Krk & Cres, Croatia
Island Time
New country, new pace
11th to 19th September, 2019

Croatia was quite different to whatever preconceived, uninformed idea we had. It wasn't bad, it was really good. Just a different kind of good.

The train from Postojna stopped and our compartment door was opened for a perfunctory visit by border guards, and that was it. We were in Croatia. The land became drier and more rocky as we came closer to Rijeka. The sky seemed lighter and more washed-out, and the trees more stunted. Hand-made stone walls started to appear, bordering terraced olive groves. Slovenia had been greener, with houses showing their kinship to neighbouring Austria and the alps. Croatia was closer to Italy and the Mediterranean. The temperature was a good ten degrees warmer.

We'd travelled through Slovenia by public transport but, in terms of getting places, it had been limiting. Since we were going to be in Croatia for over a month, we'd booked a car from Rijeka airport. The airport was actually on the island of Krk, the closest bit of flat land available. A taxi was almost the same price as a bus, and got us to our hotel non-sweaty and non-stressed. We enjoyed a few hours in the sun and a coffee, before our room was ready. Tourists promenaded by, and the odd boat cruised past. Our horizon was of bare rock, and the steel of a tank farm. Even so, it was nice and quiet by the sea, and promised a slower pace than Slovenia.

The next day we collected the car, bought some groceries, and then drove to Vrbnik. On the way through Soline, we saw a group of bathers scooping the legendary healing mud from the beach and spreading it on their exposed bits. Apparently it invigorated your immune system, or made your farts smell like roses, or some other thing. We didn't stop, and remain ignorant.

We parked up and, not being able to check in yet, found a cafe. The waiter there was great! He was a caricature, with a bushy grey moustache and apparently lugubrious nature, until you saw the sparkle of dark humour and realised the feeling of welcome that he gave us. But he must have been so sick of tourists by this time of year. Vrbnik was a real destination, especially for Germans. They were everywhere, in dark Mercedes saloons or white camper vans, driving and walking like they owned the place.
We got into our AirBnB, and it was the first time we’d got a dud. We were double-booked, and were offered another apartment in the same building. We agreed, but it meant that our quiet, sunny, roof-top apartment with the stunning view was replaced by a dark and noisy box with a view of a tree and the screech of chairs echoing down from the floor above. We tried sitting out on the balcony, but the cigarette and skunk-smoking German karaoke troupe next door drove us inside again.

The only thing for it was to get out and explore, so we headed for Baska on the southern end of the island. Just before Baska was the church of Sv. Lucije where the Baska tablet had been found. This stone slab contained the earliest inscription of the word “Croatian” and seemed like the Rosetta Stone of their language. The church was closed, but we could peek through the door and see a replica of the slab, by the altar.

Baska itself was a tourist-processing facility and not for us. We drove around for a bit, accidentally finding the entrance to a naturist camping ground. All sorts of things were out on display in a very aggressive Germanic sense, so we made a flustered U-turn and retreated.

Sv. Lucije
Origin of the Baska tablet
There was a small beach below our place and our swim was refreshing, once we got used to the initial coolness of the water. That evening, inspired by the view of Baska, we looked at a map and found there were a lot of walks to do on Krk. The terrain was rocky and austere. It looked like a tough place to live. I thought there might be a good view from the top of a hill above Vrbnik and down into Baska valley, so found a path that would take us there the next morning.

Like the Via Dinarica trail near Postojna, a "walking trail" in Croatian means somewhere it's possible to go if you like head-banging and have no other basis for comparison. We got up nice and early, and the first couple of hours were cool and clear, with good views over to Rijeka. But, it wasn't a trail. It was a hard gravel road. The airport tank farm was plain to see as the heat haze increased.

We'd seen a loop trail that would take us back to Vrbnik another way, but the turnoff proved to be another of those white and red dotted routes we'd had so much fun with in Slovenia. The trail literally headed off into the bushes. I've spent many hours and days walking across karst country during my caving career, and it's not easy. Water erodes down into the stone, leaving a myriad of high, sharp pillars of rock perfect for slicing shoes or shins, or twisting ankles. It's not terrain you can cover at speed.

On a more open patch with soil and grass, I was delighted to see dung beetles rolling along. I'd never seen them before and they looked so serious, industrious and clumsy, pushing piles of poo in reverse. That was until A pointed out a huge spider snacking on one unfortunate beetle nearby. I am terrified of spiders. I really, really don't like them, and this sucker was huge. I looked away and missed dinner being dragged down into its tunnel.

We followed the painted dots across country for a solid hour, picking our way through the karst until we got to a road. We could see the rest of our path would be more of the same sort of rubbish, so took another way that offered the quickest escape.
We wanted to have a short walk in the cool of the morning that would be rewarded by a view out to Baska. What we got was a twenty-kilometre trudge on broken karst and hot gravel roads with no view at all. We'd bought lunch and water, but not enough of either. The chilled lemon beer from the corner dairy on our return was well-earned.

We ate dinner at the same place we'd had coffee the day before. The waiter was the same guy, and we had a really good evening.

