Friday, July 30, 2010

Split & Trogir

A boat ride from Dubrovnik to Split not only saved me from a time consuming passport check at the border of Bosnia but also gave me a chance to stop by Korcula and Hvar islands en route to Split. After eight and a half hours sailing on the Adriatic, I arrived at Split around 18:30 which was still not too late to find my accommodation for the night. On the Lonely Planet map of Split, the Diocletian Palace is a walled city but in reality the buildings are either built over the walls or the walls are gone, either way I couldn't find the walls and ended up walking much farther then I should have. An orchestra rehearsal in the Trg Republike caught my attention, I walked in the square and seeing the Hotel Bellevue made me realize how far I was away from the "used to be" walled palace, and I finally navigated myself back to the B&B Kastel 1700.

I couldn't find any restaurants that were recommended by the hotel staff, so I went to one of the restaurants listed in Lonely Planet to challenge their language skills as in the book it stated: Sperun, is a favourite among the foreigners possibly because the waiters seem to speak every language under the sun. Well, it had proven that Mandarin is still one of the tough languages to master even for waiters who seem to speak every language under the sun. And the secret of its popularity among foreigners in this restaurant was, my personal feeling, good hospitality: the chef moved among the customers and a free bottle of water service made this a cozy restaurant.

From a postcard of the old Diocletian Palace, the city was divided into 4 quarters by two straight roads crossing in the center of the city. Each wall has a gate named after metals: gold, bronze, silver and iron for north, south, east and west gates, respectively. From the eastern to western gates, a straight road, Kredimirova, separates  the imperial on the southern side from the northern side that was used by soldiers and servants as living quarters. Today, the definition of the old city walls are lost in buildings; bars, shops, restaurants and local residents mix with historical sites, museums and cathedrals. A few turns in the labyrinthine streets in Diocletian Palace, I couldn't tell which direction was north, so I put maps away and just followed my heart then I heard acapella singing from the Vestibule. Like a miniature Pantheon in Rome, the echo in the Vestibule creates the best stereo system for such an enchanting acapella performance.

I loved Trogir at first sight. Trogir is a small island about 30km north from Split, it is connected to the mainland and Ciovo island by 2 bridges on each side creating a 360 degree natural canal that surrounds the island. Unlike Split, it is much quieter and relaxing. Luxury yatchs docked at the trogirshi channel, sitting on a bench by a wide seaside promenade that hosts bars and restaurants, I watched the crowd flow in the sunset. It was so peaceful that I was startled by occational loud exclamations coming from the soccer fans in restaurants behind me. If you ever go to Croatia, you must stop in Trogir, it is a gem.

Useful information:
All public transportations, train, bus and ferry, are next to the Split harbor that is about 300 meters away from the Diocletain Palace.

Split Card is available at the tourist office in the Diocletian palace. 36KN/5Euro for one card and it is valid for 72 hours; the best part is if you are staying in Split for 3 days you can get it for free! The card gives you free access to most of the city museums, half price discounts to many galleries and tons of discounts on car rental, restaurants, shops and hotels. (Details at :

Diocletian' Palace Map: Insideoutside

Trogir online:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Walking in the old city of Dubrovnik with gelato and Venitian-mask shops on both sides of the Stradun, I had the illusion of being in Venezia, Italy. The broad straight Sradun brought me back to reality but I got lost again in the intoxicating blue Adriatic ocean, felt that I was on an island of Greece. Is the fusion atmosphere of Italy and Greece the secret of Dubrovnik that attracts millions of people every year? I had to slow down my pace as the stone road of Stradun was slippery smooth, a result of years of polishing by tourists, and that's just as well, I could gain a better control of my agitated heart and appreciate the pearl of the Adriatic, slowly.

