Croatian Short Stories - Vodice Adventures


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October 22nd 2020
Published: October 28th 2020
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Vodice for us was not just any town along the coast. It is the home town of our good friends Ana and Tomislav and their families. We stayed there on and off between August 23 and October 24, experiencing it as a bustling tourist town and as a small local coastal town, where its citizens live as a tightly knitted community through the off season months. Vodice has during peak season more than 40'000 inhabitants. Once the locals are among themselves you will find hardy 10'000 inhabitants. In summer all sorts of tourist activities are on the agenda. Off season, fishing, everything around boats, olive oil and wine making and similar stuff take priority.

We have seen many different things in the two months in Vodice and its surroundings, experienced the heat of the summer as well as the coldness and dampness of the autumn storms. We met many nice and interesting people and some special characters, all welcoming us. We want to thank all of them, giving us memories in this special episode in our lives. Above all we are very grateful and thankful to Ana and Tomislav, who have from far away Bangkok, with their connections and recommendations, looked after us.

We have summarised our Vodice impressions in separate small tales below and gave them a number, which you will find back with the corresponding pictures attached to this blog entry. Enjoy our various stories in this special place. This "Short Story" is a bit long, but eh, we have so much to tell you !!!



1. About Vodice

Vodice was first mentioned in 1402, although it was founded already in Roman times as Arausa. Its name derives from the word 'water sources', because the ground is full of natural underwater canals, which spread over the whole area. Voda is the Croatian name for water. The Roman legions used these sources to supply their troops and fortifications. During the time of the Venicean Republic (1412 to 1797), Vodice was part of the defense line against the Turks. The Coric tower being one of the symbols of these past times. In 1746 the parish church in the town center was built, which is still frequented by worshippers today. Several kilometers north of today's Vodice lie the origins of the old Vodice. Before the tourism started in 1965, many citizens had no interest to live
1. About Vodice1. About Vodice1. About Vodice

City Center
next to the sea, but rather inland. They tried to make a living from the rocky ground, never really having enough food for themselves. Migration was a constant companion of this community. After 1965 slowly the locals developed the touristic activities and moved towards the coast. With its pebble and sandy beaches, Vodice is a popular tourist destination in Croatia today, where most of the population is oriented towards tourism and providing accommodation for visitors in hotels, apartments and houses. Many bars and restaurants give sun lovers "apres-swim" opportunities. The original Vodice lies abandoned surrounded by bush and plantations. (more pictures under #1)



2. The Neighbor Tribunj

5 km to the North along the coast lies Tribunj, a much smaller, very charming village, with marina, old town, numerous excellent restaurants, cute bars and little churches, or rather chapels. Nenad loves this typical catholic characteristic, where churches and pubs are so closely interknitted. As so often, neighboring towns develop a love hate relationship. Not different here. It is amusing to speak to locals about the other town. Of course everything is better in his town, but if you ask him about the one or the other restaurant
2. Neighbor Tribunj2. Neighbor Tribunj2. Neighbor Tribunj

Peninsula Tribunj
in in the neighboring village, they know them all, and one finds out, that there is a very frequent mutual visiting habit. Ironically Tribunj belonged until 2006 to the municipality of Vodice, before it became independent. Every summer Tribunj holds a donkey race, where locals and tourists can participate as riders. The donkey by the way, is a legendary animal in Dalmatia, with a million and one stories surrounding it. In was first mentioned in historic scripts 1214 in the city of Korcula (island near Dubrovnik) . People on the Croatian coast have a habit of saying, that sardines fed Dalmatia through centuries, and donkeys have built its structures. The beloved beings have been used as a mean for transporting construction materials and have contributed to erecting a number of historical landmarks in the region throughout the centuries. Today they find use in tourism. Nui commented; just like the Thai elephants ! (more pictures under #2)



3. Our Hosts

Slobodan and Mirjana were most graciously allowing us to stay in their apartment and to use it for our purpose as a base for the travels. This apartment with its large verandah facing towards the rising sun
3. Our Hosts3. Our Hosts3. Our Hosts

