Archive for ‘Croatia’

September 14, 2011

Island Time; Vis

by Johnny

Once we got ourselves all sorted out with our travel plans back to Italy, we spent our final few days in Croatia enjoying all that the small island of Vis had to offer. Vis is Croatia’s most isolated island, located deep in the Adriatic further from the mainland than any other.  It’s also Croatia’s most unspoiled island, as it was previously a military base due to it’s strategic location and just recently opened its doors to tourism in 1989.  These facts are evident when you’re walking around town.  There’s a little less English spoken, it’s a little grittier, you may turn the corner and run into a goat, and the fishermen are a little saltier.

We based ourselves in the small fishing village of Komiza, located on the far west side of the island in the shadows of Mt. Hum.  The setting was truly stunning.  Komiza is said to be the place where fishing on the eastern side of the Adriatic was born, and it still remains a fishing village to its core.  Oddly enough, many fishermen from Komiza migrated to San Pedro, CA in the 1920s.  While there are only about 500 permanent residents of Komiza, over 5,000 San Pedro residents can trace their roots back to Komiza.  I even met an old salty fisherman whose brother lives in San Pedro.  Again, what a small world.

Komiza’s harbor
Fisherman talking about the day’s catch Komiza’s main square
Green shutters everywhere in Croatia
Beach in Komiza
Church in Komiza Hey there, goat

I am 100% addicted to scooters.  When my 2002 Ford Explorer Sport goes out of style (errr, explodes the first time I try and start it), I am getting a scooter of some sort.  It must run in the family…my Uncle Lenny is currently riding his Vespa from San Diego to Canada.  Awesome!  Anyways, on one of our days in Vis we rented a scooter (duh!) to explore the island.  From hidden coves to inland vineyards to the top of Mt. Hum, we got to see how beautiful the island truly is.  One highlight was our stop at Milna beach for lunch.  The restaurant on the beach looked like it had been deserted for over a decade, but out popped a friendly waiter to give us the menu…followed by him pointing out the two or three items from the menu they could actually make that day.  Anna’s cuttlefish black risotto was her favorite in Croatia, and I loved my cevapcici.  I don’t know what it’s made of, but I do know it’s delicious.  Side note: Apologies to France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, but we think Croatia has the best olive oil in the world. Hands down. It’s so thick and it actually tastes like olives.  We discussed this fact with our waiter, and I swear he started weeping a little when talking about his family’s homemade olive oil. I recommend you get your hands on some ASAP. Milna also had the first real sandy beach we saw in all of Croatia.  Bonus!

Born to be wild
Cuttlefish risotto in Milna Cevapcici…as fun to say as it is to eat
Cove of Stoncica…I spy a donkey
Nude beach logo could use some work
Milna beach Milna beach

From Milna we headed inland through the island’s vineyards and up to the top of Mt. Hum.  We weren’t sure if our scooter was going to make it, and Anna and I both started chanting, “I think I can!  I think I can!” but we finally got to the top.  From here we had incredible views of the town of Komiza on one side and other Croatian islands on the other.  We also hiked up to Tito’s cave.  Tito was Yugoslavia’s most infamous president, and during the war he would have secret meetings at this hidden cave.  It’s super creepy…like meeting a mob boss in the middle of the Vegas desert or something.  I’d be all like, “Uh, Tito…this is a little weird.  Maybe we can meet at Starbucks.”

View of Komiza from Mt. Hum
Anna contemplating the meaning of life
You’re my boy, Blue!
Tito’s cave built into Mt. Hum

Thanks for everything, Croatia! You’ll be missed, but we know we’ll see you again one day!

Our last meal in Croatia at Konoba Jastozera
September 11, 2011

Back To The Boot

by Johnny

A couple weeks ago our second workstay host emailed us to say that she had gotten sick and would no longer be able to have us as helpers.  We were a little bummed because this workstay was on an operating winery outside of Rome, and we were really looking forward to learning about the winemaking process as well as attending the weekly sustainable agriculture dinners the winery hosts.  But we figured, “Hey, nothing an extra couple weeks bouncing around the Croatian islands and a detour down to Montenegro can’t fix.”  And as you can see by our recent posts we’ve been having the time of our lives.  But once we got to the island of Vis, even though it’s just as beautiful and even more remote than the others, something just wasn’t feeling right.  It’s hard to explain, but both Anna and I were feeling a little…well…bored and worthless.

