Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Sailing into the Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Sailing into Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Old Town Korcula occupies a peninsula on the eastern end of Korcula Island in southern Croatia, on the Adriatic Sea.  Often described as “Little Dubrovnik”, the town is very attractive when approached by sea (see photographs above, and below).

Stone city wall around Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Stone city wall around Old Town Korcula, Croatia

The town was founded by the Trojan (Greek) hero, Antenor, reportedly in the 8th Century B.C.  After being part of the Roman Empire, the Venetians ruled Korcula (Island) from 1420 for nearly 400 years.  The island was part of the Austra-Hungarian Empire from 1815 to 1918.  The independent Kingdom of Korcula lasted from 1921 to 1941.  Then as part of the post-World War II realignment of Eastern Europe, Korcula was part of SFR (Socialist Federal Republic) of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1991, when it again gained independence (as part of Croatia).

Korcula Island is the third most inhabited island of Croatia with a population of 16,000, although only 400 live in Old Town Korcula.

Homes on the hillside overlooking the port of Korcula, Croatia

Homes on the hillside overlooking the port of Korcula, Croatia

Steps in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Steps in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

The Old Town of Korcula is a masterwork of urban planning where streets were laid out in a herringbone pattern to tame strong winds from the sea while still allowing air to circulate freely.  The streets to the west of the center street , Sy Roka, are straight, whereas the streets on the eastern half of Old Town are curved.

Sculpture on embedded in house wall in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Sculpture on embedded in house wall in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Katedrala Sv. Marka (St. Mark's Cathedral) in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Katedrala Sv. Marka (St. Mark’s Cathedral) in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Built over the course of 500 years, the Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral of St. Mark (Katedrala Sv. Marka) dominates Old Town. The architecture is ample proof of the artistry of Korcula’s famous stonemasons.  Note the lions of St. Mark that flank the entry portal (along with St. Mark’s statue).

Entry portal to Katedrala Sv. Marka with St. Mark and two Venetian winged lions of St. Mark in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Entry portal to Katedrala Sv. Marka with St. Mark and two Venetian winged lions of St. Mark in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Map of Marco Polo's journey to China (1271 - 1295) in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Map of Marco Polo’s journey to China (1271 – 1295) in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

The local legend is that the explorer Marco Polo was born in Korcula, after his family had left Venice and sailed south on the Adriatic Sea to the island.  His home (and a Marco Polo Museum) in Old Town Korcula are major attractions.  The Polo family still lives in the old house and a new baby boy was born into the family in June 2015 and was given the name “Marco Polo”.

The Polo family home in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

The Polo family home in Old Town Korcula, Croatia

Our dinner was in the apartment, prepared from fresh, local ingredients we sourced along the Adriatic Coast.

Caprese Salad made in our kitchen aboard the ship from local ingredients

Caprese Salad made in our kitchen aboard the ship from local ingredients

Veal Chop Milanese with greens and tomatoes made in our kitchen aboard the ship from local ingredients

Veal Chop Milanese with greens and tomatoes made in our kitchen aboard the ship from local ingredients

Moreshka (Sword Dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Black King drags the Bula (the Muslim woman) in chains

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Black King drags the Bula (the Muslim woman) in chains

The Moreshka is the historic, traditional war dance (sword dance) from Korcula, Croatia.  Korcula is the only city along the Adriatic Coast to have preserved the dance tradition; it is performed by a troupe of local dancers and musicians several times a week, mainly for large groups of visiting tourists.

“The oldest Moreshka on record is that performed in Lerida in 1150, portraying the victory over the Moors and their expulsion from Aragon.  Later on, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries, this dance spread over the Mediterranean area involving frequent changes both with regard to plot and protagonists…

“The name “Moreshka originates from the Spanish adjective morisco (Italian moresco), and is derived from the name Moor…

“According to the documents available to-date, the Moreshka was first mentioned in Korcula in a Latin eulogy of the early 18th century.  From this we can see that the Moreshka was a war-dance with swords and that there were two companies fighting…”

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Bula (in chains)

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Bula (in chains)

“The historical background to this plot is the actual fighting which went on between the whites (Christians) — Spaniards and others — and the Algerians and the Moroccans in the first half of the 18th century.  In the plot the Turks and the Arabs (Algerians and Moroccans) are taken to have a common interest in fighting against the “whites”, and the fact that the betrothed of the defeated enemy is turned into a slave serves to glorify the victor and humiliate the defeated.

