Sobra, Mljet - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

August 29, 2018

Sobra, Mljet

We (I) included Ston on the itinerary because I wanted to see the walls.  I had envisioned just looking at them from town, but now that we see them in person that’s obviously not enough.  They’re the longest in the world other than the Great Wall of China, after all.  We have to walk them, and we decide to do it this morning, while it’s still relatively cool.  We start the day with omelets on the town square and then bike over to the ticket office, lock up the bikes, and start climbing.  And keep climbing.  And climb some more.  I have no idea how many stair steps there are on the wall walk between Ston and Mali Ston, but trust me - it’s quite a few.

It’s definitely worth it though, both for the views and for the feeling you get walking along these seven hundred year old ramparts, imagining how and why they were created.  A great experience.

The main reason I blog our tours is for ourselves, for preserving memories that would otherwise blur and fade over time.  A real side benefit for me though is that it leads me to thinking a bit more about and researching what we’ve seen, if for no other reason than so that I can caption photos a bit better by knowing the name of what we’re seeing.

Ston is a great example of this.  I knew the walls were here, but that was really it.  I didn’t know why onearth they’d been built in this remote place, or of how important Ston is historically.  The walls are here because they were built by their owners, the Republic of Ragusa, to protect the salt pans - the oldest in Europe, and some of the oldest in the world.  Salt has been harvested here for nearly four thousand years, and is still being harvested today using essentially the same hostorical technique.

And what is/was the Republic of Ragusa?  It’s Dubrovnik and its surroundings.  Dubrovnik was an independent state for about four hundred years, wedged in between much larger powers.  Its economy depended on revenues from these salt pans, so it built these walls over several centuries to protect them from invasion from the north.  This alone is interesting because it demonstrates how important salt is in human history.  Imagine how much cost and labor must have gone into building these walls, and you get a sense of what a vital commodity salt is.

And what happened to the Republic of Ragusa?  It fell when it was conquered by Napolean Bonaparte’s forces in 1806-8.  The French were no longer a naval power since their fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Trafalgar the year before, so they came to Dubrovnik by land after building a road down the middle of the Peljesac Peninsula to avoid attack from the sea by Venetian ships.  Parts of this road still exist today - we passed a sign pointing to it, not really understanding what we were seeing.

And how did Napolean’s forces conquer mighty Dubrovnik with its impregnable walls?  A small force walked up to the front gates and requested admittance.  They claimed they were just passing through, on their way to the Bay of Kotor (down the coast in what is now Montenegro) to do battle with the Russian army that threatened Dubrovnik from the south.  All they wanted was to water and resupply.

Admission was granted.  The French stayed.

Beginning the walk from Ston to Mali Ston. Nearly the whole distance is like this - up an endless set of stone stairs, followed by and endless descent to Mali Ston.
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At Ston: the Great Wall of Croatia
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Looking back toward Ston
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I wonder how long this metal railing has been here - it feels quite new. This must have been a very interesting walk before the railing protected you from toppling over the edge.
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Another look back at Ston, from the high point on the lower wall. From this high up we can see the town’s salt pans. Salt is the reason these walls exist. Salt cultivation at Ston goes back four thousand years, and these are the oldest salt pans still operating in Europe. Revenue from salt harvesting was the primary source of income for the Ragusa Republic (Dubrovnik), and the walls were built to protect them from invasion from the north.
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At the high point of the wall flies the flag of the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik.
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A rare flat stretch along the wall
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I like this section of an unrestored portion of the wall. It piques the imagination to think of how all of these massive stones were hauled up here seven hundred years ago.
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At the eastern end, the wall descends to Mali Ston. The two villages, both on water on the opposite sides of the narrowest throat of the peninsula, are only about two kilometers apart.
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At the base of the stairs an elderly woman was selling lace at a trailside stand. She said she makes these herself, and has done so for fifty years. We begged off, saying that we were traveling by bike and couldn’t spare the room. She folded up the olive green one in the center to show how little space it would take, and made a sale. It will look great on a shelf in our home back in Portland. Oh, wait - we don’t have a home any more.
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Ripened pomegranate, Mali Ston
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Mali Ston
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Besides the walls and the salt, Ston and Mali Ston are famous for their mussels and oysters, reputed to be the best in Croatia. I’m not sure what this man is doing with them, but there is a large sack of mussels suspended from each rope. He keeps raising them from the water, looking at them closely, and then resubmerging them.
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In Mali Ston. We stopped here to buy some fresh cherries and figs, and to admire the array of jams. They are nearly all different flavors -I can only see two repeats in the photo.
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A colorful pigeon perch, Ston
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In Ston
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A last look back at the walls. The salt pans are just to the right of the road, hidden from view behind a solid stone wall.
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Yes, I know this photo is above also. I added it here first, but by accident placed incorrectly. I added it again in the right place and then deleted this one. After saving my changes, it was still here. I tried this four times, but it won’t go away. Must be a CycleBlaze feature. Out, damned spot! Out, I say!
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Our destination for tonight is Sobra, a village on the island of Mljet.  We’ll arrive there by ferry - our third in three days.  Ours leaves at one, so after we finished exploring Ston we biked the short distance to the ferry terminal and waited there for an hour and a half, sitting in the shade of a bar, enjoying drinks, fresh fruit from Mali Ston, and the break/cheese/prosciutto haul Rachael scored at the market this morning.

We had thought we would take a bike ride on Mljet this afternoon, but we feel beaten by the heat and humidity.  We decide that we’re still overcoming jet lag and are behind on our sleep, so we check in to our room at two and spend the afternoon sleeping it off.  We venture out again at dinner time and enjoy another outdoor meal overlooking the bay, but that’s it.  We’ll look at Mljet tomorrow.

This family at the ferry port made me anxious. It’s about a twenty foot straight drop to the water from that ledge.
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The ferry to Mljet
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Life on the waterfront, Sobra. At dinner, I observed to our young waitress how quiet the village is, and she quickly agreed. Too quiet, she wryly added.
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Today's ride: 6 miles (10 km)
Total: 77 miles (124 km)

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Jacquie Gaudet“The main reason I blog our tours is for ourselves...”

Well, Scott, we your readers really appreciate that you share your journals, so we can plan our own tours or just tour vicariously with you.

Jacquie
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonWell, there’s that alright. It’s really nice to get feedback and hear that someone else is enjoying following along. The company is great, and it helps me keep disciplined so that I don’t just quit somewhere along the way. Thanks!
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3 months ago