Posted by: viewfromtheriva | March 22, 2019

Nin, a legendary town that has it all

The historic core of Nin, surrounded by the sea and beautiful sandy beaches

To many Croatians, Nin is respected and admired as where Croatia began–their country’s oldest royal town, the seat of famous dukes and even kings, like Tomislav, Petar Krešimir IV. and Zvonimir.  And Catholics know the town not only for being a diocese more than 1000 years ago, but for its most famous bishop, Grgur of Nin, whose statues are here, in Varazdin (another royal town) as well as in Split. 

One of the many artifacts in the town’s splendid indoor and outdoor archeological museum

But except for sun and beach worshipers who come here to enjoy the country’s longest sandy beach, Nin’s 3,000 year old history and culture is still waiting to be discovered by most tourists.  The problem is that Dalmatia has so many treasures–magical cities, towns, national parks, islands, more–that even Nin has a tough time being a “must” when most tourists only have a few days.  So, maybe after reading this, when you come to Croatia, Nin will be on your must list!

Queens Beach, more than 3km long and all sand!

The story of Nin begins in the 9thC BC when it was founded by an Ilyrian tribe of Liburnians. Despite its tiny size (today Nin only has 3000 residents), complete with a charming medieval old town on its own island connected by stone causeways to the mainland, Nin has witnessed so much glorious history and so much destruction (ransacked and burned in 1646 to save Zadar), its story really is the stuff of legend.

It was so important during the Roman era (its name was Aenona) that in the second half of the lstC AD, the Emperor Vespasian commissioned not only a monumental forum, but also the largest Roman temple on the Adriatic coast–whose foundation stones are still here today, along with a spectacular column 17 meters high!

The temple is really enormous, but without scale it’s hard to really appreciate just how enormous it is. Just look at the house near it and the cars. The column is 17 meters high! The outside circumference of the temple was 33 meters in length and 23.5 meters in width. The shrine inside was divided into three areas, separated one from the other by two columns on each side.

The town’s splendid museum, indoors and out, is located on the island.  It’s beautifully arranged and filled with marvelous artifacts, jewelry, glass, marble and even two restored 11thC Croatian wooden boats!  A chunk of a Roman era vessel, whose wooden beam, frame and planks were held together by an intricate system of ropes, like the ancient Egyptians used, is also here.  

boat 2

At the top of the photo you can see conservators working on pieces of the boat that are kept for later use during the restoration process. 

Just a short walk from the museum is the 9thC Church of the Holy Cross which is open so you can enjoy the now empty, but restored interior.

9thC Church of the Holy Cross

The streets in and around the old town are nicely paved and easy to walk around and enjoy.  We had a spectacular lunch at Stara Kuzina (the old kitchen), one of several places to sit inside or out and enjoy the handsome surroundings.

In addition to its history and culture, the town is famous for its saltworks and you can even tour a salt museum.  Salt was like gold in ancient times and although many of the pans now use commercial machines, some are harvested by hand using similar tools that have been around since Roman times.

Almost as well known as the town’s famous sandy beaches is its medicinal mud.  Blue black in color, you can see lots of folks slathering it on all over to enjoy the benefits.

The town suffered some tremendous damage last year due to violent wind storms and has spent a lot of time, money and energy cleaning up the mess and making what’s here even better.  One of the causeways has been completely rebuilt and should be open by June.

And the town received the coveted European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) award which should also help bring more folks to enjoy its many attractions.

From Split, it’s less than 2 hours to get here and well worth the toll road fee of $10.  You can take the more leisurely coastal road, of course.  The closest big city is Zadar, well worth a visit before or after.  But if you love the beach as well as history and culture and great cuisine, renting a flat for a week or just for a few days and making Nin your headquarters will surely be a great treat!



The Romans never did things half way, even their street drains were designed artistically

Dioklecijanova street, the main north/south street inside Diocletian’s Palace, runs from the Golden or North Gate to where it meets Kresimirova street in the heart of the Palace, its glorious, open “courtyard” Peristil.

