Croatia (2013)

Šibenik and Trogir

Time for city trips! We get totally conned in Šibenik and rediscover the Eurovision Song Contest in Trogir.

Swipe left and right to browse through the photos.

The past two days were all about city trips. The first one, yesterday, did not require a lot of travel, since we were already there: Šibenik. The city is known (in Croatia at least, I had never heard of it before either) for the fact that it is the first city founded by Croatians rather than by Greeks, Romans, Venetians or Icelanders. It is a beautiful town on the bank of the Krka, which runs into a long stretched bay before flowing into the Adriatic Sea. On top of a hill is castle, with the old city wall just below, and a little downhill from that is our appartment. Via a long set of stairs nearby we can descend all the way down into the marina below, from where the the entire boulevard with its terraces and restaurants stretches along Šibenik.

Right next to it we find one of the city’s highlights: St. James' cathedral, which is special in that it is built entirely from mortarless natural stone bricks. On the square beside the building, stands from a concert that took place the evening before are being removed, which gives Vonne the opportunity to enjoy the surrounding architecture, although a few toned, tanned and shirtless workers seem to be in the way. We first head into the small streets of the old town, which resemble a maze more than a city plan and consist largely of large steps going up and the down the hillside. They do make for scenic shots, but we wonder how the elderly and/or handicapped are coping with the area—they do not seem to have it easy.

A second attraction reveals itself deep in the winding streets: a monastery garden filled with a variety of herbs. We find the living counterpart of a large section of our kitchen cabinet and quite a few more as well. The entire garden is being maintained by a single lady who was originally a cleaner, but turned out to have quite the green thumb. At least, that is what we are told by an employee who approaches us and kindly asks if we are willing to make a small donation for the maintenance of the garden. They do not ask for an entrance fee, as opposed to the castle, which does ask an entrance fee but offers hardly anything, he tells us. A warning we should have heeded more than we did.

A certain author who wishes to remain unnamed for privacy reasons, has forgotten to bring the second water bottle.

One donation and a further climb up, we approach the castle entrance. A climb up which is immediately followed by another climb down, when we discover that a certain author who wishes to remain unnamed for privacy reasons, has forgotten to bring the second water bottle. As the first one is almost empty, replacement is sorely needed. A small Konzum supermarket offers a replacement as well as donuts with jam instead of a hole, which means we can once again ascend filled and refreshed. Back at the entrance, we do indeed notice a sign stating that due to restoration work, only the first floor of the castle is accessible. That does not seem like a huge obstacle to us and we get tickets anyway.

Not much later, it appears that Croatia has an entirely different sense of the definition “floor” than we do: it is only possible to walk a section along the outer wall of the castle, with everything else being closed off. Granted, the view of Šibenik and the bay are absolutely stunning and the tickets are not exactly expensive, but we do feel somewhat cheated. Several other tourists equally approach the end of the walkway, notice the fencing and start discussing whether their interpretation of “first floor” is an unrealistic one. We comfort ourselves with the thought that the photos are certainly worth something and at least we have contributed to the restoration of the building.

View of Šibenik from its castle.

We wander a bit more through the lovely inner city and then decide to have drinks on a terrace next to the bay. One has swings for two, so we sit down in one and soon are gently rocking back and forth in the shade with a cold drink, while next to us the water gently laps up against the shore and the boats. This is vacation.

Since we have an appartment with a kitchen, we decide to make use of it. In a small supermarket at the bottom of the hill our appartment is on we attempt to gather some ingredients for putting together a decent meal. This is somewhat complicated by the small size of the supermarket, the fact that we only need supplies for a single meal, making all of the bulk packaging useless to us and the fact that everything is in Croatian. Fortunately we do find some things we should be able to throw together: rice with a pea-filled tomato sauce, a somewhat pale bell pepper and canned ham. Amazingly enough, we manage to produce quite a tasty meal we thoroughly enjoy in the warm evening on the terrace of our appartment. If only the evenings back home were this long and warm…

Back to Trogir

After Šibenik, it is today Trogir’s turn. About an hour by bus, Trogir is actually closer to Split than to our current residence. A look at the map tells us Trogir is, in fact, situated right next to Split Airport. It might have been better to have our last day in Trogir, rather than in Split, although spending another day in the latter will absolutely not be a chore. Au contraire!

