Istanbul

It was grey and rainy every day while we were in Istanbul.

It was grey and rainy every day while we were in Istanbul.

On our way to Bodrum, Turkey we had to pass through Istanbul and spent just a couple days exploring this metropolis. It was rainy and cool for our visit so we didn’t stray as far or long as we would have liked to, leaving many sights for our next visit. Without a good map or guide book and a total lack of Turkish, we wandered around, stumbling into a number of sights by happenstance.

The place we were staying had a terrace. Istanbul today has 17 million inhabitants!

The place we were staying had a terrace. Istanbul today has 17 million inhabitants, up from half a million 30 years ago.

We stayed on the Asian side of Istanbul in a neighborhood called Kadıköy. It was perfect for us. About two blocks away was a network of pedestrian streets that led to an active food market, a lively restaurant scene, and many shops. The first night we set out to explore and came across multiple buskers playing traditional music with groups of passers-by spontaneously stopping to dance for a song. The ferry terminal, less than a kilometer away, allowed us to travel easily to other parts of the city.

The Istanbul Spice Market is full of beautiful colorful displays and smells.

The Istanbul Spice Bazaar is full of beautiful colorful displays and smells.

The first day we visited the Spice Bazaar by chance as it was right where the ferry dropped us. It has about a hundred booths with beautiful displays of spices, teas, and Turkish delight. We accepted samples and ended up talking with a young Syrian women who had been in Turkey and Istanbul only one month.

Inside the Grand Bazaar.

Inside the Grand Bazaar.

Another day we set out to find the Grand Bazaar and practically circumnavigated it before a man pointed us down the narrowest of passages between buildings. It broke into a courtyard with restaurants and shops tucked in with what looked like Roman or Greek ruins. From there, we descended stairs and dropped into the Grand Bazaar. Thankfully, finding our way out and back home turned out to be easier than finding our way in.

Enormous Turkish flags are common. This one flies over mansions on the banks of the Bosphorus.

Enormous Turkish flags are common. This one flies over mansions on the banks of the Bosphorus.

The last day we took a ferry tour from Istanbul up the Bosphorus to where it meets the Black Sea. En route, we passed palaces and mansions and summer homes of many rich and famous Turks. There were hundreds of other boats on the water: primarily ferries, freighters, and working fishing boats. We slid under two enormous bridges and saw a third being constructed. Large flocks of sea gulls swarmed the fishing boats. Rain showers obscured the far bank at times. The ferry wait staff kept the hot tea coming.

Inside the Blue Mosque.

Inside the Blue Mosque.

Despite the weather, we enjoyed our few quick days in Istanbul. Thousands of years of history have left beautiful monuments. The ferry system was frequent, easy to use, and inexpensive. A surprising number of streets were closed to automobile traffic making walking more pleasant. The call to prayer frequently reverberated across the city from multiple mosques all at once. Turks are very friendly. Even the aggressive sales people are friendly. One declared to Jim “I will help you spend your money!”

The Basilica Cistern was built by the Romans in the 6th century. It is capable of holding 2.8 million cubic feet of water when full.

The Basilica Cistern was built by the Romans in the 6th century. It is capable of holding 2.8 million cubic feet of water when full.

An example of the depth of history of Istanbul are the vast Roman underground cisterns. They were constructed around 500AD to bring clean drinking water to the city. After a few centuries, they were forgotten. A scholar rediscovered them in 1500AD when he was told by some local residents that they could drop a bucket through a hole in their cellar and pull it up with clean water and occasionally fish. A few cisterns are open today for visitors to walk through. They are beautiful spaces with forests of columns. The present-day water level is maintained at a fraction of what it was when used as a water supply for the city, allowing tourists and archaeologists to explore these enormous underground chambers.

Hagia Sophia at night in the rain.

Hagia Sophia at night in the rain.

You can see more pictures from our Istanbul adventures here. You can also check out where Istanbul is on our map here.

It seemed that around every corner we found another gorgeous mosque with a lovely courtyard and hundreds of artistic details.

It seemed that around every corner we found another gorgeous mosque with a lovely courtyard and hundreds of artistic details.

Within the Basilica Cistern fish glide, attracted to the lights.

Within the Basilica Cistern fish glide, attracted to the lights.

This upside-down Medusa head is in Basilica Cistern. No one knows why it is there or why it is upside-down.

