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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

Hvar: Biking, Fortresses and Food

CROATIA | Thursday, 8 November 2018 | Views [25]

A little view from the fortress cell.

A little view from the fortress cell.

Over my first week in Croatia I endeavored to learn words in the local language such as “Thank you,” “Excuse me, do you speak English?” and “Good day”. In Croatian “hv” is pronounced somewhere between a “w” and a “q” making “Wa-var” the correct pronunciation for the island I visited. 

By far the most memorable morning was the 4 hour guided bike tour I treated myself to around the northern part of the island for about $90 with Hvar Adventure. Given the fact it was off season it even turned out to be a private tour with just the local guide. On quality mountain bikes we set off through the Stari Grad Plains, a collection of hundreds of plots of land rather like allotments, where olives and grapes are still cultivated by hand under the protection of the UNESCO World Heritage List. However some of these plots grow wild without any easy way to trace the many far flung descendants of the last known owner, or while one family member holds out from selling.

From this land of Mediterranean riches we biked to Vrboska, locally known as the “Little Venice”, before stoping in Jelsa for a coffee at one of the few cafes still open in the relaxing square. Given that it was just the 2 of us my guide was able to tell me not just about the places we were visiting, but about Croatia and his own experiences and perspectives. He would like to see a change in the local tourist season from the current one, which sees much of the island shut down for 6 months in the off season, to one which would welcome visitors year round. There isn’t much motivation for that at the moment. With a touch of distaste he translated what one local man was telling another in Croatian after they passed us at a photo stop: he’d made enough money over just the summer months to pay for all of his son’s university costs (likely including an apartment to live in). 

Unlike many Croatians who are moving into the cities, or even out of the country my guide and his family moved from Zagreb (the capital) out to Hvar. Here they enjoy more of the true quality of life, and less of the rush. For example the afternoon following my bike ride they were going to spend harvesting olives with friends. On the other hand trying to get a plumber to fix a leak on the kitchen sink was very reminiscent of “A Year in Provence”: “Yes, yes. Emergency,” the plumber told him, “I come tomorrow morning”. 

For the rest of our morning we pedaled along a quiet coastal road with views of the crystal clear water before winding our way into hills very reminiscent of Tuscany. At the highest point we stopped at the churchyard overlooking the island and villages below for a beautiful panorama. 

There must be something special about climbing high above everything else because the other highlight of my island visit was the evening hike to the Fortress above Hvar (town). After taking a quick look in the old prison with its conical cells and beginnings of stalactites hanging from the ceiling I found a corner of one of the turrets to settle into for the sunset. It was perhaps one of the most stunning I have seen in a while. First lighting up the clouds from behind the sun appeared sandwiched like a golden egg between them. Then it slipped below the lower clouds on the horizon only to appear a few minutes later between cloud and horizon as a molten ball of glowing light. 

The few of us who lingered for the moments past sunset exchanged turns taking a couple photos. Eventually the other American and I, who were the only ones left chatting, were hurried on our way 15 minutes after closing time. 

We met up for dinner slightly later, and after a wonder up and down the steep, narrow, cobble stone streets looking for restaurants of interest that turned out to be invisible, or closed for the season we found one that catered to our tastes. I often refrain from taking the photos of food, but our plate of seafood seemed to be worthy of it on this occasion. Somehow I managed to cut the small octopus just right with my knife to receive a little squirt of what I eventually realized was octopus ink! My best description of the taste is somewhere along the lines of a light peanut sauce with a rubbery meat, which I personally enjoyed. Upon the waiters being very glad to hear us finally ask for the bill we headed out into the still temperate night for a post meal wander along the quiet harbor.

Perhaps in a tie for enjoyable food during my island visit I ordered a seafood risotto with a marinara sauce for lunch at one of only 2 restaurants still open in the town of Stari Grad. Apart from that delicious meal near the harbor the best and only remaining activity in the hibernating town was to wander through the old cobble stone streets sometimes stumbling upon a small informative sign in Croatian and English on something such as the roman mosaic discovered beneath the cobble and then recovered for protection.

Not to miss my last opportunity for swimming I spent the last daylight hours of my second day at a small cobble beach south of the main town. Typically cool, but refreshing there was just enough warm sun left to mostly dry off on the tiny pebbles while talking about the wonders of the ancient world with another traveler from Canada. (Those Canadians really seem to get around! I have met more Canadians on this trip than any other nationality (apart from where I’m visiting).)  

Even on the last morning I met still another traveler when I directed a handful of other visitors to the bus station and ferry. Most of the travelers I meet from far and wide are nonetheless from western counties. This traveler though was from South Korea, which truly made for a different conversation. One of the topics of discussion was America’s role in ending WW ll with Japan, and lingering feelings (at least of the Japanese representatives he’d met) of regret that Japan had lost the war and had to give up the lands they’d conquered. I was very surprised to hear his gratitude for how the US had ended the war. Hopefully I too gave him a slightly different perspective to consider.

Tags: biking, food, fortress, hvar, off season croatia, stari grad, stari grad plains, swimming

 

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