Croatia - shot on 35 mm

Five days full of old-school photography, brave leaps into the Adriatic Sea, and my first appreciation of post-sunset glow.

 

This year (and by year, I really mean September on, since I still think in school years) has brought a lot of new and lovely things. I have made new friends I cannot imagine my previous life without. I have settled into my New York existence (though somehow that didn't take too long; a combination of being predisposed and thrown off the deep end as a "reporter"). I have had the good fortune of traveling to some of the most beautiful places I have yet seen: to Greece last June, to Cuba this past April, and most recently, this past month, to Croatia. And I have made up all kinds of excuses not to write about these things: I simply have not had the time, I’ve said. And that’s been partially true: from early August 2016 through May 2017, I was immersed in an intensive Masters program that gave me a schoolwork-related feeling I can only compare to partial drowning, in which I would come up for a breath of air only to have another huge wave of work crash over me for the next foreseeable future. But it was fun, grueling work, and I had tough editors who showed me exactly what my weaknesses are not only as a writer but as a human… I think I am still figuring out what the value in that experience was, and is, but it is of COURSE there - I am seeing it now more clearly even as I type these words. 

 

What the end of the school year had me craving most was creative space, something I felt I hadn’t made for myself in months. I hadn’t sat down to write, or to doodle, or to write bad poetry in a very long time. I think part of that lack of creative drive was prompted by my happiness — yes, happiness. Creative types are famous for creating only in times of sadness and melancholy, and I used to sit quite comfortably in that category when I wrote. In moments when that sort of creative-sad feeling would wash over me, I would sit at my computer or in front of a notebook, and a letter or a blog post or a journal entry would come out. But I think I am entering a new creative phase, one in which joyful feelings will have to be my new backdrop for creation and strings of words. I am, of course, happy to welcome this slightly more positive energy into my life, even if it takes some getting used to. I think it will push me in beautiful new directions. I already feel uncomfortable - a great sign. 

 

Kenjo - my boyfriend, who you will see in the following photographs - and I decided to go to Croatia together. Well, I told him I might be available to crash the trip he was planning to Croatia, and then it worked out after some back-and-forth. We knew we traveled pretty well together already, since we had lasted four days in Havana together, two-or-so in which we had no running water and had to (meaning I had to) communicate this in broken Spanish to our Airbnb hosts. They didn’t catch it the first time, hence the two-day issue. But it was a lovely trip. 

 

Kenjo’s Croatia plans originally consisted of a 3-day boys’ trip, which then expanded to include girlfriends. That portion of the trip was to take place in Hvar, one of the most popular islands for all debaucherous activity off of the Dalmatian Coast. Kenjo and I decided we also wanted to check out Vis, the farthest island from the mainland, and the supposedly least trafficked by tourists. I was already in Europe while we were planning the trip, and we happened to be looking at blog posts about Vis while on the phone, idly making plans, at the exact same time. In other words, it was fate. And it truly was. I don’t know that I’ve been to a more magical island (except, of course, for the one upon which I went to summer camp - those of you who know, you know ;)) Actually, what struck me immediately about the Croatian islands was how much they reminded me of the San Juan Islands, where I want to summer camp, because of the pine trees native to both places. Croatia is, of course, a lot warmer, but the sea breezes in both places carry the lovely - and, for me, homey - scent of pine.

 

- So, a summary, if you care to read it, of our Croatian adventures, follows, complete with our second and third ever rolls of film photography (the first we plan to develop ourselves in a darkroom, under heavy supervision by a trained professional so as not to destroy all of our photos)-

 

10:00 am -

We were flying from London, and our timing on that travel day was utter, stressful perfection. We had bought a film camera in London - a 1976 Pentax ME with a 50mm lens, our new baby for the trip - and just before leaving for Gatwick airport, we decided to switch our roll of film. For any member of our parents’ generation, this is a simple enough task. To us, this felt in the moment like a matter of life or death, and as we carefully watched a YouTube video, following every step precisely and trying desperately not to spoil the film we had so painstakingly gone through London shooting over the last few days, we were almost shaking with anxiety. The whole process took much longer than it should have, maybe a half an hour, and by the time we left our hotel we were cutting it close on getting to the airport. Of course, we then got on the tube in the wrong direction. But we made it to the Gatwick Express five minutes before the next train to the airport, and made our flight (slightly delayed, thankfully). On the other side, in Split, we got the the shuttle bus which would take us to the ferry port just five minutes before it left the airport, and, in a stressful, hangry frenzy to get pizza and beer and to find the boat itself (not quite straightforward), we boarded the last ferry of the day to Vis just in time to watch the sunset from the top deck and enjoy two glasses of Croatian white wine. It was a windy two-hour ferry ride, but it was incredibly beautiful, and the island would exceed our expectations in every way. 

view of Split, Croatia from the ferry

view of Split, Croatia from the ferry

 

10:00 pm -

We stayed in Kut, the quiet extension of Vis town, or “Old Vis Town.” It is full of old stone buildings and cobblestone streets, as most of the villages in Vis are, and it has the most beautiful little sailboats lined up alongside it. Restaurants and cafes line up along the waters edge, but it is not overcrowded, and it feels decidedly like a local spot. Families in their sailboats have dinner and drinks on their decks until late at night. After getting around 9:30 and putting our bags down, we had dinner by the water - two different kinds of seafood risotto - and settled into our Airbnb up a cobblestoned hill so we could get up early and explore. 

 

Our next day started with a beautiful walk,a coffee,and a scooter ride to the beach. 

