Barcelona bungles and Croatia chillaxing
08.05.2016 - 15.05.2016
8 May – Barcelona to Dubrovnik
Well today will go down in history as one of the most substantial planning fails of my life!
This morning I’m heading to Dubrovnik to join my 7-night Katarina Line boat trip around the idyllic islands of Croatia. Sublime relaxation awaits me…a mere 2 hour flight from Barcelona. It started as yet another rainy morning in B-city, with me walking in the pouring rain, dragging my carry-on behind me under my umbrella, to the airport bus in Catalunya square. A minor annoyance, and I would be in sunny Croatia soon.
I arrived at the airport, and couldn’t find my flight on the departures screen, which was odd, given I’d checked the online travel agent’s live itinerary of my travel plans only the other day. I went to the counter, and they told me the flight wasn’t with Iberia, it was with Vueling and to check-in there. Right-o, back on track. But at the Vueling counter the lady told me that my flight had been cancelled in January, and I’d been moved onto the flight YESTERDAY! Say-what? Yes, apparently the cryptic emails in January from the strange on-line travel agency I’d booked, which had said something had been amended and/or cancelled, but which only showed my return flight, were actually notifying me of this hoo-ha. And were there any more direct flights Barcelona to Dubrovnik today? Of course not, that would be…too simple.
So I activated my emergency problem-solving psyche and did what anyone in my shoes would do: I delegated. A quick Whatsapp call to a delightful, and as it happens very handsome, Perth Travel Agent did the trick, and a short time later I was booked onto another [set] of flight[s] which would take me from Barcelona to Frankfurt to Dubrovniki, with a pretty significant encroachment into my ‘contingency budget’, and with only a couple of hours delay. I was back on [but literally a whole country and several hours off] track!
Flying into Dubrovnik is really spectacular, with a beautiful rocky coastline, dotted with islands in the foreground, and mountain ranges in the background. I was lucky enough to be in a window seat, and glimpsed the view of the walled old town beneath. Spectacular!
A 30 minute shuttle bus later, and I was arriving into the harbour of Gruz to meet my boat and all the other 30-something solo travellers! I walked up and down the harbour a few times, spying the gorgeous luxury boats (alas, not mine), and walked past a boat with an older crowd….couldn’t possibly be mine, so did another lap. Yep, it was mine in the end, the beautiful P so I joined my 24 other travel companions, all determined that yes, I would teach them all Canasta.
We were staying the night docked in Dubrovnik before setting sail for our first location of Mjlet tomorrow, and shortly after I arrived we were served a delightful three course dinner. I made myself comfortable in my cosy cabin, and settled in for the cruise.
9 May – Dubrovnik to Mjlet
Each morning it is planned that we’d travel several hours to the next location, have lunch aboard the boat, then start our adventures in the early afternoon. The waters of this part of Croatia were incredibly calm, so my Kwells stayed put for the time being, and I enjoyed the breakfast, calm journey, and relaxation of books and napping while we pottered along.
We arrived in Mjlet and after lunch, I hired a bike to ride the 11km or so around the two main lakes of the National Park, in what would turn out to be one of the most calm and relaxing afternoons of my trip. The turquoise water of the lakes was suitable for swimming, and allegedly a few degrees warmer than the sea had been, so I took along my swimmers and attempted to brave it at a tiny rocky beach about half way through the ride. It was freezing! I made it thigh deep, but didn’t want to spoil anyone else’s leisurely afternoon with my ear-piercing screeches, so decided not to take the plunge and opted for a few more chapters of my book (The Martian) instead.
One of the couples on the boat were Aussie – Neale and Ellice – and I joined then for a stroll around the bay in search of a nice restaurant, and found a nice spot for squid and chips. A lovely end to a fantastic day!
10 May – Mjlet to Hvar to Stari Grad
I’m struggling to wake up early enough to be on time for the 8am breakfast, so am opting to sleep later and take my chances on the leftovers remaining at around 8:30/8:45am instead. And then…it’s back for naps and lounging!
We headed out of the idyllic Mjlet to Hvar, and after a lunch of orange chicken and cake, we arrived and headed off for some exploring. Unfortunately, a weather report of extreme winds had come in, so we only had a short time of exploring available before we’d have to get back on the boat to head to another, calmer place, which was to be Stari Grad.
