Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Croatia




Our track within and from France

On the Move

We awoke in Venice Italy, crossed thru Slovenia, got our passports stamped and parked outside a closed camp ground. At 9pm the security guard told us “Go! Now you must go.” That was our first day in Croatia. In France, everywhere is a campground. In Croatia it is heavily regulated and the laws are enforced with lofty fines so as to corral you into the very expensive campgrounds that are everywhere in the country. Ok – I’ll pay, but this one was closed for the winter.

“Go! Now you must go.” That Slavic accent with the Yoda phrasing makes them sound like they're proficient and resigned to the trouble they are about to cause. We went. I hate driving this big rig after dark on strange roads. Fortunately, we weren’t the only campers that were being evicted, and the other guys knew our surroundings. We ended up a few KM down the road. The next day we pulled into Polidor Family Campground and ended up staying for almost 3 weeks. 



I never expected we would sit in the same place for 19 days. In retrospect I think the enormity of what we had done was finally realized and sat down squarely on my chest and forced me to reflect. Moving to Europe, navigating the bureaucracy of France, shopping and buying Encore, the stress of the title deed and the insurance, the drive to get out of the Schengen Zone to stop the clock so we could re-enter for the summer and drive to Sweden…It all finally caught up with us. We needed some time to sit still and get to know our new home / vehicle. We now had the stint to shuffle things around and perfect our storage challenges. We opened and explored all the crevices we had previously ignored and made some changes for comfort and practicality. 

The repairs and improvements have begun


The Auxiliary Transport

Our campground was in a pretty location near the sea but far from everything else. That led to the next quandary: “How do we leave the mothership and get around?” We needed a secondary mode of transportation to increase our diameter of fun. We can't fit bikes in the garage (not even folding bikes. It’s a very small garage. “Garage” is motorhome vernacular for the storage locker at the stern of the vehicle) I could mount a bike rack off the back but I don’t want to add length or to encourage thieves to take another look at us. Hence, the e-scooters were purchased. They fold and fit perfectly in the garage. What a great decision. 


Let’s Get Something Straight . . .

The name of this country isn’t anything close to Croatia. It’s actually Hrvatska. The Slavs’ pronunciation exists through something that even Wikipedia calls a phenomenon: “Liquid consonants”. It’s too detailed for this dispatch but you might find it interesting to learn how the unspellable shakes hands with the unpronounceable (paraphrased and stolen from the late great PJ O’Rourke). Croatian sounds like a cross between Russian and Italian. It’s got the staccato rhythm of the Tuscans and that drugged Slavic blur, like a tongue on Nembutal. 

Dobro means "Good". “Dobro, bro”! Nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks that joke is funny. I doubt they even know it’s a joke. They probably think I have a stutter so they pity me. But I’m not gonna stop saying it. Don’t feel bad for my nonexistent stutter, pity me because I’m such a dork.


The Latins of the Balkans

There are a bunch of loud Slovenians parked across from us. It’s happened more than once. The loud party hounds are always the Slovenians. Aleja asked me, "Do you think the Slovenians are the Latins of the Balkans?" - "Yep!" Croatia is their coastal neighbor, they come in swarms, and like the Latins they have zero control over their volume. 

Istria

The Istria is a large peninsula shaped like a shield that is shared by Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, but mostly Croatia (89%). It’s changed hands over the millennia so many times that many cultures have claimed roots to it. In addition to those named above the Austrians and Hungarians ruled it as well as the ancient Liburnians, Romans and Venetians. 











Dvigrad Ruins 

They are really something unique. This town was never destroyed, just abandoned, and since no modern villages arose nearby the photo-ops are astounding. I never tire of finding a quiet corner, focusing on a well-worn stepping stone and trying my mightiest to project myself back in time to imagine the lives of those who walked before me. 


Vrsar

I’ve sailed the Caribbean, the South Pacific and the waters of Indonesia (way too many laps!) and I can tell you with authority that you can’t beat the gin-colored water of Croatia. Vrsar was the first in a long line of gorgeous stops we made and we aren’t even on the Dalmatian Coast yet. There’s a reason your intolerable work colleague keeps bending your ear about Croatia. 