From the bustling main street that hosts most of the tourist sights: the most famous landmark of Dubrovnik is the Onofrio fountain and next to it the third oldest functioning pharmacy in Europe, is in the Franciscan Monastery & Museum and the medieval knight sculpture at Luza Square that used to be the official linear measure of the Republic, etc; to alleys where restaurants and bars set tables in and locals hang out their laundry to dry overhead,  they all blend in naturally.

A walk on the old city walls and forts perfects the tour in Dubrovnik. From above, a stupendous panoramic view of the city unfolds, on one side the walled city and on the other the ocean and all its activities. I saw a labrador swiming in the blue Adriatic and it puzzled me that in the land of Dalmatia I hadn't seen a single Dalmatian? (but I did see cats everywhere). Walking on the walls that were built in the 13th century, I imagined soldiers patrolling the fortifications and then I saw two men dressed in traditional costumes guarding the drawbridge at Pile gate, one of only two entrances to the old city, the other being Ploce gate, a reminder that the drawbridges were once actually raised every evening, the gates closed and the keys handed to the prince as the golden hues of sunset colored Dubrovnik at dusk.

As I waited to take some sunset pictures, I noticed a wedding party in the courtyard of the excelsior hotel. Summer in Dubrovnik it seems is wedding season, and love is in the air all around. Jubilant revelers drive back and forth honking their horns, it seems from every direction, mixed in with some soccer fans, whose team has just won their match at the world cup. It's definately party time in Dubrovnik and the city is alive with joy and celebration in this summer holiday season.
Photosynth of Onofrio fountain

Panorama of old city harbor

Panorama of old city walls

Panorama of new harbor

Dubrovnik photostream

Useful info:
From/to airport:
Atlas shuttle buses (35KN/5Euro/person) (tel: (020) 442 222; depart for Dubrovnik after the arrival of every regular incoming flight.

Around Dubrovnik:
Dubrovnik's buses run in the city as well as to suburban areas such as Cavtat. You can buy the city bus tickets from the driver directly, 10KN, or from any tisak (kiosk) for 8KN. The ticket is valid for all local bus lines within an hour after validating it in the yellow box on a bus. The time table of the bus can be found on the company, Libertas Dubrovnik, website: Bus map of the city:

Dubrovnik City Card:
The card is on sale at all cultural institutions in the city of Dubrovnik and all of the information office of tourist boards. Facilities included in this offer are the Maritime Museum, Natural History Museum, House of the Marin and the Dubrovnik City Walls, Art Gallery Dubrovnik, Cultural and Historical Museum, Rupe Ethnographic Museum and Gallery Dulicic-Masle-Pulitika.
Daily Card, 130KN, includes free entrance to 8 cultural institutions and 24h public trasport rides
Weekly card, 220KN, includes free entrance to 8 cultural institutions and 20 public trasport rides

The Dubrovnik times
Dubrovnik wikitravel
Offical tourist office

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Years ago, a similar photo was attached in an email and it claimed that the photo of such natural wonder was shot in Nantou township, Taiwan. The email was forwarded rampantly, almost everyone in Taiwan was looking for this dream world that had never been found. After a few months of searching in vain, a media found out that the photo was actually taken in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, and that's how Taiwanese got to know this country: the country of origin of the Dalmatian; Marco Polo might be a Croatian who was born on Korcula island (ref 1); the origin of the tie is actually an accessory of Croatian military frontier and the fact that there are 7 UNESCO heritages (historical complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian (1979), old city of Dubrovnik (1979), Plitvice Lakes National Park (1979), Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the historic centre of Poreč (1997), historic city of Trogir (1997), the Cathedral of St. Jacob in Šibenik (2000) and the Stari Grad Plain in the island of Hvar (2008)) in a land of 1.5 times bigger than Taiwan in size.

