My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia


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But on this visit, I could really see it. The place is changing…and, for my tastes, not for the better. Late one evening, walking along the cocktail bar-lined harbor of the main town, dodging drunk and rowdy American bros, I came this close to just giving up on the place and taking it out of my book. A few years back, he took me on a fascinating loop around the island, greatly enhancing my appreciation of Hvar beyond its showcase town. To prove his point, he drove me deep into the countryside, past rustic stone igloos, scrubby lavender bushes, and distant sea views over hardscrabble vineyards.

For example, the plucky new mayor of Dubrovnik — just down the coast — recently introduced a no-tolerance ban on loud music late at night. If authorities hear even a peep after midnight, they pull your permit for outdoor tables. And virtually overnight, the Old Town was tamed. Of course, this irritates bar owners, and scares away people who are there only to party, which hurts a bit in the short term.

But the status quo was scaring off a more thoughtful and, frankly, wealthier breed of traveler, which may be worse in the long term. Another controversial strategy is to extend the tourist season. Currently the town shuts up tight in mid-October, going into hibernation until mid-May. But winters here can be balmy. Hvar is at an interesting crossroads.

Destination: Dalmatian Coast

Once a place reaches a certain threshold of success, it can actively decide what kind of destination its going to become. What policies can Hvar pursue today that will shape its reputation — and its long-term viability — tomorrow? Walking down a gravel path to a rustic restaurant, we heard only crickets.

This was Knoboa Kokot, in the village of Dol. But they also have something unique. And before long, a big platter hit our table, piled high with grilled vegetables, fries, and steaming patties of perfectly seasoned boar meat. I think this little island is going to be OK. This post kicks off a series of posts with my latest impressions from one of my favorite corners of Europe. My first stop: the big, coastal city of Split.


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Imagine my surprise when I found Split utterly enchanting. Split has substance.

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And as a bonus, Split also owns a gorgeous setting, a fascinating historic core, and a relaxed Mediterranean ambience. During my first visit, the Croatian Tourist Board put me up in the tallest building downtown: a high-rise hotel that rose abruptly from the harborfront a short walk from the Old Town. It was, and remains, a big black box marring the otherwise idyllic tableau of wooded hillsides, bobbing fishing boats, and terra-cotta roofs.

The Marjan had become a white elephant, barely remaining open for business, if only because that was easier than closing it. One day I returned to my hotel room to find water dripping down through the bathroom light fixture, running down the wall, and tricking toward the drain in the middle of the floor. I reported it to the front desk, who briefly feigned surprise. Sounds like someone should look into that. But then, very gradually, the city began to transform itself. A decade or so ago, they tore out and completely resurfaced the Riva — the glorious pedestrian strip that runs between the Old Town and the harbor.

Each return visit to update my guidebook unearthed a few more appealing discoveries: boutique hotels, interesting restaurants, and formerly dilapidated areas that had been spiffed up. These days, it has some of the nicest, and most expensive, hotels on the Dalmatian Coast. Onto Bosnia-Herzegovina. And I need to pause here for a little history.

The four countries we visited, along with Serbia and Macedonia, used to comprise Yugoslavia, where Marshall Tito reigned from as a much-beloved, both then and surprisingly still, benevolent dictator—although admittedly not to those who disagreed with him. When he died, the economy crumbled, unemployment skyrocketed, and the unity and harmony among the many populations—Roman Catholics Croats, Orthodox Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and assorted Jews, who lived, worked and intermarried together—deteriorated into nationalistic jingoism and animosity.

The Bosnian War of was the result. First, an unscheduled stop at a roadside stand where Ivana bought enough tangerines, the agricultural specialty of a very verdant river valley en route to our next town, to last for the rest of the trip. Pocitelj, the first town we stopped in, is a typical old Muslim village frozen in time from the late 15th Century.

