Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cruising on the Adriatic

We took leave of Apartments Johnny this morning after another lovely breakfast. Still inside as the weather is definitely on the cooler side now. In fact, as soon as a wind gets up it can get bleeding cold!

Going down to the office to check out, 'Johnny' calls out to Vinko (who turns out to be his dad!) so we can say goodbye. We have been carrying an Australian flag with us since we left Australia, but it is a little too big to put on the back tray of the car, so it has just been sitting in our present cache. Anyway, Vinko is so taken with Australia (his brother lives in the Fairfield / Cabramatta area) and has shown a genuine interest in us, so we decide to make him an 'honorary Aussie'. I drape the flag around his shoulders and he is quite choked up! We have a few other little trinkets to leave with them.

Turns out that Vinko had phoned his brother the night before and made plans to visit in 2010 and this time Johnny will be going with him. But mum Ztavka doesn't like flying so she won't be coming. Anyway, we issue our card and an invitation to come and visit - Donna also tells them that they will take them for a drink and a meal. Think that he genuinely might get in touch! He proudly introduced us to his own ‘brew’ and offered Donna a sample – her enthusiastic reply was rewarded with a coke bottle full for later!!!

So from here we drive back into Split first to buy tickets and get aboard a boat to go to the island of Vis. We have had a look at the various options available. At this time of the year we have not been able to find a cruise around the islands, only ferries over to them individually. And given that their main traffic is workers, they come in from the islands early in the day, go back over in the mid-morning and then back to Split in time to collect the workers again around 5 or 6 pm for transport home. This is the exact opposite of what we as tourists need – we want to go over in the morning and back late in the afternoon! So we now know that we are going to have to stay on an island overnight if we want sufficient time to have a look around.

Vis is a ferry trip of 2 hours from Split almost in a straight line out into the Adriatic. And the appeal of this small island – well, it is the jump off point to the smaller island of Biševo and its well known Blue Grotto! We had missed seeing the one on the Isle of Capri due to the huge and wild seas, so we were hoping to see this one instead. So, ticket in hand (return 862 Kn or about €125 for the car and the three of us) we and the ticket collector exchange grunts and points and we get the message where to go!

There are a few vehicles waiting, but nowhere near as many as what we encountered going to the Scottish isles or to Ireland. We join the end of the queue and its not long before we are loading. The trip is as smooth as – hardly any movement in the crossing although at times there are small waves just off the boat. We pass the width of the islands of Šolta, Brac and Hvar, riding the channels that are deep fingers of the Adriatic Sea. The occasional rocky outcrop that sits within the channels have small lighthouses to keep the passenger and pleasure craft safe. We also see Korčula in the distance.

Almost exactly two hours after we left Split we are docking at the wharf of Vis harbour. This is what you would imagine any Mediterranean coastal village to look like. Terracotta tiled roofs sitting atop white or at least, pale, stone buildings that hug the shore line. There is a noticeable promenade from which people fish, or stroll, or sit taking the afternoon sun. We know that the boats to the island of Biševo and the Blue Cave leave from the second town on the island – Komiža which is on the other side of Vis, we turn and head for there as soon as we can drive off the ferry. There are two routes – one of 10 kms that goes almost in a direct line up and along a ridge, while the other one is 18 kms and follows a more winding route up into the centre of the island before coming down off the peak into the town. As we have yet to find accommodation we choose the shorter route.

10% slope up towards the apex of the Hum, the highest point on the island at 587 m. And that gained, a 10% slope straight back down the other side. The roads are quite winding and I almost miss the turn to the town ‘centre’ and ‘hotel’. A quick turn around the area directed as the centre does not look promising for accommodation so we decided to turn back to the hotel. Turns out that Hotel Biševo is the only hotel in the town and the only accommodation that is open all through the year.

Anna, the receptionist sounds – well, she sounds just like us! When we comment on her good English, she tells us she spent most of her childhood in Adelaide! Gosh, the small world just gets smaller! She doubts that we will get to the cave tomorrow as the weather forecast is not good (windy). We’ll see in the morning.

After checking in at the hotel we figure that we may as well go for a bit of a drive and explore some more of the island. Now, there are two sets of roads as I explained earlier. So we opt to take the road over the top, via the little villages in the island's interior: Podselje, Marinje zemlje, Podšpilje, and Podstražje. We pass lots of olive groves and vineyards – these are the two main agricultural pursuits on the island. The ground is so rocky and the farmers rake the ground over and pile the rocks into huge mounds. Some are used to construct fences around the lots, while others are still in the heaps. There are old houses, some in current use, some in dilapidated states. The local farmers use an odd little machine that consists of a 2 stroke engine on two wheels. This is then connected to all sorts of things, including a two wheeled tray wagon – therefore you have a stable four wheeled machine! You see them attached to hoes, cutters etc as well.

We are driving slowly because that is all the width and condition of the roads will let you go. We come across what is becoming a familiar sight in Croatia - donkeys! These two are tethered and by the look of the lighter coloured one (and by the berating we get as we pull up) they are kept lean! About the centre of the drive, we come across a sign to Titova Špilja and the universal symbol for caves. So, what to do? Go up of course! At the top of the road we are greeted with steps disappearing into the gorse bush. So, Michael and Donna set off to see how many steps there are. About ten minutes later I hear this “too many steps” coming from somewhere up above me, so I stay put.

Too bad really – they had come across two caves that had been used by the People's Liberation Army and General Tito during their fight for the liberation of the then areas of Yugoslavia that were under the control of Italy. In fact, it was here in these caves that Tito lived with his dog and conducted the business of the Resistance until he was granted a visa that then allowed him to travel to meet with Churchill and Stalin to plead their cause. This was, of course, before he took power and developed into more than his people had expected. WOW, we sure as hell had not expected to find anything as important as this on this little island on the edge of the Adriatic! Suitably impressed, we drive on.

Back at the hotel, Anna tells us that they do have evening meals but we opt to seek a local restaurant. We pass more cats - there are literally thousands on the island. Not sure whether the first couple stowed away on some boat out of Split or what, but they and their offspring sure are having fun multiplying!

The Konoba BAKO Restaurant is on the beachfront near the hotel – literally, if you were drunk and wandered across the patio, you would end up IN the drink of the seawater that laps the walls below. The kitchen is split with the grill open to the diners and where everything from bread slices to whole fish cooked in full view of the restaurant – and the tantaslising smells waft to aid with the sales of yet more food to thse who come in hungry. There was a small pond in the back where they say you can choose your own fish or shellfish for cooking. Thankfully they have more fish inside because the ones in there at the moment would have left us all hungry!
After we had ordered, we went outside to see the most stunning sunset out over the Bay and the neighbouring Biševo Island. Back inside, we settle into dinner ...
Tuna and anchovy paste served with bread slices toasted over the coals
Sirevi / paški / tivajski (local cheese) Donna and Maria
Komiška pogača (focaccia Komiška style with salted sardines) Michael
Zubatac fratar (Rockfish grilled over coals) Michael
Pohana grdobina (Angler fish breaded) Donna
Jastog buzara (Lobster in white wine with garlic and herbs) Maria
Also riža, salate, masline (rice, salads and olives)
Palačinke čokolade (crepes with chocolate) Donna
Sladoled (Lemon gelato and chocolate ice cream) Michael
Palačinke s orasima (crepes with walnuts) Maria

A short walk and we are back to the hotel. It seems that there are only a couple of other rooms occupied. We play Sudoku and read for a little while before crawling in to bed. Its unbelievably cold tonight and in the end Michael goes down to the car to get our blanket for me as well because there are no extra blankets in the room!

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