Mirjana and Slobodan Roca
is located in the center of Vodice, opposite of the marina. What a sight we had every morning, standing with our coffee cups observing all its sailing and motor yachts with the sun shining into our eyes. The nearby market of fresh produce and fish attracted many busy locals already early in the morning. Slobodan build the house in the city center after the war of independence ended, with a Pizzeria on the ground floor, a bar on the first floor and the said apartment on the top. He ran it for more than 10 years in a professional and dedicated fashion, with Mirjana on his side. Being a graduate of the Ljubljana hotel management school and having worked in Germany and Austria, he knew what his mostly German and Austrian tourists wanted. Today Slobodan is retired now and enjoys telling everything about Vodice and Sibenik to newcomers like us. He is a real local from a family called Roca, which can be traced back in this area for generations. Only bit by bit we realized how many direct or indirect relatives he had here. Slobodan introduced us to so many helpful people who granted us insight in their lives
3. Our Hosts3. Our Hosts3. Our Hosts

Nikola Condic in his olive grove
and professions.

Nikola was the other person helping us to feel at home in his town. Nikola is a fisherman, olive oil producer and into real estate. In addition he likes to spend time with his friends in his favorite coffee shop "Djir", a place Nenad got to know very, very well too !!!, (says Nui). In Croatia coffee shops serve not only excellent and inexpensive coffee (one espresso cost less than one Euro), but also the full range of booze. So socializing there outside the main season can become a daily event, especially during bad weather. Nikola is passionate of this part of Dalmatia, the natural beauty and history it holds and its lifestyle. He showed us the very old Vodice and explained us how already the Romans used the area to develop water supplies from the abundant under ground sources for its troops and fortifications. (more pictures under #3)



4. Murter Island

Murter is an island connected with a tiny bridge of no more than 50m from the mainland off the coast of Vodice. It is a suspension bridge to allow boats to pass through the narrow channel. Although only 25km away from
4. Island of Murter4. Island of Murter4. Island of Murter

Polahko (take it easy in Murter)
Vodice, there is little interaction between these two communities. Murter is famous for its sheltered (especially sheltered from the Jugo winds) marina and excellent marina services for boat repair and maintenance. Hence many expensive yachts like to dock there and their wealthy owners or charterers of course like to have a good, classy meal when anchoring. This started a fine dining culture in Murter town, the main village on the island. The restaurant Tic Tac was the pioneer of this trend and we enjoyed having our lunch or dinner more than once there. Especially their Brudette from octopus or fish soup are highly recommendable. Murter island is hilly and has many bays, giving swimmers numerous options where to find a corner to crash and enjoy the deep blue. Its proximity to the Kornate NP, makes it a popular starting point for boating trips to this archipelago. The Kornati National Park is often mentioned as "nautical paradise" in tourist publications. "Sailing through the 89 uninhabited islands, islets and reefs in the Kornati NP, you will test all of your nautical skills, particularly if the weather puts in some effort", so the publication says. We did not go, because to make it
5. September War5. September War5. September War

Commemorations
worthwhile, you have to stay several days on a small boat exposed to the elements and a life with minimal privacy and comfort. Not something Nui felt too comfortable with. She is more of a mountain person as you have seen in our blogs series of the Alps and Velebit. So Nenad is looking for a few guys, who want to volunteer coming along with him and his skipper friend Goran (you met him in our Dubrovnik and Cakovec blog). It is mighty fun for a week on a Bavaria or Elan 38 footer sailing boat, playing "Pirates' of the Kornate". (more pictures under #4)



5. The 16th September 1991 (The September War)

The battle of Sibenik and Vodice (colloquially known as the Battle of Sibenik) lasted 7 days (and nights) and the defeat of the advancing Yugoslav Armed Forces and Serb Nationalists from Knin marked a turning point in the fight for Croatian independence in Dalmatia. Given its strategic importance, Vodice was a prime target of this offensive by land and air. The Croatian police force supported by the Croatian National Guard and volunteers from Vodice, although only armed with light weapons, managed to push
back mechanized units of the attackers. This September War as the locals call it, is being remembered every year with the laying of a wreath, speeches and songs. For Nui and Nenad it was quite emotional to be part of this ceremony, as we rubbed shoulders with fathers, mothers and wives (widows) of those who lost heir lives in this fight. In addition we met many individuals in Vodice, who were part of the National Guard, or volunteers and are now fishermen, wine makers or other citizens. The memories are still strong, but people do carry on with life and we did not encounter too much talk of this past event. Nenad reflected on his life and luck for a moment during the ceremony. What would have happened if his father would have not moved to Switzerland in 1967 and he remained in Yugoslavia and Croatia. What role would he have played in all this in the 1990's? Well, he was far away then from Croatia, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, full of joy over his young fatherhood. Carmen just turned 6 weeks, when this battle started. That is Fate !!! says Nenad. (more pictures under #5)