Streets of rocky cobblestones transporting us back to the Middle Ages were marred only by an avalanche of tourist stands with local souvenirs. I always feel so guilty for ignoring the plaintive entreaties to buy, stand after stand after stand. I was happy to get back to our tangerines. It was the only access to food, water, small arms and medical supplies that brought the only relief to the city of , who were victims of daily aerial bombardment for almost four years, as Serbia cut off all food, water, electricity, and medicines to the Muslim population it was trying to destroy.

As we watched a video of the city disappearing building by building, street by street, explosion by explosion, Ivana tried to soften the emotional blow by plying us with burek, sweet Bosnian pastries. They helped, but just a little. The beautiful 18th-century church was just a bonus. And while sampling truffles in one of the Istrian hill towns outside of Lovran, Ivana was asked how truffles are found.

A quick phone call later and another detour of the bus we had a very accommodating bus driver who sometimes seemed in cahoots with Ivana as to what surprise to spring next , we were meeting with a truffle hunter and his dog, Riki—who demonstrated the well-protected art of finding the evasive white and black gourmet gold. Blame the superlatives on Ivana.

Though ample free time is always factored into the tours—what should be time off for Ivana — she instead saw it as an opportunity to provide more options for her ever-greedy charges. In this case, tickets to either a jazz contest or the ballet, simply because they were in town when we were. The fact that it was still as fascinating by the end of week two is even more of a phenomenal accomplishment. So yes, my usual travel articles deal with the destination; this one with the journey. And what made that journey so unusual were the many moments of learning and discovery that jumped off the itinerary page and into my heart.

Thank you, Ivana. She is an established, award-winning travel writer and a member of Society of American Travel Writers member since She has been traveling and writing for almost 30 years. The somber leader leaned over the table, his pale brow furrowed as he considered the words before him one last time. His advisors and peers waited quietly, knowing the significance of the moment. And then, with a stroke of a pen, it was over. The slaves were declared free. This dramatic moment might sound familiar, the stuff of Lincoln biographies and American history texts.

But in fact, the scene played out more than 4, miles away and years before the U. Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, it occurred decades before Christopher Columbus first set eyes on the Americas. The scene described is the legal abolition of slavery in the Republic of Ragusa, a maritime state that rivaled Venice in its heyday. And the ruler was a prince, not a president, surrounded by some of the wealthiest men in the kingdom. Surprisingly for an aristocracy of that type, Ragusa—the heart of which we now know as the city of Dubrovnik—made itself a place where the most progressive ideals came to life.

Ragusa was never perfect, but while it lasted, it came close to demonstrating how a society that believed in liberty could make such a thing true.

As early as the seventh century, a rocky island just off the Dalmatian coastline of Croatia had become an outpost for Greek sailors pausing to rest on their trading excursions; onshore, small bands of refugees from the Roman city of Epidaurum made camp and eventually settled. Over the next few centuries, the two communities became so entwined that they filled in the channel that separated them.

The united settlement was Ragusa later named Dubrovnik in Croatian. A stealthy Venetian plot to overthrow local leadership in the tenth century was thwarted when an old man named Blaise warned a priest that he, aided by heavenly forces, had been holding off the intruders for several days to allow the city time to prepare. When Ragusa took measures to defend itself, the Venetian fleet abandoned their attack. For most of the next two centuries, Venice and Ragusa were fairly amicable as enemies go, with Venice using the port as its naval base.

But the locals increasingly grew tired of their rival profiting most from this arrangement, and when Hungary wrested control of Ragusa from Venice, the ruling class seized the moment. With little interference from Hungary, they set about transforming Ragusa into a worldclass city-state, with its own thriving trade industry and newly expanded holdings that ran the length of Southern Dalmatia. Life in Ragusa was decidedly stratified. There were only three classes: the plebeians, consisting of the poor and the laborers; citizens, the equivalent of the middle class; and nobility, whose status was guaranteed by birth.

And being noble came not only with status and wealth, but with power. According to the laws of Ragusa, only nobility could hold major government offices. Citizens could hold positions as clerks and minor functionaries, but could not make policy; plebeians had no role at all. The head of state was a Rector chosen from among the princes who presided over a two councils, but the powerhouse body was the Senate.