I think I just heard a collective “PUHH-LEEAAASSSSE!” from all the employed folk back home, but it’s true.  We weren’t really meeting any locals…we weren’t really learning anything new…we were just lazing around waiting for something to happen.  And while I am thoroughly enjoying being the tannest I’ve been since Junior Lifeguards, we didn’t save for years, quit our jobs and take this once-in-a-lifetime trip just so we could sit on the beach for weeks at a time (although we are definitely looking forward to posting up on the beaches in Thailand and Indonesia).  OK, now I’m really pissing off my working friends.  Anyways, we quickly booked an overnight ferry back to Italy and emailed every farm and winery we could find in hopes that they could take us for a week or so before our friends Brian and Marisa meet us in Florence on September 26th.  Fingers crossed!

September 10, 2011

Island Time; Hvar

by Anna

Marija (our B&B owner): Would you like to try some of our homemade wine?
Johnny & Anna: Yes, we’d  love to! You make your own wine? That is so cool.
Marija: Of course! Who doesn’t?!

For this and many other reasons, we loved Hvar.
Feeling a little sad to leave Korcula, and having heard the words “ritzy” and “party island” thrown out about Hvar, we weren’t totally sure what to expect. But we soon found that Hvar, although a little more pristine with its Venetian influenced architecture, sparkling main square and small lineup of yachts and sailboats in its harbor, had the exact same laid-back, easy-going and fun-loving attitude as Korcula with all the beauty and insanely friendly people to match! It also lived up to its reputation as the “sunniest and greenest” island. We were thrilled that we had a whole eight days to spend there!

Hvar’s main square
Hvar’s busy harbor

When Marija picked us up from the 6am ferry boat on Monday morning, she told us that Prince Harry was in town living it up at the local nighttime hot-spots. She also told us that she had family in Laguna Beach…what a small world!…but wait, it got smaller…we figured out a few days later over some homemade wine that her cousins are our friends Nick and Hillary Brakovich! Just when the world seems infinitely vast, it always seems to contract again and you find friends in the craziest places.

It may look like apple juice, but it was actually homemade wine!

We had been dying to rent a boat, so on our first full day we found a friendly guy in the harbor named Igor and rented a little canopied boat from him. The slower the boat, the lower the price, so needless to say we putted across the Adriatic while other speedboats flew past leaving us bobbing in their wake. But we loved our little boat, and it was the perfect way to explore the Pakleni islands that form an archipelago just off the coast of Hvar. We found a nice secluded cove and anchored for the day, taking dips, using our new snorkel mask (yes, just the mask, we were too cheap for the snorkel) and snacking on chips and salsa. The Croatian islands are all known for having nude beaches, and the Pakleni islands had no shortage of nudists…on the rocks, on boats, etc. Johnny and I had to laugh as we passed by a small fishing boat filled with about six old, stocky naked men. They looked like professionals, because they showed no signs of tan lines! I read before getting to Croatia to “not get too excited over the nude beaches, because most of the nudists you’d rather see with their clothes on.” I can attest that this is indeed a fact:)

Heading out to sea with Captain Johnny!
Enjoying our boat “Snorkeling”
Coming back into the harbor

Speaking of nudists, the guy who we rented a scooter from another day told me that the first time he rode a scooter when he was a teenager, he was riding down the coast and saw a naked lady on the beach. He was looking at her and not at the road and went right over the edge and broke both his arms! Well, luckily, that did not happen to Johnny and me. Johnny picked up maneuvering the scooter like a pro, and we set off down the coast. The island is known for its amazing farming climate, and we rode through olive and fruit orchards, vineyards and fields of rosemary and lavender, while also stopping to hike down to some beautiful beaches and coves. Another amazing sight on our way to Stari Grad, a town on the north side of the island and also one of Europe’s oldest towns, dating back to its settlement by the Greeks in 384 BC, was the Stari Grad Plain. This UNESCO protected area represents “one of the best preserved examples of ancient Greek agriculture throughout the Mediterranean.” It has remained in tact for 24 centuries and is still in use today. The land is divided geometrically by ancient stone walls and shelters that were put in place by the ancient Greeks. The walls blend so well with the natural landscape that it takes a minute to realize that as far as the eye can see, the land is blocked into small squares.

