Sunday, August 28, 2011

Can't get enough...

Getting to our next destination, Rab, after Lovran proved difficult and is a story in itself! First off, there's only ONE ferry per day to Rab and it left at 6pm. We were told that we could only purchase ferry tickets to Rab from where the ferry left, in Rijeka, which was a 45 minute bus ride from Lovran. We were also told we'd need to get there early, to reserve seats--one lady said noon would be "okay" (6 hours before a Tuesday departure!). Of course, we followed her advice, leaving our lovely hotel at 10:30am to catch a bus to Rijeka. In Rijeka, we thought to see about a bus to Rab just for kicks--turns out, the bus is twice the price and takes an hour longer than the ferry. Forget it. So we bought tickets for the 6pm ferry (they'd sold 2 tickets at that point!), and found the next bus to the closest beach. It was a beautiful day and we found a pure local's cove of crystal clear water and perfect sun. 

The 'beach' near the old town of Rab
By 8pm we found our "sobe" (room/small hotel) easy enough. After we got settled, we went into the old town to explore and find some dinner. We were shocked to see how crowded it was--it was like the entire population of southern Germany and all of Austria were in the old town of Rab. Actually it was like we were in this strange German island but with no worst --only Italian food! Seriously, the only food options were pizza, pasta, and fish...and more pizza, pasta, and fish. We really wanted to get away from the crowds so we snuck up an alley and found a cute pizzeria. We sat and ordered in the main room, which was kinda dark, and two minutes later the waiter said a spot on the roof terrace just opened-perfect! Great view, and nice and quiet.
Suha Punto, on the south side of the island

Our first full day we took a long walk to a beach the tourist office recommended, Suha Punto. We were thinking that this beach might off the beaten path, but a soon as we rounded the last corner we saw car after car marked with the ever preset 'D' for Deutschland. Yes, it was packed with Germans. But it was worth it! We sunbathed and snorkeled and snacked on bread and cheese. Wonderful afternoon! On the way back to Rab town we tried to arrange a water taxi but it didn't work out. So as we walked along the road we also tried to hitch hike, thinking one of the German BMW owners would be so kind, but also no-go. We definitely got our work out for the day! That evening we strolled the old town, had more pizza, and got to sleep early.

The old town
The next day we took a local bus to the other side of the island, called Lopar. Again, it was über crowded. We took a short hike around the area to scope out any vacant beaches...we didn't find any but we saw some spectacular landscapes. Eventually we came across a less crowded area, surrounded by barren island views, and a totally unique landscape. 

The crowded beach, and the other little beach we found
We nearly threw our stuff down and got in the water right away. When we got back to our spot, ready for a snack, we noticed that our previously-opened cookie box was missing from our grocery bag. It just so happened that our neighbors (speaking another language we couldn't decipher) had the exact same cookie box sitting next to their stuff. Weird. One of the guys looked over at me and smiled, neighborly. Again, weird. Elliot and I were exchanging suspicious looks and nearly at the same time whispered, "Are they just fu@king with us?" We were on the verge of just letting it go, but I really wanted a cookie! Finally, Elliot, with every ounce of gentleman charm and diplomacy, asked if they had the same cookies as we because ours have gone missing and look exactly like those. They apologized immediately and blamed it on their 8-year-old daughter who was just walking back from the water. Mom asked her about the cookies and after some jibber-jabber, the little girl said, "Thank you," in a small, adorable little way. The mom then looked at us, "We are hungry Hungarians!!"  And we got our cookies back.
View of the old town from a medieval tower
Next day we set out for...well we weren't sure yet. Rooms Tina on Rab was our last reservation before headed back north in 5 days. I know its risky with it being high season and a Friday, but we thought to try our luck. Several items weighed in on our indecision: the only hotels online were about €75 per night and we were looking for a better deal that that, we were told that there are lots of private accommodation everywhere and that you just had to find it, and the only way off the island was a 6:40pm ferry from Rab to Novaljia. We wanted to eventually get down to Split (on the mainland) and island-hop from there, so we had to either stay one night in Novaljia or the next town Pag, 30 minutes down the road from Novaljia. We didn't leave Rab without one more swim in that gorgeous water. Like wading through an ocean of mouthwash, just saltier...and way better.

