Three children dressed like unicorns just pranced by the window of the coffee shop here in Breckenridge, Colorado, chattering excitedly about a birthday party. It’s strange, after a month on European soil, to overhear and understand a stranger’s conversation. I started to miss mind-boggling words like hrapacusa, Krka and zivjeli. Even though I’ve left my jet lag behind like a sleepy ex boyfriend, I still feel somewhat fresh off the aereo (plane). Probably because I’m still waist deep in blogging about it…
Speaking of, we’ll pick up where we left off, which is when your still-tan protagonist (io) arrived sleepless but sated from 12 days on tour in Austria and Slovenia. I was gifted a much-needed day off in which to mostly sleep and prepare for two more days of work and a preordained seven-day pedal in Hrvatska (a.k.a. Croatia). First, a chance to savor the last breaths of summer back in Italy and catch up with friends…
Day One: Faenza, Italy – Ancona, Italy – Somewhere in the Adriatic Sea
Before I knew it, it was time to ride a bike again. Bags packed, bottles filled, espresso drank and friends caught up with, we shoved off for the Faenza train station, a train to Ancona and an overnight ferry to Zadar, Croatia.
On the ferry, we ate store-bought salads and bread and sipped on Sangiovese wine leftover from the multiple liters we bought before my (surprise!) trip to Austria and Slovenia. We nibbled and watched a goofy 1970s Spaghetti western (Tonino Valerii and Sergio Leone’s “My Name is Nobody”) and turned in early. After all, we’d be in Zadar by the unripe hour of 7 a.m., which meant up at 6 a.m. for breakfast. And everybody knows (or will know now) how much Sylva loves mornings…
Day Two: Zadar, Croatia – Sibenik – Primosten, Croatia
In the unknown dark hours of the night, a noise arose which suggested an entire herd of drunken banshees moved in next door, not just two or three ill-mannered heathens. Despite their efforts to keep us awake (which ended abruptly after I banged angrily on the wall) we roused our zombie selves a little after 6 a.m. We groggily stuffed our faces with the breakfast included in the price for a cabin. Not long after, we disembarked ahead of all the cars and began the 100 km (60 mile) push to Primosten.
Largely flat but long, the day took us far south of Zadar with the salty sea as our companion.
Sometime after lunch and before our arrival to tiny Primosten (Prim-oh-shten), it set in: the death cold which had been circulating the Farm like a viscous rumor caught up with me, too. Tyler succumbed to it the day before, on the ferry. The death cold didn’t waste any time sucking away my strength like a Hoover vacuum and laying siege to my unsuspecting throat.
Meanwhile, sunset fell on Primosten in the soft orange, pink and red of a blooming rose. And — like a rose’s fragrance — it would be gone soon and shouldn’t be missed on account of overly efficient bacteria.
Day Three: Primosten – Trogir
I awoke feeling as though the same ferry that brought us here had been running me over all night. However, as the sea air cleared the windowsill, I felt hope slip through the gap between my sore throat and my stuffy nose. A voluptuous breakfast spread at the massive hotel roused my spirits as well. After a dip in the brisk, transparent waters outside the hotel (and furthermore, a languish in the sun), excitement for the day trumped the death cold.
We shoved off mid-morning, this time heading inland and up into the hills before descending back to the coast and the medieval town of Trogir. A shout out to ExperiencePlus’ tour leaders, whose chalk arrows from a recent tour on the Dalmatian coast persisted long enough to lead us on a pleasant journey through quiet, white-stone towns and scrubby hills. Although my legs felt like two anvils, I managed to pedal to Trogir just a hair faster than a snail would, if given hands and a bike that fit.
In Trogir, we settled into gorgeous, small Hotel Tragos nestled behind the tall, old city walls. Our window looked onto a thatch of ivy thicker than a lion’s mane and onto the hotel’s restaurant below, which shared the same name. After remembering we booked half board, Tyler and I shuffled down to the worn cobbles of the “street,” which by American standards would be a tight sidewalk. Open armed, trailing fingers along both stone walls, it was hard to imagine it crammed with a throng of peasants, knights on horses — or more likely, covered in sh*t thrown from windows above. Ahhh, the romance of medieval times.
Anyhow, we ate and drank like kings and queens at dinner. To satisfy my endless, landlocked craving for seafood, I gnoshed on a ceviche-esque seafood salad and the region’s infamous lightly fried calamari. Tyler ate grilled vegetables and a Dalmatian dish of beef stewed in a dark, wine-based sauce with fresh gnocchi (pasticada). I ordered travarica (herbal brandy), which I was told I needed to try — it looked like tinged vodka and tasted like pure diesel. If I were a cat, it may have burned away one of my nine lives. I hoped it might also burn away some of my death cold…
Day Four: Trogir – Split – Ferry – Postira – Dol
Sitting on dark, worn wooden benches, we dined on another solid breakfast spread under the sheath of ivy connecting the restaurant’s roof to the medieval city wall. I tried to ignore the fact that my death cold progressed to a new stage where I sounded more like Louis Armstrong than Sylva Florence.
Nonetheless, vacation, sunshine and the open road beckoned. We took to busy streets out of Trogir and then onto a paved path that ambled with the seaside like lovers holding hands. A flat, scenic vista greeted us, along with a constant string of little towns with ocean views and narrow streets. Also, diminutive kastels (castles) flanked by bobbing boats and numerous pekaras (bakeries) inside which to find another loaf of fresh, chewy bread for the upcoming ferry ride.
Eventually, the quiet, waterside roads gave way to busy ones and a bit of urban assault via bike. Tyler navigated us through Split’s high rise hubbub to the historic, touristy heart of Split and Diocletian’s impressive palace. We bought ferry tickets and watched people (nagging children, young lovers, men in pink polo shirts and man purses, buskers, bikers and throngs of teenagers on their cellphones) until our ferry left around three.
I took a nap in the delicious sunshine and woke up as the ferry edged slowly into Supetar on Brac (Brach) Island. We rode up out of Supetar, following the coast through quaint inlets and coves. Here and there people swam or sunbathed on rocky shores. We moved on to Postira with its small ocean of mandarin trees and another lovely hotel with ocean views.
Evening found us riding up out of Postira in the fading light. We rode a few kilometers through vineyards, listening to the tinkle of sheep’s bells to the tiny town of Dol. Ringed by curious, crumbling caves, the town is charmingly quiet (not surprising, as about 130 people live there). We walked our bikes up the labyrinthine streets to agroturizam Kastil Gospodnetic, which ExperiencePlus visits on tour and came highly recommended by our Italian tour guide friends.
While kittens played and begged for food, we dined on local cheese and proscuitto, olives, fresh bread and red table wine. And, for me personally, the most exciting course: peka, a traditional Dalmatian dish of meat and vegetables drizzled in olive oil and cooked for hours in an oven inside a special pot with a bell-shaped lid. Tonight, we filled our bellies on veal, chicken and lamb. I was in gastronomic heaven before dessert, which brought my delight to another tier. We discovered hrapachusha — one half cake, one half pecan pie (but sub the pecans for walnuts). Even more charming than the rich taste is its history: the dense brown cake with its clumps of walnuts is made to represent the crumbling caves that encircle the town of Dol.
As my father and the characters of Looney Tunes would say “That’s all folks!” At least for now… On the next Sylva Lining, we complete our conquest of Brac Island — including the infamous Zlatni Rat. Then — with bikes, ferries, trains, cars and legs — we make our way from Brac Island in Hrvatska to Bologna, Italy in one long, awesome day. Dovidenja!