Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Travel Journal: Croatia

The previous entry about Venice was the first in a series of travel essays about our Mediterranean Music Cruise from Venice to Barcelona, May 16-28.
Photos from the trip are available on our website: http://web.me.com/cofieldwilliamson/home/Welcome.html

After boarding the 57 cabin cruise liner, the Corinthian II, we left Venice and sailed for Croatia. After a day at sea, the mountains of Croatia were a welcome and glorious sight. Our first stop was Split, one of the largest cities in Croatia, home to a beautiful port, an imposing football (soccer) stadium, an 1800 year-old palace from the Roman emperor Diocletian, and the highest number of shoe shops per capita in the world.

Our first stop was the impressive home of Split's (and Croatia's) greatest 20th century artist, the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. French critics claim his time in Rodin's studio was a formative influence, while his Croatian devotees find it was Rodin who was the artist under the influence. Regardless, Mestrovic's work is bold & original. His figures are literally larger than life in scope, shape, and motion. His work captures the complexity of 20th century human existence with unflinching courage. Aside from Giacometti's anguished & existentialist "thin men" I have not encountered such pained expressions. Yet his work is not easily pigeon-holed and his connection to history, especially the Renaissance, is movingly on display in a Pieta which is one of the greatest examples of that genre after Michelangelo. A biography storied by intrigue (he lived with his wife and his mistress in an odd menage) he was also a deeply religious man, and spent the last decade of his life as a professor in Amy's home town of South Bend, IN, at the famed University of Notre Dame.

Following that unexpectedly rich experience, we walked around the old city center, where walls from Diocletian's 3rd century palace are still occupied, making it the oldest ongoing "home" in the world. After visiting ancient chapels, crypts, caverns and rooms, we enjoyed the first concert of the trip by Festival Chamber Music, played in the naturally air conditioned basement of the palace--an aesthetically pleasing but practically unsatisfactory space (too cold & too damp, especially for instruments!).

The following day we arrived in Dubrovnik, and knew instantly why it is considered the feather in Croatia's tourist cap, and one of Venice's rivals in Adriatic/Mediterranean history. A stunningly beautiful port is one of the city's crowning features, and our recital at the historic Fort Revelin afforded many views to confirm this. We did not take the walking tour of the city, but did not mind, as the Fort afforded panoramic views of the port and the sea, the ancient walled city, and one of the jewels of the Dalmatian coast.

Following our first recital--a French romantic program featuring a good dose of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette--we had a late lunch with our fellow musicians in a restaurant off the main drag recommended by all the local guides. Specializing in fresh seafood, Amy had a delicious risotto with mussels. While my Italian is passable as far as getting around is concerned, I was totally reliant on the translations of the Croatian menu, and so I thought my "fried little fish" would be a lunch-sized fried fillet. I had one of those entertaining experiences of foreign travel--not exactly culture "shock" (more like culture surprise) when I received a plate full of barely breaded sardines. Fish is one of the few foods about which I'm picky (I love virtually all white fish, cooked any style, same goes with heartier fish like mahi, tuna, etc. But I have never acquired a taste for salmon or sardines).

I did make a small dent in a plate which seemed to be performing one of Christ's miracles--I swear those little fish multiplied every time I ate one. We had a great time, and enjoyed some drinkable Croatian beer which tasted even better than it otherwise would have!

The too-brief excursion to Dubrovnik ended with more amazing vistas of the Dalmatian coast and the city itself, as we sailed on towards Sicily.

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