Chapter 12 – Did I do the right thing? Doubts and island hopping in Croatia

Chapter 12 – Did I do the right thing? Doubts and island hopping in Croatia

As I walk out of Rovinj there’s nothing on my mind. It’s completely blank. I have these moments quite often where I’m thinking of absolutely nothing, and no one ever believes me when they ask what I’m thinking about. I just zone out somehow. I walk and I look ahead, well aware of my surroundings and the cars whizzing past ignoring my outstretched thumb, but without processing the information in my brain. People are often jealous when I tell them I don’t fret while laying in bed at night, but sometimes I would like to fret. Process the day’s events, mentally prepare for the next day. I can’t, most of the times I just fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. A hard reset.

An old guy gives me a ride to Rijeka. I didn’t plan to go there, but I think what the hell. I can take a ferry to one of the islands from there too. Pretty much the only thing I understand during the whole ride is that he goes to Rijeka to buy a new car radio. “Rovinj small city. Rijeka big city. Better radio.” I didn’t know people still bought car radios and nod in agreement. He drops me off in front of a restaurant where I’ve had dinner last summer with a couple of friends. El mundo es un pañuelo.

A fifty-something shabby guy who’s sitting in the corner of the Rijeka McDonald’s gestures me to come over. He’s seen my backpack and the fact that all tables are taken. I sit down across from him and eat my cheeseburger while he talks of permanent travel and camping. He’s interested in the brand of my backpack and shows me his, an old, small, black leather bag like they used to make them in the seventies. He tells me he’s been on the road for years, hitchhiking and wild camping around his native Croatia, sometimes going as far as Vienna during summer. He travels without money, he says, and I tell him I’ve been very interested these last few years in stories of people traveling with very little or no money without resorting to begging or taking advantage of people. I tell him of my hitchhiking adventures and wild camping exploits, about surviving on 10€ a day and about how I’ve read about dumpster diving and busking and all that stuff. I ask him how he survives without money and he says he knows all the places where they hand out free food. At the end of our exchange he wishes me luck and asks for a few kuna to pay for a hamburger. Disappointed I give him the equivalent of a Euro and leave.

I take the ferry to Krk, an island off the coast of Rijeka. I wanted to island hop all the way to Dubrovnik without returning to the mainland, but that seems impossible. These northern islands are all interconnected by ferry but trace back to transport hub Zadar. From there other ferries service a more southern archipelago until Split, and so on. It’s been raining all afternoon. Hard, the kind that soaks you within seconds. In Krk town I get dropped off next to the bus station and I sit there, under the passenger shelter, waiting out the storm. Out of nowhere the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard almost bombards me off my bench. I haven’t been in the best mood all afternoon. Bad weather, and rain in particular, seems to do this to me while I’m on the road. It doesn’t seem to be worth going anywhere in the rain. When dark clouds fill the sky my mind becomes equally grim. Suddenly I have a minor breakdown, the first one since leaving home 10 days ago . I have no idea what I’m doing here by myself. Going to Iran does not seem like the appropriate answer to that question. I think of home where everything is easy and comfortable and where dead moments like these pass by unnoticed by the distractions of everyday life. You see, when you travel everything is new and exciting. Your mind is alive and overwhelmed by new input every single minute of the day. As long as you keep moving forward towards a goal you’ve set for yourself, time passes. But once you, for whatever reason, are stuck in a place without new input or a short term goal, time seems to stand still (that’s why a microwave minute is the longest minute in existence!). This, in my opinion, is the hardest part of traveling alone. Not being able to complain, pass the time or share your feelings with someone who is in the same position. Right now I feel so lost with purpose that everything seems better than being here, alone in a Croatian thunderstorm at the start of autumn.

