After buzzing through so many countries so quickly we were longing to stay in one place for more than just a couple of days. We found our little spot of paradise on the island of Hvar in Croatia. We picked Hvar because the highspeed ferry from Italy stops there, and that seems as good a reason as any. Hvar is located towards the southern end of the Dalmatian Coast along Croatia. The clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea lap up along the rocky shores and the general lazy feeling of vacation permeates throughout the island. The main town on the island is Hvar Town with is quite the bustling town, filled with tourists from Italy, Eastern Europe and Britian enjoying a gelato (ice cream), walking the cobblestone promenade, and finding a comfortable spot to sunbathe along the rocks. We chose to escape to the much quieter town of Stari Grad for the week.
Upon debarking from the boat from Italy we were approached by a woman offering a private room. It sounded good so we followed her to her house right in the center of the old part of Stari Grad, tucked away in the narrow stone pedestrian streets and old stone buildings. It seemed perfect, until we tried to go to bed. That was one of our longer nights on this trip. It started out with the bed being too short for Snowden, a common problem created by beds with foot boards at the end. In the past the problem has been remedied by sleeping perpendicular on the bed, but this one wasn't wide enough, or pulling the mattress off the frame and sleeping on the floor. We have had more than one 1am room-reorganization drills in the last couple of months. The room was small so it was a tight fit to get the mattress on the floor, but we did it, only to find ourselves being attacked by bugs--the worse of two evils, so the mattress went back on the bed. All that coupled with stifling heat with little ventilation, and the Norwegian family playing rugby in the room right above us by 9 am we were packed up and out on the street looking for a different option. Turns out, walking around with packs on is better than carrying a sign saying "we are looking for a place to stay" and within 5 minutes we were approached by two different people offering rooms. We ended up with a nice family about a 5 min walk from town. The first indication that it would work out should have been that the woman offering the room was close to Snow's height. We later met her 20-something son we went to college in the States on a basketball scholarship and it became apparent that this was a family that understood the discomfort of short beds. The bonus is our own terrace with a clothesline (another one of those things we never really appreciated til this trip) and a little table and chairs. Our host was thrilled when we told her we would stay for 6 nights. We were equally thrilled.
Our days on the island have been filled with lazy, relaxing mornings, walks along the shore enjoying the scent of pine trees that line the path, yummy meals in small, romantic restaurants, seeing Starsky and Hutch at an outdoor theater, and appreciating waking up and going to bed in the same place. We took a day trip to another island, Brac, to enjoy their beach for the day. Lounging on the beach we were struck by how family-friendly the Croatia islands seem to be. They are very affordable with lots of things for kids to enjoy. It was fun for us to see all the different families with children of varying ages enjoying their vacations.
You don't come all the way to Croatia and not go to Dubrovnik. The only thing is that Dubrovnik is completely out of the way of everything. It sits at the very southern tip of Croatia, within spitting distance of the border with Montenegro. Every transportation option we looked into involved about 7 hours of transit to get there. We were so happy to be in one place for a whole week, traveling 7 hours to spend a day there, then 7 hours back (our boat back to Italy leaves from here tomorrow) did not sound appealing. So, we signed up for the guided day trip with about 200 other people. The organized trip cuts the travel time down to about 5 hours one-way, so it was a very long day. We left at 6am and got back at 10pm, with 4 hours to enjoy the historic wall town. The old town of Dubrovnik is not very big, so 4 hours was plenty of time. Although we felt a little like cattle being herded around, it was a perfect way to see the town and still make it back to our comfortable bed on Hvar.
Dubrovnik, refered to as "the pearl of the Adriatic" by Lord Byron is a completely walled city with only two entrances, the main gate on the north side and the harbor on the south side. The wall is completely intact and you can walk the full 2 kilometers around it, being rewarded with stunning views of the town and the blue sea beyond the walls. The 1991 shelling of the city by the Yugoslav army did quite a bit of damage, but with the help of international money the residents quickly rebuilt and repaired the damaged buildings. Now, the only reminence is the difference between the original yellowish roof tiles and the newer orange tiles. Although it was a very long day for us it was well worth the trip to see this beautiful city.
Relaxing on Hvar we met a couple from North Carolina. Patricia and Ethan endured 2 nights at the place where we stayed when we first arrived on the island and they fled to new accommodations the same morning we did. They are on the tailend of a 7 week trip through Europe and we enjoyed swapping travel stories with them. They've been using Rick Steve's, Europe Through the Backdoor guide book. We had to laugh at their stories of dismay in encountering so many other "Ricks" at all of the "out-of-the-way" places suggested in their book. We often see loyal "LP'ers" at restaurants or on day hike suggested in the Lonely Planet. Travel guides are an invaluable source of information and the few times we haven't had one we've felt at a complete loss. However, the good ones, or at least the more popular ones, by definition, make the cool, off-the-beaten-path places a little closer to the beaten path. We have to remind ourselves that we, too, are responsible for beating that path.
Having said that, we've purchased the Lonely Planet for Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei and are looking forward to getting on the plane on Monday. Actually, to be truthful, we are not really looking forward to the day and half of plane travel, but we are excited to be heading to a new region. We've enjoyed Europe and seen some beautiful places, but after 2 months we are beginning to feel like it's a little too much like home. We're off to find some adventure in SE Asia (hopefully not in the form of another run-in with malaria)--stay tuned to see what we find.
Looking forward to receiving all those jumping pictures you're all busy taking...we've already started to receive some good ones!
All the best,