Suspended – Faust Vrančić and Prvić Luka

First you see the church and then a ghostly figure of an expressionless doll suspended between heaven and earth. This is the island of Prvić Luka where the body of Faust Vrančić rests in peace and his spirit treads the ground of his summer vacation spot. The latter is actually in Šepurine, on the other side of the island about a 10-minute walk from Prvić Luka, while the former is buried at his bequest in the aforementioned St. Mary’s Church.

The creepy looking parachute doll - from a design by Faust Vrančić
The creepy looking parachute doll – from a design by Faust Vrančić

Born in 1551, no doubt into a well-heeled family in Šibenik, where your ferry journey begins, this young man had many opportunities in life beginning with an education in Venice and later at Padua University where his majors included mathematics and engineering. And here’s where the eerie doll features. In a book published by himself in Latin, Italian, Spanish, French and German (did I mention he was a polyglot?) called Machinae Novae, sketches of his Homo Volans appear as one of the first attempts at parachute invention. Imagine running free on that pristine island surrounded by waters changing from green to teal to blue to turquoise, where the sky meets the sea and the two are almost indistinguishable? Floating, suspended, flying all come to mind. Vrančić’s daydreaming had no limits. The earliest drawings of bridges hanging from steel cables in many forms and shapes are also in the book as are his mills and wind turbines. A visionary by all accounts. His 17thC inventions proved to be sound and with the advance of technology, many of his discoveries were realised a century later. The eponymous Memorial Centre in his honour, right next to the puppet, documents his story in a delightful way showing his family tree, his ‘machines’ as well as some hands-on games for younger visitors.

Faust Vrančić occupying his rightful place in the delightful Memorial Centre
Faust Vrančić occupying his rightful place in the delightful Memorial Centre
Engineering orchestrated in the 17thC, realised a century later
Engineering orchestrated in the 17thC, realised a century later

With all this heady stuff churning around in your brain, it’s time to test the waters where Faust himself must have cooled down regularly. It’s hot and clear coolness hoodwinks you to take a dip and freshen up your thinking. And what follows is also quite natural – a deep thirst and a hollow feeling in the stomach. Where to satisfy these urges?

The drawing wall at a gallery on Prvić Luka
The drawing wall at a gallery on Prvić Luka
Stone buildings and their quaint occupants
Stone buildings and their quaint occupants

In amongst the stone buildings and their charming occupants, we find Stara Makina and eyeball the newly lit fire in the grill, right on the waterfront. This’ll do nicely, thank you very much. It takes a while to get a menu, island time you know, but when our mixed salad and mixed grill finally arrive, it’s worth the wait. The chicken kebab is succulent, the ćevapi (a type of skinless sausage made of minced meat) nicely spiced, the beefsteak tender and the lamb tasting of island shrubs and herbs. Served with crispy, thinly sliced oven-baked potatoes, it hits the spot together with the local red wine to wash it all down. The professionally presented dishes are served with a smile from both the waitress and the chef slaving away in this heat. To top it all, your stomach does the groaning not your head when the bill arrives.

A hearty, delicious meal at Stara Makina
A hearty, delicious meal at Stara Makina

Another swim in the glitter of diamonds that sparkle around you, and then locally made ice cream finishes off a day of a little bit of culture, a little bit of indulgence and a lot of fine feelings of time well spent. And this, my friends, is how you drift between heaven and earth with reality being put off for a later date.

Surround yourself with diamonds
Surround yourself with diamonds

Links:

Prvić Luka

From Šibenik to Prvić Luka takes 45 minutes on the Jadrolinija ferry

Faust Vrančić

Faust Vrančić Memorial Centre

Konoba Stara Makina (restaurant)

 

 

Nth Reasons to Visit Šibenik

After a month in this pearl of a city, my time here is coming to an end. Leaving without paying tribute would be a crime.

The People

… the factor that makes it possible to live in a strange city for a month and never feel lonely. Whether it’s Luciana and Toni at Niko’s Café and Bar at the open air market, Seida at Argola Restaurant on the seaside promenade, Vanja the local guide and expert on the history past and present or Nino Nimac and Danijela Prpic, duo extraordinaire, their positive demeanour, excellent service, talent and open-heartedness is enough to draw you back.