Luckily I’ve experienced this feeling before while traveling by myself and I know more or less what to do. No impulsive decisions about going back or changing the itinerary. Once again realising the privileged position I’m in and the sacrifices I’ve made to get here. Short-term comfort and the right to wallow in self-pity and complain to the universe about the toughness of my existence for a while. Talk to friends and loved ones at home. Let them convince me that I’ve made the right choice to leave home. Eventually I find a hostel in Krk City and get dry. The tourist season is over and I’m the only guest here. There’s absolutely no one to talk to so I eat a whole pizza and Skype with my parents. Then I go to bed early and lose myself in a Netflix series for a while. New day, new spirits.

Photo journal – Rovinj, pearl in Istria’s Adriatic crown

Photo journal – Rovinj, pearl in Istria’s Adriatic crown

Can’t choose between Italy’s vast cultural heritage, world class food scene and picturesque village life on one hand and Croatia’s endless, emerald blue coastline and vibrant island life on the other? Combine both countries’ qualities and visit Istria, Croatia’s northwestern peninsula that is the country’s food and wine capital and once belonged to the influential Venetian republic.

Located in the armpit of the Adriatic Sea just south of the Alps, illustrious Istria is close to northeastern Italy, Slovenia and the gateway to Croatia’s endless coastline. After crossing the Alps Western Europeans will most likely drive past Istria on their way to southeastern Europe. Stop for a few days and use Rovinj as your base to explore the beautiful peninsula. Enjoy some beach time, taste seafood delicacies and hunt for beautiful handicrafts in the charming alleyways of Istria’s most captivating town. Or start your Croatian island hopping adventure here and make your way south to ferry hub Zadar without returning to the mainland.

After rushing through northern Italy on the lookout for good end-of-September weather and a place to relax for a few days before continuing my trek south Rovinj was exactly the right place for me. Despite being a well known touristic hotspot due to its picture postcard historic centre that sits on a small peninsula of itself I never had the feeling that it was overcrowded or unauthentical. Unlike Venice, Zadar, Split or Dubrovnik no big cruise ships visit the port of Rovinj, limiting the amount of tourists that arrive in this charming little town to the roadtrippers and a few unavoidable tour buses. Try to visit in September, when crowds thin and the weather is still warm and sunny.

Sunsets over the historic centre

As a photographer I like nothing more than to take my time to capture the perfect sunset. Choose a spot on the docks and watch the sun disappear behind the St. Euphemia’s bell tower on the hill in the middle of the tiny peninsula. Or walk along the dock to see fishermen bring in their daily catch while the sun sets in the background.

Visit the Old town

Get lost in the winding alleys of the old town and climb St. Euphemia’s bell tower for exquisite views over the town and nearby marina. Handicraft workshops, Airbnb accommodation, cocktailbars and a few excellent restaurants are within easy reach at all times.

Excellent dining

Take your time to discover the local food scene, specialising in seafood and truffles. Istria might be one of the most affordable places in Europe to taste this rare delicacy!

Peoplewatch

Find a strategic sun-drenched terrace along the promenade around the marina, order that giant coupe dame Blanche or refreshing mojito you’ve been dreaming of for the past few days and experience the almost island-like life that characterises Rovinj.

Get active

People who are more into an active holiday can rent a bike and discover the surrounding villages and natural parks through one of the four marked cycling trails in the area. Apparently nearby Umag, Poreč and Pula are also quite worth discovering. Water-wise Rovinj offers a range of activities from scuba diving to kayak renting and SUP’ing. Or just hit one of the pebble beaches for those in need of some sun.

Not a typical resort culture

Most tourists you’ll meet here are either older couples that know how to enjoy good food, wine and the sunny weather, families that spend time in, on and around the water and couples looking for a romantic place to enjoy each other’s company. If your wallet allows you to stay in the centre of town you’ll be right in the middle of it all, including magnificent sea views and easy promenade access. Otherwise you’ll most likely stay in the newer part of town or a bit further away. I stayed at the Porton Biondi campsite a mere 20min walk from the old town. Nothing special except for easy beach access and accompanying bar, but it did the job.