Five glorious days in the searing heat of the Dalmatian Coast, Croatia. After all my hard work this year, it should have been enough just to find a spot on the beach, stretch back and soak up those relentless rays. But it wasn’t. One morning of sunbathing and swimming my toes were twitching; I was ready to explore.
Based in the village of Pakoštane, a short drive south of Zadar, I’d expected a few days of blissful seaside life. Barely mentioned in any of the guidebooks I found and with very little in the way of hotels, I thought I’d be slipping straight into the traditional Croatian way of things, perhaps even helping the locals haul in the fish in the evenings.
But this fantasy idyll isn’t what I got. The village, although small, had its fair share of tourist agencies, pizza parlours and a glut of visitors from elsewhere in Europe, feeling at times a bit like Dusseldorf-on-Sea. Turns out you don’t need a hotel when you have a caravan the size of my flat.
I’m not saying it was unpleasant, I was just looking for something a little more… Croatian. So I launched myself into the hunt. It didn’t take long before I found myself being drawn down a narrow side alley towards the strain of folk music. It was coming from a little bar with two sets of tables and chairs outside holding enticing bar snacks. I paused no more than a few seconds to peer inside, wondering if I’d found what I was looking for, when the waitress appeared, Croatian slipping through lips laced with a broad smile. I grinned, spinning my hands around each other, I’ll come back, later, I tried to say in my own sign language.
Croatia had just lost to Spain in Euro 2012; it shouldn’t have been a night for a party, but it was. As it turned out, it was the bar’s opening night and so we were gifted with local delicacies from olives to ewe’s cheese, miniature doughnuts and pastries. I drank the delicious local white wine straight from the barrel on the bar – a few pounds for half a litre in a glass carafe – and served with ice to combat the balmy evening heat.
Sitting outside that evening, elbows perched upon the wine barrel that acted as my table, I was reminded of what can be so wonderful about a good drinking den (and I should know, I help run a pub). The men, dressed in the red and white chequers of their country, were celebrating a match well played despite their loss with traditional songs, guitar-playing and local brews. There was spirit.
They bought us drinks, we ardently tried to return the favour to no avail. The owner ransacked the whole bar for someone who could speak English to come and chat to us – Elena, who’d lived in London for several years – was wonderful company and a little crazy. The free food and drink kept coming and before long we were being begged to stay longer before stumbling back to our apartment.
I could tell you where it was, I could write a review on a website, but some nights simply can’t be replicated. Živjeli!