Beautiful Luciana at Niko's Bar
Sassy Luciana at Niko’s Bar

The Old Town

… is the colour of a pearl, nestled neatly on the hillside overlooking the ageless channel that flows in from the Adriatic. St. James Cathedral is the most important Renaissance architectural monument in the whole of Croatia and the Baptistry will imprint itself on your memory forever for its beauty. St. Nicholas Fortress affords spectacular views over the city and the water. Catch a concert there if you can, the atmosphere is majestic. The Medieval Herb Garden of St. Lawrence maintained by pupils from the local high school is refreshing and fragrant in the summer heat, consisting of both culinary and medicinal plants. Strolling through the narrow, slippery (be careful!) alleys, frankly all you need to do is look up at the mix of Gothic, Romanesque, Medieval and Renaissance styles of the numerous churches and buildings. And if hunger pangs hit you or a thirst develops after climbing those stairs, there are plenty of food and drink spots around every corner.

Herb garden of St. Lawrence
Herb garden of St. Lawrence

The Food

… is local, produced close by and mostly a no-nonsense affair. Tinel in the Old Town uses only organic veg and their octopus salad is tender and juicy. Just out of town there’s an array of choices. The peka lamb is baked for hours under a lid at Torcida Restaurant in Vrpolje (10 minutes by car), the variety of mussels and clams is simmered in a unforgettable white wine sauce at Zlatna Riberica in Brodarica about 20 minutes by bus, and the olive-oil/garlic/parlsey drenched catch of the day is worth the wait at Konoba Kapelica on Krapanj Island, a swim away from Broderica but there is a ferry. Getting back to the city, there’s the real locals place called Buffet Simune on a side street very close to the open air market where the fried sardines and ćevapčići (mixed meat on a skewer) is served up in large portions at laughable prices.

Small portions at Torcida
Small portions at Torcida

The Wine and Other Stuff

While a cold Ožujsko or Karlovačko beer is just the thing after a swim in the sea, a glass of the Dalmatian white blend of Debit and Maraština is herbaceous and even ever so slightly salty and goes extremely well with seafood dishes. Babić is the red varietal of this area and this full, big-bodied wine is a must when eating pršut, the Croatian’s soft, non-stringy answer to Italian proscuitto. And don’t leave without giving rakije a go. It’s firewater but the local herbal blend Travarica is slightly green in colour and palatable. Psst, Vinoplod Winery on the outskirts of town as you enter from Split, has a wine shop at the gate where you can get all of these products except the beer of course, at a discount.

Big Babić
Big Babić

The Bars

So I’ve already mentioned Niko’s where the coffee is creamy and the froth is sprinkled with chocolate (€1,10/8 kuna). Even though there are plenty of bars to choose from down on the shoreline and in the Old Town, the place to be is Bono’s named after the U2 star of course, the owner being a huge fan. This joint is so unique that they’ve declared it a Republic with its own flag and its own mix of great music, none of this canned stuff, all CD’s hand chosen. And there’s live music every Friday.

And on my way home, there’s always Kula Bar  in Baldekin to drop into for a night cap of the famous rakije, called Travarice, a grassy, herbal hooch with a heady blend of 15 herbs.

The Size

…. is navigable, manageable and even at a slow plod you can walk from this side to the other side reaching Banj Beach in 30 minutes. Downtown becomes your town in a matter of less than a day. It’s all there, supermarkets, the open-air market, banks, boutiques, pharmacies and even cobblers in a shoe emergency. It’s got a cosy feel and I do believe this is attributable to its size.

The Proximity

…. to everywhere means that you never need to be bored. Krka National Park is a half an hour away even by bus, the islands are short ferry rides and even the furthest one in the archipelago Žirje is only 1 hour and 40 minutes away. Buses abound and you can get to Split Airport by taking a 1 hour bus ride to Trogir and then another one for around 15 minutes. Easy peasy. Zagreb, Split, Pula, Dubrovnik, you name it they’re all accessible.

