Monday, September 28, 2009


Unfortunately our stay in Hvar had to end, and we boarded a midday ferry to Split for the afternoon before our overnight ferry over to Italy. I was looking forward to Split; Croatia's second largest city, its old town is built on/in/out of the ruins of Diocletian's palace. The Irishman, however, had eaten enough fish for a long while and was looking forward on to Italy.

Split harbor is not exactly the prettiest port; when we landed it was very much the grimy and dirty working port that one expects from, say, Naples, complete with the strange cast of characters. We quickly high-tailed it over to the main passenger ferry terminal to check in for our overnight ferry, and stow our bags at the left luggage office. We had a minor disaster when the ferry operator informed us that the super cheap deal I scored on our overnight passage was actually in two separate cabins - so I was stuck in cabin with four female bunks, and the Irishman was in a separate cabin with four male cabins. The Irishman was not pleased about this arrangement (to be honest, neither was I, but we saved at least £100), and we had to have a restorative gelato to calm down.

Post-gelato, we toured the Old Town. It was pretty touristy, I must say, but it is also pretty freaking cool. You wander through twisty and turning corridors and passageways that were once the hallways of a great palace. Every now and then, there are parts of the palace that are preserved, just sticking up out of the rubble. It's fascinating, but also a bit creepy; I wouldn't necessarily want to be trying to find my way out at night.

We also ventured out into the New Town of Split as well, which seems like a bustling little metropolis. We tried cevapi, a Croatian minced meat and spicy sauce street food, and had one last Ozujsko before heading over to the boat that would take us to our next country and adventure!

Heavenly Hvar Town

We literally left Korcula under the cover of darkness, as the one and only ferry between Korcula and Hvar departed at 6am. When I was planning this trip, my number one goal was to take advantage of all of the ferries that criss-cross the Croatian waterways. Unfortunately, the timetables are built around residents who are commuting from island to island for work, so often we had early morning departures that the Irishman felt were not conducive to his relaxation. Or whatever.

Our early start meant we were in Hvar by 7:30am, just as all of the cafes and bars were opening. We dropped off our bags at our hotel and had coffee at one, overlooking the harbor and all of the boats just coming to life. Hvar is a gorgeous little port, likened to St Tropez, with gleaming marble and sunbleached buildings. It's tiny; after our coffee we explored the hills around the main square and sussed out the swimming spots, and found that there wasn't much beyond the quayside where we were dropped off.

We then stopped back at our hotel, The Palace, to see if our room was possibly ready, and that's when we found out that our room didn't exist. Apparently, the room I selected from their online room reservation site is an oddity - only one exists - and it was already booked for the rest of the week. As nearly all of the hotels in the town are owned by one company, the hotel manager sent us around to view adequate alternative rooms (sea view with a balcony and king size bed) in their sister hotels. After about an hour and some seriously rude attitude at Riva and Amphora, we were installed in Adriana, with an amazingly soft bed and fantastic rooftop pool and sundeck. Hello, upgrade!

After that ordeal, lunch was in order and we sat quayside with a pizza while the biggest and most ridiculously opulent yacht I'd ever seen pulled in. Named "Casino Royale", I was hoping for Daniel Craig in his shorts or at least someone famous to be on board, but instead it looked like a bunch of rich Americans lacking taste.

After ogling that boat for a good half hour, we ventured up the hill to the fortress. The walk up isn't too strenuous, and it's on paved roads for the most part, so it's worth the climb. The views that reward you on top are to die for; you see out over the port, past the Pakleni islands, and over the Adriatic. The water is so blue, and the rooves lovely burnt orange... such a beautiful landscape. Once you're at the top, it was only 10kn per person for a ticket into the fortress, and there are some great exhibits of archaelogical finds brought up from the Adriatic dating back to the Roman settlements.

After the hike we had to have our requisite nap, and then a sunset swim off the boulders at the mouth of the port. We were still on high urchin alert, so we had to be super careful about entering and exiting the water, but it was absolutely amazing to be in that clear blue water every day of our holiday.

We spent the next day on one of the Pakleni island beaches. For those of you going to Hvar and planning to spend a day on one of the smaller rustic islands, definitely do it but be choosy about where you go. We asked in the tourist office for information, and they made it sound like wherever you go is great so we got on the first taxi boat we saw and headed out to sea. Unfortunately, the taxi boats take you where they want to go - you don't get an option as to which beach or which type of beach you end up at. We ended up at a pebble beach with a walk through a pine forest to another pebbly beach. The land under the water was quite hard, like it was groomed, so that wasn't so bad, but we were really looking forward to white sand. We still had a nice time (a good tip - head to the large supermarket back behind the cathedral and pack yourself a picnic lunch); it was a great day away from the crowds, with a gorgeous sea breeze and hot bright sun.