This upside-down Medusa head is in Basilica Cistern. No one knows why it is there or why it is upside-down.

This entrance to the Grand Bazaar has shops built amidst what look like Roman or Greek ruins. Bonus points if you can find the cat in this picture.

This entrance to the Grand Bazaar has shops built amidst what look like Roman or Greek ruins. Bonus points if you can find the cat in this picture.

Istanbul isn't all old stuff. There are many modern buildings and new bridges.

Istanbul isn’t all old stuff. There are many modern buildings and new bridges.

The Mosaic Museum shows pieces of a 1500-year old mosaic from an enormous palace courtyard.

The Mosaic Museum shows pieces of a 1500-year old mosaic from an enormous palace courtyard.

Beautiful columns and detailing are common sights. Here they are in Little Hagia Sophia, built about 520.

Beautiful columns and detailing are common sights. Here they are in Little Hagia Sophia, built about 520.

Fishing boats and seagulls in the Bosphorus.

Fishing boats and seagulls in the Bosphorus.

This obelisk was brought to Istanbul from Egypt in 390, when the obelisk was already 1900 years old.

This obelisk was brought to Istanbul from Egypt in 390, when the obelisk was already 1900 years old.

Jim overlooking where the Bosphorus joins the Black Sea. Towers for a new bridge are under construction with three full-sized cranes working each one. A group of stray dogs joined us on this hike, coming all the way to the top of the hill to scratch their fleas.

Jim overlooking where the Bosphorus joins the Black Sea. Towers for a new bridge are under construction with three full-sized cranes working each one. A group of stray dogs joined us on this hike, coming all the way to the top of the hill to scratch their fleas.

In this village at the north end of the Bosphorus boat garages allow fisherman to park in their house.

In this village at the north end of the Bosphorus boat garages allow fisherman to park in their house.

Goodbye, Croatia

Renaissance chapel in Marjan Park, Split.

Renaissance chapel in Marjan Park, Split.

You can now see a map of the places we have been by clicking “Map” at the top of your screen or here.

It is time to say goodbye to Croatia. Emotions are always mixed at times like this. On one hand, we have barely scratched the surface of what Croatia is about. On the other hand, we have figured out how to get around. We now know how to read the bus schedule, that counting always starts with the thumb (so if you hold up your pointer and middle finger at the market to indicate you want two pomegranates, you’ll get three every time), and that very few answers can be found on Google because only a quarter of Croatians use the internet. It’s time to say goodbye to this beautiful place and these kind people. Croatia has only been independent since 1991 and a member of the EU for about a year. Croats have called this home since the seventh century; they are proud of their heritage, their country, and their progress in the last few decades.

It is also time to look forward to what comes next with anticipation: new words, new flavors, new customs, new idiosyncrasies, new stories. Before we sign off from Croatia, there are a few last day-trips to share. We were able to get to all these places on public transportation.

Salona ruins.

Salona ruins.

The Romans built a city just a couple miles from Split that they inhabited from 200BC to 600AD. At it’s peak, Salona had 60,000 residents. Emperor Diocletian was born there. Today the town of Solin is built around these ruins. One afternoon when the grey clouds were piling up against the Dinaric Alps, we checked out what is left of ancient Salona. Like we’ve seen in Split, the oldest buildings in town were often demolished to contribute to newer projects. The original heart of the city was the Forum. As Christianity became widespread, the church became the new heart. In the 1700s, the Venetians had the three-story, 17,000-seat coliseum’s walls destroyed so it couldn’t be used as a base by the invading Ottomans. Today a freeway runs through what would be backstage at the theater. Farmers grow crops in the flat spaces and mark their fields with ancient stone walls, houses and sheds are sprinkled among the ruins, vast areas are overgrown with weeds. Time marches on. Some of our favorite places in the ruins of Salona were a five-arched bridge, the thermal baths, the coliseum built for gladiator games, the aqueduct integrated into the defensive city wall, and rows of sarcophogi.

Klis sits on top of a steep hill. Note the hot oil port (and greasy streak) in the lower left hand quadrant.

Klis sits on top of a steep hill. Note the hot oil port (and greasy streak) in the lower left hand quadrant.