Rushing waters at Skradin Buk, Krka National Park
Rushing waters at Skradin Buk, Krka National Park

The Islands and Beaches

… are all within a ferry ride or bike ride or bus ride away. So easy to reach. See my blog for details: Getting In and Around Šibenik.

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Next Bike 

Just ’cause you’re feeling lazy or just for fun, this is an excellent way of getting around the city and works like a charm. Enter your telephone number, credit card details and your personalised pin code and you’re all set. From then on it’s a breeze and at this point I have to say that the motorists are more than considerate. No hooting, no impatience, veering around you to make sure that you don’t damage their cars. Next Bike

The Diving

… impossible to beat for visibility – 25 m and more is what you’ll find in these turquoise waters and besides, the Dive Master is handsome. Mediteraneo operates from Hotel Spongiola on Krapanj Island, 20 minutes by bus to Brodarica and a short ferry ride from there.

Emil's the one on the right
Emil’s the one on the right, mind you the one on the left isn’t bad at all

 

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Steve and Krka National Park

This passionate Park Ranger at Krka National Park, near Šibenik, Croatia, is part Australian/part Croatian and tells you all you need to know and more about this incredible, ground-breaking part of nature.  Stjepan Gundic, Steve to those of us who know him i.e. everyone, not only has vast knowledge of the delicacy of the area but also instills in one a feeling for it, an emotion that gets you excited about biology and the workings of it. He lovingly makes reference to ‘she’ or ‘her’ and of course the link is to Mother Nature.

Stjepan Gundic or Steve at Skradinski Buk
Stjepan Gundic or Steve at Skradinski Buk

First he takes us for a swim in the fast-rushing waters of the biggest waterfall Skradinski Buk (meaning the noise of Skradin, the nearest town), the largest of 17 waterfalls. He tells us that the groundwater serves the entire region with fresh water and that there has been running water in the town of Šibenik since 1865! That there has been electricity in Šibenik since 1896, a mere year after Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse built their first hydro-electric power plant at Niagara Falls.

Swimming at Skradinski Buk is allowed and keeps the surface free of deposits.
Swimming at Skradinski Buk is allowed and keeps the surface free of deposits.

I’m no biologist but I now understand that in this typical karst landscape, moss, algae and aquatic bacteria form deposits on the limestone which build up with the movement of water over it creating travertine barriers and hence myriad waterfalls. The rangers at Krka allow people to swim at certain places because deposits aren’t able to form on the karstic rock on the bottom, hence ‘preserving’ the waterfall.

Travertine barriers become waterfalls
Travertine barriers become waterfalls

We hear about the unique fauna and flora of this landscape and what grabs my ‘green’ attention most is the best natural pesticide in the world, Tanacetum Cinerariifolium or Pyrethrum by its more common name. It looks like a gentle daisy and can be eaten by insects but when it’s mixed with water, it becomes a powerful poison but thankfully, not harming bees in any way.

Plenty of fish in the clear waters
Plenty of fish in the clear waters

Our walk ends in a rather touristy set-up with mills and ‘washing machines’ created by swirling water in round, constructed bowls. However touristy, you learn something new about old stuff that you never even knew existed and especially from Steve whose grandfather transported his grain by boat and queued up for days to use the mills to grind it.

Could be a natural washing machine?
Could be a natural washing machine?

Spending a few hours in this region is not enough. Unfortunately we were in a rush to get to the airport but the bug had bitten (thankfully virtually only) and we will be back to see Roški Slap, Visovac Island and the practising Franciscan Monastery, medieval fortresses and just that calm that settles over you when you’re in the midst of the wonders of Mother Nature.

Links:

Krka National Park

The picturesque town of Skradin where you can take a boat ride included in the entrance fee (110 Kuna/€15) to the park, but beware, the queues are long. The other entrance Lozovac has a hairy road with tour buses coming to and fro but less queues.

Nikola Tesla, the scientist who affects our lives on a daily basis.

Šibenik

Magical Moments on Jadrija Island

We leave Šibenik behind us in our ferry that takes a 20-minute ride to the island of Jadrija. Difficult information to find out for some reason but here’s the timetable:

Jadrija ferry timetable
Jadrija ferry timetable

After you’ve paid your 12 kuna (€1,80 approx) you can sit back and enjoy the scenery of the Dalmatian archipelago with its rugged, karstic cliffs, tunnels blasted through rock now closed with mesh, fortresses, houses and castles. When the water gets shallower, blue changes to turquoise and it’s there where your destination lies.

