This past week, I traveled over 13,000 miles as I made my way from Croatia to Fiji (going west, to allow a stopover in San Francisco). With four flights, including a 2-hour delay, I had plenty of waiting around time, which allowed me to reflect on my 10 weeks in Croatia and summarize some closing thoughts and favorite memories.
Of course, my thoughts begin with sailing, as that was the main purpose of my Croatia trip.
I achieved my primary goal of skippering my first international sailing charter. As expected, I faced the constant dynamic risk assessment of weather, navigation, and boat management for two weeks.
We sailed to 5 different islands and covered over 200 miles. There were many success stories.
We cautiously executed the med-mooring style of stern-to docking for the first time in Brac. We picked up a mooring ball in the choppy waters of Hvar, doing it more smoothly than the three boats (not OCSC boats) that followed us. We rendezvoused with other OCSC boats in Vis. We demonstrated a safe spring line departure technique in the windy, close-quarters marina of Korcula. We engaged in a “boat crawl” in Mljet. We launched the dinghy and motored around the bay in Slano.
Of course, we also encountered some challenges while sailing.
We fouled our lines with neighboring boats, twice, requiring some calm but quick action by everyone on board. (This was a great reminder that so much of sailing is about planning, and then double- and triple-checking your plan. And then also have a backup plan.)
When docked, we had a few cats that kept trying to sneak on board for some reason.
As you might expect, when four people (most of us strangers) climb aboard a 42-foot boat to live together for two weeks, there are some growing pains. We managed, but we had to work at it.
But sailing was just one component of my 10-week adventure.
I also traveled over 1,000 miles by bus, going up and down the Dalmatia and Istria coastlines, and making a brief venture into Montenegro.
I don’t mind traveling by bus. It’s cheap. It’s (usually) scenic.
But it sometimes comes with an uncomfortable price. On a few rides, I had undesirables sit by me: a woman with the sniffles, a woman eating smelly potato chips and chocolate, a boy who insisted on playing his music on speakerphone not headphone, and a man who smelled like he just smoked a carton of cigarettes.
Later in the season, I was rewarded with some very pleasant (i.e., empty and odorless) bus rides.
I also traveled by public ferry a few times, including a reconnaissance trip to the island of Hvar for a few nights to scout out the docking situation.
I also did a LOT of walking.
On the promenades. On the cobblestone streets. In the National Parks. On the historic walls.
The weather was memorable, only because it didn’t really cooperate very often.
For sailing, we just didn’t have a lot of wind. We motored nearly every day. Sometimes we motored all day, sometimes we sailed a bit until we got bored going only 3 knots. (This didn’t really bother me too much. As a sailor, I am careful about “hoping for wind”… You have to be careful what you wish for. I’m happy with any safe passage and good crew.)
For other parts of my trip, the weather was mixed. My first couple of weeks, I was in Split and Zadar visiting the local beaches. The weather was perfect – sunny and warm.
But then by the end of September, the rain came – often at the worst times. It rained when I had made plans to visit multiple National Parks for hiking. It rained when I was carrying my bags around town looking for my apartment, orwalking to the bus station. It rained when I planned the day-long ascent of the Ladder of Cattaro (Kotor).
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I certainly made a few mistakes along the way.
I booked my hotel for the wrong weekend in Plitvice.
I changed apartments in Split, thinking I was upgrading, but the second apartment was worse than the first!
I broke the zoom lens on my DSLR camera, proving again that a pricey camera and my style of travel don’t mix.
I let myself get run down and sick. (However, that did lead to an interesting experience in the mysterious, semi-deserted hospital in Trogir.)
As much as I love Croatia, there are a few things I won’t miss at all.
The smoking. Everyone smokes here. And they smoke anywhere and everywhere. They don’t give a second thought to lighting up next to you as you try to enjoy your dinner, or even worse, your breakfast.
The service. Restaurant service is notoriously slow and non-proactive. There is no such thing as suggestive selling like, “Sir, would you care for another coffee?” Looking on the bright side, I could stretch a $2 coffee into three hours of guilt-free internet use and people-watching. No questions asked! (Note: There were some exceptions. My server at the wine bar, K’alavanda, in Hvar Town was fantastic. He always brought me a glass of red wine and a bottle of water as soon as I sat down. I didn’t even have to ask.)
The lines. Well, lack of lines. More than once I was standing in line at the bus station to buy my ticket, and a local would edge his or her way into line in front of me. Am I just standing here in front of the ticket office enjoying the view?
The tourists. Granted, I’m one of them.
Croatians do have their charming characteristics.
They love the sun. (Sorry, I’m more of a shade person these days.)
They love their ice cream. (So do I.)
They love their olive oil. (I’ve seen people do a shot of straight olive oil.)
The drivers are surprisingly courteous to pedestrians.
The cities are amazing.
Yes, I suppose they start to look alike after 10 weeks. A wall. A fortress. A church. A cobblestone street.
The towns (especially the old town sections) are absolutely charming, clean, and well-maintained. I often wandered aimlessly through the streets and fortresses wondering “If only these walls and stones could talk, I would love to hear their story.”
I will caution any future travelers – those cobblestones are slippery, having been worn down and polished smooth over hundreds if not thousands of years. And when they are wet, it’s even worse! Watch yourself! Occasionally there are random steps, too. I saw a few people miss the step and fall.
I measure my travel by quality of content, not quantity of countries.
I know some people will ask me: “You didn’t go to Slovenia? Bosnia? Italy? You were right there!”
I know, I know.
When I travel, I like to immerse myself in the culture, spending weeks or even months in a certain country or region. Over the years, I have spent long periods of time in countries: 4 months in Poland, 3 months in Chile, 3 months in Thailand, 2 months in New Zealand, and now 2 months in Croatia.
I like learning a bit of the language, history, and customs. I like observing daily life.
The seasonal transition was interesting to watch.
By staying for so long in Croatia, I was able to watch the towns slowly transition from high season to low season. Outdoor clubs are being broken down. Crowds are dissipating. Shops and restaurants are reducing their hours. It’s like watching the tide ebb and flow. The tide is going out right now. It’s kind of depressing in some ways. But you know it’ll come back next summer.
In a lot of ways, I actually like the low season and the calmness it harbors. I have found it easier to interact with the locals during this quiet time. It’s hard to explain. Everything is just quieter, slower, and less chaotic. And visiting some of the historic sites is so much better without the flood of selfie-stick-toting tourists in the peak season. I like it.
Overall, my time in Croatia was fantastic. I will be back!
But now, I'm on to my next adventure. At the time of this posting, I will be at Port Denerau, Nadi, Fiji, helping to prepare sailing vessel Avalon for her sail to New Zealand in November!