into Croatia - 8th May 2011
Although we have a very long drive today we decided to navigate a roundabout route which avoided Slovenian Motorways even though it would add two hours to our journey. The compensation was that we would be able to drive much of the way on "green roads" which are always very scenic. This took us along some beautiful and almost deserted Slovenian country roads on a sunny morning. We really enjoyed the trip. In due course we reached Croatia and crossed over another border.
We were amazed by how few cars and trucks were on the local roads and so we were able to complete the remainder of our over 400 km journey towards Otocac in Croatia almost completely free of stress.
As we neared our destination village of Ococac we were very surprised see see lots of badly damaged and many deserted houses. We could also see that the walls of most buildings were riddled with bullet holes. It became clear to us that we were about to stay overnight in an area which had been the scene of fierce fighting during the civil war between Croate and Serbian factions. Lynn and I found it quite chilling to be faced with the physical evidence of this very dirty war where so many atrocities had been committed against non-combatants by both sides.
Next morning we made our way to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. These lakes are supposed to be amazingly blue and so it proved to be. It was very cold on the day of our visit and there were many hundreds of steps to traverse in order to see everything but we managed to minimise the number of steps and still saw some really spectacular scenery, some of which is presented on this page.
We enjoyed a simple but pleasant enough lunch in a massive National Park hotel restaurant set for about 400 persons where we were the only patrons until a small Chinese tour group arrived as we were leaving. The restaurant had a kind of Soviet like ambience so I hope our Chinese friends felt at home. They didn't look all that impressed with their opening course of a small salad but the bottles of Coca Cola and Fanta were seized with great enthusiasm as they were passed around the table.
It was time to get ourselves back on the road and across to the Dalmatian coast for our trip down to Trogir. In due course we found our rented apartment down the tiniest and most obscure little lane (unknown to our GPS system) with the assistance of some rather rustic local residents. We are delighted with our accommodation. It is extremely spacious and perched right on the waterfront overlooking the the Mediterranean. The next six days look very promising and this will be a great place to vege out, cook the kind of food we like to eat and re-charge our batteries after being on the move for the past few weeks.
As was the case in Italy we are enjoying the best of all worlds. Firstly Europe is enjoying an exceptional Spring this year with warm sunny weather reminiscent of Summer. On the other hand, because Summer is technically more than a month away, there are no tourist crowds. Consequently we're not faced with hoards of people trying to force their way down medieval lanes and one doesn't have to get into queues waiting for a seat in a restaurant either. Best of all, it's usually not too difficult to find a parking space for our car.
We're loving our apartment and never tire of seeing tiny fishing boats dragging their nets or lures past our place or seeing small yachts sailing by on a zephyr of breeze. And being a very early riser I get to see at least six different Mediterranean cruise liners slowly ghost by threading their way through the nearby islands as they make their way into the port city of Split which is about 35 miles down the coast from our location.
We have "kind of" made friends with our Landlord's dog "Leiro". I'm pretty good with dogs but unlike most dogs Leiro wouldn't respond to smiles, attention and physical affection. Finally we tried food and this was the breakthrough. Before long this very serious looking stand-offish dog was eating out of our hand and knew to the second whenever we sat down to eat. Although he never gave us a single smile or a lick during our entire stay we did become friends of a sort thanks to our aid packages. A most unusual dog.
Trogir is an attractive medieval waterfront town of perhaps 6,000 people and popular with tourists whereas our apartment is a five minute drive away up the coast in a completely residential area. This gives us the solitude we like whilst still being handy to the "action" when we're in the mood for some diversion. We did in fact enjoy one day wandering around the Trogir waterfront on a very hot day before trying to choose from one of a dozen huge and identical outdoor seafood restaurants situated cheek by jowl along the quayside.
In due course we made an impossible choice and and ordered a simple lunch. Lynn had mussels which were were perfectly prepared and absolutely scrumptious. I had scampi in an oil and garlic sauce. Sadly although they were the large variety and looked wonderful, they had little flavour. And although I am one of those people who believe you can't have too much garlic on this occasion I'm sure I ended up with garlic poisoning! I was kind of conscious of the fact that the garlic was almost totally raw and not lightly sauteed as usual but it didn't stop me dipping numerous pieces of bread into the oily sauce. It meant that I burped garlic non stop for the next week if you'll excuse the expression.