The TV show Game of Thrones has done much filming in Croatia and brought deserved notoriety to the Klis Fortress. An easy pass through the Dinaric Alps has a steep rocky pile of a ridge in the middle of it. The earliest people in this area used it as a lookout and simple fort due to its strategic location. Over the last couple millenia, every other ruling party has adopted Klis, often adding on to it. It is a defensible fort and has seen plenty of battle. Greeks and Romans used it to keep an eye on boat traffic, the Mongols attacked it, and many Croatian kings called it home. It’s most recent military occupation was the Germans during WWII until they were pushed out of Croatia by the Partisans in 1944.  Small cracks of windows cover the walls. Walls and gates stack up nesting inside each other four defensive perimeters deep, keeping the innermost area very safe. Views are nearly vertical and clearly show all traffic through the pass as well as in the waters around Split and the nearby islands. We crawled through the narrow archer’s passages, gawked at a hole for dropping hot oil on invaders, looked over the shoulders of a crew of archeologists in the midst of an excavation, and ate our picnic lunch presiding over the land.

A sweet apartment in Trogir.

A sweet apartment in Trogir.

Trogir is a village built on a small island. Today the town slops over onto the shore on both sides but the old village came complete with it’s own natural moat. Trogir is a stone’s throw from the mainland on one side and a slingshot throw from a larger island on the other side. It is the quintessential white-stone, red-roof, medieval village and is well preserved. A fort with crenellated walls stands at one end of the island, looming over a soccer field.  The day we visited was cool, quiet, and nearly deserted. Almost every business we passed was closed for the winter. Eventually, we found a bakery open to sell us lunch and a business open that had a toilet we could use. We reverse followed the steps of cone-licking shopkeepers to find the ice cream shop. We walked the docks filled with a hundred charter boats getting winterized. On the hill above Trogir is a marble quarry, distinct from other quarries for its smooth sawn vertical walls.

November 21 in Split. Sunbathers and swimmers abound.

November 21 in Split. Sunbathers and swimmers abound.

November has almost come to an end. Split residents are still swimming and sun-bathing in the warmth of the afternoon. Outdoor cafe seating continues to be packed when the sun shines. Thunderstorms have passed through almost every night this last week. We took the train back across the country to Zagreb, where we’ll catch our flight out. The countryside is beautiful: many small farms, forests, rivers, a seemingly random fortress on a hill, hawks and herons. Goodbye, Croatia! 

We added more pictures to the Croatia photo gallery from these adventures and our last few days. The new pictures are at the bottom.

The Riva in Split, almost a kilometer long. Cafes line the left side, full of locals in the off-season November sunshine. On the right are benches and mini-parks.

The Riva in Split, almost a kilometer long. Cafes line the left side, full of locals in the off-season November sunshine. On the right are benches and mini-parks.

The old Trogir is on a small island with sea on all sides.

The old Trogir is on a small island with sea on all sides.

Clock tower overlooking main square in old Trogir.

Clock tower overlooking main square in old Trogir.

Steps show their age with hundreds of years of footsteps wearing grooves in the stone.

Steps show their age with hundreds of years of footsteps wearing grooves in the stone.

Trogir Town Hall became a central collection point for decorations from old homes.

Trogir Town Hall became a central collection point for decorations from old homes.

This looks like a family crest of wizards.

This looks like a family crest of wizards.

Klis Fortress, shot from the moving train, commanding the pass in the Dinaric Alps.

Klis Fortress, shot from the moving train, commanding the pass in the Dinaric Alps.

One of the protected passages in Klis fortress with ports for archers.

One of the protected passages in Klis fortress with ports for archers.

Klis fortress rambles along the hill top. Note all the archer's slots.

Klis fortress rambles along the hill top. Note all the archer’s slots.

View from Klis fortress overlooking Split and the Adriatic.

View from Klis fortress overlooking Split and the Adriatic.

This small hole was a place for dumping hot oil on approaching attackers. Klis.

This small hole was a place for dumping hot oil on approaching attackers. Klis.

A defender's point of view from Klis.

A defender’s point of view from Klis.

Us at Klis fortress

Us at Klis fortress

Our favorite museum in Split is the Archaeology Museum, which has many pieces from Salona.

Our favorite museum in Split is the Archaeology Museum, which has many pieces from Salona.

Roman mosaic

Roman mosaic

A 2000-year old Roman branding tool.

A 2000-year old Roman branding tool.

