Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Croatia Online - British Airways Abandoning Split Completely?

Today brought potentially disturbing news for air travellers to Split. There are strong rumours that, having discontinued winter flights this year, BA may be thinking of abandoning the Split - London route altogether. The question has been put to different parts of the BA organisation with answers varying from "undecided" to "no, not operating from Split next year". Many businesses in the tourist industry will be affected by this, not to mention ex pats and business travellers. When BA withdrew the winter flights after just a year of trying it out, we thought the decision was a little premature. If the decision to abandon Split altogether has been made then we find that one almost impossible to understand. British travellers to Split are increasing, as are the number of home owners in the Split area. Yes, the low cost airlines are increasing flights to Croatia (but Ryanair also dropped winter flights) but the whole area is developing as a tourist destination and definitely on the up - two new five star hotels in the last two years, many new good small and family run hotels being opened, better restaurants, etc. Just as Croatia moves forward to cater better for the tastes of British and other western European tourists, this seems to be a very backward step.
Whatever the reasons and final decision, BA needs to let people know soon. Visitors to Croatia are already beginning to plan their trips for next year and the uncertainty does no one any good.
Thanks to Nigel for tipping us off on the latest news. He has a vested interest as he runs a sailing school from Kaštela and is already taking bookings for next year. Clearly he needs to guide his clients on air transport and needs to know, along with many others, what British Airways are up to.
For more information on Nigel's sailing school go to http://www.sailingschoolcroatia.com/.
To help put some pressure on British Airways to reconsider or announce their final decision, go to http://www.britishairways.com/travel/ctclist/public/

Monday, November 26, 2007

Croatia Online - Drvenik Island, Near Trogir

Our roving reporters, Diane and Roger Brown, have been exploring again and it makes a nice change to hear someone else's "voice" on Croatia Online. Here's their report on a recent visit to Drvenik Island. Thanks to them for their eloquent prose and today's photo!
Early in October Diane and myself decided to take advantage of the glorious autumn weather (t-shirts and shorts) and embarked on the old Jadrolinija Ferry "Losinjanka" from Trogir to Drvenik Veliki.

The Ferry edged away from the harbour wall in Trogir and made its way to nearby Seget Donji where it proceeded to load trucks full of building materials bound for for Drvenik Veliki and Mali. Veliki lies approximately five nautical miles south west of Trogir, so it is a short voyage, but, as the old craft glides sedately through the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic you are rewarded with panoramic views from the upper deck.

Arriving at Veliki we were reminded by a crew member to be back in time for the return trip - should we have missed the ferry we'd have been stuck until the next day, though there are more frequent sailings in the season. The trucks and passengers disappeared in various directions and we realised we were the only visitors so we explored at our leisure.
Off season it is a quiet and sleepy village with several bars and restaurants, and a small shop, that surround the picturesque harbour. There are several fascinating buildings and ruins from a bygone era. We encountered a few local people, who were very friendly, and we were accompanied on part of our walk by a local cat who decided to be our guide and seemed to like our company.

We sat and enjoyed a beer overlooking the harbour then visited the local store, where the lady made us enormous sandwiches, which made a very satisfying lunch.
On our return trip I spent most of my time on the Bridge chatting with the helmsman, who, was very friendly and provided a wealth of information. You will see from the pictures that although the vessel has undergone refits it still retains its original telegraph, voice pipes and compass, which are for decoration only.

The trip was a thoroughly enjoyable, no hassle experience and I nearly forgot!!! all for the princely sum of 10 kuna per person each way from Trogir.
For a current timetable of ferries from Trogir to Drvenik, the easiest way is to contact Atlas Trogir - http://www.atlas-trogir.hr/ or Portal Trogir - http://www.portal-trogir.com/. It's a foot passenger service from Trogir but vehicles can embark, by prior arrangement, at Seget Donji.
If you're looking for a self contained apartment, near Trogir and Split, with all mod cons, easy access to the beach, and great hosts if you need them, check out Diane and Roger's website http://www.croatia-apartments.blogspot.com/.
If you want to know how to get to Drvenik by yacht - where to moor or anchor, etc - check out our sister site which has details of our book the Croatia Cruising Companion

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Croatia Online - Elections in Croatia

Tomorrow, Sunday 25th November, is election day in Croatia and all signs suggest it's going to be a close run thing. HDZ, (Croatian Democratic Union - right wing), is the party in power at the moment, led by the current Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader. SDP (Social Democratic Party - left wing), and the next biggest party, held power prior to HDZ's current term and have a young new leader, Zoran Milanović who won the leadershio elections after the death of Ivica Račan from brain cancer in April.

