Thanks to the wonderful Schengenraum 90/180 rule, I had to leave Vienna and go to Croatia for three weeks. In that time, I was enchanted most by the blue and beautiful Adriatic Sea, and the old towns of Split, Dubrovnik, and Zadar.
First, a quick history lesson. Croatia officially became an independent state in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Yugoslavia. But in the 24 years, the culture has done its best to become European, with the women made up and teased out in high fashion and people sitting in cafés at all hours, when people in America would most definitely be working. In Split, where I spent the majority of my time, I began to wonder whether people had jobs with fixed schedules or just came and went as they pleased.
I began in Zagreb, the capital, which is a little grittier and the poverty leaks out of the edges of the new façade of the city. Zagreb had some architectural commonalities with Vienna, but on a much smaller scale. I did a lot of walking rather than sightseeing, but the Mimara museum was quite a treat, and the Cathedral was truly impressive. Walking around the hollowed out, traffic-free city center during VP Biden’s visit was an Orwellian experience. Two days in Zagreb was just about right.
Split was the ancient home of Diocletian’s castle, and the entire area has been converted into an old city with high stone walls and narrow alleyways. The Adriatic is at its finestin Split, and the salt air and the smell of fish mingles with the sea breezes and the coffee and mulled wine so representative of the holiday season. I lived off of wine and bread, local cheese, local olives, local anchovies, and the veggies at the fresh outdoor market and once I treated myself to shrimp from the fish market. AirBnB led me to a great apartment on Marjan Beach outside the city center, and this was home for about 11 out of my 21 days.
Dubrovnik, further south and occupying a strategic corner geographically, has city walls with ramparts and what must have been an impregnable defense back in the day. Walking the city walls, something I had only ever done in Jerusalem, was a pleasure that was almost worth the 100 kuna ($13.50) I paid. Dubrovnik also has a synagogue, which was unfortunately closed for renovations.
Zadar had a more compact but no less impressive medieval Old City, and the Riva (sea promenade) boasted the Sea Organ, the coolest piece of organic architecture I have ever seen, and the only one I’ve ever heard.
I also braved the freezing cold and frosty trails to explore Plitvice Lakes, a national park between Zadar and Zagreb. Photos will do more than words to describe it, and even then the photos don’t capture it all.
All in all, even in the low season (winter), Croatia is beautiful, and from what locals tell me, every year the summer brings more and more visitors. I didn’t even go the islands — many ferries and services close down for the winter. But for all the tourism, the people manage to keep the Adriatic blue and beautiful. Croatia was a unique and highly cultural experience, and its independence from the draconian Schengenraum agreement made it the ideal place to go while I waited in limbo. Today, a day trip to Bratislava, and then, next stop — Atitlán!!