As my friends and regular readers know, my grasp of geography is right up there with my killer dance moves and my ability to ignore cats, i.e. it is almost non-existent. So as we crossed from Hungary into Croatia, I had no idea what to expect. I knew Dubrovnik was further south, and was the setting for Kings Landing in Game of Thrones, but that was pretty much it. I must admit, I quite like travelling this way – letting each town, country, or culture take me by surprise (the first surprise always being unfamiliar and incomprehensible road signs). I like the days of waiting, and watching, while the subtle differences reveal themselves and after a bit I can say, ‘Ah, that is typical of Budapest/Almerimar/the Somme’. So come on, Croatia, bring it on.
Our first stops were a series of truck stops on the outskirts of Zagreb. Although this meant deploying the old memory foam earplugs again, it also meant freedom from the mosquitos that hung around the nice, tree-filled campsites of an evening. I’m told that being blood type ‘O’ is more attractive to the bitey little bastards, and this is both unfortunate and true: Steve and I share that group and we have both been bitten as lumpy as the Alps. I also have another theory: using the idea that you are what you eat, (and taking into consideration that I’ve lived in Bath for the past ten years) – I reckon that on a cellular level I am a good 75% gin and tonic. Furthermore, as an utterly hormonal woman, I imagine the other 25% is probably reconstructed chocolate. If I was a midge, I would bite me.
The capital of Croatia is a very nice little city: buzzy and interesting without being too big. Apart from the red-umbrella’d Dolac market (with its statue of Kumica Barica – the spirit of the farmer’s market) there was an artisan market that filled the main square. Here, among other things, you could get an umbrella made to order by the most hard-working women I saw all day, and then a nice lady would paint flowers on it for you.
After stuffing our faces on samples of mortadella, cheese, fresh figs, sourdough bread and blackcurrant jam, we took a turn around the pretty cathedral. After more pootling around we wandered into a brilliant art exhibition – the work of Hungary’s most prolific artist, Vasko Lipovac. It’s hard to put into words the wit and brilliance of his work. My best description would be imagine if Beryl Cook had just gone dogging….
Here’s what I mean.
His most impressive piece, Cyclus, was housed in a long room and featured a sculpted cycle race in all its agony and glory. Each figure was an individual, with its own expression and sense of story. Bloody marvellous.
Zagreb is also home to the sweet, but odd, Museum of Broken Relationships. Each willingly donated exhibit told a story of love and loss, or humour, or horror. Someone had left an axe, which suggested a relationship well past fixing. This was also a bit chilling.
I went to the loo and found that it, too, had a broken relationship – to its door lock. And although it clearly said ‘Women’ in numerous languages, a man was standing there peeing, with the door wide open. When he saw me, he carried on as if he expected me to use the gents. Er, no. So I waited, and then he made a huge fuss of clearing up after him which actually consisted of him not clearing up anything at all. I just hoped he hadn’t come back for his axe.
Just around the corner the road curved under the Stone Gate, and someone had decided that this was the perfect place to build a tiny church. On either side of the road. Under an overhang.
On the inner side of the curve, two wooden pews perched on the pavement, with people genuinely sitting there praying whilst motorbikes whizzed past, and tourists gawped. On the outer side of the curve, an almost invisible statue of the Virgin was hidden behind huge, wrought iron gates. The walls surrounding them were covered in plaques saying thank you, mostly. In front of the pews a lady scraped melted candle wax into three huge tubs on the ground.
There was actually a Burger Festival happening in one of the parks which Steve decided to avoid – more fallout from living in Bath for ten years, I suspect. Instead we headed up to the Cemetery, because it was nearly dusk and we needed to be bitten some more. And, to be fair, the place is utterly spectacular, and I’ve always rather liked graveyards.
Bugs notwithstanding, once we’d headed off to the coast it was time to find a campsite again. So we did what we usually do, which is to look in books and on the internet, get as much info as we can, try and phone ahead if possible, and then find out that all of that has been a complete waste of our time. And what we usually do (when we turn up at another ‘closed’ sign, get stuck down an impossible to navigate road, or are met by the campsite owner telling us that, yes, he knows it’s a 35% hill on the way in, but he’s sure we can manage it, despite the hairpin as it joins the road) is ask somebody.
We were directed to the north end of the island of Pag, the countryside of which is known by its proper term – THE ARSE END OF NOWHERE! But it was worth it because it led to the wonderful Camping Simuni. This place had everything, and I mean everything. For a start, it was all landscaped beautifully – lots of interestingly decorated corners, so that if you got lost you’d know that you turned left by the old row boat and anchor, and right by the bougainvillea covered hammock. And as for amenities, forget a couple of shower blocks and a rarely open reception – this place had an onsite supermarket, a fish restaurant, a burger joint, a takeaway, at least three bars, a pizza joint, a traditional restaurant, several shops of souvenirs and water sport equipment, a laundry, a kid’s club, a spa and yoga room, and it was right on the beach. We literally got to park right on the beach. In a thunderstorm. Fantastic. Sitting there after a long drive, eating pizza and watching it sheet down to the horizon. The next day we bought a snorkel; that’s how great it was.
And, as it turned out, all the campsites on the Croatian coast are pretty much like this. Seriously worth being bitten for. Our next site parked us just back from the beach but right next to the cafe. I could wander out each evening and the barman would line up a gin and tonic (so that I could keep up with the deficit caused by the mozzies), and then sit back and watch the sunset, followed by the awakening and swooping of the bats. This was the view from Georgie.
THE SEA ORGAN
We popped into Zadar to check out the Sea Organ. This is pretty much how it sounds – an organ built into the sea wall, so that the water rushing down the pipes creates the sounds, the way that air would in a traditional organ. Each combination of strange, mournful, lowing bellows is utterly unique.
I had a good listen despite the fact that, as familiarity breeds contempt, so the Sea Organ has become the place for the locals to gather and gossip. Loudly. I had to shut my eyes and really focus, especially as I have dyslexic ears. No, really, it’s a thing. My doctor said. I hear perfectly well but my brain can’t be arsed to translate it properly. So I struggle if there is background (or, as in this case, foreground) noise. Doc advised learning to lip-read.
As for the organ, they got some special expert in to tune it, and although I don’t know what it sounded like before he did that, I would say that it’s possible he was overpaid.
After Zadar we trollied off down to Split and the wonder that is Dubrovnik. I’ll fill you in as soon as I get reliable wifi again. Ciao folks, thanks for reading.