Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There and Back Again, Part 1

When I got off the Metro at Felix Faure on Monday after 17 days in the Balkans, I first noticed the trees. They were green. Spring had crept up on Paris while I was gone and I was sad to have missed the flowering buds turn green in my favored Luxembourg Gardens. But oh my did I have a great time in Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Bosnia. I'll try and give a brief rundown of each city over the next few days.

Zagreb served as my entry and exit point to the region. In my first moments in the city, I noticed the wide spacing of the streets and the exaggerated distances between buildings; a place with space to spread out and grow unlike the often cramped and narrow quarters of Paris. We ate well and cheaply and drank beer from 2 liter bottles and almost saw a riot break out a soccer match. Having met an American, Korean, Frenchman, and Englishman all of whom worked for Adidas in Germany, we decided to check out the local side, Dinamo Zagreb, play a match at their home ground. Buying the cheapest tickets possible, we stood in line to be searched with all the other fans, but the crowd turned violent as the search process allowed only one person to enter at a time and, with the match set to begin, the most die-hard supporters began pushing and shoving, eventually overcoming the barricade and the riotgeared police who decided not to challenge the on-edge crowd. It was the only moment on the trip where I felt at all unsafe and decided not to take my camera out for the 5 or so tense minutes before the barricades finally fell so sorry that I don't have any photos of the event. Zagreb's a fun city and worth spending a night but doesn't hold a candle to the blunt charms of the Adriatic coastline.

Split. It's 5 AM Easter Sunday and I have just arrived into this sleeping port city, devoutly Catholic and still hanging in the morning fog. Unable to check into our hostel until at least 8, we sit along the waterfront, hungry and bleary eyed from a night bus from Zagreb and waiting and praying (it is Easter) for a bakery or anything to open up. By 7:30 we buy bread and soon after get into our hostel room and collapse into beds. Such was my introduction to Split a city mired in history. Sure it's pretty, but so much of Croatia's coastline is more beautiful that looking back Split's a dulling place. Diocletian's Palace is the highlight but otherwise there's not all that much to see or do. The city is the gateway to get to the Adriatic islands and those islands and Diocletian's Palace are worth the trip so get in and find the Jadrolinija booth (for ferry tickets) and get out!

Hvar. I think Hvar spawned the phrase "we win at vacation." It is unfairly beautiful. Why this little island gets to have it all I know not. Detroit should be pissed off. Hvar's old Medieval town center, framed by the spires of two monasteries sits below a 15th century Venetian fortress towering over the city and looking out onto the ever so blue as always Adriatic. Renowned for its nightlife come summer, in April the season hadn't yet begun and the island died at about 10 PM but the days were gorgeous and there was much sun to be had on the rocky beaches.

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