Trg Republike at dusk, Split, Croatia

Trg Republike, Split, Croatia (Pic du Jour)

A quiet moment on this large square surrounded on three sides by attractive neo-Renaissance buildings known as the Prokurative. With a population nearing 200,000 –its metropolitan area is home to about 350,000– Split is the largest city on the Dalmatian coast and the second-largest city in Croatia.

Split, Croatia, 12-Feb-2008
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Cablegate in the Balkans – And the winner is:

Croatia, apparently.

[NOTE: New link to cablegate site is ]

Of the 251,287 secret US Embassy cables which Wikileaks began making public yesterday, 2,053 relate to Croatia, according to the ‘Cables by Country‘ graphic on Wikileaks Cablegate website. Bosnia & Hercegovina is next at 1,419, followed by Serbia & Montenegro, with 1,244. Slovenia comes in a distant fourth with 947, with Macedonia (783) and Montenegro (503) bringing up the rear.

While it’s not as high on the list as its southern neighbors, Slovenia-related cables were the first to score points in the media avalanche which began last night CET. Advance material supplied to The Guardian, Der Speigel, Le Monde, and The New York Times included in passing a mention of a strongarm deal the US offered to Slovenia. Most of the accounts went something like this:

The (New York Times) also cited documents showing the U.S. used hardline tactics to win approval from countries to accept freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. It said Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if its president wanted to meet with President Barack Obama and said the Pacific island of Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to take in a group of detainees.

Milan Balažic, spokesperson for Slovenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied that any such deal making transpired, insisting that Slovenia cannot accept Guantanamo detainees on legal grounds and that PM Borut Pahor does still have a  visit to the US scheduled for next year. The statement I read didn’t specifically say however, that Pahor would be meeting with Obama. [See update for the 'real' story in this, according to the actual cable.]

As of 19:30 CET today only 243 documents have been published so far; nothing Slovenia-related has been posted yet. According to the Cablegate site, the documents will be released in stages over the next few months.

Updated 30-Nov @ 11:00 CET – Not sure how much time I’ll find for updates here; I’ll try to post any applicable (former Yugoslavia) links I come across via twitter.

Susak Notebook

Dolphins as PR/tourism icon are everywhere in Mali Lošinj. So it made my day to see a school of 10 or so during a relatively brief boat ride to Susak, a small island about 10 nautical miles southwest of Mali Lošinj.

Only about 200 people live on the island year round. It’s a quiet place, relaxing. It appears that it’s been that way for some time and quite likely will stay that way. There are a small handful of stores, restaurants and cafés – most were still shuttered in mid-May — but absent are night clubs, large or even medium-sized hotels, and most conspicuously, roads.

There are no cars on the island; the only motorized vehicles I saw were a few small tractors hauling smaller trailers loaded with supplies which arrived on an afternoon boat. Otherwise, wheelbarrows, or karijole, appear to be the device of choice to push things around. I spent most of a quick coffee break observing one man, in his late 60s or early 70s is my guess, pushing 15 liters of red wine in his karijola. He stopped quickly at the café, enjoyed a coffee and a piece of baklava, and was on his way in less than 180 seconds.

I can understand quite a bit of Croatian, but am hardly fluent. Nonetheless, I did notice that the locals used a very distinct dialect, one I’ve never heard before. The island’s first inhabitants were the Illyrians; the majority of their surviving descendents left the island in the late 1940s after Croatia became part of Yugoslavia, and emigrated primarily to Hoboken, New Jersey.

It struck me as an interesting place to spend some time for a longer anthro/ag/geog/etc research project, if one was looking for such a thing. You can choose to be very isolated here, but with the luxury of a quick commute to the mainland which also happens to be an island. I came on a day trip, spent just a few hours, but long enough to want to return, at least for a few days. This type of seclusion, remote but still not that far removed, is rare, and fascinating at the same time.

Quick plug for our ship’s captain, Luciano Magazin, who operated one of about a dozen or so boats with daily departures to nearby islands from the port at Mali Lošinj. The cost for the trip, roughly an hour each way, is 100 KUN (13.66 EUR/ 19.16 USD), and he offers an on-board lunch for an additional 80 KUN (11 EUR/15 USD). Definitely worth it. We enjoyed a variety of local and fresh pan-fried fish, a hefty green salad, and a delicious potato/spinach dish, all bottomless portions, plus plenty of red and white wine. And although it isn’t quite as good as Brkinska (none is, really), the welcome glass of slivovec (plum brandy) at a few minutes after 10 was quite tasty.

Some more of my pics here, and here’s a terrific link for plenty more info:.

(Visited mid-May 2009)

dolphins 03, originally uploaded by pirano.

May pic(k)s

This is the Pula Arena (or amphitheatre, or coliseum), in the Istrian city of Pula, Croatia. Built in the 1st C. AD, it’s the sixth largest of 200 surviving Roman arenas. The last time I visited here was 32 years ago.

Well maintained these days, at its peak it was able to accommodate more than 20,000. There’s a nice little museum on the premises (admission 40 KUN/EUR 5.53/USD 8.16/), an absolute must stop.

The rest of my personal dandy dozen or so from the month of May, shot in Losinj, Croatia, and various spots around Slovenia, are here.

Previous: [Apr 09] [Mar 09] [Feb 09] [Jan 09] [2008]

Pula 01, originally uploaded by pirano.

