Hvar Island filled with sunshine, beauty | TheUnion.com

Hvar Island filled with sunshine, beauty

This is the first in a two-part series about traveling to Croatia.

There are over a thousand islands off the coast of Croatia – 66 of them inhabited – but only a few of them are serviced by ferry. Among them are the islands of Korcula and Hvar. It may be hard to find accommodations here in July and August, since both are very popular with the young and hip partygoers (a huge number of bikers, accompanied by the ear-splitting noise of their machines, had disembarked in Split when we had boarded the ferry there earlier that day).

It is said that Hvar receives more sunshine than any other location in Croatia. The weather was perfect – in the mid-70s. The trip to Hvar took only a few hours on a calm sea. We landed at Stari Grad, one of the two small towns on the island, and were immediately greeted by a number of women who displayed signs offering rooms in their homes. A stylishly dressed woman in her mid-40s stood out among them, and with her perfectly adequate English, led us to her small car that was parked close by.

She explained that her house was only a few minutes away, and we accepted her offer without hesitation. She was the owner of a small, one-story, white-washed modern home in which she lived with her family. A separate part of the house consisted of a bedroom and adjacent bathroom, which filled our needs very well. Actually, we spent much of our time sitting outside in her lovely little flower garden, fascinated endlessly by the gorgeous butterflies that populated it.

Our landlady, Marica, turned out to be a wonderful hostess. She chauffeured us around the island, even taking us to Hvar Town, the principal town on Hvar, about 12 miles away on the other side of the island. If you are without a car, there is a local bus service on the island.

A few days earlier, I had developed a very bad cold that felt like bronchitis, and Marica took us to the clinic there. Our visit took just about an hour, during which the woman doctor on duty examined me, had blood work done, gave me a vitamin B-12 shot, prescribed a few medicines and gave me antibiotics. The clinic was very plain but spotless; the middle-aged doctor spoke good English; and the entire visit, including the drugs she prescribed, cost a grand total of U.S.$78.

Despite my physical discomfort, we enjoyed the atmosphere on Hvar as well as the weather, food and the laid-back life style. We really were sad when we finally had to say goodbye to Marica, but promised to stay in touch and send her some flower seeds upon our return to California, which we did. Our ferry trip continued to Dubrovnik, passing other islands along the way. The scene reminded me of the Greek Islands, which were not so much farther away.

Dubrovnik presented another challenge, since again we had trouble pre-booking into a hotel. The tourist office had recommended a room in a private residence, but when we arrived there by taxi, we discovered that we would have to climb some 80 steps to reach it.

Luckily the taxi driver knew of another place, just outside the Old Town walls by the Pile Gate, pronounced “Peelay,” and he took us there. It was in a wonderful location, but it also presented a few problems. The room was quite small, and we had to share the bathroom with our landlady, the proverbial “little old lady in tennis shoes,” replete with a babushka, with whom we were only able to communicate in German.

Described as “the pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik is truly a wondrous city, whose main source of income is tourism. It’s a small city of about 50,000 people and ideally suited to tourism, since most of its many attractions are clustered in Old Town, which is surrounded by very high and ancient walls. The city used to be a fortress, strategically located on the southern Adriatic Sea.

Dubrovnik boasts a number of museums, palaces, churches and monasteries – some of which are also used as concert halls – as well as restaurants and outdoor cafes. There are numerous upscale shops on the main thoroughfare (Placa) and on the many narrow side streets. We also found a small synagogue on a side street, which claims to be the second oldest in Europe. I climbed up on the wall (entrance fee U.S.$2.50) along with many other tourists to get a spectacular overview of Old Town, the Adriatic Sea and nearby Lokrum Island.

Cruise ships call on Dubrovnik, and during the day, Old town fills up with passengers who disembark early in the morning to explore and leave in the late afternoon to resume their sea voyage. The night then belongs to the natives, and the relatively few tourists who are there can enjoy the city at a more leisurely pace. There was a decided change in the atmosphere, and the night air was warm and fragrant with the breeze from the sea.

We found a great little restaurant where we enjoyed a seafood dinner, for which Dubrovnik is famous. Before leaving Dubrovnik, I hopped on a city bus that took me high up on the nearby mountain to get a bird’s eye view of the entire panorama. It’s something I often do in foreign cities, since it is an inexpensive way to see different neighborhoods and get a lay of the land. And I don’t get lost, since I stay on the bus all the way back to where I got on.

After only nine days, our Croatian part of the trip had come to an end. It was a challenging experience – much different from traveling in Western Europe, but certainly worthwhile and recommended for anyone with a sense of adventure. We now continued our trip to Vienna and Prague. But that’s another story, one that’s been covered numerous times by lots of other travel writers.

Before concluding, let me briefly comment on the cost factor of an Eastern European trip. One of the attractive aspects of traveling in Eastern Europe used to be the buying power of the U.S. dollar and the fact that everything was dirt cheap – if it could be had at all. I’m afraid all that has changed dramatically. Everything is now available, and even the infamously poor toilet paper is now up to our quality.

But the fact is that the U.S. dollar is now worth about 30 percent less than a few years ago and it is making a huge difference in the cost of any European trip. This applies even to Croatia where the currency is still the “kuna” but is tied to the new Euro that is gradually spreading throughout Europe.

And remember: these days you don’t need to carry a lot of cash or even Traveler’s Checks, since both seem to have become unnecessary, as long as you carry plastic – take two, but no more than three cards. Enjoy now! – Pay later!

Walt Fraser is a local radio show host and travel writer.

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