One of the original entrances to Salona. Note the grooves from wagon wheels in the rock. A two-story tower stood over the gate.

One of the original entrances to Salona. Note the grooves from wagon wheels in the rock. A two-story tower stood over the gate.

The oval-shaped coliseum in Salona.

The oval-shaped coliseum in Salona.

The gladiator's entrance to the coliseum. Openings between columns on right and left held animal cages.

The gladiator’s entrance to the coliseum. Openings between columns on right and left held animal cages.

Salona's theater and forum, the oldest center of this Roman city, now have front-row seats to the freeway.

Salona’s theater and forum, the oldest center of this Roman city, now have front-row seats to the freeway.

Sarcophagi in Salona. We saw close to 100 of these. Sadly, every single one had been broken into.

Sarcophagi in Salona. We saw close to 100 of these. Sadly, every single one had been broken into.

Salona. This five arched bridge crossed a river when it was built 2000 years ago.

Salona. This five arched bridge crossed a river when it was built 2000 years ago.

Thermal baths in Salona. Under the red-brick arches, hot and cold water passed.

Thermal baths in Salona. Under the red-brick arches, hot and cold water passed.

Megan enjoys the hottest sauna in the Salona thermal baths. Note the indented circle and drain on the floor.

Megan enjoys the hottest sauna in the Salona thermal baths. Note the indented circle and drain on the floor.

Next to the hot sauna was this lowered pool of cold water called a frigidarium in the Salona baths.

Next to the hot sauna was this lowered pool of cold water called a frigidarium in the Salona baths.

Salona ruins. You can see the mason's craft in these walls.

Salona ruins. You can see the mason’s craft in these walls.

The aqueduct crossed this gate. Large flagstones supported its weight over the span, visible in the upper part of this photo. Salona.

The aqueduct crossed this gate. Large flagstones supported its weight over the span, visible in the upper part of this photo. Salona.

Ruins of a 4th century basilica in Salona.

Ruins of a 4th century basilica in Salona.

Later construction in the city of Salona incorporated unused buildings. In this 4th-century basilica, you can see pieces of columns and thresholds used to create walls.

Later construction in the city of Salona incorporated unused buildings. In this 4th-century basilica, you can see pieces of columns and thresholds used to create walls.

Within Marjan park there are some renaissance hermitages, like this one, built into caves and cracks in the cliff. The red roof is a small chapel.

Within Marjan park there are some renaissance hermitages, like this one, built into caves and cracks in the cliff. The red roof is a small chapel.

Another renaissance hermitage cave in Marjan Park, just outside Split.

Another renaissance hermitage cave in Marjan Park, just outside Split.

The train we took to Zagreb is a German-engineered tilting high-speed train.

The train we took to Zagreb is a German-engineered tilting high-speed train.

On the train from Split to Zagreb, every small station en route had an attendant who flagged the train, even when we didn't stop.

On the train from Split to Zagreb, every small station en route had an attendant who flagged the train, even when we didn’t stop.

Dalmatian Islands, Croatia

Boarding a ferry to visit a nearby island. Cars and pedestrians all come in and out together.

Boarding a ferry to visit a nearby island. Cars and pedestrians all come in and out together.

One of the great things about Split is the large ferry dock. We have now taken ferries to four different islands for day trips or overnight. There are slower car ferries that also take walk-on passengers and faster catamarans that only take foot traffic. The ride can be 45-160 minutes long but hasn’t cost more than $8. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the farthest ferry dock from where we are staying.

View over Hvar town, marina, and islets as seen from the fortress.

View over Hvar town, marina, and islets as seen from the fortress.

On the islands the pace of life is calmer than in Split. Very small towns are spread out on large islands. As one taxi driver told us, there is no industry beyond tourism and small-scale agriculture. He added that also means there is no noise, no pollution, and little stress. The islands also get more sunshine than the mainland and are very popular for both foreigners and Croatians in the summer. The shorelines are fingered, creating many small bays. Human history on the islands goes back thousands of years with multiple archeological sites.

Grohote on Šolta Island had many abandoned buildings due the high rates of emigration.

Grohote on Šolta Island had many abandoned buildings due the high rate of emigration.