“In the present-day Moreshka from Korcula the conflict lies mainly in the antagonism existing between the Turks and the Arabs, and the subject of the plot is the fight over a woman, who will be handed over to the winner to become his wife and not his slave.”  — quoted from Moreska: The War-dance from Korcula (published to commemorate thirty years of post-war reconstruction 1944 – 1974)

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Red King and Black King cross swords, preparing for battle

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Red King and Black King cross swords, preparing for battle

Osman (the Red King):

“Do not trust your sword —

Without honour and without honesty.

Treacherously, you wised to steal

My betrothed, by torturing her.

Where is your knightly honesty,

Where is your bravery?

How did you dare to enslave her?

Let me remind you

That the army from my court

Is ready to rescue her…”

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Bula implores the Red King and Black King to call off the battle

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Bula implores the Red King and Black King to call off the battle

Bula (enslaved in chains):

“Oh, knights!

Do something to stop your wars

Which wound my heart and draw tears of

Blood from my eyes.

Turn your sword on me

And let him live

Take my life

But my beloved [the Red King] spare.”

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Black Army enters

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Black Army enters

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Red Army and the Black Army engage in battle

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Red Army and the Black Army engage in battle

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  Fighting between the Red Army and the Black Army

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- Fighting between the Red Army and the Black Army

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Red Army is victorious

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Red Army is victorious

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The victorious Red King kisses the Bula

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The victorious Red King kisses the Bula

Bula:

“My dear, sweet love,

For whom my heart is longing,

Receive this gift of my eternal faith.

Take me, your constant love.”

Osman:
“Let this chaste kiss

Be a reward for all my suffering.”

Moreska (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia-  The Red King frees the Bula (who had loved him over the Black King)

Moreshka (sword dance) performed in Korcula, Croatia- The Red King frees the Bula (who had loved him over the Black King)

Eat Local — Krcma Ulika (restaurant), Rovinj, Croatia

Interior of Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia

Interior of Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia

We were fortunate to get a recommendation to dine at Krcma Ulika (Tavern Ulika), whose location in the back streets of Old Town Rovinj is reportedly a jealously guarded secret of gastronomic connoisseurs.

First course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Capesante sirove (fresh scallops with roe)

First course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Capesante sirove (fresh scallops with roe)

In our conversations with the proprietor, we learned a little bit of the restaurant’s history and philosophy.  She revealed that she is a trained and formerly practicing dentist who was born in Zagreb, Croatia, but now lives in Germany with her husband, who is a surgeon.  They fell in love with the Croatian coast and eight years ago she decided to pursue her dream of living on the coast in Rovinj from May to October each year and opening a “slow food”-style gastronomic restaurant.  An added benefit for the proprietor of living on the coast is summer visits from her grandchildren.  Her local chef has been bringing her ideas to the table with her for the past eight years.

First course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Carpaccio riblji-skampi (raw fresh shrimp)

First course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Carpaccio riblji-skampi (raw fresh shrimp)

The restaurant has its own fishermen suppliers and they buy only the freshest green grocer ingredients they can source (locally).

First course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Prsut sa vocem (prosciutto and melon)

First course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Prsut sa vocem (prosciutto and melon)

They specialize in local coastal Croatian dishes, updated and given a modern twist.

Second course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Rizoto skampi burata (shrimp risoto with burata)

Second course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Rizoto skampi burata (shrimp risotto with burata)

Second course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Prsut sa vocem (Shrimp cooked in parchment paper)

Second course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Prsut sa vocem (Shrimp cooked in parchment paper)

One of the things we had read about Krcma Ulika before we booked a reservation was “the hand written sign out front says ‘no pizza, no cevapete (sausage), no calamari'”.

Second course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Pljukanci divljac (local Croatian pasta with meat sugo)

Second course at Krcma Ulika restaurant, Rovinj, Croatia- Pljukanci divljac (local Croatian pasta with meat sugo)

While we expected to find excellent local cuisine, we were delightfully surprised by the creative twists and outstanding quality of every dish we had.  And yes, they tasted even better that they look in the photographs.  Accompanying the meal we had a crisp local (white) Malvasia wine.  Very highly recommended!

Rovinj, Croatia

View of Old Town Rovinj, Croatia, from the harbor

View of Old Town Rovinj, Croatia, from the harbor

Croatia’s Istrian jewel, Rovinj, is a charming town on the Adriatic Sea with an old town that reflects the architectural heritage of the Venetian Empire, which ruled the city (and Adriatic Sea coast) for 500 years.

