Following the Roman Roads

The spring is finally back! Great time to enjoy outdoors and to do some final exploring before we get too busy. Focus is crucial in our line of business so there will not be so many trips purely for pleasure this summer…
First Sunday of April brought beautiful, sunny weather and we decided to head in to the hills. This time following ancient Roman road leading from the coast all the way to the interior.

roman049
Restored milestones

The basic route was to follow the modern road (that closely follows the Roman and pre-Roman communications) from Pakostane on the coast via ruins of Asseria  to modern day Medviđa (Liburnian/RomanSidrona?) and Krupa river spring into the heart of southern part of Velebit massif.
Tourist board of Benkovac did a great job putting the milestones by the road!!!

Our first stop was Kaštel Žegarski. Ancient tower guarding a fertile valley of Žegar. I have never visited although must have passed it several dozen times.

roman002
Tower of Žegar

It is a typical tower from the 1500s like numerous other in the region. It is quite well preserved with even some wooden elements still supporting the former windows. Hidden in the woods, one has to look closely when entering the village to spot it between the houses on the right.

roman010
Spring is here

We continued over the hill to Krupa river spring. It is quite lively by the river these days with people picking wild asparagus, shepherds with goats and sheep…

roman052
Goats at pasture
roman003
Dung beetle at work

We did not spend too much time there as we are familiar with the place. Krupa is probably Croatia’s most beautiful river but the spring is hardly impressive.

roman054
Krupa river spring from the road above

Soon after the spring, the magic starts and few kilometers later, it enters the most beautiful canyon.

roman050

But, our goal was Lika. Following the ancient road that most certainly passed through this region. It followed the ancient communications and gradina hilltop fortresses lined along the route. The last one is Smokovac near Krupa spring. It is easy to find it – starts right near the main water bottling plant and heads straight to the mountains.

roman009
Landscape did not change in several millenia

The landscape is quite barren, rocky and inhospitable. Bura is harsh in this region and there is lots of snow in the winter. The road gets ruined by the water flowing but there seems to be someone taking care of it as it is in a fairly good shape. Nothing a proper SUV cannot cross anyways. Not for regular cars!

roman011

We thought we were alone and there will be no one on the road…

roman012

But then we saw a WV Caddy approaching! We just passed him but noticed that the driver was surprised as we were. Obviously, we were on a good road so we continued further up the mountain where the landscape got more serious, mountain-like  and the the condition of the road worsened.

roman013
Duboki dol

We were at the crossroads at one moment and had no clue where to go. Duboki Dol fields were to our right and one section – better looking – leading towards it but another section did not look that bad either. Had to even walk part of the road to make an educated guess at one point…

roman015
Mountain is stunning!

Luckily, the WV Caddy returned (followed by two SUVs, probably hunters) and we asked for the directions. What are the odds to actually have someone to ask for the directions! The guy was most helpful so we followed him for part of the road. It was the road to our left and from then on, it was “left, left, right, right” to get to the main road in Lika – if anyone wants to drive this.

roman016
Offroading at its finest

The mountain offers stunning views but we stopped only for picnic lunch as we wanted to see few more places that day.

roman018

roman019

roman017
In bloom

Soon we were across: at the Lika side of the trail. The road did not offer too many evidences of ancient traffic actually going this way but this is the easiest way to cross the mountain and there are plenty of wells and water holes along the route so it must have been busy back in the day. Archaeologists did some exploring in this area but plenty of work yet to be done as no guard posts have been located or possible settlements/gradina hilltop fortresses.

The landscape in Lika was typical for Velebit.

roman057
Getting to Lika

It was a great experience and the kids enjoyed running through the fields, echoes of the mountain, fresh air … Next time I plan to spend a whole day in the mountain and maybe do some bird watching as I hear some birds I never heard before. There must be some owls as well since Velebit is known for large ones.

Talking about big birds…

roman027
Gray Heron in a puddle by the road

Our next stop was supposed to be an ancient road near Knin but could not locate it so we continued to Mokro Polje.

roman029
Entering Mokro Polje

It is a fairly large village located in a beautiful valley by Zrmanja river. It was predominantly Serbian (cc 1800 inhabitants back in 1991) and it is almost abandoned now with only about a dozen elderly living in few houses.

roman030
Classic Dalmatian architecture

Some are restoring their old houses and doing quite a good job although that AC unit could have been hidden from the front facade…

roman031

The village was probably inhabited by the Roman veterans after the Rome finalized the conquest of the region. Nearby Burnum military camp was de-militarized in 69 AD as Roman peace was finally brought upon the local tribes of Delmates and Liburnaes. The Morko Polje field is quite big and offers a great place to live.

