After leaving the Slovenian coast we drove down to Pula at the tip of the north-west bulge of Croatia. We got horrendously lost and confused trying to drop Tom, one of the American recruits, off at Pula bus station and so sacked off the town and it’s impressive Roman Amphitheatre and drove a little further to our apartment in a village by the sea to hit the beaches instead.
I have to be honest, the first day and a half in Croatia was pretty disappointing and I was wondering what all the fuss was about. We went to the local tourist town of Medulin – full of harbour-side bars, shops and a dirty, stony beach. The Bora winds were still in full force and with sand to play with they seemed even meaner and made lying on the beach or even standing up deeply unpleasant.
Luckily, Leah got talking to, not the tourist information office, but a security guard at the bank and found out about a protected natural park called Kamenjak. So, the next day we drove down there and paid a small fee to get in (which presumably keeps the riffraff out). Again, it was a little disappointing at first as the winds were blustering (even the windsurfing school wouldn’t take anyone but experts out), the sea was rough and the sun wasn’t really shining. But we crossed over to the other side of the peninsula and eventually we found what we had been searching for. It was a bay ringed by trees, protected from the winds and boasting beautiful, calm turquoise water. We blissfully stayed here for a while wading in the sea, taking in the sun and relaxing. Water you can actually swim in without becoming impotent is still a massive novelty for Brits.
Just a couple of minutes walk down the path we came across another great place for swimming and this time also sunbathing. James, like a bloodhound, would go off searching for the nearest thing to jump off and then come back to fetch me to take photos. This he would regret each time, as my reactions are not too keen, and he would need to jump in at least five times for me to take a decent picture of not just his feet, the sky or the nearest topless Grandma.
There wasn’t any point exploring any further as we had found what we were looking for so we came back to Kamenjak the next day and found another even better place to essentially do nothing all day. Croatia doesn’t really do the classic long sandy beaches but rather pebble beaches or flat plateaus of rock. To me, the latter are actually preferable to normal beaches as they cut down on the sand that you find in your shoes, under your fingernails and tucked away in your arsecrack for the following few weeks. These two days were fantastic and really showed me why so many Czechs have made this their number one holiday destination (1. Croatia, 2. ‘In the nature’, 3. Greek Islands).
On the whole, the Croatians were lovely people. Our hostel owner (middle-aged man, definitely not a transsexual) gave us lots of information about the area, seemed to be obsessed with providing us with Croatian television channels, and even became our taxi driver by taking us into Medulin one night for free. In Medulin we had only our second drunken night out of the trip (we must be maturing as we didn’t see getting shitfaced every night as a necessity) and James, Leah and I sat outside a bar all night playing drinking games in a way the Americans have perfected. Our waiter kept plying us with free shots and was generally the nicest, most efficient waiter outside of a James Bond film which made us realise what we had been missing in Prague. Furthermore, he didn’t bat an eyelid when James – a man obsessed with the science of the food to drink ratio needed for the longest night possible – somehow procured the next table’s left over chips for us whilst the family were still sat there.
At the last minute we decided to travel back overnight to make the journey more manageable. We started off at 10pm with loud driving music and the last dregs of chat to keep me awake and focussed. James did well to stay up until about 3.00am before drifting off for eternity and at 4.30am I pulled in for nap but was kept awake by the world’s loudest man. The car had become this perfectly silent space where any of his movements – which were frequent – stopped me from going to sleep. At one point, for some unholy reason he put some chewing gum in his mouth and I couldn’t keep my mind off the loud, crisp initial crunches and then the monotonous, never-ending sounds of a cow chewing cud which was like water torture. I could have killed him. Or told him where the secret underwater nuclear bunker is located.
After a nearly perfect run, the final insult was getting horrendously lost in Prague. We zigzagged through the city spotting areas that we knew but had no idea how to connect them with the airport. Of course, this being the Czech Republic, where nothing from collecting parcels from the post office to buying a stamp is made easy, signs for the airport came and disappeared quicker than the English sun. But we got there and at the time it felt like my greatest achievement – I felt like I had traversed the Gobi Desert on a tricycle or swum to the Moon.
Whenever I have dropped off a rental car before, it’s been to a car park a safe distance from the rental office but suitably, for this occasion, as soon as we trundled through the barrier it was like a Formula One pit stop. Two guys met us as our dirty, dust-covered Seat Ibiza with its missing wing mirror and dinted front bumper limped into the parking space via a 12 point turn. We tried to unpack the car as nonchalantly as possible – “Damage? What damage?” – whilst an amused man armed with a clipboard and raised eyebrows wordlessly begging the question “what the hell have you done?” subjected the car to intense scrutiny.
There were lots of ups and downs over an eventful eight days but overall our trip was immense and we got what we went for – sun, sea and pebbles.