Posting from Croatia: Split, Cooking Class, the Blue Cave and More
Croatia wasn’t on our bucket list, but it should have been. It’s the perfect time to be here, not yet too crowded, sunny, warm with swimable water. Our trip is going like clockwork, thanks to Natasa our secret travel agent, who seems to have access to just the right people and places. Highlights:
The city of Split and the remains of Diocletian's Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Built 1700 years ago as a 300,000 square foot retirement home for a family of three and 250 servants, the Palace’s remaining walls and foundation are integrated into and support a significant part of the city. People live, work, and party within its walls, ruins and restaurants standing side by side. The patina of the streets reflects the footsteps of invaders from the Greeks and the Romans to the Venetians and the Hapsburgs. The Riva, filled with cafes and gelato, the promenade that runs just outside the Palace walls, butts up against the shores of the Adriatic, with boats big and small filling the large harbor. People stroll from early morning until long after the sun sets late in the evening. We had a wonderful guide, Lana, and though we had read up on what we would see, she made the city’s history pop. We highly recommend a guide as the signs are not terribly illuminating. We wonder what we are building today that has any chance of lasting that long.
Tatjiana’s Cooking Class in her thirteenth century home in Trogir, right outside of Split. She took us first to the markets--fishmongers, butcher, fruit and vegetables--and then, with the help of her husband Kaya, we carried home more food than we could ever imagine cooking. Their home is like no other. Ancient walls marked by crosses where Kaya’s ancestors are buried. A small courtyard stuffed with a wood burning grill, a station for cleaning fish, table and umbrella, sofa and chairs, a kitten called Maurizio, together with our hosts' gracious and engaging personalities, is magic. That magic extends through ancient arches to the adjoining dining room and really small kitchen where the alchemy happens.
We helped with the prep, then with the cooking. We made shrimp and mussels, shark and hake, pork and beef, salad with avocado dressing, fig tapenade (dried figs, anchovies, green olives, sweet chilis, olive oil, lemon juice and zest), beets in orange and lemon juice and honey, zucchini fritters, potatoes and chard, carmelized onions with figs and port, and more. Before we ate we took a stroll through town, also a UNESCO protected site, whose patron Saint Lawrence protects chefs and comedians, and its outdoor court where cases were tried and acapella groups now entertain.
And then we ate it all, sitting around the large table, talking about everything-- family, kids, travel, politics, friends, being a woman who worked, getting to know one another. Music from Tony Bennett to the Fugees played. We danced. We laughed a lot. We intend to keep in touch with Tajiana and Kaya. We were fast friends.
The next day on a private boat touring the Croatian coast. Visiting beautiful small ancient towns like Vis and Bisevo, even older than Split, along the way. The water sparkles and changes from royal blue to aqua to green. The coast is pristine. Do not miss the blue cave. Your mouth will drop. See above.
After a visit to the island of Hvar, the Croatian playground for the biggest boats and pocketbooks, our last stop was Dubrovnik. The damage from the 1991-1992 war is barely visible and the way the walled town sits on the side of a cliff is breathtaking. One caution: try to avoid the cruise season. The large ships we understand can overtake the town.
Entering our hotel, Villa Dubrovnik, very white and serene, is like taking one deep beautiful breath. You can sunbathe on the side of the cliff, swim in the Adriatic, or just sit at the roof bar, watching the sun set behind the walls of the town, gorgeous boats dotting the water all around us. A little bit of heaven on earth.
We will return.