Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Croatian holiday

Earlier this summer, when my long time buddy L. invited me to join him and a couple of his friends on vacation in Croatia, I jumped at the chance of going someplace new. My friend B. felt the same way, so she joined in as well. On July 2nd, we boarded our flight, more than a little ready to escape the dreary Norwegian summer weather in search for warmer and sunnier pastures. After visiting Dubrovnik, we took the ferry along the coast for a scenic ride, visiting the beautiful islands of Korcula and Hvar before ending up in Split and returning home from there on July 13th. These are my holiday memories:


The old town in early morning light (~7AM)

The road into the town center: steep, narrow and one-way only, but lined with colorful flowers and medieval sights

Our hotel for the first night was a tiny, family-run pension, close to the gates of Dubrovnik's old town. Although quite basic it was cheap, clean and the location was excellent. It's called Kortizija, and the homepage is here. L. had bought a bottle of bubbly and some fresh fruit which he had put in our room as a surprise - a pretty nice way of being met on our first day there, don't you think?

Lunch in one of the numerous restaurants in the old town

The city beach

Enjoying life at the city beach, the background's not too shabby either

The five star Excelsior hotel, where we spent the other two nights in Dubrovnik

B. and L. admiring a lovely, old stone house and it's impressive garden

Medieval buildings and streets in the old town

By the famous Onofrio's fountain from the 15th century 

While the buildings might be medieval, the shops are modern enough - the girls trying out Havaianas in one of the numerous stores in the old town

The five of us all dressed up for dinner in one of the posh restaurants by the old town's waterfront

My absolute favorite spot in Dubronvik: The Buza Bar

Buza means "hole" in Croatian - and the entrance is just a hole in the city's fortress walls

Situated on top of the cliffs outside the wall...

...the view of the endless horizon is stunning, especially at sunset

At the other side of the old town is the Dubrovnik Harbour

Quite the number of lovely old houses here too

This is where the ferries to the islands leave goodbye for now Dubrovnik, and welcome...

...beautiful scenery on the four hour ferry ride to Korcula...

via a short stop at the city of Sobra on the island of Mljet, where the ancient greek god of Odysseus is said to have spent several years of his life....

and passing the city of Orebic on the mainland on the way.


Arriving at the island of Korcula, with it's tiny fortress by the harbour, we almost felt like we had come to a miniature version of Dubrovnik. Not just much smaller, but more quiet too. While there being a number of tourists on the island, partly due to it's popularity as a safe overnight haven for sailors, clearly this idyllic gem is nowhere near being as commercialized as many of the other Croatian islands. The harbour was tiny and quiet, the number of shops and pubs limited and the larger hotels scattered and few. There were a good number of dining restaurants on the inside of the fortress walls though, as visible here by the green umbrellas behind the trees:

Life here was really quiet and relaxing, and the little Korcula city beach, situated right in the middle of town, was all pebbles, just like the one, albeit larger, in Dubrovnik:

My favourite beach activity - floating around in the calm water

We had booked accomodation in a private house before we arrived, and the friendly owner came down the hill from where he lived to collect us all in his car. The accomodation was quite basic, but at least it was cheap, 100 HRK (~USD18) per person per night. As we were there for two nights only, we chose to stay in where we were, even if it was lacking much needed air condition.

However, while walking from our place at the top of the hill to the centre of town, halfway down I found a large house with the most beautiful flower garden, with air conditioned two storey sea view apartments for rent at only the double of what we had paid for a small room. Had we stayed for longer, I would have instantly moved. The place unfortunately doesn't have a web site as of yet, but it's called the Villa Farac. Local phone numbers are 020-711-825 and cell: 091-542-9040. If I'm ever going back to Korcula, looking for fantastic value for money accomodation, I'll definitely be trying to book a room at that place.

Our first day there was spent in the city and on the city beach. The second day, three of us decided to follow the advice of the personell at the tourist agency and visit a supposedly wonderful beach called Lumbarda. One can get there by bus, but also by taxi boat, which is a much nicer way of travelling the distance of 7 km when the temperature rises above 30 C.

L. and B. sitting in the shade in the taxi boat waiting to be taken to Lumbarda from Korcula city

While the three of us were the first ones to enter the boat, we soon got company by a group of Maltese pensioners from a large cruise ship. They were taking the taxi boat just for sightseeing, and were obviously in a very jolly mood, as they were all singing and cheering all the way. I've visited Malta twice, but I never did get the impression that a couple of stiff drinks was a regular feature on Maltese breakfast menus. Maybe it's different when they're on holiday? ;)

The 15 minute walk from the taxi boat terminal out to the actual beach was scenic experience:

Local fishermen's small boats dotted in the harbour of Lumbarda town

Crystal clear, calm sea set against a backdrop of dramatic mountains on the mainland peninsula

Tiny geckos, which we don't have in Norway, all over the stone walls on the way to the beach

And then, the view from the rooftop of the only restaurant at Lumbarda beach:


The beach in itself, however, was kind of a disappointment to us. We had expected a more lively place, and with the pebbles that we favored instead of the sand that would stick to us all over, and that was way too hot to walk on barefoot:

We had brought our beloved floating devices though, so we did have a great time in the water as always, here represented by my friend L.:

Due to it being so hot that day, in the afternoon we retreated back into the shade of the trees in the restaurant close to the taxi boat terminal. A lovely place, with the best sandwiches we ever experienced during the whole holiday:

Right below the restaurant was another, quite small beach. This one was pebbly and with a very cool beach bar. We all agreed that had we stayed for longer, we would have chosen this one the next time:

After two days at Korcula, we had to get up extremely early the next morning. The little less than two hours express catamaran ride to the island of Hvar left at 6 AM to cater to the working locals commuting between the islands. I would have loved to stay an extra day at Korcula, though. If it's wild nightlife and action you're after, this island is definitely not the right place. But for tranquility, relaxation and beauty, it's simply fantastic.