The Augubio palace, just a few doors up from the corner of this junction, is one of a number of 14-17thC edifices within the Roman walls built by the rich and famous to signify their elite status.

Many are still in wonderful condition, others are waiting to be restored.  The Augubio is mostly restored, with a courtyard and its own well (a real sign of status, having your own source of water!).  Several years back the ground floor was restored and the original Roman stone street and handsome brick arches and other details from later epochs were uncovered as part of a restaurant project with the same name.

As the restaurant scene here has exploded, a lot of places have changed hands as well as menus. Last week, I had a chance to meet one of the new owners (from Croatia, the other is from California).  While we were sitting talking about their fabulous new menu, I noticed what looked like a Roman drain–like the one inside the bank at the corner and another inside the Croata store on the opposite corner–that one, restored and under glass for all to enjoy).

Those drains run west to east…but the Augubio drain is on the north/south axis and the only one I have seen that not only is visible, but is actually working.  “We wash these stone floors regularly,” my host said, “and the water runs right into the drain perfectly”

What a wonderful discovery!

Next time I come, I can’t wait to surprise the maitre d, “hi, can I have a table next to the drain please?”

Even close up, the drain is just plain gorgeous


Posted by: viewfromtheriva | March 5, 2018

Sorry, Oscar. The Shape of Water sinks under its own weight

Now that the winners have been announced, having seen most of the nominated films, I thought I would put in my two cents.

How The Shape of Water even got nominated is still a mystery to me.  We’ve seen this idea many times before, with much better story-telling and character development, like Beauty and the Beast and so many other films.  But this clumsy effort is simply Hollywood movie making at its worst…..a total mish-mash of ideas resulting in an incoherent mess; poorly edited; wretched script and pardon the pun, “watery” direction.

Let’s begin with the noir paranoid 50’s setting.  Even as a metaphor it’s so lame, because clearly the “monster” and the 1950’s have little to do with each other–it’s simply del Toro’s whim of putting his story inside a 50’s envelope.

But does it drive the story?  No, it actually detracts.

Consider this, if the time frame was in another period, say the 80’s, would the essence of the film still make sense?  Of course.

But del Toro’s decision to use the 50’s not only makes no sense, it takes us far away from the fantasy.

Instead of developing the fantasy, del Toro’s decides to spend the majority of time showing us 50’s paranoia and even super clean 50’s cars since the owners who rent them to the studio won’t allow them to look “used”–and then goes even further away from the story by bringing us into the house and life of the monster’s captor–why?  To create tension?  To show us how paranoid he really is compared to the sweet Sally Hawkins, the movie’s heroine?

Michael Shannon, as the monster’s tormentor, really deserved an Oscar!

And the terrible monster?  We’re led to believe that this creature is a threat to humanity.  With typical Hollywood nonsense, we get to see cheesy “top security” vault where the caged beast is transported to and then all sorts of further nonsense with the military and others stewing about what to do with him.

But when we finally see the monster, whoaa–a cartoon character worthy of Marvel.  Humanioid with goggles over his eyes?

Is this the best the director can do?

Girl meets monster….sorry, we are NOT afraid

And instead of a subtle nuance, we get it all telegraphed:  the heroine is deaf and the monster can’t talk.  She is all empathy surrounded by evil, except for her stereotypical girl friend, whose dialogue sure ain’t 50’s!

Teaching the monster to say the word “lemon” is treated like some profound moment of a connection between a love-starved woman and an alien.


On and an on and on this film goes trying to create some sort of tension and real mystery when we know from the very first encounter they will clearly be together, and having telegraphed the gill slits, clearly, she will get hers.

I hope he loves lemons!

So of course, we have to watch the monster be repeatedly brutalized by his paranoid captor—but for what purpose?  Since this is just another gratuitous directorial whim, of course, the director lets us know that the result of all this “torture” is simply to set up the finale, which again is so telegraphed and poorly staged, it’s almost laughable.

Indeed the decision to kill the beast rather than actually stop torturing it to find out it if is sentient comes as no surprise.

Since there is clearly no interest in keeping him alive, and knowing he can be kept as calm as a pussycat with a simple electric cattle prod, why all the security, secrecy and torture?