The lovely Adriatic

We met a nice couple on the dock who were also planning to stay the night in Novaljia. They told us Rab was a little sleepy and couldn't wait to party in Novaljia. We didn't think much of their comment until we arrived in Novaljia which basically looked like MTV spring break, junior high edition. The streets were packed with shirtless young boys wearing their sunglasses at night, and scantily clad girls still in their training bras. Yikes. We went to the first tourist agency to ask about rooms, they said everything was booked. We went to two others and they said the same. We finally asked what was going on and one of young ladies, looking at me with eyes that said 'omg, you dont know?' told us tonight was the biggest DJ party in Europe, and that 30,000 people are coming from all over to go Zrca beach in Novaljia. Ok, let's get on the bus to Pag. We had just missed the 8pm, luckily there was one more bus at 9pm.

Finally arrived at the bus station... we asked for tickets to Pag. How many. Uh, two please. She gave a tired look and said we got the last ones. Strange, besides the old men sipping on espresso at the café, we were the only two people at the whole station. I spotted another tourist agency and thought I'd ask about rooms in Pag. Another girl was asking about the same thing so I listened in. No good advice from her, but she did say once agin that everything was booked in Novaljia because 'dis is de hottest parrrty in Europe' and 'efrybudy comes here from all over, we are bigger dan Ibiza! We eat Ibiza for breakfas!'  The other girl and I looked at each other, shrugged, and I said, I had no idea! Later I found out the girl and her partner are Spanish, they also tried to find a place without luck and also tried to buy bus tickets but they were sold out. Elliot suggested waiting for the bus and bribing the driver. Glad they waited, the bus was empty!! So bizarre.

Pag: a very different place
30 minutes later we were in Pag and said good bye to our new Spanish friends. By now it was 9:45 and we just wanted a pace to sleep. A block down the road we spotted a little blue 'sobe' sign and asked the downstairs restaurant about the room. It was actually a 1bdrd apt with a great 3rd floor view and balcony, and it was available and ours! For 50€! We immediately sat down at the restaurant for a beer and just so, we saw the Spanish girls walk by. Elliot asked our lady they had another room, they didn't, but our room fits 4. I ran over to the Spaniards and told them, they agreed to share. That evening over beers, we sat with Eva and Susana and had a great time talking about our experiences in Croatia, where we've been, and where to next. They'd just come from an island called Vis. A little tough to get to, but worth the hassle. We were sold.

The next morning we got tickets for a 9:00am bus to Split, 3 hours south. We munched on some mediocre baked goods from a cute bakery and waited for our [late] bus. I was astounded to see how different Pag Island was from Rab, and Lovran. Almost a desert-like landscape, with few trees and soaring jagged, beige mountains. After another 3 hour layover (Split is amazing!) and 2 hour ferry, we alighted on Vis--the western most Croatian island in the Adriatic. Again, we went to the first agency we saw. From what we can gather, this agency deal is just a free-for-all private accommodation service. Individual owners list there room with an agency, we come to the agency and ask for a room, they show us what's available, and we negotiate. One couple was ahead of us and one behind, and apparently this agency only had one room available. In this case, the owner has their pick and it's just a game. We were about to leave, but after a call with room's owner, the first couple was ruled out (they only wanted two nights) and we won the game because we wanted four.

View of Vis town, on the island of Vis
Since we still had some light, we took a stroll down the marina and got a sense of the town. I noticed many more Italian tourists, and a few Americans here and there. We finally settled a restaurant for some fresh grilled fish and a couple different 'salads,' which were two bowls--one of lettuce and one of tomatoes. Funny!

Motorbike time!!
We grabbed our first day by the horns and rode it all the way to sunset! We rented a motorbike and hiked to three beaches, swam and snorkeled at each one, and drove all over the eastern side of the island. Mountains, vineyards, donkeys--we saw it all. Each beach was an adventure to get to; we had to park the bike and hike in about 10-20 minutes for each. All three were well worth the work out! Such pristine, natural beauty. I loved the peaceful, sapphire blue water, the smell of the pine trees, and the hearty sun rays to warm me up. Perfection.

stop 1: Zaglav

Stop 2: Srebrna
Stop 3: Stiniva
This island actually has a very interesting history, starting in the 1st century, BC, when it was called Issa, ruled by the ancient Illyrians. It made a name for itself and was a powerhouse back in the day, establishing colonies on the mainland and they even had their own money. The island became part of the Roman empire in 47 BC, but by the 900s it was settled by Slavic tribes and then finally sold to Venice in 1420. In 1797, when the Venetian Empire fell, Austria, France, and Great Britain shared the control of the island (I wonder how that worked out!), and then during WWII Italy really wanted the island as a strategic outpost. General Tito (the Yugoslav leader) set up camp inside one of the mountains on the islands where he coordinated military actions with the Allied forces. For such a small island, a lot has happened here!

