Goodbye Croatia, Hello Italy!

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Boots repaired, our bags repacked, we made our way down to the port one last time. This big behemoth of a boat is not the ferry that would take us to Italy.

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This one is! It’s pretty big as ferries go, fairly small by cruise standards. We had a bit of confusion getting to it – there’s a passport checkpoint around a corner in the terminal that takes some finding.

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We made it through and boarded through the absolutely cavernous garage. We ponied up for a bedroom for this ride. It was comfortable enough for the slightly higher price. The other option that a lot of travelers take is to buy a boarding ticket only and sleep on any available surface – the crew don’t seem to mind.

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As soon as we put our stuff down in the room we headed upstairs and outside to explore the deck. The ship itself was pretty cool, but the real selling point is the view.

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We stayed outside and ate our sandwiches – dinner is pretty expensive onboard. Lots of families had packed entire cases of food and were having their own dinners along the deck and in the small seating area inside. Soon enough the boat started to move!

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We watched until Split just about disappeared.

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And then went to sleep. The trip is pretty short and we wanted to get as much shut-eye as possible. From what I gather some people make a night of it and just party into the morning.

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Speaking of morning, the tickets come with a free breakfast. Mediocre as food goes, but decent for ferry food.

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Back out through the garage, this time smelling of car fumes.

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And we’re in Italy!

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The Story of Boots

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Natalie’s boots are one of her signature things – she wears them year round, and has almost for half a decade. They wear out every year or so, and another pair replaces them. Unfortunately on a trip like ours, it’s pretty hard to find a replacement pair. In Croatia we really ran out of options.

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This particular pair of boots has seen a lot. They started out fairly waterproof in Mexico, held up reasonably well through Costa Rica, and started showing a bit of wear in Peru. We tried to keep them in reasonably good shape – a leatherworker in Arequipa showed us how to rub leather product into them to keep them supple. It worked.. mostly.

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Unfortunately, as the photos show, it wasn’t enough. They long ago lost their waterproofing, and come Russia, we spent some time stitching the heel back together. Day in and day out, they tread pavement, dirt, and water. Sometimes entire rivers, or occasionally even the salt water of the ocean. They held, but at a cost. By the time we got to Macedonia, they were starting to show holes in the cracks around the toes. We tried to get them fixed in Sarajevo – nobody would take them, except for a heavy smoking shoe repairman, with whom we managed to miss our appointment. It was never entirely clear we had one, since we only managed to speak broken Russian together, neither of us really knowing the language.

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In Split, we found this tiny shop. We knew the boots were on their way out, so we spent a day hunting for a repair shop. We found a few scattered around town, but the ones who were dedicated to fixing shoes would not take us on. The boots were too damaged they said. We were really hopeful that they would be able to patch them, just enough to last another few months. Sadly, no luck. Until we found this lovely lady and her hardware/repair shop.

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She too told us they were broken, but she took them and said she would do her best. Wow did she ever! In two days we went back and this is what she showed us. She had even stitched the heels back together. Waterproof? No. Solid and fashionable? Absolutely! We are ever grateful to her for agreeing to try repairing them, and for doing such a great job. With these boots now, we carry on!

Olive Oil on Brac

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Half olive oil producer, half museum, Muzej Uja (Museum Uja) is in the outskirts of Skrip, itself south of Splitska. The towns here are tiny so ‘outskirts’ means a whole five minute’s drive. It’s been in town for a long, long time, and the man who runs it told us his great grandfather had started it.

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He spent some time showing us around, pointing out interesting bits and bobs. This is the main attraction of the museum, the old fashioned olive press. It’s pushed and pulled around over and over, squeezing the olives down into pulp and oil.

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From above we got a great view of the massive stone slabs that it was made of. Quarried right here on the island no doubt. It was in use for almost 100 years, until the industrial revolution caught up in full with the oilery business and hydraulic presses replaced the old fashioned turn-wheel.

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The upstairs of the museum used to be a residence, but they turned it into a sampling room.

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The interesting part here is the piled stone roof. Nothing holds it together except pressure and the skill of the craftsman who created it. The owner told us it took forever to find someone skilled enough to repair the roof when it broke, and he thinks soon enough no one around will know how to.

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The view from up here is pretty fantastic too!

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Back downstairs, the new cold press machine takes on the duty of making olive oil for the family. They’re hoping to expand with a second machine sometime in the future, but in the meantime this is apparently as good as it gets in terms of oil presses.