Following the European trend towards the centre ground, there's not too much that separates the two parties now but, certainly amongst the older generation, and those who were most caught up in the Yugoslav war (1991-1995), HDZ symbolises the nationalist liberators and SDP the communist Yugoslavs of old. Feelings still run high in many areas and there was a big furore when one of the cities that suffered greatly in the war, realised that its favourite venue had hosted a private party for SDP recently. The staunchly HDZ city, that was heavily attacked in the war, did not seem to accept the view that the venue's commercial approach to renting its space was reason enough.

There doesn't seem to be much of a dividing line between the two parties on the main issues and there is much speculation that a close vote could end up in a cross party coalition. As with this term of government by HDZ, quite often some of the smaller parties, such as the Peasants' Party and the Pensioners' Party, can wield a disproportionate amount of power. The following links will give you a more detailed analysis:


Watching the run up on Croatian TV it's been interesting to note that, in Croatia, they don't seem to do party political broadcasts as such. Instead they run advertisements in the commercial break along with the soap powders and Coca Cola. We'll try and find out whether this depends entirely on money or there's some "fair" allocation of time. During the high profile Croatia v England football match on Wednesday, prime time for ads, the interval was full of a number of ads for HDZ including the Croatian football captain (and Goran Ivanišević, the Wimbledon champion and several other sportsmen) expounding Dr Sanader's talents and urging voters to put their cross by HDZ. More extraordinarily, another much run ad shows a number of European leaders, including Bertie Ahern, saying what a good bloke Dr Sanader is and appear to be urging voters to choose him. Tony Blair was filmed talking to him but uniquely didn't provide a eulogy. Odd that it seems ok to mix government and politics like that and we wonder if the leaders who spoke, knew of the purpose? If so, the first meeting with a different leader might be a little embarassing!

The ad theme/slogan for HDZ is "idemo dalje" which we assume is intended to mean "let's go further". An alternative translation, according to my dictionary is "let's become more remote" which perhaps both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher might have pinched if it had been around earlier. SDP's slogan is "Tim" and we felt we'd better look this up as well, in order not to mislead readers by assuming it was the new leader's nickname. It's difficult to get a grasp of the full essence of the meaning from the dictionary which suggests either "so much the..." as in "tim bolje" (so much the better) or (sport) "team". With so many sportsmen appearing in ads for Dr Sanader, it's not easy to see where the SDP is going to get a full olympic squad from.

Today's photo is from the Nato exercises that took place in Croatia this September - if there is a coalition, both parties are agreed on the importance of joining NATO and the EU so an "idemo dalje tim" would be able to go further on that.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Croatia Online - Ireland To Slavonia On Čiovo Island

Konoba Timun is doing its best to provide winter entertainment on Čiovo Island, near Trogir. Normally all the bars and restaurants close after the busy summer season but Timun is breaking the mould in this area and we wish them every success. A few weeks ago they held an Irish night; this Saturday 24th November is Slavonian night, again with "traditional" food drink and entertainment at reasonable prices. Their website is http://www.konoba-timun.hr/ but unfortunately it doesn't have details of the events. It's definitely happening though, from around 8pm, so if you're in the Split area be there or be square! Perhaps ring Timun on 021 888 106 if you want to confirm timings and prices.

Unfortunately we weren't able to attend the Irish night but heard from our friends that an excellent time was had by all - Guinness, good food and then a few informal lessons in Irish dancing from Irish Maiden who's website says they are Croatia's first and only Irish Dance Troupe and we've no reason to doubt that. Based in Zagreb, with a troup led by an Irish man but mostly made up of deft footed Croatians, Irish Maiden runs classes, competitions and performs throughout Croatia. Visit their website http://www.irskistudio.com/ for more information.