6.
6. Roca's Pršut6. Roca's Pršut6. Roca's Pršut

Owner Ante Roca in action
Roca's Pršut (smoked Ham)

About 10km out of Vodice inland lies in the middle of a hilly hinterland the Roca farm. Andre Roca and his wife have build this estate in a decade to a powerhouse of smoked ham and other dried pig meat products. In addition they have a vineyard and olives of course and plant citrus fruits. They also run an outstanding restaurant, where one can sit down indoors or outdoors in a traditional Dalmatian setting and eat and drink, and eat and drink and and and ... They of course are selling their prosciuttos, salamis, bacons etc as well.

We were introduced by our host Slobodan, who is as you know a Roca too. As a matter of fact Andre is his nephew. We ate chicken and lamb ispod peke to complement the smoked pork ham we had to have as a starter. Ispod peke is a popular Dalmatian dish by slowly cooking fresh meat or seafood (especially known for octopus, here called hobotnica) in its juices under a big, traditional, bell-like iron lid, called peka. The meat is often flavored with aromatic herbs and spices such as garlic, lemon, bay leaves, mint, chili, and
6. Roca's Pršut6. Roca's Pršut6. Roca's Pršut

Ham, pancetta, salami, kulen
black pepper. Smoldering for hours under the iron lid, which is covered by hot coal and ash gives it a special taste. Must be ordered one day in advance, due to the long preparation required !

Roca's estate is very popular among tourists and locals (especially for weddings) in normal years. This time the hosts had time to sit down and chat with us. Thank you Covid. We got introduced into the pig raising (he holds app 200 pigs himself) and smoked ham making intricates. An interesting world of its own, totally new to us, although we eat prosciutto very very often. We never thought that the various winds they have in Vodice and the different salt content and humidity these winds carry, play such an important role in the making of smoked ham. To run a pig raising facility, ham production, olives, wine and a high class restaurant demands everything of the involved family Roca, and as romantic as it looks visiting this beautiful estate, the hard work behind is simply enormous. We left with more than a handful of piggeries for our fridge. (more pictures under #6)



7. Nikola Birin & his wines
7. Nikola & his Wines7. Nikola & his Wines7. Nikola & his Wines

during harvest

Wine making is very important for Dalmatia, has always been, since the days of the Roman Empire. We were fortunate to be introduced to a family who is maintaining a vineyard and is making its own wine. It is not one of the famous big commercial wine makers (in Croatian called vinarija), but a small boutique winery, nevertheless known for its quality wines, especially the Babic and Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. Our request to visit the vinery and vineyards was met with great openness and hospitality and our offer to help with the grape harvest (called berba) was accepted with a smile. So we got ready at early dawn and joined a small group of local fellows, who will be our picking buddies, for the day. Nui was the only lady among us and all the boys were eager to have her in the picking team. (Picking was done in teams of two). The honor of course fell to Mr. Birin sen. and owner of the estate. Nui made a mighty impression with her quick hands cutting the grape vines as well as her skill recognizing which type of grape to cut and which not. And all this she did with
7. Nikola & his Wines7. Nikola & his Wines7. Nikola & his Wines

Nikola & Father Birin, wine makers
her well known smile and positivism. Nenad enjoyed this work too, although his back complained. After the days work was done in the field, we were invited by Nikola Birin, the junior owner, who is a graduate engineer of agricultural studies with a major in, you guessed it right, wine making, to visit the facilities and cellars. He gave us a detailed (not too detailed, as every wine maker likes to keep some secrets) tour of the process. And of course at the end of all that, we joined the family and friends in a marenda (after harvest eating drinking and socializing event). What shall we say, we do remember how we got to the winery, what a good time we had picking, but we don't quite remember how we got back to our apartment...… And by the way, we were paid for our picking efforts with wine, handsomely.... Thank you friends from Vinarija Birin. (more pictures under #7)