Hvar was definitely a party town though; each night we went out for dinner and as we were finishing up the kids came out to play. We didn't mind that, but we were on holiday and wanted to really relax. The pumping nightclubs weren't our scene, and we actually really liked the bar at Riva hotel - they had nice plush sofas outside and gave you blankets to cozy up with if the breeze turned chilly. It was a really nice way to end the night, and for the short time we spent in Hvar I could pretend I was completely minted and almost famous.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Island of Korcula

Monday morning bright and early we packed up our bags and wheeled out of a deserted (but busy) Dubrovnik Old Town to catch a taxi to the new port. We had tickets on the regional ferry up to Korcula, and our boat left at 8:30am. Our tickets said we had to be there 2 hours in advance to validate them, but frankly we could have shown up at 8:25 and still been welcomed on board. The four hour journey was really beautiful, as we had an interior space to sit out of the wind as well as a few open decks from which we could enjoy the scenery.

We arrived in Korcula around 12:30pm and were met by our rented apartment's housekeeper. She walked us into the Old Town and to our accommodations, a spare but clean and comfy studio apartment off the main square. We dumped our bags and immediately went out for lunch. Korcula Old Town is a tiny little medieval jewel, with alleyways heading down to the sea and a crumbling wall surrounding it. There are two harbors, and we found an excellently located by overpriced beach bar overlooking the northwest harbor and therefore the sunset.

You can also swim in the sea off the edge of the Old Town, which we did our first day. Unfortunately, the sea is rocky there, and I broke my flipflop (damn you JCrew!) and the Irishman touched his toe to an urchin! I had to borrow his flips for a quick trip to a pharmacy for tar ointment and tweezers. He only had 3 spines in his big toe, thank goodness, and he claims it wasn't too painful. After that saga, we definitely needed a nap.

Korcula's Old Town suffers from a different sort of touristy-ness than Dubrovnik; Dubrovnik wants you to visit and spend time (and money) there, and has cleaned up the town and restored many of its sights accordingly. Korcula, however, has effectively moved out of its Old Town and left it as-is. There are restaurants and bars and tourist shops, to be sure, but there are also boarded up homes and abandoned buildings. Life seems to take place outside the walls, in the newer area. But of course tourism brings in a lot of money, and Korcula has many ways of helping one spend it. I made the Irishman sit through a Moreska sword dance performance that cost us a tenner each. It was actually quite well done and fascinating, but I think he would have enjoyed it more without the first 15 minutes of traditional folk songs sung by a slightly weird band.

The next morning we got up bright and early and headed to a rental shop to pick up some bikes. Our goal for the day was beach, so we headed down the road to Lumbarda. We rode through lovely fields of olive trees, pretty rolling landscapes with ruins, and past rows and rows of grape vines and vineyards. We chose to go to Vela Przina beach, a sand beach (no chance of urchins!) and in a sheltered cove off the water and out of the wind. We spent most of the day there, with an Ožujsko and hotdog break, and swam and read.

On the way back to Korcula, we rode up into the actual town of Lumbarda, and checked out the views. We also stopped at a winery to try Grk, the local white wine varietal. The winery was a bit weird, as there weren't any other tourists around - just the owners - so we felt compelled to buy something just for showing up. Which wasn't exactly an issue. Grk is really nice, as is Posip (another Croatian white we drank while traveling), and we actually ended up buying three bottles of our favorite Posip in the Konzum (on sale for a fiver each!). The ride home was harder the Irishman since he had the wine in his backpack, but I highly recommend renting bikes and riding around to anyone visiting the island. It's a really nice break from the touristy areas and old medieval walls of the old towns, and seeing the countryside is a great way to spend a day of holiday; it is inspiring to be out there, wind in hair, with such blue skies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Delightful Dubrovnik

The Irishman and I started our holiday adventure in the ancient, lovely port city of Dubrovnik. A walled-in city with ancient fortifications and picturesque red tiled roofs was heavily bombed during the Bosnian war, and much of what tourists see is a careful restoration. Our guide book called Dubrovnik "the jewel of the Adriatic", but we didn't get to truly appreciate it until Sunday.

We flew on BA, an easy 2+ hour flight from Gatwick, and took a taxi into town. Our taxi driver helpfully identified for us the good local brew (Ožujsko) and a few sites for us to see including the island of Lokrum that we were planning to visit anyway. He dropped us off outside the Pile Gate, and we wheeled ourselves through the muggy evening heat into city. We stayed in a rented apartment that we found above a pizzeria; when we got there we stood with our suitcases looking confused and the pizza lady took one look at us and buzzed the housekeeper for us. How handy! Our room was small but lovely, and we headed immediately out to explore. After a quick wander, we found the coolest bar overlooking the Adriatic. We sat with our feet up, drinking Ožujsko and listening to the waves. It was the perfect start to relaxation!

