Croatia


Well, it’s been over a year that Stacy and I traveled to Croatia – and I’ve finally posted my photos! Check ’em out . . . .

Stacy and I arrived home almost a month ago. I’m slowly acclimating back to reality but trying to maintain my humor and relaxed sense. I guess in some ways, avoiding auto pilot. As I walked to work that first morning, with sirens blasting and a graffiti buster cleaning cement, I felt my body start to tense – I’d never noticed that before . . . I had to shake it off.

Now back to my trip, I think I might have a couple more blogs up my sleeve. On the island of Hvar, I do remember a moment when I wanted to click my heels to go home — but it was home from Stari Grad to Hvar Town.

Stacy and I took a day trip to Stari Grad on Nov. 1st – the Catholics on the island celebrated the day of the dead on that day (there was no trick or treating the night before that I was aware of). This, of course, meant to us tourists that even more shops and such were closed in the already basically shut down town. We walked down to the plaza that morning and it was bustling with people dressed up outside of the beautiful stone church. It had never been so busy any other morning. Earlier that week, we snuck into the church – a red candle was lit outside and the doors open. It didn’t have elaborate frescoes on the ceiling that rose to the sky (the dark church cast a blue hue), but as we walked through I stopped to look at the various shrines to the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the dead (you could light a candle at an altar). As I walked up to the front of the church, a teen-aged girl walked out of a confession booth and that’s when it dawned on me as to why the church was open. I stood staring at one of the shrines when the door to the confessional booth opened again and a priest walked out. I looked at him, looking at me (I’ve been good I swear!) and as he passed he patted me on the shoulder. He seemed calm and happy the pat gave me a warm feeling. I felt lucky in some sense to have encountered him.

But anyway, back to the Stari Grad story, we walked through the church-goers and to the bus station. We got on the big luxury bus and stared out the window at the rugged and rocky landscape along the coast for about twenty minutes, when we arrived in Stari Grad. It’s actually older than Hvar Town, but not as quaint. It has a horseshoe-shaped harbor, so we walked along the old stone buildings and yachts and then back through the narrow alleyways of the town. Nothing was open except for a couple of cafes so we stopped for an espresso. Once again, no shopping – bummer!

We had plenty of time before our bus would leave, in fact all afternoon and I thought, what the hell are we going to do. So we walked to the other side of the horseshoe. There was a big hotel at the end of it, with a nice pebble beach. The place was so eerily quite with a few other wanderers like us. The hotel looked abandoned for the season – it was so bizarre and almost sad. It was a big white square building that reminded me of communist apartments. So much of the different areas had these beautiful ancient stone buildings and then we would wander upon a cement block-type building.

We started back on the path to the town center and passed another shut down hotel and small rental cabins behind it. It was so peaceful and beautiful with the evergreen trees that towered over us and clear water of the Adriatic Sea waiting, quietly.

It brought back memories of camping. I pictured being in Branson, MO when I was maybe in junior high. Stacy and I stood on the cement boat launch, fully clothed,  and I thought it would be a good idea to go down the ramp, closer to the lake. As I walked down, my jelly sandals started to slide down the ramp on the moss that covered the cement. There really was no stopping me, and in fact it was basically like being on ice. Down, splash, into the water. Stacy started laughing at me as I tried to pull myself up first over the moss covered boat ramp and then off to the side over moss covered rocks. I kept slipping back in and Stacy was laughing way too hard to help me. Seaweed, moss or anything green in the water freaked me out! I was angry and got angrier when I couldn’t get out! Finally, somehow, I dragged my wet body out of the lake and we trudged back to the pop-up trailer. I swear, even the ducks were giggling at me. The only bruise I remember from that adventure, was the one to my ego.

Once back around the path,  in Stari Grad, we ate pizza and then headed to the bus stop. Our bus was supposed to arrive at 6pm. When that time came and went, we started to wonder what it meant when a time on the bus chart was underlined. Hmmm. Yes, of course we overlooked that fact – it didn’t even dawn on us to ask someone back in Hvar Town before our trip. We stared at each other and the few passing cars as we sat in the dark bus stop. I focused hard on the passing cars, willing the car lights to turn into a magic bus that would take us back home. It didn’t work, so we went back to the unfriendly guy at the pizza place.

