Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where even a stranger is welcome

On the advice of Vinko and Ztravka, this morning we head out from Apartments Johnny to take a drive and have a look to the south of Split. They have suggested that we drive down the coast to Omiš, then to Makarska and then Tučepi. So after breakfast we head off. The road south from here hugs the coast with its beautiful clear waters that this morning are hardly raising a ripple. The sun is shining and it is warmish. Life is good!

After 20 minutes we reach Omiš. It sits on either side of the Cetina River where its emerald-green meets Adriatic Sea. There is a gorge beckoning and so we hang a left and one of our first finds is the outlet for a hydro electric plant that is taking advantage of the waters falling from the cliffs somewhere nearby. It seems rather odd to find a generating plant nestled at the foothills and seemingly camouflaged!

However, as we press onwards - and upwards we are driving along this ever increasing incline. As we reach the summit we see a parking spot at the side of the road; low and behold at the summit's edge lies a disused observation post. The post, which may have been built during the hostile years, affords an amazing view over the valley we had just left. The view up through the valley is quite spectacular, while seaward provides a 'birds-eye' view of the hydro electric plant!

After this short stop, we continue our journey along the mountain ridges and being rewarded by some fantastic views. The road narrows at times to a single lane, traverses the crust of the cliff and cuts through mountain edges in tunnels of varying lengths. All in all, a stunning drive. We are heading away from the coast and its not long before we see farming - olive groves, grape vines much of the land terraced - and they terrace it by clearing the natural vegetation of rocks into shallow walls - it serves two purposes! In fact, there is little natural top soil on these rocky hills and I guess that just serves to prove that olives in particular thrive in hard conditions. There are lots of pomegranates too. We pass through hamlets too small to be called villages - they are more a collection of homes at the roadside.

Here too we see some real contradictions - the bushfire warning signs and the government workers who are clearing the road verges including at times, burning off! Mind you, the verges are just the bush encroaching on the road's edge. And on the highest points on the rides we see the now expected churches. What we don't see however, is how to reach them. So when we do find a small gathering of buildings with the church accessible, we head up the narrow street to take a look. There is a church complete with bell tower and a small graveyard beside it.

Now, you can often tell a lot about a community by its graveyard and this one is no different. While the church claims the prime spot on the top of the hill, there has been one concession - the grave appear to have been laid so the coffins are interred vertically - standing on their edge! Anyway, to our disappointment, this church too is shut. Seems that they are only opened for services around here. We have a quick look around the outside and are about to leave when from across the street and from an old house that looks like it has seen the ages, an almost as old man comes across the street speaking to us in Croation. We have no idea what he is saying, but it is obvious that he can help us - he is pointing at the church, with the keys in his hand. He wants to show us his church! For all we know, he may well be the priest!

So we point and nod and he walks forward to open the church for us. It is a simple little church with three separate altars - the main one, a Marian Altar and one to one of the saints - and all of them are in marble - baroque in style, but no plaster here! It is simple but nice. And so we are ready to leave and he follows us out, locking the door behind us. There is no shared communication here, but we manage to convey to him that we would like a photo with him. He seems a litle perplexed and for a moment worried by the working clothes he is wearing, but consents.

So, back to the car and we are ready to push on. Just a little further down the road as we are heading down the hills, we come across a family using a chaisaw to cut down a tree on the slope adjacent to the road. They obviously didn't expect to see any traffic as the foliage from the tree is blocking the road, and just as we come to a stop, so too does an ambulance vehicle coming up the road. The man quickly jumps from his perch up in the tree and scrambles down the slope, chainsaw in hand! At least if anything happened, the ambulance is right there! Michael gets out and helps them to drag the branches off the road as he cuts them down. Quite enough excitment in the day for everyone I think! At this point we are headed down hill towards Makarska.

When we reach Makarska, we find that it is another coastal town - filled with lots of holiday accommodation. In the centre however, life moves very slowly. It is just towards the end of lunch time, yet nothing is closed - all the shops are still trading. But the main square is very quiet - even the waterfront with its cafe bars and restaurants is quiet. And the church here too is closed - it is only opened twice daily for masses in the morning and evening. And there is no friendly parishoner with a set of keys waiting to open this one!

After looking at the menus pasted outside a number of the local restaurants, we decide to have a late lunch at the Restaurant Konoba Buža. Turns out to be an excellent choice too - the food is great - especially Donna's scampi!
Slani Inčuni (Salted anchovies) Michael
Plata ‘Buža’ (Platter Buza) Maria and Donna
Komarča na žaru (Grilled gilthead sea bream) Michael
Škampi na Buzaru (Scampi ‘Buzzara’ style) Donna
Lubin na žaru (Grilled sea bass) Maria

By the time we finish our lunch it is almost 4:30 pm. Our tip to the staff is very genuinely appreciated, the waiter comes to shake our hands - all three. I guess tipping is not the norm here - but it is a pleasure to reward good service and food. And it is nice to see it really appreciated!

From here we walk down the back street parallel to the marina across the front. The shops are open, but there is very little trade being done. We have a choice - keep moving, or feed the parking meter some more. Enough seen we decide and turn to head back to Podstrana and Apartments Johnny. We figure that Tučepi is just more of these stunning small coastal towns - lots of history in the most idyllic settings. But we have seen enough for today!

As we leave the outskirts of town, we pass a shrine much much larger than any of the others we have come across on this leg of our trip. This is Vepric, a Marian shrine based on the one at Lourdes in France, that commemorates the sighting of Our Lady. This is a full blown deal, but without the tacky commercialism. The genuine beeswax candles are huge and cheap (yes, lit enough to carry my prayers for you all), there is a large chapel for the groups that arrive by the bus loads and smaller shrines to all the known saints. There are confessionals built into the cliff wall and literally thousands of memorial plaques.

As we turn north again the light strikes the cliff faces with its dying warmth and near Podstrana we say goodbye to the day with another gorgeous sunset.

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