Today the islands are sleepy with many abandoned-looking houses. It didn’t used to be that way. The Greeks introduced grapes and wine making 2500 years ago. Viticulture became a significant industry on the islands, and vineyards covered the land. Around the turn of the 20th century came a grape blight that wiped out virtually all of the vines and collapsed the local economy. That started a mass emigration that was furthered by the challenges of war, continuing through the 1990s when Croatia separated from Yugoslavia and became an  independent country. Four million people live in Croatia today. Exact numbers for the diaspora are impossible to come by but the estimates say two to four million Croatians left over the last 150 years.

If you look between the olive trees you can see the rows of stacked rocks that both terraced the hill and cleared the land enough to farm it. Korčula Island.

If you look between the olive trees you can see rows of stacked rocks that both terraced the hill and cleared the land enough to farm it. Korčula Island.

On the islands rock piles and rock walls are ubiquitous, a sign of when the population was much larger and more food production was happening. The soil is high quality but mixed with rock. To create usable land for planting, rocks were removed and stacked. In some places, it looks like half the area is covered in neat rock piles ranging from 2 to 6 feet tall. Slopes are terraced. It’s hard to imagine the tremendous amount of work it took to create fertile areas on these islands. I’ve only spent a few days picking rocks, which gave me enough to complain about but doesn’t even register to what these farmers did! We saw many active gardens next to houses and in town that show that the people who live here now are still growing food.

We found one restaurant open near Rogač on the island of Šolta. We were the only guests but were just in time to eat what the family had prepared for their lunch: a traditional peka, which is cooked under a bell surrounded by hot embers.

We found one restaurant open on the island of Šolta. We were the only guests but were just in time to eat what the family had prepared for their lunch.

Šolta is the smallest island in this area. The ferry docks in a tiny village with a row of houses along the shore and one cafe. We walked 2k up to Grohote, the town on the top of the island. On the way, we passed small farms and olive trees. Neighborhoods of tumbling stone houses were beautiful in the way that nature reclaiming human effort often is. The cleared land around was fallow with overgrown grass. We spotted another fire lookout on a ridge overlooking Grohote and the far shore of the island. On our way back to the ferry, we sought out the one restaurant in walking distance open on Sunday. We were the only guests. They gladly pulled out a table cloth, brought out cushions, and welcomed us. The family who runs the place was just about to sit down for their meal and we got lucky. They had prepared a traditional meal called peka. It is essentially a one-pot meal with the pot buried in hot coals. The juices cook together; it was delicious!

The old part of Hvar town is full of beautiful little streets.

The old part of Hvar town is full of beautiful little streets.

We also visited Brač, Hvar, and Korčula, which are all much larger islands (110-150 square miles each). On these islands, it is easy to see signs that we are off-season. Beach bars, restaurants, and beach facilities are all closed and shuttered. However, we never had trouble finding a good inexpensive place to eat, often seated outside in the warm sun. Many towns have an old medieval center with narrow winding cobble lanes and stone houses leaning overhead. On Hvar, we looked at the archeological remnants of Pharos, a Greek town settled 2,400 years ago, and the plots of land that the Greeks divided for farmers. Those divisions are still used today and make the area a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On Korčula, we visited a cave that contains signs of human habitation beginning 20,000 years ago. On Brač, we walked through a lovely seaside cemetery on All Souls Day as families placed flowers and candles on the graves of loved ones.

The Greeks plotted the Stari Grad Plain with 90 degree angles and farm plots of standard size in 384 BC.

The Greeks plotted Stari Grad Plain with 90 degree angles and farm plots of standard size in 384 BC. The rock wall doubles as a narrow road.

You can see more pictures from our island visits in the Croatia Photo Gallery. Some stories are best told with a picture so you’ll find things in our photos we didn’t share in the text.

The harbor of Supetar on the island of Brač, as we came in on the ferry.

The harbor of Supetar on the island of Brač, as we came in on the ferry.

November 1 is All Souls Day and Croatians celebrated by taking flower and candles to the graves of family members.

November 1 is All Souls Day and Croatians celebrated by taking flower and candles to the graves of family members.

November 1. We ate lunch outside in the bright sun and 70 degree weather. We nearly had the restaurant to ourselves. Yay for the off-season!

November 1. We ate lunch outside in the bright sun and 70 degree weather. We nearly had the restaurant to ourselves. Yay for the off-season!