Pine forests on Jadrija Island offer a cool respite from the sun
Pine forests on Jadrija Island offer a cool respite from the sun

Why all these cars? You hardly need them except maybe to get here? Google Maps solves the mystery. There is a bridge that links this island to the mainland. The pine forests lend welcome shade to this sweltering day and the pristine water of the Adriatic (on this side of it, of course) beckons you for a cool down. Not sure whether it’s the effect of my morning meditation or what, but turning down the pace to island time is what automatically happens.

Clean, pretty and tidy, the island of Jadrija
Clean, pretty and tidy, the island of Jadrija

Wandering along the walkways of this picture-postcard setting, I wonder whether it’s a place for the rich and famous since the mostly private holiday homes are large and luxurious, with a few smaller ones tucked in between. No hotels, very few apartments for rent, very few restaurants and a perfect place for families.

Old concrete changing huts line the main beach on Jadrija
Old concrete changing huts line the main beach on Jadrija

After a lengthy swim, what could be better than a chilled glass of wine in a bar called H2O with padded seating and huge umbrellas overlooking the sea. I drink it all in and sip quietly away when the waiter says,

“My boss would like to offer you another glass, on the house of course.”

“I would love another glass.”

I wave at the owner and offer him my best smile.

That’s Dalmatia for you, men that generously offer you drinks with no ulterior motive in mind, or maybe I just escaped in time…

The generous owner of H2O is the one on the left
The generous owner of H2O is the one on the left

At the end of the Soviet-style concrete beach shacks, is another little bar where Jasna, the lady who owns it, serves you with motherly kindness, hanging up your sarong so that it dries and offering you a place to change in her ‘cabin’. Hunger pangs drive you to the only real restaurant which consists of tables and chairs under those huge pine trees. The wine is cold Debit, a little salty, a little herbaceous, a little wet stone, all of which go very well with the most delicious sea bass. The latter and other fish are charged in a unique kind of way, by the kilogram and this one together with the half litre of wine, fries and salad set us back less than €20 for two. It’s a steal.

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Links and info:

Jadrija Island

Jadrija ferry – see timetable above; departs from Šibenik’s main quay in front of all the bars; cost approx. €1,80 one way.

Bar H2O – as you alight from the ferry, turn to the left where the main beach is. This joint’s the best of the lot.

Restaurant ? – couldn’t find a name but as you step off the ferry, turn left and just ask anyone.

Return to Šibenik, Croatia

It’s been a full 24 hours since I arrived yesterday from Split Airport by JAM Taxi which took an hour and could have cost me only €13.75 if there had been 3 more to share it but since I was the only passenger, €55 was what it cost. Fairly cheap at the price if you consider the distance.

And now I start wondering why I chose to come back here after almost two years. The previous time I was wined and dined by the locals for being part of Dhar Media’s Discover Croatia project. Here’s the video: https://youtu.be/mDh0erDSuaA

Today I’m the tourist and seeing this town from a different angle. My apartment is in a real city block amongst ordinary people who live and work here. It’s hot as hell but there is air conditioning which I hesitate to use. My hostess is an absolute sweetheart who can’t share enough knowledge with me and goes out of her way to make my life easier.

Šibenik on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia
Šibenik on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia

I start my day at the open air market where I buy a bunch of veg and fruit for as little as €4,50. I feel proud walking back with my stash, as if I had done something to earn this. The cappuccino tastes like heaven and the €1,20 that sets me back only widens the smile on the waitresses face.

It really looks as if they grow this themselves - fresher you couldn't get.
It really looks as if they grow this themselves – fresher you couldn’t get.

No rental car, no minibus to hop into, just me and my feet hitting the sidewalk and feeling the pulse of Dalmatia. It’s slow, service is slow which means one thing, keep calm and breathe. Take your time, look at the people and remember somewhere in your Finnish life there existed a phenomenon called conversation. And they never run out….

