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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Split, Croatia
SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24
Split, Croatia, October 15, 2003

Croatian Flag CROATIA

October 14. RIJEKA - SPLIT  The eight hour bus ride to Split snaked along the Dalmatian coast giving us views of the Adriatic and Croatia's islands almost the whole way.  It was an overcast day so the waters of the Adriatic didn't look their most blue but the landscape was still pretty.  The northern part of the Dalmatian  Coast was rocky and barren, as were the islands in the Adriatic, all covered with white and gray rock with just patches of green.  The highway was wound along a steep cliff for much of the drive but the islands were nearly flat in contrast.

The bus stopped frequently enough to make the long ride comfortable and, as on most bus rides, I slept a good deal of the way.  When we arrived in Split the bus station was right down along the ferry docks, where a few large and small ferries were loading people and cars.  A handful of touts greeted the bus and we mistakenly got sucked in by the most persistent lady.  She offered us a good price and her apartment was in a central location but we demanded to see it first before we made any commitments.  That was a struggle for me with my knee.  I was really hoping that it would be a suitable place because I didn't want to lug my pack back to the bus station.  The woman gave us directions and pointed out landmarks as we walked along.  She was a short woman with a tan face and brusque voice and she  seemed to know everyone in town.  We couldn't understand her but something about the looks from some people and her gestures told me that she was saying, "Yup, bagged another couple of sucker tourists".  The apartment was right on the edge of the central old town area and during the day it was very quiet.  We confirmed that is was quiet and she was very adamant that it was.  The apartment was on the bottom floor underneath her home and opened up onto a small courtyard.   It has a slightly dank smell and the bedroom was really cramped but we decided it would do for a couple of nights.  

From the apartment it was just a short walk to bustling Marmontova street, a renovated shopping street on the edge of old town.  There we found the ubiquitous McDonald's and a number of local cafes and restaurants.  After a brief walk around the old town we settled into a pizza place called Galija, just off of Marmontova.  It looked like a pub on the inside and was a nice casual place to eat a good meal after a day of nibbling junk food on the bus.  The pizza at Galija, their specialty, was fantastic.  I had a shrimp pizza sprinkled with fresh arugula that was mouth wateringly good.   

When we returned to our apartment we soon learned that it was not the quiet abode we were led to believe.  The family upstairs had two small children that stampeded through the house non-stop into the wee hours of the night.  They must have been repeatedly jumping off of things and chasing each other because the pounding on our ceiling was enough to make the lights shake.  It wasn't until close to one a.m. before they calmed down - thanks to the custom of a siesta! 

October 15. SPLIT  The little rug rats were up at dawn with the rampaging back and forth again, so there was no hope of sleeping in very late.  We thought of changing to another place but that effort would consume too much of our day so we resigned ourselves to staying just one more night under the stomping feet of the little boogers.

The highlight of Split was unquestionably the Diocletian Palace, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in existence.  The Roman Emperor Dioclesius  (245-313 AD) built the palace from 295 to 305 for his retirement.  Today the 215 meter by 181 meter fortress is still home to some 3000 people with little shops and cafes dotted along the tiny streets.  The white stone used to build the palace came from the nearby island of Brac, the same source of the white stone used to build the White House in Washington D.C.   The walls reach 26 meters high and the total area comes to 31,000 square meters.  The south wall used to come up against the waters of the Adriatic where a small opening allowed boats to come and go. A cafe packed promenade now runs the length of the palace's south side and laundry can be seen strung out along windows of the white stone buildings.  

As we entered the palace from the north gate it started to rain, making the stone surface very slick.  With no overhangs to hide under we ducked into a small cafe to wait it out.  Out the front of our cafe was the back of the cathedral, originally the Diocletian mausoleum, and remnants of a Roman bath with tiles still enough in tact to make out some designs.  When the rain let up we walked to the Peristyle, an imposing courtyard with a colonnade that marked the entrance to the once Imperial quarters and dominated the center of the palace complex.  Off of the Peristyle to the east stood the entrance of the cathedral with its tower looming over the courtyard and an Egyptian sphinx guarding its stairs.  Walking into the vestibule beyond the courtyard the sky shown through the now vacant dome.  To the west of the Peristyle, down a narrow alley was the Temple of Jupiter, a converted baptistery that had scars of war in the form of bullet divots at the entrance. 

