Trogir Croatia – Start of A Dalmatian Islands Odyssey
It’s finally here. After months of anticipation we are finally going to start our cycling trip of the Dalmatian coast by boarding our ship, the Azimut, this afternoon in the nearby city of Trogir. By way of background, Alison and I landed in Split, Croatia three days ago and have been enjoying that wonderful city, particularly Diocletian’s Palace and the views from the heights of the Marjan Peninsula. We have taken side trips to see the waterfalls at Krka National Park and the intriguing city of Sibenik where we visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of St. James Cathedral with its marvellous carved stone faces by Donatello’s disciple, George of Dalmatia. The food has been uniformly great and our accommodations at Villa Dobric in the heart of the old city, better than advertised. In fact, if this was the extent of our vacation I couldn’t complain, but we have a week of cycling and sailing ahead followed by three days in Dubrovnik – so come along for the ride.
Croatia has exploded onto the tourism scene over the past decade as we couldn’t help but notice from the sizeable crowds pretty well everywhere we’ve been, except Sibenik. There are now many companies offering bike and boat tours of the Croatian coast from the Brijuni islands off the coast of Istria in northern Croatia to the Elaphiti islands off the southern coast near Dubrovnik. We have opted for a trip with Pedal and Sea Adventures that will take us to a series of islands in the central part of the Dalmatian coast, including Brac, Hvar and Korcula. So why Pedal and Sea Adventures instead of one of the many other companies offering these itineraries? That’s a no-brainer. Pedal and Sea is a Nova Scotia company that is based not more than a few miles from where we live. They own the Bike and Bean in the old French Village train station and over the years we have become regular customers both for their great paninis and to purchase cycling related items, including my current hybrid bike.
For years, the owner Dana Gallant has been telling us about how great Croatia is as a biking destination and this year we finally decided not to put it off any longer. We are booked on the last trip of the year and understand from our travel agent that it is not full so we are wondering just how many others will be aboard.
Finding the Azimut
It’s a Saturday and the boat is set to sail in the afternoon from the city of Trogir to the nearby island of Solta for our first night. Trogir is about a twenty minute drive north of Split and we have arranged with the hotel to be driven there for a noon arrival. This is what it’s supposed to look like in Trogir – nice and sunny and calm.
Unfortunately the weather today is not nice, not sunny and not calm. It’s raining, windy and there’s one of those damp chills in the air that gets into your bones. After stopping to buy a couple of bike helmets and some riding gloves at a large sports store on the outskirts of Split, we arrive in Trogir just before noon to find a horrible traffic jam around a very narrow bridge that divides the harbour in two. There are a lot of boats tied up and it’s anybody’s guess which one is the Azimut. Of course, Murphy’s Law kicks in and we spot the Azimut on the opposite side of the harbour, but there is no way with the traffic we are going to get turned around and back there in less than a half hour. Darius, our driver, finds a place to park and we decide to hoof it in the rain. He has umbrellas so it’s not so bad and in ten minutes we arrive at a small tent where a number of young men are huddled before a large nice looking motor yacht, the Princess Diana. From across the harbour we could see that the Azimut is moored beside it.
Four of the five young men react with disappointment when we say we are looking for the Azimut, but the fifth, a tall good-looking guy of about thirty with wild hair, says “Ah, you are with me, Mario” in pretty good English. We introduce ourselves and make our way through the Princess Diana and onto the back deck of the Azimut where we can store our luggage until the ship is ready for formal boarding in about two hours time. Until then we are free to explore the old city of Trogir, in the rain. Just before grabbing an umbrella for us Mario tells us something amazing – there are only four people booked for this entire cruise! Apparently a group of ten or so that was to go, cancelled for whatever reason and we and one other lucky couple have the boat to ourselves. Our own private yacht complete with captain, two mates, cook, two serving girls and Mario the guide. Wow! Mario thinks it’s pretty funny and laughs, saying ” We are going to have such a blast”.
So now we have a couple of hours to explore Trogir before setting sail. It is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Dalmatia, the third we have visited on this trip. The reason why is set out in UNESCO Justification for Inscription, Trogir is a remarkable example of urban continuity. The orthogonal street plan of this island settlement dates back to the Hellenistic period and it was embellished by successive rulers with many fine public and domestic buildings and fortifications. Its beautiful Romanesque churches are complemented by the outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period.
The obvious place to start is the castle at the harbour entrance which is not far from where the ship is berthed. Actually its proper name is Fortress Kamerlengo and it was built by the Venetians after they successfully captured Trogir in 1420. It must have worked pretty well because they kept the place for four hundred years.
After paying a small entrance fee we walk into the castle grounds and see – nothing. There’s only a grassy field surrounded by walls. No rooms, no displays, no signs, nada. This is hardly worthy of UNESCO consideration I think, but then notice that there are stairs leading up to the parapets so we go up those and eventually make our way via a series of increasingly steep and slippery steps to the highest point where there is a panoramic view of Trogir. First I can see the Azimut and the two boats beside her far below.
On the other side of the castle there is a soccer game in progress, unhindered by the steady rain.
Looking over the old city we can see the spires and bell towers of a medieval place where the newest buildings are still hundreds of years old.
Back on the waterfront we make our way into the narrow streets of the city and find a surprising number of tourists milling around – something must account for that ridiculous traffic jam getting into the old part of Trogir. A few kuna gets us into the Dominican monastery and out of the rain and away from the tourists. The cloisters, with a small grove of fruit trees and a well, is a very peaceful spot as they pretty well always are in a monastery. If I ever was to become a monk it would be just to lay about in the cloisters wondering why in God’s name I became a monk. Here is how they would look if it was sunny.
Cathedral of St. Lawrence, Trogir
Yet another entrance fee gets us into the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, by far the largest and most imposing building in the old city. It has an absolutely gorgeous entrance featuring what I am becoming to realize is common theme in Dalmatia – Adam and Eve with lions. We have seen it in Split and Sibenik and now Trogir. It is primarily the work of Master Radovan and is considered to be one of the best medieval sculptures in the entire Balkans. Unfortunately because of the rain and the other tourists who all seem to have gathered near the entrance all at once, I couldn’t get good photos. However, I have borrowed these from a public domain site.
This is the Adam side with a lion that appears to have a fresh kill below its feet.
And here’s Eve standing on a lion that has a nose like a proboscis monkey. The work is so intricate and complex it almost looks like it was done in ivory.
Anything inside the cathedral was bound to be anti-climactic after the entranceway, but still there are some very impressive monuments including this tomb of John of Trogir who was a bishop and then a saint, in fact, patron saint of Trogir.
Also worth a visit is the treasury room which is loaded with interesting stuff including two golden arms. This is the second time I’ve come across these, the first being these on the outside of a church in Split.
These arms obviously symbolize something important, but I’ll be damned if I can find out what. There is nothing in English in the treasury and nothing on the web about them. If anyone knows I’d love to hear from you.
Also of note is this quite realistic crucifixion. You can see how the rib cage has been lifted up by having the arms pinned apart as they are. Now I admit I have never seen a person crucified and don’t ever want to, but I bet it would look something like this.
Last stop in the cathedral is usually my favourite, the bell tower. However, there’s a real steady rain and wind so the steps are extra slippery, but that’s never stopped me before and doesn’t now. Here’s the view from the bell tower.
Well, we’ve whiled away a few hours in Trogir and it’s time to get back on board the Azimut and head to sea. Won’t you join us as we head to the Dalmatian islands?
Here is a link to the Croatia photo gallery with pics from Split to Dubrovnik and every place in between.