Adriatic Odyssey: A stop in Korcula

KORCULA, Croatia – “I have bad news and good news,” announced cruise co-ordinator Ninna Durinec after breakfast as we began the first full day of our Adriatic cruise. “The bad news is that we will not be able to make a swim stop this morning because of the rainy weather. The good news is that we are now cruising fully by sail.”

The captain had promised that the crew would wake us up to watch the sunrise. It was a fib, however. No sun rose. The morning broke cloudy and windy with a bit of drizzle. Even in the Adriatic you can’t count on sunshine one hundred percent of the time.

But one traveler’s disappointment is another’s opportunity.

Fellow passenger Philippe Choquette, an attorney from Montreal, doesn’t mind the rain and always hopes for wind along with it. He brought his kite surfing equipment with him on the trip and by early afternoon he could be seen skimming over the waves in front of the ancient Korcula fortress that guards the city. (By that time, he was happy and so were all the rest of us. The sun was out.)

Of the 1244 islands in the Adriatic Sea, Korcula is one of the most lush. It’s a kind of ecological Eden of the Mediterranean, covered by hundreds of aromatic plants and dense woods. The latter caused some to give it the name “Black Korcula” for all the dark pine forests. Roman archeological remains and old church foundations point to the island’s history when it was part of the Roman province of Illyricum and later was under Venetian control.

The people of Korcula are seamen, shipbuilders, home and castle builders, fishermen, stonecutters and artists. Korcula town, with the same name as the island, is considered an architectural treasure, and you can see the artistry of the famous stonemasons as soon as you hop off the boat and check out the imposing Cathedral of St. Mark.

One of the best preserved medieval towns of the Adriatic, Korcula is said (by some) to be the birthplace of Marco Polo in 1254. An excursion from the ship can take you to Marco’s alleged birth house, and later to the nearby village of Lumbarda, which produces distinguished wines, both red and white.

The island has a strong art tradition beginning with the Byzantine icons that are housed in the Church of All Saints. Its Bishop’s Palace reveals the hidden treasures of sketches and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Tiepolo. In addition, it boasts a rich musical history; residents are known for their Klapa, a form of a cappella style of singing. Two years ago Korcula initiated an annual international Baroque Festival, showcasing a selection of the world’s leading ensembles and soloists specializing in Baroque music. Korculians also practice Moreska, a traditional sword dance, and festivals of sword dancing have been presented here for more than 400 years.

It seems as though Korcula enjoys any excuse for a festival. Tonight, on the last day of June, a celebration is planned to mark the end of the first half of 2014.

We celebrated our own good fortune as the skies cleared over Korcula this afternoon; some of us jumped into the sea right off the dock.

Unexpected surprises are always occurring when you are on a boat, and we had more good news/bad news this afternoon as we tried to login to the ship’s Wi-Fi service. Our ship, the Panorama, has Wi-Fi. That’s the good news. The bad news: it’s not working.

But there was an immediate solution. Nowadays, a cup of coffee or a glass of lemonade will give you an afternoon of free e-mailing at a sidewalk café, at least in Korcula. (A few years back, getting Internet access meant paying an exorbitant amount by the minute at an often dingy Internet café.)

Our day at sea and on Korcula ended with a fine barbeque dinner, grilled on the stern deck of the AdventureSmith Explorations sailing ship as the sun promised by the captain went down over the red tiled roofs of this ancient coastal town.

Philippe Choquette launches his kite in Croatia’s Bay of Korcula near the town fortress.

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