Monday, October 12, 2009

Split through Salona

We pulled in here at 11 pm last night and roused the manager Vinko. He asked where we were from and as soon as Donna said Sydney, he became ultra friendly. He gladly helped us with the luggage up 3 flights of stairs, telling us on the way that he had been to Cabramatta, Fairfield and Kings Cross. “Formalities in the morning” he said. “Breakfast?” we asked. “7 am to 10 am” was his reply. “OK”, I said “we will be down at 9:45 am!”

After waking to a bright sunny day turning cloudy, we managed to get down there about 9:30. Breakfast was the standard continental fare – juice, some cereals, breads, meats and cheeses, coffee, tea or chocolate. And then Vinko’s wife Ztravka (not sure about the spelling) asked if we wanted omelette or eggs. Omelette please all three of us asked. And by jove, the omelette was fantastic. All egg with nothing else to cloud the flavour or freshness.

After the episode with the tyres slipping the other day we had made the decision to put new tyres on the car – even though we won’t be driving it much longer, we are still driving it for a considerable distance (and even if it we only for 10 kms, I want to feel safe!) So after breakfast when we had sorted out staying for another few nights, I asked Vinko if he could recommend anywhere to buy new tyres for the car.

At first he wasn’t sure what we meant, but after a few charades passages, he cottoned on. “Ah, come, I go with you” he says. So Michael and Vinko set forth. Donna and I in the meantime got things ready to move into a different room – smaller and without a balcony, but still perfectly OK for a couple of days. The guide books unfortunately are in the car, so we can’t plan too much for today. And we don’t know what time they will be back with the car. Michael eventually returns about 12 noon. The tyre place managed to squeeze our job in for a small donation, but who cares, we didn’t want to wait (and it was small, really!)

So with just the afternoon left we headed off to have a look at Solin – or rather to the remains of the Roman town of Salona. En-route, we drive out towards the end of the peninsula where we are staying, passing the amazingly blue seas lapping at little breakwaters that have been erected to provide mooring spots for small craft. A bit further on we come to a marina area where vessels from the local fishing fleet shared moorings with the toys of rich and perhaps famous people – you know the sort of boats – we see them moored at the Gold Coast all the time!

And on the hills overlooking all this are houses new and old, all blending together in a rather harmonious style of construction and all painted in muted colours – not quite gelati, not that bright, but rather softer olives and light reds, ochres and yellows. All around the houses they garden or farm every bit of available land. There are apples, pomegranates, peaches, olives, grapes, lemons, cabbages, leeks, spinach, lettuce, carrots. And all shaded from time to time by the most productive fig trees that we have ever seen. Guess that explains why we don’t see too many fruit and vegies shops!

Eventually we head back through Split to Solin. Thankfully it is well signposted. There is not a lot of infrastructure when we pull in – just a parking area shared with where the local buses park. There is a bar / café and a site map, but no real sign of where to go. We walk a little past the sign to get great views across this overgrown area looking across to the high density accommodation in the Split city centre. Quite amazing! It's then that we realize there is a path leading to the remains of the old city of Salona.

The first thing we see when we walk in to the gate is that there is an entry fee of Kn20 per person, but no obvious sign of where to pay. Ahh, there is an old Christian burial ground just inside the gate, complete with the remains of a basilica. There are sarcophagi lying all around and nearly all have been violated – a huge hole punched in the gabled lids on all of them. Once we get further in to the site, we see a museum up ahead and realise that this is where we must go to pay our entry. And about now, we see a woman walking across the area. Michael asked her whether the sarcophagi and lids on the ground in front of us were new as they were as white as. “No” she replied, “they were discovered about two years ago and have recently been cleaned.” Turns out that she is a restorer working at the site. We didn’t get her name, part way through our very interesting conversation with her, her phone rang and she walked away. Pity, it was very enlightening – far more than what we get from the guide book we later buy.

Yes, the museum is where we pay our entry fee – and the curator is watching like a hawk to make sure that we don’t get away without paying! Mind you, later on walking through the site, there are lots of locals wandering through walking dogs, jogging etc and there is no sign of them paying! Hah, but we are very obviously tourists!! Taking lots of photos etc. After paying our fee we have a quick look through the museum that gives tribute to the priest Father Bulić who is credited with much of the early archaeology of the site. In fact, the museum is housed in his former home which has been constructed from material lying around the site. So there are parts of columns and monuments interspersed between other plainer blocks. Makes for a very interesting building! There is an arbor outside - like he was trying to recreate his own piece of Roman culture. And one room has been retained much as he had it – complete with as then modern ceiling fresco picking up elements from what he has seen in some of the remains.

