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Published: March 13th 2007
We left the EU behind us when we crossed the border from Slovenia into Croatia only 7 km south of Piran. It was obvious straight away as the roads were bumpier, the buildings were crumbling a bit more and the border security guard was very suspicious as to why we were here, what we were doing, where we were staying and for how long. The trip from the border to our first stop, Pula, was great. We drove through heaps of tiny little Croatian villages, drove around some sweeping scenery and the view of the Adriatic was spectacular.
Pula was a pretty weird experience. We had no map and little information on the place so we went into the tourist info. She persuaded us to go to this quaint little hostel right in the big tourist area just outside of the main town. There were no hostels right in town so we relented. Making our way to the local bus, which after the coach was very basic, I could see that this would be interesting. Swapping my Euros for Kuna, changing my Slovene to Croatian and picking my uncomfortable seat for ride out of town, and I mean OUT OF
TOWN. Once we got there and trundled down a little dusty walkway in the middle of a paddock. I looked out over the water then back over my head to the ugly buildings in the outskirts of Pula and it suddenly it me. What she meant by "right in the big tourist area" was actually, in the middle of bloody nowhere. A man pulls up beside me and claims that front desk of the hostel was closed but if we press a button and wait ten minutes, a woman might come out... or at least thats what I think he said. I guess it was no great surprise that he knew where were headed as the hostel was pretty much the only building anywhere near.
Following instructions like the conformist travelers we are, a lady eventually emerges from around the corner and checks us in. We soon realised what our expert tourist info woman meant by "quaint little hostel" was not quaint but an ugly building stuck on the side of its own beach. It sounds quaint so we will just say it was. Perhaps the lady had never ventured out from her desk and actually seen the area
for her self but I suppose you get that.
Pula itself was quite interesting. An old Roman city like many in the region, its big claim to fame was the huge and very well preserved amphitheatre right in the middle of town. It was hard to say if I liked Pula or not. A port city, yes, but the port wasn't obtrusive. Worn out old buildings, yes, but it also had many really nice areas. I guess I think back to Riga, Latvia where I wasn't quite sure what to make of it at first but after a few days I enjoyed it. Had we had more time there, I probably would have felt the same. We saw a few other Roman ruins and kicked about in the little streets but were getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of places open much past 10pm. We only stayed the one night before we decided to embark on a journey which would turn out to be quite a big stuff up.
The bus left early (11am is early for us) and was bound for Split via our initial stop of Rijeka. The scenery was amazing as we winded our way
along the coast. Passing through a few little Adriatic side villages which made me excited about our ultimate destination because they were so picturesque. Rijeka was drawing close and as we finally made our way into town, I was greeted by the sight of one of the most ugliest cities I have seen since Dundee, Scotland. A huge stinky port obstructs the view of the sea, the streets were filled with dirt and rubbish and the buildings were filthy. It was not a sight I was expecting. I had a feeling there was plenty of places in town that could have been very nice but I'm afraid I didn't see it. So why were we there? Well...
The plan was avoiding the bus travel all the way to Split, we thought it would be a nice change to catch a boat from Rijeka down the Adriatic Sea down to Split. What we hadn't counted on was that, being winter, boats only run twice a week. The next one was due the following day at a reasonable price. We explored all other options. Train was to leave that night but expensive and no sleeper. The bus was what we were
trying to avoid and was leaving soon but even more expensive. Plus 10 hours on a bus didn't sound exciting after 3 hours we just did. Swimming and walking weren't an option. We decided on the train, picked a nice little restaurant and settled in for a long afternoon of eating and drinking while we waited for the train.
Arriving really early to a place you've never been, after a night of no sleep on a long train trip, doesn't exactly put you in the best frame mood. That in mind, when I was confronted by a woman who was determined to put us up for the night, for a small cost of course and wouldn't leave us alone, I challenged her cheapness just to shut her up. We followed her through the amazing streets of Split to our sojourn. Our little room was hidden away in twisted alleyways and buildings made of stone. A bit of bargaining got us a great price and were stoked.