roman040

roman047
Unusual detail

roman033

And beautiful Zrmanja river runs through.

roman055

roman034roman058

roman028

There is life everywhere. Except in the houses…

While picking asparagus, we met one lady who was just going to get fresh water from the river and she told us bout people leaving and how only few elderly ladies remain. Their little hamlet is further away from the main road and it is very picturesque with tall oak trees still standing.

roman041

roman043

The old lady told us that someone was here looking for tall trees to cut them down but they did not let these beautiful giants to be cut down. Some people simply don’t have a heart 😦

roman044
Cut down trees…

It was sad to see this lady (83) being the youngest in her village. But that is the destiny of many more villages in the country…

roman045

It was time to move on: with freshly picked 2 kilos of wild asparagus. We took another ancient road towards Ervenik. Views of Zrmanja were beautiful from almost every stop along the canyon.roman056

roman046
Ruins of Keglevica tower by the river of Zrmanja

So life thrived along these roads for centuries during the Roman times and then, after the barbaric invasion, probably the entire region was inhabited for longer than that. The life came back with some Morlach settlers escaping the Turkish rule back in late 1500s but will end soon. And then? When will be the next time people move to Morko Polje to live? Never?

roman048
First swallows have returned

Everything will be left for birds and animals.Maybe it is better that way.

 

 

Advertisements

Winter Wanderings in Dalmatian Hinterland

As the winter is gone, Easter holidays just behind us, we are all looking forward the beauty of Spring in Dalmatia, I am publishing one last winter blog post.

I love winter in Dalmatia although I don’t get to enjoy it as much as before. It has been quite busy and hope to have more free days in April and upcoming summer. I did not get to explore as much as last year and there are quite a few places still to see and visit. The basic plan is to cross every road, to drink from each spring, to climb most of hills…

winterdaysinbukovica00
Velebit covered in snow (February 2016)

Zadar hinterland I have covered quite a bit in the past years and have only few more areas to visit to wrap it up. One of the areas I am constantly visiting is Bukovica which is one of my favorite areas in all of Croatia. There is something quite unique about this rocky, inhospitable looking region…

Medviđa

winterdaysinbukovica005

There is an ancient road leading from Medviđa to beautiful Žegar field with one side road that I never explored. So, this winter, curiosity won and I made a sharp right to Komazeci hamlets. The entire area was greatly devastated in the past war so very few people live here. Most of them are breeding cattle and cows are often seen on this road.

winterdaysinbukovica003
Deep in the hillside sun sets early

The Sun sets early in these hamlets as they are behind a high hill. In some of these hamlets, only sheep can be seen and I certainly hope that there is someone to lock them up as there are plenty of wolves roaming in this hillside!

winterdaysinbukovica002
Old houses. Abandoned decades ago…

winterdaysinbukovica001

It is peaceful and quiet. Only birds can be heard but we also heard some gunshots!

Italian hunters, with local hunters, often hunt in this area. There are reports that some of them illegaly hunt singing birds but I hate hunting no matter what is the prey… I wish all those activities are banned in the country.

winterdaysinbukovica004
Bringing dogs in their pick ups

The area is beautiful in Spring and cannot wait to revisit in few weeks when everything is in bloom!

winterdaysinbukovica201
Ancient water hole

All these drives are awesome off road experiences! Not so demanding in terms of mud but quite scenic and interesting for good off road vehicles.

winterdaysinbukovica207
The Unstoppable Beast

Gornji Karin
The area of Karin is another one of my favorite areas and just perfect for exploring as it hides several abandoned villages and historic places. One of them is a tiny, abandoned hamlet of Ćose. Hard to reach, it is now visited only by some cattle.

winterdaysinbukovica205
Winter sunset

winterdaysinbukovica204

There is an old family complex in one part of the hamlet. It is made with great skill although most of these complexes have been ruined during 60s and 70s with concrete adaptations. Originally, they are all made of stone and some of the houses are quite impressive! The eternal beauty and harmony of old buildings has not been match in modern architecture of the region. And that is sad. As most of these places are now in ruins…

winterdaysinbukovica203

winterdaysinbukovica202
Ancient oak tree

Especially impressive is an ancient oak tree near the village. It is a tree of myths and legends. The center of life of this village directly connected to the land where generations lived and died. The place where ghosts are still present. Good spirits of the past still can be heard whispering through the bare branches of this magnificent tree.

winterdaysinbukovica206
Gumno

On another occasion we went to another hamlet. Lakići is also abandoned and all in ruins.

