Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Bol and Zlatni Rat - Croatia's Most Popular Beach

Fourteen times a day, during the high season, the car ferry arrives at Supetar from Split. Cars and foot passengers pour off and disperse all over the island of Brac with a great many heading up over the hills and across the island to the popular coastal village of Bol and its famous beach, Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn).  We decided that we just had to go and see what was drawing the crowds, especially as we had been told that Zlatni Rat was the most beautiful beach on the Adriatic. Fortunately for us we arrived at the bus station early securing seats on the bus.  Within minutes of a ferry arriving the queue for the bus grew and grew so that at departure a number of people were left behind.  HINT: If you are busing to Bol get to the bus station well ahead of your departure.

It is 39 Kilometres from the north coast town of Supetar to the south coast town of Bol, a very scenic trip through some small villages, with occasional orchards and vineyards scattered among the rocky,  but surprisingly green, countryside.  Don't expect to see much in the way of farm animals, you will be disappointed, there weren't many. Before meandering its way down to the village the road comes out high above Bol with spectacular views out over the ocean and down to the coast.

Dating back to Roman times Bol is the oldest coastal village on Brac. It is charming with narrow stone streets and wide, shady piazzas. A wander through the town takes you to the 11th century church of Saints Ivan and Tudor and to the 12th century Bishops Residence.  You can also see the remains of Roman Baths and Graves, the 15th century Summer palace and the 15th century chapel of Our Lady of Grace where you can view Tintoretto's Madonna and Child with Saints, behind the altar. It is a busy town, crammed with tourists in summer, the shore humming with cafes, bars and numerous small cruise boats coming and going.

We sat on the waters edge, soaking up the atmosphere, before moving to a cafe for cool drinks and then taking a leisurely wander through town.

Above and below: Bol

 Zlatni Rat is located 2 kilometres from the village along a promenade lined with pine trees, sculptures and gardens.  With two children in tow, and because it was a very hot day, we chose to get there aboard one of the the small boats, enjoying an attractive and relaxing trip along the coast.

Zlatni Rat is an unusual beach. Shaped like an arrow head it changes shape from time to time depending on the winds and the currents.  It is pebbly, as are all the beaches on Brac. Popular with yachties and wind and kite surfers the water is crystal clear and although cooler than the beaches on the north coast still very pleasant for swimming. Mountains sweep down to the coast here and the beach is backed by groves of pines fragranced with the scent of rosemary and thyme and,  ahem, hot chips. Unfortunately there are a number of fast food outlets scattered among the pines rather spoiling the ambiance but, I guess, a necessary evil when you have large crowds spending a day at the beach. I paddled in the sea and went for a wander through the pines while my family enjoyed a swim and a snack before we took the return boat to Bol.

Above and below: Zlatni Rat

So, what did I think of Zlatni Rat? Well I did not  particularly enjoy sitting cheek by jowl with hundreds of other people and to be honest I was a bit underwhelmed, but, hey, I come from New Zealand where we have hundreds of kilometres of golden sand beaches, often almost deserted, so I am pretty hard to impress when it comes to beaches. Maybe I'm not the best person to ask. And who am I to knock the many thousands of people who flock to Zlatni Rat? I'm glad I went there but had enjoyed the small beach we swam at  in Supetar more.  

Right: Stina wine cellar, Bol

Above and below: two of the pretty villages we passed through on the bus trip

Back at Bol we visited the wine cellar of Stina Wines and enjoyed a glass of Croatian wine beside the harbour's edge. Very pleasant, as was the bus trip home taking a different route and passing through some lovely villages along the way. To sum up, Bol is well worth a visit.  It is a lovely, historic village and while you are there you should also visit Zlatni Rat, because, why not? and you may just love it.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Olive Oil Museum, Skrip, Brac, Croatia - A must!

My whole family loves olives and olive oil, that luscious, grassy, peppery, viscous liquid which makes nearly everything taste better. It was, therefore, a no brainer that we should take the short 9k trip from Supetar to the village of Skrip to visit the Olive Oil Museum. There is no bus service to Skrip but the taxi service is cheap. It takes only 10 minutes through lush countryside where the trees have been bent by the famous winter winds that sweep the island. (Note: We took the taxi driver's phone number and he returned for us when we called.)

Skrip is a tiny, sleepy, picturesque, village (pop 173), perched on a hill overlooking a deep valley. It is the oldest settlement on the island. Sleepy indeed, we didn't see a soul about as we drove between ancient stone houses to the museum. Not a fan of crowds I was loving it already.