Hvar and Split

To be continued in The Croatian holiday, Part two here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Soap bubbles

"Are you here for the match?"

A voice behind me caused me to throw a glance over my shoulder. A friendly face with a compelling smile met my stare. Our eyes locked. Uncertain if this handsome stranger had been speaking to me, asking him if he was there with the same intentions as us - watching the bronze final in the soccer championship -  was the first silence breaker I could think of.

Previously that day, my friend B. and I had left our other friends behind at Hvar Island, and gone to Split for the last three nights of our holiday. Now we were firmly placed in comfy chairs in front of the flat screen at an open air café along the city's Marmontova parade street, our regular small beers in hand, ready to enjoy the game.

It didn't take long to establish that the stranger wasn't there for the match. He, along with his friends, had come from the same island as us that very same day and were only staying in Split that night as a layover before catching their flight back home from holiday the next morning. He had just gone out for a beer on his own as he didn't like the crappy hotel they had chosen for the night, he told me. So, are you a hotel snob then, I asked him. Yes, he said. I couldn't help laughing. My unhappiness with slumming it on the islands we had visited, staying in cheap accomodation with few facilites, was the main reason B. and I had parted with the others and ended up in Split for as long as three nights. Who would have thought I'd meet my hotel snob soulmate by chance just by picking that particular one of the huge number of bars and cafés that were showing the match?

He lived in a European city, but came from another continent. As it happened, he was from a country I had visited and knew quite well, and our conversation revolved around that. Half an hour later, having finished his beer, he left, saying he had to go back to his friends at the hotel. We said our goodbyes. Somehow, however, my intuition told me I hadn't seen the last of him.

Sometime during the first half, he was back. I wasn't surprised at all.  He now took a seat at our table. As B. had caught a bit of a holiday cold she was kind of tired and very quiet, and I was more than happy with finding someone to talk to. We really hit it off. When the match finally ended my newfound friend and I had long since lost track of the score. B. wanted to call it a night and left us on our own. So did eventually all the other guests at the café. A little past midnight, the two of us were the last ones left, alone in the dark with the candle at our table as the only light.

By that time, our conversation had reached a very personal and intimate level. He knew I was struggling with cancer for the second time. And I had come to find out that his seemingly placid exterior was disguising a soul in complete turmoil, torn between his ambitions and the desire to continue the great career he had built up during his years in Europe, and the feeling of duty to and love of his family, who had called on him to come back to his home country. The dice was already cast, and he was leaving Europe in a few short weeks. Tears welled up in his eyes as he told me. Clearly he was hurting inside, having to leave a city he loved, all his friends and a position he was very proud of having achieved through education and hard work.

The last waitress at work came over to us, telling us she was closing for the night. She had changed out of her uniform, and was dressed in a sexy little black dress and heels. We commented on her goodlooking appearance, and she told us she was going out, clubbing. Clubbing? None of us had given that a single thought. However, not wanting to part ways just yet, it suddenly seemed like a great idea. So we headed for the taxi rank, and told the driver we wanted to be taken to a nightclub. He measured us up, then said he knew just the right place for us to go.

Driving along in the middle of the night in a strange city, we had no idea where we were going. Eventually we ended up outside a very posh looking entrance, with doormen clad in black suits and a line of beautifully dressed locals and tourists alike. When we entered, we went through an indoor bar, only to come out on a huge outdoor terrace with several seating groups and bars. Crystal chandeliers were hanging from their ceilings, and soap bubble machines blew beautiful bubbles that came floating down from over their roofs. The place was called Hemingway.

Spending the warm, tropical night with this man who now no longer felt like a stranger, feeling the breeze from the Adriatic sea, sipping pink Champagne and eagerly chasing the soap bubbles that came across the dance floor, I had this feeling that I was just dreaming. What had started out as an ordinary day had turned into something almost surreal. Like being inside a gigantic soap bubble ourselves. And in some ways, maybe we were...

As night turned to day, we caught a taxi back to our respective hotels - saying goodbye again. This time for good. I was so tired I didn't think much of it when I saw his car drive away. I only hoped he would still have time to catch his flight.

It was only later the next night I came to realize how much I missed his company. B. and I had sided with Spain and watched them go on to win the championship. We followed all the Spanish supporters from the café which we had chosen to see the match to a quayside disco where the music was all Spanish pop hits. It was lively and great fun to be part of their celebration. We also ended up finding some other tourists to talk to. When the disco closed and it would be time to go on to a club, however, I decided I would follow B., still struggling with her cold, back to the hotel. I could have gone on with the others. I knew for certain though, it would never be the same as the magical night I had experienced the previous evening.

Even if I had wanted to hold on to it for just a little longer, the soap bubble was well and truly burst.

(Photos by photographer Richard Heeks, via blog DamnCoolPics)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hvar Island fashion

While enjoying our regular "after beach" small beer in the centre of Hvar harbour, we spotted these four friends strolling by, doing some afternoon shopping. Obviously, they were all into stripes. :)

Today's outfit (July 2nd - 13th)

Sunscreen? Check
Bikini? Check
Floating device? Check

From the beach in Hvar Island, Croatia, sometime during mentioned dates. More travel updates coming. But this sure was one gorgeous beach...