Not the world’s narrowest street, but almost
The next day was pretty quiet due to exhaustion, and we confined ourselves to a walk through Vrbnik old town. It was one of those places where people have been living next to each other for centuries. Houses snuggled close, sometimes bridging together right over the top, with a low way through. We traversed the world's narrowest street, only to find later that it wasn't actually the narrowest. It was still neat to go through, shoulders brushing the walls on each side.

Vrbnik was very much a tourist town. Despite being tourists ourselves, we're not a fan of them. It was no longer peak season but tourists were everywhere, taking pictures (just like us) and being nosy (just like us). There was a cluster of them around a trailer that was delivering grapes to a winery. I watched for a while as the grapes and stalks were separated, and took some photos. Just like everyone else.

I wasn't jumping out of my skin with energy after the walk, and we both got to bed early.
I found the next morning that I'd picked up a cold. I also had a painful cramp after the long walk the day before. Not enough water to drink and the wrong stuff to eat meant that things just weren't moving. Like catching a train at rush hour, there was a lot of luggage and only one turnstile.

That, along with a solid head cold, was pretty much the story of me for the next few days. We'd planned to explore Krk town, but just got straight on the ferry to Cres instead.
A world away
“Krk's tank farm was nowhere to be seen."
The apartment in Cres town was small, and had a communal courtyard. Despite the close living, it felt much more like a place we wanted to be than Vrbnik had. I don't quite know how the atmosphere of a place works, but some towns we visit get under our skin and settle nicely. Others don't. Walking the streets in Cres was relaxing, with interesting stuff to see.

Even though I was still feeling rough in the morning, A was going strong so we went to Losinj Island. Losinj was joined to Cres by a small bridge over a narrow, stone-lined canal. The tidal stream flowed swiftly underneath. We drove to the top of a hill above Mali Losinj and stopped at a small stone church. Its outer roof was layered with heavy limestone slabs and the inner was a perfect arch. The ocean lay all around below us, and we could enjoy the quiet and the view. Krk's tank farm was nowhere to be seen.

Heading home, we turned off after the Cres canal bridge and drove down a narrow, patched road to a campground past Punta Kriza. It was very quiet. We had a good swim in the small bay and dried out in the sun, watching a couple of sail boats come in to anchor.

In the few days we were there, A and I explored Cres a little and relaxed a lot. We went out to dinner one evening, but cooked in the apartment otherwise.
We visited Lubenice one day, a four-thousand-year-old town on a ridge to the west of the island. There are apparently just seven permanent residents there now, with some extra apartments done up for tourists. A few of the buildings were in ruin, while others were gradually crumbling down to meet them. An old lady stood on her doorstep, offering a bottle of something clear and probably potent to us. We smiled, no thanks. I love taking portraits of people and her face would have been perfect to photograph, but I didn't. Maybe she'd have let me if we'd bought the bottle. I was a bit naughty, and photographed her in profile instead.

There was a path down the two-hundred-metre cliff to a beach, but we'd already proven ourselves in Krk when it came to silly long walks in the hot sun.

In the carpark, as we left, a black Landrover Defender camper pulled in, with Luxembourg plates. Good grief, this machine had it all. I'll let the photo speak for itself.

Coming back down the narrow road from Lubenice we were treated to a lovely display of road courtesy, in the form of a German tourist and a truck. It seems that some cars aren't equipped with reverse gear.

Side Streets
Lubenice was slowly laying down to sleep
There was time for a short visit to Martinscica on the last day. The wind was strong, with rain threatening. We stayed long enough for a bad coffee and a walk along the strand, before heading home for a final walk through Cres town in the evening. As we followed the darkened narrow streets, we had glimpses of people's lives through the lit windows. There was someone's kitchen with herbs above the stove and things laid out for dinner. Through another window, an old man sat at a wooden table, playing solitaire. They were all simple, quiet things to do with life.
“As we followed the darkened narrow streets, we had glimpses
of people's lives through lit windows."
The only real excitement in Cres was on the last day, when we tried to leave. The parking lot had been completely taken over by a market. Vans and cars were parked close together and people milled through it all, looking at knick-knacks or clothes for sale. Parked right in the middle, was our car. There'd been no sign about the market and the gonzo who worked in the parking booth hadn't said anything to us the day before. Looking back, I'm not entirely sure he had a pulse. I guess I'd be the same if I spent my days in a glass box, taking tickets and surfing on a computer. Thanks to an awesome local guy at one of the booths, we got tables moved and A executed an eighty-three-point turn to get us out.

The ferry ride over to the mainland was a bit rough, and showed some impressive boat-handling skills by the crew. They managed to bring a big, laden ferry directly out sideways from a rocky shore, in choppy seas. The landing was done smoothly as well, despite waves kicking up over the dock.
Cres ferry, well handled in rough chop
I was sad to leave Cres Island and its town. The small harbour and cobbled streets were a good place to rest and slow things down a bit. Cres reminded us of other times in Fiji with good friends. Islands move slower than elsewhere, and they welcome you to move slowly with them.
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