The old center of Trogir is a small island perched in between the coast and Čiovo, and is slightly less pen- and more insula than we thought at first. The bus station is right next to the bridge onto the island, so we soon find ourselves on the old town square in front of the St. Laurentius cathedral and town hall. We visit the cathedral first—a beautiful and light building with the main feature being the ornate tomb of St. Orsini, the first bisshop of Trogir. The bell tower next to the cathedral is quite unique too, due to the several building styles that is was reconstructed in, after a large section of it was destroyed in a war right after its original construction.

And if you think that those stories are always about some period of time long ago, with wars being fought between the Venetians and the Turks: the cathedral in Šibenik still carries the scars in its walls and doors from bombings that occurred in the ’90s… But, as all is quiet in Trogir now, we decide to climb the tower and start ascending one of the most slippery and narrow winding stairs I have ever set foot on. Roman, Venetian–Gothic, Renaissancistic, whatever building style this is, a staircase railing and some comfort apparently were not part of it. Of course, once above you find yourself on a smooth terrace of which the floor gently slopes down towards a low balustrade, so there is that.

Of course. Twenty-six horizontal: the 1974 winning Eurovision song.

A staircase in the tower leads further up, but one look up in the very high and very open space with its large open windows tells me that while I might make my way up there, I will never ever come back down and I duly count myself out. Vonne decides to go for it, but even she comes back down a little unsteady: the stone stairs halfway up change into open steel stairs which unsettle her as well. But, there are now pictures of the view from upstairs. We wait for a few people to finish their climb up the small winding stairs and then descend back to street level. Our thoughts go out to the poor priest who continually had to walk these stairs to sound the bells.

The center of the Trogir consists of the same maze-like structure of streets as the center of Šibenik. And here too they have a beautiful riva where several impressive yachts are moored. We decide to sit down for lunch, but here too all the of the restaurants have someone approaching you about what the restaurant has on offer, what dishes are recommended, whether you do not want to sit down, whether you would like to see the full menu and where you are from, when all you want to do is have a look at the sign to see what is being served and what you want for lunch to begin with. We finally settle on a restaurant where we do get the time to have a look for ourselves what’s on offer and that turns out to be a good choice: shortly after, we enjoy an absolutely delicious spaghetti and salad.

After lunch we head for the Kamerlengo castle, which once formed the residence of the Venetian governor, and along with the nearby St. Mark’s tower the town’s primary defense against attacks from across the sea. With the Šibenik castle still lodged in our memories, we hesitantly purchase tickets for this one. Again, the inside is not particularly spectacular: the inner courtyard is a large, empty terrain with seats and a stage for concerts. However, we can climb the walls and the highest tower where a Croatian flag (basically a Dutch one with an added coat of arms) flies proudly. And from here too, we have a stunning view of Trogir and the surrounding bay. We walk around town a bit more, make a phonecall to family home from the loggia on the town square and sit down in the park along the waterfront to have a rest and enjoy the view. And that is when… it happens.

However, for some reason not a day has passed here, where we have not been reminded of the event. There will be some artist on TV who has represented their eastern European country in the contest, or one of the victorious songs from the past few years will randomly blurt out of a speaker somewhere. And as it goes, once you hear it, you can not stop hearing it.

Until today. No songs, no references, no reason whatsoever to have the whole thing even cross your mind. And then, in the middle of a small park in Trogir, you pull out the big Sanders Holiday Puzzlebook to a random crossword puzzle, and of course. Twenty-six horizontal: the winning Eurovision song in 1974. Thanks a lot, Sanders. No wonder Eurovision always seems to be an Eastern European party: there is something in the air here, I am convinced of it. It just really comes to life here.

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