Unfortunately Saturday was a complete washout; we started out walking the walls and halfway around the 2k route the heavens opened up. We took refuge in a small lookout guardpost room with a nice couple from Manchester on a cruise holiday, but we took a gamble and got drenched a few steps away. We finally finished the walk, and decamped to our "local" pizzeria for wine and food and then a nap. The rain ended by the time we woke, and we explored a bit out of the town as well - there's not much, but a good supermarket called Konzum for cheap bottled water. We passed the rest of the day just wandering - seeing churches, wandering the city, having drinks in bars, and checking out the stray cats. There are TONS of stray cats (and dogs) all over the city!

Sunday we woke up to another overcast day and I was so upset that it would rain all day again. But once we left the apartment for breakfast, the sun broke through and it was warm and beautiful. We took the change in weather to be a sign of good luck, and ran back to the apartment to grab our swim gear and head off to Lokrum. 40 kuna (approximately £5) gets you a return ticket to the undeveloped island, where you can swim, hike, and just chill out. There are peacocks strutting about, and the ruins of an old monastery. Apparently there is a fortress on the top of a hill, but that day there was a fire watch so part of the island was restricted. That's okay because we found places like this to swim in and sunbathe.

We spent most of the day there and headed back for naps. This began two of our most sacred activities of the trip: daily naps and daily gelato. After a lovely fish dinner, we just relaxed because we had an early start Monday morning to head to our next destination: Korcula.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ciao, ragazzi!

After two weeks of glorious sun, sand, cities, and eating, I arrived back in London today to overcast clouds and humid air. Croatia and Italy were absolutely fabulous, two distinctly different countries that are equally beautiful and engaging. I definitely was able to relax completely and really truly rest while I was away, and it will be a struggle to get up tomorrow and rejoin the rat race tomorrow morning. Even worse, I had a nap each day at 2 - I don't know how I'm going to get through an entire afternoon awake!

I can't wait to tell you all about the lovely things I saw and experienced, so I'm going to blog each major stop on our tour individually. Look out for the posts throughout the week, complete with pictures, suggestions, and recommendations in case you or someone you know is planning on visiting any of our stops.

I'm not going to be blogging about the food we ate (and boy did we eat - and drink), and this is my opportunity to introduce you all to a little side project I've been working on with the Irishman. It's called Eggplant & Aubergine, and it is a food blog we started to document everything we eat and cook. E&A, as we call it 'round these parts, is still very much a work in progress but with the wealth of good (and not so good) food we experienced on our hols, we should definitely get it into high gear over the next week or so. So please check it out and if you have any suggestions or comments, let me know!

Otherwise, despite the weather and the fact that I have to go back to work tomorrow, it's great to be back.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Proper holiday-makers at Gatwick

So the Irishman and I are here at Gatwick, waiting desparately for BA
to announce our gate: he wants to just GET GOING, I want to get
reading my 2 issues of GRAZIA.

Gatwick Airport is a fine place to wait for a flight; it has a lot of
shops and restaurants (we had some decent fake Tex-Mex) but it also
has fabulous people-watching. LGW has a reputation for being the
airport of choice for package holidays and the less than savory people
who prefer them. All of the stories about drunken British louts puking
in European holiday hotspots? A lot of them fly out of Gatwick.

Oops! Our gate has been announced! Gotta jet! See you in 2 weeks!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bike Brigade

I am writing this from the comfort of my desk, after riding my bike into work in a drenching mist. Ever since I moved to my new flat in Barnsbury, the bike has been my number one choice of commuter transport. It shaves my commuting time in half, and is a really pleasant way to start the day. I'm not alone on my bike; I took the photo above at a key intersection about half-way from my house to work. There are normally about 8-12 bikes stopped for that light on any given morning.

Biking to work isn't all rosy. Bikers are just as bad as drivers, in that they pass you too close, cut you off, and generally can be douchebags. I refuse to ride wrapped in plastic, and sometimes the guys in spandex and egg helmets give girls like me dirty looks. But that's okay. They look ridiculous in their clip-on shoes. I've found a blog that supports me in my quest to look fashionable on my bike, London Cycle Chic, which offers all sorts of tips for arriving at one's destination looking less withered than if one rode the tube. Excellent!

Cars here in London are generally more comfortable around cyclists than they were in New York, but it doesn't mean that you can let your guard down. The fact is though that there is safety in numbers, and the more bikes there are on the road, the more drivers of cars have to be tolerant. So I love my fellow bike friends, and I love exploring London on my trusty two-wheeled companion.