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When the owner found out we were traveling around the world, he asked us to sit and eat a bit with him. Before we could even thank him, a small assortment of home made spreads was in front of us, and we were enjoying the just-around-noon sun. Thank goodness for hats. We talked for a long time about our trip, his business, it’s history and plans, his family – especially the education of his kids and their hopefully bright future. When the afternoon tour group came by, we said our goodbyes and wished each other luck and happiness. This is really the best part of traveling. Meeting people and making a connection, despite the vast distance between our lives. We hope everything goes well for Kruno and his oil museum – we’d really like to come back someday.

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P.S. The tasting is well worth it. Their olive oil is fresh and delicious, and they sell a fantastic sort of cherry liqueur that we took on with us. Plus, right outside the oilery, kittens!

The Beautiful Island of Brač

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Brač is gorgeous. The sun hits green shrubs and flowers, turquoise blue water, and white cliffs. It’s far enough away from the mainland that it lives in its own little bubble, and while we were there it almost felt like we were alone on the island. It’s large enough to explore and hike for days, but small enough to be able to see much of it during just one visit – the perfect size for a day trip.

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We woke up early and hit the docks to catch our ferry. It’s fairly inexpensive and the trip lasts an hour or so. We caught the one to Supetar.

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On the island, the options are walking, biking, or driving. Biking would have been fun but we wanted to see a village on the other side of the island, so car it was. There’s exactly one rental agency so it’s a good thing the owner is a nice guy.

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Our first hike was a pretty short one – just a few minutes’ drive to the east of town. There wasn’t really a place to park so we pulled off on the side of the road in a gravel patch and walked up.

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The goal of this trek is to see an ancient Roman carving of Hercules that was found in an abandoned quarry on the island.

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And there his is! Hercules himself. The carving shows signs of aging but it’s remarkably well preserved for something so old. The other cool part about this quarry is the abundance of tiny fossils in the rocks. It’s not a good idea to take any, but hunting them down is a treat.

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And while we were hunting we saw an old friend! Jumping spiders are cute, and live literally all over the planet.

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Our next stop, sort of unintentionally, was in Splitska. We hadn’t planned on it, but there were signs for a winery that caught our eye and we stopped by. There’s a whole post coming on that tomorrow!

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Next up, a drive across the short axis of the island. This took about 45 minutes and had some nice stretches of curvy road. The speed limit is pretty slow on the island, and there are slow vehicles on the roads. Still, our car zipped around in a fun drive.

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We arrived in the town of Bol seeking a monastery that supposedly made delicious dessert wine. It still might, but when we went it was pretty closed. To make up for it, the beach nearby was clean and relatively warm.

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The town is a standard touristy beach town, but it is very pretty. Everything is fairly expensive so we ate a small pizza – acceptable but not great. Don’t come to Brac for the food. The drinks however, are great.

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We ordered a glass of prosecco from the major winery in town. I enjoyed the dryness of it, but Natalie wished it were sweeter. By the winery is a dock, and we watched the fish swim around in the placid waters.

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These are pipe fish – skinny, long, and quite elegant. There was a big school of them right next to the shore, probably attracted by all the food waste from the town.

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It was getting late and we still wanted to see the peak of the island, so away we went.

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Along the way we stopped at a lookout to take in the ocean.

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Sailboats!

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Our camera doesn’t have a great zoom, but it can still make out the detail.

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In the middle of the island away from the cliffs and beaches, we drove down a forest road.

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All the way at the top of the road was this massive comm tower. This is not quite the peak of Brac, that was up a few minutes walk.

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We gazed on the landscape as sunset came.

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That stub of land is the famous Zlanti Rat, the premier beach near Bol.

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Away from the ocean was the wide span of cliffs we had just come up.

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At last the sky began its orange glow.

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Around us were some buildings, probably an old watchtower.

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One of the more beautiful sunsets on our trip. We stayed until the sun went down, then drove back to the ferry. We were lucky we made it when we did – apparently we caught the last one back for the evening!

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Postcards from Split

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Outside of the castle, the most visible aspect of Split is the harbor. There are promenades and paths that run along the water, and a short hike that heads up to the top of Marjan hill, a park on the west side of the old town. There is only one caveat to the beauty of the harbor. It smells. It’s a strong, unpleasant smell, and it’s present all along the old-town promenade. It fades pretty quickly away from the central promenade, and once inside the castle, up on the hill, or even just around to the other side of the harbor, there is no more smell.

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It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rowboat, a sailboat, or a cruiseliner – everyone shares the water.

