by these exotic military warriors or so the Venetians had everyone believe. More than a few Venetians fell into the hands of the Uskoks, some of whom lost their heads, others their hearts. Venetian shipping was plundered to the point that they opened a propaganda offensive against the Uskoks. Often lost on those shocked by the Uskoks’ unique combination of bloodlust and banditry, was that they were products of their environment. The Uskoks had originated from Croats and Bosnians who had been run off their lands in the Neretva River delta by the Ottomans. Other refugees from Herzegovina and Dalmatia who had suffered the same fate soon joined them. They guarded a semi-permanent military frontier that was marked by raids and lethal acts of violence.

Without the invasion of the Ottoman Turks, the venality of the Venetians and the Habsburg strategy of (deliberately) underpaying the Uskoks, they would have never existed. Those who felt their harsh hand in warfare might have taken some time to reflect on their own role in creating such a lethal force of resistance. The culmination of this rabid banditry was the so called Uskok War precipitated in 1615 by the Venetians to finally bring a semblance of order to a calamitous situation. In the Treaty of Madrid that followed, the Habsburgs and Venetians agreed to accommodate each other’s needs. For the Uskoks, this meant the end of their depredations as the Habsburg authorities agreed to resettle them further inland. The Uskok’s rapacious reign in Senj ended, but they have not been forgotten. Nehaj Fortress stands as a testament to their skills in defending themselves against anyone who dared to cross their path. 

Beyond imagination – The Kvarner Gulf

Transition Zone – Mitteleuropa On The Adriatic
Reading about the Uskoks kept me distracted long enough to ignore all but the final stretch of the journey between Senj and Rijeka. We were now entering a cultural transition zone that stood between Dalmatia and Istria. The Latinizing influence of the Venetians gave way in the past two centuries to central European influence. The area is one of the least trafficked by tourists along the Croatian coast. That is such a shame because the ride into Rijeka was a revelation. The Kvarner Gulf stretched out before us, a giant body of placid water of cools greys, soft silvers, and luminous blues. The worst of our serpentine bus journey was behind us, but the beauty would continue.

Click here for: Doses of Dramamine – Rijeka to Split: The Adriatic Highway (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #49)