Jelsa is a small, pretty harbour town on the northern side of the island Hvar. Our apartment balcony faces the hills that curve around the outskirts of the town. We are staying in a clean one room apartment with a little kitchenette.
Strangely, given the fact that many Croatian men are quite tall, the bed has a wooden footboard at the base. Lying down has the top of my head touching the headboard and my heels the footboard.
Backpackers can’t afford to be too choosey, I try and sleep on a diagonal. We both sleep badly as a consequence.
The morning is grey with no rain.
We wander into town along the main road and veer off into a park. It is a Sunday morning, the tourist office is closed however the town is so small most features are immediately obvious.
The water in the harbour is clear, we walk around the outskirts and then stop and watch the Sunday morning activity in the town square.
Despite the advice from our two lovely Plitvice guides, who have told us that Croatian’s don’t have a lot of protocols regarding dining, our observations are that there is one primary rule.
No one eats out.
The square in Jelsa is packed with locals, there are people of all ages, families, children running around, multiple cafes with outside seating, the ones with chairs in the sunshine are all full.
Suddenly the bells of the church begin to ring, it is midday. Within five minutes almost everyone is gone. Home for lunch.
It is almost like a scene from a Warner Bros cartoon. I am surprised there is not some metal disc spinning and ringing on the ground in the square centre after the rapid departures.
Pam and I are left nursing our drinks in the empty square.
We wander the town streets for a couple of hours before returning to our apartment.
Our landlord has left us a bowl of oranges from the many fruiting trees in the front yard.
I have not had such a delicious orange in many, many years.
Another night tossing and turning whilst dreaming of being caught in a huge vise. That footboard is not a good design feature.
Blue skies greet our late rising. We pack, check our gear and head off back into Jelsa following the narrow road without footpaths. Obviously the Jelsa locals are used to this occurrence for there are a couple of times, when two vehicles are trying to pass in opposite directions alongside us, when one gives way to the other without rancour.
The blue skies open up the vista beyond the harbour, snow capped mountains from the Brac shoreline across the strait dominate the horizon. A fast cold wind is whipping up waves. My backpack is now filled much higher than when I was walking the Camino, I have to compensate in my stance for the extra wind resistance.
On arriving at the tourist information we discover we have just missed the morning bus to the town Hvar and will have to wait for a few hours until the 2:45pm bus.
I need little excuse to have a beer these days, this later journey provides an excellent one.
We sit in sunshine of the square in a cafe that provides a lee from the wind and watch the weekday life go by.
A friendly black dog without a collar is on the hunt for food scraps in the square. Against my vehement protestations Pam insists on going off to the supermarket and buying some doggy treats to entice a new friend.
The previous day we had noticed the sound of regular explosions occurring with the sound ricochetting echoes from the stone walls and mountains. We had noticed a lot of work being done on new apartments on the outskirts of town and assumed that the explosions were associated with some sort of excavation.
A frighteningly loud and nearby ‘BANG’ accompanied by the sight of water flying up from the harbour edge and spraying back in the wind over the gaggle of laughing teenagers has us realising that the sporadic explosions are not ‘work related’.
The unique smell of fireworks fills the air.
The wind intensifies.
By the time we are ready to make our way back to the supermarket (the parking lot serves as the bus stop) it is howling.
I want to take one last photo from the waters edge.
I stride into the face of the wind striking down from the snow capped hillside rising from the embrace of the waters between. My pacerpoles compensate for the buffeting winds that grab at my backpack.
Most of the pictures turn out blurry. I can’t hold my hands still as the wind catches at my arms and the extended camera.
The bus ride from Jelsa to Hvar town takes an hour or so and passes through the town of Stari Grad. Rather than a regular bus the service is via a twenty seat minibus. The driver is obviously very familiar with the route and completely ignores all the speed limit signs.
We make good time.
After passing through the tunnel taking us through, rather than over, the mountains running down the Hvar island landmass we drive down the winding coastal road to Hvar town.
From the bus windows the endless expanse of the sapphire Adriatic shows each gust of turbulence as patches of darker blue pushed by invisible dervish swirling across the surface.
The bus arrives in Hvar late in the day, the driver kindly phones the landlord to let him know we have arrived so we don’t even need to find where the apartment is. Five minutes later our young landlord Jure strolls into the bus terminal.
It turns out the apartment is only a couple of hundred meters away from the bus terminal and the centre of town. We will be in the thick of the Hvar activities.
Or would be if there were any Hvar activities.
