And so we come to the end of the journey.
Our first stop after leaving Dubrovnik was Korcula, a medieval walled town on the island of the same name. The town was built in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries from stone quarried locally, and is richly decorated and ornate. We slept in an apartment which had been in the host family for five generations and during the days we caught a water taxi to the town of Lumbarda and walked through the vineyards until we came to that rarity in Croatia, a small, sandy beach.
Although we come from countries where we have expansive, open beaches, we have become very accustomed to renting a sun lounger and umbrella, and squeezing in with tourists from around the region. Again something which would be considered rather un-Australian, is the local custom to change into your bathers at the beach. This involves holding a towel in one hand and wriggling away using the other hand to disrobe – and ultimately to rerobe. Women of all shapes and cup sizes have developed the top-over-bra method as an art artform. There is a second changing method which involves fixing the towel tightly around the disrober, and using both hands to remove the togs, but this approach can result in a temporarily loss of modesty.
Korcula was the birthplace of Marko Polo and his life and traveled are referenced in many of the buildings in the old town and with the oleanders in abundant pink and white flowers, it’s a very pretty stop.
A short ride across the Adriatic brought us to the island of Hvar. We arrived at the town of the same name, another ancient, fortified town, but this time bustling with party-goers. Young party-goers. With all the youngsters on the streets, we felt old enough to be grandparents – which of course Ross & Mary are – but we soon caught the local bus for 45 minutes and arrived at Stari Grad, which translates to Old Town. Stari Grad is way chilled and while we waited for our AirBnB to become available, we relaxed in a waterfront cafe and lunched on some of the best salads we’ve tasted.
This AirBnB experience was far less than satisfactory. Our host dictated a checkin time of 3pm, two and a half hours after we had arrived in Stari Grad. She then turned up 20 minutes late. Obviously trying to be conciliatory she offered, the following,
“Do you drink red wine?” To which I replied,
“Do bears shit in the forest?”
“What?”, she barked.
We hired a car for the day and attempted to find the famed UNESCO protected lavender fields. Hvar has a remarkable landscape, formed by thousands of years of human labour. The centuries old dry stone walls are the dominant feature of the countryside and contain small plantings of olives, nutmeg and vineyards.
We traveled across the mountainous central spine of the island but our hopes of seeing fields of gorgeous purple plantings were not realised. Back in Hvar we climbed to the magnificent Fortica, dating from 1282, which dominates the town. When Hvar lost its strategic importance in the second half of the 19th century, the fortification was abandoned and left “for the fairies to dance in at night”, according to local lore.
On our last day in the Croatian Islands, we took a small ferry to the island of Brac and spend the day at Zlatni Rat, the beach next to the town of Bol. Although it’s an Adriatic pebbly beach, and you’re laid nose to bum with your fellow man, it’s a pretty good beach for this part of the world. It’s hugely popular as the locals can easily bring their cars to the island on the many services from Split. We pay 100 kuna each for our ferry, plus 60 each for our two sun loungers and one umbrella. We’ve spent close to $80 and haven’t even had a cup of over-priced coffee at the beach bar, let alone dropped our daks. But when in Bol do as the…
After dinner that night we wandered home through the labyrinth of cobbled streets in the old town of Stari Grad. We happen upon Roman Mosaics that must be 200 years old.
On our last full day in Eastern Europe, we caught the early ferry to Spilt. We dropped our bags and separate, with Maggie and I catching a bus to Trogir, which avid readers will remember we missed two weeks ago. It’s a very pretty walled town set on an island and has a far more authentic feel than Split.
This morning we will visit the Diocletian’s Palace and Ross and Mary will depart for Zurich, Singapore, Christchurch and home to Wellington. This afternoon we will fly to Rome, Singapore and home to Sydney. We’ve had great fun. We’ve enjoyed traveling together. We’ve learned an enormous amount about this part of the world, the beauty and the conflict, and strangely, we are all still speaking.
But a dark cloud has passed over the sunshine and joy we have experienced.
Some readers will remember our friends Tom & Robin from Spokane in Washington state. We met them in 1980 when we were on a ferry from Bari to Brindisi , (not too far from where we are today), became close friends, and we stayed in contact ever since. We visited with them three or four times in the US. They produced two beautiful daughters, Klara and Brita. But Brita, the youngest, died before reaching her teens from leukaemia, despite the best medical care the US health system could provide. Obviously Tom & Robin were devastated. As part of the healing process (if that can ever happen) Maggie and I brought Robin to Oz for a few weeks of sunshine where some readers may have met her.
While waiting in the scrambled egg queue at breakfast in Budapest, Maggie (who’s never met a stranger) got talking to an American woman who coincidentally knows Robin, although she hadn’t seen her for some time. But the woman told Maggie that tragedy had again visited Tom & Robin. They were camping on Mt Washington, when the mountain erupted, and although they escaped unhurt, the two friends they were traveling with were killed. Maggie immediately sent a postcard offering our condolences, even though we haven’t heard from them for a couple of years. In fact the last time we saw them all was a decade ago in Spokane. We had seen Klara in Sydney a few years before that and in Spokane we met her long-time boyfriend Chad.
Today we had an email reply from Robin with even more appalling news. A few weeks ago, Klara, struggling with addiction and depression issues, committed suicide. Although we had only met her four or five times she was almost a goddaughter to us; simply the most gorgeous young woman. Klara, like both her parents, was an artist, a lover of design, art and all things beautiful. She loved to travel. She had a joy of life and a rare inner beauty.
Our hearts bleed for Tom and Robin. It’s hard to imagine how our two dear friends can ever recover from the loss of both their beautiful children.
We leave this part of the world with very heavy hearts.
So the next post you’ll get from me will be early next year when we hope to visit Southern India. We had so much fun in Rajasthan earlier this year that a return to the sub-continent is definitely on the cards.
In the meantime, hold your children close and travel safely.