Sand, Sun, and a Smorgasboard

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)


Tuesday, September 4th.

Sleeping on Monday night/Tuesday morning is a challenge.

Not only because of the heat and humidity. But because of those nearby church bells at St. Mark’s.

They ring. EVERY. FIFTEEN. MINUTES.

UGH.

Europe, Croatia 085Later in the morning, a bunch of us (Rob, Richard, Livia, Sanj and myself) decide to rent some bicycles and hit a beach – Vela Przina beach in the village of Lumbarda, to be precise.

I literally haven’t been on a bike in years. Even at the bike rental shop, when I initially attempt to sit on a bike, I nearly lose my balance and narrowly miss taking out a postcard carousel.

Slightly embarrassed, I work on getting my “bike legs” back, as quickly as I can.

It’s a slightly hilly seven-kilometre bike ride to Lumbarda, so I find some of the inclines challenging. The gears are also a bit wonky. But the views are nice, as is having the freedom to ride without a helmet – much like I did when I was a kid.

And then finally – the beach!

Rob and Richard take off for the water. Sanj, Livia and I spend the first part of our beach day taking some welcome shade at the nearby bar/restaurant, drinking and chatting.

Europe, Croatia 084Livia and I finally get the courage to wade into the water, while Sanj keeps out of the sun. It’s cool at first, but warms up after a few moments, and I take a moment to fully submerge my head.

While in the water, we run into four of the Aussies – Natalie and Paul (the siblings), Marian and Josie. They opted to rent a car and drove the seven kilometres.

I actually haven’t had the chance to really speak to them up until this point, so it’s good to finally see them for more than about 10 minutes and chat about how they’re finding the trip so far.

I opt to leave a bit earlier than expected, with Sanj, as we want to stop a few times on the way back to snap some pictures.

I haven’t yet been to Italy. But what we see before us is what I would imagine part of the Tuscan countryside to look like – rows of grapevines, red clay roofs and hilly backdrops.

There is much more traffic to navigate on our way back. Between the blazing sun and exerting more energy to make room for cars, scooters and trucks, my body has become quite the sweat factory.

I’m finally glad when – t-shirts clinging to our backs – we return to Korčula town in one piece!

Europe, Croatia 100After we drop off our bikes, Sanj and I continue poking around town, checking out side streets here and there, then head up to St. Mark’s Cathedral to check out the bell tower. Looks like Richard and Rob have the same idea, as that’s where we run into them.

The views of Korčula town – and the nearby water – from here are absolutely lovely. A couple of the bells ring while we’re up there.

With the evening comes another change of scenery: the group hops onto a bus headed to the village of Pupnat, for dinner at a local restaurant (called Konoba Mate) – where the ingredients for all the dishes served are locally grown or sourced.

As the air thickens with humidity and the skies grow dark with a possible threat of rain, we’re seated in the corner of the outdoor dining room, underneath a romantic overhang of vines.

Europe, Croatia 116We’re served an array of items – meats, fish, cheeses, strong, sharp-tasting liquor that tastes like walnuts and berries, pasta, and so on. The meal itself has around 4 or 5 courses, but luckily all the portions are meant for sharing. Each course is even more delicious than the last and doesn’t leave me stuffed.

Even more than the savoury meal, it’s nice to finally have the group together – laughing, trading stories and finding out more about each other.

Upon our return to Korčula, a bunch of us take a short stroll about, but then return to our quarters for the evening.

Tomorrow, we head for the island of Hvar.

Dobar Dan, Korčula!

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Monday, September 3rd.

Back home in Canada, it’s Labour Day.

I meet Sanj and Karen at around 10 a.m. for our final wandering expedition around Dubrovnik’s old town.

Europe, Croatia 062First stop: the old Franciscan monastery.

It’s got a lovely, lush cloister/courtyard that provides a bit of cover from the bright sun and the heat.

It also has the third-oldest functioning pharmacy in Europe.  No, seriously. Karen takes advantage of this handy fact to pick up some allergy medication.

Nearby, a small gallery of artefacts from the pharmacy’s earlier incarnation is on display – jugs, mortars and pestles, and other books, tools and such – in addition to other relics and religious iconography that adorn the monastery.

