We apologise for the long space since our last post. We thought our computer was broken. Luke sat on it, and it now looks like a banana (J/k, but it is bent). It wouldn’t turn on, so we couldn’t use it for several days. We took it into a computer repair shop in Zadar, Croatia, where we pressed the “on” button and it turned on and worked. We thanked the computer man for “fixing” the computer (he said it was the “positivity” in the shop), and now I can write the blog.
This was not the first time we have looked like idiots in Croatia. We realized one day that we had not seen one of our credit cards in a couple days (horrible sinking feeling, right?). We traced back our steps to a petrol station we had stopped at two days before. We drove 20 minutes back to it. The moment we entered, the fellow at the front counter threw his hands in the air and dove into a drawer under his front counter, retrieving our card. We had left it in the freaking card machine. (I say “we” so as not to implicate any individuals in this mistake.) This fellow was so relieved to see us. He said he had called after us, whistling. He had called his friend at the next petrol station down the road, who came out to the street and flagged us down with waving arms. (Clearly we did not see him.) He even called the frickin police, and told them to stop any blue Mitsubishi Shoguns they saw. Clearly they didn’t. We like to laugh at what we would have done if the Croatian police had pulled us over, said something about a credit card, and made us follow them 20 minutes back down the road. We would have found the first available hiding space in the forest. Anyway, hooray for this super upstanding and law-abiding Croatian petrol station worker.
Croatia is insanely overrun with tourists in most places. Example: Plitvice Lakes National Park. Just look at the photos, it is actually the prettiest place in the history of ever. What I didn’t take pictures of was the tourists, clogging the paths and stopping abruptly for photos (like the ones here on this blog). Luke and I were weaving through the hordes, jumping over puddles and squeezing through tight spaces between tourists, because we like to MOVE IT MOVE IT. There was a duo of young French guys who we enjoyed competing with to see who could dodge other tourists the fastest. At one point one of them yelled “WE DID IT!!” after passing a particularly sluggish group. Of course, as you’ll see from the photos, it was well worth the tourist-dodging.
As much as our last blog post showed contrasts in the natural settings we visited, this blog post shows incredible contrast in the touristiness of the places we’ve visited. Examples:
10/10 on the touristy scale: Pompeii
I have been to Pompeii twice before this, and I was thrilled to go back. Luke was unsure. Because I was aware that Pompeii itself would be heaving with our fellow sight-seers, I decided to start with Herculaneum, a smaller town about 20 km away from Pompeii. Herculaneum was destroyed more quickly than Pompeii. The culprit was the pyroclastic flow – hot and dry ash, gasses, and bits of rock. It’s actually way better preserved because of how it was covered. There is an intact 2nd floor wooden balcony over a street, for example. And – bonus – way, way, way fewer visitors. All the photos we have are from Herculaneum.
We did also go to Pompeii, which I loved despite the 10 bajillion people. I listened to ALL OF THE THINGS on the audioguide, including the extra information sections not attached to sites. Did you know that they washed clothes in a process involving urine and clay? I was an annoying student in grade school, yes. However, one thing to note about Pompeii, if you haven’t been there, is that it is a full city. There are busy streets (like the one with the brothel, of course), and there are empty streets where you can just go into empty restaurants and pretend you are a Roman craftsperson taking a break from your day of doing mosaics in the atrium of a house belonging to a local person of prominence, while in a country not far away the apostle Paul was writing some of his letters. That’s what I did.
0/10 on the touristy scale: Salvatore’s place
We did a lot of extra driving to get down to Pompeii, and we had to stop somewhere easy over night on the way to Venice. We found, on google maps, a campground in the countryside in Campania. When we pulled up past a small farm into the campground, it was seemingly empty. A young guy (19, it turns out) came out to meet our car. He said we could camp, and asked where we were from. When we said Australia/America, he got so excited. “WOW! WOW! AUSTRALIA!”. After paying for the night and talking about us having Kangaroos as indoor pets (jokes), Luke went to the car to get him one of the Australia-themed tea towels we brought. He, in turn, held the tea towel with two hands as if he was holding a gold medal from the Olympics, he seemed blown away. What a nice guy.
We got to talking with him. Through some sort of language-related misunderstanding, he thought, at one point, that I had asked to see his horse. He cheerfully said, “OK! 5 minutes!” and ran away. 5 minutes, here comes Salvatore and horse Marta up to our car. We gave her a pat – calmest, sweetest horse ever.