The upper part of the old Imperial living quarters is mostly rubble but the basement of this once grand structure was slowing be excavated and showed the layout of the original building.  We toured the basement rooms and tried to imagine what the palace would have once looked like.  Narrow passageways between the main rooms that reached as high as the upper floor had provided light and ventilation to the basement area.  A basement courtyard showed the remains of a sacrificial altar that indicates the early worship of the Cult of Mitra and existence of buildings even prior to the palace's construction.  Dioclesius was known for his persecution of Christians and the subsequent conversion of his mausoleum into a church is somewhat ironic.  The evidence of religious beliefs from pre-Roman to Christian on the same site created a deep impression of the history of civilization in this area.

We tried to visit the cathedral but were thwarted by the fee being being charged to enter what was supposed to be a place of worship.  It was common to charge for visits to an adjacent museum, a monastery's cloisters, or the church tower, areas that are not commonly available to worshipers.  But is was rare that we were asked to pay to enter a Catholic Church. Some tried to "trick" us into paying for the museum when you entered, trying to make us think we needed to pay to get in  at all, but generally they would let people visit the church when you asked.  Many other religions have resorted to charging for visits (Buddhists, Orthodox, Synagogues), mostly out of necessity after suffering long periods of religious oppression.  However, Rob was firm in his feeling that charging a fee cheapened a holy place.  When he voiced his feelings to the ticket taker in Split the man just snickered at him.  Because we did want to see the carvings on the inside of the cathedral we finally forked over the money but only after Rob reiterated that he thought it was inappropriate.  At that the man actually slapped the money right out of Rob's hand and gave us an indignant wave to just go see the church.  If the whole ticket taking episode hadn't already detracted from seeing a spiritual place that certainly squelched any traces of spirituality.  Should the houses of religion charge for people to visit?  They are certainly within their rights as private institutions to do whatever they want, and financial sustainability is a real problem for some, but it definitely does detract from experiencing the religion that goes along with the building you are visiting.  Anybody who visits a church, temple, synagogue, shrine or mosque and doesn't feel inclined to leave a donation I believe is being remiss or even rude.  Regardless of your actual beliefs you are visiting the place of your own volition and should be courteous.  Perhaps too many people really are that cheap and churches feel they deserve compensation for the inconvenience of having droves of people not affiliated with their church regularly visit, or are the religious houses just figuring out that tourist money is too easy to get? 

The weather slightly improved in the afternoon and we had a nice long break in a swinging chair along the waterfront promenade.  The Croatian soccer team was having an important game that day and color clad youths were singing and cheering in the streets to support their team.  While we waited for a bus at the end of the promenade to take us to the Mestrovic Gallery, we watched a stagger bunch of guys sporting team shirts and towels just screaming their lungs out to whoever would listen.

The Mestrovic Gallery was north of the old town, right along the Adriatic Coast.  The striking neo-classic home with its austere colonnade along the front was built in the 1930's by Croatia's most prominent 20th century sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic.  It housed a large collection of the artist's works and from the elevated position of the building the views of the sea were spectacular.  Mestrovic was a political activist who fought for the independence of Croatia.  He was forced to leave his country and eventually ended up teaching in the United States, first at Syracuse University and later as the Professor of Sculpture at the University of Notre Dame.  He was the first living artist in history to be given a one person show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  His powerful works were beautifully arranged in the stark interior of the house and in the lawn in front.   Down the street a small chapel over looking the sea also featured an impressive set carvings by Mestrovic.  His twelve stages of the cross filled the walls of the small chapel.

When we arrived at the museum we were alone but were soon joined by a flood of men in military uniforms, and different ones at that.  Some discreet observation revealed some black and white collars on a few of them and some elaborate crosses hanging around the necks of others.  Really curious Rob asked one about the group.  It turned out to be an assembly of military chaplains from a myriad of countries.  They apparently have annual meetings to discuss the challenges that face them in their unique roles.  What I wouldn't have paid to have watched those discussions.  The whole idea sounded incredibly interesting.  The job of a military chaplain is something you don't often ponder but I also never considered that so many countries included chaplains in their militaries.  Having the responsibility of the spiritual welfare of people that are trained to fight for their lives and kill if necessary is an noble, yet hardly imaginable, task to think about.     

For dinner we couldn't resist another pizza.  We always felt that we were being dull not to explore more food options once we found a place that we liked but we quickly got over it.  Back at our apartment we tried to keep our nerves from unraveling at the constant noise from above.  Occasionally the little hellions even came down the outside stairs and opened the shutters from the outside and yelled at us.  If they did it one more time I was prepared to toss water at them, but fortunately they didn't.