Kathryn said there hadn’t yet been any summer in the UK. Now, tiz strange – but the clouds started to gather almost as soon as Kathryn arrived – to finally explode in the most humungous thunderstorm they’d seen in Dubrovnik this year. On Friday, the day we’d picked to go to Lokram island, there were almost continuous claps of thunder and flashes of lightening overhead, as well as rivers of water running down the marble slabs in Old Town, and we had to take shelter in an Orthodox church – which had probably it’s largest congregation since Christmas! This, according to one shopkeeper, was the first thunderstorm Dubrovnik has seen this year. Then, when Kathryn returned to the UK on Sunday, the weather immediately became sunny – balmy 30˚C, just like it’s been in Croatia. So my theory is that Kathryn brought some of the UK weather over here – and took some of Croatia’s sunniness back with her – in her rucksack.
WE had booked a shared room with twin beds, ensuite bathroom and the use of a little kitchen in the village of Okuklje on the island without realising quite how cut off we’d be, without a car. There is a bus – but it runs twice a day, from Maranoviči – a village 2km walk away up a steep, steep hill. First bus goes 5.30am. Next bus is in the evening. We were trapped. Fortunately our prison was a very pleasant harbour with steep, forested rocky hills all round – reminding me of the harbour where Katie-Morag from those delightful children’s books by Mairi Hedderwick, lived in the Scottish islands. Then again, it could also have been The Village (aka Portmeirion)– scene of the Prisoner (with Patrick McGoohan) – I am not a number!
Our first task, as the ferry dropped us off at Pomena up one end of the island – (I’d bought the wrong ferry tickets – should have gone to Sobra which was only 6km from our destination) and we needed to get 24miles or so to the other end, was to work out how to do this. We nearly rented a car until we both realised neither of us had our driving license with us. It would have cost us the same as the taxi we ended up taking, but the taxi DID take Rowenna so that was one tick box checked. The harbour at the North end was beautiful and a lovely place to hang around for a while. We sat and watched crabs scuttle around the seashore and ate ice cream until the taxi bloke was ready to take us.
Our landlady is waiting for us (in the dark) and helps us up with the luggage – She shows us a room with a double bed – but we decline and choose the room with twin beds instead. No insect screens at the window – so we rig up my mosquito net. No fans or air conditioning either – but comfortable beds. Cheap and cheerful. The kitchen is adequate and there are sun loungers, large parasols, table and chairs outside and on two balconies. You can see the sea if you sit on the balconies or peer around the corner of the house from the Patio.
We spent the first day mooching – as much so Kathryn could claw back some sleep but also (as I realised next day) because I was succumbing to the classic cold, (which I’ve given Kathryn subsequently). What did Terri give you in Croatia? A cold. L Sore throat, runny nose, tickly cough, blocked sinuses – all of it happened over the next few days. I did manage to finish the book I’ve been reading since I came away (and left it for someone else to find).
Second day we went on an adventure (with me nursing my snivelling cold, which was well underway – think I even dosed myself with paracetamol!). We had to get up early to walk to Maranovici to catch the bus at 05.30hrs. It was only 2km but steep uphill, so we got up at the crack of dawn to allow plenty of time for the stroll. We watched the sky lighten and the bay below gradually emerge from the shadows as we climbed – smelling the wild sage and thyme and resiny smells of the Mediterranean as it warmed up. We got to the village in plenty of time but it wasn’t clear where the bus would stop, so we asked a woman getting out of a car. She was equally vague but (after checking our credentials: “you walked from Okuklje?”; “You’re staying with who?”) she offered us a lift – Only drawback, we had to hold on to an enormous cheesecake, sitting in the back seat – and we weren’t allowed to eat it. The woman’s husband (I presume) was driving and it wasn’t so clear what he thought of the two strange women deposited under the cheesecake in the back – as he didn’t speak any English. We were dropped off at the ferry before the ticket office opened. The bus turned up shortly afterwards.
The ferry took about an hour and then we got a bus ticket to Old Town and strolled about the marble streets. Kathryn thought she’d hate to live there as she found the narrow back alleys and high walls claustrophobic. The place was also heaving with tourists so we got the ferry (which goes every half an hour, all day) to Lokram island as soon as we could – to see the Botanical Gardens, which was our main aim for the day. The island is still crowded with tourists (and we are included amongst their number) but also peacocks and hens– and lots of baby peacocks – and rabbits – of all colours. We strolled through the gardens – which are reputed to have the greatest number of Eucalyptus tree varieties outside of Australia. The grass was sparse and spiky, but we had fun amongst the cacti and succulents and palms. We managed to walk around just half of the island, failing completely to navigate our way to the North of it! Kathryn’s sense of direction is better than mine – as she pointed out we’d come round in full circle before I noticed (probably why I have such difficulty escaping large towns on the bicycle!).
I went swimming to try out the new snorkel and mask I’ve decided is worth the hassle of hauling around with me. Peeking into the aquarium around the island is fascinating: schools of yellow striped pot bellied fish slipping over the rocks, and there are usually one or two truly ugly fish disguised as rocks lurking on the sea bed to look out for. Kathryn sits on the rocks avoiding the sun as much as she can. While I’m in the water, thunder begins to rumble. By the time I’m out and dressed, the first large drops of rain begin to fall and we scurry for shelter along with all the others on the island. We end up in a shed full of agricultural machinery and odd bits of equipment while it chucks it down outside – turning the dust into a river of mud on the paths. When the downpour lessens slightly, we make a run for the exhibition near the old Monastery. The Benedictine monks were thrown off the islands after having sole use of it for hundreds of years – so, of course, they cursed it before they left – holding candles upside down so the melting wax fell on the ground – the curse holds good until every last bit of wax is gone (I didn’t see any). There was also a little display on the flora and fauna on the island – and (of course) another display about the Game of Thrones connection. I sat on the Throne of swords and blades without cutting myself (which was fairly easy, since it was made of plastic). We had lunch underground in the crypts – since it was STILL raining.