Scooter time!
Looking out at the Pakleni Islands A view from the road
Hiking down to Dubovica  The church and “restaurant” in Dubovica
Part of the Stari Grad Plain

The town of Stari Grad was also an amazing place that we reached after about a 45 minute ride down a winding, steep road above the sea. I think we reached it right around siesta time, because we wandered the narrow winding streets feeling like we had the whole place to ourselves. We settled down at a café on the bay and after some scampi risotto and grilled squid, we were ready for the journey back to Hvar Town. Once back in town, and relieved that we hadn’t run out of gas (!), we settled in on some rocks by the water and read our books and took dips till the sun set. We rode back through the warm pink dusk and reluctantly returned our scooter.

A local working on fishing nets in Stari Grad
Pit stop in Stari Grad Stari Grad
Reading time Not a bad spot for a good book
Urchins on the rocks Almost sunset
The photographer
An amazing sunset

Another day we sought out a beach where we heard there was a good lunch spot called “The Mustache.” We figured any place called The Mustache had to be pretty bombtastic, so we loaded up our backpacks and found the cove with Il Mustaco after about a 40 minute walk down the coast. We rented beach chairs for the day, had an amazing pizza, finished our books and floated on my newly purchased raft (best purchase ever!).

Il Mustaco

On another day we caught a boat taxi to the Pakleni islands again, specifically to Palmizana where we heard you could hike to an unforgettable restaurant called Dionus. It truly was an unforgettable experience, and therefore deserved its own blog post (click here to read about it!).

On our last night we tried a tapas place called Luviji on one of the narrow back streets in the old town. We had met a chef from Finland who was also staying at Marija’s place, and he recommended it, so we thought we’d try it out. We had such a great time, chatting with our server who was from Ljubljana but who fell in love with Hvar and had moved there. She told us that everything they served was homemade, including the wine (of course!), which she said she had gone to collect grapes for at 5am that morning at the restaurant’s vineyard on the Pakleni islands.  We had some delicious homemade red wine and Prosek, vegetable spreads, “meat rolls,” octopus salad, grilled fish and bread made from the seeds of the Cannibus flower (head-y).

Rooftops in the old town
Mmm…tapas Enjoying our last night in Hvar

It’s probably pretty obvious by this post that we had an awesome time on Hvar. I hope to be back many times!!

September 3, 2011

A Day In The Life

by Johnny

Lately I’ve been getting a ton of emails asking, “Johnny, what are the five best days of your life?”  No, not really.  But I’m going to tell you anyways.  Here they are, in chronological order.

July 11, 1989 – Anaheim, CA:  1989 MLB All-Star game at Angel Stadium with my dad, Grandpa Joe and Papa; Bo Jackson crushes lead-off homer to center field.

July 20, 1998 – Ventura, CA:  My first Phish concert at Ventura County Fairgrounds; monster 21-minute, funked out “Bathtub Gin” opener had me hook, line and sinker (pun intended).

August 14, 2004 – San Francisco, CA:  I move to San Francisco and start work; feel truly independent for the first time and lucky to live in my favorite city on the planet.

August 15, 2009 – Santa Ynez, CA:  My wedding day; best party of my life.

September 3, 2011 – Hvar, Croatia:  See below.

I’m just kidding.  I couldn’t possibly rank the best days of my life, but today was definitely up there…one of the more memorable ones of this trip for sure.  Now, if you only check in on this blog once in a while, you may have the impression that our trip is full of lavish meals and endless wine drinking.  That’s far from the truth.  It’s actually full of cheap meals and endless wine drinking.  Just kidding again…Johnny’s on fire!  Actually, most days we make a tea and have some granola in our room for breakfast, wander around town, have a baguette and some fruit for lunch, wander some more, make some pasta or find a relatively cheap restaurant for dinner, wander again, go to bed and then have leftover pasta for three meals the following day.  Well, after a few days of this routine here in Hvar, Croatia, we decided to treat ourselves to something special.

Our day started like most do with some granola for breakfast on our deck, and since awesome decks are commonplace here in Croatia we were spoiled with a fantastic view.  We ran out of our usual green tea, so we decided to get some kava (coffee) in the old town (what a treat!) and found a tiny, authentic coffee shop.  The shop has been in the same family for generations, and the woman who runs the place still uses her grandma’s original recipes.  We enjoyed our coffee sitting on some cushions on old stone steps.