One of many pleasant surprises we had on the Dalmatian coast was the unexpected discovery of a seaside cafe right on the rocks below the owner's home. We had gone for a scenic drive and found ourselves out in the boondocks and feeling quite peckish just after 1.30pm. We decided that we would have to quickly find some food or go without but there was nothing in sight. Driving further into no man's land along this secluded coastline we spied a tiny sign which might indicate some sort of cafe so Lynn jumped out of the car and disappeared down a flight of stone stairs. She seemed to be gone for a terribly long time but when she re-emerged she gave me a thumbs up. Back down the steps where we were seated in a nice little rustic cafe hewn out of the rock and situated just a couple of metres above the azure blue Mediterranean. Talk about hitting the jackpot. We ordered some of the local goulash which in our famished state was attacked with great gusto. All served with a mandatory basket of bread, a glass of vino and large bottle of water. You'll find a photo hereabouts.
Later in the week I had yearnings to attack some of the local seafood but under "controlled conditions" so to speak. I was informed that the local fishermen offer their catches at a certain location every morning down by the dock in Trogir. I was further advised to get there by 6am as the market disperses as soon as the sun's warmth becomes evident. Leaving Lynn fast asleep I headed down there on a brisk but sunny morning. I finally located the correct location after several misleading hand-signal conversations with a number of near toothless old grannies rugged up in black overcoats and scarves.
There was a vast array of sardines, bass, mullet, shellfish and crustaceans. In the end I purchased a selection of scampi, prawns and mussels for our seafood feast. Crossing the road to the fruit and veggie market I picked up some parsley, a string of small truss grown tomatoes, handfuls of the deepest red strawberries and a similar quantity of cherries. Then up to the bakery for a crusty loaf of freshly baked bread before heading home expecting great applause from my good wife. She was still fast asleep.
Nearing lunch time I assembled the above mentioned raw seafood and carefully sauted them in a very fruity olive oil with parsley, garlic and onion. Then I gently sweated the lovely sweet smelling truss tomatoes, added a few finely cut lemon slices and tossed all this into the seafood rich, olive oil emulsion. A flamboyant sprinkle of salt and pepper and hey presto there's a feast fit for a king which we enjoyed in an an fresco setting overlooking a sparkling Mediterranean Sea. This was washed down with a delightful South African white wine which we fluked down at the local "don't expect too much" supermarket. "And would we like some freshly picked strawberries and cherries after that?" Hell, why not!
Before we knew it our six day stay at Villa Delphin in Croatia was over. Faced with a 530 km drive into Slovenia we decide to get away early and make maximum use of the freeway until reaching the Croatian/Slovenian border. Joining the freeway at 8.00am on a Sunday morning we were both amazed and delighted that we practically had most of the road to ourselves. Gaps between cars in both directions were typically 400 metres to a kilometre. The speed limit was predominantly 130 kph with patches where we had to drop back to 100 kph. With these kinds of excellent driving conditions we made rapid progress during the first 380 kilometres of our journey.
Leaving the freeway about 40 kms short of the border we switched to a slow green scenic road just as the heavens opened and heavy rain started bucketing down. We were forced to inch along at about 25 kph and when we reached a rather obscure and deserted border crossing we were lucky enough to find a decent small hotel with slightly grand type of Olde Worlde restaurant.
Entering the deserted dining room dripping water from clothes and umbrellas we pleaded for a meal. "Sure", they said, "but Sir and Madam must surely need a drink first". Unfortunately they didn't sell wine by the glass. A half litre of house wine was the smallest option. However I was keen for a red wine whereas Lynn would only consider a white. Although I should have capitulated I instead made the foolish decision of opting for a half litre of each, So whilst sipping our wine and tearing into a basket of bread we studied the menu. In due course we began to dry out and become increasingly mellow as our spirits revived. Another reason why I'll always remember this small rural hotel is that they served the best "home made" mushroom soup that I've ever encountered in my entire life. It was thick, brimming with rich complex flavours and absolutely delicious.
See you in Slovenia after I've been able to prepare that particular webpage. It's a bit of a battle creating these newsletter web pages as we travel along through our itinerary but I'm trying not to get too far behind.