The museum was originally a wine producing factory founded by the Krstulovc family in 1864. It was handed down through the generations and kept producing wine right up until 1963 when the cost of new technology became prohibitive. In 2013 Kruno Cukrov, the grandson of the founder, restored the mill, installed new technology and began producing oil again, opening up the old mill as a museum.

Left: The Olive Museum
Above: My son sharing a joke with our lovely guide
Below: Inside the museum

What a warm welcome awaited us! There was a small group of tourists already having a tour but that didn't matter, we were given complimentary myrtle liqueur, soft drinks for the children, olive oil and bread and led up to the atmospheric loft to enjoy them while we awaited our turn for a tour. It is a tiny museum, interesting, nevertheless.  I enjoyed hearing about the history of the building and the oil making process and the children were delighted to be invited to turn the old fashioned press.  A novelty for a minute or two, a daunting thought to spend hours doing it.  Apart from olive oil the museum shop sells many delicious products produced by the family.  How could we resist? Happy with our purchases of oil, liqueur and jam we set off for a walk around the village promising to return for lunch.

Above and below: The original mill equipment

Although small this village packs a punch history wise. The Illyrian town walls date back to 1400BC.  The Romans lived here using slaves to carve out large blocks of the beautiful white stone the island is famous for to be shipped to Split for the building of Diocletian's Palace.  Incidentally, the white stone from Brac was also used for the building of the White House, home of American Presidents, although I'm pretty certain no slaves were involved then. :-)  A  Roman mausoleum lies in the base of the 16th century Radojkovic Tower which was built for defense and now houses an excellent museum displaying artifacts and crafts from throughout the town's history.

The 16th century tower and barracks now houses the Skrip museum. St Helena's spire in the background
The Cerinic Castle tower and the window
The children were enthralled by an old woman who was calling to us from a glassless window high in the wall of the 16th century Cerinic Castle.  She was inviting us in but when we went through the gate to the castle she had gone and the only way she could have got up to that window was by a ladder, there was no floor. Were we imagining it? Was she real? We'll never know the mystery of the castle in Skrip.

The 18th century church of St Helena overlooks the village and the village square.  Legend has it that Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, was born here. With the Angelus bell ringing midday we strolled the few and narrow streets. An old woman sitting in a door way beckoned us to join her for lunch. That would have been fun but we had already promised the museum.

We wandered the grave yard, once again seeing the familiar surnames of people we know in New Zealand. Near the cemetery is a look out with a stunning view over the valley where you can look down on large olive plantations.

It was time for lunch so we headed back to the museum. The owners were delighted and surprised to see us and welcomed us like old friends.  Lunch was served in the loft, the original owners' home, and it was wonderful - bread, olive oil, olives, tappenade, fig and melon jams, cheeses, dried figs and wine, so much that we couldn't eat it all.  Delicious and cheap and authentically Croatian.  I was in heaven.  This is what I had come to Croatia for, to be sitting in an old stone attic, under the watchful gaze of ancestors photos and religious paintings, eating local food, and enjoying amazing warmth and hospitality. We lingered, happily soaking up the atmosphere and reluctant to leave.

Happiness is sharing a Croatian lunch in an olive mill
You get a glimpse of the loose stone roof, an unusual feature and a dying art
I loved the fact that we saw very few people the whole day - no seething crowds of tourists jostling each other, no souvenir shops or mass produced trinkets, just genuine history and authenticity.  For me this was the best day of our whole trip to Brac and a memory I will always treasure.

Note: As we waited for our return taxi an old woman approached us selling embroidered sachets of lavender.  We declined to buy any partly because we didn't need them and partly because I would not be allowed to take them into New Zealand due to strict bio security laws. Later My son and I deeply regretted not buying them and we still feel badly about it. Many people in these small villages scratch out a living and we could easily have bought some and left them at our accommodation. We didn't think it through, hopefully we have learnt from it.


Saturday, 21 December 2019

Alone at Christmas? Worried? Don't be, here are some handy hints to help you enjoy the day

 This is a post from Christmas 2017. I thought it would be timely to repost it.

Meanwhile, I wish all my wonderful readers a very happy Christmas and a fantastic 2020..can you believe it? 2020!

Christmas is a day for families and friends to be together so being alone on the day can be crushing. It doesn't matter why you are alone, it could be that you are traveling, or your children all live overseas, or you have recently lost your partner. Whatever the reason the key to enjoying the day is to plan ahead to make it fun and less lonely.  Here are a few ideas I have gathered together.  I hope they help.