Thanks to James for today's photo. Apparently he was to busy enjoying himself to take a photo of the guests participating!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Croatia Online - Learning The Croatian Language

Not an obvious picture to represent serious studies of a difficult language but obviously these students of the Croatian Language School (CLS) found time to enjoy themselves. The picture was taken at CLS's new summer school in Losinj, a beautiful town on an island in north Croatia, where CLS combines learning the language with finding out about Croatian cuisine. Readers who were interested in our previous posting, on the first vegetarian restaurant in Split, may also be interested to know that CLS's top Croatian cook, Mladen Marušić specialises in vegetarian and macrobiotic cuisine but includes all types of traditional Croatian cooking in his courses at the summer school.

You can read more about Mladen on CLS's website - http://www.easycroatian.com/ - in the newsletter section you'll find his recipe of the month; click on one and you'll find a fascinating interview with him on the varied subject of Croatian Cuisine.

CLS run a number of immersion courses in Croatia in the summer and have a permanent school in London. The website and newsletters are a mine of information on all things Croatian and you can also download a phrasebook from the site.

In the latest newsletter you'll find an interview with Croatia Online's Editor, Jane Cody, about the new Croatia Cruising Guide that she has co written with John Nash. See our sister blog for more information on this Croatia Cruising Companion - Dalmatian Coast and Islands

If you're looking for a great holiday whilst learning more about Croatia and Croatian, visit CLS's website for more details on its summer courses - http://www.easycroatian.com/

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Croatia Online - Vegetarians Now Very Welcome in Split

Things seem to be happening fast in the Split area at the moment. Now, as far as we are aware, Split City has its first and only macrobiotic and vegetarian restaurant. Not before time but it's a bold move for the entrepreneurs that set up Makrovega and they deserve to do well. I can't say we stumbled upon it - though it's very close to the Riva and Marmontova, Split's main shopping street, it's in a deserted residential square and, even when you get close, it's not so obvious that there's a great new restaurant there. Fortunately we were tipped off by an informed local and had great pleasure in taking her to lunch to try it out. We both chose the vegetarian menu of the day at 50 kunas, which consisted of an extremely tasty vegetable soup, followed by a delightfully presented plate of mushroom pasta, rice (with extras and sauce) and a delicious and crispy cheese filled spring roll. The macrobiotic menu reads the same but the ingredients differ in some cases. We both left feeling we'd had a huge lunch.
Makrovega's chef, Vjeko, hopes that Makrovega can help locals and visitors alike advance in their quest for healthy lifestyles and that similar restaurants will open up in the area. Croatia Online's editor certainly has room to improve on a healthy lifestyle. Whilst enjoying vegetarian dishes, she doesn't normally seek out vegetarian restaurants, which are anyway hard to find in Dalmatia. This is certainly a place she would return to for a healthy, good value and enjoyable lunch rather than just because of its niche placing. International and other visitors, already much further down the road in their vegetarian and macrobiotic diets and lifestyles, will finally believe that Dalmatia is embracing different cultures and ways of life as well as increasing the amount of culinary choice on offer. We think enlightened locals will take to it too for its tranquil ambience, good food and the fact that it offers something just a bit different.
It's no smoking throughout and there are no alcoholic drinks on the menu but you can try a variety of organic teas, barley coffee, juices and a range of other drinks. The website, currently being updated and due to have English pages soon, has a map on how to get there which you'll need! Contact details and information as below:
Address : Leština 2
Telephone: 021 394 440
Open: 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday; 9am to 4pm Saturday
We wish Vjeko and his colleagues every success - the Dalmatians can sometimes be very traditional, particularly when it comes to food. It takes courage and vision to break the mould and I'm sure there have been plenty of shaking heads advising that such a venture might not work. We think it will!
For those that visit Croatia by boat, don't forget to check out our sister site - Croatia Cruising Companion - Dalmatian Coast and Islands

Monday, November 12, 2007

Croatia Online - Liquid Gold

Every now and then we remember why it takes a lot to beat the Dalmatian way of life. Last Saturday was St Martin's day, when the year's new young wine is christened by "wine bishops". Like most events to do with the land and crops it was a few weeks early this year. As with other produce, the grapes may have been smaller as a result of less rainfall, but they still pack a mighty punch! Dalmatia, on this and other occasions, is about quietly celebrating nature's abundance amongst friends - a far cry from the Beaujolais Nouveau festivities and extravagant private jet flights to bring the first 2007 French wine to whoever can afford the party.