winterdaysinbukovica314
Lakići from air

winterdaysinbukovica307

I had a drone with me and took some nice aerial shots although winter is not the best time for taking photos. However, the trees are without leaves so one can capture all the important details. The village is filled with beautiful, traditional North Dalmatian architectural details at every step.

winterdaysinbukovica306

winterdaysinbukovica305

winterdaysinbukovica304

Some of the huts are still covered with stone slabs but, since they are not in use, they will not stay covered long…

winterdaysinbukovica303

When planning a trip here, I have noticed that there may be an interesting canyon near by. We were not prepared for a gorgeous and deep canyon only a hundred meters away from the village as there are no rivers nor streams!

winterdaysinbukovica313
Canyon from the air
winterdaysinbukovica301
The view of Karin Sea in the distance

We continued down the road to Karin. I am not a fan of it. It is likely one of the most devastated places in the region but the entire bay, called Karin Sea is not the prettiest part of the coast for sure. We went to see one ancient gradina hilltop fortress but were stopped before we got too far from the car.

One local guy wanted to warn us off his dogs nearby. We were not planning to go there as it was in the opposite direction but his presence was helpful as he has some serious dogs in the bushes! The guy, Ivica, moved here after the war and he showed us several wounds he suffered back in early 90s.

winterdaysinbukovica310
Shrapnel wounds 

He is originally from Županja and now lives, with his family in Karin. And breeds dogs. He has 10 šarplaninac dogs in one field. Šarplaninac is also known  Illyrian Dog or Dog of Sharr Mountain and is a famous Balkan breed. It originates from the border region of Macedonia and Albania and it was a common guard dog of Balkan shepperds and also a service dog of former Yugoslav army. The pride of his selection is a massive Medo. The dog is so vicious looking that even Cujo looks cuddly compared to him! Luckily, the chain is quite strong and he could not get to us!

winterdaysinbukovica311
Medo

The spring is almost here and new adventures await. Plenty of great places to see, rivers to cross.

winterdaysinbukovica308
Winter sunset

Exploring Pašman and Ugljan Islands

Often not considered by travelers, both Pašman and Ugljan are actually one of the best kept secrets of Dalmatia. The islands used to be one big island back in the distant past but, with the rise of sea level, they got separated in, where is today, Ždrelac village. The canal to enable safe sailing between the islands was dug out in 1883. and  bridge was erected in 1979. The bridge was reconstructed in 20010 due to heavy traffic from nearby marinas to Kornati Islands National Park.

The forecast was great and sunny for January Sunday so we hopped in our Hilux and headed to Biograd ferry harbor for a short, 20 minute crossing to town of Tkon on Pašman island.

pasmanugljan024
The view of Čokovac monastery and the Pašman channel

The idea was to drive the coastal route all the way to the end of Ugljan, Muline village, find a place for grill and lunch before heading back the scenic but offroad route of the “other” coast of Pašman island starting from Ždrelac.

Of course, there were stops along the route and the first one was Čokovac monastery overlooking the most beautiful channel of Dalmatian coast – Pašman channel with its 12 islands and rocks. Snow-capped Velebit mountain was shining in the distance.

pasmanugljan023
The walls of Čokovac

The history of Čokovac Benedictine Monastery is quite a turbulent one. Back in 1125. Biograd was completely destroyed by the Venetians. They also destroyed, once famous, Benedictine monastery of St. John the Evangelist in very Biograd after which the monks first took shelter in Šibenik, and later came back to the island of Pašman. The Chapel of St. Cosmas and Damian was already on the hill of Čokovac, so the monks built a Romanic church and a fortified monastery. The Venetians destroyed it in 1345 and imprisoned the monks. The mosnatery was reconstructed only in 1418. For its exceptional contribution (which is a bit vague), the monastery gained some sort of autonomy confirmed by several popes. It is believed that the monks accepted the invitation of the Czech King Charles IV to preach Glagolitic and Slavic language. Also, there are assumptions that the monastery was in possesion of the first form of Glagolitic scripts in liturgical texts, as numerous old Glagolitic scripts from the 13th century have been preserved. Today, the monastery church holdsa large Gothic style crucifix dating back to the 15th century attributed to a Venetian painter Menegelo. Besides the crucifix, the monastery also holds a precious portrait of the Virgin Mary. These are the only exhibits of this sort conserved after the French government closed the monastery in 1808. Over 150 years later, during socialist Yugoslavia, the Monastery was reopened in 1961. This is the only active Benedictine monastery in Croatia and definitely an important part of our heritage well worth preserving and visiting.

pasmanugljan021
The monastery church

The monastery  is available to visitors from June 1st to October 31st between 4.00 p.m. and 6.00 p.m. or by appointment.

