We again arrived late, and after warding off the numerous touts that met the bus we slowly found our way to the hotel we had booked. Split was an interesting town, and would have even been beautiful if the esplanade had not been ripped up for some very smelly repairs when we were there.
The part of the town we stayed in was built over the top of some old roman ruins, which we didn't really know - so it was quite strange wandering around late at night, up and down various alleyways and steps. The town generally seemed to be built in three dimensions, with streets that went both left and right and well as up and down!
Eventually we found a great jazz bar which we hung out at for a while before heading in for the night.
The next day was spent lazing about in the sun prior to our ferry to the islands. The ferries were amongst the cheapest things we encountered - only £1-2 for a one hour crossing. When we arrived at the terminal, we were also surprised to see a bus surrounded by armed defenders with automatic weapons. It looked pretty aggressive, so we stood around and gawked for a while before we worked out that it was just an exercise.
We then boarded our ferry to Hvar Island.
Hvar turned out to be a pretty town on a very dry looking island of the same name.
My holiday also started looking up at this point - co-inciding with my decision to cease sleeping in the same room as Bruce. Gaining more than 2 hours of unbroken sleep a night did wonders for the level of harmony on the trip!
We stayed for 2-3 nights, and over the time it was apparent that we were going to have a very different experience than do the throngs of tourists that obviously go during the season. For a start it was really only us and the locals - which was a good thing - however, many of the tourist operators had closed down until next summer - which was a bad thing.
However, we did manage to hire scooters and go over to Starigrad and Jelsa on the other side of the island - some of the smaller villages in the hinterlands were ghost towns at this time of the year, although the smell of the ubiqitous lavender farms was everywhere. Managed to get my scooter up to 78 KMH, and although Bruce reckons he managed to go faster, I doubt the authenticity of his claim...
We also hired a car one day and went to the far eastern edge of the island. It was very isolated out there and even less was open than in Hvar. We did manage to find a tunnel that looked like it had been carved by hand out of the rock, which was only just bigger than the car!
Unfortunately, we couldn't do one of the most famous things - hiring a boat or yacht and island hopping - as all of the operators had shut up shop for the season.
From Hvar, the plan was to island hop down to Dubrovnik. Now this was always going to be a challenging affair in the off-season, but it started promisingly enough, with the ferry turning up as expected and depositing us at Vela Luka, next to the bus to Korcula town on the island of the same name.
This is where the difficulties started. Firstly, the ferry terminal was a couple of km out of town. This slight problem was overcome by convincing the bus driver to run us out there, just in time for the ferry to Orebic.
At Orebic, things got progressively worse. The bus to Dubrovnik did not actually exist (until the next morning anyway). Faced with an unplanned stop in Orebic, we thought we would just grab a hotel and a bite to eat and head on down to Dubrovnik in the morning. However, the entire town was shut, including every restaurant, hotel and apartment.
We asked if they could help us at the information centre, where they quite accurately told us "no" they could not.
Wondering if a cold night on the beach was the next step, we ended up in a pub drinking with the locals. Several rounds later it turned out that a lady at the bar worked for the ferry company and knew someone in Korcula town that would "look after us".
The fella was true to her word, and soon after catching the ferry back to the island we had negotiated to rent his mate's apartment and for him to give us a lift to Dubrovnik in the morning - for less than a hotel and bus would have been. The major benefit of this arrangement was being able to travel when we wanted to, rather than needing to be at the bus station before 7am the following morning!
So after a somewhat interesting trip, we arrived in Dubrovnik around 11am the following day. Our new mate had arranged another apartment for us - the good news being that it had an excellent view of the old town, the bad news being that it was up the top of a giant hill.
After some general touristing (including walking around the walls of Dubrovnik - which was excellent), we spent our last night drinking beer and looking at the sunset, before setting out to find a place to eat. We ended up finding a jazz bar, which was backed and had a great vibe. The food was less good, leaving me feeling somewhat queasy afterwards, and facing a giant walk up the hill.
I'm still unsure as to whether this was due to something I ate, or if I was made to feel a bit strange by a week of passive smoking several thousand cigarettes. Croatian seem to be the heaviest smokers in europe, including at the teller in duty free...
I managed to walk off the queayness a bit, and it struck me how much better Dubrovnik was after hours once the tour boat Americans had gone back to their floating mansion. Dubrovnik was then filled with locals - mainly quite young - and it had a really fun atmosphere. Unfortunately, I still did not feel 100% so we then slugged back up the hill.
The next day was spent much the day before - the most interesting thing being a museum with pictures of the around 200 defenders that were killed in the siege of Dubrovnik in 1991. I guess I am too young to really remember it in any great detail - but it was clear that after being hit by 2000 shells, an extensive rebuild was required. Given this situation, they had done a really good job, with it being very difficult to tell which parts were not original.
Our education of the 1991 was completed on the way out to the airport, when the owner of our apartment educated us on his experience of the war - including where he was stationed, the hotels the Serbs took and where their roadblocks were. He also pointed out the road that that cut over the hills once they had pushed the Serbs back into Bosnia.
Looking back on it now, given that 1991 was only 15 years ago - it is amazing how much Croatia had rebuilt itself. It felt much more prosperous than I expected, and certainly more european than I guess I thought it would be.