The first day of our Train Odyssey was a bit of a misnomer considering that the beginning of our journey was by bus. It turns out that on Tuesdays the 522 train from Split to Zagreb doesn’t actually start until Gospić, Croatia. So, passengers are transported from the Split train station 3 hours north. While this was a bit unexpected we had great fun laughing about our “train bus”, and the oddity of handing Eurail passes to the bus driver.
The ride became even more unexpected half-way through when the bus climbed a mountain and we found ourselves in a world of snow. The rest of the way to Gospić we marveled at the amount of snow on the ground and falling from the sky. There were a few tense moments when the bus almost became stuck in the snow. When we arrived at the station in Gospić we weren’t sure if any trains would be running in the storm, but eventually our train arrived, and we were ushered aboard by some very helpful attendants.
While the train wasn’t halted by the snow, it definitely slowed things down. It went very slow during much of the trip and this delayed our journey by over 2 hours.
Finally we arrived in Zagreb after 10 PM and our stomachs were overjoyed to find a 24 hour bakery still open. After standing around a very chilly station for an hour we were all ready to get on our night train to Belgrade, Serbia and go to sleep. While the train cars were a bit tattered, the warm temperatures inside made for a very comfortable end to our first day on the rails.
Today was a monumental day in home school (or road school) as we ventured out on a field trip to Klis Fortress. Since arriving in Europe the Younger Fives have been hard at work learning about civilizations, leaders, and important events pertinent to the continent of Europe. With the assistance of the Magic Tree House series, John Green’s Crash Course, and the BBC’s Horrible Histories they have worked their way through the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Venetians, Hapsburgs, and onto the World Wars. So, it was with much excitement today that they headed off to explore a fortress that held importance to many of these groups. Just a 30 minute bus ride north of Split, the Fortress of Klis lies in a pass between two mountains. This prime location between the mountains made this particular pass a very important stronghold for any group wanting to control the area and access to the Adriatic Sea. The history of the stronghold dates back to the 3rd century BC when it was first used by an Illyrian tribe of Dalmatae. From there the history is very fascinating and quite long, so we won’t go into great detail. However, it involves control by the Roman Empire, building of a palace by Croatian royalty, transformation to a fortress, invasion by the Ottoman Empire, control by the Republic of Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, and finally ending up as a permanent military outpost being used as late as World War 2. While the kids were excited to be visiting a place where Romans, Ottomans, and even Mongols (they attached the fortress in 1242) all stood, they were particularly excited to be so high up in the mountains looking down on Split. From way up at the top of the fortress you can see all of Split, its outlying areas, and even the islands off-shore. The unobstructed views from all sides give a great understanding to why this was such a prime location for any army. As we explored the fortress we only bumped into two other visiting tourists, so once again the kids had free reign to run, jump, and explore every nook and cranny. They all delighted in taking turns in the sentry boxes, although their height greatly limited their effectiveness as lookouts. Luckily mom and dad were there to give them a boost, so that they could pretend enemies were approaching from the north. Given all they have learned about in history class lately, they had many choices in deciding who the enemy actually was 🙂 Tip for visiting Klis Fortress via bus from Split – 1. Take bus #22 from the HNK (bus stand to the east of the Croatian National Theater). You can buy bus tickets at the small kiosk at the stand (kids ride for free). 2. The bus schedule posted in Split actually lists the time that the #22 bus leaves Klis, and not the time that it departs from Split. Make sure to figure in the 30 minute ride, so you don’t wait around at the HNK longer than necessary. 3. Once out of Split the bus ascends a very steep, very narrow, and very curvy road up to Klis. Fun for those who like thrills, but the more cautious might want to shut their eyes. 4. Stay on the bus until the very last stop where it will let you off at the base of the fortress. 5. There is a great little playground, a small store, and even a cafe very close to the bus stop to make use of while you await the return bus to Split.
The rainy weather as of late combined with a vicious flu bug has created one very stir crazy family. So, yesterday while the rain fell heavily we headed underground to explore the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace. For less than $10 we were granted access to the underground chambers of the palace. No one else seemed to be visiting that day, and the kids were able to scurry about creating as much chaos as they could muster without disapproving looks from other tourists.
While the kids burned off some extra energy we all gained greater insight into what the original palace might have looked like. The floor plan of the cellars is an exact mirror image of what was built on the first story. By walking underground you get an understanding of what Emperor Diocletian’s rooms looked like above. Over time the buildings above were converted and changed, but the architecture of the cellars remained for the most part unchanged. In the 1850’s the cellars were finally drained and cleaned (in the Middle Ages they were used as dumps) and many archaeological discoveries were made, including an olive oil press.
The basement level of Diocletian’s Palace is a wonderful maze of rooms just perfect for kids to explore. The entire middle section has been given over to various vendors selling souvenirs, jewelry, and paintings. However, the eastern and western sections remain just as they might have looked when the palace was first built. It was great fun to find secret passages, view the old plumbing system, and to look up to see the floor boards of the shops above. When walking around the top level of the palace you would never dream of the world that exists just below your feet. We definitely gained a much broader image of the palace as a whole, and found a great rainy day activity.