pasmanugljan023
The walls of Čokovac

This is the only active Benedictine monastery in Croatia and definitely an important part of our heritage well worth preserving and visiting.

pasmanugljan022
The view of the mainland through the cypress trees

And then it was time to continue. Next stop: coffee at Deloro in Pašman tow. It is just sad to see all the newly built apartment buildings all over the island. The island has been loosing population rapidly (as most of our islands have) and the islanders have always been supporting the idea of construction of a bridge to the mainland.

pasmanugljan002
The view of the mainland over Pašman

We passed all the small villages en route without really going into the historic centers: Kraj, Pašman, Barotul, Neviđane, Banj, Dobropoljana… all tiny villages by the sea. Crossing the bridge we were on Ugljan and what is the visit to Ugljan without stopping at Kali! Kali is a primarily fishermen town and the town with the largest fleet on our coast. For years,they were fishing in the Pacific ocean. Little is known even today that Croats invented pretty much everything worth inventing in fishing in World  20th century: from the power block (Puretich) that was found on EVERY fishing boat in the World to factory boats and even tuna farming.

pasmanugljan018
Winter morning in Kali

Ante Dundov Kongo from Kali was one of the most important fishermen of the 20th century and he was primarily bringing men from Kali to fish tuna in the Pacific. The story goes that he was once talking to a Japanese fisherman from Osaka who was wondering how many people are in his town and Kongo said 700. The Japanese fisherman could not believe saying that almost every boat in the Pacific he meets was operated by the folks from Kali!

But those days are now gone and Kali is more of a sleepy village remembering its glorious past.

pasmanugljan019

There is also a story that Kongo’s old mother said to  him that he was taking all the men away and there will be no one to bury her. He was deeply moved by her words and started bringing locals on three month contracts only so they could return and invest money back home.

pasmanugljan032

pasmanugljan017jpg

pasmanugljan016

pasmanugljan0167jpg

We passed other tiny villages like Sutomišćica where I have to go back to eat at their well known Olive Bay restaurant. The next stop was the sleepy village of Muline at the very Northern tip of Ugljan.

pasmanugljan013
The Adriatic does not get more clear than this!

The village is very sleepy and almost no one on the streets and in the harbor. Just nets drying…

pasmanugljan012

pasmanugljan015

We also saw sea quite a few sea urchins. All female! All decorated for ball!

pasmanugljan014

We took the side, dirt road to reach the asylum on the western shore of Ugljan but it was not possible to get there even with our Hilux. So we got back on the main road and drove to the asylum. Just to the left is a narrow dirt road that leads to a very lovely beach.

pasmanugljan010

The beach is actually very busy in peak season and a place to avoid but, out of July and August, it is quite nice and, in the winter months, simply perfect!

There is a narrow trail leading through the bushes to another beach (even more secluded) and it goes through the abandoned asylum cemetery.

pasmanugljan009
The asylum cemetary
pasmanugljan030
Most people have been buried here before the 1970…

The second beach is also cute and with a small island connected by a narrow strip. The island is full of seagulls. And the water is very clear with few rare inhabitants like this noble pen shell.

pasmanugljan029

Lunch was quick and it was time for a short rest and a second part of the day: an offroad ride along the Pašman’s western coast. It is, basically, a dirt road carved through the bushes to enable firefighters to deal with potential fires that are common here.

pasmanugljan006

However,  many used the opportunity to build small “Robinson style” huts on these virgin shores. Mostly illegal and mostly ugly. There are few really charming and special but most are just simple devastation. There is nothing “Robinson” about them now as there are dozens of them in each cove…

pasmanugljan007

The views are just stunning. On both sides of t Pašman!

pasmanugljan003
Kornati in the distance
pasmanugljan025
Looking back at the bridge of Ždrelac

And we reached the highest point, Veliki Bokolj with little effort (not for regular cars!)

pasmanugljan005
Photo-shoot at the top

The view point has been built by the donation of the Norwegian government.

pasmanugljan027
The view of Mrljane and Barotul with Vransko jezero lake in the distance

The entire route we crossed is about 20 km long and it was one of the prettiest off road routes on the coast with plenty of great spots to see and a possibility to go all the way to the sea for swimming in the warmer months.

pasmanugljan001
Straža view point.

The roads near Tkon go to several directions but we decided to go back on a 4:20 PM ferry so this will be explored next time. With only 3100 inhabitants and over 60 km2 surface area, Pašman is one of the larger and least inhabited of Croatian islands. Combined with Ugljan, it makes one very special part of the Adriatic that deserves more attention and better future.