Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Croatia Day 6 - Korčula and Marco Polo

It was a disappointing start to the day with a lot of low cloud about so we prepared our breakfast and sat on the balcony and scanned the horizon in all directions looking for signs of improvement. There was some blue sky to the south and the west but the cloud simply wouldn’t shift from over Korčula. The problem seemed to be that over the water on the peninsular there was a thousand metre high peak that the incoming cloud couldn’t seem to get past and the lump just seemed to keep on growing as it sucked in more and more passing cumulous to add to the problem.

It was much cooler today than it was twenty-four hours earlier in Ston so we went out early and returned to the old town to explore it properly. All the parking spaces by the harbour had gone this morning so we had to drive through the town and park on the opposite side. The good thing about this however was that here it was free. As well as being overcast it was also quite windy, there were a few occasional glimpses of blue but these never came to very much.

We entered the town through the main gate where there was a small market selling souvenirs and Kim was persuaded to part with some Kuna to buy some local jewellery that was cheaper than in the shops. We walked along the main street and visited St Marks Cathedral where some giggling children were rehearsing for a first communion and looked through the windows of the two museums but without going inside.

Korčula is like a scaled down version of Dubrovnik with the same white Dalmatian stone buildings and red tiled roofs but sadly it is completely eclipsed by its more famous close neighbour and there has been little investment since the 1990s war that split old Yugoslavia apart. Dubrovnik was the priority after that but the local authorities are now campaigning for Korčula Old Town, which is a gem of Venetian architecture, to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

Because it is so small we were able to take our time as we poked through all of the narrow streets and into the nooks and crannies behind them for almost two hours, which was quite a challenge considering how tiny the town is. The limestone streets hide endless architectural curiosities and not least its own unique construction. The town is built, appropriately enough, like a fish, with a main street forming the spine and the side streets the bones.

The bones facing northeast are curved to stop the cold air of the winter gusting through, while on the southwest side they run straight, allowing cool summer breezes to circulate in a clever and early form of air-conditioning.

One of the main visitor sites in the town is the Marco Polo house but we were saving that for as long as possible so when we had done everything else we delayed it a few moments longer by stopping at a café bar outside the cathedral where we sat under red umbrellas and it was a good job we did because while we there it started to spit with rain.

So now we went to the Marco Polo house. Venice lays claim to be the birthplace of Marco Polo and has even named its airport after the great traveller but if you speak to the people of Korčula they are adamant that he was born here in a house in the centre of the town. We negotiated our way through the gift shop outside without making an unnecessary purchase and paid our admission fee to enter the house.

Marco Polo was born in 1254 and was an explorer who wrote ‘Il Milione’, which introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst together with his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, he voyaged through Asia and met Kublai Khan. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia and travelled almost twenty-five thousand kilometres, a journey which took them almost twenty-five years. For his troubles Marco was accused of being a fraud and imprisoned, and whilst incarcerated dictated his stories to a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married and had three children. He died in 1324, and was buried in San Lorenzo in Italy.

The house is due to be turned into a museum sometime soon but at the moment it has to be said that it is a bit of a disappointment. There are no exhibits and no rooms to show them in if there were, only a succession of uneven stairs that lead to the top of a tower with an average sort of view over the town. On the plus side the admission price did include a postacrd of Marco Polo – each!

We completed the circumnavigation of the town and with some promising signs of the sun at last we found a café with a good spot overlooking the harbour on the side of town where the cruise ships dock and we had a light lunch and a couple of midday beers.

There really wasn’t anything left to do in Korčula and we wondered how on earth people could spend a fortnight here so we left and decided to drive to the neighbouring town of Lumbarda which is famous on the island for producing a wickedly strong white wine called Grk. We arrived there and although the sun was now shining the best description that I can give of the place is that it was dull so we didn’t stop long and returned instead to the Grgic and it was a good job that we knew where it was because the sign still wasn’t up!

The sun had disappeared again now but this didn’t stop us spending an optimistic afternoon around the small pool and the owner provided us with more drink and pastry, home cooked by her mother, as we spent an afternoon under hazy skies. Later we walked to the small village of Žmovska Banja and down to the sea where there was a pleasant walk along a pebbled pine fringed beach and where some local men were practicing rowing, presumably in preparation for some important race or regatta.

We were beginning to get used to the Grgic by now and we spent a relaxing hour on the balcony as we watched the clouds breaking up and some blue patches spreading over the peninsular and then there was suddenly a magnificent orange glow from the west and the previously overcast sky burst into life with a glorious sunset that filled the hotel garden with good cheer and made us feel happy about the prospects for tomorrow. Later we returned to the town and ate at the same restaurant, which was quieter tonight and enjoyed a simple meal while the staff watched a World cup qualifying match between Croatia and the Ukraine. Final score, Croatia 2 – Ukraine 2.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Its been lovely reading about your travels in Croatia Andrew - a place I had only known about previously in reference to the war that went on there.
Thanks x