(A reminder that you can click on any photo to enlarge it to full screen. Enjoy the scenery.)
|Church of St. Lawrence, Trogir|
On an early morning walk to the post office in Trogir, our first stop after our long flight, we walked through the nearly empty St. Lawrence Square before breakfast and meeting our cycling group. The church was open and empty, morning mass still a half hour in the future. We wandered in. We are no longer religious people, but prayer and reflection are strong instincts. We knelt and allowed the silence to surround us and our thoughts to roam free.
From our left, an old man appeared, carrying a thin glass vase with one flower. He was thin, with close-cut gray hair. Although he shuffled with some effort to the statue of the Virgin and Child just a few feet in front of us, I sensed physical strength. Military, I thought. Perhaps an officer. A veteran of the war of the nineties? Old before his time? He placed the flower by the statue, knelt before the statue and lowered his head. I turned away and surveyed the apse of the sixteenth century church, the columns, the altar, the art.
A loud smacking sound drew my attention back to the old man, who was now standing and kissing the statue. He kissed Mary's robes, her feet, the Infant Jesus repeatedly. Loud smooches. His placed his hands with great tenderness on the Infant and on the Virgin's breast. Over and over he kissed them and touched them, as if he were saying goodbye and would never see them again.
Finally, he shuffled off to the right and out of the church to face his day.
|Church of St. Lawrence in Trogir, our first stop off the plane|
|Bathroom with a view, Trogir|
|A back alley in Split|
|Hmmm. Choose carefully.|
|Promoting the local soccer team. I thought he was an evangelist.|
Ups and Downs
wild descent endless
wind symphony filling ears
shouting unheard YES
The VBT brochure rates the Croatia trip "easy-moderate." Carol commented at one point that we must have slept through the easy day. We worked hard on this trip. As legs churned on uphill grinds, there were muttered epithets and promises to ourselves (unkept for the most part) that tomorrow we'd ride in the van. The rewards, however, were great. The uphill grinds eventually became accomplishments to savor. And the downhills! The downhill glides, wind whistling in our ears, pure joy!
Uphill or down, the countryside of the Dalmatian Islands is stunning. We had the roads to ourselves for the most part. We could count the cars that passed us on one hand. This beautiful part of Croatia had the air of a place not yet discovered by tourists.
|The Harbor Town of Pucisca, one of many rewards|
|Hanging out in Pucisca|
|Another reward: The mainland, seen from a bike on the island of Brac|
|A Good Day for Biking! That's Vanja, one of our guides, catching up to me.|
|The sleepy hamlet of Skrip|
Brac (pronounced Brach), as you can see, is lovely. Olive trees dot the hilly countryside, along with grapevines. Everywhere we saw neatly stacked piles of rock, so neat that they might have been art installations. What I learned is that every olive tree and every vine was planted at the expense of great labor. The artistic rock piles are the rocks that had to be moved to allow for the plantings.
|Piles of rock moved to make room for olive trees|
|Olives, almost ready for picking|
|On the grounds of our hotel in Postira, on the island of Brac|
A lot of the rock on Brac is limestone, so it's not so surprising that the town of Pucisca is home to a stone cutters' school, one of many Croatian trades high schools. We got to tour the school. Fine white dust hung in the air, and I kept my camera in its case except for when I took it out for a quick photo. I wondered what working here day in and day out must do the the lungs of the young men learning a trade here. (We didn't see any young women at the school.)
|Stone Cutters' School, Pucisca|
|Carol mugs for the camera with our guides, Marko and Vanja|
On Wednesday, we all piled into a shuttle van for a ride up Vidova Gora, the highest point on the island. We needed all our layers of clothing at the top. After checking out the view and taking photos, we were eager to get to the bikes and descend to warmer temperatures.
|Vidova Gura, 2,200 feet above the sea|
|Lozisce, with its lovely bell tower, a stop on our long downhill.|
|Gelato at the end of a hard day!|
|The whimsy of Vasko Lipovac|
|Gallerija Branislav Deskovic in coastal town of Bol, a rainy day treat|
(The island of Hvar, our next destination is seen through the window.)
On to the Island of Hvar
Hvar is a tad more upscale that Brac. The port of Hvar is a major vacation destination, not only for Croatians but for the very wealthy of the world. The glamorous yachts of the rich and famous lay at anchor in the port for all to admire.