Despite the long preamble, and as you can see from the picture, today's posting is not about wine but Dalmatian Olive Oil. We were priviliged to spend St Martin's day picking olives and watching them turned into something really special.

Ana, one of Croatia Online's special friends, took us to the village of Marušići, south west of Split and Omiš, where her friends are concentrating on getting the best out of the Dalmatian climate and soil in the most eco friendly and taste bud stimulating way. With 270 olive trees, each yielding 25 kilograms of olives, all handpicked, I'm sure there are days when they might find it a little too much like hard work. At our pace - one tree in about three hours, with some help from an agile tree climber picking the olives off the upper branches - we might not be given a job. However there's little to better having a chat under the autumn sun, in clear blue skies, with a view over Hvar and the Pelješac Penisula, pretending to be working the land.

Gentle and very therapeutic manual labour was followed by a brief walk down to the local olive press, kitted out with the best and latest equipment, to watch the olives become the liquid gold that you see above. A little financial help from the EU has been well put to use and each olive grower can see their own olives turned into fresh, pure olive oil, the same day the olives are picked, for a fee of just 150 kunas, regardles of whether they make use of the full 150 kilogram capacity of the press or not. Some years ago olive growers had little choice but to preserve their crop in seawater and make a long journey to the scarce and more old fashioned presses when time permitted and somewhat to the detriment of the end product. Everyone wins from this, particularly the end user who's prepared to source and pay just a little bit more for quality, purity and traceability of the source. We tasted two different fresh oils made from different types of olives and it was like tasting a completely different product - aromas of fruit, no trace of chemicals, and an experience hard to describe by a non professional taster more used to mass produced offerings. Already spoilt, we then had the chance to sample some wine, anchovies, Prošec and Prsut, all home made and cured - a different world even for foodies that take their time looking around the best of London's supermarkets.

It takes 7 to 10 kilograms of olives to make one litre of olive oil; that's about three litres per olive tree. Even in Dalmatia, many of the more expensive supermarket extra virgin olive oils (and some on sale in the markets from those lovely but wise Dalmatian grandmothers) may be mixed with inferior quality, mass produced oil. If you can find the real McCoy, be prepared to pay a little extra for it but it's worth it.

Look out for the name Orgula when you're next in a Croatian supermarket looking for the best olive oil. They're the entrepreneurs behind the high tech olive press that makes life infinitely easier for Dalmatian small holders in Marušići and allows us to capture the image, tastes and smells of olive picking in the flavours of the oil that is bottled on the same day.

And whilst we were enjoying our day on the land, some of the team were out sailing in the Bavadria Cup 2007. For a full report on that, go to our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Croatia Online - New Chinese Restaurant

Whilst we really enjoy Dalmatian cuisine - generally plain grilled fish or meat - it's always great to have a change. The Dalmatians seem quite conservative in their approach to different cuisines but we think this new Chinese restaurant will go down a storm with ex pats and tourists who are looking for something different.

There aren't many restaurants around that cater for a wider variety of cosmopolitan tastes so we were a bit apprehensive when we decided to try out Chinese Restaurant Peking last night with a couple of friends. Our last experience of Chinese food in Croatia was three years ago in Zagreb and that took us back to the days, many years ago in England, when Chinese takeways were a stodgy flavourless gelatinous mess. We needn't have worried however as we had a great meal - subtle and varied flavours, excellent service and a more than comfortable ambience. The restaurant is only a few months old and has yet to fully organise its wine cellar - our only criticism was the lack of a good reasonably priced house wine, normally about 70 kunas (£7) a litre. We're told that's being sourced but in the meantime we paid 140 kunas per 0.75 litre bottle which upped the price considerably. Wine aside, most of the main courses are between 45 and 60 kunas each (£4.50 to £6), fried rice (just enough for 2) is 15 kunas (£1.50) and plain boiled rice (for one) is 5 kunas (50 pence). Though it must be quite difficult to source the right spices and herbs, the flavours were authentic and the overall experience was a thoroughly enjoyable one. The owners are Chinese and our very helpful and efficient waiter was Croatian.