To avoid corruption, both Rector and Senators were subject to strict term limits: one month for Rectors and one year for Senators. In this way, the long-term values of the group as a whole became more dominant than the values of a single individual in any given session.

Happily, what they valued was to use American lingo liberty and justice for all. This was more than a slogan, for these wealthy elite put in place some of the most progressive policies Europe had ever seen. The nobles took care to safeguard the population from birth to death, establishing in the 14th century both an almshouse for the elderly and an orphanage for the young.

The orphanage was created not just to care for children whose parents had died but also for those born out of wedlock. Wearing veils to hide their features, women came at night to the ruota , a rotating wooden platform at the entry to the orphanage. After kissing her infant goodbye, a mother would ring the bell and slip away. Concern for the emotional well-being of the mother was so great that a law was passed to severely punish any who dared accost a woman before she could depart. Physical health was deemed no less important.

On the ground floor of a Franciscan monastery, the pharmacy offered remedies and medical supplies at low cost to the citizenry, allowing them to better care for themselves, while also helping fund the continued existence of the Franciscan order. By the end of the century, the city also had a separate quarantine hospital to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

The greatest accomplishment in forwardthinking Ragusa was the abolition of slavery. In , with the full support of the Senate, the Rector of Ragusa signed a proclamation that the existing slaves were to be free and that further transport of slaves through the region was prohibited. As Ragusa depended little on slave labor aside from household servants, it was that latter provision that had the most effect: slave labor had been a major component of the trade between Eastern and Western Europe. Cutting off this supply route took a number of years but it set a precedent, and Venice was one of the states that followed suit before the end of the s.

With such progressive policies in place, Ragusa blossomed, and the 15th century saw the acquisition of the coveted islands of Korcula, Brac, and Hvar.

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A treaty with the Ottoman Empire, though expensive, allowed the merchant ships of Ragusa to enter the Black Sea, to which only Ottoman vessels had access, and gave the republic a serious defensive strategy in times of conflict. The Ottomans liked this deal as well, because they considered Ragusa an indispensable stop on their trade route between Anatolia and Florence. With Ottoman routes and the backing of the Spanish armada, Ragusa became a trading powerhouse that rivaled—and weakened—Venice. For the next years, Ragusa was the showpiece of the Balkans.

The epicenter for both the scientific community in the region and for the burgeoning Slavic literary scene, the city also became a playground for architects. Public and private buildings rose at an astonishing rate, with an eye toward unity of aesthetic. Expression continued to soar in the fine arts, as well. Sculpture and painting reached new heights in Ragusa, with 16th century masters bringing new realism and softness to depictions of religious and cultural life.

So how did such a richly cultured economic powerhouse lose its way? The first answer is that it was shaken to its core, literally, by an earthquake in Almost the entire city collapsed or burned in the ensuring fire and 5, citizens were killed a surprisingly small number considering how much of the infrastructure was destroyed. Among the dead were the Rector and a fair number of Senators, throwing leadership into chaos even as the dust was settling. The city tried to rebuild, though its signature architectural flourishes were traded in for more modest style, and trade routes were re-opened.

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But a second blow was to come, this time political: Just as the Ottoman Empire was waning, diluting its ability to bolster and protect Ragusa, both Habsburg Austria and Napoleonic France were ascending. And that is just what happened. Russian forces laid siege to Ragusa in , firing thousands of cannonballs on the city, and the city agreed to surrender to Napoleon, who used his power to end the barrage. In , the Congress of Vienna awarded the entire territory to the Habsburgs.

Just like that, with a stroke of another pen, the Republic of Ragusa was abolished, centuries of power signed away into history. View photos and videos submitted by fellow travelers from our Croatia adventures. Disable Your Ad Blocker The ad blocker plugin on your browser may not allow you to view everything on this page. Learn More. Turkey's Magical Hideaways New!

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My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia
My Mothers Side: A Journey to Dalmatia

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