(Tuesday June 10, 2014) Our traveling band of gypsies arrived in the beautiful seaside town of Makarska, a very popular tourist destination that sits under the massive cliffs of Biokovo National Park, our next hiking destination. Makarska is known for its bustling palm-lined promenade, filled with restaurants, ice cream stands, souvenir stands, and (importantly) many cafes with ice cold beer to help battle the 95°F heat.
The next day we got on the bus and rode up, up, up the steep mountainside road until we arrived at the National Park entrance and met our two tour guides for the day. One was a geologist and the other a botanist, both PhD faculty at the University of Zagreb and summer employees of the park. We drove deep into the park and stopped for trailside discussions at one of the eighty one churches in the park which stood beside an artillery emplacement from WWI (what an ironic combination!). For many centuries, Biokovo was used by shepherds who annually brought their flocks to the summer high country to graze. There are many abandoned villages and buildings in the park but some are still being used as homes by some of the locals.
We then proceeded to the trail up to the summit of Mt. St. Jure, the second highest peak in Croatia that affords spectacular views of the Adriatic to the west and Bosnia to the east. After checking out the top and, yes, another small church on the top, we got back on the bus to go eat lunch. At a mountain hut, our guides met with a local chef who cooked an amazing meal of various meats, vegetables, and salad for our group of hungry hikers. Of course there was ample supply of beer, wine, soft drinks and, as always, grappa. Moms and dads, your kids will return to the States with much new-found knowledge of all things Croatian, especially the many varieties of distilled wine, aka grappa. If it tastes like turpentine, it’s the good stuff!
After Makarska, we split…..to Split!! Split is the second largest city in Croatia and a bustling tourist destination. The centerpiece is the beautiful Palace of Diocletian – a retirement fort that is 160 meters by 190 meters and completed 305AD. Diocletian was not a nice man – he persecuted Christians in the coliseum of the nearby town of Salona and soon after he died and religious tolerance became the law of the Dalmatian land, Christians took over the palace and destroyed all artifacts relating to the dead emperor. Anyway, over the centuries, the palace fell into the hands of one invading horde or another, each remodeling the interior with their own buildings, churches, hotels, shops and restaurants. But, to this day, the basic structure of the place is largely intact and you can still see remains of architectural treasures that are 2,000 years old. Cool!