The town was fairly quiet, still being quite early in the season, so it was a relaxing place to stroll and check out the buildings, little streets, and harbour, and of course the various shops, comparing the feel to what I’ve seen so far in Italy and Barcelona. There is certainly something different about Croatia, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
I was exploring a few of the jewellery stores, having seen that red coral was quite the specialty, but balked at the extortionate prices! There is nothing cheap about this place! But I did find an incredible and very unique store which sold handmade items which the ladies, mother and daughter duo Iris and Rose (very cute!) run. The mum, Rose, had crochets unique pieces using very fine silver coated wire, and her daughter Iris the hand ‘stitches’ on the beads and pearls. I bought an embarrassing amount of pearl jewellery, which I will treasure and will be quite unique I think, and hopefully have given them a big cash injection in the process! Rose was saying that since there is no work in the down season, she spends that whole few months making each piece, which takes 4-8 or more hours each, and then spends the peak season in the shop selling, so they have to do well enough to get through the low period.
I was strolling back in search of icecream, and passed a few cafes. I had a mere glance, then a double take, at a couple of people sitting off to one side of a café, and whilst I acted cool, calm, and collected, it was Adam Driver (the new Star Wars villain, and Lena Durnham’s BF in the show ‘Girls’) and Jemima Kirk (the sassy one in ‘Girls’!). Gaa star struck! I bumped into one of the couples from the boat and was gushing about my fangirl experience, but I’ll be damned…they hadn’t seen the new Star Wars. Hardly anyone on the boat had seen it! And no one knew them! I will have to save my excitement for someone who would appreciated it…cue Facebook…
Back on the boat and the afternoon was spent napping on the way to Stari Grad, literally translated as ‘Old Town’, which is (obviously) the oldest town in Croatia.
I went exploring in the evening with several of the couples from the boat, walking the incredibly small, quaint, cobbled streets, some of which are currently undergoing a bit of maintenance in preparation for peak season, and managed in the first few minutes to get separated and lost from all three couples I was out with! After walking on my own for a while, searching for nice restaurants and little shops, I was reunited with the group, and we found a lovely small restaurant being run single-handedly by the chef, for a meal.
Had a great dinner of fish (whole little bream), a tomato salad (literally just several cut up boring tomatoes which I was reminded I don’t like), and tried to try the free grappa which was offered to us. I failed. It was so incredibly strong, and on an empty stomach, intolerable to a novice like me! As we were leaving, the owner (an artist) stopped to chat, in Croatian which none of us could understand, but he still managed to explain an awful lot to Neale at least! He drew a lot of the old wooden ships apparently, and had drawn a picture onto a slab of construction concrete, and offered it to me as a gift. Which was lovely. But it was concrete. But it was a gift. Which was lovely. So I took it…all 2.5kg of it!
11 May – Stari Grad
Today we were offered the opportunity after lunch to either go back on the bus to Hvar, given we didn’t get a lot of time there yesterday, or stay in Stari Grad. About half of the people caught the bus, but I stayed aboard and taught the Aussies canasta! Fun times. We enjoyed a nice lunch of pumpkin soup, beef with potatoes, and tiramisu for dessert, then I disappeared for nap time, then back out to wander through town searching for the traditional and local lavender cake (to no avail).
Tonight was the Captain’s dinner, a cruise special where the Captain joins the group for dinner, has a dance with one of the ladies, and gets a bit of a party started. I was the girl he did the waltz with (I had dropped many hints to the other ladies that as the only single lady it was my moral duty to do the dance), and then the daggy dancing begun! I don’t know the moves to the macarana as it turns out (Vicki, where were you when I needed you!), but I was down with ABBA. The dinner was a buffet of meats, cheeses, and fruits for entrée, veal with potatoes and spinach for dinner, and an amazing frozen traditional dessert of semi-freddo with almonds and choc sauce. But as it was pumpkin-o-clock, it was bedtime for me whilst the rest of the boat partied on!
12 May – Stari Grad to Korcula
Another morning late to breakfast, and napping the travel time away before arriving in Korcula to a lunch of a lovely white fish and a berry cake. Korcula was a tiny beautiful little egg-shaped city, and I strolled for a while through all the little streets which met at the top of the hill and spoked out to meet the water. Apparently this is where Marco Polo lived for a while.
