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Croatia

Beautiful old towns with giant walls, fresh from the ocean seafood, and temperate weather in the 70’s.  What’s not to like about the Dalmatian Coast in late October?  Oh right, it’s so perfect multiple cruise ships stop in the big cities every day.  Croatians have been rather polite and friendly as have most cruise ship tourists I’ve run into.  However it just took one rude American on a local bus or the swarms of people I kept swimming through while they stood still everywhere to annoy me.  The saving grace of cruise ship tourists is that they have to leave by mid afternoon.

Dubrovnik was an independent merchant nation rivaling Venice back in the day. Just like Venice, now it’s a husk of a port, welcoming only cruise ships and tourism. They’ll charge you a mean 14 bucks just to walk on the walls.

Everyone was jumping on this for some reason I cannot figure out. Tourists just following each other or is there a story?

Once the hordes left the first day I settled in for a nice seafood meal.  Perhaps most indicative of Dubrovnik’s current industry, there were really only two types of restaurants: seafood or pizza.  They all had such similar menus and sadly high prices, it hinted that most of them would be pretty awful.  The lack of customers at most of these places was a tad depressing as well  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me with a whole town, shame on me.

Kamenice ran the same menu as everyone else but had some lovely Kamenice oysters. I do love raw oysters and didn’t let myself eat them in Southeast Asia.

I followed my oysters with a squid ink risotto. Somehow the special at every restaurant, it was tasty and in large portions here.

Sunny lunches are the way to go in this coastal town. This is a cold fish plate of octopus salad, marinated and salted sardines, cheese stored in oil, and fish pate. It was good but the weather was stormy and I did find it a tad oily so it didn’t feel quite right.

Luckily to cheer me up from my cold lunch on a cold day I saw this rainbow from my lunch perch.

The spray crashing from the turquoise waters. The real crazy part is the guy in the corner went swimming in these crazy waves shortly after.

Shortly after the storm, the weather cleared up entirely to display a beautiful harbor.

I spent a lot of my time on the outskirts of the old town enjoying the coast as most activities in town seemed to have a price tag. Do you think Gatsby would’ve waited looking at this dock?

Post clearing weather was a beautiful sunset over that cruise ship enjoyed over an overpriced beer at cliffside bar Buza. Tourists cliff dive 10-30 meters next to the bar often to injury and occasionally to their deaths.

The coastal towns of Split were full of more Americans than I’d seen since I was at the Vietnam War Memorial.  At Kamenice I met a wonderful Minnesotan couple that let me hitch a ride to Split.  Driving in a car along the coast is a much more beautiful and relaxed experience than bumping along in a bus.

Here’s where the enjoyable cruising bit happened.

We stopped in a town midway to enjoy a picnic of delicious Dalmatian ham, sheep’s milk cheese, seedless clementines bought at the side of the road, grapes, apples & white wine.

Two border crossings from a short jaunt through a chunk of Bosnia and Herzegovina later, we arrived in Split.  My driving companions headed off to medieval Trogir while I stopped in Split itself.

Both Split and Dubrovnik have beautiful old towns, which is what is attracting the cruise ships. Split’s old town is Roman emporer Diocletian’s retirement palace.

Croatian nature is gloriously unspoiled but tourism means they do stuff like place tchotchke stores inside second century Roman palaces.

My hostel must’ve had some great artists pass through. Last week it was occupied by a Gypsy orchestra that I later saw i a cafe.  It’s currently being occupied by friendly and idealistic teaching interns for a semester. I hope it’s more supportive and nurturing than Teach For America.

After being sick of the polished white stone covered in American tourists and tour guides with flags and microphones, I headed out to the Marjan Peninsula to walk around the trees and find some beaches.

My chosen swimming beach. I could use more sand instead of rocks but I enjoyed the shallow dater with some dead reefs and lots of silver fish.

The next day I went to popular Bacvice beach later in the afternoon and watched the locals wading in calf deep water.  I watched the local men play Picigin, which looks handball-like with many people and lots of shallow water.

The strange part of picigin is that it seemed to involve a lot of unnecessary diving and flopping into the water whenever they could muster it.

The greatest find in Split for me was not the beaches though as I found the water to be quite chilly.  I know Los Angeles water is a good 20 degrees colder than here but perhaps I am a weenie now or the air temperature usually makes up for it.  No, the real jewel to me is the fish and green markets of Split.  Rows of sheep’s milk cheese vendors jockey for space with prsut (Dalmatian prosciutto or ham) vendors who all circle the various fresh produce.  Nothing is on ice in the fish market yet it all looks fresher than what I can get in America short of a live tank.

The first day I eyed many fish but ended up making scampi scampi with these lovely little shrimp like lobsters. I imagine they must be amazing critters because I had no idea what I was doing but they ended up so tender.

The next day I returned to the fish market thinking about fish and mussels but instead saw many vendors with fresh looking squid. Fried calamari it is!

I had a few restaurant meals however I found that the raw product was more appealing to me than prepared fare.  Croatian coastal cuisine often involves simple preparations.  While my super tasting sister could probably find every nuance, I do end up a little bored with fish grilled only with salt and pepper.  While I cooked in Sarajevo and Dubrovnik to save money and eat healthier, I would stay in Split extra days just to try cooking more things from the fish market.  Although I’m no seafood expert it felt impossible to screw up such tender, fresh goods.

As for restaurants, I visited guidebook favorite Buffet Fife, which unlike other highly rated places still was full of guests in the evening.  A must for seafood restaurants.  The pan fried and grilled fish are quite reasonably priced here but like I said before, bland.  The service was also strange as they made sure they had fish stew for me, but came out 20 minutes later saying they were out.  I ended up with a delicious bakalara na bjanko, bacalao in most other languages or salt cod in English mixed with potatoes and onions.

My meal at Pizza Galija consisted of this delicious if salty sardine pizza and a delicious dark beer draft. I like the dark beer in this region as it’s malty without being hoppy.

I find this place more beautiful sans all the tourists, but low season means it’s hard to find events as the town quiets down. The sun casting a glow over buildings and water remind me of a cleaner Los Angeles.

Dubrovnik only has a population of 43,000 so I imagine the cruise ships just about doubles their population daily.  Split has ten times that many people so it is a town with other industries and what appears to be a working port.  The great part is both do not show the polluted signs of being harbors at all.   I suspect like many of the countries I’ve been in, I would just need a means of transport and to head out a short bit to see the beautiful un-touristy spots.  As is, in the off season these towns are a strange mix of day tourism and dead nights.

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