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Published: August 18th 2016
Franciscan Monastery, Hvar
The tower in the background behind the beautiful water is the Franciscan Monastery.
I was now on my way to Croatia.
From Rimini, I had to catch a train down to Ancona from where I then had to catch a ferry to Split - the same ferry that I had caught in the other direction nine years ago
Walking the one kilometre or so from the train station to the port, I did see a sign for "check-in" but for some reason didn't think that it applied to me. You'd have the check-in close to where you board the ferry, right? Not seeing an office for Jadrolinija anywhere, I then stopped in at a tourist information office where I was then told that I had to walk back a kilometre in the hot sun to where I had seen that sign. Luckily there was a free bus just passing by that could take there and back - but I was still a bit peeved at myself for walking all the way to the boat for nothing.
Because I now arrive on time for (or even a little early) for transportation these days, I luckily wasn't in a mad rush to try and catch the boat!
At the check-in, I met a Kiwi couple, Alex and Vicky
View of the old town from the hill behind it.
- the first Kiwis I'd met since Andy all the way back in Havana
! It was nice to meet and talk to some fellow countrymen/countrywomen again.
I didn't have a seat or cabin reserved like I did last time - so I had to spend the overnight ferry up in the public areas of the boat where I had the choice of sleeping in the very 80s, candy-pink restaurant or the large and classy 60s/70s style bar area that wouldn't look out of place in a Connery-era Bond flick.
After watching Wales's slightly surprising win over a star-studded Belgium in their Euro 2016 semifinal, I wrote a blog and then managed to find a long, padded bench in the bar and surprisingly got about three hours' sleep despite the air-conditioning being directly above me and feeling disgusting having sweated my way on board with no chance of having a shower.
It was a relatively luxurious ferry to be honest. And the prices for food and drink weren't the horror-story prices I had been told about. There were no 8€ paninis
,thank God. 1.50€-2€ for slices of pizza and cans of drink isn't cheap, but I can live with it.
up with the Kiwi couple again after getting off the ferry and we had breakfast together before I had to catch my ferry to Hvar Island. We had a good ol' yarn
! I haven't used that word in a long, long time.
I was pretty much passed out for the whole hour it took to get to Hvar and when I got there, I discovered that Hvar Island was indeed a sight for my very sore eyes. The place is quite simply, stunning. From the clear, emerald waters of the Adriatic, to the wonderful Venetian architecture, to the beige stone that makes up the old town, Hvar really is beautiful.
Which is why the place is completely overrun by holidaymakers. Hvar has long been - along with Dubrovnik - one of the jewels in Croatian tourism's crown and it was easy to see why.
It is also really hot, which is why I headed to the beach. Hvar isn't blessed with sand beaches - just a few small pebbly ones that are overcrowded. So many people - myself included - seeking some space of their own, end up lying on the rocks that line the coast. It's not entirely
Town Walls, Korcula
The old town walls of Korcula Town that protected the town and its inhabitants.
comfortable but it made-do. The wonderfully fresh water was cooler than I was expecting - almost cold, in fact.
Because of the fall in the pound thanks to Brexit, my budget had gone down from 35€ a day to 32€ a day overnight. Hvar, being such a popular destination, is expensive; I was paying 28€ a night to stay at my hostel, which left me just 4€ a day for everything else.
Thankfully food and drinks weren't as expensive as Italy but I still decided to cook spaghetti to save some $$$.
As well as being a beautiful place to relax, Hvar is also a party mecca. It is the Ios/Mykonos
of Croatia and it was a Saturday night, so despite my shortage of money and sleep, it looked like I had to go out that night.
But not before joining to Swedes,Jonathan and Milan, to watch Germany play Italy in their Euro 2016 quarter final. It wasn't the most memorable match to be honest although it was dramatic - Leonardo Bonucci of all people equalising Mesut Ozil's goal to take the match to extra time and then penalties. Uncharacteristically, the Germans missed three of their spot kicks
Kiva Bar, Hvar
Revellers letting their hair down inside one of Hvar's most popular bars.
and it was only because the Italians were just as dire with theirs that the shootout went to sudden death. Manchester United's Matteo Darmian was the unfortunate fall guy for the Italians and Jonas Hector converted his kick to send Germany through to the semifinals. I'm not the greatest fan of German footballing dominance having supported England all these years so I was cheering for underdogs Italy; but alas, it was to no avail.
Afterwards, we then met up with Elizabeth, an American girl back at the hostel before hitting the nightlife proper. Already four beers down, it only took me another to getme in the mood to party, something I hadn't done for almost a month, back in Barcelona. The bar we started at, Kiva Bar, was so rammed that the crowds spilt out into the streets. The small town was going off! We then opted to go to Jazz Cafe, a small bar that was equally rammed but with old-school hip-hop and RnB being played along with suppsedly cheaper beer. It was good fun, I enjoyed myself. The pizza on the way home also hit the spot.