Our hotel was just steps from St. Steven's Square, a gathering place for locals and tourists.
|The Medieval Fortress Looming over Hvar|
|Sunday Stroll on the Riva, Hvar|
|St. Steven's Square, Hvar|
|View from our hotel window in the city of Hvar|
The uphill seemed unending, even from the comfort of a dry seat in the van. At the top, I got out and pedaled the rest of the way. The jersey vendor had nothing I wanted in my size (end-of-the-tourist-season blues), so I settled on a leisurely cycle to Stari Grad, where we had lunch.
|A place to rest, Stari Grad|
|Country cemetery near Selca|
At one point I was cycling alone and I noted one of our cyclists (I thought), a woman in a bright red jersey, gaining on me. It was on a gentle uphill stretch, a kind of cycling I really enjoy. As she drew beside me, I said something about how much I enjoyed the easy grade. She responded in a soft Croatian accent, "I don't think you meant to be talking to me, but I agree with you." She was a local woman, who leads bike tours for a local tour company. This was her day off, and I commented that she was on a bus man's holiday. I explained the term to her, and she smiled and agreed. We fell into easy conversation as we cycled together for a few kilometers. At a split in the road in a small village, we said good-bye, she going right and I, left.
Later, I was telling this story to some of our group. One of the guys, more serious than I about biking and biking gear, asked me what kind of bike she had. I laughed and said, "She had a red jersey and a nice smile. That's all I saw."
The goal this day was a picnic in a park on the rocky shore of the Adriatic near the town of Jelsa. Most of the group stopped at a café for refreshment in the town of Vrboska on the way. With limited time, Carol and I had other priorities. I was determined to swim in the Adriatic Sea. We cycled on to find a private swimming spot along the road, where we got in a good swim and a bit of sunbathing before heading on to the picnic. (There were several of these hideaways along the coast. Vanja informed us later that when locals seeking a place to swim come upon a private site that is occupied, they will move on, leaving its occupants to their privacy.)
|Canal in Vrboska|
|A lovely spot for a picnic|
|Picnic fare - anchovies!|
|At last! A level stretch of road!|
|Remnants of Diocletian's Palace, Split|
|Prometheus, by Ivan Mestrovic|
|Gardens of Gallerja Mestrovic|
|Woman, by Ivan Mestrovic|
|Milkshake Break at Gallerja Mestrovic on the outskirts of Split|
Teraca Vidilica (their slogan: Veni. Vidi. Vidilica) is an outdoor café that sits high on a hill in the Marjan Park, overlooking all of the city of Split and its harbor. It's the place to go for the best view in town. Since it lies between the Mestrovic Gallery and our hotel, we decided to walk to it for a drink. We knew there were well-marked signs at the base of the hill, but we would have to walk quite a way to that point. We decided on a short cut. We were at the bottom of the hill. There was a road going up. Follow the road. How could we not find it?
After a bit of climbing, however, we hit a dead end in a residential area. The hill still rose before us, but the street ended. Out came the city map. As the three of us pored over it, a woman entering her apartment asked if she could help. We explained where we were going. She looked down and studied our shoes for a moment and asked, "Are you sportif?"
"Yes," we replied. She pointed across the street to an alley with a trash dumpster set at the base of a steep and rather scraggly section of the hill. She directed us to the dumpster, telling us there was a path behind it that would lead us up to Teraca Vidilica. A little skeptical, we headed for the dumpster. What did we have to lose?
There was indeed a rugged path, and for the next ten minutes we climbed steeply, scaling small boulders as we clung to tree roots. We finally came to another street where there were several people strolling through the park. "You're almost right there," a man with a family told us as he pointed the way. Five minutes later, we were ordering our farewell drinks and soaking up a stunning view of Split.
|The most beautiful spot for a refreshing drink in Split, Croatia|
A Note on Bicycling Vacations
If you have a specific interest in our other tours with Vermont Bike Tours (vbt.com), you can check out my past Travel Journals:
La Belle Provence, October 2014
Cycling in Tuscany, October 2013
Tuscany, 2005 (This was my first Travel Journal. No text, only five photos.)
Carol and I have taken several bicycle vacations together, but this one was special. One year ago, we did not know if we'd have another such adventure. In the fall of 2015, as many of you know, Carol underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink a tumor on her pancreas. In January, she had Whipple surgery to remove the tumor. Her recovery from that major surgery was long and difficult. On June 30, one year to the day after receiving her cancer diagnosis, a CT scan showed that Carol was free of cancer. Although she still was on the road to regaining her strength, she decided that she wanted to get back on the bike, so to speak, to get back to living her life the way she wanted to.
We rode our bikes all summer to build Carol's endurance, culminating with a twenty-five mile fund-raising ride for pancreatic cancer research in September. Carol continued to get stronger, but we had no idea how she'd do day in and day out on the hills of Croatia. Carol did great. She was on the bike from beginning to end (except for nap day). She took every hill. She was a star.
Pancreatic cancer is a stubborn and vicious foe. From the day she received her cancer diagnosis, Carol has faced cancer her way, head-on, with intelligence, courage, determination, strength and grace. Cycling the hills of Croatia was Carol telling everyone (including herself) that she will continue fighting and living her life her way. It was her way of telling us all that she's back!
|After the ride, with Ellen, Wesley (8) and Julien (5)|
|Me and My Hero in the Hill Towns of Tuscany|