In fact, it continued to rain (and really heavily on occasions) off and on all afternoon – so we decided to make our way back to Old Town. Kathryn’s new leather sandals got a thorough testing in the wet, as the rain caused rivers to form on the main footways of Old Town. We took shelter in an Orthodox church when the sky became a power shower – they had the biggest congregation they’ve had since Christmas I suspect. A few people even lit candles, whilst others checked their smart phones – the glow lighting up their faces as they sat in their pew. Eventually we were able to escape to find ice cream.
We were early away – and late getting back – the bus dropping us off in Maranovici at gone 9pm in the dark. We were knackered on the starlit walk back down the hill – but at least it was downhill!
I normally snore – but that night I was snoring more loudly and annoyingly because of my cold I suspect. Poor Kathryn, having tried several approaches to get me to desist finally just gave me a shove. Being sound asleep I misheard her “You’re snoring” and thought she’d said “I’m freezing” (well – I AM deaf!). In response (and bear in mind I was just newly woken up) I SHOT out of bed, turned the lights on blazing, flung open the wardrobe and grabbed a blanket. I threw it at Kathryn, turned the light off again and climbed back into bed. The bewildered Kathryn said “I just said you were snoring?!” but decided she WAS a bit chilly and spread the blanket over herself gratefully. Half an hour later, the incident sank in and I had a complete fit of the giggles. So there we are, Kathryn and I, at 3am approximately, laughing uproariously (really tickled my funny bone) and I’ve continued to get the giggles whenever I think about it ever since.
Day 3 – we mooched again – exploring our confines – there isn’t that far to go in the bay, owing to its steep and rocky sides – but it’s very pretty. I did some daily draws and Kathryn got our her knitting. She showed me a praying mantis in the lavender bush, eating a one legged cricket. I gasped as I thought it was the one legged cricket that had been sharing the accommodation with us – but no, Kathryn showed me that one was still above the bedroom door – phew. There are obviously many one legged Crickets around here. There are also lots and lots of butterflies so that became the focus of my daily drawing: Scarce Swallowtails, Southern White Admirals, Cleopatras and Frittilaries. There was also another one of those caterpillars that use leaf litter to make their own dress – this one looking more haphazard and thrown together than the one I’d seen before – but still an excellent disguise.
I was going to cycle Rowenna to Sobra – which, despite the steep hill out of Okuklje, was only 6km – then I thought I’d catch the bus back and we’d all get the taxi to the ferry in the morning with the baggage (most of which was mine!). I was quite looking forward to this trip and preparing to go, when Maria (the landlady who speaks no English) arrived bearing wee glasses of liqueur. Kathryn doesn’t drink but I don’t mind the odd snifter (as one might have noticed) – and Maria seemed to be saying don’t go, the taxi can take the bicycle. Well – we already knew that ONE taxi could take the bicycle (the van) but weren’t convinced that any others might also be able to. Book it at the Maestral hotel – she said (or – I think she said). The Hotel had got rave reviews on TripAdviser (that internet website) for its food, so I fancied checking it out for our last night anyway. So I didn’t bicycle to Sobra (any excuse to avoid exercise). When we went to the Hotel for our supper, the proprieter, Tihomir (Tim being easier to say) there spoke to the taxi driver who agreed that, no – he couldn’t take Rowenna. I KNEW I should have stuck to the original plan and was kicking myself– but then the Tim said HE could give the bicycle a lift to the port after the restaurant closed. And reader, he did! And wouldn’t take any money for his trouble either. I had a good time with 4 if his 6 children too whilst waiting for T to cash up – being quizzed about the journey so far. The alternative of getting up at some unearthly hour to cycle in while Kathryn took the luggage separately doesn’t bear thinking about. What an excellent and generous bloke.
It was still horribly early and still dark when the taxi arrived – but the journey back to Dubrovnik goes fairly smoothly. The guy in Travel Corner gets shirty with me for leaving my luggage inside while I lock up Rowenna outside, but other than that Kathryn and I manage to get back to Old Town in plenty of time to get up above the city by taking the Cable Car. We strolled around the rocky terrain behind the Cable Car examining native flora – the spiky blue sea thistle was nominated ‘star plant of the day’ award. We also witnessed drama in the form of a large and lucozade coloured ichneumon type wasp and a large, hunting spider. I’d spotted the wasp trailing along under the lip of the concrete steps we were climbing and called Kathryn over to have a look, at which point, the wasp flushed out the large spider. They looked equally matched and there was a bit of a standoff before they both went their ways unscathed. Clash of the Titans!
Despite me stopping to eat more icecream, Kathryn made it to the bus station in plenty of time to catch her shuttle bus to the airport. I really appreciated her visit and it was great to catch up with all things Devonian and news from the Peter Tavy Guild of Spinners, Weavers, Dyers. I hope she enjoyed it too. I felt the umbilical cord stretch and break once more as she left (it re-attaches very quickly). She passed me as I was pushing my bicycle up the hill outside Dubrovnik as I took the same road southwards.
I am still feeling the effects of my cold – remains of sore throat and tickly, irritating cough which was keeping me awake at night. I was just looking to escape the environs of the city and wanted somewhere to camp without on site entertainment and cheap and cheerful. I found the ideal site at Srebreno – shady trees and all the basics for less than €5 the night. It was only about 5km from Dubrovnik but I was on the move again after 12 days.