I had pre-dinner drink with Alastair and Sheila (and stole some of Alastair’s kindly offered pepperoni pizza), then went searching for my own dinner. Found a beautiful restaurant with a fresh fish display, and decided on more delicious local seafood. The very nice waiter offered (nay, insisted!) a tuna mousse which I reluctantly tried, but which was quite nice, which was followed by a whole grilled fish (the red local snapper) which was amazing! Couldn’t find any dessert so went back to the boat for a shifty bit of Nutella stolen from the brekky buffet. Nom nom nom!
13 May – Korcula to Sipan Island
The travel this morning was pretty rough (for me at least), so I napped through the worst of it until the swim stop. I had promised on the first day’s swim stop that I would absolutely, definitely, get in the water at least once, but I still didn’t brave the 18 degree water to say I’ve swum in the Adriatic, so tomorrow is the last chance!
We arrived in Sipan to a teeny tiny little town spaced around a beautiful bay with literally nothing to do but stroll and soak it all in. After a coffee stop with the Aussies and a few others, I strolled back to the boat for a cheeky nap, to be met by a very friendly cat who followed me all the way to the gang plank, trying to come on board. He finally agreed to guard the boat, and fell asleep at the end of the plank. Very cute!
A nap and a few games of canasta later, and we were heading out to dinner at one of the nice restaurants; the aussies, myself, and another lovely couple Alice and Rich, and had local fried sardines (delish!) and very garlicy grilled prawns (also delish), and shared a choc orange cake with the blokes.
14 May – Sipan Island to Dubrovnik
This it was time to teach Alice canasta! Whoop whoop, but after one game (where Alice smashed me), it got a bit rocky so I spent the rest of the morning napping until lunch, before arriving into Dubrovnik. Lunch was yet another huge meal, of a rolled stuffed pork roast thing with roasted veggies (beetroot, my fave!), then a fondant icecream with cherry sauce. A number of us caught the bus into town, then I disappeared for a stroll and a browse through some shops, and bought a few concrete things (as you do!), and saw the GoT shop.
Met the rest of the boat for the included walking tour through Dubrov with a very nice guide. We learnt about a bit of the history of the town, and half way through saw a wedding procession walking through the old town towards the cathedral for the ceremony, with everyone singing and a band playing along. They had the cutest little kids, only about 2 or 3, dressed up in very traditional clothes as the ring bearers, and the poor kids generated a rather big crowd of tourists snapping photos of them (myself included!).
I couldn’t believe that much of Dubrov was hit in only the 1990’s but shots and bombs in a war, and the majority of houses have new roofs. The town also survived an horrific earthquake in the 17th century which killed half the population and destroyed all but two buildings in the city, which was then totally rebuilt. We walked up a little side street and saw the door to an orphanage where woman could drop their babies, take half a ‘coin’, and possibly return to collect them one day with the coin the only proof of which child was theirs.
After the tour I went up the cable car for some aerial views of the town, which is spectacular, then came back to town to buy some gifts (a set of canasta cards for Neale and Ellice and Alice). After a quick snacky dinner of fresh and fried oysters, and a shrimp burger which, whilst looking good, was cold in the middle and pretty average, I was headed back to the boat for a game of canasta, then to bed!
15 May – Dubrovnik to Barcelona
After breakfast and packing, it was back to Barcelona for another few days. Neale and Ellice were also on the same flight, before heading onward to Milan and Singapore for the rest of their trip, so we joined forces and battled the bus bitches to sort out our shuttle bus back to the airport. Geez some people can be unhelpful! We enjoyed some coffee and chats before our flight, and I was thoroughly immersed in my new book on the flight so the time went by quickly and suddenly I was back in Spain, amazed at how many countries you can cover in Europe in two hours!
My first job after checking back into my crappy hostel: nap-time.
All that relaxing in Croatia had been thoroughly exhausting, so tonight was just a slow stroll through the streets to find some dinner. I stopped in a cute little square of restaurants, and after being turned away by a couple which were full, settled on a little outdoor table at a nice tapas restaurant. I just wanted something simple, so had a chilli Mohjito (ha!), potatas bravas, and some panko crumbed chicken strips with a tasty dipping sauce. The upmarket version of KFC crispy strips! Nailed it!