He told us that his friend would take us back to Hvar for 200 Kuna (about 40 bucks) – what a rip off! He said the cab would charge us 250 Kuna. Well, we’ll just see about that, please call us a cab. The cab driver, dressed in a suit told me as we got into the VW that it would only be around 100-150 Kuna. See! The guy was lying!

Once back, nicely snug in the arms of Hvar Town, the cab driver stated that we owed him 250 Kuna. What?! I got over it very quickly and was just happy to back home and away from my vision of trudging through Stari Grad, trying to find a place to stay. It had crossed my mind before we realized that they had a cab in town.

The Hvar Croatians might not be that friendly, but they are honest!

Finally, here in Hvar Town where they brag about the sunny days – it’s been very nice with blue skies. It rained and was gray mid-week. We arrived here almost a week ago  – haven’t been able to leave. It is slow and I’m starting to get ansy because most everything is shut down or only open part of the day. We’ve been exploring the coast, though, with tons of hiking.

When our ferry docked, a blonde lady was holding a sign for a room for rent, so we went with her to see the place. It’s very cute and up on the hill so we have great views. She said it’s only 5 minutes walking to the main center. Well, it’s actually more like 10 minutes and straight up or down. It’s a workout! We have a kitchen, so have been eating breakfast and lunch in the room. The patio overlooks the Adriatic – we just sit and stare at the view. It’s so weird, I feel like I’m in a trance. There are very few tourists here right now – I guess it’s nuts in the summer, so I’d rather not have that.

Hvar Town was built by the Venetians, so it looks very similar to St. Marks Square (I think that’s what it’s called) in Venice. All the buildings in the town center are made of a white stone and the narrow alleyways lead up and down to homes and restaurants. It’s adorable here. I guess that’s why we got stuck. Dinners are expensive – about 30 to 40 bucks, but when you consider that we’re each paying less than 20 bucks a night, it’s not much for the day.

The people here are not as friendly as on the main land – they’re very blunt but will help if you ask. We were just in a small art gallery and the lady working there said that the older people don’t like it when it’s  so busy in the summer. The few tourists that are here are friendly – most seem to smile and greet us in whatever language they speak. We’ve heard Italian, German, English and French for the most part.

The town is very small but most of the houses are right on top of each other – all going up a hillside. The coast is amazing and we got a workout today going over rocks, through pine trees and beach pebbles. The water is a gorgeous turquoise blue – it looks fake! I’ll write more about the town later and our day trip to another small town . . . but I’m off to dinner!

Croatian’s love their dogs. This is a new concept to me because I always thought that Europeans were more about families, but then again I haven’t been here in a long time.  They have pet stores with dog dishes, bones and clothes. I guess I always think that people who spend so much time and money on dogs are city people with no kids. I’m dumb. Lots of people, especially in Zagreb took their dogs out for walks. I even saw some folks walking, with their dogs right beside them with no leash. Very well-trained dogs.

Here in Hvar, the dogs wander around alone. They all have collars on them and know where home is. None are scraggly or under-fed. A waiter laughed, jokingly at me when I asked about the dogs running around. He bragged, they don’t have microchips! The dogs pretty much ignore tourists and go about their way, sniffing and pooping. They have very good manners. I’ve seen some puppies on leashes so I’m assuming that the owners are training them.

The cats are so so cute, too. They are very friendly and mew at me when I look at them. They are obviously not mistreated and look for affection. I saw one up at the fortress and as Stacy was looking out over the beautiful town and amazingly old structure, I said, look at the kitty! Then ran over to pet it and hang out. So much for history . . .

I am finally now, on Hvar, regaining my confidence in ordering dinner. I was almost about to abandon that meal altogether, after my first 3 nights. I’m not sure if you remember, but on the first night I ate all fried food – which is great but not as a whole meal. One other thing I forgot to mention is that if you don’t like smoke – don’t come to Croatia. They smoke everywhere. A man in Zagreb was grabbing his luggage from baggage claim in the airport with a cigarette hanging from his lips. So imagine the restaurants – all smoky.

