Wow, what a difference from the Moroccan way of spinning the biggest lies and following you down the street to force a sale until they can latch onto the next tourist. This is the enterprising but ever so polite Croatian way. Plenty of sales offers but when you say no they take it as no.
Ferrying from Ancona in Italy to Split and then the island of Hvar we managed to score probably one of the nicest rooms on the island with its own en suite and kitchen. I have to say I immediately fell in love with Croatia. Its polite people and relaxed atmosphere all set in beautiful roman style marble towns with an awesome climate certainly is my idea of a holiday.
Two days of wandering the town of Hvar and its beaches and then came the rain. Well, when I say rain I actually mean a sudden and consistent right bucket dumping complete with thunder and lightning to boot. The beautiful smooth marble streets suddenly became veritable rivers, and even the ones that weren’t underwater were fatally slippery. Oh well, we were booked on a ferry to go to the island of Korcula, or so we thought.
Arriving at the port early we only had one last river to cross. Not wanting to miss the boat I wished the girl luck who was waiting helplessly until the water subsided and I ploughed straight on through. Wet shoes was a small price to pay. Little did Clive and I know that when it says the ferry leaves at 6.20 pm it actually leaves pretty much as soon as it arrives which could be as early as ten to six. Great, relaxed atmosphere also means relaxed timings apparently.
So there we were standing drenched by the wharf with a gaggle of sniggering old Croatian women trying to sell us accommodation knowing full well we had missed our ferry. How nice of them. The politeness went out the window now that they had the power over us. I rung the lady we had stayed with the last two nights but she was full so we had no option but to go with the old lady with the flaming red dyed hair and a limp. She looked like the kiddy catcher off Mary Poppins just by the by.
A short walk later and we were at the entrance of her house trying to negotiate a price and get by the realization that the only room available had a double bed. “Just get it bro, it’s only for one night” said Clive as he stood on the street getting more and more wet. Dumping our gear we decided the only option for that night was to sit on the bed and eat chips.
Walking to the supermarket the intensity of the rain suddenly increased which prompted us to run. In the end we were absolutely soaked and we were jumping in the puddles and running through the streets like madmen! The locals would just stand there mouths agape, and the look we got from the supermarket manager when we arrived was priceless. Two drowned rats wandering the aisles with a bag of chips in hand.
Getting back to the room the old lady decided to take a shine to Clive, kissing him on the cheek and rubbing his head. Hmm, kiddy catcher here we come. The worst part was though, after laying all our clothes out to dry we get a knock on the door. So here’s me answering the door in my boxers while Clive is sitting in the double bed eating chips and the Irish girl who’s asking to borrow a travel adaptor is getting the complete wrong idea. What an interesting night…and then the scary land lady walks past, her hawkish eyes peering in. Picture perfect.
While Hvar was extremely pleasant, Korcula was remarkable. It was even more laid back, with a more interesting town and landscape. Set on a peninsula with mainland Croatia diving into the sea as a backdrop, Korcula town is surrounded by a high wall, yachts, and plenty of bush to shelter you from the sun.
We were staying with a guy called Antonio who cooked the nicest pancakes and grew wine all day (and drunk a fair bit too, two liters a day he told us!). Actually, an enterprising steward on the ferry over sorted out the accommodation for us so we got to avoid the haggle of women at the wharf.
Two days later we were on the bus – ferry – bus to Dubrovnik which they actually say Korcula township is a miniature version of. And it certainly is. Really one of the only differences is the distance you have to walk to get anywhere. About 1000 steps to our apartment to be precise. In the nineties Dubrovnik was shelled by the Yugoslav army for no apparent reason, and while the town is completely fixed up I don’t think the residents memories ever will be.
It was in Dubrovnik that we were trying to plan our trip to Greece. We kind of forgot about the whole war and continuing ethnic tensions in this area, much to our planning detriment.
Apparently before the nineties there were plenty of options for bus / train / ferry / plane from Croatia, through the neighbouring countries, to Greece but now it appears each country is trying to make it as difficult as possible. Seriously, we’d find a train to somewhere closer and then try and find the next mode of transport closer again. “Oh, the next one doesn’t go till three days later”. Hmm. Then we’d just look for all train options. “You have to go to Zagreb and then down”. Cool, only a few hundred km detour. “Also, the train service doesn’t run in Kosovo anymore. Even if you did get there you’d have to watch out for land mines”. Fantastic. Balkan travel anyone? Looks like we came twenty years too late.
It seemed like the easiest way was to ferry back to Italy and then to Greece again which would prove very expensive and time consuming. So instead we decided to follow the badly burned Albanian boy from the day before (sorry non Flight of the Conchord watchers) and take a bus to Bar in Montenegro and figure out how to get through Albania to Corfu in Greece. I know a lot of Europeans have reservations about Albania but it actually seemed like a really interesting place, and we hoped all the worry was hype and memories from the past.