Zagreb, Capital of Croatia
First, Zagreb the capital of Croatia. It’s compact, the main draw being several climbs up different towers enabling views across the city’s Gornji Grad and Donji Grad (upper and lower towns). Most of Zagreb’s big-name sights and spires can be seen in the city’s fortified upper town. There’s the towering Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the tallest building in Croatia) and the tiled roof (emblazoned with coats of arms) of St Mark’s church. It’s a European capital, albeit a fairly recent one, so there are also the usual mix of restaurants, squares, statues and boulevards.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
To Split, via the UNESCO World Heritage Plitvice Lakes National Park with its 16 turquoise lakes and (I lost count) waterfalls. It’s an extraordinarily pleasant way to spend a day wandering the boardwalks and trying to get the best angles on the falls. (Not easy as they are framed by dense woodland.)
Split has a typically Mediterranean vibe, with its colourful promenade and pavement cafes. The must see here is Diocletian’s Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This fourth century fortress like complex contains more than 200 buildings within its white stone walls, including a cathedral. There’s also an Egyptian sphinx that the Roman emperor Diocletian stole, to put in his tomb, and a statue of a guy with a huge nose. (I’ve noticed that the Croatian men are generally on the large side with bigger than average facial protuberances.) There are shops and bars, to distract when the statues and courtyards and endless stone walls become overwhelming. It’s drizzling, so it’s no hardship to stay indoors.
The weather doesn’t improve as we sail from the harbour, to the island of Brac. It’s very disappointing not to see the much vaunted emerald Dalmatian coastline of Croatia at its best. It’s one of those occasions when you just have to use your imagination. The famous beach Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape), isn’t quite as relaxing as I had anticipated, as I lie on the white pebbles, huddled under my jacket, but I’m sure it is usually lovely. (Ironically, these islands are reported to have the most hours of sunshine in Europe – more than 2,800 hours a year.) The little port is pretty, when the sun peeps from behind the clouds.
Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic
Finally, some sun in Dubrovnik, the so-called 'Pearl of the Adriatic.” It’s yet another UNESCO-listed site, and heavily restored after the Croatian War of Independence. The red roofs and little bays are best admired during the long march round the city walls (there are numerous little flights of steps). For some reason the group has taken to doing meerkat impressions over all the many parapets. Then a walking tour in the Old Town: palaces, cathedrals, monasteries and fountains (and more meerkat impressions). The most memorable sight is the Onofrio Fountain – a spectacular dome surrounded by 16 taps. (You would recognise it today as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones.) The streets are pristine – too pristine. A beautiful city recreated without a soul. The many restaurants lining the thoroughfares and squares all serve the same depressing tourist fare – overcooked and overpriced fish, kebabs and chips. Lynne says that the beer is fine - she drinks pints.