The mysterious piles of rocks you can see all over the island
View of Vis town
That evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner--probably top 10 in my life--of fresh fish, rice, and BBQ'd vegetables, and small fried fish for starters. Local white wine and a view of the marina topped it off wonderfully.

Old town of Vis
The next day, we hopped back on our red Vespa and headed out to the western part of the island, where the other town is located, Komiža. Komiža reminded us of Vis, with its 17th century houses along narrow alleyways with just enough room for two couples to pass each other. We heard that Komiža had a few really good restaurants so we checked them out--way too pricey--and decided to visit the info center and hear their recommendations. The really nice lady at the info center suggested that, since we had a motorbike, we make a reservation at one of the mountain 'konoba' restaurants and eat the local specialty called 'peka,' meat or fish slowly cooked for about 3 hours in a metal pot over a wood burning fire--yes, this is for real. We said sure, and ordered the fish for 6pm. 

We still had plenty of time to get in a good swim, so we beetled over to Kamenica beach. I can't get enough of this island.

Kamenica beach near Komiža 
View of Komiža
Sooner than we thought, we had to get back on the bike and get over to the mountain restaurant for our peka. We took a different route, up the southern side's steep mountain. What a view! Once we were inland, we both noticed these strange piles of rocks, seemingly systematically placed in a sinuous way all over the mountainsides. I couldn't figure out what they were. By the time we found and arrived at the restaurant, fog had settled into the valley. Felt nice after all that sun today. The restaurant was situated on one of the mountainsides, facing another mountain where you could see the snaking piles of rocks. We sat at a neatly set, simple wooden table with a homemade doilie placed under a ceramic vase holding a single flower stem. All the other tables were scattered around the patio, shaded by a huge tree. Cozy.

The small 'konoba' (kitchen) where we tried peka
A few minutes later, our peka arrived, still bubbling. Inside the pot were two small octopi, a bunch of potatoes, and many herbs. It smelled delicious. Honestly, I wasn't jazzed about the octopus--but what the heck. Right before we started to dig in, the squatty black pug two tables away ripped the biggest fart I've ever heard! Everyone in the restaurant fell silent for a split second and then all cracked up laughing. 

Peka and the chef
The peka was actually very tasty, but we both agreed that we wished we'd ordered the meat version. I ended up asking our waiter about the rock piles. He said that there are many theories on the island, but no one knows for sure what they are. Fascinating! He said they are a topic of great interest to archeologists and that they date back to Roman times; they may be graves or maybe they put them there to make room for crops in the soil...but no one knows. And I couldn't find any information about the rock patterns online. Mysterious! Anyways, the dinner was good--not great--and for about €65 we weren't all too impressed. Nevertheless, a wonderful atmosphere and experience. And we learned something about those mysterious rocks!

Back in Vis, we took an evening walk and ran into a jazz band free-style jamming (barefoot!) in one of the squares. People were dancing and clapping--super fun.

Random jazz band jamming in the streets of Vis
Our third, and last, day, we opted to skip the motorbike and hoof it to a couple local beaches. All the beaches were a trek off the main road and it was difficult to decide which path to take. We went to one beach and it was just ok (especially compared to the ones we saw the first day); the second was nice enough for a swim. Back on the main road, we kept thinking, 'What if this one is the best?!' The third one we found was deserted, except for a naked couple under a tree (forgot to mention that Croatia is known for their 'FKK' nudist beaches), and it just happened to have a nice rock, placed about 10' above the water. Of course, we jumped off the rock! Fun!

A little taste of heaven
That evening we strolled past the Roman ruins of a bath house and cemetery and couldn't help but sit down at the same restaurant from the other night. We were also introduced to the Vis aperitif, called Mirtha (MEER-ta), which was very nice. Another beautiful dinner. And our last night in Vis.

next up: Split and then Plitvice Lakes National Parks


  1. What an adventure. Let's get a motorbike here too!

  2. Ah, Rab. I recognize all the spots. The walks along the Adriatic, the narrow passageways and, of courseall the Germans!, but it is magnificent!
    Vis looks like a must-see as well
    Fantastical pics!


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