Multi-colored houses line the harbor on the edge of Old Town Rovinj, Croatia

Multi-colored houses line the harbor on the edge of Old Town Rovinj, Croatia

Note the “Lion of St. Mark’s” (Lion of Venice) in the rectangle above the dual windows above the door.  Venice’s control of the Adriatic Sea extended far beyond Croatia — as far as Tunis to the southwest and Cyprus in the far southeast.

Harbor clock tower, Rovinj, Croatia

Harbor clock tower, Rovinj, Croatia

#48 A (green house entrance), Rovinj, Croatia

#48 A (green house entrance), Rovinj, Croatia

Note the lion above the door in the Communal Palace from 1308:

Gradska palace (Communal Palace) 1308 (reconstructed 1822), Rovinj, Croatia

Gradska palace (Communal Palace) 1308 (reconstructed 1822), Rovinj, Croatia

Bell Tower of St. Euphemia Cathederal, Rovinj, Croatia

Bell Tower of St. Euphemia Cathedral, Rovinj, Croatia

The Baroque church, St. Euphemia Cathedral, dominates old town.  The church is dedicated to St. Euphemia, whose coffin arrived mysteriously on Rovinj’s shores in 800 A.D.  Born in Calcedon near Constantinople, she was imprisoned, tortured and eventually killed at the young age of 15, along with many other Christians who were intently persecuted by Roman Emperor Diocletian.  The bell tower, reminiscent of St. Mark’s in Venice, offers stunning views across the Adriatic Sea.  It dominates the town’s skyline.

Interior of St. Euphemia Cathederal, Rovinj, Croatia

Interior of St. Euphemia Cathedral, Rovinj, Croatia

The highlights of the Cathedral’s interior include beautiful white marble altars, a bronze statue of St. Euphemia and her marble sarcophagus, estimated to date from as early as the 4th or 5th Century.

Stained glass window in St. Euphemia Cathederal, Rovinj, Croatia

Stained glass window in St. Euphemia Cathedral, Rovinj, Croatia

Street altar, Rovinj, Croatia

Street altar, Rovinj, Croatia

Viola storefront ("Croatian craftsman manufakture"), Rovinj, Croatia

Viola storefront (“Croatian craftsman manufakture”), Rovinj, Croatia

A contemporary memorial at the harbor, Rovinj, Croatia

A contemporary memorial at the harbor, Rovinj, Croatia

Vintgar Gorge, near Lake Bled, Slovenia

Hiking trail and bridge over the Radovna RIver along Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

Hiking trail and bridge over the Radovna River along Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

The Radovna River cuts the Vintgar Gorge deep between the hills of Hom and Borst, near Lake Bled, in northwestern Slovenia, near Austria.

Many trout were spotted in the Radovna River, near Bled, Slovenia

Many trout were spotted in the Radovna River, near Bled, Slovenia

The gorge is flanked by steep slopes overgrown with beech forests.  The Radovna River was full of trout, reminding us of the trout-filled rivers of Montana in the U.S. northwest.

Cantilevered hiking trail along Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

Cantilevered hiking trail along Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

The gorge was not discovered until 1891 by the mayor of a town near Bled.  A few years later the gorge was opened to the public.  Over the following decades hiking trails and the cantilevered section of trail along the river near the entrance were constructed.

Vintgar Gorge widens with the Radovna River, near Bled, Slovenia

Vintgar Gorge widens with the Radovna River, near Bled, Slovenia

Radovna River in the Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

Radovna River in the Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

Rapids on the Radovna River, near Bled, Slovenia

Rapids on the Radovna River, near Bled, Slovenia

We hiked a little over a mile to reach the dam and waterfall, going beyond it to see the gorge open up with a wonderful view of the valley and the Julian Alps, beyond.

Dam and waterfall on the Radovna River in the Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

Dam and waterfall on the Radovna River in the Vintgar Gorge, near Bled, Slovenia

Vintgar Gorge and the Julian Alps, near Bled, Slovenia

Vintgar Gorge and the Julian Alps, near Bled, Slovenia

Scenic Lake Bled in the northern Slovenian mountains

Panorama of Lake Bled, Slovinia, from Bled Castle (circa 1011 A.D.)

Panorama of Lake Bled, Slovinia, from Bled Castle (circa 1011 A.D.)

Picturesque Lake Bled is a lake in northwestern Slovenia in the Julian Alps, close to the border with Austria.  Located next to the town of Bled, the lake is a very popular tourist destination.

Lake Bled and its island with a church, Slovinia, from Bled Castle (circa 1011 A.D.)

Lake Bled and its island with a church, Slovinia, from Bled Castle (circa 1011 A.D.)