Split is truly amazing. Picture walking around a large Roman city in the Roman times. Now picture that city with modern shop fronts and more cafes than you can shake a stick
at... that's about what Split is like. It's a very fashion conscious place with all the young girls walking around with their Louis Vuitton bags and their Dior sunglasses. It's almost like Milan on the Adriatic. We spent 3 days wandering the streets, exploiting the cafes and even basking in a bit more sun which was poking it's head through again.
Our next stop was the best stop we made. Just off the coast of the main land lays the Island of Hvar. We caught a ferry out to Hvar town on the island and we "guided" by man who had a 2 story apartment just up from the main square. With the same price as the place in Split and a full apartment with kitchen and bedrooms, we were cheering.
Hvar town is beautiful. Similar to Split with the stone buildings and walkways, but with a castle looming on a hill overhead and right on a little port where small boats gently bob around on the deep blue and crystal clear water. Being spring and way out of season the place was basically deserted with just us and the locals. The sun had been out for a
few days and continued to stay out for the whole time which made the stay perfect.
We hiked up the hill to castle to have a squiz but the door was locked. We were determined to get in so we tried to climb the walls and all sorts of shenanigan's because no one was around. The cause was futile so we turned our backs in defeat and headed back down. On the plus side we did stumble a nice little stone beach. We parked ourselves in the sun right on the clear sea and soaked up the sun.
The next day was the day we were set to move on from Hvar, what we hadn't counted on is that it was raining and the ferries don't run on rainy days... I guess they dont want to get their boats wet. So after waiting 3 hours for the ferry we stayed in the bar we were at and started playing cards with the bar tender. He didn't seem that busy so we stayed for ages playing cards and drinking local spirits. After I looked down at my clock and realised that we had been there for 9 hours and
No fast food here. Hvar Island
it was closing time we headed back to the apartment we had arranged with our mate Momo to stay an extra night.
The day after was better so we finally went to Korčula Island. Korčula town is much bigger than Hvar town but just as nice. Surrounded by a old medieval wall, right on the water and dwarfed by some stunning mountains near by, Korčula is beautiful. Finding accommodation was easy as usual as someone just came up to us and offered a place right in the old town for even less than we had been paying. We walk into an ancient stone court then up old stairs into our modern apartment complete with heating and satellite TV. It was getting better and better.
Korčula was great. Once again we didn't do a lot, just cruising around and taking in the niceties. One thing I couldn't get over was the cats, they were everywhere. It seemed every corner you turned there was a cat or 4 to greet you.
We caught the ship down to the most touristy place on the Croatian Adriatic Coast, Dubrovnik. It was so touristy that we even saw tourists there as it
seemed unusual to see tourists around at this time of year.
After stepping foot off the ship, we were expecting, as had been the case everywhere else, to have someone there offering a room. What we hadn't expected to see was numerous people all vying for our business. A flurry of laminated pictures and printed information distracted our concentration as the locals were all staking their claim to being the best place in town. To avoid the competition getting nasty, I only concentrated on one woman and asked about details. Rohan was about to flaunt his bargaining skills and blurt out a price but she beat him to the punch and quoted a price that was lower than his intended suggestion. In a moment of bewilderment he shook his head and before we knew it, a rusty of Ford Escort was escorting us to her place. The door was half falling off so I had to hold onto it as we weaved our through the traffic.
After getting business all taken care of, we headed straight, of course, to the old town. The rest of Dubrovnik was just a normal city on the Adriatic. We had been seeing
walled old town after walled old town along the coast and were afraid of being disappointed. The fact was, we weren't. Even though we had seen so much, Dubrovnik is pretty damn impressive. What makes it so is that the whole town is completely surrounded (which most walled towns aren't completely) by huge thick walls. The walk around the walls was definitely the highlight of the trip. It gave spectacular views over the city and out to the sea. What blew me away (aside from the wind) was the houses that were right up against the wall so that at any time they could come out, stand on the wall and gaze over the sights.
So thats about it for Croatia. We spent 2 weeks there which was more than I intended but was well worth it. Its very easy to see why its the big hot spot of Europe during summer right now and its only going to get bigger.
Next blog from our next country, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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