8. The Holy Olive

Late October is in Central Dalmatia olive harvest & olive oil processing time. We were invited by Marko Lepur to join the harvest at their family estate outside a little town called Donji
8. Holy Olive8. Holy Olive8. Holy Olive

in the field with Marko Lepur
Lepuri, (the similarity of family name and village name is not accidental) about 30 km North East of Vodice. This 220'000 m2 (22 ha) big estate has app 5'000 olive trees from the age 4 to 15 years. Lepurs produce oil with the seal of Ecological Certification of the European Union for Olives. Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is made from a 100% organic certified crop, in which no type of pesticide or chemical product is used. Maintaining absolute respect for the environment ie soil quality and sustainability is a factor that is regularly audited, as are processing and packaging lines. The yield factor at Lepur's plantation of the olives lies at 15%, so for every 100kg of olives harvested 15 liters oil can be made. Lepurs big advantage is that they have a processing plant within their estate, meaning the olives can be right after the harvest processed assuring highest quality. Double handling and storing the fruit is reducing its quality and yield, as the acidity and oxidization factor will rise. Their production is small in comparison to the big Italian or Spanish producers. But with 3 tons per hour olive processing quantity they rank among the bigger ones
8. Holy Olive8. Holy Olive8. Holy Olive

olive processing
in Dalmatia. By the way leading in Croatia in olive oil production is Istria. In long rows of trees 6m apart, every 10th is what they call a spreader, but not of Covid, but of the olive flower dust, required for the next generation of olive fruits. This is a timing and weather (especially wind) sensitive process, which will crucially influence how much olives a tree will give for the next harvest.

The planned harvest had to be postponed for two reasons. First the fruits were not yet ready (ripe) to be picked and second their expansion of the processing plant has not been completed. Due to Covid the supplier of equipment from Modena could not commission the lines yet. So Nui and Nenad got a thorough explanation on site by Marko, but could not get their hands dirty in the harvesting work. The marenda (meal after harvest work) did happen nevertheless of course. (more pictures under #8)



9. The Bicycles in Vodice

Bicycles are very popular in Vodice. Old and young, all can be seen getting around with them, either going to the market, to school, to the beach, or as a sporting activity. We joined into this with enthusiasm and visited several places in the area on two wheels. The enthusiasm however wanes when 10km away in the middle of nowhere you get a flat tire, as happened to Nenad, who then had the pleasure to push his bike back over rocks and potholes.

A short ride by bike one can visit the Okit Hill. During the Turkish invasions refugees founded there a settlement and on top of this hill 1660 a chapel (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) was built. It was ruined the first time in 1942 by the Italian Navy. Rebuilt in 1967, it was again destroyed in 1991, during the Croatian War of Independence by bombardments of the Jugoslav Air Force's planes, called Soko J-21 Jastreb. Finally again rebuilt in 1995 it stands tall, being visible for miles and miles. The sentiments of the local population still run high, when they speak about the recent destruction. It became the symbol of destruction and resurrections of their Croatian independence.

Pedaling along gravel roads amidst rocky terrain, olive trees and bushes, one can reach the Sibenski most (Sibenik bridge), which gives a wonderful view of the city and the river
10. Jugo 10. Jugo 10. Jugo

Warm, strong, humid winds
mouth of the Krka home to mussel farms. The bridge is over 40m high and has recently become a Mecca for bungee jumpers. Nui was very disappointed when she found out that the season for the jumps had already ended..... Just kidding....

A lovely bike ride is the 40km tour to the island of Murter, passing vineyards and olive plantations and following the islands coast.

Or just take the bike and go swimming to the secluded bay of Sovja, 7km to the North of Vodice. (more pictures under #9)



10. Jugo and the weather gods

Every climate along the coast is heavily dependent on the winds it is exposed to. No different Dalmatia and Vodice. Given the many islands Dalmatia has, it can be quite important when you choose a place to stay, to understand how this location is sheltered from the winds by the islands and the geographical position of the bay. In our case our verandah and apartment was fully exposed to the Jugo winds. This gave us some amazing spectacles when a Jugo storm hit the coast, and it did on three occasions during the 2 months of our stay. The
10. Jugo 10. Jugo 10. Jugo