The next day I tried my best to sleep in
View From The Fortica, Hvar
View from the fortress overlooking Hvar Town.
despite my all dorm mates participating in a dorm-wide, group conversation. Two of the were Kiwis and I met a whole group of them in Jazz Cafe the previous night too, meaning that having only met one Kiwi in months while in Latin America and Western Europe, I had suddenly met about twelve of them in 48 hours here in Croatia.
When I eventually got going that day, I decided to do some sightseeing around the town and take some photographs. The highlight was definitely the fortress above the town that had sweeping, stunning views over the town and the harbour. Hvar is definitely an easy place to take pictures.
I then decided to walk to the other side of the harbour where hotel resorts and beach bars were pumping out house music Ibiza-style. Nice for those who like this kind of thing but I certainly wouldn't count myself in that number. I prefer peace and quiet next to the water.
While walking around the coast, it seemed that the whole island was inundated with sunburnt Brits, loud Americans and drunken Aussies. Contiki is definitely on the 'Contiki trail'. It was also "Yacht Week" here in Hvar - a massive
Hula Hula, Hvar
Crazy beachside bar we visited on Hvar. Off the chain.
flotilla of party boats sailing around Croatia, docking at several islands along the way for massive parties. If Croatia was an up and coming holiday destination the last time I was here
then now, the secret is well and truly out. I found some space on the rocks where I chilled for the rest of the afternoon, a spot where the water wasn't unfortunately dirty with trash.
That evening, a chat with my dorm-mates ended up leading to a Hostel Night Out (TM).
After a few cheap drinks and some pizza at our relatively swanky hostel terrace, we all went to Hula Hula, a crazy beachside bar/club that was heaving. Just off the bar in the water, was an inflatable trampoline that drunken revellers - including most of our crew - could swim out to and jump away to their hearts' content. Everything was a bit wild at Hula Hula as pretty much everyone there (bar staff included) was absolutely sloshed. People jumping into the water, people dancing on seats and table tops - there was little regard for health and safety, put it that way. It was a riot though. It reminded me of the crazy outdoor club I went to on Ihla Grande
Carpe Diem, Jerolim
Lounge bar on the beach blasting house music - if you're into that kind of thing - on the island of Jerolim, the closest of the Pakleni Islands to Hvar.
Once Hula Hula was closed around midnight, we headed back to Jazz Cafe again. Among our number, was a wealthy entrepreneur who had taken some of the girls in our crew out on his boat earlier in the day - who was only happy to buy us all drinks. This backpacker definitely wasn't complaining! The night kind of fizzled out as while talking to some American girls, I somehow managed lose everyone. No matter, as I was knackered and more than happy to call it a night.
Having mixed beer, tequila and gin the previous night, the next day was not pleasant and was the roughest I had felt for some time. As a result, things got off to a late start.
Southwest of Hvar are a group of islands known as the Pakleni Islands, which are full of woods, lagoons and clear waters off the shore. It promised to be a little less crowded too.
I was recommended by the staff at the hostel to visit Mlini, one of the beaches on Jerolim, the nearest island to Hvar. Thing was, I had missed the last water taxi out there. I could still get there, but I needed to
Mlini Beach, Jerolim
Pretty and uncrowded beach - well, towards the end of the day - on the island of Jerolim, the closest of the Pakleni Islands to Hvar.
walk over to Mlini from the other side of the island.
Getting off at Carpe Diem - a lounge bar cum massive outdoor nightclub in the evening - I unsurprisingly found that hiring a sunbed and putting up with house music blaring out of the speakers there wasn't to my liking and so I ended up embarking on an adventure to try and get to Mlini.
There was no path to Mlini - I had to wade through thick, thorny and dense bushes and shrubs up and over a not insignificant hill, before having to clamber over some coastal rocks. I then found myself on private property and the fences and gates that were meant to keep people out, were now trapping me in. So up I went, over the barbed-wire fences and onto a busy but uncrowded pebble beach, from where I walked calmly over to Mlini. All this had been done in my flip-flops and was thirty minutes of unexpected hiking where a machete would really have come in handy.
And I'm not sure that the boat ride over and the ensuing bush hike was worth it. The beaches and rocky areas here were pretty much the
Arsenal & Marina, Hvar
The building on the right is the old arsenal, where the town's defensive weapons were stored; in front is the marina for small boats.
same as they were on Hvar but smaller and there were still people; granted, there weren't as many, but this wasn't the deserted paradise that I was hoping for.