The monster surely could have been much more developed.  We are shown that he has tremendous powers, but then somehow is unable to even get out of his tank?

At one point he is being kept alive in a bathtub, but “is dying” and needs to get back to the sea OR ELSE!!

But of course, somehow before he does, he miraculously recovers to save the day, surrounded by what looks like the entire city police force–who just as miraculously, with a clear kill shot, simply stand around like stage hands doing nothing since the director just wants the scene to look meaningful.

I mean it’s one thing to suspend belief because, hey, it’s a fantasy.  But with such a thin story to hold the film together, continuing to immerse us in such detailed 50’s noir “reality” takes what little juice is left and leaves us yawning,.

Where oh where is the editing in this film?

The only bright spot belongs to Michael Shannon, whose over the top sadism is remarkable–a fabulous performance by any standard.  But who gets the nomination? Richard Jenkins, a wonderful actor, who cheerfully breezes through his lines as if he was in an entirely different film!

Sorry Oscar, but The Shape of Water sinks under its own weight.



Posted by: viewfromtheriva | November 8, 2017

Kirov’s Death and the Dervish–exciting and uneven

Death and the Dervish, here the soul of the tormented Ahmed, in a body suit, dances a duet with him

One of the great Balkan novels, Death and the Dervish, by Mesa Selimovic, is a story of bureaucracy, betrayal and a search for the self.  The book recounts the story of Sheikh Nuruddin, a dervish residing in an Islamic monastery in Sarajevo during the turbulent 18thC when the Ottoman Turks ruled over the Balkans  After his brother is arrested, Ahmed must descend into the Byzantine world of the Turkish authorities.   After harrowing experiences, he begins to question his entire existence and find resolution by searching for his very soul.  Published in 1966, some feel the book is also a metaphor for the author’s views on the Communist society of the times.

Kirov stages it magnificently, with towering set pieces and wonderful costumes that capture the story’s dark Kafkaesque essence.  Although several dancers were off their marks for some dramatic lighting, the scenic design, lighting and evocative music by fellow Macedonian Goran Bojcevski were compelling.

Tomislav Petranovic as Ahmed, was outstanding

As the tortured Ahmed Nurudin, Tomislav Petranovic, new to the company, was outstanding.  Muscular and athletic, his performance revealed both the yearning and anger of a soul in torment.

Ajla Kadric, in a full body suit, was haunting as Ahmed’s soul–she danced poetically, full of restrained passion.   Salvatore Cerulli, also new to the company, lit up the stage when he appeared, but it was Irina Ciban Bilandic who was dazzling each time she was paired with Ahmed.  (After she got pregnant, we wondered what would happen after the birth of her child….would she return or retire?  Clearly she has come back with even more poise and power. And those extensions!)

Also in fine form was Ivan Boiko as well as the brothers Dimache.

Having recruited a new group of very talented dancers (replacing some members, who left over both personal and artistic differences), this young Macedonian choreographer has brought a completely new oeuvre to Split.  Whether it’s 9 to 5, East/West or his other works, Kirov’s dramatic, physical choreography with ambitious staging and music to match marks a new era for the company.

While clearly very talented (he has worked all over the world)–some of his choreography is breath-taking, like watching Irina gracefully slide hands-free off Tomislav’s back– the Kirov lexicon relies a lot on what we have seen before in his other works–and in Death and the Dervish, despite the flashes of brilliance, for me, the production often devolved into repetitive motifs.

Most surprising was the ending.  It was surely meant to be a powerful moment when Ahmed unmasks death.  But instead of being surprising, it was predictable and abrupt and the music leading up to it seemed out of place.

So in sum, a wonderful evening of exciting ballet, but not quite as resolved as it might have been.



Posted by: viewfromtheriva | November 7, 2017

The art of making plov at Stari Barin in Split

One of the most celebrated Central Asian meals is plov.  Traditionally made only by the man in the house, this wonderful spice infused rice-based layered steamed “casserole” of lamb with carrots dish takes hours to prepare and infinite patience to get just right.

