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Phespirit goes to Croatia
Korčula     September 2005

When Croatia re-opened for business after the early-1990s Balkans War, Phespirit set his heart on a trip to the rebuilt city of Dubrovnik. He looked into staying within the old walls of Dubrovnik but found it to be highly exclusive and prohibitively expensive. He looked around the outskirts but found nothing suitable within easy walking distance. He looked 16km along the coast to the town of Cavtat but decided that if he was prepared to stray this far he might just as well stray onto an island. He looked to Lopud in the Elaphite islands, and would have happily booked had its only hotel not been closed for refurbishment. He looked to Mljet but dismissed the idea on the grounds that its only hotel was too isolated. So the question was: how far out could he keep looking for a place with beauty and character, still within realistic reach of Dubrovnik? The answer: no further than Korčula.

The island of Korčula has a charming eponymous old town with a cathedral, some museums, a few restaurants, fortifications, a bustling marina, plus nearby sandy and pebble beaches; Mljet is a half-hour catamaran-ride away, Dubrovnik is a mere two hour catamaran-ride away and, as a bonus, Split is less than a three hour catamaran-ride away. So Phespirit sorted himself out a holiday in Korčula and for good measure preceded it with a break to Montenegro, plus a side trip to Albania.

The old walled town is shaped like an elongated capital letter 'D'. In the centre of its flat end stands the Revelin Tower - the 15th century southern land gate - from where a straight passageway bisects the town and emerges at a sea-facing defensive bastion, Kula Zakerjan. A series of parallel alleys fan out from the central spine. At its heart is Trg Sv. Marka (St. Mark's Square), around which stand the most important buildings: St. Mark's Cathedral, the Bishop's Palace-Treasury and the Town Museum.

When is a cathedral not a cathedral? When the area it serves loses its bishopric, as Korčula did many years ago. So, strictly speaking St. Mark's Cathedral is just a humble church but this does not diminish the appeal of its architectural oddities: Adam and Eve squatting naked with spread knees upon the pillars either side of the entrance; the skewed Gothic aisle with its ceiling of wooden joists made by shipbuilders; the monumental stone ciborium over the main altar; the sculpture above the sacristy doorway showing St. Michael slaying the Devil. Interesting stuff. Away from the main square, Phespirit recommends a visit to the low key Icon Museum attached to All Saints Church, where he was intrigued to discover Mary Magdalene seated at the Last Supper in Korčula.

Time, at last, to visit Dubrovnik. On entering the old walled city, Phespirit took a brief orientation tour at ground-level before returning to the main entrance, the Pile Gate, where a flight of stone steps leads up to a walkway around the city walls. Walking a complete circuit of the walls, less than two kilometres in total, affords fine inward views of red-roofed Dubrovnik from every angle, and equally fine outward views of its urban surroundings and neighbouring islands. Back on the streets, Phespirit set about visiting all the monasteries, palaces, churches, monuments, and anything else that looked remotely interesting. For example, the second oldest synagogue in Europe (after Prague), which has the distinction of being the only European synagogue to have operated continuously through the second world war.

In Split, Phespirit began in Diocletian's Palace, moved on to the Archaeological Museum, walked around the football stadium of Hajduk Split, headed down to the coast to the Holy Cross Chapel, and finally took a look around the Mestrovic Gallery. His one disappointment was not being able to visit Split Art Gallery, which was closed for the month as things were being 'changed' inside. Thus, he missed out on seeing works by Vlaho Bukovac, the first Croatian painter to be accepted into the Paris Salon (1878). Tut.

Phespirit kept himself busy in Croatia, travelling great distances up and down the Dalmatian coast, and inland too, crossing the borders into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yet even with all this gallivanting about, he left the country knowing that he had scarcely begun to scratch its rich surface. He'll be back.

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