Bled Island, with the Church of the Mother of God on top of its hill, is reached by oar-rowed boats called wooden plenta.

Going to the island on traditional wooden plenta (oared boats) on Lake Bled, Slovenia

Going to the island on traditional wooden plenta (oared boats) on Lake Bled, Slovenia

Church of the Mother of God on Bled Island,  Lake Bled, Slovinia

Church of the Mother of God on Bled Island, Lake Bled, Slovinia

Carved wooden door on island building, Lake Bled, Slovenia

Carved wooden door on island building, Lake Bled, Slovenia

Traditional wooden plenta (oared boats) on Lake Bled, Slovenia

Traditional wooden plenta (oared boats) on Lake Bled, Slovenia

After hiking around the island and then a long walk around the lake, we went to Bled Castle, dating back to at least 1011 A.D.  The views of the lake and surrounding countryside were spectacular (see panorama, at the top of this blog; click on the photograph to download a larger image).  We had a luncheon of typical Slovenian dishes in the castle’s restaurant.

Bled Castle, set on a high rock monolith, towers over Lake Bled, Slovenia

Bled Castle, set on a high rock monolith, towers over Lake Bled, Slovenia

Turret tower of Bled Castle overlooking Lake Bled, Slovenia

Turret tower of Bled Castle overlooking Lake Bled and the town of Bled, Slovenia

The Castle’s chapel dates back to the 16th Century.

Chapel in Bled Castle overlooking Lake Bled, Slovenia

Chapel in Bled Castle overlooking Lake Bled, Slovenia

The old medieval town of Piran, Slovenia

A glimpse of Piran from the wet window of the ship's tender, Piran, Slovenia

A glimpse of Piran from the wet window of the ship’s tender;  Piran, Slovenia

Typical of many Adriatic Sea coastal towns, Piran, Slovenia, was build adjacent to its harbor within stone city walls.  The Cathedral was built in the 12th Century, atop the hill within the city walls.  The Cathedeal’s campanille dominates the skyline in the center of town.

Harbor and Old Town Piran, Slovenia

Harbor and Old Town Piran, Slovenia

Tartini Square, Piran, Slovenia

Tartini Square, Piran, Slovenia

Tartini Square, actually more oval than rectangular, is the location of Piran’s most notable buildings.  In the 13th Century the area was the local harbor for the fishing boat fleet.  Much later, that harbor was filled and named after the most illustrious citizen of Piran: the violinist, composer and music theoretician Giuseppe Tartini.

Details of Tartini Square, Piran, Slovenia

Details of Tartini Square, Piran, Slovenia

Venetian House (mid-15th Century), Piran, Slovenia

Venetian House (mid-15th Century), Piran, Slovenia

The Venetian House, built in the 15th Century, is one of the town’s most beautiful examples of Venetian Gothic architecture.  For more than 500 years, the Venetians controlled the eastern Adriatic Sea towns and cities (including Piran), extracting rents and taxes to help fund the Empire.

Adriatic Sea salt, the primary product of Piran, Slovenia

Adriatic Sea salt, the primary product of Piran, Slovenia

The Venetian House currently is the retail store for the Solni salt production company.  Note that nearly 40% of the area around the town is dedicated to salt ponds where Adriatic Sea water is dried and the salt harvested.

Typical men's summer hats, Piran, Slovenia

Typical men’s summer hats, Piran, Slovenia

Roofs of Piran, Slovenia

Roofs of Piran, Slovenia

Hiking up the streets and stone steps to the Cathederal afforded excellent views of the town (and the roofs of the homes and stores) along with the harbor and bay.

Interior of St. George Cathederal (built 1344, renovated 1637), Piran, Slovenia

Interior of St. George Cathederal (built 1344, renovated 1637), Piran, Slovenia

St. George Cathederal sits high above most of Piran and is one of the town’s finest architectural highlights.  It was first built in the 12th Century and then renovated and re-opened on the Feast of St. George in 1344.  The present Baroque style of the interior dates back to the second major renovation in 1637.

Wandering around the small squares we found a nice fresh seafood restaurant full of locals, Fontana.

Fresh local seafood platter for lunch in Piran, Slovenia

Fresh local seafood platter for lunch in Piran, Slovenia

Many of the homes in Piran are painted a variety of pastel colors.  It’s interesting to see the layers of varied colors when the top layer of stucco/paint flakes off (see photo, below).

Multicolored flaking stucco house wall, Piran, Slovenia

Multicolored flaking stucco house wall, Piran, Slovenia