Croatia part 2 - the surprise

My thoughts both during and after I left Zagreb was that yes, it was nice, but it looked a lot like most of eastern Europe, so nothing new for me. Even when in Rijeka for the night, a coastal city in the south, I still thought the same.

As I rolled along at a grand speed of 80 (or 60 if it was uphill, Croatia is very, very mountainous) I eventually go to the top of the mountains and what seemed like a never ending amount of tunnels, I suddenly emerged in the thickest fog I have ever seen. My visibility? 3m, sometimes 5. Average speed? 20. The fog continued for an eternity until finally, another tunnel, the fog did fill it up partially, but on the other side, nothing. Crystal clear.

The problem with fog is that it tires you, since you have to be even more careful than usual due to the poor visibility and the effort you have to put into not crashing into anything, or anyone. Fortunately, a gas station showed up and I stopped for the night.

I couldn’t sleep well that night so at 5am I was on the road again, driving through a landscape that had me convinced that Croatia was like the rest of eastern/central Europe. Never have I been so wrong. Once again I was in a tunnel, and that tunnel changed everything. On one side of the mountain, it looked like eastern Europe, the other had nothing to do with it.

It’s going to be hard to describe it to you, so fortunately I took many pictures, but I was taken aback. It was stunning, all the colours were rich and deep, the landscape now looked completely different, I was now in windswept plains, covered in olive trees, lavender and bare rock. It was almost lunar, but with plants. The closest comparison I have is that it looks like the south of France, it reminded me of home. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a tear in my eye.

Night finally came, and I slept on (yet another) highway gas station, but with a view that still hasn’t been rivalled.

If you thought this was over, like I did, it isn’t, because I went from the beautiful windswept plains to an even more stunning scenery, the coast of Croatia. It’s everything you imagine of a Mediterranean coast, beautiful winding roads along a mountainside that drops to the sea, sunshine, olive trees, beautiful weather, and the smell of the sea, oh god how I had missed that smell.

It was in the midst of this bliss that I met Luka, a self-described Hippie. He was standing at a bus stop and only at the last moment did I realise he wanted to hitchhike (with a scenery like that you forget your surroundings somewhat). After pondering (for about 5s) on whether or not I should turn around and take him or not, I turned around and went to pick him up. He was quite surprised to see me return, he’d clearly seen me drive by (the van is exactly inconspicuous) but happy to have a ride. He was 23, and lived life in the moment. He’d been a shepherd for the winter and was on his way to see a friend of his a few kilometers down the coast. “Interesting” is the least I can say about him, he’d tried about every drug you can think of but was now back “on the right path”, and although he didn’t have an easy life (working small jobs and moving around a lot) he was one of the most content people I have ever met. His English was not the best, and my Croatian being inexistent our conversations were held with a great deal of gestures and words pronounced loudly in our respective tongues, but we got along. Eventually I dropped him off, and kept going.

And then, when I thought I couldn’t be surprised anymore, Croatia reminded me that it could, I was driving towards my overnight stop in Dubrovnik, it was around 3pm and I was climbing a particularly steep (and lengthy) road. My engine didn’t seem to happy (very, very, very hot kind of not happy) so I decided to stop on the side of the road, on those side-of-the-road-things where you re allowed to stop (not the emergency thing). I hadn’t been looking too much at the scenery at that point but now I had the chance to. What I saw, my eyes couldn’t believe.

Firstly a bit of background, I’ve lived all my life in cities so my eyesight usually never goes further than the next building, I’m used to having something obstruct my view. The average distance my eyes are used to seeing is 300-400m max, there’s always a building, car of tree in the way somewhere.

Not here. I still have goosebumps now, two days later. Before me I had 100? Maybe more? Kilometers, not meters, kilometers of unobstructed view. I was in awe. I could see the plain in which I’d been driving less than an hour before, I could see the mountain range opposite me, I could see the sky…I could see everything. I was so in awe that half an hour passed before I realized that I was starving, and so, I cooked my first meal on this trip in front of the most beautiful scenery I have ever laid my eyes on. On the menu: a cereal bar and some pasta (needed more salt, but hey).

To conclude this lengthy text, I finally arrived in Dubrovnik, to the hostel where I was spending the night. After putting down my stuff and taking a shower, I went to get some food and visited the old city inside the fort. I liked it, it was a lot of narrow alleys going in all directions and then I stumbled upon the port inside it. I sat down and enjoyed the moment.

What surprised me most in Dubrovnik is the amount of stray cats there are, I assume that the fact the bins and trash bags are left on the street ensures that they survive. They all looked well fed and none seemed to have any diseases. I gathered that they weren’t particularly liked around here since they avoided me as soon as I got near and refused to approach me.

This concludes my amazing time in Croatia. If you ever have the chance to visit it, do, it’s worth it.

Nemo Faucher