You'll find Chinese Restaurant Peking, on the coast road from Trogir to Šibenik. Heading north west past Trogir (without going over the bridge to Trogir Old Town), head towards Seget Donji and about 1 kilometre after Trogir, the restaurant is on your left with good parking.

Address: Hrvatski Zrtava 41A, Seget Donji
Telephone: + 385 21 880 401
Opening Hours: Noon to 11pm, Monday to Sunday

For sailing and cruising news on Croatia, visit our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion where today's posting links to a great article on Cruising Croatia by Sail World.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Croatia Online - Film Lovers in Dalmatia Take Note!

There's a good selection of the more traditional cinemas in Split and around Dalmatia, some more modern than others. However it's hard to beat the newly opened Broadway Kina, on the first floor of the Joker shopping centre, just behind the five star Atrium hotel in Split.

The new Brodarica area of Split, not to be confused with the village of the same name near Šibenik, has sprung up from nowhere in the last couple of years. First came the Atrium Hotel, swiftly followed by big blocks of modern colourful flats with dolphin, elephant and other sculptures on the roofs. A few months ago the Joker shopping centre opened with a big splash of publicity and some recognisable "high street" names such as Miss Selfridge, Top Shop and, yes, McDonalds. Now, just a couple of weeks old, Broadway Kina provides the state of the art comfort and technology with which to enjoy your favourite blockbusters. Five cinemas of varying sizes, comfortable airline business class type chairs, and technology we have not quite got our heads round will help you maximise your evening's entertainment. The programme changes every 3 days and you can find out what's on by linking to the website http://www.broadway-kina.com/. Unfortunately there are no English pages yet so you may need to phone the box office if you don't understand the Croatian translation of the film titles. Those that are unfamiliar with Croatia will be relieved to know that all English language films (and French, German, Italian, etc) remain in the original version, with Croatian subtitles added. One of the reasons, we suspect, that most Croatians pick up English so quickly though, scarily, Only Fools and Horses has been a big hit on Croatian TV recently and you'll find a number of Croatians now speaking English with a cockney accent.

We don't believe there's anything else like Broadway Kina in Dalmatia though there is a sister operation in Zagreb, the capital. We wondered how it would fill all the seats but a friend told us they were sold out last Saturday and, at 22 kunas a session, it's a snip compared with the equivalent in London.

Unusually we struggled a bit to find a suitable picture from our library to go with today's posting. The best we've been able to come up with is Uvala Smrka, towards the west end of the south coast of Brač island, known by the locals as James Bond Bay!

Read more about James Bond Bay in our Croatia Cruising Companion due out in early December - go to http://www.croatiacruisingcompanion.blogspot.com/ for more information on that.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Croatia Online - All Saints Day

Croatia is a strongly Catholic country and November the 1st - the day of the dead - is a big family occasion. The shops have been full of outdoor candles for a few weeks now and chrysanthemums have been growing on every spare patch of land. This afternoon we walked up to our local cemetery to try and get a feel for what All Saints Day means to Croatians.

The vast car park was full of cars and the cemetery itself was packed with people of all ages. Today is the day when the Croatians truly respect their dead and though there is obviously much sadness about, at the same time, the cemetery is an uplifting sight. Large marble memorials bedecked with intricate floral displays and flickering candles; smaller graves lovingly festooned with bunches of roses and chrysanthemums.

All the shops are closed, workplaces are shut and it's a time for families to get together. Some have a number of cemeteries to visit with their floral offerings crammed into the boot of their car.

Wikipedia tells us that the Day of The Dead is much celebrated in places like Mexico and, though more reverently treated in Catholic countries such as Croatia, there is an air of quiet, reflective celebration of the lives of deceased relatives. To protestant Brits such as ourselves it's an enviable tradition and an impressive demonstration of the strength of the close family bonds that have endured in Croatia far longer than in many countries in western Europe. In the church, All Saints Day (November 1st) honours all saints known and unknown, and All Souls Day (November 2nd) celebrates the faithful departed who have not yet been purified and gone to heaven.