Friday night, before Stacy arrived I consulted my Lonely Planet guide book and went to a restaurant they recommended. The waiter spoke some English and handed me an English menu. Off to a good start. I ordered a wine and then risotto. He asked me if I wanted a starter and I asked what do you recommend? He said the fresh catch of the day, so I agreed to it.

Then he brought me a small fish – maybe a sardine and it tasted pickled. I figured that it was the starter and happily nawed around the head and bones. Next, he came out with a huge platter of mussels and oysters and such. I thought, maybe risotto is different in Croatia – and figured I was eating my main meal. I filled up and then he came out with the seafood risotto! So I took a deep breath and kept eating. I only ate half and he asked me if I didn’t like it. It was delicious, but come on, how much can one person eat? I said no, just full and smiled brightly. He brought me the bill and the starter was more than my meal – about 20 bucks! Oh well, I then waddled back to the hotel.

The next night, the girl at the hotel in Split told us to go to the old part of town to eat because it was better food – and less tourists. Great idea – eat with the locals! We wandered through the dark and to the pier to find the restaurant. The waiter happily brought us to our table and spoke broken English. Okay, so less tourists = less English.

We first ordered wine, we thought a glass of wine, but no it was a bottle. The waiter was a graying, skinny man right out of a slapstick comedy. He kept trying to speak to us and we to him, but we were not communicating. Fine, whatever, we can deal with this. So I ordered a shrimp cocktail, I know what this is! I pointed at the English menu and he shook his head. This is where it gets fuzzy – did I have my pointer finger and pinky pointing at 2 different things? I’m still not sure. In between our ummms he left for the kitchen. He later came out with a goopy, pink mayonaise (sp?) glass dish with little shrimps in it – okay, not the scampi cocktail I know, but fine. But he also had a dish with meats and olives on it. I looked at the guy and said no, we don’t want that. He said something and pointed at the scampi dish and said something about 5 minutes. I just looked at him and he walked away. Stacy sat calmly, smiling. Remember, she’d been traveling for a couple of weeks before me so she had traveler’s euphoria. She didn’t really care what happened.

We devoured the scampi with some bread and then he came back in 5 minutes with another scampi cocktail. I said no, we just want our risottos (I had ordered seafood risotto, again). I was very flustered then, so I can’t put the whole blame on the waiter. He bounced around the dining room trying to please us and I was just confusing the poor guy!

He bounded away from us, probably just wishing that we would leave. I felt terrible, I couldn’t relax. Stacy then told me that she had ordered the scampi dinner and not the risotto. Oh no! What would he bring out??  Yes, later he brought out 2 risottos, 1 scampi and 1 seafood. Once he set it down, Stacy just sat there and stared at it. Then she started laughing so hard that she cried. This looks good, she exclaimed. Okay, so it was very good and I laughed my ass off about it, too. At least the dining room was fairly empty and other Croatians weren’t pointing and laughing at the stupid Americans!

Lately, I’ve had delicious meals – fish and pizza. The one thing that I’ve taken to heart is to remain calm while I order dinner. And be very clear . . .

I did see some Halloween stuff in Split in the stores – but none here in Hvar Town. It rained here today until mid afternoon so I read for about 5 hours. At least I’m reading a good book or I’d be in trouble. I’ve been fixated to the pages of Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone – about one drug transaction from Vietnam to the US in the 1970s. Of course, the whole thing went wrong. Just left a scene about doing heroin – yikes!

It is so beautiful here – but more on that later!

We basically used Split as a launching point to the islands. We stayed overnight on Saturday night  and then took a ferry to Hvar on Sunday afternoon. There isn’t much to see but  there is the Diocletian’s Palace with is a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s basically a bunch of old walls and narrow alleyways with restaurants and shops. As we sat in the cafe, we once again stared at other tourist with their kids, dogs and listened to other languages and giggled at what some wore. I do love the freedom of expression here!

There is an old church in palace area – they were having church service on Sunday as we wandered around. It was cool to hear the chants and organ music. Lots of tourists around. The shops were closed on Sunday, but maybe that was to my benefit – hah!

Outside the walls of the old city is the port. There are cafes and stores that look out to the Adriatic Sea and the ground is covered in a a white stone – I think it might be limestone – it’s gorgeous. It’s a cute town, with old buildings and modern shopping.

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