35 second Hotel Apoksiomen (Mali Lošinj) Advisor

Hotel Apoksiomen
Riva Lošinjsih Kapetana I
51550 Mali Lošinj, Croatia
Visited 5-9 May 09

Very nicely done. Casual semi-statelyiness. Friendly, pleasant staff, night and day. It’s named after a 2nd or 1st C. BC bronze statue found between the islands of Lošinj and Veli Orjuli where he rested beneath the waves for about 1800 years. He’s being cleaned up at the moment and is expected to return to Mali Lošinj next year.

A terrific deal at 59 EUR/night via HRS, 10 EUR more for a portside room; two have balconies. Mine was nice. Great views and lots of sun. Don’t expect that price during the summer months.

It’s part of Vienna International group, which also has properties in Poland, The Czech Republic, Germany, France, Austria and Romania, and which claims that the cheapest rates can be found directly from their website. If not, they’ll pay you the difference. I didn’t check out the claim, but you can here.

Wifi throughout, and it was free via my HRS booking. Breakfast was OK+.

One complaint: They really need to fix that large bump in the floor that divides the breakfast room in half. That’s not something a guest needs to be wary of when carrying a cup of coffee and a glass of juice across the room before 8 in the morning. OK? Thanks.

hotel apoksiomen 2009-05-06-Mali Lošinj 02, originally uploaded by pirano.

Lošinj notebook

The Croatian island of Lošinj is the northernmost area of Europe where lemons grow. That tidbit tells you quite a bit about what to expect from this northern Adriatic island in the Kvarner Gulf. The island’s 33km long, but for all intents and purposes, considerably longer given its close relationship with it’s northern sister Cres, at a whopping 66km long and 405 square km the largest Croatian island. The two are joined at the village of Osor by a laughably small bridge that traverses its eponymous bay. (It’s laughable because I laughed out loud. I guess I was simply expecting something not so small.)

Looking for an Adriatic island trip in early May –my first– the Cres- Lošinj archipelago was a great choice, but primarily one of practicality (along with a few nice reviews). Besides Krk to the east, it’s the closest to Ljubljana and easily accessible via Rijeka or just beyond Opatija.

Brestova-Porozina, 15 KUN (2 EUR/2.90 USD)/person, 96 (13.15 EUR/18.39 USD) for a car. About a 30 minute ride. Service is more or less hourly, besides the longer midday/lunch break. Here’s last year’s (2008) high season schedule, which will probably be quite similar this year.  If you’re on a tight schedule, note that in 2008 the last boat back left at midnight.

From Porozina it’s a fabulous drive with plenty of great views towards both coasts, and you’ll drive through evergreen and some hardwood forests. Give yourself a little time to adjust to the narrow roads, and take care on the turns. Most bus drivers I came across took them very fast, particularly uphill. There are lots of cyclists too.

There’s plenty of road construction –some major– at the moment, with the aim presumably to have work completed before high season hits. I got the impression that that really won’t happen.

It took about an hour-and-a-half to reach the town of Cres, and another hour before we parked the car for the next three days in Mali Lošinj. Unless you’re just doing so to get your bearings, there is no need to drive into town (no free parking). There’s ample free parking available just a short walk from the port; at least a few hotels do offer closer parking but with a fee.

From the ferry dock at Brestova it’s about 70 km to Mali Lošinj, the county seat and main port, a very pleasant and relatively quiet (at least in early May) harbor town with a west facing port. The harbor’s nicely-maintained promenade, or riva,  is lined with an ample number of restaurants, cafes, bars, and gift shops, along with a few hotels (I got a decent deal for the portside Apoksiomen) and a couple galleries.

While virtually anything can be done on the cheap with a little resourcefulness, if you’re looking for something low budget overall, you won’t find it here (or from what I hear, anywhere on the Dalmatian coast anymore). I dined at several restaurants, and enjoyed the fresh seafood, the local olive oils and wines. Few entrees came in at under 15 EUR, most were more.

I saw a pair of nice campgrounds nearby as well, which is where I will stay when I return.

Plenty of boats head out in the morning for day trips to the various nearby islands, most costing 100 KUN/13.70 EUR/19 USD per person. Most leave at 10am for pre-determined destination, but most captains welcome itinerary changes. I went to Susak, about an hour away, which came highly recommended.

If graffiti is your thing, save that creative energy for a small and abandoned Yugoslav navy installation just beyond the western edge of the port. Plenty of dilapidated buildings to serve as your canvas. There a small curving tunnel you can roam through afterwards. (There’s a brief blind spot in the center but fear not, you can make it without a flashlight.)

Overall, terrific. It’s said to be very busy in the summer months, so best times to visit are spring and fall. Definitely bring some sun block.

About a dozen pics on my flickr stream.

Mali Lošinj 09, originally uploaded by pirano.

Corruption in Croatia

It’s not very new, but surely, this deserves a few more views, no?

Via a BBC story today on corruption and organized crime in Croatia comes this youtube vid (in Croatian) of Josip Matanović, a former VP of Croatia’s Privatization Fund (CPF), accepting a big ole envelope of cash.

Can anyone help with some quick translation? Direct link is here.

Unrelated: Former porn actress Lidija Šunjerga is an independent candidate for Mayor of the Dalmatian city of Kastela, just north of Split. Have never been, but from the pics I’ve seen, it looks like a nice place. She apparently didn’t make the cut for Big Brother Croatia a few years ago, but did manage a spot on the cast of a Croatian version of Survivor. Via Balkaninsight reports that her platform focuses on gender equality and envirnmental protection.