We still have fond memories of Uzbek plov served up by a friend deep in the heart of Russia a decade ago, so when we stumbled on Stari Barin (“the old Duke”) a new restaurant just outside central historic core of Split (fittingly located on Tolstoy Street), we ran in and after downing several skewers of beef and amazing manti, a sort of Central Asian ravioli but much better), we were invited back for plov “in a few days”.

When the call came, we were THERE!

Leonid, the owner, invited me out back to see the grand unveil.  There in the corner was his cast iron pot and as he lifted the lid, the smell almost made me swoon….wow, plov in Split!  He gently scooped the top layer of rice and carefully placed it on the waiting plate.

Next of course, would come the layer of carrots….essential to plov along with those exotic spices.  Again he dipped his ladle into the lovely rice and scooped out some carrots.

Finally down into the lamb and onto the plate again where it was whisked to the table along with another plate for us to devour…it was soooo good we ordered two more to go!

If you get a chance, Stari Barin in Split….for wood grilled pork and chicken, plov, manti and more.  And most main courses are around 65 kuna or just $10 for such made-with-love cuisine.

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | October 10, 2017

Split’s fabled waterfront Hotel Ambassador finally gets a new life

Splitski hotel Ambasador kupio je 'kralj Birkenstock sandala'

Vacant for decades, the Ambassador and its location are considered the jewels of Split’s waterfront

Built in 1937 and vacant for decades, the Ambassador sits directly on the western promenade of Split’s waterfront Riva.  It’s one of only two direct waterfront hotels in the city (the other is the 3 star Jadran at the end of the promenade that abuts the city’s wonderful Zvoncac park).

Being such a prize property, the battle for ownership went on for years with lots of false starts until finally one of the Birkenstock family members who lives in Brela (famous for their shoes, remember?), bought the place lock, stock and barrel.

According to real estate reports, the new 4 star hotel will have 80-100 rooms, underground parking and up to six apartments.   And for that fab waterfront locale, will pay the city a hefty annual rent for the privilege and privacy of being on its own piece of the Riva.

Demolition of the old Ambassador Hotel began today

The build will take 18-24 months…with the plan to have the place ready for the 2018 season.

Everyone in Split will be waiting to celebrate, that’s for sure!


Posted by: viewfromtheriva | October 1, 2017

St. Michael, guns and klapa singing–Sept. 29th in Split

As part of the Day of St. Michael, the defender of the Church and patron saint of police. Split’s men and women in blue show off their arsenals.

Being a 95% Catholic country, Croatia has a rich tradition of celebrating the saints…and many of them actually come from this part of the world.  Among the most celebrated is Sv. Mihovil, St. Michael, the avenging archangel of the Church, patron saint of police and other “defenders”.

So tourists as well as locals can enjoy the many festival performances that are an integral part of saint’s days like St. Michael’s, a performance stage is set up on the waterfront Riva.

But it was a little startling to see an array of assault weapons and hand guns framing the stage as an octet of men in blue sang traditional klapa–and boy were they good!

Singing traditional klapa, members of the Split police were up on stage as part of the St. Michael feast day.

Considering how rare it is to even see a uniformed police officer walking around the city or a police car, it was quite a site seeing all the weapons, commando dress and officers and rank and file filling up the Riva enjoying their patron saint’s day clearly having a wonderful time.

Another adventure is always surprising Split!

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | August 27, 2017

7th Annual Split Blues Festival Outdoors at Zvoncac!

The 7th Split Blues Festival wound up a three day gig last night with a quartet of groups featuring Be Ha Ve from Zagreb, Harpoon Blues Band and Trio Trabacool from Split and Raphael Wressnig and the Soul Gift Band playing past midnight.

The venue this year was the park at Zvoncac, just in front of the Jadran Hotel and the small marina at the end of the Western Promenade.  The crowd was smaller than I thought it would be, around 2,500 for the Saturday show, but the energy was high and the music, well, what can you say about the Blues!

My love affair with this genre began in college when I managed The Cloud, a Boston blues band.  Although we never landed a contract, we did open for Chuck Berry and gigged with some groups that went on to fame and fortune like the J. Geils Blues Band, whose original name, a reflection of the times, was The Hallucinations.