My Christmas Wreath
1. Book yourself on a bus tour, a train trip or a cruise, depending on your finances.  Ensure it includes Christmas Day.  There will be a real spirit of camaraderie among your fellow travelers and you may even find it is one of your best Christmases ever.

2. Check into a hotel or even a back packers which is offering a Christmas dinner and enjoy the company of fellow diners.

3. Volunteer to assist at one of the many charity Christmas dinners which you will find in most towns and cities.  Christmas is a time of giving so giving your time will be satisfying and fitting.

4. Invite your neighbours, even those you don't know and especially those alone, in for a drink before they head off to their celebrations.  One of them might even invite you to theirs. If having people in is not your thing perhaps you could call on them with small gifts and your Christmas wishes.

5. Visit a loved one's grave.   In New Zealand cemeteries are cheerful, happy places on Christmas day with groups of family and friends visiting and all willing to chat.  It sounds morbid but it isn't.  I do this every year and the spirit of happiness and goodwill there is quite uplifting.

6. Even if you are not religious, go to church.  Enjoy the Christmas carols, the joy of Christmas and the feeling of community.

7. Go for a walk and wish every one you meet "Happy Christmas".  You are bound to get merry greetings back and may even enjoy some conversations.

8. Relish being alone.  Eat what you want, listen to music you like, become absorbed in a TV movie, light candles, decorate the house. If this sounds lonely just visualise how fraught a big and noisy Christmas can be, especially when that difficult uncle turns up!

9. Spend the day planning something really special to look forward to.  It is  easy to become so lost in planning something on the internet that suddenly the day has slipped by.

10. Remember Christmas is just one day and tomorrow is another day.  The key is to plan ahead and to get out there.  Don't sit at home by yourself feeling miserable.

Please feel free to add your ideas in the Comments section.  

 And have the best, happiest, most wonderful Christmas!

St Heliers Bay, my local beach.  Because they always bloom at Christmas time
Pohutukawa are known as the New Zealand Christmas tree

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

You simply cannot go to Brac without visiting Diocletian's Palace in Split, it's a must see, which is why, early one morning, we boarded the ferry for the mainland to do just that.

How Diocletian's Palace looked originally. Right on the sea front with a sea entry
The palace was built for the emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 4th century taking 10 years to complete. Interestingly Diocletian abdicated in 305AD but continued to live in the palace until his death in 311AD.  To call it a palace is a bit misleading, it is actually a walled city covering 38,700 square metres, or half of the old town of Split. Originally half palace and half garrison it was built from the pure white stone from the island of Brac, and marble from Italy and Greece. It also boasted 12 sphinxes from Egypt.  Today it is a living and breathing enclosed town where 3000 people live, its tiny narrow streets and alleys housing numerous restaurants, bars and shops. UNESCO world heritage listed it as the best preserved and most complete remains of a Roman Palace in the world. It is a fascinating place where washing hangs out from windows above ancient streets and old women sit at windows looking down on the crowds of tourists thronging the alley ways. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine life as it was there in ancient times.

Below: Ancient housing still lived in and, right, quaint narrow streets lined with shops

Original pillars and frieze, St Domnius
Right: The underground craft market

We started our tour by entering at the lowest level of the palace, wandering through the bustling craft
market before climbing the stairs to emerge at the square fronting St Domnius Cathedral.  This tiny but incredibly ornate cathedral was originally Diocletian's mausoleum.  St Domnius, the patron saint of Split, was martyred during Diocletian's  persecution of Christians. It is a delicious irony that the Christians gained control of the site, destroying Diocletian's tomb and converting his mausoleum into a cathedral named to honour one of his victims. Consecrated in the 7th century it is the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the world. It is a feast for the eyes with so many original Roman features, including  carvings of the emperor and his wife in a high frieze, competing with the voluptuous iconography and ornamentation of early Christianity. On leaving the cathedral the large carved wooden doors (1220AD)   depicting 28 scenes from the life of Christ are well worth a look. Below the cathedral is the crypt, or burial chamber, now the Chapel of St Lucy.  It is eerily quiet and deliciously cool.

A riot of gold and silver in St Domnius Cathedral, flanked by Roman pillars
Nearby is the baptistery, originally the temple of Jupiter. Reliefs featuring various Roman gods decorate the entrance and an Egyptian sphinx stands guard. Sadly it was defaced, literally, by early Christians who saw it as a pagan idol. The most impressive feature of the Baptistery is the original, ornately carved, barrel vaulted ceiling. Dating from the early 300sAD it is still in perfect condition.  A statue of St John the Baptist now stands where the statue of Jupiter once stood.