A WWII memorial on Šolta. The Partisan resistance to Nazi occupation reached a high level in Yugoslavia (including what is now Croatia). By the end of the war their forces numbered over 800,000 with an organized army, air force, and navy. The Partisans pushed the German occupiers out in 1944.

A WWII memorial on Šolta. The Partisan resistance to Nazi occupation reached a high level in Yugoslavia (including what is now Croatia). By the end of the war their forces numbered over 800,000 with an organized army, air force, and navy. The Partisans pushed the German occupiers out in 1944.

Fertile red soil on Šolta, here growing grapes.

Fertile red soil on Šolta, here growing grapes.

A small round stone hut built into a wall. The exact use of these ancient constructions is unknown. Today they are used by farmers for storage.

A small round stone hut built into a wall. The exact use of these ancient constructions is unknown. Today they are used by farmers for storage.

The soil is fertile but very rocky so the land is cleared and rocks stacked, often in small walls, like around these olive trees.

The soil is fertile but very rocky so the land is cleared and rocks stacked, often in small walls, like around these olive trees.

The ferry leaving tiny Rogač on Šolta Island returning to Split, seen in the distance.

The ferry leaving tiny Rogač on Šolta Island returning to Split, seen in the distance.

Passenger only catamaran ferry. We clocked our average speed as 30 knots.

Passenger only catamaran ferry. We clocked our average speed as 30 knots.

Hvar town with the Venetian fortress perched on top of the hill. Note the old town wall running straight uphill to the fort.

Hvar town with the Venetian fortress perched on top of the hill. Note the old town wall running straight uphill to the fort.

The  seven-century-old wall that surrounds old Hvar town.

The seven-century-old wall that surrounds old Hvar town.

One of the gates into Hvar town. The fat gates cracked us up.

One of the gates into Hvar town. The fat gates cracked us up.

Following the guidance of locals we picked carob pods off the tree and had a nice snack.

Following the guidance of locals we picked carob pods off the tree and had a nice snack.

Water storage is important in this dry country. Most churches, like this one, created an internal courtyard that also served as a water catchment.

Water storage is important in this dry country. Most churches, like this one, created an internal courtyard that also served as a water catchment.

One of the many small bays in Hvar town. These are mostly fishing boats. In the summer, these waters are far more crowded with yachts.

One of the many small bays in Hvar town. These are mostly fishing boats. In the summer, these waters are far more crowded with yachts.

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Stari Grad on Hvar. The first protected harbor where the Greeks settled 2,400 years ago.

Stari Grad on Hvar. The first protected harbor where the Greeks settled 2,400 years ago.

Stari Grad is full of these charming little courtyards and medieval stone houses.

Stari Grad is full of these charming little courtyards and medieval stone houses.

Vela Spila cave on Korčula shows signs of human habitation from 20,000 years ago through the Bronze Age.

Vela Spila cave on Korčula shows signs of human habitation from 20,000 years ago through the Bronze Age.

A typical rugged Croatian beach: white rocks, blue water.

A typical rugged Croatian beach: white rocks, blue water.

Split Part 2

Split provides many amusing adventures. We’ve spent days exploring the city.

Split as seen from the marina with the Dinaric Alps in the background.

Split as seen from the marina with the Dinaric Alps in the background. Palm trees line the Riva.

The front of the harbor has a very wide walkway called Riva. There are cafes with outdoor seating, rows of palm trees, benches to sit on and watch the sea or the people. It is a favorite place for locals and tourist alike to stroll, to see and be seen. It’s a great place to get icecream or take a picnic lunch. A walkway continues along the shore for several kilometers in both directions. To the east, it circles several bays with pebble beaches that are set up for swimmers. Despite it being November with cooling air and water temperatures, we’ve seen at least one swimmer every time we’ve gone to one of these beaches; and once waded into the cool water ourselves. To the west, the walkway passes a fisherman’s dock, then a protected marina full of winterized charter boats, and finally onto more pebble beaches overlooked by villas. On the way, there are 73 plaques embedded in the walkway for Olympic medalists from Split. Locals are proud to claim they have the most medalists per capita in the world. Within Split’s harbor is a large system of ferry docks. There are about 30 bays for ferries. Now that it is the winter, they are only about 25 ferry trips a day in and out of this harbor. You can go to six different islands, multiple ports on some of those islands or even to Italy from Split. In the next post we’ll share our ferry adventures.

