Balkan State of Mind IV: Croatia to Rome reading Dracula
Woke up in our attic loft in Dubrovnik (after Montenegro). Walked around the town & up up to the piney hilltop above. Couldn't find any coffee.
Got the car out of the garage & drove on to the Pelješac peninsula. Before coming here, i thought a Dalmatian was only a type of dog, but i guess it can refer generally to anything from this southern region of Dalmatia, in Croatia. We didn't see a single Dalmatian dog, though i did eat some Dalmatian pasta.
On the tip of the peninsula, we stopped at a beach near the town of Orebić & went for a swim & laid out in the sun some.
The Pelješac peninsula is more like an island that is connected to the mainland. Though if you wiki it, the concept of island in these parts is not as arbitrary as you might think:
So there you have it, 1185, depending on the tide. To get to a proper island we'd need to cross a body of water. So we put our car on a ferry & crossed the little gap over to the island of Korčula.
Ferries are a lot of fun. Especially when you are going to an island. There's a certain sense of putting a weighted distance between yourself & the «mainland». Not that Korčula felt any different than the Pelješac peninsula—it's more the psychological idea of it.
There were terraced vineyards on the Pelješac peninsula & even more on Korčula. We didn't like the look of the namesake town of Korčula (too touristy) so we pushed on. The road went down the middle of the island, but every chance we got we took a left turn to the western coast (facing the open sea). & when we got hungry, i picked limpets off the rocks & we ate them straight from the shell.
There's not a lot of sandy beaches in Croatia. Most of the beaches are rocky, or finely pebbled at best (which suits me fine). For that matter, beaches are few & far in between & most of the coastline is rocky, characterized by slabs of what seems like limestone or karst, sloping down into the turquoise waters.
At another left turn we hit some little town that i forget the name of & looking now is not listed on the map. We knocked on one of the houses with a «Sobe/Apartman» sign & some old lady eventually answered & then she got her son & we were showed various apartments, but in the end it felt a bit creepy to stay in someone's house (& they also wanted us to commit to at least a week stay). You can only imagine some of the horrifying decor we witnessed. We are more hotel people, where you can be anonymous & not have to be friends with your hosts. Even B&Bs freak me out. We had sleeping bags with us, but we were hoping to only have to use them in a pinch.
Stopped in Smokvica at a winery to sample what was what. When you say winery here, it's not like you are greeted by a publicist that makes a big to-do about presentation & all that. It means you knock on the door of a house & some guy with dirt beneath his fingernails takes you down into his cellar & generously pours you shotglass after shotglass straight from half-rotting barrels with rusty spigots. The good shit, laced with barnyard funk. We opted for the more expensive option that actually comes in a bottle (most people just bring their own plastic containers to fill)—a few bottles of white & even more of red & some tasty grappa flavored with some sort of wild herb. They are into this stuff called «prosec» here, which is sort of like sherry (& nothing like Italian prosecco). Tasty, but too sweet for my tastes.
We poked on & discovered some more beaches & took some more dips & eventually found our way to the town of Brna where we checked into a proper hotel & got a nice room on the water. Everyone else at the hotel seemed to be part of some tour group from Poland or Russia—whatever eastern block country that doesn't consider it rude to just stare unflinchingly with mouth gaping open like you are some species of exotic animal to them. Found our way to the only restaurant in town, where we were the only customers, & had yet another great seafood feast (mussels & cuttlefish ink risotto).
Woke up on the island of Korčula & walked around & swam & then went to the northern end of the island to find out about the next ferry to Split (yes, that's actually the name of a city here). We had some time so we went & found a nice beach that we had to ourselves & chilled & swam more.
Then we went to the town of Blato, which is in the middle of the island. Saw the church right as the clock struck twelve.
Went back to Vela Luca & got our ferry tickets & left our car in the line & went to explore the town & eat some calamari.
This ferry was bigger & the ride from Vela Luka to Split was almost 3 hours. The other book i brought with me was Bram Stoker's Dracula. Not that it has much to do with the sunny beaches of Croatia, but i've been meaning to read it for some time. I think i was hoping to be as surprised as i was when i read Frankenstein, at how brilliant it is. The version i have is the original text, complete & unabridged, that i picked up in Dublin (where Stoker is from). The writing is a bit tedious, long-winded & Victorian, so mostly i found myself skimming parts just to compare it with all the various permutations it has spawned. The various adapted movies are all jumbled up in my head, but from i what i remember, Francis Ford Coppola's version (horrible as Keanu Reeves & Wynona Ryder are) is probably the most faithful to the book. One thing that has always intrigued me about Dracula is its association (most notably in Nosferatu, both the original & Herzog's version) with the plague. In Stoker's book there are no rats on the ship & no mention of plague (though i'm still only halfway through it). Some things in the book were probably left out because they were either too hard to recreate on film or that they didn't make sense. For example, after watching Dracula climb like a lizard down the sheer wall of the castle, a seemingly superhuman feat, Jonathan Harker also climbs out his window & down the wall, on more than one occasion, rendering Dracula's powers pedestrian. Dracula is an epistolary novel in that it is cobbled together from letters, journal entries & newspaper clippings & as such this lends a certain credibility to the story. There is no single protagonist or narrator, but the voice is omniscient. As such, more background information is given (perhaps too much) than is revealed in the movie adaptations.