Next, after we started discussing chickens, he asks if we want to go to his Grandma’s house to meet her and the animals. Um, YES!!! So over we go, down the country lane, to Grandma’s house, who is a delightful old Italian lady. Uncle is there too. They take us around the house, introducing us to:
- the chickens: there are dozens, roaming free around the farm, eating fresh wheat grains harvested meters away
- the free-range pig: Uncle throws a melon from a wheelbarrow to the sow. She shows off her powerful jaws by splitting it open in one bite and chomps blissfully.
- the kitten: Grandma disappears around the corner of the house and comes back with a tiny kitten, whose eyes had just opened, and handing it to Luke for a cuddle.
Before we left, we bought a few eggs from them, and they gave us some cucumbers growing by the side of the house. We kissed Grandma and said goodbye, obviously gushing about how we love this place SO MUCH.
Later, as we were munching on our delicious cucumbers at our campsite (just olive oil and salt, as Uncle said), who walked up, but Salvatore and Grandma. She’s brought more cucumbers for us. She grasped my face with both hands and told us we are beautiful. She came back the next morning too, with our final batch of cucumbers, to say goodbye. We ate every one of those cucumbers.
At this same campground, there was a couple who were setting up for a group of scouts to arrive the next day. They were staying in a cabin not far from our site. We said hello to them, and they smiled. They didn’t have any English, I don’t think. But they brought us dinner! Out of nowhere, the guy just walked over with a plate of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, smiled, and left. No word. It was the best pasta we had in Italy, too.
Honourable mention: Pitigliano
I should also give an honourable mention in the non-touristy category to our farmstay near Pitigliano, in Tuscany. We were the only campers here, too. Upon arrival, the owner took us inside and made us 20 minutes of photo montages of the local area on his TV, while explaining the history and sites to us in Italian, broken French, and a few words of English. His pride was justified. Look at the pictures of Pitiliagno (AKA Little Jerusalem) and the nearby natural, public hot springs. I’ll save the descriptions for the captions. Suffice to say, it’s spectacular and it’s locals only. Cheers to a Florentine fellow at a campground in France who told us to go there.
Somewhere in the middle: The Sea Organ
This is a neat thing. In Zadar, a coastal city in northern Croatia, there is a thing called the Sea Organ. It’s stairs, which lead into the crystal clear Adriatic at the foot of the town. There are holes in the stairs, and pipes underneath. The waves pump through the pipes, creating ethereal, ever-changing music. Locals jump off the stairs into the water and dangle their feet in the waves, while a few tourists sit and listen. It’s beautiful.
And just a really good place: Slovenia
Slovenia was a hit. We only spent two nights, sadly, but we’ll be going back with my parents in a week or so. The campground was the first that was so fabulous, it inspired me to write a TripAdvisor review (Dujcevi Domaciji). For the first time on this trip, we got to have a fire, which was excellent in and of itself. Not to mention the Slovenian (read: potato-based) meal cooked up by the owner’s mother for dinner.
Skocjan Caves: If you are ever in Slovenia, go there. If you would like to see a real-life Balrog habitat, go there. If you are terrified of heights and/or not seeing the sunlight, don’t go there. It’s an underground river, which includes an underground bridge perched 60 metres above the river. No photos are allowed inside, so if you’re curious you’ll just have to look on the internets.
A final word: Yugoslavia’s war
Because I love to end things on a depressing note, let’s talk about war. Not long after crossing the surprisingly easy Croatian border, we drove through a small town with a bit of a town hall in the middle. It was boarded up, with roof collapsed in and the walls completed riddled on 3 sides with bullet holes. I didn’t take pictures because something inside me says that might not be respectful.
We read a short history of each country we enter as we drive. We have had to read about the Yugoslavian war, about which we knew shamefully little. (Despite my social justice-conscious mother giving me a book about a girl trapped in Sarajevo under siege – Zlata’s Diary, it’s fantastic). I just remember joining in on joking around “with” two kids in my high school, one Bosnian and one Serbian, about their hatred for each other. I realise now there were probably no jokes there at all.
It’s odd to think, as we float on our backs in the salty Adriatic surrounded by European kids jumping around on plastic inflatables, that this country was immersed in a war only a couple of decades ago. I’m guessing I’ll have more to say on this as we enter Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia, and the Eastern parts of Croatia and Slovenia in the coming days.
Until next time!