Pebble beaches are good for your feet!
Pebble beaches are good for your feet!

The beach is Banj. The water is clear and cooling, the beer is cold and expensive (for Croatia, that is i.e. €2,55 or so for 0,5 l) and when I point out that the price on the bill is more than the price on the menu, I get a most sincere reply that the menus have not been changed after the price increase. I believe them because they seem genuine in their apologies.

Nothing to beat a cold beer after a salty swim
Nothing to beat a cold beer after a salty swim

I walk home through the Old Town. The marble is slippery transporting residents and tourists since 1066. More of this later.

Children's Festival in Šibenik Old Town
Children’s Festival in Šibenik Old Town

Links:

JAM Transfers

Touristar TV

Banj Beach

The Second Time – Croatia

Why would I want to return to a country full of grumpy people that don’t smile at you, don’t have a sense of humour and who really don’t know how to have fun?!

It’s a conundrum.

In defence of Croatia as a whole, it really does have some spectacular scenery like Plitvice, clean water at Gacka, clear turquoise sea in Makarska and beyond, great cuisine made of local, natural products and reasonable prices compared with the rest of the EU. But then there’s the thing of the people again…

Dhar Media
Manuela and Lea from Dhar Media not having fun at all!

This morning I went for a run as I do regularly. I like to go in the morning because you see the city waking up, people trudging to work, waiting on public transport and going through the motions of earning a living. Fresh pastry smells reach out at you from the bakeries and men stare at you from their coffee tables on the sidewalks. I stop to ask for directions. The woman who looks forbidding in her stern, stoic manner, breaks out in a smile which stretches from ear to ear and almost laughs when I ask her the way. She giggles while she talks,

“Go on with this road. You will pass a beautiful park with a boy, how shall I say, peeing, go past that and at the end you will get to where you’re going. But can I say something more? If you just turn left, you will get to an even more beautiful park which will take you to the same place.”

We wish each other a “lovely day” and I am delighted. After my shower, it’s time to meet the crew of Dhar Media. I’ve worked with them before and I know how unfriendly this lot can be. They’re waiting for me in the foyer with,

“Why are you late?”

I glance at my phone, one minute?!

Slavisa Brezar, co-founder of Dhar Media, serious as usual.
Slavisa Brezar, co-founder of Dhar Media, serious as usual.

In stead they grab me, hug me, kiss me on both cheeks and laugh through it all. We get to Badel’s headquarters where the filming will be done. The morning starts with a cappuccino and a Pelinkovac Antique. This is definitely not going to be fun, I just know it! I listen to one conversation, topped by another, interrupted by another and sometimes even one person multi-tasking and talking in two directions at the same time. I keep on wondering whether a fight is going to break out, but then everyone collapses in a fit of laughter and I laugh along, much relieved, even though I didn’t understand a word.

Last time I was here, I had to suffer the likes of Davor Gobac, flirting with every woman in sight, Davor Beroš, owner of Alto Krvavica charter company with his hair flowing and rustic seadog looks, the heart-melting smile of Stipe from Krka National Park who exclaims, “The only truth is nature and love!”, the knee-paralyzing-handsome Emil Lemac, owner of Mediteraneo Diving Center and the Nino, guitarist extraordinaire at Johnny’s Place in Šibenik. There is a limit to how much a woman can take! At my age, I will take all the flattery I can get, thank you very much.

Johnny's Place
Feasting in Johnny’s Place, a common occurrence

I’m sitting at an outdoor café, people-watching. This time it’s not the tinnitus in my ears but the buzzing of conversation, the families that walk by with kids running rings around parents, sexy men and women that are out on their evening stroll and loud laughter that catches my attention. And they don’t even need alcohol for all this frivolity, mainly ice cream and coffee on the tables beside me. Too many smokers, but that’s about all I have against the place.