Jure walks us up to our apartment which turns out to be extremely comfortable, a separate bedroom, full kitchen, living area, huge bathroom, central heating. He runs us through a map of the town while telling us a little about Hvar.
Hvar is a party town for the wealthy and tourists however at this time of year pretty much everything is closed down. For example there is only one restaurant open in the old town area.
During the busy season our landlord is always on the go, he hires out scooters and jet skis as well as renting the apartment rooms. In the quiet season he goes fishing everyday and offers to cook us a meal of fresh fish should we desire one.
The Spanjolo Fortress that overlooks Hvar town is also closed however our landlord ‘knows a guy with a key’ and offers to sort out a personalized guided tour which we happily accept.
He and his family live in the apartment opposite us in the building and he tells us to ‘knock and ask if we need anything’ as he departs.
I take a photo of the fort above from our window and we wander down to the nearby waterfront to take in the sunset.
We are walking past one of the many cafes lining the wall of the broad paved Piazza area leading to the harbour when an enormous explosion goes off very close to us.
My hands shoot up in a reflexive defensive action, Pam gives a shriek, we both jump. The bunch of teenagers at the cafe who have lit the double bunger snigger, giggle and laugh like a ‘bunch of teenagers’.
They are very satisfied with having so successfully ‘gotten’ the tourists.
My nerves are frayed, regular explosions echo around the town from all areas.
Pam suggests we practice ‘stop, drop and roll’ for the next time.
The well in the middle of the paved Piazza dates back to 1520, the surrounding buildings were also built in stages during the 15th to 17th century.
Hvar is undeniably beautiful, the waterfront is lit golden with the rays of the setting sun, I take a bajillion photos as we walk around the waterline. Two girls from Singapore are taking selfies, we help them out.
That makes four tourists in Hvar.
In the afterglow of the sunset we sit outside a cafe for a long while before making our way to the best restaurant open in Hvar. We both have (or think we are having pizzas), I have ordered a ‘pizza calzone’ without having any real idea of what that meant.
Turns out I am eating a large football.
Hvar is turning on the deep blue skies for us the next morning. We had considered doing a long hilly inland walk however our landlord had dissuaded us the previous day ‘the roads are all very narrow with no paths and everyone speeds’.
The leisurely flat walk along the Hvar coastline will have to suffice.
I have ideas of walking along the rocks however after climbing down the stairs from the road I realise that this is very rough route that will likely end in injury.
We must endure.
We enjoy the long quiet road walk which takes us out past one of the islands visible from the Hvar harbour and ends in a cul-de-sac at a little beautiful beach.
Only one car has passed us once we have left the edge of town so we have this spectacular walk to ourselves.
Back in the centre of town again we elect to climb the hill to the fort that looks over the town and bay. The tour of the fort we have arranged is not happening until tomorrow however in the ‘interests of training for the Lycian Trail’ we have to walk the highest hills in the towns where we stay.
‘Onwards and ever upwards’ my left knee is regaining some strength at last, the stairs present no problem.
We cross a little road, enter a gate and we are into the fort grounds, a winding path takes us higher. The climbing zigzagging path takes us from one to the other of the long walls that drop down the hillside from the fort to the old town below.
Amidst the green trees that line the hillside the slope is latticed with the low stone walls that have filled me with reverie each time I see them.
We climb for a little while up between two of these walls towards a little closed stone church before heading up even higher to the old fort walls.
We listen to the explosions of firecrackers echo up from the town below.
Bloody firecrackers. A waiter at the cafe from last night has told us that setting off firecrackers is illegal in Croatia in the eleven months other than December.
From mid December the frequency of the explosions will only increase, coming to a climax on New Year’s Eve.
I will be a nerve wracked husk of my former self by then.
Our guided tour to the fort the next day is due to start at ten. Jure says he will be waiting for his friend with the keys in the cafe next to the bus terminal and suggests we wait there also. We sit in yet another smoke cloud filled plastic walled fishbowl while Pam has a cup of coffee.
About ten minutes later our guide Jugo (pronounced close to Hugo) turns up. Pam introduces herself and introduces me ‘as her husband’. Jugo seems surprised and says to Pam that ‘he is single, if she changes her mind about me’.
I am gonna have to watch this guy, he is smooth.
We drive to the fort in our Jure’s car up the road that follows around the rear side of the hill.
Halfway up our progress is interrupted by a traffic accident.
