Oct 12, 2010

Croatia: Beautiful coast, beautiful people

Croatia has been one of those countries that I went back and again for its beauty, closeness to home and convenience of visa free travel. The last time I was there was 2008. As there is not much to do in Zagreb, I decided that I should also explore the Eastern part of the country which is off the beaten track almost lonely and forgotten. (By the way, there is now more reason to see Zagreb as it seems to host a new museum about break ups.So after a four hour trip by bus from Zagreb, we arrived in Osijek. The town had such an Austro-Hungarian flair. Indeed in German it was called Esseg and many people still speak German. The main streets are full of art nouveaux houses dotted with shelling left from the war. Indeed, this is one of the parts of Croatia that has been scarred by war.

Art nouveaux building in Osijek, Slavonia region.

Vukovar building with all the marks of shelling.

Vukovar side of the river Danube overlooking to Serbia.

In fact, the one hour trip to Vukovar amid mine signs and decrepit houses shows that the damage to Osijek is mild. Vukovar has been under siege for months…. It is hard to imagine all that when you look across to Serbia over the quiet banks of the Danube river. In the turmoil, the town seems to have lost not only its people but also its soul. The guide book says that Vukovar has seen enough tears and if you want to do something you should contribute to the economy but that is hard to do…unemployed youths abound and there is hardly a spot to eat something proper. So I drink Sprite AND Coke as my contribution….we also visit the Vukovar Memorial and see the cemetery where Serbs and Croats are buried side by side. We are moved by all this and back in Osijek, sipping sljiva, the plum brandy that kicks our butt, we try to make sense of it all at Slavonska Kuca, the eatery serving great river fish and some local delicacies.

Vukovar memorial. 

Next day in the train we answer questions like why we went to Croatia and Osijek of all places, whether we are really Turkish, where our men were, whether we are married, etc. Croatians are similar to Turks in the sense of being proud and disillusioned about their country at the same time. They seem sensitive about being called a Balkan country (like Turks get irritated when called a Middle Eastern country) and think of themselves as Western European. This is especially so in the Adriatic coast with the names turning from Anja and Blanka to Marta, Nina and Laura. Add to that their taste in sunglasses, you can almost forgive  Dalmatians for thinking they must be Italian or something:-). Indeed, service sometimes drives you nuts just like in Italy or France. From the inconvenience of the ferry schedule to restaurants and cafes, the Croatian mind seems to be somewhere else. Even in Zagreb on a Saturday some important museums are closed during the day. 

I want to be get old like these ladies at the Samobor bus station. 
Losing patience towards the end of the vacation, a conversation between me and a waiter in Dubrovnik went like this:
-excuse me, we are in a hurry, can you please expedite what we ordered?
-I am the only one serving, here.
-well life is tough, you need to work harder.  (dear readers, I am not a bitch, I was just fed up with getting an attitude from waiters). Arguably "rudeness is part of the culture" although one can also say that Croatians have the unique combination of communism’s inertia with Western European snobbishness…Never mind all that bitching now. Croatia speaks to your eyes: it is full of beautiful men and women who may be forgiven for all that. Be warned that men who are less than 1.85 meters tall stand no chance whatsoever in this country as they will discover soon that this is standard height for women. Besides, the coast is full of Croatian men (around 2 meters tall) who exercise water polo in the blue waters of Adria… did I say that men in this part of Europe are a little bit macho when it comes to their women…. So beware playboys! Go play with other touristsJ.
Dubrovnik (Ragussa) at the Dalmatian coast with the afternoon crowds.

A view of Dubrovnik and the Lokrum island from the City Walls.
In Dubrovnik we stayed  in Apartments Tina. Not only was the place a charmer but it was very close to Buza, literally meaning the hole. It is basically a small gate in the city walls marked by a humble sign saying “cold drinks”. You pass through the gate and go down the stairs and instead of your morning shower you jump into the water. Dubrovnik is full of great seafood restaurants one of which was Proto. We filled ourselves with oyster, shrimp and lobster and wine…yummy. Dubrovnik itself does not have many beaches so one nice option is Banje, East-West Club right outside the city walls.…or you can go to Lokrum island by boat.

 Family business in Hvar island.

Harbour of Hvar island, Dalmatia.
And our last stop in Croatia is Hvar, the party island! But beware that you must reserve months in advance if you want to stay in Hvar town. The island is not part of mass tourism, spots are limited and quickly fill up. Hvar is really tasteful with its yachts, harbor cafes and people. One perfect spot during the day is Bonj Les Bains with the cabana and beds right by the sea. It also has a nice restaurant, making you feel like “let’s indulge in the pleasures of life”.

After beach party at the sunset in Hvar island.

Every day the after beach party starts at 5 which feels like a bikini club or electronica in the sunset. You cannot help but think “We should have been here when we were 20”J. At night, the spot to be is Carpe Diem. To get a table for our group of eleven, we order those two Belvederes in ice buckets…50 Euros per person so you better dance and sweat that vodka out of your body, all night long. Music ends at 2….Carpe Diem also has a beach right across the island from Hvar. A boat takes you there, so indulge and order a bottle of prosecco and swim drunk after that. So you will spend some money in Hvar but where else do you eat all that scampi, calamari and fish with wine and pay only 25 Euro, certainly not in Istanbul.  Ahh, another trip to Croatia seems just about right at the moment….

Bonj Les Bains in Hvar island, perfect spot for the day.
(All photos: Zeren Göktan)