Rovinj

Humanity loves scarcity as much as it loves seafront. This might explain why people will pack themselves into a peninsula with a shoe horn. The density is dizzying and the quaint charms of these deliciously photogenic little medieval seaside towns overflows into the lively streets. Get ready – this became a recurring theme for the next month.


Pula

“You want Roman ruins? Oh, we got Roman ruins!” In 45 BC Pula became an important Roman port. Its coliseum is one the world’s best preserved and it’s Temple of Augustus, as well as the various arches and early gates are testimonies to its antiquity. This coast just keeps getting better.


“Thank You For Sharing Your Cigarette Sir”

I thought France was full of smokers. Boy was I wrong. Nothing compares to the number of smokers in Eastern Europe. That hacking cough is the default setting in this part of the world, and though it sounds like one huge covid super spreader event it’s just people slow dying of emphysema. Even though I despise the smoke and the smokers I thank the pantheon of gods for the mosquito and big tobacco or world population would be at 12 billion and you’d be scrounging for a naked corn cob to gnaw.

The Dalmatian Coast

For us, it began on a near island called Krk (Apparently, there is a shortage of vowels in this part of the world). We had a roaring good evening with our new friends Brad and Oksana Perkins who I had been stalking for many months, drooling over her photos and gleaning all I could from their social media output to best prepare for this Euro trip. I fumbled a wine glass and it exploded like a grape juice hand grenade, but with 8 hands working feverishly for an hour we got Encore back to pristine. 


We met our new friend Dominic in Starigrad and continued to meet for beers and friendly talks in Zadar & Sibenik. The latter is a strategic city beneath a protection affording hilltop fortress with a sneaky path to open water. I can imagine how in awe the ancient Illyrian felt when he realized that channel ran into a huge protected bay. It’s every maritime explorer’s dream. 


Trogir 

We celebrated Aleja’s birthday here. It’s a splendid little island city easily accessed as we zipped all around with those e-scooters. It’s been continuously inhabited for 2300 years. The longest rule was by The Venetians for 4 centuries. If only these walls could speak.


Split

The world’s most complete Roman palace is the centerpiece of this incredible city. Diocletian’s grandiose edifice is more of a fortress than a palace and was large enough to be an entire city unto itself. The stone work of the sub structure is almost as perfectly fitted as the Inca masonry of Peru and 1100 years older. And what an enormous arched basement it is – vacuous and regal and built on a slant. An engineering marvel that has withstood it all, including 1700 years of remodeling.  


The palace was completed in 305 AD but Split had been inhabited by ancient Greeks and Illyrians for 600 years prior. They didn’t know it at the time but they were building sets for Hollywood and assuring a tourist revenue flow for their descendants. 


Krka National Park

We took a break from the coast and headed a little inland for some waterfall hiking in a gorgeous park and the Slovenians woke us only one time late at night. The photos are the obvious showcase for the natural beauty but the designers who crafted the walking trails of this area did a wonderful job creating a soothing stroll through nature. I highly recommend this place.


Dubrovnik

On a couple occasions as we tripped down the coast, I found myself asking “Do we really need to see another medieval city?” Anyone could forgive such a crass question after seeing as many award winning picturesque coastal towns with their walled fortresses and cobblestone streets as we did. However - The scope of Dubrovnik is astounding. It tops all the rest – even Split, and that’s saying something.


For 400 years from the 14th century to 1808 Dubrovnik ruled itself as a free state. While interviewing a local over cocktails she explained that the citizens don’t feel Croatian any more than they felt Yugoslavian. They are Dubrovniks. In fact, you even have to leave Croatia to get here since it is not connected by land to the main country. That self-determining spirit got them through once more when they were shelled for 7 months during the Croatia war of independence in 1991. You’ve seen hours of film of this city even if you haven’t been here – it was King’s Landing in Game of Thrones.




Next Up – Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo

Ahh Europe! – what a wonderful continent for an extended road trip. I hope you enjoy the stories as much as we enjoy creating them.

Your man on point,

Capt Bobby

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