The Medieval Charm of Croatia
The Croatian voyage was our last family vacation before I moved to another continent and drastically changed my life. Never in my life had I experienced so many mixed feelings at once—excitement about my new project, fear before unknown future, happiness to be with my family and best friends, and sadness about saying goodbye to them. And even though we keep on exploring the world together, it happens very seldom due to prosaic life’s circumstances. I’ve grown up and flown out of my warm family nest to start a new life, and though I miss them terribly, it was a choice I don’t regret.
There were 12 of us who decided to spend three weeks of August together, including my family, our friends and my best friend Yurochka. The story of our friendship goes back to elementary school when I found Yurochka weeping on a school bench over a bad grade for the homework assignment (yep, the Russian education system doesn’t care whether you’re a six-year-old child with a fragile psyche). I was so insulted by the injustice of the situation that I wanted to share my good grade to him. Since then we were inseparable in everything we went through in our lives. Now he lives and successfully works in Prague, and even though we’re separated by thousands of miles and see each other only on Skype, it hasn’t weakened our friendship at all.
We arrived at the airport of Split in twilight. After handling all the immigration arrangements, we boarded a boat that took us to the island of Korčula, one of the most beautiful and popular Croatian tourist spots. The boat trip that lasted for three hours was definitely worth it. Speeding under the endless sky covered with myriads of stars, shrouded in a warm summer breeze, we were silently contemplating this mysterious world in one of its manifestations. Only from time to time did the men reach out to the bottle of Hennessy to garnish the trip.
When we arrived in a little bay at the southern cape of the island, we all froze in numb astonishment. In front of us there was a beautiful white villa atop the hill illuminated by millions of stars. By the time we finally distributed the rooms, we were so exhausted that we decided to postpone the exploration of the island until the next day.
When I woke up in the morning, everybody was still asleep. So I decided to have some me time and have a quick run around the island. Honestly, it was the best decision ever. The air was still replete with night coolness but the sun had already started to heat things up. My route lied above the coast, and it was so peaceful to just run and contemplate the nature, leaving out all the noise behind.
When I returned to the villa, everybody was enjoying the sun at the swimming pool and patiently waiting for breakfast. People were so exhausted after an unusually hot Russian summer that for the first couple of days we didn’t do anything rather than sleeping, hanging out at the pool, taking long swims in the sea, and enjoying delicious Croatian gastronomy.
One day six of us decided to swim to a tiny island sitting in front of our villa. We grabbed our snorkeling equipment and took off on this little adventure. The distance between the two islands was about two miles, but it was so pleasant to interchangeably swim and drift in cool emerald water that we didn’t even notice how we’d reached the island. From that coast, the scenery was even more breathtaking. The villa looked even more dazzling in the rays of the morning sun, sinking in all possible shades of green of the surrounding oaks and pines.
Every day we hired a boat to take us to the nearby islands, some of which are especially famous for their beautiful beaches with crystal water lagoons and snorkeling spots. Some islands are so tiny that they only have a wharf, a couple of sun beds and a restaurant. They are surrounded by snow-white yachts that occasionally drift from island to island to bring in some variety. The only thing I regret is that we didn’t have a chance to visit the island of Hvar because of its remoteness from Korčula. But according to locals, this place is famous for its night clubs and bars, attracting clubbing jet-setters from all over the world.
Every evening if we didn’t stay at the villa, we went out to dinner in Korčula’s Old Town, a medieval fortified town with ridiculously narrow streets, beautiful harbors and squares, Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals, and numerous restaurants. A fresh daily catch of fish and seafood was displayed at the entrance of each restaurant, and it was genuinely torture to pick one among others. The hosts were friendly and welcoming, and it was hard not to come inside and take a look at the rich variety of seafood. After dinners we usually did some shopping at the fruit market and bought hand-made jewelry from the local artisans.
After living la dolce vita for two weeks, we finally departed to explore the rest of Croatia. Our first destination was Dubrovnik, probably the most famous Dalmatian town on the Adriatic coast. In the Middle Ages, Dubrovnik, then called the Republic of Ragusa, achieved a remarkable level of development based on its successful maritime trade, wealth and skilled diplomacy. Now the whole town is protected by UNESCO and included in the list of World Heritage Sites. Dubrovnik is surrounded by a massive fortified wall that is currently being used as a tourist attraction. You can climb on top of the wall and make a trip around Dubrovnik contemplating its best views. And even though the streets were too narrow for the mixed tourist crowd and sometimes it was too hot and humid, as the walls didn’t let in any sea breeze, I still was absolutely charmed by the medieval mysteriousness of this place. After spending about five hours exploring the old town, we found this amazing restaurant on top of the cliff that revealed a spectacular view of the sea and Dubrovnik at night.
After that we flew to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. What I retained mostly was that the city was incredibly green. It also impressed me with its ornate architecture, colossal cathedrals, charming little churches and the old railway station. It wasn’t as beautiful as the rest of Croatia, but it was still worth checking it out.
This trip was really something special for all of us. And when I picture Croatia to evoke the pleasant memories I always imagine an endless emerald sea with hundreds of little desert islands, clear blue sky and an overwhelming feeling of joy and happiness.