Coffee break

When Anna and I talk about “treating ourselves,” it basically means we search out some unknown restaurant with incredible food and stuff our faces.  Today was no different.  We had read on some foodie blog about a restaurant called Dionis located somewhere in Pakleni group of islands right off of Hvar.  We called ahead because it’s encouraged to make reservations…not because it’s overly popular but because they need to know how much food they are going to make that day.  We jotted down some confusing directions from the blog and grabbed a 30 minute taxi boat over to the cove of Palmizana on the island of St. Clement.  While this may seem like a lot of effort just for a bite to eat, this was only the beginning of our journey.  Our directions basically said “find the red sign to the village of Vlaka and follow the blue markers all the way to Dionis” and, well, that was exactly right.  Little did we know, however, that these blue markers took us on an hour long hike through the center of the island on an incredibly overgrown hiking trail.  Even though we’re sitting here with scratches all over our arms and legs, the beautiful views and best meal of our trip (no joke!) were well worth it.

Red sign to Vlaka…so far so good Follow the blue marks…piece of cake
Is that a blue mark?  I think we’re lost. Blue mark on a tree?  Now I’ve seen everything.
Yep…definitely on the right track now
With views like these, who cares if you get lost?

After navigating the rocky, narrow path for about an hour we cut inland for a little bit and finally laid our eyes upon Dionis.  With its setting in the middle of vineyards and olive trees and with views of a bay in the distance, they could’ve served chicken nuggets and I would have been happy.  The setting only got better when we got inside.  There were about six big, wooden tables under a thatched roof with an open wall towards the vineyards…a perfect, rustic setting.  We were definitely the only English speaking people in the place, but another group loved us and would cheers us every time they took a drink of wine (which was often).  It was great.

We made it!
Getting closer Inside of Dionis
We’re hungry!
View from our table
Our new buddies

I don’t pretend to be a food critic, and I’d run out of adjectives talking about how delicious the food was, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  Everything was super fresh and simply prepared with olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary, chives and parsley.  And the coolest part is that everything we ate came from within an eye-shot of those pictures you see above you.  Warning:  Looking at the following pictures will make you hungry and jealous.

Bread, olive oil and white wine…all homemade
Eggplant isn’t our favorite, but we loved this aubergine pie Dalmatian cheese and olives
Anna asked the waiter about the fish, so he showed us the morning’s catch
Grilling up our grub More grilling
Anna’s Scorpaena fish and grilled veggies
Johnny’s grilled squid and veggies

After a couple hours we finally and reluctantly peeled ourselves away from the table.  We were so full that we contemplated just sleeping somewhere in the vineyards so we wouldn’t have to make the hike back, but we pressed on slowly but surely, stopping at a couple of the coves we saw one the way in for some dips (some of the skinny varietal).

Nice little spot for a dip
I ate so much my boardshorts literally exploded off my body…good thing I had some nudist friends across the bay
Some cool flora on the hike back Beautiful

We made it back in time to catch our boat back to Hvar, and Anna made a new buddy during the ride.  Too stuffed to eat anything for dinner, we wrapped up our amazing day with some red wine on our deck, and I couldn’t help but smile knowing that we have many more of these types of days ahead.

Anna and her new friend Coffee
Dusk from our deck
August 31, 2011

Island Time; Korcula

by Johnny

Now begins the Croatian island hopping portion of our trip.  First stop, Korcula!  Legend has it that this island is the birthplace of famous explorer and awesome pool game inventor Marco Polo.  To be honest, I don’t know why he ever left the place.  It’s amazing!

Korcula Town, where we based ourselves, has actually been dubbed “mini-Dubrovnik” because of its walled old town.  Unlike Dubrovnik, however, there were hardly any tourists.  While we thought Dubrovnik was beautiful, we spent much of our time in its old town dodging the hordes of tour groups and cruise ship day-trippers.  In Korcula’s old town, you truly felt like you’d taken a step back in time.  It’s hard to explain in writing, but Anna and I just felt an instant connection with the place.  It was just so mellow and casual…just our style.  Also, while we had to walk 356 steps down to the sea in Dubrovnik, here we only had to walk about 10.  The place we stayed, Villa Depolo, may have been our favorite yet.  For the equivalent of about $50/night we had a huge, clean room, air conditioning, en-suite bathroom, fridge and an enormous deck right on the water.

