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The International Writers Magazine: Vacations in Croatia and Bosnia

Croatia - unknown known place
Natalya Popova

This is probably not a good time to write about Croatia following its football victory over England’s in the Euro 08 qualifier … At times of such big football matches everyone in the country becomes a football fan. At work I even felt sorry that ‘my’ Russian football team went into the finals looking at how much distress this fact has caused.
Yes, this is probably not the best time to boast of our holiday snapshots taken in Croatia earlier this year. I am happy to look through the pictures alone since the memories are still fresh and vivid. Memories of sharp rocky mountains growing from a blue sea into a blue sky, colour of which perfectly reflects in sea waters. Happy memories.

I do like going back to Croatia in my thoughts, and would like to do so again in reality. My husband Richard has so much fallen in love with the country’s landscapes and delicious watermelons that he’s added Croatia to his list of possible future retirement locations.
It is difficult to say now why did we choose to spend our three weeks summer holidays in Croatia. Difficult even for me who actually booked on the internet a two-bedroom villa in Komarna (knowing nothing of where and what was it).

It seemed an unusual choice of a sea destination at the time. How exotic Europe, even outside the EU, could be? Adriatic does not sound as adventurous as, say, Antarctic..
However, we liked it.

While in Croatia we met no British tourists and only one Irish family – whether this is unusual is for you to decide. It seemed surprising to us as son many people in England mention Croatia, but we certainly did not meet them there.
Many places of our exploration were located in Bosnia or via it. That’s extraordinary!

Yes, while holidaying in Croatia we spent most of our time in Bosnia. Even on the way to Dubrovnik we had to cross the Bosnian border twice through custom check points. The village we stayed in was 100 km from Split and just 9 km from a string of Bosnian land cutting through Croatia and giving Bosnia access to the sea through "ghastly" resort of Neum (as commented in the Rough Guide). I suppose this is to an extent correct because being the only Bosnian sea town it is overcrowded.

We were lucky because the owner of our holiday villa provided us with a comprehensive information guide of the surrounding area – both in Croatia and Bosnia. The area was an amazing bouquet of cultures and historic sites and unspoiled landmarks such as Illyrian grave yards, signs of Turkish invention, Roman and Greek remains. Mejdugorje, the famous place of Virgin Mary’s appearance in 1981 was also in the area, on Bosnian side. On quiet backroads we stopped occasionally to move basking tortoises to safer spots. We ate an idyllic lunch on a tiny gravel island in the Buna River – twenty Euros for four, including drinks.

A link to his website is attached should you wish to learn more about the area.
The beaches here are pebbly and rocky, rubber shoes are essential for enjoyable and fulfilling time at the sea. Croatian beaches might be not perfect places for sand castle engineering but are great fun for snorkelling. The water is crystal clear. If one prefers fresh water swimming - there are also Busina lakes in the area.
One day we visited Kravica waterfall (which, surprise, surprise (!) is in Bosnia). This was an amazing site, even more impressive than Niagara Falls and more enjoyable experience than Thorpe park (believe it or not). The waterfall is an isolated place hidden deep in Bosnian countryside. You drive for miles and then you come to a forest where you discover this wonderful place – water comes from the forest (seemingly from nowhere) and cascade 25 metres down onto rocks creating multiple pools of spring water like Jacuzzi baths. At the foot of the fall, water gathers into a natural lake and then flows further as a river. It’s a definite must see – we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit and dip into its waters twice.

Another must visit place in Bosnia is Mostar. The town’s multi-cultural architecture is striking. Sadly many buildings still bear the marks of battles fought in 1993 across the Neretva river, which now divides the town into two - Muslim and Christian - parts. Muslim and Christian graveyards alike bear many headstones dated ‘1993’.

The famous Mostar bridge (Starii Most - most means bridge, and stari means old - hence Mostar ) connects the two recovering parts of the town. The old bridge was an architectural marvel dating back to 1400, the time of Turkish occupation. It was destroyed during the war and like Phoenix came back to life in July 2004 - it is a symbol of the town and its tolerance. I found it touching to walk along the bridge, its steps were slippery because of newly polished stone... Colourful market stalls situated across it on both sides of the bridge reminded us that life goes on and is a wonderful place after all.

It is best to hire a car to be able to get to numerous places of interest. However, driving in Croatia can be tricky.
I consider myself an adventurous person because I like trying on different things while abroad (like tandem skydive in Australia or dinning deep fried jelly fish in Malaysia). But driving along Croatian narrow shore roads snaking in between rocky mountains and cliff edges wasn’t just the buzz for me. It took me twenty minutes of test drive to realise that there is only one choice between driving close to oncoming traffic (constantly expecting someone to drive into you from around the corner - overtaking on zigzagging roads happens for all the time whatever you call it: bravery, faith, stupidity or national character…) or driving into the rock mountain – the choice was to stop the car and to allow my husband to be in charge of the wheel. It was nice to be a passenger admiring the beautiful landscapes and looking for nice places to eat on the way.

For those who like fish and shellfish, Croatia is heaven. The best place we’ve dined at was Mali Ston – just at the entrance to Peninsula. Local specialities here are fresh oysters, lobster kebabs and even frogs legs (actually domestic, aka grown on premises, are more expensive than just frogs J) Here one can also try Dalmatian stew (my son asked: "is it made from Dalmatians?"). No, – this is the Dalmatia coast gave a name to a new type of dogs not vise versa. The stew is worth trying anyway.

It is easy to pay the bill - both Croatian Kuna and Euros are accepted but can make currency conversions complicated. Be careful though – these are a post Soviet block countries and it still feels in local people attitude believing that Westerns are richer and can be cheated upon. For example in one little coffee shop, which didn’t even have a menu, the bill mounted to something higher we could have paid in a decent restaurant in the UK. Actually it has to be said that eating out was generally not as cheap as one could expect. However, things like that can be accepted as a local feature.

Language is also not a barrier. English was accepted the same way as my attempts of speaking Russian to locals. I felt Slav connection between Croatian and Russian people through some similarities of our languages. Croatian people are much mixed with Italians and Turks through centuries, but Slav roots flourish through Croatian language. I noticed common use of many old fashioned now Russian words like "Otvoreno" (means "open") from deep down of treasuries of Slav language Puskin, the great Russian poet, drawn his poetic wonders from. I tried to make conversations on just my knowledge of Russian but not sure if it helped bonding with locals..

Anyway, three weeks went quickly. We swam a lot in the clear blue waters next to shoals of fish unconcerned by our presence. We climbed endless mountains which was inevitable because of the nature of Croatia’s Adriatic coastline. We returned back very healthy and fit. Now I know why Croatian football team is so strong...

Our last couple of days became quite hectic when we realised how much was still to see. We wanted to visit Diocletian’s palace in Split and also lavender island of Hvar (this will be another story). Next time then?
Looks like we need early retirement – because of Croatia’s tender sun, sweet wine and affordable house prices the country seems to the best option to unwind and enjoy life.
Activities and sightseeing around Komarna:
© Natalya Popova

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