Croatia: Bernadine Oliver Kerby
The sheer number of islands dotted along the coast of Split is an incredible sight. Yachts, Mediterranean houses perched on cliffs... is this Monaco or Split? The town is very quaint - a labyrinth of cobbled streets twist and turn and each narrow walkway evolves into another. Potted baskets of flowers and washing hang from balconies...
I meet Hrvoje Babic - a former Olympic swimmer and Croatian who has lived inside the Palace of Diocletian all his life. So did his parents and their parents too. A four-storied former church is a living relic home to a family of five. The sheer history is hard to digest.
I spend four and a half hours in a bus - the route is a windy coastal road to rival the windiest stretch of Coromandel hill climb. It takes all my will power to keep the contents of my stomach. Nervousness takes over at the Bosnian border. A police officer gets onto the bus where we produce our passports. It is a non-event as he does not check photos or details. Perhaps it is just an assertion that we are now on foreign soil. Even more bizarre; another check 1/2 an hour up the road - I leave Bosnia, shortest stay in a country. It is an unnerving experience - like coming through customs with nothing to declare but you still feel guilty and edgy anyway.
Day Four - Dubrovnik
A wander through the old city is likened to a theme park without the rides. There are masses of people and overwhelmingly surreal facades of ancient buildings that look like something from a movie set. I meet Morrjan - a Slovenian who has a 600-year-old home in the old city. He kindly points out at the market, as I am buying apricots and grapes, that I should agree on the price first - not ask the price later. Over 80% of the homes here were shelled in the war of 1991 and most have not been reconstructed. You can barely tell old from new.
A bus ride packed with workers commuting to the office and then a 9 am ferry to the island of Miljet - one of the most beautiful according to locals. I can't help but make the comparison between NZ and this part of the world. The water is a deep green - bush covered peninsulas and pleasure yachties everywhere. The recommended mode of transport on the island is by bicycle. I have a new appreciation for Sarah Ulmer and a new hatred of bikes - 3.5 km uphill!! The best part of the bike ride is the finish. Turtle rescue along the way - what's a turtle doing way out in the sticks? I am served goat for dinner. I appreciate what a big deal it is to sacrifice the goat on my account.
I awake to goat aftertaste in my mouth - last night's meal may linger after all. The ferry ride from Miljet to Korcula is one hour and 45 minutes and is sickening. I'm not a good traveler and today proves it. I fear I missed the breathtaking scenery for a view of nothing but darkness as I wish the nausea away and the boat ride to be over. In Korcula, hundreds and hundreds of people gather along a road which is blocked off to the public for a wedding party. The singing, the noise, the sheer frivolity that oozes from the gathering is magnetic. No such thing as a quite or quickie wedding here.
One of the most invigorating days yet. A trip across the peninsula takes me to an eccentric sculptor with international acclaim. The beauty of his work is apparent and still incredible. Despite his lack of English and my limited Croatian we have a great afternoon marveling at this work, and me enjoying his sense of humour - language isn't a barrier with two willing participants.
A final look around Korcula and it's on to Vela Luka - the other end of the island. Beautiful day and on a scooter! Fruit trees and vegetable gardens - apples smell like they used to... They taste just like an apple from Nana's garden. The adventure of camping appeals but my tent-erecting skills leave a little to be desired. I must take better notes and pay closer attention on my next camping trip. Beautiful sunset and long may it last as I'll be a year older tomorrow
A relative down-day for the whole crew. I have a birthday dinner and prepare to head north and inland.
My last ferry ride. It is a superbly 70's car ferry; the foyer is right up there with the Founders Theatre in Hamilton or the Michael Fowler Centre - past their prime! I take a car ride north with a speed limit of 130 kph - to either liberate or petrify. The green belt slowly develops - lush land a lot like New Zealand. Otocec is a tiny town - perhaps Kihikihi or Ohaupo. I meet Milan and Marijtsa, who are so welcoming. I am treated as a new friend, not a tourist. Their warmth and sense of humour is refreshing, as is their desire to share their town. I see for the first time how a smaller town was affected by the war - meeting the families, seeing their homes destroyed, abandoned or never reconstructed, instead of a city like Dubrovnik which has been returned to its former glory. Milan tells me he lost and aunty and two friends. Now that personalises the war doesn't it?
"Landmines" signs are everywhere. Farmer robbed of land to make a living, children deprived of a natural playground - what a waste. I think of the happy families who once lived inside the ruins of homes. Serb, Croatian or Eskimo - no family should have to suffer these tragedies. It makes me realize there is not one side to this story, not even two, but many. I drive to Vukovar... It takes about six hours.
It's a shock driving into Vukovar - I'm desensitized after seeing rubble in Otocac, but Vuckvar is quite overwhelming - the sheer scale of the destruction and damage, street after street after street of empty houses. Trees grow out of the inside of abandoned houses. It's depressing. The town goes through its motions, but I don't know how. I hate the place. The history of warfare gets under my skin.
I head from Vukovar to Dalj - where my brother lived while serving in the UN as a peacekeeper. I get the one thing I really want - a photo with me by the sign of Dalj - now they've had two Oliver-Kerby's pass through town. Long haul to Zagreb.
Zagreb is old world charm combined with a city desperate to get ahead. I head for the market - the biggest I've ever seen - ten football fields back to back isn't even close to the size of it. It's a petrol-heads paradise, with car parts for any make and model - tyres, wing mirrors, hub caps... More pairs of undies than I ever cared to imagine. The city is upbeat but not buzzing - I stand in the town square and absorb the silence. People shuffle about their business without a sound - only the tolling bells and trams disrupt the eerie ambience.
The contrast of this country will be what I take away with me. The beauty and potential of a country still modernising yet still soured and tarnished from the war. It's the history of war which resonates the most; the people of Croatia verbalizing their willingness to live in a mixed, harmonious society... yet the practicalities of it fall short. A driver, Slaven, said to me: "This country has war every 50 years. It will happen again." I am shocked. I could not live in such uncertainty. Patriotism and nationalism is admirable, but should a nation be pushed to extremist views? I guess when everyone's tried to have dibs on your country (Romans, Greeks, Hungary, Germany) you get defensive. It will be the people not the places which will be my fondest memories. They make a destination an adventure. Now this one is complete.