So it was a lot of fun to get back into it last night and even hear some memorable covers of songs like Sunshine of your love and Gimme Shelter.  Let’s hope the Festival gets some decent sponsors so it can continue to bring in talent from around the globe in years to come.

Mike Sponza

Mike Sponza from Trieste


Raphael Wressnig & The Soul Gift Band

Rapheal Wresnig and the Soul Gift Band from Austria/Italy

There’s always something going on in and around Diocletian’s Palace.  If you have been here, as you enter the substructures under the south part of the Palace,  there is a small, open well-like structure filled with brackish water that visitors like to throw coins into.

Every so often, a workman siphons the water out and scoops up the coins and tosses them into a bucket.

According to local staff, several hundred Euros a year are collected, which are used to help support the continued upkeep and protection of the Palace.

The substructures of the Palace are a constant reminder of just how sublime Roman (with the help of a lot of Greek slaves) architecture can be.  Made of limestone, travertine marble, brick and mortar, with carefully notched out blocks to make sure the building wouldn’t collapse in an earthquake, the substructures are as beautiful as they are functional.

The southern part of the Palace is at sea level and the area from the central Peristil north is much higher, so a cavernous substructure was created to hold up the south side of the Palace–where the emperor and his family lived.  During Diocletian’s time, these vast basements were primarily used to store wine, olive oil and other effects.

300 years after Diocletian died, the Avars and Slavs overran this part of the Roman Empire, conquering Salona, the then capital of Roman Dalmatia, a cosmopolitan city of more than 60,000.  Fleeing for their lives, the safety of the Palace seemed a perfect refuge.

Fortunately for them, Byzantine rulers living in the Palace, let these refugees in–but made them live in the substructures–even today, you can still see staircases and outlines of roofs down here.

Since the Palace walls were never breached by any enemy, the refugees felt so secure that for more than 1000 years, residents never moved out.  Instead they eventually began building their own houses up above, using chunks of the Palace and bringing in other stone.  The once gloriously wide, straight, elegant Palace streets became a warren of buildings both small and large.  When the Venetian arrived–and stayed for more than 400 years–they built their own palaces within the Palace.

The result of course, is what we see today–much narrower streets and many, many more buildings (and churches) within the Palace that its original structure.

And what happened to the substructures?  The new residents and those who followed  simply dug holes in the streets and alleys where they built their new homes and threw building debris, garbage, human waste and more down into the “basements” where they once lived!

When they were dug out, archaeologists were amazed to find so much intact–after 1,700 years of continuous occupation all that debris literally filled up the substructures and preserved them beautifully! More importantly, once revealed, archaeologists were able to re-construct what the use and dwellings above must have looked like.

There are lots of older structures than the Palace of Diocletian, but precious few have been continuously lived in for such a long time and are in such a remarkable state of repair.  To the local workman collecting modern coins from a small well inside a 1,700 year old Roman building, it’s just part of his job.

But to me, living here, it’s part of the never-ending adventure that is Split.

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | August 2, 2017

Kuwaiti billionaire’s $100 million yacht Samar motors into Split

Kutayba Alghanim yacht

For the second time in as many weeks another $100 million plus mega yacht pulled into Split, this time the proud possession of a Kuwaiti billionaire–but for $425,0o0 week, it can be yours too.  Complete with helicopter, the Samar sure was a sight tied up the Western Promenade here today.

Complete with its own helicopter, the Samar on its mooring at the Western Promenade

Here are a few particulars about this superyacht:

Yacht Samar

The yacht Samar was built at Devonport Yachts in England to a design of H2 Yacht Design, withLaurent Giles as naval architect. The luxury yacht has a steel hull and aluminum superstructure.

12 Guests and 20 Crew

She can accommodate 12 guests and a crew of 20. Samar has large pool, a gymnasium, a cinema and several bar areas. She has an opulent interior.

A Mini Cooper and a Helicopter

The yacht carries several toys, including a Mini Cooper and a Bell 407 helicopter.  

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