salty humidity covering everything
Jugo is not just a wind, but is also accompanied by a strong atmospheric pressure change, many people can not take very well. In Eastern Switzerland there is a similar phenomena called "Foehn". In parts of Dalmatia during the middle ages, the courts for example were not allowed to sit and judges not allowed to judge cases, as their clear judgement might be impaired due to this Jugo weather condition. If you have committed a crime during Jugo weather, this could be seen as a reason for reduced punishment. Historic fact (!), recorded in the Dubrovnik court scripts. The Jugo (also known as Sirocco) is a South-Easterly warm mostly strong wind, who brings rain and turns thereafter into Bura (Bora) a cold gusty North-Easterly wind, the strongest at the Adriatic. The Maestral is a North-Westerly and the most pleasant of the lot, especially popular in summer among the yacht sailing community. We experienced two very strong Jugo storms. The first one we could fool around outside, with the waves and wind pushing us around, the second was so strong, so that we had to stay indoors observing how the whole area got flooded in minutes. Memories of Thailand came back ! (more pictures under #10)



11. Salt & Cheese

A bit further away from Vodice, about an hours drive north, lies the island of Pag. One of Croatia's more unusual islands, Pag Island is dry and relatively barren with a strange, almost lunar landscape. Long (about 60km) and narrow (between 2 and 10 km) with no rivers or streams, no trees and little vegetation, Pag doesn't look quite like a typical island in the Adriatic. Perhaps that's why it is quietly becoming known as a film location. Ridley Scott's The Terror, the Netflix comedy DJ Ibiza and the BBC series The Grand Tour, all filmed on Pag.

First settled by the Romans in the first century, Salt became soon the dominating item of trade. Salt wealth however did not bring peace, as Pag was in constant competition (and fight) with Zadar and Rab island over the salt trade. Under Venetian and Habsburg rule the salt production and trade became more regulated and productive. The century old method of salt extraction through panning and then allowing the sea water to dry it in the sun was gradually replaced by an industrial process in the local saltworks.
11. Salt & Cheese11. Salt & Cheese11. Salt & Cheese

With Velebit in the back
Pag salt is the largest producer of table salt in Croatia. The other product the island is famous for, is goat cheese. Pag cheese is a limited product, made exclusively of sheep milk from the island of Pag. Registered cheese factories and family run farms on the entire island produces only 200 tons of Pag cheese annually. The production is limited due to the total number of Pag sheep (app 35'000 are allowed) that can freely graze on the island pastures. The cheese is very dry, hard and salty, reflecting the salty, dry grass the animals feed on. Goes very well with Dalmatian smoked ham, tomato salad with olive oil and of course lots of red wine. Due to lack of water the animals have adapted to produce milk with a fraction of water intake than sheep do in other areas, giving the cheese a very special taste profile. The Pag Bridge connects the island with Zadar county and immediately after crossing it, this moonlike environment hits your eye, distinguishing the land from the rest of Dalmatia. One wonders how sheep can survive here, let alone produce milk. On the other end of the island lies the main town of the island, called Pag. Time for lunch and the local number one specialty lamb, with cheese of course.... (more pictures under #11)



12. An Unforgettable Symphony of Memories

For two months from Aug 23 to Oct 24 we set up camp in Vodice, Dalmatia. It was a fascinating experience to feel the smoldering heat of the Mediterranean summer and see it turn into early and then late fall, to see the changes in the social interaction of people, as less and less visitors were present in the city and to see the autumn weather with its storms becoming stronger and more and more frequent. To feel how life in an apartment without heating changes as temperatures drop from 35C to 13C. The young wed couple cuddled a lot ....

What we have seen and done in these two months will stay with us forever. Nui did dive into a whole new culture with such positive interest, it was a pleasure to be her companion. For Nenad it was the first time since he left as a 9 year old boy, that he stayed for more than 3 weeks at the time in his home country.
12. Symphonie of Memories12. Symphonie of Memories12. Symphonie of Memories

fisherman late autumn
He also stayed for the first time on the Dalmatian coast in autumn. A true rediscovery, or back to the roots journey for him it was.

We shall leave this place with lasting memories of things we did, things we saw and people we met. With our best and sincere well wishes we leave the Vodice community towards Istria, the area in the North West of Croatia, where two months ago we first stopped on Croatian soil and where our Croatian Short Stories started. (more pictures under #12)


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The Beaches of Vodice
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Marina of Vodice
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Parish Church
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Coric Tower
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Typical Dalmatian house
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a bit further away
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morning espresso views
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