So we venture forth into what we have now learned is a huge site. We walk down an avenue of old Cypress Pine trees – surely they are not 1700+ years old we think. Although in ruins, what remains certainly allows the ‘minds-eye’ to visualise how imposing Salona must have appeared. The city walls, which vary in breadth from 1.5 - 2.5m, indicate the subsequent additions and alterations over the centuries. After the successful siege by the Byzantine forces in the first half of the 6thC AD, the walls were repaired and strengthened with triangular extensions being added to the bases of the ninety square towers. Most of the original Roman Temples had been replaced with early Christian churches and associated buildings. This in no way dilutes the importance of Salona as a prominent Roman provincial settlement.

The first part of the old city we come to is the ecclesiastical centre complete with the Basilica Urbana and the Bishopric Baptistery. There are thermae (baths), cemeteries, smaller churches all encompassed within an impressive 4.08 km long town wall and accessed through at least one surviving town gate, Porta Caesarea.

Continuing along the walls, (which provides a clearer view of Salona’s structure, we come across Porta Caesarea. This was the main entry gate into the city; and although the statues of Caesar have long disappeared it must have been a marble spectacle to any newcomer. Many of the original flagstones are still in place, displaying the signature worn wheel ruts into the surface. An interesting engineering feat is the way the Romans had incorporated the aqueduct into the wall and gateway structure. Donna and Michael climb down through much of it, while I first sit and listen to the wind whispering through the thick, aged fir trees and then continue a paced walk along the wall perimeter towards the Amphitheatre.

The Romans must have built amphitheatres to a standard size as this one as with quite a few of the others we have seen had a capacity of 20,000 people. Gladiator fights were stopped in the 5th century AD while animal fights continued well passed this time. The foundations remain giving you the total overview of the size but there is not much else standing – some half ways and only seven of the lower arches still standing. There is one group of three and another one that shows Roman repairs to the uppermost of the arch. Not a real lot.

At this point Michael followed the road around to get the car – the rain clouds are getting heavier and closer. There are other remains of the then adjacent town of Otok a little way around, but as we drive passed on the motorway we can’t see anything remaining. We do see the Theatre ruins from the car, but it would have meant a trek of 700 m down to it on a narrow track and we have had enough of uneven services for the day.

So we leave Salona to rest in peace. There is a huge storm swirling around across the waters up to the mountains and back again. We find a supermarket to get a few staples such as soda water and lemon for the Vodka and orange juice for the Amaretto and when we leave a little while later there is some maelstrom in full swing. Trees are almost bent double in the wind, and the clouds are racing through the skies, dropping lower wisps. People are rushing – and I mean really rushing to get home. It is now just after 5 pm and we are now well and truly ready for a meal, so off we head into Split to find ourselves a seafood restaurant. And then the rain hits. OMG like the heaves opened and the winds howled and the wipers are on the fastest speed and I can still hardly see a thing!

In the end, we will settle for any restaurant. We find ourselves down at the car ferry dock with all the locals rushing to get on the boats – whaat? They are still sailing???? Yep! Nothing down here that (a) is open or (b) we can get to without getting drowned. So we push for the unit hoping to stop at one of the restaurants we saw near on our drive this morning. But once we are off the ridge where Split sits, there is more shelter and the storm is not so bad. We pass a sign for a seafood restaurant so turn off to find it. The rain is still coming down and the wind is picking up again, but we do find somewhere to stop – the Restaurant Lovački Roy.

There is only one other couple there, but the menu is extensive – guess it is just a slow night in the storm. We ask the guidance of the waiter who speaks quite good English as to what a few of the items are and eventually choose:
Pohani Sir (breadcrumbed cheese) for all of us.
Riblja juha s rižom (Fish soup with rice) Michael and Donna
Juha od rajčica (Tomato soup) Maria
Rižot od sipe – crni (Cuttlefish risotto – black) Michael
Rižot s morskim voćem (Seafood risotto) Donna
Bejela riha l kasa (White fish first class) Maria
None of us can fit in a dessert, so we finish with coffee and hot chocolate. Miro, our waiter and we think maybe the owner was quite attentive and engaging. Thank goodness for his good English, great service skills (pouring the soup at the table – “help please with your spoon the rice!”, and the removing of the fish flesh from its skeleton.

So we brave the storm that has continued to pelt the coast here to get back to the units, not really getting wet until this late. Back inside, the vents for the air conditioner and the bathroom drains are making gurgling as though they rinsing their foul mouths out, coming to life in the quiet dark of the night while the maelstrom rages all around the outside as we hear tin and hoardings being ripped apart. Not too late a night thankfully. And cooler, much cooler, so we can snuggle under the doonas.

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