View from our deck
Korcula’s old town from our deck
Did I mention we had a super sweet deck?
Entrance to Korcula’s old town Awesome dinner at U Maje i Tonke
Beauty everywhere you look in Korcula Ditto
Johnny’s a.m. buoy swim

One day, when we weren’t bouncing back and forth between our deck and the sea right out front, we took a taxi boat over to the small fisherman’s village of Lumbarda where the island’s only sandy beaches are.  I didn’t think Korcula could get any more beautiful, but it proved me wrong.  We swam in some of the warmest, clearest, bluest water we’ve ever been in on a sandy beach lined with ancient walls.  Oh, and the Lumbarda area is know for its Grk wine which is grown in sandy soil, so there were vineyards coming straight down to the sea.  Incredible!

Vineyards all the way down to the crystal clear Adriatic
Vivid blue and green everywhere Johnny, ancient walls and vineyards
You get the idea One more, for good measure

Korcula was just perfect.  Look for Anna and me on a Korcula episode of House Hunters International in about 20 years.

August 26, 2011

356 Steps To Paradise

by Anna

From Ljubljana we had a pretty serious travel day/night that took us from one hot, sweaty overnight train to the next with a three hour pit stop in Zagreb, Croatia’s capitol (which was really pretty….a nice place for a train layover!), and then finally on a five hour bus ride winding down Croatia’s coast. Along the way we met some nice Germans and a Kiwi, swapped some travel stories, and tried some Croatian beer – Karlovacko. The somewhat sleepless journey was worth it though, as we had finally made it to the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik!

We’ve had high expectations of Croatia in general….it is actually one of the destinations that I have been looking forward to the most, and so far we have been loving it.

Dubrovnik was amazing, and we had an awesome view of its red roof-topped old town surrounded by fortress walls, its small bustling port and the forest-blanketed island of Locrum. We soon found that this glorious view came at a cost…..356 steps, but the reward was just as great at the other end (plus, we think our calves are looking pretty toned after four days of walking up and down these infamous steps!).

Sunset view of Dubrovnik’s old town from our room
356 steps down… and 356 steps up…
Dubrovnik’s Old Port

The old town of Dubrovnik was beautiful and so much fun to explore. Cut down the middle by its main street, the Stradun, a labyrinth of narrow and charmingly gritty streets wind out on both sides. There are shops, cafes, laundry lines, old palaces, cathedrals, clock towers, monasteries and plazas tucked into every nook and cranny, making it a great place to just wander around and get lost within.

Old town at night
Stradun More steps in the old town
View of Buza Bar on the cliffs around the old town View of Locrum from Buza Bar – Johnny and I stopped here for
some cold beers after a day of swimming

We had read that Dubrovnik has become a “European vacation hotspot,” so we were not completely surprised at how crowded and touristy it was. We were a little surprised by how hot and humid it was though, and even the owners of the place where we stayed (the funniest brothers of all time – Igor and Zoran) said it was the hottest summer they could remember. We managed to escape the heat during the day however by taking a quick ferry ride to the island Locrum. This place was really incredible….car-free, covered in trees and wild peacocks, with cathedral and fortress ruins and rocky edges where you could bask in the sun (kind of like a seal) and jump in and out of the crystal clear, warm Adriatic. There were even a couple salty pools with rope swings that we stumbled upon.

Leaving the Old Port on the way to Locrum Swimming spots around Locrum
Johnny taking the plunge on Locrum
Checking out the best swimming spots on the island
Salty pools on the island

Another highlight of our time spent in Dubrovnik was the walk along its 2km of city walls. We were a little turned off at first because we thought it was pretty pricey to just walk the walls, but we sucked it up and did it anyways, and it was well worth it. The walls are completely in tact, unlike many of the other walled cities we have visited, and they offer spectacular views all around. We did the walk close to sunset, and the glowing terra cotta rooftops and sun reflecting in the turquoise waters was beautiful.  It was interesting to learn that in the recent war in the early 90s, two thirds of Dubrovnik’s rooftops were damaged by bombings. In replacing the damaged roofs, they kept true to their terra cotta tiles, but there is a noticeable difference between the new, bright red/orange tiles and older, faded original tiles.

Today we woke up bright and early and took a three hour bus ride to the island of Korcula. Smaller, less crowded, but equally (if not more so!) beautiful, I think Johnny and I have both fallen in love. We’ve already been talking about extending our stay here…..but more to come on that in the next blog post!!

We made it to Korcula! Ready for three days of relaxing…