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Iowans on the go: Croatia finds peace, old self
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  07/2/2007 | Tourism | Unrated
Midwesterners discover Croatia
Iowans on the go: Croatia finds peace, old self

The once battle-scarred nation is a historic, bustling tourist hub.


July 1, 2007

Hvar? Split? Lopud? Dubrovnik - now that's one city in Croatia that I had heard of.

So many friends asked where it is. The quick answer is that it's directly across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989, the contrived states within the boundaries of Yugoslavia sought independence, Croatia among them. This resulted in a war from 1991 to 1995 between the Croatian government and Croatian Serbs. The world community helped end this conflict and build a now-flourishing Croatia.

Leaving from Minneapolis on Sept. 21, we flew to Prague in the Czech Republic, where we stayed the first week. Next was Split, which is the second-largest city in Croatia. We stayed at the Vestibul Palace, a hotel inside the castle walls of the Old City. It's a new, contemporary, luxury hotel tucked away among Roman ruins inside the narrow alleyways around it. The walls in our room were more than 700 years old.

The streets were filled with outdoor cafes and restaurants, and people everywhere sought a seat to drink an espresso and enjoy a croissant, not to mention people-watch. We enjoyed the large variety of seafood at the restaurants, but weren't too excited about the prices of Croatian wine. Walking is the major pastime in the Old City and there were shops to visit and so many historical sites to see.

Split is a major hub of activity and the ferries leave to the various islands around the area as well as to Italy. We spent a few days on the island of Hvar. About an hour from Split, it was another world.

Next, we headed for Dubrovnik, the "Pearl of the Adriatic." We passed lovely seaside towns and farming areas, warily watching those very steep drops to the sea pass by.

Our destination was the new luxury Hilton Hotel. Located just outside the city walls, the Hilton is in an area where an 1890s hotel had stood. The bombing of the early '90s took its toll on so many of the buildings in Dubrovnik, this old hotel being one of them. Hilton restored it to its former beauty overlooking the Adriatic and the walled city.

A local guide provided a walking tour through the city's cobblestone streets.

There are no cars allowed within the walls, so you must put on your walking shoes and expect to climb some steps.

The city is filled with lovely museums, treasures and churches. The world's oldest pharmacy is located there, established in 1317 and still operating.

St. Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik and you will view his statue in the squares, on top of cathedrals and even on the entry walls, above the gates. Tradition holds that parts of his remains are kept in reliquaries that are brass legs, feet and skull-like receptacles that actually contain the respective part of the anatomy. Each part has a small window to see the actual bones.

In the many squares throughout the walled city, and down the tiny, narrow streets, we found cafes, coffeehouses and ice cream stores tucked in every which way.

Climbing up to Prijeko Street, we found the mother lode of restaurants up and down the street with the waiters and waitresses calling to you to try their restaurant.

Every one we tried was special, from the Italian pasta with fresh clams to one of the best pizzas we have ever tasted at Olivos.

Atlas Club Nautica was a special treat, located outside overlooking the walled city and the sea. The restaurant served elegant seafood dishes.

Our adventure moved us on again to find some beach time. We took a short ferry to the island of Lopud, about an hour from Dubrovnik.

Our beach adventure took us up and over the mountain to a lovely, secluded beach. The sandwiches and beer were great and the beach offered a nice opportunity to pop into the Adriatic to cool off.

Dinner the first night was at an open-air restaurant serving fresh seafood and local wines. The weather was perfect and the town seemed to shut down for only locals. Tourism season was over until spring.

We finished up our trip by going back to Dubrovnik and into the "Pucic Palace," once one of the finest noble homes of the city renovated into a luxury hotel overlooking Gundalik Square.

The city farmers market opened very early in the morning in the square, selling lavender, fresh fruit, seafood, vegetables and everything imaginable.

After the market closed, the squares filled with coffee drinkers and people watchers, enjoying the weather and the ambience of the area.

Our trip to Croatia was coming to an end.

We attended an outdoor concert held by the local band, sipping our coffee and nibbling on a pastry. On our last night in Dubrovnik, we were entertained by the choir that had just performed in the nearby church. They adjourned after their concert to the square and entertained us with an a cappella chorus while waiting for their glass of wine. It was a perfect way to end our trip.


Formatted for CROWN by Marko Pulji
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