One day in April, I got a note from my boss who asked me to paticipate in a hepatocellular carcimona conference that would be held in June in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I registered for the conference and booked the flights immediately, just in case my boss regreted it or something.  One month before my departure, I called my travel agency to remind them that it's about time to prepare visa application and that's when we all realized another common mis-understanding we had about this country: Croatia is a member of the EU.
Croatia applied for European Union membership in 2003, and the European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in early 2004. Candidate country status was granted to Croatia by the European Council in mid-2004. The entry negotiations, while originally set for March 2005, began in October that year together with the screening process.
The accession process of Croatia was derailed several times due to the Irish rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon in a referendum, and then later by the insistence of Slovenia that the two countries' border issues are dealt with prior to Croatia's accession into the EU.
Quote from wikipedia
Dispite the fact that Croatia isn't a member of the EU yet, tourists from most countries don't need a visa to get in, even for people from China as long as they have a valid schengen visa, but that's not the case for Taiwanese (Visa requirements overview). There is no Croatian embassy in Taiwan. Mailing applications for a tourist visa used to work via Japan or Malaysia, isn't applicable anymore. I got 2 options: one was to transit via Vienna and apply for the visa at the embassy in Vienna city, the other option was to have a travel agency send my application to Beijing on my behalf. I couldn't afford the risk of not getting a visa for the conference after flying to Vienna, so I paid a travel agency NT$10,400 (about USD$330, the official price is USD$51) to send my application to Beijing. Four days before my departure (it took 24 days for me to get the visa), based on my itinerary, I finally got the visa that was valid only for 13 days.

Dispite the jarring experience in dealing with Customs (even the Customs officials had difficulty trying to find records of visas issued to Taiwan) I was very happy to meet locals on the street level who recognized that I was from Taiwan, not a provice of China nor a misspelling of "Tailand/Thailand". Maybe it's because we share a "similar" history of changing national status? Nice people, great histories and cultures, glamorous natural wonders, and intoxicating Adriatic ocean, traveling in Croatia was one of the best memories of my backpacking expeciences.

Every year more than 10 million visitors spend their annual holidays in Croatia (the national population of Croatia is about 4.5 million), most of them are German and Italian. In the Asian tourist polulation, Japan definately is the number one of the list. Running into a Japanese tourist group seems inevitable while traveling in Croatia, I got kids greeting to me with "ko ni ji wa" at least 3 times a day. I had a stereotype that western countries were more civilized with etiquettes for scenes such as people who don't line up for a bus or who fight for a spot to take pictures, as this takes place in Asia. Traveling in Croatia, I had the deja vu feeling of being in China. People from every direction swarmed the bus stop, regardless of if there were lines of people waiting when a bus approached; stepping on someone's toes in order to take a photo... then I realized civilization and etiquette go out the window while people are on vacation that applies to all mankind.

Even though I only planned my itinerary in 2 days, it covers 5 out of 7 UNESCO heritages in Croatia and most of the sightseeing hot spots; here are my footsteps: 
  • 4 days in Dubrovnik: conference and old city sightseeing 
  • Ferry to Split via Korcula island and Hvar island (Jadrolinija)
  • 1 day in Split: historical complex with the Palace of Diocletian
  • 1 day in Trogir: historic city and the Cathedral of St Lovro
  • 1 day in Sibenik: the Cathedral of St. Jacob and Krka National Park
  • 1 day in Zadar: historic city and sea organ and sun salutation
  • 3 days in Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • 2 days in Zagreb: upper-town sightseeing and markets

View Croatia in a larger map

Useful websites:
Croatia National Tourist Board, the offical tourist website of Croatia
Wikitravel of Croatia, general info about traveling in Croatia
Croatia traveller,  a former lonely planet author of Croatia
Visit Croatia, a travel guide
Find-Croatia, lots info such as bus map...
Croatia Homepage, hundreds of links to everything you want to know about Croatia
Balkanology, good info on travel in Croatia and southeast Europe
Adriatica. net, allows you to book lighthouses all along the coast
Autotrans, public transportation timetables
Autobusni kolodvor,  Bue lines and routes, timetables...
Hotel Accommodation,  a meta-search engine that works very well with searches and compares prices from most of the hotel booking systems.