We have seen many fire lookouts in Croatia. This one overlooks a large forested park/peninsula on the edge of Split. The locals tell us it is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year.

We have seen many fire lookouts in Croatia. This one overlooks Marjan Park.

West of town is a forested peninsula that is a public park called Marjan. Its proximity to the center and network of roads and trails make it very popular with the locals. The roads are closed to traffic so they are ideal for bike riding, family walks, and joggers. Hiking trails cut steeper paths. Marjan encompasses multiple beaches, a fitness trail with exercise stations, playgrounds, tennis courts, a restaurant, and much more. The cliffs overlooking the ocean have a few old small chapels and caves that monks lived in centuries ago. On our first venture into Marjan, we came across signs that they are concerned about wildfire: back-pack pumps full of water and hand tools prominently placed, even a fire lookout tower! After asking around and finding the park administration offices, we learned the tower is staffed every day of the year and a fire brigade is hired during the summer. Marjan Park is clearly a loved resource.

The one surviving intact sphinx and red granite columns imported by Diocletian for his palace.

The one surviving intact sphinx and red granite columns imported by Diocletian for his palace.

In town we have submersed ourselves in Roman history. One day we took a walking tour with a retired history teacher. We learned that Emperor Diocletian had been to Egypt with the Roman army and was deeply moved by their art. When he decided to build his palace, he imported many red granite columns (which were taken from existing Egyptian temples) and black sphinxes. At the time when Diocletian’s Palace was built, these artifacts were already 1500-2000 years old! The guide showed us exactly where the dining room in Diocletian’s Palace was. There were kitchens on three sides and the fourth side had sex-divided showers for clean up. We learned that the retired emperor was a hobby gardener. In a letter he went so far as to brag about the size of his cabbages to a friend. Our guide also explained what happened to the palace after Diocletian’s death.

The entrance to Diocletian's mausoleum turned cathedral. The Roman column stands next to more recent Christian carvings in this town that keep layering history upon itself.

The entrance to Diocletian’s mausoleum turned cathedral. The Roman column stands next to more recent Christian carvings in this town that keeps layering history upon itself.

During Diocletian’s rule, he persecuted Christians because their beliefs threatened the Roman Empire. After Diocletian’s reign, the Roman Empire came to fully embrace Christianity. As Christianity became the dominant religion, any signs of other belief systems were seen as threatening. Therefore, much of what existed during Diocletian’s time was destroyed. All but one of the sphinxes lost their heads. Most statues and wall reliefs were smashed. Diocletian’s sarcophagus was broken and discarded. As centuries passed, professional exorcists “cleaned” the most sacred of Diocletian’s places: the temple of Jupiter and his mausoleum. These buildings were converted to sacred Christian sites: a baptistry and cathedral respectively. Our guide pointed out what had been destroyed, replaced, and changed over the millennia.

Jupiter's Temple. Diocletian believed he was a son of the god Jupiter.

Jupiter’s Temple, gleaming in the sun after its laser cleaning. Diocletian believed he was a son of the god Jupiter.

Few things in Split appear as they were when originally constructed. After seeing other ruins, it is clear that the reason many parts of Diocletian’s Palace are in such good shape is because of continuous habitation. As a recent example of care-taking, some of the oldest stone structures were cleaned to remove centuries of grime and salt spray. Because the center of Split is a UNESCO Heritage Site, the cleaning process had the meet the highest standards and not result in any damage or erosion. How did they do it? With lasers! It took four years of work to go over these old buildings inch by inch but they gleam as white today as they probably did when new.

Passage in the cellar under Diocletian's Palace.

Passage in the cellar under Diocletian’s Palace. The interconnected underground chambers are vast.

Another day we toured the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace. The original builders created a complete basement in order to level the floor (it was on a natural slope down to the sea), to raise the building high enough to take advantage of cooling breezes, and to create a solid foundation that could support the weight of multiple stories of thick stone walls on top of it. They say that the floor plan of the cellars matched the floor plan of the palace above. When the palace was turned into a medieval city beginning in the 7th century, people bored holes through the floor and turned the cellars into a sewer and landfill. It wasn’t until 50 years ago that archeologists began excavating what was a solid mass often filling the cellar space. Today about 90% is excavated and you can walk through rooms and passageways. It’s a bit gloomy and dank but allowed us to imagine the grandeur of the open-air halls that stood above as the emperor’s private accommodation.

