In the Footsteps of Marco Polo- part one

January 5, 2017

Welcome to my new blog about traveling and seeing the world in a new light! It will be filled with entertaining stories that I have written about remote and exotic places, life abroad, and all that traveling entails. I will also be introducing my readers to guest writers and photographers who, like me, have traveled to far corners of the world and see the beauty in the details of everyday life no matter how distant those places are from our shores.

I would feel remiss if I did not start this blog on the small, but incredibly beautiful and significant island of Korcula. It is the birthplace of the first travel writer in history and the inspiration for our favorite childhood game –  Marco Polo. I hope you enjoy this entertaining lesson in history and jump on the next boat to the Adriatic Sea!

The best way to experience what life was like for Marco Polo in the 13th century is to visit the Croatian island of Korcula in November when the cold winds from the Dinaric Alps blow across the narrow strait of sea separating the ancient city from its motherland. It’s a time when the ferryboat has few cars and the parking spaces are plentiful.

We were drawn to Korcula after a conference in Dubrovnik had ended early, giving us time to rent a car and roam the area. Dubrovnik had been aglow that week, shining at night under a full moon hovering just above the imposing 15th-century clocktower and entrancing visitors sipping drinks in outdoor cafés. Full of shops, restaurants, museums, and gleaming marble streets, the cherished city, despite having received an undeserved thrashing from the Serbs in the 1990s, is once again a crown jewel of the Adriatic. For four centuries it was a unique state of its own – a major trading port with a deep harbor within its fortress walls, complete with gates to stop marauders. It was also, as my husband loves to say, the first country to formerly recognize the newly formed United States when it declared its independence from England.

Everything was magical about Dubrovnik except one thing – it did not have Marco Polo and we were interested in Marco Polo, history’s pre-eminent travel writer.

Our first glimpse of Korcula was from the water, just as generations of sailors also saw it – a perfectly round, walled city which rises up like a half-moon from the surrounding harbor to its city center and is topped by the bell tower of St. Mark’s Cathedral. I had read about compact Korcula and its narrow roads, lack of parking, and crowds, but on this November day, we seemed to be the only tourists in town. Random Croatians wandered in and out of banks and supermarkets, some talking in small groups on street corners, but they were all doing the ordinary things that everyday life entails. They paid us no mind.

Completely disoriented, we found no one to pepper with idiotic questions. Instead, we explored on our own, walking outside the walls for a while until we noticed a curved freestanding stone bridge of steps leading to the top of the old wall. It had to be an entrance. It was so quiet that I began to wonder if, when we arrived on top, we might find the whole city closed, like an amusement park in winter. In retrospect it was a silly thought, but not too far off. When we stepped off the bridge and into the city, all we found were deserted streets, devoid of crowds or commercialism. Despite occasional store and restaurant signs that showed life at other times, on this day everything was closed. Even capitalism has its reasonable limits.

Once we became acclimated to the scene and without the distraction of shopping, our attention became rightfully focused on the Venetian marble architecture, carvings on stone churches, and ornate buildings. We were able to drink up the city’s rich history, read informational signs without the jostling of crowds, and feel how it might have been to stride the streets as a nobleman like Marco Polo. Just as Marco walked home from his ship in the late 1200s, we nodded a slight hello to the few residents we encountered.

We were mesmerized by small working boats in the ancient harbor, so much so that we would not have been surprised to see a Venetian ship suddenly arrive and change the quiet island into the bustling city it had been in the 13th century. The charming homes stretching along its narrow streets were built centuries before the invention of the automobile. Always meant for foot traffic, the narrow pathways were sound asleep and patiently waiting for their resident merchants to return home.

To Be Continued…

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