 

10:30 am -

Our “early” mornings never turn out to be quite so early. We ended up rolling out of bed around 10:30 and making up for our laziness with a walk straight up the hill past the beautiful, tumbling cathedral in the middle of Kut. What we found was an incredible view of the town past the clocktower, leading up to a road that must have led around the island. Then we went back down to the water to have some breakfast. All the while, we were in awe of this island and the little historical plaques all around telling us when each of the buildings were built - some in the 14th century, some in the 16th. 

Our morning view to the flowery porch outside our window

Our morning view to the flowery porch outside our window

view from above, on our morning walk, of Kut

view from above, on our morning walk, of Kut

 

Until 1797, Vis was under rule by the Republic of Venice, during which time the large settlements of Komiza (formerly Comisa) and Vis (formerly Lissa) developed along the coastline. Later, it was briefly ruled by the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, then by the Austrian Empire from 1814 on. Later, after WWI, it was given back to Italy from 1918 to 1921, then to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During WWII, Vis was occupied by Italy from 1941 to 1943 and Germany from 1943 to 1944. After the war, during which the island was mined (34 mines left over from the war were removed from Vis as late as 2008), the island was returned to Yugoslavia. After the war, the Yugoslav People’s Army used the island as one of its main naval bases until Croatia became independent in 1991. Its navy did not reclaim most of the military facilities, and many of the abandoned buildings either remain abandoned or are being used for civilian purposes.

Vis retains a hint of a creepy vibe, in contrast to its impossibly-amazingly-beautiful vibe, because of these abandoned military structures. We liked this. Any good place worth coming back to needs a good contrast. 

 

12:00 pm - 

After our breakfast (unremarkable but satisfying omelettes and coffee at the only cafe serving full, American-style breakfast), we went to the local tourist office to rent a scooter. After signing a few papers and getting a bit of advice about where to go, we were off. First, we headed to Stebrna, a pebble beach. The road took us up and up, above beautiful vineyards and to breathtaking views of the ocean (breathtaking also because I was slightly terrified). Finally, we arrived at a gravel road that took us to a little forest path to the beach. And there we heard the most beautiful sound: the large, porous, cream-colored stones at Stebrna make music when the tide rushes in and flows back out into the ocean. We had never heard anything like it before. We camped out on a flat rock to the left of the beach and warmed up before taking a swim. 

 

Stebrna beach

Stebrna beach

4:00 pm -

Later, on our way to check out Komiza, we stopped at Roki’s Winery, which Kenjo had read about - the perfect local wine spot, it seemed. We almost drove by it, thinking we could always come back later, but decided we'd better seize the moment and turn around. It was beautiful. There was no one around at first but an off-duty waiter, but he greeted us and sat us down. To have their special dish, he said, one has to order two or three hours in advance, but the women in the kitchen had some goulash on hand that he could serve to us with our wine. We agreed. It had been a good four hours since our omelettes, and the sun at the beach had drained us. It was the best goulash I have ever had. And the wine was delicious, too. Not too sweet, but a perfect refreshing and flavorful white (and I'm not, speaking personally, usually a huge fan of white wines). 

grapevines near Roki Winery

grapevines near Roki Winery

5:30 pm - 

We wandered around Komiza for a bit. It was another adorable town, full of old stone buildings and little restaurants along the water. We grabbed gelato and explored the winding streets, then walked out onto the pier and sat in the sun before hopping back onto our scooter and heading home. 

the harbor at Komiza

the harbor at Komiza

6:00 pm -

After wandering through the streets of Komiza, we rushed back to Vis to return our scooter by 6. We then went to the local watering hole, just around the corner from all of the sailboats, where there is just one ladder and a bench. A bunch of local old ladies watched us curiously (we could have sworn they were laughing at us, but we didn't really care; we smiled and nodded), and we went for a swim. It was golden hour, when the sun starts to hit just right, and it was glorious. 

7:30 pm - 

Then, we rushed off to change and to make the sunset at Fort George, a British military fort built in 1811 turned venue-extraordinaire. Their free shuttle, an old open-air military Jeep that takes you up and over the hill to their amazing view of the ocean, was half the fun. Once again, however, we were rushing after drinks to make our dinner reservation at the “best restaurant” in Kut , Pojoda, which we had read about again and again while planning our trip. We made it, and ate a beautiful white fish (which we were shown in its full, alive-looking state at the table) in the most delicious tomato-wine sauce. We were basically told what to eat, which is just what we wanted - an authentic Croatian cuisine experience. After dinner, we sat at Bejbi cafe by the water, had tea and chocolate cake, and listened to live guitar. 

 

8:00 am - 

The next morning was our last in Vis, so we made sure we got up early. For us. So around 8. And we went for a long walk in the opposite direction of Vis town along the water, and found Grandovac beach. We got brave and went for an early morning dip. The water was crystal clear - lots of little fishies - and we had the beach to ourselves save one other person. What was so amazing about Vis, the whole time we were there, was the lack of crowds, how intimate it felt. It felt like a local spot. Yes, there were other tourists, but they didn’t overwhelm the place in any way. We were true outsiders looking in, as explorers of any new place should be, ideally, in a perfect, not-overpopulated world. 

 

12:00 pm - Hvar

Hvar had a beauty to it too, though its beauty was partially spoiled by the onslaught of drunk tourists that are clearly a part of its permanent make-up now. It offers up a  type of experience that I’m glad we got to balance out with the breath of fresh, country air that Vis certainly was. But it was the best place to spend time with friends, which is just exactly what we did, at our own villa and out and about in town. The following are the lovely snapshots of our stay there, which felt so brief I can't break it down moment-by-moment.

The highlights: Nutella and lavender gelato; Carpe Diem's bossa nova Christmas party; climbing to the castle; Hula Hula sunsets and jumping in the water whenever possible; our very, very late dinner at Black Pepper.

Hvar

Hvar

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