The domed roof of Diocletian's mausoleum. In the upper left you can see carvings of Roman chariots.

The domed roof of Diocletian’s mausoleum. In the upper left you can see carvings of Roman chariots.

We attended a ballet performance in the Croatian National Theater, a grand building with layers of box-seats and a red velvet curtain. Local dancers had recently returned from an International Competition in Zagreb and performed parts of dances from the competition. We were blown away by the high quality of local talent, especially for a town of only 180,000. These were professional-level dancers. The next night we went to a performance of the Mozart Requiem in celebration of All Souls Day. The orchestra and chorus were exceptional. We had front row seats and the wall of sound and emotion at times was overwhelming, in the best of ways.

You can see more of our pictures from Croatia here, new additions are at the bottom.

Diocletian had about a dozen sphinxes brought from Egypt for his palace. They are estimated to be 4000 years old.

Diocletian had about a dozen sphinxes brought from Egypt for his palace. They are estimated to be 4000 years old.

The medieval portions are Split are full of beautiful views around nearly every corner.

The medieval portions are Split are full of beautiful views around nearly every corner.

Diocletian ordered the death of many Christians because they threatened the Roman Empire. Anastasius was drowned in 302 by a millstone tied around his neck. Like many others, he became a saint. Ironically this alter to St. Anastasius is in the cathedral that once was Diocletian's mausoleum.

Diocletian ordered the death of many Christians because they threatened the Roman Empire. Anastasius was drowned in 302 by a millstone tied around his neck. Like many others, he became a saint. Ironically this alter to St. Anastasius is in the cathedral that once was Diocletian’s mausoleum.

St. Anthony. The small man in the lower right donated the sculpture and didn't want his gift to be forgotten. Our guidebook calls this figure "mini-me."

St. Anthony. The small man in the lower right donated the sculpture and didn’t want his gift to be forgotten. Our guidebook calls this figure “mini-me.”

Jim at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

Jim at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

View from the bell tower across the west side of Split to Marjan forest park.

View from the bell tower across the west side of Split to Marjan forest park.

Megan at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

Megan at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

The interior of a stone roof.

The interior of a stone roof.

Split claims an unusual number of Olympic medals for its size. This walkway has 73 plaques with the names of athletes from Split who have won Olympic medals.

Split claims an unusual number of Olympic medals for its size. This walkway has 73 plaques with the names of athletes from Split who have won Olympic medals.

The marina in Split is full of sailboats. Despite the weather we think is amazing, no one goes sailing because the season is "over".

The marina in Split is full of sailboats. Despite the weather we think is amazing, no one goes sailing because the season is “over”.

The Adriatic is a lovely turquoise blue and incredibly clear. This was in a marina looking through at least 8 meters of water.

The Adriatic is a lovely turquoise blue and incredibly clear. This was in a marina looking through at least 8 meters of water.

Ivan Meštrović is a Croatian sculptor who studied with Rodin and settled in Split. His mansion now serves as a museum of his work.

Ivan Meštrović is a Croatian sculptor who studied with Rodin and settled in Split. His mansion now serves as a museum of his work.

1700-year-old Roman construction is very sturdy but shows signs of time passing in the cellars.

1700-year-old Roman construction is very sturdy but shows signs of time passing in the cellars.

Roman construction circa 300AD. Notice the mortar layers are thicker than the red bricks.

Roman construction circa 300AD. Notice the mortar layers are thicker than the red bricks.

The square blocks made pipes for Roman sewers in 300AD. Behind the pipes is a wall of waste left by medieval inhabitants.

The square blocks made pipes for Roman sewers in 300AD. Behind the pipes is a wall of waste left by medieval inhabitants.

A wall of detritus in the cellars, yet to be excavated by archeologists. The passage in the foreground was excavated in the last 50 years, as was 90% of the cellars.

A wall of detritus in the cellars, yet to be excavated by archeologists. The passage in the foreground was excavated in the last 50 years, as was 90% of the cellars.

A pigeon got into the cellars and took up residence on top of one of the lights. He may be channeling pagan religious practices.

A pigeon got into the cellars and took up residence on top of one of the lights. He may be channeling pagan religious practices.