Some very disconsolate locals are standing beside the two vehicles which have mangled front ends as police wave the traffic on. Fortunately it looks like no one was injured.
Jure seems to have known about the crash in advance and tells us that the crashed Mercedes Vito van is brand new, purchased by his uncle the previous week. He winds down his window and says a few words to his uncle and nephew as we pass.
A couple of minutes later we are at the fort. Jugo unlocks the gate we had climbed to the previous day and we walk in through an arch in the stone walls.
Our tour begins, the original construction was commissioned in 1278 however this was destroyed following a gunpowder explosion in 1579. Another fortica was erected (also called Spangolo Fortress) and has been significantly modified since. The latest additions were completed during the Second World War.
Jugo leads us to a room that contains Amphora (large clay jugs used for storage) raised from the ocean by divers. The amphora are all behind thick glass walls to prevent theft and destruction by tourists.
He leads us around the fort walls explaining the cannons on display are genuine old cannons however they are not originals from the actual fort grounds.
Jure tells us his wedding photos have the magnificent views of the harbour and town below as a backdrop.
Jugo is distressed by litter left by other tour groups, before meeting us he has come from a meeting with the Hvar mayor regarding the fort tours and the need to maintain the fort grounds. He is an ex-professional soldier and an electrical engineer and his word obviously carries some weight in Hvar.
Jugo points out the second fort that lies above Hvar town and explains that it now serves as an astronomical observatory and that a array of astronomical radio dishes lie on the slopes of the far side of this much higher hill.
We are led down some very steep, low, narrow, dark stairs (I have to take my day pack off to fit) to the jail cells of the fort. Jugo gives us a little lecture suggesting shorter stays in these harsh conditions would be more effective than long stays in the ‘luxury’ of a modern prison.
Back in the light of day Jugo unlocks the top of one of the fort’s two large water storage tanks and we peer down into the darkness below.
The tour of the magnificent Spangolo fort concludes as we walk by the second water storage tank and we exit via the gates we had entered.
Jugo gives us permission to take his photo and post his image online. He jokes ‘he has already been in the newspapers so much he doesn’t care’. Despite our insistence he refuses to take any payment for the one on one tour he has so kindly provided.
Pam and I elect to walk back to the town via the path and stairs we had climbed the previous day and Jure and Jugo return via the car.
As we enter the Piazza below we run into Jugo once more. He says ‘we must be in good condition to have made it down so fast’.
Pam and I elect to walk the Hvar waterline in the opposite direction to yesterday and set off along the footpath.
We pass through some parkland and then past many very fancy homes with large gardens before coming to another tourist accommodation and hotel section where everything is closed for the winter season.
The path ends at a sheltered cove near the edge of the town and we return the same way we have come rather than the town streets.
Jugo is walking down the path as we return to the town and tells us he is going to have a late lunch with his mother.
At the cafe we have frequented a couple of times the menu offers a drink called ‘Peppermint Patty’ which is a glass of hot chocolate with a nip of peppermint schnapps. After we have dinner at the restaurant that night we return to the cafe and have a Peppermint Patty for desert.
A full moon lights our return to our apartment.
When we checked into our apartment in Hvar our landlord Jure kindly offered to call the ferry service Jadrolinija to find the departure time for the catamarans to the island Korcula. He tells us the catamaran leaves at 4pm and offers to let us check out of the apartment late in the afternoon rather than the regular 10am time.
This act of generosity enables us to sleep late on our last day in Hvar. We work on the blog during the late morning and early afternoon before going through our pack and move routine.
We leave the apartment around 3pm and make our way through the piazza and along the quay with our full packs. There is a ferry pulling out just as we arrive.
Having not checked the Korcula ferry departure time ourselves we are suddenly panic stricken that we have missed the ferry.
It turns out that the just departed ferry is not going to Korcula however the catamaran we should be leaving on does not depart until 5:30pm.
‘Gives us time to have a Peppermint Patty’ says Pam and we make our way back along the quay to the cafe.
For the first time we experience slightly rough seas. Pam is not handling things well and gets quite abrupt when I make sinuous up and down motions with my hand in front of her.
She can deal it out when we are way up high but can’t hack a little rock and rolling returned.
She is ‘wishing she had not had that last Peppermint Patty’ as it is ‘close to regurgitating’.
Somehow we make it to Korcula with Pam’s stomach contents still in place and disembark into the night.
A friendly local points us in the direction of our apartment and we walk along the Korcula waterfront before climbing a long steep staircase to the road above.
Pam and Mick