The barrel vaulted ceiling in the Baptistry

Ancient buildings and alley ways

Diocletian's Palace is an awesome place. It is incredible how much of the original palace remains and in such amazing condition.  I love the fact that it is a busy, bustling walled town where people get on with their lives rather than simply a tourist attraction or museum piece. I doubt that anything built in the 21st century would last as long.

When it was time for refreshments we were spoilt for choice since  there are many places to eat or buy take away lunches within the palace walls.  We settled on filled rolls which we ate on a grassy bank outside the Golden Gate, after doing the traditional thing of rubbing the toe on the statue of Gregory of Nin for luck.

Above: Gregory of Nin
Left: On the Split waterfront

We strolled the ancient streets some more, stopping for a while to listen to a glorious male choir singing traditional Croatian songs, and somewhat loath to leave, before heading out through a gate into a medieval square and then along the modern sea front. Numerous little cafes and restaurants line the waterfront where tourists were enjoying long lunches over glasses of wine  while misting machines sprayed fine droplets of water overhead to keep them cool. Then it was onto the ferry and back to Brac to the peace and tranquility of "our" island. What an interesting, educational, and  enjoyable day it had been.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Exploring the village of Supetar, Croatia

The great thing about arriving somewhere in the dark is that when you wake up the next day it is a revelation. We had fallen into bed tired and sleepy on our first night but that didn't stop us getting up early next morning to see the view from our terrace, and what a view it was.  Our large roof top terrace looked right out over the village of Supetar, down to the boat harbour and the sea and across to the mainland of Croatia.  With a spa pool, sun loungers and that stunning view we spent a lot of time up there taking spas, relaxing, watching the activities on the harbour, drinking wine and chatting.  It was magical.

The view from our terrace

But lovely and all as the view was we were keen to explore the village so set off to walk along the coastline. Supetar went through hard times when things were tough but has now reinvented itself as a holiday destination, popular with Croations, so a number of the houses have been restored as holiday homes or lets.  Many locals leave Brac for the worst of winter, when it is snowing and the famously strong, freezing winds batter the island, but this was late summer and it was clear the village was in its summer holiday mood. I enjoyed picking and poking at the little craft shops lining the harbour side and my delighted grandson spotted a lot of activities available to rent, including bumper cars, football, kayaks, pool and water slides. They were for later, though, for now we were heading towards St Nicholas cemetery.

St Nicholas cemetery - note the two large mausoleums on the right
I enjoy wandering through cemeteries.  They are peaceful places and you can learn a lot about a people and their culture there.  St Nicholas, nestled among whispering pines and cypress trees on a headland overlooking the sea, boasts a number of large, rather grandiose mausoleums and two tombs from early Christian times.  The ruins of Villa Rustica, from the early Roman settlement of the island can be seen near the cemetery. Some of the mausoleums and graves are embellished with carvings by Ivan Rendic, Croatia's most famous sculptor.  Interestingly his own grave is humble but fitting. I was particularly pleased to see surnames I recognised of people I knew in New Zealand. It was quite a thrill to note where my friends' ancestors had come from.

Left: The Petronovic family mausoleum
Above The grave of Ivan Rendic, 
Croatia's most famous sculptor

We wandered around  the cemetery for quite some time but the day was getting hotter so we headed for home, stopping off at a cool, shady beach side cabana for icy cold fruit drinks on our way.

That afternoon I took a stroll around the village following a well marked historic trail.  It is such a pretty, picturesque place where tumble down ruins covered in creepers, with a charm and beauty all their own, nestle among restored and tidy homes. I thoroughly enjoyed this walk despite the local drivers who belted along the narrow streets at break neck speed.  I decided it was preferable to stick to the quiet lanes, of which there are plenty, and enjoy the small vignettes of village life along the way.

Later we enjoyed a glass of wine and watched the sunset from the terrace as the church bells rang out vespers across the village. 

That evening my family took me to dinner at Konoba Vinotoka, as a belated birthday present.  Set in a pretty little square among olive trees, draped in fairy lights and overlooked by the Church of St Martin it was a delightful spot. We had authentic Croatian food, including the freshest of fish and vegetables, marinated olives, cheeses, nuts, local breads and pumpkin ice cream, all delicious and the perfect end to our first day in Croatia.