Saw some dolphins jumping in the wake of the ferry as we approached Split. We had originally thought that maybe we'd get ferry tickets from Split to Ancona, Italy, so we wouldn't have to drive the whole way back (& because ferries are so cool), but there was still things in northern Croatia we wanted to see. Split is a big city, not much fun with a car, so we split Split to a town called Zadar, an hour or two north.
Zadar was not as interesting as Dubrovnik, but worth stopping for. We stayed outside the old town & took a little row boat ferry across the canal to get to the old part. Walked around, then had dinner (i had some sort of monkfish with truffles that was amazing) & watched the sunset over the water.
This was when i think i saw the «green flash», or at least i think i realize what it is now. I was staring at the blood-orange globe for a while as it extinguished itself in the ocean & then i looked right above it at the green band of light in the spectrum. Normally the green is faint, but i'm thinking since i was staring at the red sun (essentially the inverse of green), for a moment the green band seemed brightly accentuated. Sorry to burst your bustle if you think the green flash is some sort of supernatural phenomena (though googling now it seems there is a logical explanation for it—though what i saw was a wider band then just a spot above the sun).
Woke up in Zadar & backtracked back to the autostrada north. Here's the last third of the Balkan State of Mind playlist that formed the soundtrack for this roadtrip:
At some point along the freeway we saw a sign for a museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla, one of my favorite physicists. Ends up he was born in Croatia.
We stopped in a coastal town called Rovinj thinking we might stay there, but it was really touristy. We had lunch & pushed on. We had 120 kunas (like 15 euros) left & we were about to cross the border so we found this little roadside stand & asked if they had wine. We were again led down into a musty cellar to sample some of the goods straight from the rusty spigots. This time we got the ghetto (but good) stuff, in used plastic bottles—3 liters of red & 3 liters of white—with the rest of our kunas, with enough kunas to spare to also buy a big jar of olives (far better in my opinion than the Italian variety (to eat—Italian olives are better for making oil).
Crossed the border into Slovenia (after a long wait) & then not longer after that we were back in Italy (Italians don't even bother to stop people coming in). We thought maybe we'd stay in Trieste for the night (being that it was Bloomsday & James Joyce lived here for a long time, where he wrote Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man & started to write Ulysses). But Trieste is a big industrial city & it was hot & hazy & we weren't in the mood for it with the car & all. There was all this sunday afternoon beach traffic & seemingly no place to park.
We ended up stopping at Ferrara for the night, just because you never hear people say much about it. There are a lot of great little towns in Italy like this, that aren't touristy, but are interesting, if you like to just see how other people live (which is what interests us mostly). We got a room & walked around.
Unlike Rome, everyone in Ferrara rides their bikes & there are nice bike paths everywhere & the few cars there are don't deliberately try to run you over. The one unique & strange thing i noticed in Ferrara that i haven't seen anywhere else is that people put their blinds outside their windows, not inside. So you have to open your window to shut your blinds (unless there's some sort of tricky mechanism that lets you do it from the inside).
& there's a big castle in the center of the town, with a stagnant moat all around it.
Had some gnocchis with white bolognese sauce & millefoglie (like eggplant parm, sliced thinner (though 1000 slices is a bit of an exaggeration)), washed down with lambrusco of course. Then we got some gelato & watched people watching the England vs. Sweden game on a huge screen in the main piazza.
Woke up leisurely in Ferrara & took a different way back than the autostrada, down through Ravenna (where Dante wrote The Divine Comedy & where he died), Cesena & Perugia (where Amanda Knox got away with murder). Past Assisi & Spoleto (that i blogged about already here), down through Umbria (sunflowers not quite blooming yet). Somewhere near Orte we stopped at some huge wal-mart type of store & bought a bunch of bulky stuff (we don't get access to a car often, not to mention that things are cheaper outside of Rome).
Of all the cities to have the saying that all roads lead to it, no city could be further from the truth than Rome. It's actually not at all straight-forward to get in & out of Rome & takes some deliberate navigating. We found our way along via Aurelia, unloaded all our wine & stuff & then i went to return the car. Only thing is it was around noon & all the gas stations were closed for lunch, so i couldn't fill the tank. Drove around to like 3 or 4 different stations until finally there was one you could pay with cash (exact change only, so you have to keep stuffing bill after bill to fill it)(with of course one of those illegit Pakistani guys posing as an attendant, like they do in the parking lots, trying to intimidate a tip out of you for doing little more than harrass you). And then the car rental place was also closed for lunch, so i had to sit double-parked in the hot sun for an hour waiting for them to come back (you can't just drop it off here). And then they wanted to charge me MORE for returning the car a day early (even though i had prepaid), so i had to argue with them for half an hour about the absurdity of such logic. Rome sweet home.
For those geographically inclined, here's the route we ended up taking (had to fudge it a bit since google maps doesn't seem to have data for Bosnia):