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One evening we walked out along the water to the west. We thought there might be a way up into the park, but there wasn’t really.

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We had gotten fairly far down the way, when this man with a motorcycle tried climbing up the stairs towards us. He was pretty experienced at riding up stairs apparently, but this last bit was too much.

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Why was he trying to ride up the stairs? Up a ways ahead, we were told to stop. Police had cordoned off the area up ahead due to reports of a potentially dangerous man running around. We decided it was probably a good idea to turn around too.

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The way back offered some of the best views of the old city. It’s really hard to beat the skies of Split.

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Sunset continued as we walked around and watched the water.

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One of the massive Jadrolinia ships went by. They’re the main ferry between Italy and Croatia, and also between split and the nearby Brac Island.

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There came a point during sunset when the clouds cleared and the mountains behind Split lit up. Split truly is a beautiful location.

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The next day we decided to actually hike the hill.

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We got a little lost and found this very cool statue on the north side of the castle.

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Eventually we found our way west and headed up into the hill. It starts out as a fairly narrow path but it gets pretty broad up ahead.

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For a large part of the way there are steps that are wide enough to be a street. The houses here are pretty dense and well maintained. I can only imagine that it’s more expensive to live here than in other parts of the city.

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Eventually we hit the nature-trail portion of the hill. As is traditional in many cities, the local hill is a favorite for kids, families, and pretty much everyone else, to get some exercise and be in nature for a while.

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The path forks and winds a bit, but the main trail is pretty easy to tell apart. We got up most of the way and took a break near an unusually large collection of cats.

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Then this man arrived, and the cats got up in a hurry. What’s the secret? He feeds them from his house nearby, probably every day. Truly herding cats.

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As with any good high point near a city, this one has an oversized flag. Not nearly as large as the ones in South America – like Arica or Cartagena – but still large enough.

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From the top you can’t really see Split proper, instead the western arm of the harbor and the neighborhood beneath the park are visible.

Facing sunset and a chilly wind, we headed back down.

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The beautiful city of Split

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Split is a costal town, oddly reminiscent of Southern California. Palm trees, beautiful ocean, ancient architecture and cobblestone houses. No, wait, that last part isn’t at all like SoCal. Split has a lot of things to see, and most people spend the majority of their time in the old quarter. The old quarter has a market place, a small surrounding area of older streets and their apartments, and, in vast majority, Diocletian’s Palace.

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The palace is a beautiful, massive fortress, with multiple squares and dozens of tiny, squigly back alley style streets that are hard to navigate but full of interesting restaurants and shops.

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It was built around 300 AD as a retirement house for the Emperor Diocletian. Half retreat and half garrison, it was heavily fortified and at times housed over 9000 people. Today it stands as the world’s most complete Roman ruin. It really is magical to see – the majority of the palace is intact and its towers, plazas, and tunnels are endlessly interesting to explore.

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The majority of the palace is well preserved and is in active use today. Some portions – mostly along the seaside souther wall – have decayed into a state of not-quite-ruins. The structure amazingly holds itself together even there.

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The towers that watched over the sea and city are a focal point even today.

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Outside of the architectural beauty, there’s a lot of shopping in the old city. As with any good tourist location, businesses big and small have set up shop to sell clothes, souvenirs, and food.

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The plazas under the towers are a main gathering point – hundreds of people will sit at the cafes, smoke, sip, and talk. Here we got a taste of what Italy might be like – there are a lot of Italian visitors, and they and the locals love to sit for hours.

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The smaller segments of the palace, tucked away from the main square, have been turned into twisting mazes of restaurants and apartments. The food in these is very good, especially the hard-to-find ones. Locals mostly go there, hoping to enjoy the city without the crowds.

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The apartments are mostly for rent to tourists, but from the looks of it some of them are actually occupied by residents of the city.

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Seating at these alley cafes is pretty limited, but that’s ok! The atmosphere is quiet compared to the bustling plazas.

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Sometimes the path takes you through an architectural tunnel. The ‘ceiling’ is a connector between two buildings up above.

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There is always more to see in the palace. We walked through it every day, and every day we found yet another section we hadn’t explored.

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In some parts of the palace, you can’t even tell it’s a colossal Roman construction anymore. This looks like a tiny village, not part of a fortress.

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From some parts of the palace you can see the water. This is the view from a restaurant we ate at, and the food was just as fantastic. We’re not even sure how we got there!

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Next time : sights from outside the palace!