Restaurant Vinotoka - the perfect place to end the day

Monday, 11 November 2019

Croatia -Ticking an item off my bucket list

Split from the air
  I write my plans for the coming year in an exercise book. There are various headings such as Property Maintenance, Travel, Maintaining Friendships, Learning New Skills etc which I update as I achieve them. I find it is an excellent way of keeping things on track without letting a year simply slip by. I have to admit things tend to get a bit chaotic and busy towards the end of a year when I realise there is a lot still to be done and some things do tend to be carried forward to the next year, nevertheless it is a great motivator. At the back of the book I have made a list of Bucket List wishes. So far I have managed quite a few, including visiting Cuba, a safari in Africa, snorkeling Great barrier Reef, Australia and, just recently, I ticked off another item, visiting Croatia.
I had heard glowing reports about Croatia from friends who had been there and having grown up with many neighbours and class mates whose families had migrated from Croatia to New Zealand it had always interested me. It was my grandson's idea for us to take a family holiday there while I was visiting them in England.  I am so pleased he suggested it.

Our ferry at the boat harbour, Split
We were not wildly interested in visiting the main tourist hot spots of Croatia which tend to be packed and busy.  We were more interested  in a quieter, more authentic Croatian holiday, living among the locals, eating local food, drinking local wine etc. It turned out perfectly.

Perfect evening for a ferry to Brac
Our holiday started with our arrival at the brand spanking new, and very attractive, Split Airport, opened just a month before we arrived. Then it was a very scenic, 19 kilometre, trip along the mountain backed coastline to the city of Split where we were to catch the ferry to the island of Brac.   An hour long wait for the ferry gave us time to sample the local wine and enjoy the comings and goings on Split harbour.  Then it was onto the ferry for the 50 minute trip to the island. It was a perfect evening and we were all immediately captivated by the scenery, the sunset and lights dotting the hillsides as the day gradually turning to night. Our destination, the village of Supetar, looked magical and enticing in the sparkly evening when we arrived.

Our enticing first view of Supetar...looking forward to our morning exploration

Left: Traditional Croatian pastries 
baked especially for us

 Supetar is a pretty little village curved around a boat harbour lined with cafes and restaurants, an elegant, floodlit, church steeple keeping watch over all.  We  fell for its charms at first sight. Waiting in the village square was our apartment manager who led us up a steep flag stoned street to our accommodation. Harbour View apartment was perfect with its expansive view over the village and harbour and plenty of Croatian charm, including a basket of freshly baked Croatian pastries to greet us. We knew right away that this was going to be a fantastic holiday and fell into bed eager to start exploring the next day.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Chihuly Glass at Kew Gardens

Chandelier at the Victoria and Albert
My first introduction to the sublime work of Dale Chihuly was at the marvelous Sculptureum gardens and galleries at Matakana, north of Auckland, New Zealand. I was captivated by his riotous, flamboyant works both for their beauty and for the wonder of their production. I had never heard of him before that visit but was keen to see and learn more about his work.

Seattle based Chihuly, has had a 50 year long career in art which has included work in mediums such as sculpture, neon, plastics and drawings but it is for his blown glass work that he is most famous.   His works have been shown and acclaimed all over the world perhaps most notably in Jerusalem where he holds the world record for most visitors (1.3million) to a temporary exhibition. The Oklahoma City Museum of art hosts a permanent exhibition of his work although many galleries offer Chihuly pieces for sale. After suffering the loss of an eye and an arm injury Chihuly found he could no longer hold the weight of the glass blowing pipe so now his works are produced from his studio by a number of master glass craftsmen under his supervision. He designs the pieces and has been quoted as saying he enjoys this process immensely. Some of his largest works now sell for many millions of dollars and although these are monumental and quite breathtaking the studio also produces smaller pieces suitable for display in the home.

On my recent trip to London I was delighted to see a magnificent Chihuly chandelier at the Victoria
and Albert museum and when my son suggested a visit to Kew Gardens to see the Chihuly exhibition I jumped at the chance.

Kew Gardens is worth a visit any time but this exhibition showcasing the marriage between the glories of nature and Chihuly's nature inspired glass works was spectacular.  The size and intricacies of the sculptures made me wonder how on earth they are transported across the world. It must be a delicate and nerve wracking operation. The exhibition at Kew ran until late October so if you missed out here are photos of some of the pieces. I assure you these photos do not do the sculptures justice.

The huge tree above is made entirely of glass rods. 

I have written a previous blog about  Kew Gardens you can find it by entering the following into my search box: The Hive - Kew Gardens Stunning New Attraction 9/4/16