Our return to Europe and to our RV Romy was early this year, as we arrived in Frankfurt on the 29th of March from Dubai where we visited daughter Shadee and granddaughter Sophie, now nine years old. From Frankfurt we immediately took two trains to Dulmen and by that evening were aboard Romy, comfortable in our wonderful dealer’s lot. We had only a couple of days there while an air conditioner was installed in preparation for the hot summer months ahead, then made what has become an annual trip to the Netherlands for supplies at the largest camping store we have ever seen, and a quick visit with our dear friends Steven and Diana and their wonderful newborn baby Isa. From there we spent a day driving in the rain to Freiburg, Germany for an eye injection for Dave’s macular degeneration and coincidental encounter with Jorg and Bettina in their VW Eurovan, whom we had met the prior year. Then we were off and across and tunneling under the Alps into Italy. We had but one day there, staying in a campground we had enjoyed two years before on Lake Garda, then headed into Croatia and to Istria, that peninsula closest to Italy and just south of Trieste.
You may remember that we had spent a summer sailing the coast of Croatia in 2002 on board our catamaran, Icarus, but never made it as far north as Istria, famous for its wine and olive oil. Istria was, in fact, a part of what became Italy for centuries and was long ruled by the Venetians from across the Adriatic, so it is no surprise to find Italian spoken broadly.
We headed for a town called Rovinj, long a favorite with the mobs who come to enjoy the sun and sea of Croatia in the summer, but relatively deserted of tourists in early April. We settled into a nice campground two hundred yards from the Adriatic and just about a mile from the heart of town and stayed, in the end, twelve days.
As you can see from the photograph at the very top of this entry, Rovinj has a lovely old town, or ‘stari grad,’ on an egg shaped peninsula that is dominated at its top with the largest baroque building in Istria, the Church of St. Euphemia. Early on we had heard that the views from the summit of its bell tower were spectacular, so we made for the top, Bonnie bounding up its 195 feet and equal number of steps, while Dave struggled ever onward, stopping every couple of landings in an attempt to regain his breath. Here is a look downward from somewhere close to the top.
But the views were, in fact, worth the agonizing struggle. Here is a look across the main part of town, centered on the lovely harbor which offers protection from strong winds from every direction.
The views out to sea were equally delicious, for Istria, like all of Croatia, is littered with islands offshore.
We spent the better part of all summer in 2002 spending many of our nights in one lovely Croatian harbor or another, but somehow Rovinj captures the very best of Mediterranean towns, all of them originally fishing focused and this one still with its attention on that occupation. Below is a look across the harbor at just part of the fishing fleet of small boats who depart in the night and return in the morning with their catch.
Beyond the harborside, where most of the restaurants, bars and cafes are located, there is another side to Rovinj which lines part of the seaside with houses directly abutting the Adriatic,
or on the narrow, stone streets which climb the hill to the church.
We also found that Rovinj lent itself to bicycling, in that the town around the harbor was easy to reach from the campground by a pretty path by the sea,
and if we continued on around the harbor in town and beyond, we entered a lovely National Park which took us along the coast for another five miles or so, to a nude beach, deserted this early in the season.
That’s Rovinj in the distance, its church bell tower rising above the trees.
From Rovinj we pointed Romy south down the coast to the second largest city in Croatia, Split, where we had visited a number of times in 2002, picking up and dropping off children who came to visit. But all of those sporadic visits had not given us much sense of Split as a city, particularly its heart, all within the walls of what was the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s retirement palace, built around 300 AD. It was, in addition, a fortress to repel invasion and a fortified town. Today what is left are the peripheral walls and many of the buildings within. Over the centuries the palace has disappeared and inside the walls are the old homes of historically dominant and important families, many built beginning in about 1300 AD. Here is a view from high above which gives you a sense of its size and proportions, as one of the most imposing Roman ruins still in existence and a UN World Heritage Site. Today it is home to over 3000 people and holds about 220 buildings.
If you look closely you can discern the surrounding walls which enclose original Roman palace.
As testament to the grandeur of its origin, the streets are paved with marble and the plazas scattered everywhere are inviting and friendly, even on a cold, grey and rainy day.
The Temple of Jupiter greets visitors with a black granite sphinx brought from Egypt in the fifth century.
Doocletian’s palace also has its share of narrow lanes, but its gates draw the biggest attention. There is one on each side of the walls, some more spectacular than others. Here is the Silver Gate, on the eastern side of the palace.
The Iron Gate, on the western side, was our favorite,
and to the soouth is the Golden Gate which had been recently restored.
In effect, we left Split with a wholly different sense of it’s historical importance and grandeur.
We then headed for Dubrovnik, to the south, but the road led us up into the mountains, and since it had rained very hard the night before in Split, what we encountered at an elevation of 1500 feet and above was snow–lots of snow! In this photo we are at about 2200 feet and yes, those are Bonnie’s feet propped up on the dashboard, as usual.
We soon pulled into a rest stop for a cup of coffee, and this was what we found in the parking area–spring blossoms hanging on to life in the wet snow.
Once down again at sea level and further to the south we arrived in Dubrovnik, founded over 1300 years ago and long considered one of the absolutely most beautiful cities on the Mediterranean. When the Yugoslav Army shelled it in 1991 it brought condemnation from all over the world, and when we visited while sailing in 2002 that devastation was still very visible. Today it is a city reborn, almost entirely restored to its marble streeted glory and vibrant with life again.
Probably the most effective way to have a sense of its size and splendor is by walking the two kilometer wall, which “Lonely Planet” calls the finest in the world, and surrounds the old city. We set off immediately and followed it around its complete circuit.
From almost any point the views across the city are breathtaking and clearly illustrate the extent of the damage caused by the shelling. The red roofs are part of the restoration; the roofs closer to yellow are of the original roof tiles.
But that doesn’t even tell the whole story. Have a look at this closeup of the roof of a small church near the wall.
The yellow overlaying tiles are obviously very old, but those tiles which form the ‘drainpipes’ beneath the yellow tiles are all bright red. So what we have here is a roof destroyed and then rebuilt, but using new red tiles under the old, reclaimed yellow ones.
Down below, the main street, the Stradun, makes its majestic way from the main gate to the harbor in the distance, lined with beautiful baroque buildings along its marbled length.
Off the Stradun and climbing both the inland and seaside hills is a labyrinth of narrow lanes, each dark in the sunlight and filled with homes, restaurants, and shops.
The harbor itself, lying just outside the wall, is narrow and small but crowded with both boats and history.
Some of the boats have lovely carved figureheads on their bowsprits as well.
All in all, Dubrovnik has to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe, with a setting beside the Adriatic that only amplifies its magic.