Out to the Country

Last year, one of my mom and my favorite things about our trip to Italy was our Parma Food Tour. While we enjoyed delicious parmesan cheese, parma ham and balsamic vinegar, what we liked the most was learning about the culture and how these foods sustain the local economy.

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So I was really excited when an opportunity arose to go on a more cultural tour of Croatia. Our local ambassador, Ante, took Catherine, Iona, Jake and I around the Dalmatian Hinterland, which is the fancy way of saying the mountains surrounding Split. Ante was born in Australia to Croatian parents, moved here when he was 19 and has lived in Split since. He’s an ex-history professor and now owns his own tour guide company. He spent three days giving Rick Steves a private tour around Croatia!

We started off stopping at the same viewpoint above Omiš as we did after whitewater rafting. Except this time, we got a little background. The church is from 1200 and the table outside, where we scarfed down sapornik, is actually an election table. Candidates would stand around the table and citizens would place a rock in front of whomever they were voting for. The person with the most rocks was voted in. Too bad our presidential election isn’t quite so fast and easy.

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From there, we drove about a minute and half through a narrow tunnel, then parked on the side of the road, and walked to another viewpoint. It was super sketchy. But the statue was interesting, with a cool story behind it.

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In the 1500s, any marriage in the area was required to be “approved” by the Turkish Bey. However, even if he approved it, he had the authority to require the woman to spend the first night of wedded bliss with him instead of her husband. Such was the case with Mila Gojsalić. On that historic night, she went to spend the night with the Bey, but strapped herself with explosives. Although she died in the process, she also killed the Bey, many of his soldiers and their stockpile of ammunition.

We continued our tour of the Hinterland, coming within a ¼ mile of the Bosnian border. I wish we had brought our passports! Our next stop was the Green Lake.

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During Communist rule, should the government decide they wanted to build a new hydroelectric facility, they would simply notify a village that within a year, they would be flooding their home. The villagers would have a year to pack up and move out and they’d literally flood the area and build a hydroelectric plant. In times of droughts, you can apparently see the tops of old houses. A little eerie. And very sad.

Next up, the Red Lake.

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Pictures don’t do this lake justice. The walls, the origin of the lake’s name, were straight up and huge, jutting up to 241 meters (790 feet). The lake was a deep blue and completely still with a depth of 530 meters (1,740 feet). They only just discovered this depth a few years ago. They had to helicopter in a submarine to drop into the lake. The first attempt was a dud when the submarine got caught in such strong underwater currants that it could go no further. So they choppered in a bigger submarine and finally made it down to the bottom.

It’s worth noting that Croatia’s safety measures are far more lax than the US. Families were hiking up the sides of the cliffs, standing precariously close to the edge, with nothing stopping them from falling/jumping in.

Our final lake was the Blue Lake.

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Another gorgeous place, however, this one is swimmable, as long as you don’t mind a long hike in and out.

Opposite this lake, a wide-open field stretches in both directions. To the north, you can see a fortress. According to lore, the Turks and Venetians met at this fortress to determine their borders. They agreed on the north, west and south borders, but couldn’t come to a consensus for the east. They decided to roll up their largest cannon, shoot it off, and wherever it landed, that would be the border. To this day, the border between Croatia and Bosnia, and in fact, the border of the EU, is on this line, right in the middle of this field.

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Our final stop was Imotski, a tiny little village a few kilometers away from the Blue Lake. We enjoyed a home cooked meal at a local, Croatian bistro. Our chefs, a husband, wife and their three boys, knew no English and made everything fresh from their farm. The bistro was actually converted from their old house, where the husband grew up, and they now live across the street.

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He built the whole place, including this fireplace, by hand. He jokingly said it took more time to earn all of the money to build the fireplace than it did to actually make it.

We started with four welcome drinks of various flavors of grappa and slivovitz.

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Followed by homemade white and red wines. And thankfully, a lot of food: bread, cheese, prosciutto, olives, chicken and veal (prepared in the traditional “peka” style), potatoes, and doughnuts.

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That’s our peka chicken and veal. And something about him reminds me of Mikela’s dad, whose Yugoslavian. Perhaps I found his village!

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Just the first course.

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The bistro/farm is apparently the local hangout. As we ate, the men of the village wandered over to play bocce and cards and have a few drinks. We’re not exactly sure where the women were?

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At one point, we looked over and all of the older men were sitting in the same position, in the same outfit, all waiting for others to get there to play bocce.

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And a few of them posed for me as we were leaving.

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