And after all that - I discovered that there was a much less strenuous 'path' back to Carpe Diem and that perhaps I needn't have gone bush.
I wasn't planning on going out on my last night in Hvar but when my dorm-mates started pre-drinking in the dorm and turned the music up, the mood was infectious. So out we went again - and it was the biggest of my three nights.
I mainly hung out with Belgians Stijn and Braam who had arrived at the hostel that day, as the shots and Jaegerbombs went down. Hvar's town centre goes off every night but tonight was especially debaucherous as it was 4th July and people were spilling out from a special "white party" (where everyone is dressed in white) at Carpe Diem that was off the chain. Man, I was smaaaaaashed. The highlight was perhaps Stijn and I joining some Swede jumping up and down in a circle to several classics - Swedish DJ Avicii's "Levels" being one of them,
Not so many super-yachts here, but definitely a prettier picture without them.
obviously, when you're with a group of Swedes - and best of all, "Will Grigg's On Fire", which I first came across in Lyon
! Good times.
I had to drag myself out of bed the next morning to farewell by dorm-mates and catch my one-and-a-half hour ferry to Korcula - and the rest of the day was just a complete write-off. All I did was eat, rehydrate, muck around on the internet and curl up in the foetal position to sleep.
Having taken things too Hvar, I needed the more chilled-out and relaxed vibe of Korcula to help me detox.
Another one of Croatia's many islands on its Dalmatian coast, Korcula is also a gorgeous place - and is also popular with tourists. But luckily it isn't popular to the same extent that Hvar is - there is no party scene here and there are less super-yachts are moored in the marina.
Like Hvar however, tourism is centred on the old town named after the island and Korcula's is arguably more beautiful. Perched on a small cliff and surrounded by a town wall, the town has the air of a mini-Dubrovnik.
Accommodation thankfully is cheaper on Korcula than
Jonas and Sam cycle through Korcula's pretty vineyards.
on Hvar; and the hostel I booked could not have been more centrally located, right on the main square. The hostels I have had in Croatia so far have been of exceptional quality and with an outstanding level of cleanliness. Both have been modern and new on the inside.
Croatian hospitality so far has also been phenomenal. As a people, they don't seem outwardly friendly and even their expressions when you talk to them is often pretty deadpan and give you the impression that you're wasting their time - but yet such facial expressions are completely betrayed by the friendly, helpful words coming out of their mouths.
Korcula's beaches aren't as accessible or as close by as they are on Hvar and as such, I joined Swede Jonas and American Sam on a cycle trip of the island.
We decided to make our way towards Lumbarda, a cute little fishing village surrounded by beaches. It was pretty hard going under the heat of the afternoon sun but we were rewarded with a cool swim in the crystalline water just off the rocks that we decided to chill out on (there are sand beaches, but they were far too crowded,
There is quite the unique landscape on Korcula; vineyards are set against the backdrop of an aquamarine sea, while the countryside is dotted with Venetian style towns with their distinctive terracotta roofs. This really is a beautiful part of the world; for me, the scenery is up there with the most stunning scenery in Europe - and perhaps even the world. Despite everywhere I have been so far, Croatia's islands have left me thoroughly impressed.
Continuing on from Lumbarda on some of the nicest and newest hired bicycles that I have ever rented towards the southeastern tip of the island, we ended up at a rocky peninsula where we again chilled out, this time under the shadow of a lighthouse.
It was really nice hanging out with Jonas and Sam - two more discerning travellers who weren't just in Croatia to get hammered. They knew a bit more about the world than most of the people I was hanging out with in Hvar and it was nice to have some intelligent conversation for a change in some breathtaking surrounds.
I realised a couple of things while I was on the islands.
Firstly, in a change from Latin
Streets Of Korcula Town
Pedestrian alleyways of the old town where criss-cross design of the streets helped protect the town from the frequent strong winds that buffets the island.
America and the parts of Europe that I had visited so far, there seemed to be more female travellers in Croatia than males. Perhaps is because Croatia is generally considered a very safe place to travel?
Secondly, I realised that I was starting to miss the finer things in life. Delectable food in fine restaurants. Hiring a jet-ski. Sailing on a classy super-yacht. OK fine, I've never sailed on a super-yahct before and perhaps never will, but it was certainly hard to look at the holidaymakers around you on bigger budgets enjoying the things that were within my reach when I was working, when I'm scratching around trying to find enough coins to buy a cheap dinner down at the supermarket.
In any case, I would be leaving behind these islands of relative luxury, heading for the much more backpacker-friendly prices that awaited me at my next destination; Bosnia & Herzegovnia.
Vidimo se kasnije,
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