Links:

Krka National Park

Mediterranean Diving Center

Johnny’s Place, Sibenik

Šibenik

Luznica – people of Croatia

The delightfully happy face of Sister Berislava welcomes us to our next stop at the Spiritual Education Centre of Mary’s Court at Lužnica – a long name which tells a story. Lužnica, we’re told, means ash heap and stems from the brook nearby where women in days gone by did their laundry using ash as a detergent. Mary’s Court obviously points to the Holy Virgin while the SEC indicates the new building which is used to house visitors for conferences, seminars, retreats and just as a haven of rest. She’s animated and full of passion in her exposés of the family Rauch from Germany that built this magnificent structure in 1791 (there’s an engraved step to prove it) and filled it with family and friends on joyous occasions. Luznica

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Shenanigans with Psihomodo Pop in Croatia

This is what goes on in my infantile mind”, he says pointing at the screaming faces in psychedelic colours that adorn his paintings. He’s the outrageous Davor Gobac of Psihomodo Pop, the punk rock band that has a serious cult following who are at the New Jelacic Mansion to greet us. What’s more, the exhibition hangs in a former wheat mill listed as a Grade 0 building i.e. ‘don’t you touch it’ at the New Jelacic Castle listed at a mere Grade 2 meaning ‘be careful where you touch it’.
Like the Croatian men I’ve met, he’s a character with a great, albeit, slightly grey sense of humour which includes himself. Handsome he is, with an eye for the ladies.

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It’s Raining Men – Croatia

So you’re single or married, you’re free or not, you might be looking and if you’re not, in Croatia at least, you’d be missing out on a whole lot of fun. Rugged, rustic, a little bit of style, eccentric and funny and always gentlemen, or as far as I know.

Take our crew for instance – Hrvoje (said with a guttural, Finnish ‘h’, rrrrr, vvvv, ooooo, yeah), stern, caring, dry of driest sense of humour; Bruno – impish with an irreverent twist; Damijen, the romantic, the guitarist whose constantly on the phone to his girlfriend; Zlatko the silent, with hidden talents of brilliant English vocabulary;  Each and every one of them a gentle man and gentleman who’ll carry your suitcase, help you out of the bus, do all those niceties that too many men under the age of 30 have either given up on or never learnt. Samobor

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Flaunting the rules, is tall, definitely dark, Davor Gobac of Psihomodo Pop who really doesn’t give a shit whether you like his music or not and all he knows is that he’s “in love with Gobac”.

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His English might be somewhat lacking but his hospitality knows no bounds on his charter boat that takes us out on the Makarska Riviera. It’s Davor Beroš, owner of Alto Krvavica charter company and tour guide Jure Brkan. Bring on the salty seadog look with hair flowing and deep-voiced baritones to plunge you into mirth and folly. Makarska Riviera

“The only truth is nature and love!” comes from the mouth of Steve, Stipe in Croatian, born and bred in Australia and back in his home country since the age of 10. ADHD might be an appropriate description of his character but I think it’s his sheer enthusiasm and positivism that get you excited about the ruins of Nečvengrad of  the Nepelicki family  where you can see the tower of  the Šubić family across Krka River canyon. He’s a guide and a park ranger at the Krka National Park where the waterfalls cascade like bridal gowns in amongst the green that surrounds them. His reference to castles and waterfalls as ‘she’ is enough to melt your heart. “They’re just so beautiful,” he exclaims. Krka National Park

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At Johnny’s Place in Šibenik you might bump into Nino, guitarist extraordinaire, whose laid back easiniess comes with a smile that you can almost drink. Dive into the deep with Emil Lemac, owner of Mediteraneo Diving Center, a handsome brute with a way of getting his arm around you and offering you a sip of rakije from an angle you didn’t expect. His right hand man is Orgjen Tošić (Ogi to the uninitiated) with his blue eyes, slender body, a passion for island life and patience with beginner divers like me. Johnny’s Place

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And then there is Ante from the Knin tourist office whose our guide at the fabulous Fortress of Knin. He stands tall amongst the ruins and has the vigour to match his love for this place and its people. Or gorgeous Damijen at Sinj whose sense of humour extended beyond the realm of holiness expounding on the importance of the Assumption and the reverence with which the Virgin is worshipped without losing touch with the sacred. Knin

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To mention only a few………. They’re not pushy, they’re not overly bold, just relaxed enough in their own skin to prick your interest and perchance light your fire? Ladies, let me introduce you to Croatian men.