As an American, I readily admit that as a nation, we don’t know that much about Croatia. Not really. We know about the war of the 1990s, many have heard of Dubrovnik, but that’s about the limit of our Croatian knowledge bank. Our European cousins probably know more, their ability to travel cheaply around the continent means that places exotic to us are normal to them. They take vacations in places like Madeira and Tenerife, which may as well be the mythical Atlantis to us. Travel is a great educator though, and on both trips to Croatia I traveled to places I’d never heard of, but fell in love with almost instantly. Croatian towns and villages have a certain relaxed, almost Mediterranean feel to them that’s hard not to be enamored by. Recently I visited two such towns, cities that were completely unknown to me, and yet they made a lasting impression.
Finding a parking space wasn’t easy. It was the day of an annual festival and giant trucks and vans had commandeered all of the normal spots along the waterfront, which was equally packed with boats of all sizes. It was warm and sunny, normal weather for this millennium-old city on the Adriatic and a perfect day to explore the sights of a classically Croatian town.
Leaving the chaos of the larger roads behind, within minutes we were enveloped by the warm stones and busy laneways of Šibenik. The ancient construction of the old city reminded me of many other Croatian towns, an organic style that I have come to love from my travels around this always fascinating country. Šibenik does have its unique features though, elements that separate it from the pack. If you’re a UNESCO World Heritage fan, the Cathedral of Saint James is not to be missed; its unique style endearing it to the UNESCO folks. But that’s not what makes the city really special, no, for that you need to get lost.
Luckily that’s an easy enough feat, the alleys and lanes are confusing for first time visitors, but not to worry, there’s really no wrong way to go. Centuries old homes, more churches than I could count and hidden little moments of perfection defined my time in Šibenik. My favorite moment wasn’t seeing an old cathedral though or paying attention as the guide pointed out admittedly interesting historical oddities. No, it was something as simple as eating lunch at an outdoor café in a building that is older than my country, taking life slow, laughing, chatting and watching the world walk by. That’s pretty emblematic of the whole country, but I enjoyed it perhaps best in beautiful Šibenik.
Not far from the coastal tourism powerhouse city of Split, Trogir is another Croatian town that seems to have forgotten which century it’s supposed to be in, the best kind of town in my opinion. Another stop for UNESCO fans, the entire city center is listed on their all so important roster. Unlike Šibenik, Trogir started life as a Greek colony, its history mind-bogglingly long with 2,300 years of continuous urban settlements, from the Greeks to today.
But that easy, laid back pace I enjoyed in Šibenik was not to be found on the island of Trogir, where mega-yachts lined the port instead of simple fishing boats. A beautiful summer day, the medieval core of the town was buzzing with tourists, there for the sights of course, but also some shopping and delicious food. I was reminded of Venice, not in style, but substance. Lots of shops that were obviously there only for the tourists, next to beautiful churches and homes of an uncertain pedigree.
But it was stunning; that being the main reason I suspect for all of the tourists. Palm trees swayed in the warm breeze, and the town felt like the place to be. It’s not all hustle and bustle though, and quiet moments can be found, but you have to know where to look. Leaving the main streets of Trogir, we walked down side alleyways and finally discovered quiet cafés, neglected by tourists but warmingly embraced by locals. This was the place to be, this was the Trogir that has persisted through the centuries and with any luck, will continue for a few more.
What cities have you “discovered” on your travels?
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