Traveling to Croatia was really my first time visiting what I’ll call the Mediterranean, even if we were really in the Adriatic Sea. Coming from California, I was curious to see if there would be similarities or differences – would the red wine be as dark and bone dry, the landscape as scruffy, the sun hot on the oleander and lavender? The answers are yes, yes, yes, but in a completely different format. The old stone building and walls, the vineyards established in Roman times, the cypress and pine, and of course (my favorite), the clear, stone dappled waters of the Adriatic: this was and is not California, the new world, but a place where the philosophers of old are still looking down on their people.
We willingly stranded ourselves on the island of Vis for several days. This small place can be found here, a ferry ride away from Split. We visited in the off season, in May, and it was quiet. I little too quiet. The smooth stone streets were silent in the afternoon heat, the restaurants relatively subdued. But the town was beautiful, and we explored on foot. Squat palms and vines waved silently in the yards of green shuttered summer homes, abandoned in the pre tourist season. Sailboats touring the Adriatic were moored directly at the town’s edge, the drop-off into the sea looking so turquoise and inviting I had to stop myself from jumping in each time. In May, the water was still pretty cold, though we did swim (no brainer). In my memory of Vis, I remember quiet, calm, a few lonely cats outside the fish restaurants.
One day we rented a zippy little convertible and headed to a windy hill, taking in the vistas, then hiking down to a secluded beach cove. Another day we walked and walked, never intending to go as far as we did, but eventually dragging ourselves into a once grand Soviet area seaside hotel, now desolate except for us, a TV, and an grey haired man in a wifebeater, who poured two cokes from glass bottles in the shade of the veranda. We saw old forts and graveyards and Roman ruins and Tito’s hiding place for submarines (yes, that’s a thing). We listened to teenage girls sing “I cannot wait, take me to United STATE!” over and over on the bus ride to the neighboring village of Komiza, and, as we ate ice creams at the end of the day, we watched the huge, storied Jadrolina ferry cruise into port, bringing and taking tourists, commerce, commuters, supplies and bustling life in an otherwise sleepy town.
Sometimes walking around Vis I thought: “this is like Disneyland! Like Pirates of the Caribbean!” And then: “what kind of reference point is this?” Why do Americans have Disneyland as a some sort of benchmark or stand-in for exotic experiences? How have I reduced Croatia, stomping ground for Romans, Habsburgs, Ottomans, Hungarians, Venetians, Croatian Kings, and Napoleon, to a fake kingdom ruled by a mouse in red underpants?
From my experience, I would say go for 3 days, and then explore other nearby islands, such as Hvar, which is a bit bigger and more lively (a good or bad thing depending on the season). Position yourself on a beach with a good book and go for a swim. Eat fresh fish at Pojoda or these other resto’s. And while in town, grab a bench in the shade and watch local life go by.