The last thing I remember seeing before leaving is the wall damage left by a missile, which hit the monastery on December 6, 1991. The casing is sitting on the floor, directly beneath the crater and the information plaque. Another haunting reminder of a more volatile time.

Karen, Sanj and I trek through the side streets to find Café Bar Buža, down by the rocks near the water, for some cold mid-morning drinks.

Europe, Croatia 068In addition to taking in the view, we watch a small gang of teenage boys – and one brave older man – throwing caution to the wind and launching themselves off a nearby rock face,  into the blue waters below.

Just watching some of them as they work up the courage to do something so care-free (and, to some, a bit foolhardy, since there’s a sign which clearly reads, “ACCESS DENIED – DANGER TO LIFE”) is entertaining. The sounds of splashing as bodies make contact with the water below adds to the laid-back seaside soundtrack.

Following a brief lunch, we make the climb back up to the apartments to meet the others for departure.

We’re taken by minivan to the port town of Orebić, over an hour’s drive outside of Dubrovnik. Livia peppers our extremely knowledgeable driver with questions about the countryside and local agriculture, relaying the facts to us through a microphone.

Europe, Croatia 070At Orebić, we grab a ferry across to our destination, the island (and town) of Korčula. During the ride, we become more acquainted with my fellow Torontonian, Richard. According to his story, he and Rob ended up on this tour as part of a grand prize they won at a fundraising triathalon.

Funnier still, Richard says he kept telling friends they would win the trip. Behold the power of positive thinking!

Upon reaching dry land, we’re assigned our rooms (but not without some last minute confusion and re-assignments).

My trip roommate, Jennifer, wants to get settled relatively soon so she can walk around and get a feel for the town. I completely understand this – she told me earlier in the trip that she’s directionally-challenged. But for some reason, as we mount the stairs towards our accommodation, this new setting has given her some cause for consternation.

Jennifer’s slight anxiety leaves me puzzled. Compared to Dubrovnik – where I really felt unsure which end was up – Korčula looks (and feels) dead easy to navigate. And this is coming from someone who herself is a bit directionally-challenged.

korcFor starters, Korčula town is a fraction of the size of Dubrovnik. As well – and most interestingly – urban planners of years past smartly designed the old town (which runs north to south) in the shape of a fishbone. In fact, it’s said that the “ribs” were arranged to reduce the effects of wind and the sun, providing some comfort for residents.

Most of us are staying at the “top” of the town, above the pizzeria in St. Mark’s Square – across from the cathedral. The highlight? The bells ringing with precision approximately every 15 minutes or so – not including the chimes at the top of the hour.

Another small dilemma arises when we reach our room: Jennifer and I have been given one key to share … which would be all right, except that while Jennifer plans to spend the evening indoors, I’m going with most of the group to go see the traditional Moreška at the nearby cultural centre. We ask Livia to investigate this on our behalf.

Livia gives the group an orientation of the town, followed by dinner. Tonight’s restaurant – a fish-and-seafood establishment – sits along one of the streets (which actually feels more like a large corridor with seemingly infinite steps) just off the “spine” of Korčula town. We sit, four to a table – except for Aussies Jackie and Julia, who initially join us, then leave to find somewhere else to eat.

I share a “booth” with Rob, Richard and Karen for dinner, which consists of delicious grilled vegetables and three types of fish. It also is great to finally hang out with different members of the tour and be immersed in such good conversation.

We then head over to the local theatre for the Moreška performance. There are all sorts of people there, from different tours all over the place. Our hostess/MC for this evening’s show is either a super-talented polyglot or simply well-rehearsed, as she makes her introductory remarks in five languages.

The evening starts off with a folk singing group (in the Moreška style, native to Korčula), followed by the dance itself. I can only imagine how physically taxing it is for the dancers – a lot of them young guys – especially during one segment of dance, where the dancers are clanging swords so hard, the friction creates sparks!

(My only quibble about that performance is the number of people who refuse to STOP  TALKING. It seriously grinds my gears.)

After the show, Rob and Richard disappear into the night – as is their trademark – while the rest of us look around for a bar to grab drinks. It’s all in vain, though. We meet up with Jennifer and end up at the pizzeria below our hotel rooms.

The end of the night is a bit sedate. But some of us intend to make up for it tomorrow – with a trip to the beach!

(*Image of map, courtesy of http://www.behance.net.*)